Thursday, October 28, 2010

Life Connections

Some time ago I had a guest here, and to my regret I can't remember who it was, [tell me if it was you] and she was intrigued with all the small decisions behind the scenes that bring people to where they are today. "How did you and Paul meet?" she asked me, so I explained how I lived in Minnesota and decided to go to Calvary Bible School in Arkansas where I met two guys from Oregon who weren't Beachy Amish but for some reason went to CBS that year, and one of them recommended me to teach at the Mennonite school in Oregon, and so I did, and I taught little Rosie Smucker, who had this cool older brother teaching down at Winston, and I got to know the family and then I got to know Paul.

"So," said my guest, "you have this life today, with Paul and your family and this house and your ministry at Brownsville and everything, because for some reason those two Mennonite guys decided to try out a Beachy Bible school that year."

Intriguing thought, I must say.

I got an email from a woman in the East the other day. She wrote, "I picked up your first book about two months ago in a quilt shop in upstate New York. I loved it so much I ordered the next two. . . I am so nourished by your writings. I . . .felt right at home with your stories."

A day or two later I was "friended" on Facebook by a guy named Grant Podelco. I was happy to hear from him, as he had been the features editor at the Register-Guard who first hired me on to write a column, but then before long he went to Czechoslovakia to work with Radio Free Europe, and I hadn't heard from him for probably eight years.

I clicked on the link for his blog and then to a New York Times article about his wedding, where I read this: ". . .they met in Prague in the summer of 2001, when Mr. Podelco, who had left Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in 1999 to work at a newspaper in Oregon, returned to his old newsroom."

So, Mr. Podelco had been in Prague, of all places, and came to Oregon, of all places, and worked at the RG for only two years, if that, and then returned to Prague. And during that little window of time I wrote an impulsive piece for the anybody-can-try Write On feature, and it was printed, and I sent a copy to my friend Ilva, and she wrote to the paper and said they should feature this author more often, and Mr. P., who was looking for some new material, was intrigued with the idea and called me up and asked if I'd write a "Letter from Harrisburg" column once a month.

And in ten years that has led to three books and various speaking opportunities and a woman in upstate New York finding my book at a quilt shop.

It's no wonder my young guest was fascinated with the small decisions of random people that lead us to where we are today.

Quote of the Day:
"It's hard to talk Dutch with a British accent."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sunday School

I teach the junior Sunday school class at church, and I don't know what was in the drinking water 9 to 11 years ago, but it is a huge class, with 17 kids enrolled, and an unusual number of them are very talkative and bouncy.

(Yes, Mennonite kids can be rambunctious.)

So, some Sundays it's like keeping a bunch of ping-pong balls underwater at once, but I'm slowly learning what it takes to keep their attention.

Last Sunday the lesson was about Isaac and his mean neighbors, the Philistines, who kept taking over his wells and using them for themselves or filling them with dirt. One boy said he would have pitched a grenade at them, but someone else made the insightful comment that it would have been less work for Isaac to fight off the Philistines than to keep moving off and digging another well.

But of course, that's what Isaac kept doing, and eventually the Philistine leader came to him with his hat in his hand to make peace, and don't we all wish our enemies would do this.

I sensed that this bunch needed more instruction on not being Philistines to each other than on being peacemakers like Isaac, so we talked about both, and also about that when you're a kid and someone is being mean to you, you can and should ask an adult for help.

I was confident they had all learned the basics of the lesson.

Just before the final bell rang I asked if any of them had stories to tell of when they were mean to someone and they made peace, or vice versa.

"Sam" raised his hand. "I can tell you about a time I got revenge," he said with a delighted grin. "My brother shot me right here with a bb gun. So later when he was walking by I took a bb gun and went KAPOW! and hit him right there!

I opened my mouth and waited for some words to come out. "Sooo, did you do the right thing?"

He grinned. "Yeah!"

I shrieked, "Didn't you learn anything today??!!"


The second bell buzzed and they all scattered.

I am not too distraught, because I have had pastors tell me that at their ordination, their old Sunday school teachers came up to them and said, "I never would have seen this coming. Never."

