Monday, June 27, 2011

Why Today Was Nice

This was at the bottom of my blog when I checked it today:

Maybe you can't see it, but my hit counter said 222222, which makes me happy with its neat, unusual row of digits, and also because it means all you fine readers have been doing a lot of clicking. Thank you, all of you.

My sister-in-law Lois is only 4 days older than me. My neighbor lady's birthday is the same day as Lois's but she's a few years older than Lois and me. We have a tradition of the three of us getting together to celebrate our birthdays. It's a very special time.

This time we had tea at our house.

The neighbor is on the left. She feels uncomfortable with her name and details being splashed all over the world, so I won't name her but I'll just say that she is a wonderful neighbor and friend who always makes me feel special.

Lois is on the right. She is a friend and sister-in-law both, and she makes me laugh, and she likes books, and she is both practical and empathetic.

Details for those who like details: the wicker came from Kenya some 7 years ago. The table is a piece of plywood from the warehouse laid over the wicker coffee table which is too small on its own, and has an uneven surface. Emily arranged the bouquet on the table, and the neighbor lady brought the roses.

I served tea, scones, cucumber sandwiches, lemonade, and fresh fruit.

I am sitting in a teeny-bopper chair because it came the closest to being the height of the wicker chairs, but I was still looking up at the others.

The big china plates are from Paul's grandma Lena.

Jenny served us, and then she laid down her tray on the floor to take the picture. Down there on the left, lined with a bandana (her idea.)

We had a brief moment of panic right before the guests arrived when Cleo the diligent cat caught a mouse and proceeded to eat it right below the fancy table.

Quotes of the Day:
[he bravely removed the mouse and saved the day]

"It used to be, I just had to do two or three things to get ready in the morning, but now that I'm older it takes so long because there's so much to do. I mean, you have to hunt for chin hairs!"
--anonymous friend

Sunday, June 26, 2011

People in Cars

Today my Facebook friend Shari wrote about visiting a Mennonite church, I assume near her home in Arkansas. She says

At dismissal, everyone stood up and just started visiting with their neighbors, not even congregating in the aisle as we are used to.

That's definitely what it's like at Brownsville Mennonite. People turn around, talk with people behind them, wander forward or back to talk with a specific person, join a group, leave it and join a different group, hold a new baby, return a borrowed item, hand out food assignments for a special-meeting dinner, talk with a child's friend's mom to see if it's for sure ok if your child comes over for the afternoon.

It seems like everyone does this, all the time. Including me.

But sometimes I go through days or seasons where I can't face the after-church socializing. And I head for the car as soon as the service is over. Well, almost. First I have to get my mail and give Dakota those two books on animals that I promised him and shake the preacher's hand and pick up the Sunday school money. Then I head for the car.

Right now I suddenly find myself in a fragile season where I can't handle the visiting that I normally am an eager part of. And no, I can't share the reason, which doesn't really matter anyhow.

I'm making this discovery: there's a whole subset of Mennonites that I wasn't aware of: Those Who Sit In Cars After Church. I left as soon as I could get away and hopped in the Kia and opened the windows because it was actually hot, a new experience in these parts, and then I glanced over and there was "Ralph" sitting in the car beside me, looking amused.

Then I looked further and behold, there was "Ethel" sitting in her car, looking sad, and "Jason" sneaking furtively out of the double doors and toward his car.

I thought, who are these people, really, and do they always slip out as soon as the service is over and wait for their healthier and more gregarious family members, and I never knew because I was always busy talking, and do they have Deep Unmet Soul Needs The Church Should Address?

Maybe we PICs should form our own little club. We could slip out and meet in someone's van and have iced tea and cookies that I would pack in the morning, and we could talk, or not, as we felt like it, and then when the talkative people started coming out of the building we could slip back to our own cars. We would have plenty of time for this, because the talkers always have to stop on the sidewalk and talk to one more person for a few more minutes.

I know what takes me to the car right after church, but I wonder about the others--how long have they done this, would it help to talk about it, what does it take to be integrated back into the Talkers After Church? Or is it ok if they remain PICs?

