Friday, February 25, 2011

This Quilt vs. Those Quilts

It's been three years since I took a quilting class that us Smucker ladies took together, a gift from Paul's sister Lois.

We were given a packet of papers at the beginning, each paper featuring a different quilt block and a new rotary-cut-and-sew technique. The idea was to work your way through all these papers and end up with enough blocks for a quilt.

I had grand ideas of making two twin bed quilts, for Ben and Steven. I plowed through the class, week after week, enjoying it but certainly breaking new mental ground with each lesson.

And when the class ended I had good intentions and enough blocks for about 2/3 of one quilt.

This is embarrassing, but those quilts still aren't done.

I do this sometimes when I learn a new skill: I hit a wall that I can't seem to surmount. Like in high school I started taking a typing class and immediately everything went wrong. I was uncoordinated, Mrs. Nelson, whom I uncharitably compared to an old hen, intimidated me as she shrieked, "A S D F! J K L Sem!", and then my electric typewriter quit and I got way behind everyone else, and they were clicking rapidly on to "R U V N!" while my fingers still had no clue about A S D F, and after about three days I dropped the class. I would never learn to type. I didn't have it in me. It was impossible.

And of course my sister Rebecca was as good at typing as she was at everything else, which I resented, but it wasn't her fault.

I took an advanced English class instead.

This worked fine until I started college some four years later and discovered that all my papers had to be typed. I was doomed.

So I fearfully signed up for a typing class. The teacher turned out to be young and encouraging, and she let each of us learn at our own pace. No terrifying A S D F shouted to bumbling fingers. So, tentatively and slowly I began to learn to type.

And little by little, finger stroke by finger stroke, unbelievably, I learned to do something I was sure I could never do.

I hit a similar wall with those quilts. Now and then I'd pull out my stash of pattern papers and fat quarters and try again, but somehow I could never make headways and it would all go back to a bin in the sewing room.

This year Aunt Susie is head of the church sewing circle and I'm her assistant. We've been on a campaign to use up the phenomenal stash of fabric scraps at church. I brought one box home to sort through it and found leftovers from someone's quilt, pretty coordinated fabrics in black and kind of a rusty rose color that I don't know the name of.

Well, we need a few nice comforter tops that aren't a mishmash of uncoordinated pieces, so I found two big pieces in my personal stash that matched the pieces I found, and then at our ladies' retreat at the coast I cut a bunch of 8-inch squares.

But I wanted more than just squares stacked up like concrete blocks--something simple but just a bit artsier.

I found an easy and clever block called Disappearing Nine-Patch. You sew a nine-patch, whack it in half down and across, then rearrange the resulting four blocks.

It took only a day or so to make the blocks. I would snatch five or ten minutes here and there and before I knew it, there were enough blocks for a quilt.

I spread the blocks over our bed and in what felt like a short time of grabbed minutes I had the blocks sewed together.

Here it is:

So. Why on earth can I do this quilt in such short order and the boys' quilts look so impossible to me?

I spent too much time thinking about this and decided the answer is right there: if I have to think about it too much, I won't get it done. I have to learn a totally new skill with each block, so I get it out, study the directions, pick out fabrics, study some more, make a few cuts--and then I have to go put the laundry in the dryer or answer the phone or make supper, and when I come back to it I've forgotten everything and have to start all over. No wonder it never gets done.

Whereas the easy quilt for sewing circle could be done automatically, without thinking.

So, maybe I need to forget the 15-different-blocks scheme and find one block that I can do over and over, till it's automatic, and finish those everlasting quilts that way. Maybe I could really make it easy and do a Disappearing Nine-patch.

Or, is there some way to break those complicated patterns into small steps like learning to type one letter at a time?

I just know I'm most likely to get it done if I learn to do it without thinking.

Quote of the Day:
Girl in Sunday school: "I dreamed I was being chased by the Philistines."
Boy in Sunday school: "That'd be awesome!"

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Today we woke up to snow! Snow in the Willamette Valley in February is unlike snow anyplace else, I think.Where else would a snow lady have a daffodil-leaf smile and a camellia hat?

It's amazing how the daffodils will shake the snow off their bonnets and go on with life.

Snow makes me happy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Today on I read about the latest snowstorm in Minnesota which we all know is where I grew up and where my parents still live and my brother just told my 94-year-old dad to please stop trying to drive out the lane to get the mail because he keeps getting stuck in the snow. And then he has to walk back in that long lane through deep snow which is a chore at the best of times and especially when you're 94. And then my brother has to dig out the car.

