Sunday, June 27, 2010

Info, Anyone??

I got an interesting email the other day that included this:

I have a memory of a specific house that I saw as a young girl in the late 50’s and 60’s. My sister mentioned your name as an option to start my curiosity is a bit of the story...

I have lived in Oregon since my birth in 1949, we lived outside of Portland. In 1958 we moved to the Crow area, and then in 1959 to Bailey Hill (out west 11th). From the time of 1958-through the later 60’s we drove from west Eugene to Sweet Home. I had two aunts that lived in Sweet Home and we regularly drove the back roads to go visit them. This was before I-5 was built. So somewhere along HWY 99 or a byway we would see these homes that were built mainly into the ground. The roof was clearly visible...they were ranch style...and about 3-5 ft of the house structure was also visible with windows.

No one else remembers them...and my parents are long deceased. At that time our parents would tell us that they were “Mennonite Homes” and being buried like that was part of their religion. I have asked my two aunts that used to live in Sweet Home...who are now in their 90’s and they think I am making this up.

So I was wondering, do you know of any information that would ease this curious mind? I would appreciate any help. I have spend hours on the internet and learned lots of great things..but alas nothing about these buried/earthen homes.

I am completely stumped. The other day at a birthday lunch I asked about this and no one including 83-year-old Great-Aunt Berniece, who has lived around here forever, knew a thing about it.

If you have any insights, please comment.

Quote of the Day:
"Whoa. You can think about retiring."
--Steven, to Amy, who had her 22nd birthday on Friday

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I get my fun wherever I can find it.

My SIL Barb said, "You read Craigslist ads for entertainment???" Yes I do. Try it sometime--the horrible spellings and/or rants about the ex in the household ads, the tearjerking "wanted" ads, the bizarre things people are giving away for free.

Or the one Ben and I still chuckle over--a conscience-smitten college student in Eugene said he got drunk at a party and the next morning there was a lawn chair on his porch that hadn't been there before, and he apparently picked it up while walking home, and he has no idea where it belongs, and he feels very bad about this and wants to return it to its rightful owner.

And of course we thought, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee."

I get lots of entertainment out of going to garage sales too, from the great bargains to the hideous ceramic figurines to the talkative hostesses.

And then there was a complete little drama that played before my eyes the other week.

About three sales were clustered on this one street, which meant lots of cars pulling in and out, and people walking. I was happily looking at stuff when I heard a woman's frantic voice--"COLBY!" I looked up. Across the street was a lady about my age standing by a white car. She looked one way, then the other and shouted again, desperately, "COLBY!"

Up and down the street, heads turned as we all felt a chill of fear. Mrs. Garage Sale left the garage and started down the driveway for a better view. I stopped shopping and wondered what I should do. I think we were all thinking of that poor little boy, Kyron Harmon, who had just recently disappeared in Portland.

The woman walked around her car, still shouting frantically. Someone called to her, "Did you lose someone?"

She shouted back, "My dog! He was right here in the back seat! And he's gone!"

At least it wasn't a child.

Heads pivoted up and down the street as we all looked for a streak of fur behind a rhodie bush. Nothing. The lady kept calling.

I think we were all about to spread over the neighborhood when suddenly she stopped. And then she looked really embarrassed, and slapped her forehead, and yelled to everyone, "OH! I forgot! I dropped him off at home!"

We all laughed and we ladies of a certain age looked very sympathetic. Mrs. Garage Sale returned to her folding chair. I returned to the Tupperware and towels. The street resumed its normal traffic.

We were all smiling.

I never know when or where a story will happen right before my eyes.

Quote of the Day:
"Westside Morning Glory Reasonably Conservative Mennonite Church"
--what Ben thinks people in other states name their churches, rather than the practical Oregonian way of "Harrisburg Mennonite," or "Brownsville Mennonite." I don't think he realizes just how many Mennonite churches are in a town like Goshen, Indiana.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


It feels weird to be sitting here wearing a fleece vest when summer is officially here and facebook updates from the rest of the country talk about panting miserably in the heat and praising God for air conditioning.

As I may have stated before [yes, I heard that cynical "too often"], Oregon has months of chilly, misty, moist, drizzly weather, and then in April everything bursts into bloom and around the day of the school picnic in May we have some real sunshine, and even though it rains off and on after that, June brings quite a few heavenly sunny days that ripen the vast fields of ryegrass and by the fourth of July the rain is GONE for the next 3 months and the sun shines down and warms you clear through and dries the jeans on the line in a couple of hours.