Quote of the Day:
"Sometimes I'm an optimist and sometimes I'm a pessimist so I'm a poptimist."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Saturday Night Highlights

October as you may know is Pastors Appreciation Month. The amazing youth group at Brownsville Mennonite decided to host a dinner to honor their pastors.

Ben told me beforehand they need old and new family pictures, so I gave him our latest family picture, shot out by the grapevines, and that old picture of Paul and me that was taken shortly after we were married*.
*full story here

When we drove up to church, the fellowship hall was dark except for little lights twinkling in the windows. when we opened the door, a path of candles in burlap-wrapped jars led us to a gazebo decorated with the most amazing fall decor--pumpkins, bouquets of mums, cornstalks, candles, and a lot more.

Our pictures graced the windowsills and I was happy to see that the others' wedding-era pictures weren't any more impressive than ours, and Arlen had sideburns like corn shovels.

Soon three young waiters in sharp-looking uniforms [repurposed from the ACE convention choir] swept in with water for us, then bottles of sparkling cider, and plates of dainty appetizers, and salads, and the most delicious chicken bruschetta and potatoes, and later coffee and a brownie sundae with a cherry on top.

We felt very honored.

The lights went on and it was time for activities. One was a sword drill, which for unchurched people is a contest in which the leader says a Bible reference like "Micah 6:8" and the first person to find it in his Bible and read it gets a point.

We had three teams--ministers, wives, and youth--and we could get an extra point if we quoted the verse instead of looking it up. The youth won, thanks to Ben's vast Bible knowledge, the wives were next thanks to one of the verses being one I will never forget, my theme verse for at least one pregnancy: Romans 8:18 "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us," and the ministers, oddly enough, were last.

Then Dan Krabill started fiddling with a video screen and a few gizmos over on the serving counter by the kitchen. "This is a Wii," explained Justin D., "and we are going to have a tennis tournament."

Dan and Justin showed us how the little white sticks in their hands coordinated with the little tennis players on the screen. When you swung the stick, the little guy onscreen swung his racquet. And now, happy happy news, we could all try it.

Oh. Great.

Much has been written about how terrible I am with anything electronic and how completely dreadful I am at anything athletic. From high school P.E*. to youth volleyball games to floor hockey games that I got roped into in Canada to church softball games, I have a long history of swinging a hand or tool at a moving object, and missing. I know it all so well. The desperation, the determination, the wild flail, the swish of the object flying by, the chagrin and humiliation, the amusement or pity or irritation on the faces around me.
*gory details here

And this was tennis. When we were dating, Paul thought he would do something creative and teach me how to play tennis. We did this only once. He believed me after that.

So first, a practice round. Me and Rita I think. Might as well get it over with. The ball went up and I swung. And there was a nice little thunk as the ball went over the net. I was astonished.

Back and forth we went, and again the racquet made contact, and suddenly I was very into this
game, so much so that I was swinging all over the place trying to hit wild balls, and I'm afraid I came close to hitting Brandon Beach in the teeth, and later I found out Felicia was videotaping it all, which I am not going to think about, and I won the round.

Why, that was actually kind of fun.

Then the tournament began. Me against Paul. Well, judging by that ill-fated afternoon of our dating days, there was no chance for me, but I'd get it over with.

Back and forth, whack and smack, and I won.


I played Amos Kropf next and decided to just relax even though playing against guys intimidates me. I kept swinging, and my racquet somehow coordinated with my eyes and did what I wanted it to.

I won again. Was I dreaming?

The last game, and I was up against Brent the youth sponsor who had that competitive look in his eyes that guys get when they're determined to win if it kills them. Oh well, it wasn't life or death to me, that was for sure. I served and Brent figured out a way to whack the balls back like missiles, but I learned to pause before I swung and a lot of the balls went outside the lines.

Brent and I were tied with two rounds to go. I kept breathing, serving, swinging.

I won the tournament.

I thought, wait, no, this didn't really happen, because things like that don't happen to me. But the youth were applauding and Jenny high-fived me and with glowing eyes squealed that she was SO PROUD OF ME. She just COULD NOT BELIEVE that I won.