Anyway, yes, the news story about Minnesota:
A major snow storm dealt another winter wallop to Wisconsin, Michigan, and northern Ohio on Monday as it moved east out of Minnesota leaving more than a foot of fresh snow in its wake.

The National Weather Service reported the storm dropped 12.5 inches of snow at the airport by Monday afternoon. . . the highest state total was 19 inches in Madison in far western Minnesota. The storm had dwindled by Monday evening.

Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said travel conditions throughout the southern half of the state were difficult Monday, but that plows were making the roads passable.

However, he warned drivers to watch out for piled snow at entrance ramps and intersections. Small cars perched and motionless on top of packed snow were a common sight Monday morning.

"Ground clearance is a significant issue," Gutknecht said.

Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske said many people were driving too fast for the conditions and losing control.

"A plowed road doesn't mean full speed ahead," Roeske said.

Minneapolis declared a snow emergency on Monday, joining St. Paul and many other cities in the southern half of the state that declared them a day earlier. It was the eighth snow emergency of the season for Minneapolis, which officials said was the most it has ever declared in a single winter.

And now I live in Oregon, where it looks like we might get snow too! Yes, really! Accuweather announced the news on its website in a pink box emphasized with an exclamation mark in a red box. And then there was this long warning all in capital letters.








It's no wonder Minnesotans laugh at non-Minnesotans and their definitions of "winter," "storm," and "snow."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Finding Things Out

One of the many things that one needs to trust God for when you're a parent is when you find out about stuff.

We have all sat around a family holiday dinner and reminisced about the crazy stuff we used to do that Mom never found out about.

But the thing is, Mom found out about some stuff. Just not all.

It's odd. When Matt took the cup of gasoline to his room and ignited it, I didn't find out until he told me, much later. But when Steven and his friend sprayed WD40 in their room and flicked a lighter to it, a big sister walked in just at that crucial moment. And just recently, after I had told Steven to burn the pile of branches outside, I went out the back door just at the exact moment the fire erupted in a huge WOOF and Steven hopped backwards with the gas can in his hand. You couldn't have choreographed better timing.

Then there was the time Matt drove Steph and Emily to Rosie's house and stuck his foot out the window while he drove. Emily didn't think it was a big deal and didn't tell me, but Steph did, not much after, and we took action. But it was years before I learned how Matt and Kevin K. used to race to school, parting ways at 99 and Lake Creek Drive, and each going around the block to see who'd get to 228 and Falk Road first. And this with Other People's Kids in the car.

Last night Emily had some friends over for a birthday party and I found out that at least two and maybe three years ago, on Valentine's Day, Steven commandeered my phone and called up a bunch of my friends and said, "Will you go on a date with me?" and then hung up. And apparently my friends were discussing this with each other--"I got the strangest call. It was from Dorcas's number, and this man's voice said 'Will you go on a date with me?' and then hung up." "Really? That happened to me, too."

And it seems I wasn't told about this until now.

You really have to trust God that you will find out what you need to know when you need to know it.

Quote of the Day:
"Whenever I fold up patterns it is painfully obvious that Dad did not design patterns."
--Emily, after cutting out sewing patterns for me

Monday, February 14, 2011

An Invitation

This coming Sunday evening (Feb. 20th) our family is in charge of the evening service at church and we'll be talking about our trip and showing pictures and maybe a few movies if Emily gets the right FireWire connection for her computer.

So, 6 pm, Sunday evening, Brownsville Mennonite. Everyone is welcome.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Babies, Blankets, Battles, etc.

We had six pregnant women at one time at our church not so long ago. I think Gina was first with a boy in September, then Shelley had her little girl in December, and Ruth, and a few days later Rhoda and Teresa had theirs just a few minutes apart, and Jean is still waiting, and I think I'm forgetting someone, and I probably got the order mixed up here, but you get the idea.

Meanwhile, yesterday I spoke at a women's gathering at a Lutheran church in Eugene. A young woman at our table had a month-old baby and the other ladies were of course fussing over it. The lady in charge, who was sitting beside me, explained, "We don't have many babies at our church; that's why we're making such a fuss over this one."

They began figuring and I think decided that there are about 3 babies at their church.

The group at our table also included a woman and her lovely 16-year-old daughter. The mom said there are 7 high-schoolers in church and her daughter was very fortunate because they all went through elementary and middle school together and were such a support for each other. For high school they've parted ways somewhat but still are a close-knit youth group.

I thought that was very nice.

I asked the lady beside me how many people attended church there. She said, "Well, we just did a count, and right now we have 278 members."

I found those numbers astonishing.

