Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Drowning in papers

I am constantly drowning in papers.

I've read FlyLady's suggestions by the boxful and read organizational books by the truckload but still I am forevermore snowed under by bits of paper containing little pieces of my brain that I will lose if it isn't written down.

Sometimes these actually get transferred to a file, or a list in my big notebook/calendar. And as I finish whatever the paper is about I get rid of it. Eventually.

But still. Far too many papers don't fit a magic category and so they sit around to remind me of whatever I need to remember.

Here are some of the papers within arm's reach as we speak:

--a note about the dress code at IGO in Thailand, since we plan to be there for a few weeks next summer

--an appointment on Thursday morning

--a note that Jenny's piano lessons will be on Tuesdays this year

--a paper telling me what to do if the computer keyboard goes all Arabic, a relic of Matt's college Arabic class using this computer

--a list of Jenny's current persona: Warrior Princess Bug Book

--Brittney M.'s email address so I can send her the list of Bible Memory Camp verses

--a request to put on the prayer chain

--a thank you note from Jenny to Letha R. for that cute pencil case

--a phone message Janane D. left for Jenny

--a thank you note from Jenny to Simone, for taking her to the state fair

--a page of notes for my September column

--a prayer request from my prayer sister at church

--a quote of the day

--information about a fiction class at Lane Community College

--the name of a movie on African cats that someone recommended for Steven

--a cute printout of lunch box notes that I hope I remember to actually use

--another quote of the day

--and another one

--a pesto recipe

--a schedule for me after school starts that will enable me to always be caught up with my life and have time to sew

--notes from conversations with people at the fair

--a reminder to tell Lorenda K. that I met a lady who listens to her cd and loves it

--a note to tell Ben that when he leads singing at church he needs to say "three hundred seventy four" and not "three hundred AND seventy four."

--a list of Sunday school kids who were absent on Sunday and need to get their prize next week

--two possible themes for a novel

--yet another prayer request

--the date for the Joyful Noise potluck

--information about a speech on the 19th

Like I said, that's just the papers within reach.

My idea of Heaven on earth: not having to keep track of anything or remember anything for a whole week.

One of those Quotes of the Day:
"I am not related to you!"
--Jenny, the almost-teenager, in her long skirt and flipflops, as we crossed the bridge into Harrisburg on a warm evening with the car windows open, and she reached over and cranked up the music to huge volumes and then slouched way down in her seat, giggling.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mrs. Smucker Goes To The Fair

Thursday was my annual Day At The Lane County Fair Oregon Authors' Table.

It was a grand mix of sheer boredom and being interviewed on KVAL, of watching overweight people shuffle by eating ice cream and of seeing the fascinating Frog again, of doing poorly on sales but richly on connecting with readers.

Always before, I parked in the field beside the fairgrounds, and old men on horses waved orange flags to tell me where to go.

This time, that lot was blocked off and I followed the traffic down meandering one-way streets, getting loster by the second, until I found a parking spot.

As I was unloading my stuff, a group of young women walked by. One had a tripod and one had a camera the size of a hav-a-hart skunk trap. I asked them if they know if it's ok to park there. They didn't know. Then one girl said to another, "Hey, maybe that's someone you could interview about parking."

She said she's from KVAL news and would I mind? I said no, if it doesn't take too long.

So she pinned a microphone to my shirt and hoisted the huge camera to her shoulder. She asked my name and had me spell it. "Where are you parked?" she asked me. Well, she had me there. "I don't know," I said. "I think I'm on Jefferson, and I'm just going to head out in that general direction to find the fair." I waved toward the northwest. She wondered if I thought something should be done about parking. I said I'd never had this problem before and if it only happens one or two days a year, there's no sense building a new parking lot.

And soon we were done. She got a shot of me walking off with a backpack and two rolling cases of books. Then one of them hit a crack in the sidewalk and the box flew off the rolling rack.

I don't think any of the footage ever made it on TV.*

Dan Armstrong the ex-mechanical-engineer-turned-fiction-author and I talked about his work to get the grass-seed-growing farmers to start growing more beans and grains. People in the Valley grow lots of fruits and vegetables, but actually only about 5% or less of the food we eat is grown here. He'd like to see that change and I have to say he makes a lot of sense. With the price of fuel, it seems like good insurance to have a good variety of food plants grown close by.

But if everyone switches to quinoa and fava beans, Paul will soon be out of business.

Sales were terrible compared to previous years but lots of people stopped by to say they read my column. The proportion of buyers to column-readers was 1 to 7.