That was a high-water moment in my life.

Who knows what will happen next. I'll sit in church and suddenly be able to sing like a good Mennonite? I'll hear my family's plans for the week and remember it all without writing it down? I'll think of a snappy comeback when someone is rude to me?

Life is full of possibilities.

Quote of the Day:
Ben: I wonder why people decided to have numbers in powers of TEN.
Me: Maybe because they had ten fingers?
Ben: (laughing) Oh duh. Sometimes I think and ponder so deeply about things that I miss the obvious.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

See what I mean?

So I posted the other day that I am a person who Does Not Know Stuff. And Paul's mom, Anne, is a Person Who Knows.

Well today was a gorgeous day so I biked to her house to deliver some strawberry starts and then we talked for a little while.

Suddenly I thought of it! Yes! I had some Information that surely she wouldn't know. Since she isn't on Facebook, after all. "Oh!" I said, happily, "I almost forgot to tell you. You know what Facebook is, right? Well, I've been seeing some hints on Facebook that 'Hilda Hostetler' is dating!"

Such a thrill, to impart knowledge.

And she said, "Oh, didn't I tell you? Bonnie told me that two weeks ago when we went up to Sheridan together!"

See what I mean?

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Today I went to the Harrisburg Library tea at the Riverbend Resort where I talked with Amy Somebody who used to work at Farmer's Helper and brought my meat to the car when we butchered a cow, and with Lillian on the other side, who used to work with Jane Kirkpatrick on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

The cool thing about a library tea is that you can easily make conversation about bookish things. I found out that Amy on my left was functionally illiterate for years due to severe ADD but decided to overcome when her son was old enough to read, and she did, by sheer determination. And got her GED. And now she reads voraciously and absorbs all the information she was so hungry for all those years.

Lillian on my right flipped through the tea bags in the little basket and made a comment about the bag of African Bush Tea and we looked at each other and instantly connected on the subject of Alexander McCall Smith's books, and how we love them, and how Precious Ramotswe always drinks her bush tea.

And I got to hear Bob Welch speak, for the first time. I've talked with him plenty of times but never heard him give a speech, and he is as good as they say he is.

Just when I was leaving I heard a deep young voice say, "Hello, Mrs. Smucker," and there was Jamie Bos.

Jamie is an old friend of Matt's who used to live in our neck of the woods on Priceboro Drive. Matt and Jamie had numerous adventures including doing unspeakable things to their friends working in local warehouses on hot summer nights. Jamie spent several years in college in Texas so of course we didn't see much of him then, and I had lost track of him.

But now he's out of college and trying to decide if he wants to get into communications or the ministry, and meanwhile he's working at Riverbend.

It is very good to see an old friend of my children, all grown up and doing well.

Here we are. I was trying to shoot us with my new phone and it wasn't going well so I asked Jamie to do it for me.
This evening we took Paul's mom to church and afterwards she came in for apple pie and popcorn. There are two kinds of people, I decided. People who Know Things and People Who Don't Know Things. I am of the latter category, and I can't tell you how many times I have said "HUH?" when people around me were talking about who is dating or which high school junior is pregnant, and how many times people responded, "You didn't KNOW that??? Dorcas, how could you NOT know that??"

Well, sorry, I am very good at not knowing stuff.

But an evening with Paul's mom fixes that, for a few weeks at least. She is someone who Knows, and she fills us in, and it is very satisfying.

Quote of the Day:
[brotherly love continues at the Smuckers]
Jenny: I'm gonna get a PhD in entomology!
Steven the scoffing big brother: How can you get a PhD in entomology if you're scared of ants??
Jenny the feisty little sister: I'm not scared of ants! I just don't like their smell!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bits of My Exciting Life

Paul pointed out to me the other day that I am the only one in the family that's not in school. So I have a sudden urge to go to OSU and finish my degree.

But not right now, I am not that crazy. And btw, I would have two years left.
I had a bag on the back of my desk in which I accumulated things that died and needed special batteries. Like a timer and camera and two watches. I could have taken them to Fred Meyer and the funny little guy with greasy black hair in his little booth in the jewelry section, but he charges $5 plus the cost of the battery. So I stuck the bag in the car now and then when I went to town and figured one of these times I'll go down Coburg Road to Batteries Plus and get them all fixed at once.