In comparison, our church has about 70 members. In addition to the abovementioned babies, we have 20 kids enrolled in my junior Sunday school class which is ages 9 to 12. And of course there are swarms of toddlers coming along and well, we just have lots of children in our church.

In other comparisons, I'd say that the Lutheran church was as friendly as ours or if anything even more welcoming, and their food was nearly as good as Mennonite food, and the singing came very close to Mennonite singing, and the small amount of theology I encountered was similar to ours, and the ladies I met obviously loved and served God. And they made an announcement that they have these quilt tops that need to be quilted but at the moment they don't have any quilters at church, and is there any chance someone from Central Lutheran would like to come over and teach them how?

So with all these similarities, why the vast difference in the percentage of children? And what does this mean for their congregation and ours in 20 or 30 years?

Here's some info from Wikipedia:

Demographers have examined the statistical basis of the long-term decline in the mainstream membership versus the growth in the conservative denominations.

There are four basic factors: birth rates; switching between denominations; departure from Protestantism; and conversions from non-Protestant sources. By far the main cause is birth rates—low for the mainline bodies, and high for the conservatives. The second most important factor is that fewer conservatives switch to mainline denominations than before. Secularization (moving to "no religion") is a third factor.

Evidence from the General Social Survey indicates that higher fertility and earlier childbearing among women from conservative denominations explains 76% of the observed trend: conservative denominations have grown their own. Mainline denomination members have the lowest birthrate among American Christian groups. Unless there is a surge of new members, rising death rates are predicted to diminish their ranks even further in the years ahead.

Food for thought, I would say.

Meanwhile, I decided to be like my mom and make flannel blankets for all the new babies. Unlike my mom, I didn't piece and knot thick little flannel comforters. Instead I took pieces that were too small to make pajamas out of and put two big squares face to face and sewed them together and left it at that.

And today I showed my scatterbrained age. I had blankets at church for the two newest babies and went to give them out after church. Neither new mom was in church but there was Arlis and Teresa's Courtney, age 10, so I gave her the one blanket to take home to her new sister. Now to find Marcus whose wife just had a son. Hmmm, no Marcus in the sanctuary, or over there....but there was Arlis in the back, talking with someone, and somehow my mind switched him with Marcus, so I went and gave him the boyish-looking blanket to take home.

It was some 7 hours before I realized what I'd done. I called Teresa who laughed and laughed. Kindly. No explanation of mine made sense. She laughed some more and said Arlis can give the blanket to Marcus at work tomorrow. It was ok, really, she said.

It really is nice when people like Teresa are kind to people like me.

Like I said, I feel like my mom, making blankets for babies at church. Which always reminds me of something that happened a long time ago that was rather profound. Mom has always been an amazing crafter, making clothes and quilts and beautiful stuffed dolls and teddy bears and a zillion other things. Just before Christmas in 1987, Mom and Dad's house burned down. Among all the heartbreaking losses it was especially hard to think of all the handiwork that had been destroyed. All those beautiful things she was working on, including 27 big quilts in some stage, from cut-out pieces to ready-to-quilt.

Then some time later we visited Mom and Dad and of course went to the church at Grove City, and I watched as all the families came bustling into church. And there came one baby after another wrapped in Mom's handiwork, her trademark pastel patchwork flannel comforters, tied with white yarn. So, it turned out, whatever she had given away survived, and in a sense, what she still had was whatever she hadn't kept.

There's a good lesson there, you know.

[And I can't figure out why this part shows up so tiny. Sorry]

And while I am going off down rabbit trails I will wander down one more. After my talk yesterday I was packing up my books and the lady in charge just out of the blue told me this completely random piece of trivia:
"The president of Gettysburg College during the Civil War was named Smucker."

Now is that just enough to make a history buff and a Smucker go a bit crazy or what? So I came home and Googled it.

Gettysburg College, it turned out, was a Lutheran seminary, founded and run for many years by a fiery man named Samuel Simon Schmucker. The battle of Gettysburg was fought pretty much at their doorstep, and the Seminary Ridge phase of the battle was named after this Lutheran seminary.

There's an interesting story about it all here, including this:

As the leading unit of the first Corps, Cutler’s Brigade, arrived on campus that first hot July morning, Mrs. Schmucker set out buckets of water for the men, but the officers kicked them over so that the soldiers would not break their fast pace to the field of battle.

Samuel Simon Schmucker had been warned to flee because he was a marked man. His activities in the Underground Railroad – he had occasionally sheltered fugitives from southern slave owners – probably were not known, but his advocacy of abolition was well known, so that southern troops would likely have pinpointed his home. Confederate soldiers, usually not given to vandalism, did trash his books and papers. Some of the seminary’s early documents were lost. Several of his books still show the effects of being thrown onto the floor, and out the window, probably trampled by muddy boots.

