Monday, May 31, 2010

Recent Ramblings

I haven't posted for the last 11 days because I was a) obsessing over having TWO deadlines to meet [my column as always and then a short essay for the 30th anniversary edition of Living More With Less, which was way ahead of its time back in 1980 when it addressed issues of stewardship and responsibility in a global context, sort of Christian and green long before that combination was cool. Well, as we all know I am Christian but neither green nor cool, just old-fashioned and trying to be responsible, hence the essay.] and b) posting short updates on Facebook that didn't seem blog-worthy about the big BMS bunch's trip to the International Student Convention. I had insisted that I'm not going to abandon blogging for Facebook, but I kind of did.

So, with the essay sent off by mistake to everyone on the Living More With Less New Edition Yahoo Group, instead of just the editor, and with a good start on my column, here are a few ramblings about my life.

First, a few results from Convention. Paul's niece Stephy won the championship in girls' table tennis, one Bible bowl team from our school placed 2nd and the other 15th, the basketball team placed fourth, Ben's science project was 5th, Ben's speech was 11th which was disappointing because I thought sure it would be in the top 5 but what do I know, I'm just a mom, Isaiah was 7th in his category of archery, and the one-act play was something like 13th.

But the best thing was being with lots of other great kids from all over the world and the renewed spiritual commitments and the great memories made. There were 11 people in the van, coming home, and they travelled for three days without driving each other crazy, which shows God's miraculous grace at work, I think.

Meanwhile I got very irritated because instead of having a nice vacation while they were gone I had to get up every morning and schlep a certain teenage son to school and pick him up again in the afternoon. Since the curriculum is individualized, as soon as the kids finish their year's work in the last two weeks they can stay home. Well, this guy sees no need to hurry with anything, ever, and did not understand why it was a big deal for me to spend an hour on the road every day.

But he finally finished and then we went on the mother-son trip that was supposed to happen when he was twelve and for various reasons got put off till now. First we had to wait for the rain and river levels to cooperate, a bit tough when we had exactly one clear day in the month of May, and then we went up to the Alsea River, in the Coast Range, with his Uncle Philip [one of three Uncle Philips, so known as Uncle Phil Big Socks] [don't ask] who handed me a neoprene abomination that encased me to the armpits but let me stand in a mountain stream without getting cold and wet.

And we fished. Cast and reel, walk along the river, fight the current, cast and reel. Phil and his brothers used to go up there and catch their limit of ten each by noon, but we weren't doing well at all. Phil and Steven moved on upriver at one point while I stood under a beautiful covered bridge and admired the scenery and the rushing river and felt proud of myself for remembering how to cast from my fishing expeditions in Ontario 20 years ago, and hoped I'd eventually catch something.

I did. It was a fish. A lovely little trout that was beautiful and shiny and smooth. I pulled it out of the water and realized I had not thought beyond this moment. That amazing fish was dangling in front of me with a horrible hook in its cheek and I didn't have a ruler to see if it was regulation size or a pair of pliers to remove the hook or a bucket for the fish, or anything. It was awful. I kept apologizing to the fish as I waded upstream looking for the guys, who turned out to be a long way away, on the other side of the river. I was on my own. I kept tossing the fish back in the water to keep it alive, which probably just prolonged the torture.

Finally I got back to the covered bridge, fought my way up the steep bank, found Steven's tackle box in the pickup, opened it with one hand, and clicked his Leatherman into a pair of pliers. The suffering fish still hung miserably from the hook. I forced myself to grasp it with one hand so I could remove the hook, but it was so muscular and slimy and snaky I couldn't stand it. Then I wrapped part of my sweatshirt around it and held on, which was still terrible, and I worked out the hook, and with a convulsive jerk the fish yanked itself out of my hand and flipped right into the cooler. Its blood was on my sweatshirt and I was feeling queasy and cruel and the old revival meeting song about "Their blood is on our hands" kept running through my mind.