One woman told me that my work is "so needed," that I show people how family is done, that people like her, with an abusive alcoholic mom who literally didn't speak to her for 14 years, want to have a sane, normal family life but don't know how. And I show them how and I give them hope and she thinks that's wonderful. Of course my first thought was, "You've got to be kidding." But when she described her situation I got what she meant. Sort of.

One lady came by with a t-shirt that said, "I am not fat. I'm hiding my fabric stash." I get that.

Another woman said, "My children have benefited from your writing. Some of your columns have stopped me from killing my kids."


A young man named Jason was supposed to show up at 7 to sell his memoir but he couldn't make it. It turns out he has that same disease as Stephen Hawking has, and is just as crippled, and communicates by blinking once for yes and twice for no, and actually wrote a good memoir by blowing through a straw at a special computer screen. Imagine.

The famous Frog came for the last two hours. I've written about him before.

Frog smelled nicer than he ever has before at the Fair but he still has lots of bushy hair and his dirty joke books and his odd quirks.

But I have to say I like him. What you see is just what you get. And he isn't jealous if you make more money than he does, and he doesn't care if you wear Christopher and Banks or an old T-shirt, and he is kind and friendly.

Now the truth is he wouldn't be easy to live next door to, with his disdain for city law, and he also would neither judge nor care if I cheated on a final exam or my taxes or my husband.

But something about him always reminds me that there's a lot we Christians can learn from publicans and sinners.

I took a picture of Frog and me and sent it to Emily with the caption, "Me and my friend Frog."

Then at 9:00 I packed up and left, dreading that long walk back to the car in the dark. At the gate were two young men with bike pedicabs or whatever they are, with a little bench in back and a bike handlebars and tire in front. One offered me a ride to my car. Oh, how tempting. How much? Tips--whatever I want to give.

Ok, wonderful. I piled on my books and we set out, together finding our way back to the car. I figured he's a typical pot-smoking hyper-left-wing U of O student. We started talking. He came from a small farm in eastern Oregon and a family of six children. He was happy to live in Eugene because he could grow a garden in his back yard. Ok, I stood rebuked.

I gave him $5.

I still had to get groceries but first I stopped at Taco Bell for my first real food of the day. While there I got a text and photo from Emily. It said, "Me and my friend Frog."

It turns out Jenny had brought home her costume for the VBS program skit in which she was to be the prodigal son's dad.

I don't often laugh out loud in Taco Bell but I sure did then.

Quote of the Day:
"Yes!! You should write a Mennonite murder mystery!!"
--Shirley Tallman, the mystery writer. She and Dan Armstrong and Carola Dunn were trying to persuade me to broaden my repertoire.

*Actually, yes it did, a 3-second blip where I rather nervously say, "I've never had trouble parking before." (Here's the link. I'm at 00:25)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Jenny's Lemonade Stand

Jenny's had a lemonade and pop stand over at the warehouse this summer. I posted some pictures of her and it on Facebook.

You can see them here if you wish.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Monster Cookies, the Recipe

Someone asked for this, so apparently I didn't scare her off of ever making them.


Mix: 1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter
2 1/3 c. brown sugar
2 c. white sugar

Add: 2 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter (Jif or other good brand!)
6 eggs
1 1/2 t. vanilla

Mix well.
Add 1 1/2 t. light corn syrup
4 t. baking soda

Stir in 9 c. quick oats
1 1/2 c. M & M's
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips

(Edit: Refrigerate at least 2 hours)
Put them on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes.

Note: no flour in this recipe. Feel free to add your variations/suggestions.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monster Cookies and The Minister's Wife

Sometimes I'd just like to Get it Right. Is that so much to ask, from God or me? Just to take on a task, work at it, finish, know I did a good job, go on to something else.

This week is our vacation Bible school, an annual event in which dozens of church and neighborhood kids descend on Brownsville Mennonite every evening for Bible lessons and songs and crafts and homemade cookies.

I was thinking I ought to teach this year, since they're always desperate for teachers. I mean, I'm the minister's wife and my youngest is 12, so surely I could manage. But when they announced the dates it turned out I had two previously scheduled things, book and speech related, that conflicted.

I felt good and guilty, especially when the superintendent personally called me up to ask if I'd teach, but I couldn't very well cancel the other things.

So, if I couldn't teach, maybe I could make supper for another mom who was teaching. Like Rita Baker. I called her up, oozing with righteousness and generosity. Oh, that was sweet of me, she said, but two other people were there ahead of me.