Tne abused Bible carries this penciled message: “J.G. Bearden of the reel army. . . this is the Holy Biele I pick up out of the . . . and has placed on the case again.”

Schmucker wrote under these words as follows: “this pencil note was written by an illiterate, but I trust pious rebel, during the sacking of my house and library, during the great battle of Gettysburg” (dated September 25, 1870).

I also found an article by the current president of Gettysburg Seminary that included this:

So often in life, it is the unexpected chance encounters that lead to memorable moments. So it was on Packard Day here on the hill. As my spouse and I were heading back home following a stroll among the cars parked everywhere on campus, we met up with a couple named Smucker. A brief conversation soon led to the discovery that they likely are at least “shirt-tail” relatives of the Seminary’s founder, Samuel Simon Schmucker. Upon discovering their probable family connection, we promptly invited them into Lewars House to see the historic Schmucker desk, which belonged to Samuel Simon and survived the battle of Gettysburg. A bit further along in conversation, it was revealed that these members of the current extensive Smucker/Schmucker clan are deeply committed Mennonites. It so happens that Packard Day here on campus, July 22nd, was the very day on which the Lutheran World Federation held the international service of repentance for Reformation excesses perpetrated by early Lutherans upon Mennonites and others of the so-called “Anabaptist” tradition. So, because of a pack of Packards perched atop Seminary Ridge for a few hours, we could clasp hands with our new friends and enjoy a personal moment of ecumenical reconciliation and recommitment.

Life is just plain interesting.

Quote of the Day:
"How much do you spend for your beef, Mom? There's some meat here that's about $1.50 per adjective."
--Ben, looking at a sale flyer for Market of Choice and an ad for All Natural Painted Hills Boneless Beef New York Steaks

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mneeding Mnemonics

So, back from our wanderings, recovered from jet lag, and back to the mundane things of life, such as: why can't I tell which is which?

If we have two things that are roughly equal, but not quite, I can't keep them straight to save my life. Unless I find some silly little mnemonic device* to help me remember.

*Wiktionary: mnemonic (plural mnemonics)
  1. Anything (especially something in verbal form) used to help remember something.
    Example: To remember the colours of the rainbow, use the mnemonic: Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet)
My Aunt Lyddie and Uncle Amos had two boys, Truman and Joni, and I can never remember which is which. One, as I recall, has sharper features, but which is it? I suppose if they lived in Oklahoma instead of Oregon I'd soon learn, but meanwhile Mom tells me that Melvin who is a brother to two little girls I used to teach married Truman's daughter a while back (or wait, was it Joni's?). Sigh.

Then on the other side of the world we have the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, and I have heard the story many times, of the tribe that was powerful and the tribe that wasn't, and of the terrible slaughter of one tribe against another, but which was which?

And which of my eyes is nearsighted and which is farsighted? Can't remember that either.

And of course we have the dilemma of jump-starting a car, and is it positive-to-positive or positive-to-negative, and if I'm ever on a desert island, how will I know if SOS is dashes-dots-dashes or dots-dashes-dots?

"Think S for Simple," Emily told me yesterday. "So it's dots first."

Hmmm, we'll see, maybe I can actually remember that.

I saved myself much frustration when a comic character in the newspaper introduced me to Lefty-Loosey, Righty-Tighty when it comes to turning jar lids and such, and it feels silly to whisper "righty-tighty" to yourself when you have pliers in hand and are trying to tighten the bolts on the wobbly toilet seat, but the alternative takes a lot longer.

Up in Salem there's a Sizzler restaurant that is a nice place to meet and eat and talk, and I know you take the Market Street exit and then Sizzler is on Lancaster Drive, but I could never remember if you turn left or right, and it is embarrassing how much driving around I have done trying to find it. Then, ta-da! Sizzler is South! Easy.

If only every dilemma in life fit a neat little mnemonic.

Quote of the Day:
Ben: I haven't had a good argument all day.
Jenny: UH!! We just had an argument!
Ben: That wasn't an argument because I was clearly right.
Jenny: I hate those kinds of arguments.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Last Trip Update: Home at Last

Time has been galloping on and I'm guessing everyone who had been following our journey got tired of waiting in Nakuru for the story to end, and went home without us.

So, more for my peace of mind than your enrichment, here's the last installment of The Trip.