Not this year. The clouds and drizzle and mists refuse to leave. A few sunny days fought their way through, but then the gray skies took over again. Hopes were high that it would hit 80 degrees today, but it didn't, at least not at our house, and the report was that it's not likely to hit that magic number now until the third of July. This is breaking records all over the place, to go this far into the summer without hitting 80. Here's the June Accuweather calendar, with the actual temperatures compared to the historical average high.

I am trying to be thankful, because it's not like it's terribly cold. And it's nice to drive to town and not have the car as hot as a pizza oven when you get back in.

Speaking of which, my fine daughter in Virginia called me yesterday with a horrible but hysterical story of taking a stray cat to the pound in her car when it was like 100 degrees and humid outside. You can view her sanitized version of it here, but believe me I got details that she mercifully curtained off for the rest of you.

In contrast, today Steven and I took Hansie to the vet to check out his oozy eye and the lump on his right front ankle. I threw on a lightweight cardigan but could have survived without, and I didn't have to worry about Hansie getting hot and sick in the back of the van. So that was nice.

I wonder how many people have dogs which require them to not only take the van, but take the back seat out first, to take them to the vet.

Hansie actually cooperated this time and didn't chase the vet's cat. He barked at the pampered pooches that came in but didn't threaten to tear them apart.

After four tries we finally got him on the scales. 170 pounds. He will have surgery on Monday on his eye and ankle. He is old but his heart is good and yes, he's stiff but we don't need to think about putting him down until he can't get up any more, which seems a bit counter-intuitive.

Oh yeah, the weather. I guess I just dislike extremes. Like when we lived in Canada, I got so sick and tired of the endless cold I thought I would go crazy.

And when I've been in the Midwest in the summer, or when we were in Kenya, that combination of heat and humidity sucked all the ambition out of my body, along with all the oxygen, it felt like.

So I am trying to be content with a gray Oregon summer.

Quote of the Day:
"What is striking about Oregon's climate is not just the sheer amount of rain, but the persistence of the rain. A newspaper feature that Oregon's tourist bureaus would rather forget about documented that among the US's major cities, Portland, Oregon showed the most hours per year when rain actually fell from the sky- a bit over 1,000 hours per year. This is a fact of life that Oregonians know all too well--those gloomy days where it rains a microscopic drizzle most of the day, shutting down outdoor activities like mowing your lawn or working on your car, and yet when you pull off your soaked shoes and sit down to listen to the evening news, fantastically, the weatherman reports that it rained only 0.05 inches, when it seemed to you like everything was oozing water all day long! Then of course there are long stretches of time where it stays gray and overcast, but doesn't rain.

Oregon's first major inrush of settlers encountered a Willamette Valley paradise that was much drier and sunnier than normal. The decade of the 1840s still holds the record as the worst drought ever to afflict our State.

But "Drought" in the Willamette Valley is a relative term. With deep, fertile soils and extensive native cover of trees and tall grasses, the Oregon Trail settlers of the 1840s saw fields of green everywhere despite the underlying drought. With normal yearly rainfall an ample 35 to 45 inches, even quite sub-normal rainfall is still enough to keep streams, rivers and green grass going much of the year, and there were so few people that overuse of water tables, and urban water shortages weren't even conceivable.. Then, too, one must remember that even a drought-stricken Willamette Valley looks very green and lush compared to the brutal deserts and steppes that settlers had traversed to get to the Willamette Valley.
So Oregon's early settlers adjusted to an abnormal climate, a more sunny, dry climate that favored grasslands and oak trees, quite similar to what one finds nowadays in the Roseburg and Grants Pass areas. But then the 1850s rolled in, and with it the normal endless rains and clay mud, and months of gloom. One can imagine the thoughts of the settlers who'd come on the first wagon trains, staked their donation land claims, and built their new homes. No matter how crummy the weather now became, they knew they were now "locked in." Now they had to learn by heart how to spell that native Oregon word, "SADS." *

* Behavioral scientists at Oregon Health Sciences University are credited with the original research that led to the naming of "Seasonal Affective Disorder," SADS for short-- moody, down, gloomy, depressed, irritable, and hungering for heavy rich food and COFFEE to get through the sunless weeks without end. "
--The Climate of Northwestern Oregon "Mecca vs. Reality"
Bruce B. Johnson

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Wedding

Oh how I do love weddings.