But I never got it done, mostly because I almost never go down Coburg Road any more, and I'm always out of time long before my list of errands is done.

Two days ago I came home from town with a zillion bags of groceries and my bag of dead things and suddenly I realized I am tired of putting this off and--DUH--I could do it all online, in the comfort of my office chair. So the next morning I carefully pried stuff apart and found the batteries and read the microscopic letters with a magnifier and found all the batteries online and ordered them--all in less time than it would have taken me to drive to Batteries Plus. And the shipping was free.

Maybe I've finally joined the 21st century.
**Brag alert** Emily called me and said she did really well on this one paper, a reflective essay that she hadn't worked that hard on but it was read to the class as a model of reflective-essay writing. She said, "Mom, it really isn't fair that I got your genes." Was that sweet or what?
I really like having fresh apples off our own trees. I made three Dutch apple pies this evening and they probably cost me, I don't know, a dollar or two total, so I feel like a good wife.
AK from next door told me the clothesline column made her feel guilty for not hanging her wash out. That was not the intent, I hope you all know that.
Last night was Shelley Smucker's baby shower. Shelley is married to Randy who is Paul's brother Steve's son. They are wonderful people who will be wonderful parents I'm sure.

Judging from dozens of little outfits that emerged from gift bags, brown is "in" right now. Brown and pink, brown and aqua, brown and pale green.

I am old enough to remember brown being in long ago, and then it was very out for a long time, and now it is once again very in. And I can imagine Shelley's daughter looking at her photo albums in ten years and saying, "BROWN?? On a baby??? Mom, how could you??"
There were lots of babies at the shower, and when we went home Jenny was feeling all sad because her friends Janane and Shanea have this adorable little niece and Jenny doesn't have any niece or any prospects of one.

I was feeling kind of the same way about my friends and grandbabies.

So today Cleo the cat got lots of affection, and when Jenny wrapped her up in her[Jenny's] old raggedy blanket and plopped her on my lap, it was a nice substitute, for now.

Last night on the way home we had this conversation:

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: We really need to get Matt and Amy and Emily married.
Me: So who's on your list for Amy?
Jenny: Wellllll, Amy's just so EXQUISITE that I really haven't thought of anyone that's good enough for her!

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Today's Letter from Harrisburg is about the "new" "green" practice of hanging laundry outside to dry.

You can read it here.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Farewell and Hello

A year or two ago I had a scare, that thankfully turned out to be a false alarm, when I thought my cell phone was dying and I'd have to get another one.

This phone used to be Paul's and he's on probably his third one since then. I'm guessing it's between six and eight years old, judging by my memory of sitting outside in the dark at the ladies' retreat in Georgia in 2003, trying to call home.

It is a compact little gray phone that has served me faithfully despite being chewed by Hansie and humiliated by all the fancy iphones and BlackBerries that got turned on all around it every time the plane landed and I called home.

I learned to text on it, a major accomplishment in my life that used to send my daughters into gales of laughter on the other end, since it took me a long time to figure out the CLR button, so I would type away and insert an "oops" after a mistake that was too obtuse to decipher.

But lately the bitter truth has been dawning. The 4 works about half the time. I can't receive the pictures my kids send me. And the whole thing is falling apart at the seams and one of these times I won't be able to hold it together any more.

Meanwhile Emily's phone, which is also on our family plan and only two years old, kept losing its charge after two calls.

We were in line for two free phones, so Paul ordered them, an event Emily recorded here.

My phone came two days ago. Paul charged it up. I have been learning to use it, pressing buttons and scrolling around in a way that would make my children proud.

Paul tried to jump through the hoops to transfer all my numbers from the old phone to the new, but my phone was so old the program didn't work.

This converted me to my new phone, once and for all. I took a picture and emailed it to myself, and now I share it with you.Maybe I should explain. After supper today I told the kids I'd work on dishes while they all write a handwritten letter to Amy at Bible school. However, Cleo the kitty was bothering Ben. So he solved the problem in a way Jenny didn't approve of.