Jesus, have mercy, I said. Please. Have mercy.

And I survived. We kept fishing, ate lunch on a blanket beside the road, caught three keepers, and wore ourselves out, and somewhere in there Steven and I forgave each other for all the last-week-of-school irritation and had a nice mother-son bonding time.

Jenny was going to spend the day with Matt when we went fishing, but when the weather finally behaved itself, Matt had to work and couldn't babysit. So to compensate for Jenny's disappointment just a bit, we spent an evening with him, seeing his new apartment and going out to eat. Then we took him back to his apartment and went to WinCo for groceries.

You know how I am always in line behind the lady whose debit card doesn't work and she tries it five times and finally calls her husband? Well I have had lots of choice things to say about such women, and then wouldn't you know it, it happened to me. Steven and Jenny had bagged up all $105 worth of stuff, and I swiped, swiped again, handed the card to the clerk who tried it three times, desperately tried the ATM, and, yes, called my husband, who was off in Kentucky instead of in the parking lot like all the other irritating ladies' husbands.

Oh, the shame.

The clerk was a 30-something man who looked bored and like he wanted to say, "Yeah, right" when I insisted hysterically that the card ALWAYS works just fine, really it does, and this has NEVER happened to me before.

I had $71 in cash in my wallet. Steven, Jenny, and I pulled cheese and detergent and ice cream out of the cart and handed them to the cashier until the numbers had ticked down to $71.32.

We headed for the car. Steven was beyond mortified. He said,

Quote of the Day:
"This. is the most. embarrassing. day. of my life."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ben's Grad Pix

I posted pictures of Ben's graduation on Facebook. This is supposed to be a public link.

Meanwhile Paul, Amy, Ben, and 7 other teenagers are driving to the ACE International Convention in Kentucky. They left yesterday morning and spent the night in Ogden, Utah. Tonight they're in Lincoln, Nebraska. All is going well so far for which I am grateful but I have to say I am so happy it's them doing all that driving in a crowded van, and not me.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fancy Terms, Field Trip, Funny Toasts

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Or, you don't have to know much more than other people to be able to fool them.

In my last post I wanted to concoct a literary-sounding term so after a bit of thought I came up with "inconsistent thematic juxtapositions" which I "knew" was so over the top that everyone would know I had made it up.


People took me seriously, and asked if that's something I keep in mind when I'm writing. Even Paul said he figured it was actually something valid. When writers get together they throw around lots of terms he's not familiar with, he said, and he figured this was one of them.

That's kind of scary. Don't take me too seriously, people.

* * * *

The perennial question that writers get asked is "Where do you get your ideas?" For me the answer is, "From desperate scratching and snatching when I'm up against a deadline." Last month I was nearing the end of the month and that Dreadful Deadline, but I knew I was going to be driving a vanload of kids on a field trip and figured if I took notes it would be plenty of fodder for an article.


We drove down to the airplane museum beside the Eugene airport, with the little girls in the back seat being wild and the juniors and seniors toward the front.

"Is Roy kind of in a slump?"
(pause. Something about graduation invitations)
"Your mom did your invitations??"
"I had to do all mine!"
"I'm sure it was a growing experience."
Little girls: Can we sing?
Big kids: NO!
"MOM! Kaitlyn needs a kleenex!"
"What are the girls talking about?"
"They're trying to understand how we can be mad at each other and then 15 minutes later not be mad any more."

Then we got to the museum where two elderly men welcomed us. We split into two groups, Paul in charge of one and me with the other, and set off on the tour.

I soon saw this was not going to make a workable column. Our tour guide meant well and obviously knew more about planes than he could share in a whole week, having flown planes and repaired engines in WWII, but he didn't have the slightest idea how to communicate effectively with a pack of squirrelly ten-year-olds whose group cohesion unravelled further and further as the endless minutes ticked on.