Our two young guides dropped us off at the Mennonite compound in Nakuru and headed back the 3 hours to Kisumu, a trip that is no longer as awful as it used to be because they've been redoing the main Nairobi road and now instead of being a deathtrap of narrow lanes and potholes and sharp dropoffs at the side it is as nice as Substation Drive that goes past our house and even as wide as 99E sometimes. Believe me this is a huge improvement.

We saw quite a few big Caterpillar and International machines working on the road as we drove, and our guides said they think it's an Israeli outfit that the Kenyan government hired, implying there was something distinctly un-Kenyan about big well-maintained equipment and just getting the job done.

Which is sad.

I certainly thought about this as we drove by miles of farmland and saw only one or two tractors. I mean, you have vast acres of black soil but only scruffy little crooked fields here and there interspersed with lots of brush and weeds. Maybe it's the German in me, but I like straight corners and sharp edges parallel to the road and looking down parallel rows and rows of corn.

Oddly, I had to wait until we were waiting in the hot, stuffy Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi to see my fill of tractors. I looked out the window and there were these good-sized Ford and Massey Ferguson tractors that could have come straight off a Minnesota farm in maybe the late '70s, pulling all the trailers of luggage.

But first we had to get from Nakuru to Nairobi, a drive of several hours. When Paul had gone to Kenya to adopt Steven, he had a certain taxi driver that he really liked take him all over, to the law office and embassy and wherever. Somehow, Paul got hold of the same guy this time, and found out that it's now a family business, and one of the sons agreed to pick us up in Nakuru at 9 in the morning.

Our hosts looked dubious that he would actually show up at nine. That African sense of time, you know. But no, there he was, right at nine. In a nice safari van*. That was nice and clean. We piled in and he made sure we all fastened our seat belts. Amazing. And then he drove carefully and professionally to Nairobi and chose not to pass trucks ahead of us even when he could have. Truly amazing, at least compared to most van drivers I saw in Kenya.

*Safari vans have bucket seats inside, with a bit of an aisle down the middle, then the top ratchets up about two feet so you can stand there and watch the elephants and lions in safety. To do this right you have to have that self-assured wealthy-European look, with a tan safari hat and big sunglasses and a camera lens that sticks out to there.

We didn't have the right Safari Look, just so you know.

Before we went through security in the Nairobi airport, I was in the restroom or something, and the girls were complaining how hot and stuffy it was. Steven said, "I have a pack of matches in my pocket if you want to be hotter yet." His sisters pounced on him, of course, but unfortunately the slingshot went undiscovered until we got to Amsterdam.

Meanwhile, we were still in Nairobi, waiting in the heat. Emily found a place by the wall where you could plug in all kinds of cords, so we started recharging our spent computers and cameras, and Emily sat down and leaned against the wall and watched them.

Meanwhile I got Jenny a bottle of pop, which she spilled on the floor. I snagged a passing employee and asked for a mop. She never brought one. Then Emily, from her odd vantage point along the wall, suddenly noticed that hidden behind the Safaricom booth 15 feet away was a bucket and mop. Should I? Yes, so I fetched the mop and cleaned up Jenny's mess and decided there probably aren't too many tourists who have mopped a floor at Jomo Kenyatta International.

Then we flew to Amsterdam and after several hours tried to fly to Warsaw, and endured The Slingshot Episode, which everyone tells me is funny, but I'm not laughing yet.

And then we finally got to go, and flew to Warsaw, where Paul's brother John and his wife Laura and their family picked us up, and this is the kind of family they are--even their three teenage boys hugged us all and made us feel like we had done them the greatest favor in the world, coming to see them right on the heels of other guests and eating up pretty much all the food in the house.

John and Laura plus another couple, Lavern and Lolita, and a revolving contingent of singles have been working in Poland as missionaries for about ten years. At first glance it may seem odd to send missionaries to such a religious country--Catholicism is an astonishing force in the country--but for many people their Catholic faith is nothing more than habit and tradition and they have no sense of God being a Father to them and loving them, or of following Jesus on a daily basis, or of knowing their sins are forgiven. I know Catholics in the U.S. who have all of the above in larger measures than I do, and have a feeling there are significant differences between the Polish and American churches.

So the little mission runs a school to teach English, and they have a small church, and in general just learn the language and are kind to people around them and have neighbor ladies over for tea, which we should all do, missionaries or not.

John is ten years younger than Paul and Laura was once my fifth-grade student, but over the years the age differences seem to be less significant and we can talk as equals, especially since their children are so close to our youngest 3 in age. Ben, you may recall, is 17, Steven is 16, and Jenny 11. Their oldest is Conrad who is 18, Austin is 16, Derek is 13, and Allison is 11, just a couple of months younger than Jenny.