Quote of the Day:
"Mom! Didn't you hear what I said?? Didn't you think it was funny?? You didn't laugh or quote of the day it or anything!!"

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Family Pictures--Then and Now

In case you didn't click on the link to see our recent family pictures, I'll post one here:

Amazing, isn't it? Eight people all behaving themselves, holding still, looking at the camera, cooperating, fond of one another, even looking real with their smiles.

I mentioned in my last post that things didn't always go so swimmingly with family portraits at the Smuckers. So I dug in the attic and found proof.

(Sorry they're a bit crooked. I managed to scan and crop them but couldn't straighten them.)Here we have Matt feeling like he has to carry heavy burdens in life, like that little sister, maybe as punishment for taking that gouge out of his nice straight bangs. Emily is oblivious to having her picture taken, a trait that was to change a lot in the next 20 years. And Amy is about to punch the lights out of the next person who tries to get her to smile.
This was taken in Weagamow Lake a year and a half later. We had missed out on the annual NYP portrait session for the Gleanings newsletter [the one a young friend once called the "shopping catalog," with all those shots of single girls]. Anyway, the day we were supposed to get our picture taken, Paul and Amy hopped in the van to pick up something half a mile away, and Amy didn't buckle in or close her door right, and when Paul went around a corner the door flew open and she sailed out face-first into the gravel. So a month later when she was all healed I set up my camera on a tripod in the living room and took pictures.

This was one of many attempts. We note the fine view of Emily's tonsils, and we won't talk about The Poof That Lost Its Way.

And this was a few years later. We note The Poof That Still Won't Behave, Matt at the front barely suppressing some terrible mischief, Emily being inquisitive on the right, Ben the baby not appreciating family pictures, and Amy on the left trying very hard to be Good. I hope I praised her but I probably didn't. [Amy: thank you for being Good. I appreciate it now.]

[And a note to my snickering daughters: Those big glasses were cool back then, really they were.]

So that's why I say, Take Heart, all you young moms out there. It gets better.

Quote of the Day:
"Our proximity to the Pacific makes that unlikely."
--Matt, when we were discussing global warming and Jenny asked if he thinks the Willamette Valley will ever be a desert. I wrote down the quote because it was so astonishingly like something his grandpa Wilton would have said, only three times as fast.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Family photos 2011

A few weeks ago Ruth from Swartzendruber Photography came over on a Sunday afternoon when we were all home and took our family pictures.

You can take a look at them here.

Ruth is wonderful to work with, and I think she did a great job. As I recall, the warehouse setting was her idea.

The color scheme was Amy's idea and she told us all what to wear.

To all you young moms who hate having family pictures taken--in a few years it will be all different. Your daughter will outfit everyone, and they will all do what they're told, and it'll be a fun afternoon for everyone, and no one will cry or pick their noses.

I love this stage of life.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Robin's Blog

In Sunday's column I mentioned my athletic friend Robin. She did a very nice review of the column on her blog, Everymom to Ironmom.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Baptists and Food

I have been informed by many ex-Mennonites that no one cooks like Mennonites. One cost of leaving the church/community is that for the rest of your life, when you go to potlucks, you think, "Dear me, why doesn't someone bring some decent FOOD to these things?"

A while back some of us attended a children's event at a Baptist church. [Details will be kept vague.] Meals were included in the price and in my opinion were on the spendy side. However, I saw four busy, aproned, matronly ladies rattling around the kitchen looking very serious about their job, so I figured the meals would be worth the cost.

They also had four teenaged helpers.

Meal A consisted of tacos. Hard shells from a box, clammy unseasoned fried hamburger, cold refried beans from a can, and a few toppings such as lettuce. Dessert was cupcake papers with a few little cookies, and cups of jello. A stern aproned cook guarded the desserts and informed even adults that it was cookies OR jello, not both.

Meal B consisted of buns from a bag, cooked hot dogs, potato chips, baby carrots, and a food that actually required processing by human hands: apple slices.