Bonnie called and asked me to put on the church hot line that they really need more cookies for snacks for all the children. So I sent the message on and decided that this, at least, was something I could do.

I would make cookies. Monster cookies. Which I have made many times in my life. And I'd have to make a double batch, since one batch doesn't last long here, and we needed some for us, too, charity beginning at home and hungry teenagers and all.

So I mixed up a double batch which makes a huge vish of dough, as we say in Dutch. I didn't have any trouble mixing in the dozen eggs but by the time I poured in 18 cups of oatmeal I needed a tractor and front-end loader.

I know I got all the amounts right. I double and triple checked.

So why why why did they turn out like this:
and this:

I stirred in the oatmeal better, tried this and that, fiddled and experimented. And got one disastrous pan after another.

Finally I got some help, which was very nice.

He stirred in a bunch of flour, and then at last the cookies looked like this:

Not perfect, but good enough.

Now while this was going on I was thinking a lot about our young friend Esta's latest post which it seems is going viral, judging by how many times I see it linked and referred to on Facebook and such. This is good.

You need to read the whole thing, but among other things she says,

The starting gun was shot a long time ago.

I didn’t know this was a competition. I didn’t know I was loosing until then.

My round angles didn’t fit in square holes, which, instead of showing me how silly the striving was, just made me feel like everyone else had a head start.

But round holes or square, we still race, don’t you see?

Even the old ones do it, this comparing...

She has a bubbly personality and we wish we could make people laugh like that, but hey, at least I don’t come across like a flirt.

She wears clothes like they are art, every movement grace, and we automatically analyze our outfit and decide she must be a show-off.

She travels and witnesses as easy as breathing and we feel like spiritual buffoons.

She talks during Sunday school, people tear up, and we spend the next weeks trying to be more “deep”.

We feel either proud, smug, frantic, insecure, or a nasty mix of all four.

We are not safe places.

I feed my hungry insecurities with your talents and you feed yours with mine.

No one ever wins.

But the more I wrestle to find what it is to truly be a woman, the more I hate the lies and what the lies make us do. And the more I see how many of us don’t stop until suddenly we are comparing our grandchildren and the whiteness of our dentures.

I’m pulling out of the race.

I’m pulling out because last week I actually saw what God kept pounding in me the last three months.

How it doesn’t matter.

How He perfectly places and designs and arranges our hearts to be who we are, and it is HIS doing. Our job—my job—as a woman is only to embrace it and finally move free.

That is all.


And all the passion can be turned outward and upward, instead of spent on protecting and embellishing and worrying about my identity.

I am not a hidden threat to you—you are not a hidden threat to me.

As I embrace who I am, I am left unencumbered to embrace who you are with passion and abandoned, joy, because you are not a threat, you are a gift.

We are free and only then do we create a safe place to sit and care for each other.

I realize I took her words out of context, kind of, but the reason I thought of them was because if you know me at all you know the messages scrolling across the screen in my brain while I was wrestling with those cookies:

"Really now. Monster cookies. Of all things. What kind of Mennonite mom/housewife/daughter of Sara Yoder/minister's wife cannot manage to make a batch of monster cookies??? And why does this always happen, when I'm trying to do a good deed and do my part for the cause and not look like a total slacker with VBS when everyone else is working their tails off, why does it always have to blow up in my face?"

My mother-in-law sometimes says, in her cheerful way, "Well, as Wilton used to say, 'You can't be good at everything!"

She also says, "Well, the Lord knows all about it!"

Both are true, of course, not that it helps much at the moment.

I had a fleeting thought that maybe the eggs had salmonella in them, and this was God's way of keeping the VBS kids from getting sick, kind of like every time I miss a flight I think, "Oh, I'll bet that flight is going to crash, and for the rest of my life I can give this amazing testimony of how God spared my life," but it never happens that way of course.

So. We now have three Tupperware containers full of delicious but twisted and clumped and flat monster cookies.

I have once again failed to do my part for the cause.

I don't plan to lose sleep over this or obsess over it after I'm done writing about it. But I wonder...is this about comparisons, deep down? About looking for affirmation in all the wrong places? About proving something I was never meant to prove? About embracing who I am and what I can and cannot do well, and finding joy in that, instead of slogging away at what I'm not good at, for all the wrong reasons?

Or am I making it too complicated, and the only problem was that the peanut butter was cheap and oily?

I welcome your input and if you have a story to top mine, I want to hear it.

Quote of the Day:
"Maybe we should call up the people in Paris and see if they can come up with a metric measurement we can call a VISH."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dibs n Dabs on a Sunday Evening

One of the things I miss about having young children in the family is their observations about life and people that are so honest, so dead-on, and so unexpected.