Today Paul and I and Amy went to Kathy Baker's wedding. Amy went because she was asked to help with serving. The other kids didn't go because they hate going to weddings and funerals, and we don't force them to go if it's someone they don't know well. Which brings up a great idea, holding the next wedding/funeral over their heads as a punishment. "One more demerit at school, young man, and you're going to Matilda's funeral or Johnny and Cheryl's wedding, whichever comes first!"

But weddings are not punishment for me. No, they are rich enjoyment.

Kathy is one of the sweetest people ever. She taught most of our kids in Sunday school at one point, and always did something special with each child during the year--took them out for supper at Red Robin, that sort of thing.

She's the oldest in her family and kept smiling sweetly through the years as her siblings all got married and had lots of little Bakers.

A few years ago she moved to Florida. Last year word started circulating that she had a Man in her life. And he was coming for Christmas. She brought him to church and he seemed to hold his head up high even though we all covertly inspected him to see if he was good enough for Kathy, since Kathy is the sort of person that, when she comes back for a visit, the pastor stops in the middle of his sermon and says joyfully, "Oh! Kathy's here! Welcome home, Kathy!"

Eric seemed nice enough, and soon we heard of their engagement, and all the fluttering little ladies in church nodded to each other and gave him a stamp of approval when they heard that he had told Kathy that they need to get married in Oregon because he can't make all those Bakers travel all the way to Florida. How thoughtful of him!

Today was the wedding. Every detail was beautiful and perfect, from the dressed-up nephews to the roses on the tables that had come from Kathy's dad's cousin Richard's wife Arlene's vast rose garden. And true to Kathy-form, every niece and nephew, from Preston the groomsman down to the babies in the wagon that the little nephews pulled up the aisle, was included in some role.

The brothers and in-laws were dressed up as well, leading a certain grandma to note that she hasn't seen "Bill" that dressed up since his own wedding day going on 20 years ago. And another female was overheard to say that the Bakers are a good-looking bunch, dressed up.

Of course there was more to it than flowers and frills. There was the absolute radiant joy on Kathy's face and the grin on Eric's and the reminder in the meditation that this is only the illustration and the reality is Christ and the Church. And the vows reminded us long-married folk that oh, yeah, oops, we did promise to exercise patience, kindness, and forbearance, didn't we, and it has been wearing thin, especially when we have conversations like this:

Quote of the Day:
Me: You know, there are challenges to getting married young, but there would also be some tough things about getting married at 40.
Paul: FORTY? Kathy's not 40! Let's see, Brent is John's age, and John is ten years younger than me, but I don't know if it's on the 40 side or the 41 side, and then Jeanette is older than Brent and Kathy's older than Jeanette! So she must be a ways into her forties.
[pause while I think un-forbearing thoughts]
Me: You know, you kind of hijacked the conversation there.
Paul: I'm sorry. Yes, you're right, there would be challenges to getting married in your forties.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On the Radio

Tomorrow, Thursday the 17th, I'm scheduled to be interviewed on an internet radio program called Mommy on a Shoestring. We'll talk about my blog and books.

It'll be at 11:00 Pacific time.

If you want to listen in you can go to and click the top, right hand side icon.

There will also be a podcast available later in the day on the website as well as on itunes.

Here's the link for itunes.

I could use some prayers because I haven't done this very often and have fears of an asthma attack in the middle of it AND of not knowing what to say. Yes, well. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." That's what I need.

And being able to breathe and talk, that would be nice too.

Quote of the Day:
(Notes in church, [don't tell] after Jenny saw in the bulletin that I'm on for children's meeting on Sunday)
Me: What stories should I tell?
Jenny: do NOT read anything from Uncle Arthur's bedtime stories.
Me: Why not?
Jenny: Little kid: hey, we have that book. Other little kid: so do we! You: ok i'm going to read Minimizing Milton. Little kid: I've heard that story

Friday, June 11, 2010

Facing My Past

Every time I turn around these days I bump into my past. Obviously I have a lot more past than I used to; maybe that's why it keeps showing up.

When I was barely 18 I left home to teach grades one to eight in a small Beachy-Amish community. Actually they were somewhere between Amish and Beachy, which matters only because I thought I was cooler than they were, and believe me it took some effort to be less cool than me.