He soon saw that I was the only polite listener, and he just loved me for that, judging by his beaming smiles in my direction when I acted impressed. He also apparently thought I was a nun, because he kept calling me Sister, which progressed into Dear Sister and then Oh Dear Sister.

I took notes anyway.

"May I introduce to you the B29, the airplane that dropped the atomic bomb?"
"The Zeke and the Zero are the same plane."
"Sister, you're not gonna believe this."
"This is a Pratten Whitney R4360 engine! Believe it or not, 2500 horsepower and 133 spark plugs! This kind was used in the Spruce Goose."
"Believe it or not I have over 400 hours in this aircraft!"
"The structure of this is the same as the Beechcraft Bonanza."
"Down there, that's the last B17 they built."
"This is a Rolls Royce Merlin engine."

After the other group was finished with their tour and patiently waiting, Paul came to look for us and I hissed in his ear that we needed rescuing. So he cleared his throat and said firmly that we need to leave in five minutes, but it was more like 10 or 15 til we were finally done, and then the tour guide wondered if anyone wants to pose for pictures with him, and the little girls did, and that made him very happy.

So it was interesting, but not exactly material for a local newspaper column. So I pulled out my notes from a recent talk to moms and reworked it, and judging from all the feedback it struck a nerve, so I guess the field trip column really wasn't meant to be.

Quote of the Day:
To Jenny for doing well on all her tests.
To Ben for graduating so well.
To Mom for putting up with our shenanigans.
To Emily even though she can't be here.
To Hansie for getting hair all over my pants.
To the black elephant for holding the clock up.
To this bottle for not breaking when I bump it against yours.
This one too.
To Jenny's white shirt which is now very dirty.
To Twizzlers.
To this bottle cap for bending in half.
To this one for staying whole.
To that dried up pancake. May Hansie enjoy it.
To the bad weather.
Not to Mom who's copying down everything we say.
To our hatred for being copied against our consent.
To that rooster plate for staying unbroken so long.
To whoever can finish ours the fastest.
gulp gulp swig
--Jenny and Ben, who came home with a bottle each of Henry Weinhard's gourmet soda to celebrate the last day of school

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Critical Review

Writers are very sensitive to criticism. I used to think this was true only of fledgling writers like me, who realize they're only pretending to be writers and are sure the rest of the world will catch on one of these times and it will be really embarrassing.

But no. Recently I read a quote by some stratospheric author like Norman Mailer in which he or she said that they can still quote a critical review from two years ago but have forgotten all the positive reviews in the meantime.

Yesterday my mother-in-law came in the kitchen waving a Critical Letter that her friend Barbara had clipped out of the Mennonite Weekly Review, which has been serializing my books.

The letter was written by Laura H. Weaver from Evansville, Indiana. It read:
Dorcas Smucker, in "Escapes for Mom" ("Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting," April 26) calls a character in L.M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle, an "old maid." I'm astounded to read that term in MWR or anywhere in 2010. The term was, indeed, used in the past, but it never was acceptable; it was always offensive. I'm thankful it was never used in my parental home (and I'm in my 70s); we never called my single aunts by that term, even in the 1930s and '40s.

I've noticed other negative portrayals of singleness in Smucker's writing. Several weeks ago she described a young woman who, after several relationships didn't work out, resigned herself to continual loneliness. Singleness does not mean loneliness. Many kinds of friendships and relationships exist. Let's affirm a more expansive view of life rather than this narrow, provincial one.

I have found myself giggling at this letter ever since. How better to describe How My Life Goes than to receive, not a review in Publishers Weekly taking me to task for something literary like inconsistent thematic juxtapositions, but some lady from Indiana writing to MWR about my using the words, "old maid."

The letter did spark an interesting breakfast-table conversation this morning. I was happy to see the children rise up in my defense, like children tend to do, where they can criticize me all they want but if someone from outside tries it, they all band together in my defense.

Paul said, "You can tell a lot about a person by what they react to." Which led, of course to speculation about why Ms. Weaver reacted to my depiction of singleness, which may be better imagined than described.