Well, except for that time we were at Philip and Anna's wedding and little Matthew told a woman that she couldn't possibly be a grandma because she's too fat. I could have done without that one. I guess she was quite a ways plumper than both his grandmas.

Thankfully I still have Jenny who is young and at home and very observant. Today she said, "There's this guy that comes to my lemonade stand with 'Travis' and I don't know who he is, but he has a Mennonite accent."
Emily and me: A WHAT?
Jenny: You know, like, a Harrisburg Mennonite accent.
Emily and me: No we don't know. What do you mean?
Jenny: Well, like, he said he wants lemonade and I said, "Do you want pink or regular?" and he said, "I'll take regga-ler." That's how he said it. I said reg-u-lar and he said regga-ler.

I was laughing too hard to try to figure out who this person was.

But Jenny was spot-on with her observation and you know it.
The other day my former student Sharilyn came by for tea. She brought her adorable little 3-year-old son with her. We talked about writing, adoption, our children, other people, and writing some more.

A former student who is now my sister-in-law once accused me of having Sharilyn as the "teacher's pet." Looking back, she was probably justified in this. I was very young and she was mature enough for her age that we were in some ways equals.

It's nice to relate to both these ladies now as equals without worrying about who is a pet and who isn't.
Today we went to a gospel-music concert in the Brownsville Park. Music is nice but watching people is even nicer. It was a wonderful down-home mix of various Mennonite brands mixed with older ladies in generic white perms and homeschooled young people trying to be cool and gentlemen in baseball caps and little kids running around the bike paths.

One of the singing groups was the Todd Neuschwander family. Todd told the story of how he came to travel and play piano with the Gospel Echoes team at the improbable age of 15. Which took me back to when I was in the youth group and all of us who were trying to experience life beyond Grove City drove four hours north to hear the Gospel Echoes team and there was this young man named Todd playing piano.

When I saw and heard Todd playing piano and singing in that little church in Bemidji, Minnesota, I never dreamt I would someday be married to his second cousin.
Todd is in Oregon because his dad just got married. For some reason people my age tend to look at young love with seriousness and sentimental admiration, and at old love with amusement. Why is that?

Maybe because we've been young but not old.

Today at the concert there was an older couple in front of us. Someone recently informed me that these two are emphatically not dating, they are just keeping each other company.

But then today I saw them leaning in to tell each other something during the concert and I thought, Hmmm, surely it isn't necessary to lean their shoulders THAT close to say something if they're just "keeping each other company." And then I remembered their ages and thought Oh wait, it probably is necessary after all, so they can hear each other.

See, we find old love merely amusing.
Today Paul preached to a grand total of 5 people.

We went down to Winston, two hours south, to help out the little Mennonite church there and for some reason almost everyone had plans other than going to church there.

But Jesus promised to be there even if only two or three are gathered, and He was.
Quote of the Day:
Family member: Didn't "Bertha's" mom die recently?
Me: Yes, and her dad is "seeing somebody" already.
Emily the hysterical: SEEING somebody??!! Like, a GHOST??!!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Scientific Experiment While Mom Was Gone

This evening I sat at the kitchen counter having hot chocolate with Emily. I looked up and on the ceiling I saw this:

Hmmm. I said some words about this and got this response:

Quote of the Day:
"What's so weird about little orange flecks on the ceiling?"
--the culprit

I was gone all day. A Methodist church in Florence, out on the coast, had invited me a long time ago to come speak today. Paul and I had decided to make a two-day anniversary expedition out of it and I looked forward to this very much.

However. Harvest almost didn't happen, as you know by now, and then it was really late, so there was no way Paul could come to the coast with me. So I took his mom instead and we made a day of it, and while it didn't have the ambiance of a 27th anniversary getaway, it was still fun, and we had a good time catching up on all the MennoValley news and eating at Mo's and talking with friendly Methodist women.

It turns out that while I was gone, someone did a scientific experiment. First he froze a can of orange pop. When it felt good and solid, he decided to peel off the can and have a nice slushy orange treat.

So he stabbed it with a "sharp cutter thing."

This was not such a good idea, we are told.

The culprit and Emily did a lot of scrubbing and spraying and wiping, but after I came home I still kept finding funny little orange dots on the fridge, the bar, the wall, my notebook on the table, and probably lots of other places that I am sure to discover in time.

And then I saw them on the ceiling.

So this happened:
The culprit explained the scientific process of the experiment to his dad, ending with,

2nd Quote of the Day:
"But apparently carbon doesn't freeze very well, and so . . . [shrug] it exploded."