The boys all had great fun playing basketball on the snowy court for hours, until their hands were almost frozen, and eating lots of food, and playing long games of Puerto Rico. Jenny and Alli have always been two peas in a pod and they giggled and squealed the days away, managing to dress alike every day (don't ask me how) and playing with the cats and buying matching hats in the market, and when they someday go pick out Alli's wedding dress and a bridesmaid dress for Jenny, I'm guessing it will take less deliberation and comparing and giggling into the mirrors than picking out those brown knit hats.

On Saturday we all wanted to go to Warsaw but Jenny woke up pale as a ghost with a lingering bacterial souvenir from Africa. Finally we decided that the girls would stay home and one of the voluntary service guys named Gideon, a noble and brave soul, would come to the house and stay with them. The girls curled up in chairs and blankets and cats in the living room and watched movies. I don't know what Gideon did all day but he didn't seem to have any nervous twitches by the time we returned.

We ladies took the train to Warsaw and I told Laura it is astonishing to me how she, this Oregon farm girl, learned to know which train to catch to Warsaw and to hop off at this station and run for that tram and catch that bus, and get where she wants to go, and all in Polish.

We went to the Polish pottery store. Oh my. It is this unique, beautiful, homey-looking pottery that specializes in small repeated painted designs, mostly in cobalt blue. They had about ten different color-designs, and everything from plates to teapots to butter dishes to soup bowls in each design. Where to begin and where to end? I finally bought six pieces for me and a few for a friend, and now wish I had bought a lot more.

And then we went to the Warsaw Uprising museum commemorating how the people of Warsaw rose up against the German occupation in World War II. It was truly a David and Goliath battle, and the Russians across the river sat there and watched when they could easily have stepped in and helped, and afterwards the Russians shot most of the Polish officers and brutalized the people even further.

It is humbling to be in Poland and to think of how much that country has suffered. America as a nation has the Civil War, but nothing like the invasions from East and West, several times over, and being obliterated as a nation for many years, and the Holocaust, and Communism. You get on the train in Minsk Masowiecki and think of the trains full of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto rattling along these tracks to the concentration camp at Majdanek. You see the snowy forests and think of how the Polish officers were taken to just such a forest and shot. Modern young Polish people are free and proud and educated and becoming more wealthy all the time, but you know they all grew up on stories of how their parents and grandparents suffered and struggled in unimaginable ways.

And then last year that plane carrying the Polish president and a whole raft of dignitaries and government people crashed, and you wonder, hasn't this country suffered enough?

Anyway, I love history, and Poland has enough history to keep me fascinated for years.

On Sunday we attended John and Laura's little church, held in a classroom at their school, and Paul preached, and John translated, and when John couldn't think of the Polish word, the Polish people in the audience would supply it, which made me wonder why we needed a translator, but I guess there were a few who didn't know any English.

I had a chance to chat with Lolita for a bit, always a treat, and to talk for quite a while with Anita, one of the single workers, whom I knew by email since we are both Mennonite Lady Authors, and I really enjoyed getting to know her.

Our time in Poland was much too short. Others of the family were happy to leave the snow and cold behind but I wasn't. It was astonishingly like Minnesota, where I grew up, from the size and shape of the trees to how the snow sounded underfoot. So I felt right at home and could have stayed a while, not just for that reason, but because it is just a joy to be with John and Laura.

They are just sweet, funny, honest, loving, giving, smart, and understanding people. And you need to read Laura's latest xanga post to help you understand what she's like. It's about her mom, who was very special to me and who died too young.

In Amsterdam we parted ways and Amy and Emily flew to Washington, DC, and got Emily's possessions and her car in Virginia, and parked it at my sister's place in Pennsylvania, and in between they visited friends at SMBI, everyone's favorite Bible school. Then they flew home as well.

And there is no place like home, but we would all go live in Kenya if the Lord called us there, and I would go live in Poland in a heartbeat too, but the Lord would have to work on the others.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Update 12--Safari

Before I tell about our safari to the Nakuru Game Park, let me put in a good word for the Mennonite missionaries in Kisumu. Despite their busy lives they treated us like royalty, inviting us for meals and making sure all our needs were met. All of them seem to have this cheerful acceptance of all the deprivations that life in Kenya entails, including driving from the main road to their compound on--dear me, I can't even call it a road--it's a cleared area with bumps and holes and rocks and not anything you would dream of taking a vehicle over in the States. But they have these tough, reinforced 4-wheel-drive vans and take it all in stride.