I did want to defend myself, briefly, when I first read the letter. I think LMM used the term "old maid" in The Blue Castle, and the part about the young woman resigning herself to loneliness was a direct quote from my SIL Rosie. But the rational part of me knew that most likely Ms. Weaver has a raw spot on her soul that needs compassion rather than logic.

And of course I will be very careful in the future about how I depict singleness.

* * *

Speaking of reviews, I learned a new term recently: piranhas.

Local writer Linda Clare's new book, The Fence My Father Built, was offered free in its Kindle form for a week or two. This led to a bunch of new reviews on Amazon including, Linda said, reviews from the piranhas. These are people who grab free copies of books and then write negative reviews.

There's a new word circulating among Amazon reviewers: "Meh." It means just how it sounds, an arrogant one-word dismissal of the book and everything in it. For some reason I find it really annoying, so you can all have a Paul-style analytical heyday here to figure out why I am reacting to this.

The typical Meh review goes: "Meh. awful glad it was free...would have been upset to have paid for it... ridiculous main characters never developed. silly plot simply restated again and again. do not waste your time."

One of my books got a Meh review over on Goodreads and that was more painful than fifteen letters to the Mennonite Weekly. If you're going to go to the trouble of reading a book and writing a review, have the decency to write something with substance. True, it says a lot more about the reviewer than the author, but it unfairly lowers the star rating for ever and aye.

But the Mennonite Weekly Review doesn't have star ratings for its serialized stories, so I can still smile about that critical letter.

Quote of the Day:
(Or: how conversations get derailed at the Smuckers)

Me: Emily was at an Iraqi supper on Sunday and an Egyptian supper on Saturday.
Jenny: Did she dress up like Cleopatra?
Ben: Cleopatra was of Greek descent!
Jenny: That was such a Bennish thing to say.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


There comes a point where you just have to learn to laugh at yourself.

I've always had a reputation of being a bit spacey and totally unaware of what's going on around me if I'm really thinking about something.

Yesterday I drove Emily up to Portland to catch her plane back to Virginia.

And then I bummed around a few secondhand stores for a while.

And then I headed home, down I-5. I briefly thought about visiting my brother Phil and his family near Canby but decided they're too far off the freeway and I'm too tired. I also thought about pulling off to sleep for a while, but decided not to.

Shortly after I came home I got a message from my sister-in-law Geneva: "Let me guess where you were at about 4 today. Wilsonville I-5. Am I good or what?!"

I was flummoxed. How did she know?

Next message: Check your facebook!

There I read: "Phil has been snickering since walking in the door! Dorcas was deep in thought and oblivious to the pranks he played on her today!"

I called Geneva. She could hardly tell me the story for laughing. Phil was driving home from work and there I was, toodling down I-5. He drove along beside me and waved and tried to get my attention, but to absolutely no avail. (I don't think he has a cell phone, so he couldn't call.)

Arrgghh. Embarrassing. And disappointing. It would have been fun to stop and have coffee together.

"What should he have done to get your attention?" Geneva wondered.

I said, "Well, it's a good thing he didn't honk, because I would have screamed and driven off the road."

"Yeah, that's what Phil said too." I could just see Geneva rocking forward and back, hand over her mouth, bubbling with mirthful giggles.

You know, there comes a point where you might as well laugh with everyone else because you are on the dark side of 40 and there's no way you'll ever change.

Quote of the Day:
"Jason is my favorite Yoder cousin. I like him because he's so tolerant of me."
--Jenny. Anyone who has seen her persecuting Jason will understand.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mothers Day

I couldn't have asked for a better Mother's Day.

All of my children were home, which always makes me feel the world is finally orbiting as it should.

I didn't have any trouble waking up at 3:30 to put the turkey in the oven.

Dinner, with all of us plus Paul's mom plus a friend of Matt's, came together without me coming apart, always something to celebrate, and afterwards I was shooed into the living room while the dishes magically got done.