Quote of the Day:
"Me: No, not the little pellets, I haul whats called cattle cubes.
Charles: Beef bouillon?"
--my brother Fred, in a text I saved on my old phone

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Review of Two "Amish" Novels

If you've been around for a while you've heard me fuss about all the Amish novels out there, those paperback books with dreamy Amish girls on the covers, with a buggy and a handsome man in the background, put out by Christian publishers.

Without going into the literary quality (or lack of) of any of these books, the #1 thing that makes me cringe when I read them is the authenticity factor. I read them and think, "An Amish person would never say that," or do that, or think that, or choose that.

Authors, along with most of the population, seldom get that the Amish have a completely different world view from the rest of America. Individuality vs. community, right and wrong, condemnation and redemption, public vs. private, work and leisure, talk and silence, and much more. They're not average Americans who happen to wear funny clothes.

It's typically cavalier American to think you can do some reading and visit a few Amish families and write an authentic novel. An Amishman would never be that audacious about a different culture, assuming that you could read about the Masai, for example, and visit for a week and then write a story about them.

I could ignore the whole Amish-novel fad if it wouldn't be for all the people I meet who gush that they now know all about my Amish past and my Mennonite present because they've read all these stories. And I should get in on the gravy train myself.

But now I'll quit fussing and review two books about the Amish that pleasantly surprised me.

My friend Mary Hake has been after me to read Hillary Manton Lodge's Plain Jayne. And my sis Rebecca has for years been telling me I need to read Jodi Picoult's Plain Truth. Oddly enough, I happened to read both in the last couple of weeks. Mary had loaned me Plain Jayne and I finally got around to reading it, and in the middle of that I stumbled across Plain Truth at a garage sale.

So, to compare and contrast. Both are stories of outsiders coming into the Amish community. Both involve a son who left the Amish and a dad who completely cut him off. And, blessedly, you can read both and have the story itself--characters, suspense, development, romance, whatever--front and center on the stage, rather than the Amishness.

Of the two books, Plain Jayne is much more light and fluffy but still a worthwhile read. It's set in Oregon, with a disclaimer at the front of the book that this is a work of fiction and there are actually no Amish communities in Oregon. Also, a Mennonite columnist is mentioned now and then, and Paul is just sure that was based on me, which is kind of cute. The best part of the book was the author's sense of humor. She sticks in all these snarky little asides that always caught me by surprise and made me snicker. Applause to the author's obvious skill and careful craftsmanship.

And of course it's fun to read a book about places you know--Lincoln City, Powell's Books in Portland, Interstate 5.

I felt like HM Lodge had the good sense to know what she didn't know about the Amish, and didn't let her imagination go too far. She didn't get everything right, but it didn't make me cringe too much because the story's focus was on the main character, who isn't Amish, and is simply looking on while trying to resolve all the issues in her own life.

Plain Truth is in a whole different category, and much more literary and complicated and "heavy," so it probably isn't quite fair to compare the two books. In short, a dead newborn baby is found in an Amish farmer's barn. All kinds of mysteries develop--who had the baby, how did he die, was he murdered, and by whom? The high-powered city lawyer comes into the story, of course, but her journey/choices turn out to closely parallel the Amish young people's stories, showing their similarities despite all their differences.

The most astonishing thing about the book is how well she "got" the Amish world view. For example, most authors jump on the "bann" and present it in one harsh perspective, but Picoult somehow got the nuances of how it all fits into the community and forgiveness and redemption.

Also, what the Amish said and what they decided to not say rang true, which is one of the toughest things for non-Amish authors to get right. Picoult spent less time with the Amish than many authors, but somehow she understood them the best.

So, both books get my approval. Plain Truth is a secular novel, written for adults, so preview it before you recommend it to your offspring.

And one more thing--do you see any similarities in these two covers?

Same artist!

Quote of the Day:
"Forget that story!"
--second grader Bryant H., the day I helped in Miss Megan's classroom, after plowing through a page in his Pace.