In fact, I think the young men especially rather enjoy that sort of driving, particularly Jason Peachey, the grinning son of one of the pastors who agreed to drive us to Nakuru to the game park and function as both driver and guide. He asked to take another young man, 16-year-old Daniel Kauffman, (who assured me that no, he didn't write Doctrines of the Bible) so he'd have company on the way back.

So after the boat ride we hurried back to the guest house and packed up and then stripped sheets and swept floors so the busy missionaries wouldn't have to do it, all while the young men waited patiently.

Then they hoisted all our stuff to the top of the van and tied it down, and we were on our way. I had decided to assemble and serve lunch on the way, and Paul had bought big bottles of pop to pour into cups we had along, but we were not far down the road, weaving and jouncing, before we realized this had not been such a good idea.

But we finally ate without too many sandwiches bouncing out of our hands or too many lapfuls of pop.

And well before dark we got to the game park. First you see the huge, shallow, Lake Nakuru, surrounded by thousands of flamingoes and pelicans. South of that are large grasslands, very dry at this time of year, and some forested areas as well. The best way to see animals is simply to drive around and keep your eyes peeled.

We saw a number of rhinos, including the rare black rhino, lots of cape buffalo, with their massive horns and sullen expressions, a few giraffes (my favorite) among the trees, lots of zebras, jackals, several kinds of deer, and wart hogs.

Daniel said, "Whenever a wart hog runs across the equator, his tail goes up."

Yes. Well. Whenever a wart hog runs at all, his tail goes up.

Oh, yes, and we saw a couple of lions, resting in the shade after a feast of whatever carcass that was, dragged into a clump of bushes. Not far away, a jackal tried to sneak in for the leftovers.

It really is an amazing experience to see these National-Geographic sights for yourself.

We got to the Naishi House, one of several guest cabins in the park, before dark and Jason fired up the grill and started barbecuing the large supply of marinated chicken he'd brought along.

Meanwhile a group of cape buffalo assembled at the watering hole not very far off and the two 16-year-old guys decided to run out as close as they dared, waving their arms, to tease the cape buffalo. So they did this, several times, until the buffalo started acting agitated, like they might take off after them, and then they ran back to the lodge, laughing.

The parents did not laugh when they found this out. Cape buffalo are almost as deadly as hippos.

Meanwhile I was ignorant of these shenanigans as I started frying potatoes and the pretty, uniformed park ranger/hostess stopped in and showed us around. Linens here, soap there, propane down in this cupboard.

"We have a big problem with the mouze," she said. "The mouze are hungry and thahsty, it is dry season, so they come inside."

Ooooo-kay. Well, better mouze than snakez.

"And we have dishes and beds only for eight," she said, "and you are nine. Normally we do not take nine."

I thanked her for letting us be an exception.

Later she came by with another setting of dishes and silverware, and I think she liked us, or more specifically Amy and Emily who were helping in the kitchen, because she told me that she has to leave and another ranger would be on call if we needed anything. "I have been working for two weeks, now I will go for four days, to visit my daughtaz." She gestured at the girls and smiled. "Like your daughtaz."

The first mouze of the night scampered across the kitchen soon after. The second one across the bathroom soon after that.

The boys slept in a guest cabin not far away except for Ben who was on the couch. The main cabin had two bedrooms, each with a rustic king size canopy bed with mosquito nets all around plus a twin bed, so the girls were in one room and Paul and I in the other.

A mouse bit Amy's finger during the night, and in the morning a large dead mouse lay in the living room. Except, said the missionary boys, "that's not a mouse, that's a rat."

Everyone but me and Emily left early to go look at the lions again. I made a pot of tea and Emily and I sat on their big bed and sipped tea and through the mosquito nets and windows watched the sun come up and the zebras waiting their turn at the watering hole while the water buffalo helped themselves and the little monkeys clambering all over the barbecue grill. This, we decided, is our style of safari.

Then, as we sat there in luxury, the mosquito net started shaking ominously at the foot of the bed. Emily took a careful look. A big mouse/small rat was under the bed, trying to get out. There wasn't much we could do so we kept drinking tea.

After the others came back we packed up and left and drove around some more, looking for and at animals. Since this was the dry season, it was terribly dusty in the van, even after Paul dug a bathrobe and socks out of his suitcase and stuffed the cracks around the back door of the van. Jenny and Emily spent much of the time with a wet rag over their mouth and nose, trying to filter it out.

So we were very weary when we got to the Mennonite compound at Nakuru that afternoon. It's under the same mission umbrella as the one at Kisumu, and just as welcoming and refreshing.