Jenny gave me a small pillow for when I travel, that she made herself.

Emily gave me a cool plate and cup set featuring a large rooster that just "goes" with my kitchen.

Amy, Steven, and Ben gave me a new planter that looks like an oversized teapot and is just cute.

Matt's gift to me is shopping on ebay for a new-used camera, since I really need one and kept putting it off because I dreaded the shopping thereof.

And Paul gave me a letter with lots of nice words in it.

I felt very blessed.

Quote of the Day I:
". . . warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men."
--the Bible verse I quoted when Paul, preparing for a sermon, asked me what verses tell me how to be a mom

Quote of the Day II:
"You missed a verse--'Thou shalt not kill.'"
--a mysterious note that was dropped over my shoulder during the sermon

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Like and Dislike

I like: piano recitals, especially when the kids play short pieces, so you can truly appreciate their cuteness and skill without getting bored, with just enough longer pieces at the end to give you a good taste of amazing skill and practice on display. I also like recitals where Jenny plays well, which she did today.

I dislike: when people say "PIN number," "SAT test," and "NYM ministries."

[Ooops. Just realized I wrote "SAT test" two posts back. Argh.]

Quote of the Day:
"Traffic is moving slowly on Belt Line near River Road. We're efforting to find out exactly what's wrong."
--the guy on KUGN

Monday, May 03, 2010

How Cool is That?

1. Years ago when we invested in our Bosch mixer we debated about buying the stainless steel bread-dough bowl since I baked our own bread, but decided not to because of the cost. Saturday I was in Halsey with two of my lovely daughters hitting as many garage sales as possible, and there I found an old but still good Bosch mixer with a blender and, yes, a stainless steel bowl with the special dough hook and all the right lids. That looked almost new. For $10. I am baking a batch of bread and feeling smug as we speak.

2. Yesterday I got an email from a guy in South Carolina. Along with his book order he wrote

I enjoy traveling as a single person and have been to 47 states and quite a number of countries. Twice I have visited in your lovely state and would like to again visit Ft. Klamath and Klamath Falls, Crater Lake etc. sometime, several towns that come to mind. A quick little story that gives testimony to the Mennonites of Oregon while in our travel with 5 other single men some years ago. We were driving through Eugene and decided it was time to buy a set of 2 tires for our motor home so we stopped at a tire center and made our negotiations. It was lunch time when we stopped and I asked the proprietor if there would be any chance our group could borrow a car to use to get some lunch while they mounted the new tires. He looked a bit quizzically at the 6 strange young men, (several bearded) in our group and seeing the South Carolina plates he inquired of my name? I told him it was Hershberger and immediately a light came on and he smiled and said you are Mennonite are you not?? I replied yes and he said I know a lot of Mennonites nearby and he quickly flipped the keys to me and recommended a number of local eateries and said, “take my personal car and enjoy your lunch!”. . . . I have often thought of someone’s testimony that we were “riding” on and how God rewards us for living lives that are honest and truthful. We left Eugene with a good taste in our mouths!

3. Emily took her SAT test on Saturday. One paragraph in the English section was a quote from a book and greatly intrigued her, but she didn't have time to jot down the title or author. Afterwards she was wishing she could remember the details so she could find the book and read it. Yesterday she flew to Denver, [headed home for a week for Ben's graduation] where Paul and Ben picked her up in the van and then went on to Canon City and picked up her houseful of stuff that has been in storage since November. She happened to see the book Paul brought along to read, and here it was The Moonstone, the exact book she had been wishing for.

4. This morning I finished my column for May. It's supposed to be 1000 words long but is usually at least 1200 and I leave it to my editor to chop if there's not enough space. Today I finished the article, clicked on the word count, and behold, exactly 1000 words.

Quote of the Day:
"Is there anything better than a Mennonite discount grocery store?"
--Ben, after I made a trip to Grocery Depot and rhapsodized about all my bargains