My students were a tight-knit bunch, all siblings or cousins to each other. Most were sweet but some were ornery and a few were downright hostile.

Especially the oldest boys. And most especially the 8th grader whom I will call Isaac to protect all concerned.

He ignored me when I asked him to do anything, refused to look at me or smile, always gave me the feeling he was rustling up trouble, drew hideous monsters when I asked them to draw self-portraits for an art project, and talked and laughed with his friends but clammed up sullenly when I came within earshot.

Come to think of it, he wasn't that different from a few teenagers I've raised since.

Anyway, we recall here that I was barely 18 and shoved into a situation I was utterly unprepared for, and left to sink or swim.

Which does not excuse the fact that I made a huge power struggle out of what should not have been one, and never asked for help from anyone, and punished the boys in the stupidest possible ways which I will not elaborate on because I still have a shred of pride.

When the year finally, mercifully, ended, I left and went as far as I could go (Oregon) and tried to put it behind me and vowed to never look back and shut that door and double-locked it.

This resolve lasted 30 years, up until just a few weeks ago, when a girl in the youth group said offhandedly that their dad's friend "Isaac Hostetler" and his family are coming for a wedding.

No. It couldn't be. Surely there are lots of Isaac Hostetlers in this world.

I called the girl's mom and asked for details. Yes, it really was him. And when I told her the story she screamed and laughed so loud it nearly cracked my phone.

Lord have mercy. I would finally have to face my past.

I cannot tell you how hard this was. Worst was the dread, fueled by gleeful texts from the hostess about how they were hearing the whole story from HIS perspective and laughing their heads off.

I called Matt because he is a good comforting person. He said, "Mom! I had no clue! You never told us you taught in an Amishy school right after high school!"

Sunday morning we went to church and our friends and their guests all pulled in at the same time. We got out of the car and I grabbed Paul's sleeve. "I've gotta get this over with. Come with me."

I walked over to Isaac and shook his hand. "Hello Isaac," I said timidly, and he said, "Dorcas! I gotta give you a hug!" and he did, and that was one of the most healing moments of my whole life.

Later we talked more and caught up with both our families. Isaac is a nice guy with a lovely wife and family. He had a kind look in his eyes and a great sense of humor, and he is way cooler than me. I hope he could see that the Holy Spirit and the intervening years have wrought some changes in me as well.

You know, logically, I can give myself some grace because I was 18 and if that school board was dumb enough to hire an air-headed 18-year-old, well, that's exactly what they got. But still, I made idiotic decisions and have regretted them ever since and there's no denying that. But now the padlocks are off that door if Isaac and I see each other again we will be friends and that is a very good feeling.

Quote of the Day:
"This is just getting 2 funny!!! :) theyre all enjoying this! The story had all sorts of interesting details!"
--a text message from Isaac's hostess that made my heart sink to previously unknown depths

Monday, June 07, 2010

My Diet

I decided I need to lose five pounds before I face the moment of truth when I renew my license at the end of this month. Plus my skirts are getting too tight.

Ever since I moved past my teenage obsession with weight and what I now realize was bulimia, I've felt nervous about diets. This worked fine during the baby years, when I had no trouble keeping the weight off and struggled to gain weight during my pregnancies. But then I hit the fabulous 40s and didn't have more babies and took lots of inhaled steroids.

Not good.

I am not good at structure and discipline. I mean, I can come up with elaborate schemes of walking so many minutes a day and eating careful nutritious portions 6 times a day and treating myself to one dessert a week. This always lasts about three days and then I get hungry and in a hurry and it all gets tossed to the winds.

My lovely neighbor "Miss Anita" stopped by the other day. She has lost a lot of weight and reassured me that no, she's not sick, but she really wanted to do this and now she's at her goal weight.

So we talked about weight loss, and getting over the ethical hurdle of actually spending money on weight-loss products [how crazy this must seem to a Haitian], and how to keep it off.

She said the basic tenet of many diets is omitting white flour and white sugar.

This seemed like a simple-enough formula that I could actually follow it. I decided to try it for a week. And really, I don't eat that much of either flour or sugar anyway, I reassured myself. I mean, I don't eat lots of desserts and I quit putting sugar in my tea a long time ago. I never drink pop or bottled drinks.

Wrong, shockingly wrong.