If you've ever been Mennonite you can imagine the conversation among us ladies on the way home. Jenny said, "Mom, you could have cooked and served a meal like that all by yourself!"

"Are all Baptists terrible cooks?" I asked. Trish thought that was unfair stereotyping. "Maybe nobody wanted to cook for this event, and they finally found a few people who were willing, but they didn't know what they were doing."

Today I once again got to taste Baptist food when the First Baptist Church in Junction City invited me to speak at their annual tea. The main room had twenty round tables all lavishly decorated, and through the doorway into the kitchen I glimpsed a number of earnest men(!) busily preparing food. One of them wore a white chef jacket.

The menu was printed on the program:

Herb Roasted Turkey Croissant
with watercress, roma tomato, dill havarti, and tarragon & Dijon aioli

Spinach Salad
with pear, cranberry, candied hazelnuts, chevre cheese, and creamy balsamic dressing

Creamy artichoke, roasted garlic and potato soup

Strawberry shortcake

It turned out that the menu was chosen by a Jeremy Lowman, the guy in the chef outfit, who is a member of the church and also a caterer of some renown.

The food was just that good, too. Oh my yes.

I could jump to further conclusions here about Baptist men vs. Baptist women and food, but I think it's time to quit making such assumptions. It's really not fair.

Since I don't like it when all Mennonites get dumped into the same box. Unless, of course, people stereotype us all as being good cooks.

Quote of the Day:
[the day after Amy left for Jamaica and Emily and Ben went to the east coast to drive Em's car back]
I thought Jenny said: It's so sad when those three are gone.
Me: I know, but we'll have fun while they're away.
Jenny: Mom!! I was actually talking about the kittens! I said, I'LL BE so sad when those three are gone!

Monday, June 06, 2011

Coast Pictures

Amy posted a bunch of photos of our time at the coast.

Click here.

Quote of the Day:
Me: Jenny, it's time to get up.
Jenny: What do you mean, 'time to get up'?? It's only 10:00.

(Yes, it's summer now)

Friday, June 03, 2011


Maybe it was the oak tree falling that inspired us to replace some other trees around here, such as the runt maple by the west driveway, and the spindly tree by the lilacs. So far we've only been planning and haven't cut either of these.

And we should do something about the pine trees. Maybe. Paul's parents got them very inexpensively from somewhere and the seller forgot to tell them that they shed their long, spiny, poky, nasty needles by the millions every fall. And that you can't pick them up with the lawn mower. And they clog the gutters along the roof. And you end up raking them up about five times each fall.

But now they're big trees, and they look nice.

I finally gave my consent and Paul had our friend Chip come over and take out one pine tree while we were at the coast. I said I'd see how that looked before I gave the ok for more.

We decided we need to do some serious research on what trees we want.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, a nursery near Coburg had a batch of trees out back that hadn't sold, and they kept blowing over, so they told their employees that the trees are theirs for the taking and what doesn't go will get destroyed.

One of the employees was Susan. Susan had a pig. She happened to sell this pig to Paul's cousin Darrell and told him about the free trees. So he got some.

Paul called Darrell about borrowing his chain saw. Darrell thought, "Hmmm. Chain saw. To cut down trees. That he might need to replace."

So Darrell told Paul about the free trees.

Paul called me. I said yes, what can we lose?

So Paul and Darrell went and got four trees for us, two maples that are about 20 feet high already and two pines that shed their needles but the needles are tiny and soft.

We see here that I am being a true Yoder, justifying all the faults because it's a find and it's free.

Paul went back with the van and trailer and got ten more trees, because his wife is a Yoder and feels sorry for objects no one else wants, especially if they're free, and is sure she can use them, one way or another, because after all, they're free for the taking.

So you may soon see a different look to our place when you drive by.

Quote of the Day:
Son A: Let my people go!!
Son B: No! Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!
--overheard at the coast

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Sisters, the Ocean, and other Loveliness

There's just something about sisters.