Everyone else took naps and I did four loads of laundry in the wringer washer on the back porch of our hosts' house, and that in a nutshell tells what it is like to be the mom on a trip like this: you have lots of wonderful experiences, and you make sure everything keeps running smoothly, but you don't have a restful vacation.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Update 11--Boat Ride

[Note--you can see photos of this episode if you go on my Facebook album and go to photo 75.]

On our last morning in Kisumu we arranged to go on a boat ride to see wildlife on Lake Victoria with Titus, a guy that we met seven years ago when the Mennonite missionaries recommended him. Back then, he took us out in his little rowboat a couple of times to watch birds aka "baaahds" in Kenyan English.

We were scheduled to leave Kisumu in the mission van, accompanied by two teenage MK's, at about 11:00, so I got as much ready the night before as I could, scheduling it all out in my head--early boat trip, hurry back, pack up, clean the guest quarters, leave.

We recall that my children and I are not the most efficient cleaners and packers in the world, so we needed all the time we could get.

But I didn't want to miss out on that boat trip.

"It'll only be an hour and a half," promised Paul. "That's what I told Titus."

Ok, that'll work.

We drove out to the lake in the early morning, passing scattered groups of uniformed school children walking to school.

The vast masses of water hyacinth had blown far enough offshore that we could board at Hippo Point, a pretty almost park-like area where we used to hang out on Sunday evenings when we spent 3 months in Kisumu.

Titus was obviously coming up in this world. He had a bigger boat, for one thing, still made of rough wood but painted a high-gloss salmon color. The seats had backs and even more amazing, padding. And there was a home-made roof over the boat to keep off the sun, and a real motor at the back. The crowning touch was that he provided life jackets for us.


Oh, by the way, said Titus to Paul, this will take two hours if you want to see the hippos.

Titus's assistant curled up in the front of the boat and we set out, slowly motoring along the shore to admire egrets and little hoppy yellow birds in the bushes and tall papyrus plants growing along the side. We passed women doing laundry by hand, fishermen preparing their boats for the day, other fishermen setting their nets, and people bathing, which of course made us respectfully admire the scenery off to the other side.

Soon we came up on three hippos. They popped their huge bulgy eyes and nostrils out of the water and grunted at us with deep unh-unh-unhs that boomed out over the water. Hippos are known for being huge (3 or 4 tons) and vicious. When they open their mouths it reminds me of a car hood opening although believe me I wouldn't want to attach jumper cables to those massive teeth that can snap a crocodile in half with one bite and take occasional bites out of wooden boats.

As one comforting source said, "The hippo is extremely aggressive, unpredictable and unafraid of humans, upsetting boats sometimes without provocation and chomping the occupants with its huge canine teeth and sharp incisors.”

Yes, well, but we were in good hands.

We motored on and on and on, leaving the populated areas behind and seeing only thick brush at the edge of the water. Then we rounded another curve and there were lots of hippo nostrils bobbing up out of the water then disappearing. "There are 26 in this herd," said Titus.

We circled the hippos at a safe distance, slowly, once, then again. And then on the third time around, the motor suddenly stopped. We turned. Titus was looking confused and yanking on the starter cord.

The boat began drifting silently. Toward the hippos. On and on, swish by gentle swish. We sat there in cold, silent terror as Titus frantically yanked and we came closer and closer to that huge bunch, any one of which could easily have swum over and stuck his snout under our boat and flipped us over.

Finally, finally, when we were only a few yards away, [Paul and I disagree as to just how many] the guy at the front of the boat came to life, stood up, pulled a long green wooden pole from the top of the roof over our heads, and began to pole us to safety.

We all exhaled.

[Jenny, reading over my shoulder, wants you all to know she wasn't scared.]

Mr. Assistant pushed us along, push by slow push, back along the way we had come. This was going to take a long time.

Titus, in addition to his modern life jackets, also has a cell phone. He called a friend to come help us.

The friend took his time, and it was some 45 minutes before he showed up. In the meantime I took stock of our belongings to see how long we could survive if the pole wasn't long enough for deep water and we drifted out into the middle of Lake Victoria which is the size of Lake Superior. Two cameras, one water bottle, one little packet of wipes with sunscreen and bug repellent. No food.

We were glad to see the friend arrive. He clambered into the boat and fiddled with the motor and poured in more gas. Finally the motor started.

The friend left and we motored on to Hippo Point, where we left our life jackets on a pile on the shore.

"We were never in danger," said Titus. "We were on the shore side, not between the hippos and open water." I didn't believe him. Floating almost above the hippos' heads doesn't seem too safe to me.

Titus told Paul that we had actually been out there for three hours instead of the two we had arranged for, but he decided not to charge us for that extra hour! Amazing, such generosity.