Monday, October 04, 2010


Recently I found a nice stainless steel grape juice steamer at Goodwill. I decided to buy it and pass my old aluminum one on to someone else.

And Jenny outgrew her rollerblades, which are still in really nice shape.

I believe in passing things like this along to someone who can use them. I often donate to thrift stores, especially if I like their purpose, like Sharing Hands or St. Vinnie's. I have a few issues with Goodwill and their 6-figure-salary CEO.

But stuff like a grape juice steamer I like to pass on to friends and neighbors, particularly church people. So I called Regina from down the road and talked to Verna from up the road. Neither needed a steamer, but they'll let me know if they know of someone who does. I also talked to Debbie about the rollerblades for her daughter, but she declined them, and then at the Gospel Echoes banquet I talked to Ruth, and she said she'd see if Mackenzie can wear them.

There has to be a more efficient way to do this.

I know some churches have a "Free Table" in some corner where anyone can freely donate or receive. However, we're a bit pressed for space and I'm afraid with all the young kids buzzing all over after church any Free Table stuff would be scattered from Dan to Beersheba.

Something online seems like a logical way to go, since all the younger people are computer literate. Something where you would post stuff you have to give away, and someone could contact you if they need it.

Just wondering--have any other churches tried anything like this? How did you set it up? What worked? What didn't? How did you publicize it? How did you get people to participate? Is there an efficient way to do it on Facebook?

I'm almost sure there's a young mom in church that could use my offerings, but I don't have time to make 25 phone calls to find out.

So I welcome your suggestions.

Quote of the Day:
"What's this unearthly sound?"
--Steven, who does not appreciate culture or classical music by Rossini

Friday, October 01, 2010

Our Coming Adventure

We live about halfway between Corvallis, home of Oregon State University and the Beavers, and Eugene, home of the University of Oregon, and their Ducks.

Bitter rivalry has existed between the two teams for over a hundred years.

Paul has always been a Beaver fan. A quiet one, though. He doesn't talk much about the team and he wouldn't wear an orange and black shirt if you gave it to him for Christmas.

Our children have always been Duck fans, Amy and Ben the most devoted. Ben can reel off dates and statistics like an Athletic Department computer, and Amy hinted that if I want to do something nice for her, I can mail her the Register-Guard sports sections the day after the games while she's at Bible school. Matt and Steven and Jenny like all things Duck as well, just not quite as passionately, but they are all happy to wear green and yellow.

Emily and I are oblivious, although for my family's sake I have learned the basics of the game and can tell you a rough definition of such terms as "touchdown," "interception," and "LeGarrett Blount at Boise State."

Once a year, Paul takes any interested children to a Duck football game.

He has never been to a Beaver game in his life.

I think Paul knows how easily he could become an obnoxiously rabid fan to the point of neglecting more important things, so he has set strict limits on himself. But I have always thought it was kind of sweet and sad that he took his kids to one game a year--always a Duck game--because he loved them so much but had never seen the Beavers play.

Well. This story falls under "what goes around comes around." Last Thanksgiving we helped with a large dinner at church for everyone who wished to show up, and Paul ended up sitting beside Cameron who is the son-in-law of Paul's fellow minister, Arlen. And Paul and Cameron talked about sports.

A few days ago Cameron called Paul and said that his dad has season tickets to the Beaver games but can't go this Saturday so there are two tickets available. Cameron remembered that at the Thanksgiving dinner Paul had said he'd never been to a Beaver game, so he can have the tickets if he wants them!

Paul asked me if I wanted to go. I said yes, thinking, "Column for November."

Need we say that I have never been to a football game in my life?

So that's what we plan to do tomorrow. I asked my kids for advice on how to conduct myself. Amy emailed, "Don't be afraid to scream and cheer along with everyone else even though Dad will sit there like a bump on a log. :) It's part of the experience. :)"

And today when I stopped at Detering Orchards I overheard a mysterious conversation that seems like it ought to be relevant to our adventure but I'm not sure how:

Quote of the Day:
Lady 1: It takes a true Christian conservative to be a Duck.
Lady 2: Yeah. Anybody can be a Beaver.