And somewhere in there he sighed and said,
3rd Quote of the Day:
"Life at the Smuckers, where every time a fly flaps a wing it has to go on the blog."

All I can say is, eat your heart out, Esta, my fine young friend who wants a whole houseful of this sort of son.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

LFH: The Late Harvest

Today's Letter from Harrisburg is about the harvest that finally arrived.

You can read it here.

Thursday, August 04, 2011


Baling straw has changed a lot since I was young.

I'm guessing the terminology hasn't changed in the Midwest since I was a kid, and hay is still baled alfalfa for animals to eat, and straw is still the byproduct of another crop, used primarily for bedding.

Here in Oregon, the two terms are used interchangeably, even though 99% of the baling industry is straw. "Valley Hay," for instance, is one of the big operations around here that bales the straw left over after the grass is harvested and ships it over to places like Japan.

Anyway. Back in my youth in Minnesota you would first take a tractor like our John Deere 720 and mower into the field and cut the alfalfa. The mower was like an oversized electric knife lying flat on the ground.

Then you pulled a rake behind a tractor and piled it all in nice windrows.

There were farmers who combined these steps with a machine that I forget the name of that had two rubber roller things that compressed the plants just enough that they dried better. My dad was not one for anything modern or efficient so we didn't have one.

Then you baled the hay. First the 720 or the Farmall M, then the baler, then the hay wagon. We all took our turn on either the tractor or the wagon. Driving the tractor was way more fun, of course, except for the time Fred found a garter snake in a hay bale and tossed it at Rebecca who was driving.

If you were the person on the wagon you watched as the baler went ca-chunk ca-chunk and a bale came out the chute toward you. You grabbed the twine and hauled the bale to the back of the wagon and put it where it belonged. You had to do each layer just right, two bales this way, two the other way, two this way again, and change them around with the next layer up.

It was hard work. I'm guessing each bale weighed about 40 pounds.

Being Beachy Amish Rebecca and I wore dresses for this task. I don't know why it never crossed our minds to wear the boys old jeans under our dresses or have Mom make us some denim leggings or something. Or maybe we prided ourselves in being tough. When the job was done we'd come in looking like our arms and legs had been attacked by an army of rabid cats.

When the wagon was full we would drive up to the hay shed and unload all these bales onto the elevator that would hoist them up to the top of the very large pile in there, and someone would stack them. Unloading the hay wagon was far easier than loading it, except for that one time when I was about 13 and there was a storm brewing, with thunder and lightning all around, and I was on top of the hay wagon, all exposed, and certain the next bolt of lightning was going to hit me, and I was having issues with my conscience just then and was certain I wasn't saved, and was sure I couldn't be until I had apologized to some unfortunate soul, I forget who or what for, but I certainly remember the fear, and the thunder roaring.

I didn't get hit by lightning except later I got hit by the lightning of God's grace which was very nice.

But yes, as I was saying.

Baling around here, in this era, is much different.

For one thing, it's done by crews of young men who show up for the summer from as far afield as Paraguay. They all seem to share a streak of recklessness, the type that would actually enjoy being on a hay wagon in a thunderstorm and, I've gotta say, a few of them act like they could use a slightly more sensitive conscience.

And the equipment is huge, and there's lots of it, and the job gets done in a very short time.

Last week Kenneth and Lisa harvested the ryegrass field north of our house.

Yesterday a fleet of monstrous tractors came roaring by our place pulling equipment that blocked the whole road. They turned into the ryegrass field and got to work.

Three huge rakes piled the straw into windrows. Three huge balers came behind and coughed out bales that looked about 25 times as big as the bales I used to hoist on the hay wagon.

They flew around that field and in a short time they were done and roaring off to eat up another field.

Next came that glorified forklift thing that picks up the bales, and a series of huge semi trucks with two long trailers, or maybe it was just one that came over and over. It would turn right on Powerline pulling a load that looked the size of a couple of houses.

And then they were done.

As nearly as I could tell, not one person had touched a stalk of actual straw. And I'm sure none of them got a single scratch.

And judging by the way they drove and how much fun they were having, none of them were having a crisis of conscience either.

And there's no danger of a thunderstorm in these parts.

Yes, baling is very different from what it used to be.

Quote of the Day:
"Ummm, I gotta go. I just ran over a bush."
--Steven, on his cell phone, to his friend Trent. Or so I was told, about third hand. Steven has since made some emphatic promises to his parents regarding cell phone usage.