They just "get" you like no one else. And you can stand in the stairway in the house at the coast and pull aside the silky gray curtains across the doorway and proclaim, "We will now be performing The Tea Rose!" and she laughs as a sister ought, and then you trade places and she pulls the curtain aside and says dramatically, "But the eye, Master Schneider!" and then you both howl while the kids look like, "Mother? Would you mind?"*

My sister Rebecca, as I may have explained before, left Yemen soon after Mom hurt her feet and came to take care of her. She and I overlapped for a day, and then Rebecca stayed with the folks for two more weeks and to her blessed credit got a bunch of things worked out so they can continue to be on their own, such as a LifeLine in case they fall and can't get up, and a lady to help with the cleaning.

I should insert a story here. The social worker came out to evaluate Mom and Dad and what level of care they need. She said to Rebecca, "You say last week your sister was here from, where was it?"
Rebecca: Oregon
Social worker: And now you're here from overseas, aren't you?
Rebecca: Yes, from Yemen.
SW: And next week you have a brother coming from Oklahoma, is that right?
Rebecca: Yes.
SW: [turning to Mom and Dad in amazement] I want to know how you raised your family!

You know, that's something I had never thought about, that Mom and Dad taught us, more by example than anything, that you drop everything and help if your parents need help.

Meanwhile things kept getting nastier in Yemen, where Rebecca's husband Rod and youngest son Derek still resided. The city was mostly out of electricity and gasoline, so they had to do their email in the middle of the night when the power was on, and siphon gas out of the needing-repair car to use in the one that still worked.

And meanwhile out in Seattle, Rod's dad offered them the use of his car for the summer.

So after Rebecca handed things off to Fred and Loraine in Minnesota, she flew to Seattle, got the car, and headed south through the rain, to Portland, where she picked up their oldest son Jason, who was finished with college in Virginia.

And oh happy day, they came to our house.

As always, I dumped the housework duties on the girls and talked obsessively with Rebecca over cups of tea. We went to garage sales. We yacked in Pennsylvania Dutch. We laughed a lot and gave each other lots of empathy and affirmation and dissected everyone in our lives.

While we are very different in some areas, we are very alike in more. It was nice in a sad sort of way to be around someone else who gets vicious coughing fits and has to snatch an inhaler out of her purse. We went out to eat at the little Mexican restaurant in Harrisburg and suddenly Rebecca said, "Dorcas, this is just bizarre. We ordered the exact same thing for lunch, we both got iced tea, we both stirred in one packet of Splenda, and then we both took off our glasses before we ate."

Meanwhile, for an end-of-year gift, the school board gave Paul two free nights at a house on the coast, between Waldport and Yachats. I wanted to make a family event out of it before Amy leaves for Jamaica for a year, and the time that worked best would overlap with the last night of Rebecca and Jason's visit.

Why not? So we packed up lots of food and Paul worked out the complicated logistics with vehicles, and off we went in three cars.

The house is an old one on the east side of Highway 101, a short walk from the beach. We invaded the place and made ourselves at home and went for a walk on the beach as the misty rain blew in our faces. Then in the evening Paul played games with the children while Rebecca and I sat on the couch and tried to stay awake in this last precious time together but like two old grandmas we kept nodding off and finally it wasn't worth the battle and we went to bed.

Someday, when we're both sitting on a couch in the Peaceful Rest Home For The Aged, with our oxygen tanks beside us, we will just gently fall asleep because we'll have all the time in the world to finish our stories after our naps. Or maybe that will be in Heaven, minus the O2 tanks.

I need to commend Jason at this point, because he was endlessly patient with all of this and also with the two boys he slept in the same room as, and with Jenny who adores him and talked his ear off all the way out to the coast, and a lot more besides.

Jason and Rebecca got up early and left Monday morning, headed for Minnesota first, and then on to Virginia.

Where Rod and Derek are now, safely, at last, because they squeaked out of Yemen at unnerving peril and since they left there's been lots more fighting in the streets and the situation grows ever more dire.