At the end of the second day I am craving sweets and baked things so badly I am getting obsessive. That lovely carrot cake from Sunday dinner, the whoopie pies I made for the boys, the dish of caramels I found when I defrosted the freezer--all of them constantly calling my name.

My normal meal-diet isn't different--whole wheat bagel and cream cheese for breakfast, haystacks for supper, rice and stir-fry yesterday. I don't split hairs about a bit of flour or sugar in meatballs, for instance.

But apparently I've been mindlessly nibbling on sweets and crackery snacks and never realized how much of a sugar-rush I was getting from them.

So I am sitting here with a packet of rye crackers beside me, unsuccessful at convincing myself they taste like those wonderful little square cheesy crackers, and it doesn't help when Jenny looks at them and says:

Quote of the Day:

"It looks like dog food."

Friday, June 04, 2010

Steven Again Lands On His Feet

Some of you know my brother Fred who lived on the dangerous edge but was blessed with a large dose of sheer luck that always had him skating out the other side of disaster, still on his feet and with a smile on his face.

(I say "lived" rather than "lives" because he's toned down a bit.)

Then there was Tristan in the James Herriot books who lived the same way but, Herriot said, always landed on his feet.

Well, that's what Steven is like.

He forgets, procrastinates, lives on the knife edge, pushes his limits, acts on impulse, and exasperates the life out of more responsible people, but he always sails through on a huge inborn dose of charm and luck.

Which is very irritating when responsible people are trying to teach him a lesson.

So the youth group decided to go camping. Yes, tent camping, and it's been raining pretty much every day for weeks, but that's another story. Wednesday night they all came home from Bible study with a list of supplies they need, plus a post-it telling them what food to bring for the group.

Ben said he's supposed to bring two bags of pepperoni. I made sure someone picked it up in town.

Amy said she needs to make macaroni salad. She bought the ingredients and made the salad.

Steven said his paper didn't have a post-it and he doesn't need to bring anything. He repeated this insistently every time I asked.

Today they gathered sleeping bags and flashlights and got ready to go. Five minutes before they were leaving Steven exclaimed, "Oh! I was supposed to bring food after all!"


SIGH said Mom.

We looked at the paper. "Two bags of chips. One bag of marshmallows." We had them all on hand. We threw them in the food sack and they left.

Steven just grinned.

Quote of the Day:
(At Torero's in Harrisburg)
Me: [tapping the table] What color would you call this? It's not orange and it's not pink. I can't think of the word for it.
Jenny: Salmon?
Me: Yes! Salmon! How did you know?
Jenny: I have a wide variety of colored pencils.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Moral Dilemma

So the other week I was in the presence of a few older people who were discussing everyone they knew as only older people can, since they actually have time to notice and think about who is traveling where and who switched from this church to that one, and why, and what everyone said about it, and what has happened since then.

The conversation intrigued me so much I later wrote down all I could remember and related it to Emily over the phone. She hooted and laughed and said, "Oh Mom, you have to write that Mennonite novel!"

So since she has worked on way more novels than I have, I said with a sigh that I have all these dibs and dabs of notes and ideas but I can't seem to make a story, and what should I do?

"Pictures," she said. "I think you need pictures." It turned out she had gotten started on her retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses by taping storybook pictures of princesses around the room, purely for decoration, but then they took on personalities and soon a story started flowing.

"I think if you can picture a character, then a story might start coming out of that," she said.

"But," I said, "it can't be anyone I know. I have to be able to imagine."

I had an idea. I had been on a Facebook friend's page and clicked through one of her picture albums of a family event, and was intrigued by one photo of a Mennonite woman. I have no idea who she is, and I don't know why it stood out to me, but it came to mind when I was talking to Emily. What if I printed off that picture and used it as a starting point?

"Yes!" Emily said. "And I'm giving you an assignment. By next week, print off the picture and figure out who this woman is in love with. And every week I'll try to give you another prompt."

Well, I knew right off who she's in love with: her husband. But he's quiet and grim and she doesn't think he loves her any more. I went back to the album and wouldn't you know it, the picture is gone. Did someone sense my intentions?? Which leads me to my moral dilemma--is it ethical to pull pictures of strangers off the internet and use them as starting points for a story? Or is that too much like a pedophile browsing for pictures of your daughter?

I need to know.

Quote of the Day:
"Never kick a tire filled with concrete."
--Jenny, who skinned her toes on the tetherball base at Grandma's