Meanwhile we decided to drive down to Cape Perpetua, and climb it. For some reason I've had this mental block for the last ten years that I simply don't have what it takes to climb that mountain. It is a tough hike if you're not in shape--700 feet of elevation gain on a 1-mile trail. So I would always offer to drive the van the back way to the top and set up the picnic.

But this time, who knows why, I decided to take the hike. It wasn't easy, but I made it, and today I finished writing a column about it, so I won't repeat it all here.

But I really think the positive messages from FlyLady and people such as my friend Robin finally accumulated into a big enough pile that it tipped me into doing it.

I made it to the top, too.

The view up there is astonishing. All those cliched words like awesome are not cliched for this situation, and when you've earned it by hiking up, it is sweet indeed.

Yes well. Then we went back to the house and that evening we ate at Mo's in Newport, and Matt joined us, and it was wonderful to have all our six children together and to eat and have a lovely time.

At the next table a youngish man sat with a girl maybe nine years old. He kept watching us. When Amy got up to take a picture, he immediately offered to take it for her so we could all be in the picture. Emily overheard the girl asking him, "Why do you always stay in a hotel when you come to visit us? Why don't you stay at our house?"

So their story was easy to guess, as was the reason for his wistful face, and as I sat surrounded by Paul and these amazing young people laughing and talking and enjoying the clam chowder and each other and even their parents, I felt like I had more blessings than anyone else on earth, far far beyond what I deserved or would have thought to ask for.

Of course it rained, since we're on the subject of blessings. [It does that in Oregon, and Rebecca, who is used to Yemen's endless sunshine, was getting jittery after two days of it. "How do you stand it all winter, not seeing the sun?" Hmmm. Well, you take lots of vitamins and try not to think about it.] You can still walk on the beach in rain, but a downpour is a bit much even for Oregon people, but Jenny wanted one more jaunt to the beach before she went to bed. So she and I, laughing like excited hyenas, pulled on our coats and sandals, dashed through the puddles and down the road and across 101 and down the path and onto the beach while the wind blew and the rain poured. Then, shrieking and shivering, we walked into the edge of the ocean and let the tail end of a wave soak our feet, and then we shrieked and laughed some more and ran back to the house in the dark, drenched and happy.

The next morning the three middle kids left at 6:30 for classes and work.

The rest of us cleaned up the house and changed the sheets and did laundry so we'd get our cleaning deposit back, an abrupt transition back to the realities of life, especially since the ancient brooms looked more suited for Halloween props than sweeping kitchens, and the dryer hardly worked.

Then we ate lunch with Matt and told him goodbye and headed home and ate saltwater taffy from Aunt Belinda's and slept.

An hour after we got home someone remembered that there was a Smucker party at Phil and Rosie's that evening in honor of Laura, who was secretly flown in from Poland for her parents' anniversary party. So we went, exhausted beyond rational thought, and came home early.

And today I churned out a column for the paper, which after a relaxed time at the coast and with a sister felt like sheer punishment.

Meanwhile Life in all its complexities swirls around us and the phone keeps ringing and the cats are hungry and Emily needs a farmer's number before tomorrow for her persuasive paper on field burning and Amy needs a mailing address and Jenny gets sent back out three times before she cleans up the cat litter as specified and of course everyone is hungry, all the time.

My idea of Heaven: some combination of getting away and lots of family close at hand and no cell phone service and Paul grilling hamburgers and the sun shining and walks on the beach and the endless waves rolling in, on and on and on.

*Ok. So we used to put on plays, back in the day when we were young and poor and persecuted by 3 older brothers. We found an old book of stories we dramatized, and curtained off the pantry and got the rest of the family to sit in the kitchen and watch, and acted out a touching story of a poor woman who planted a tea rose in her window and eventually changed the neighborhood. And then we acted out the other story, of an abandoned girl who turned out to be someone's daughter, and of one guy buying a horse from another, and all I remember is he was sure it was a "spavined mare," which I to this day don't know what that is, and he said, shrewdly, "But the eye, Master Schneider!"

I love how sisters just Get It.

And I love how blessed I am even if it's hard to come home again.