Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Zombie Ladybug Apocalypse

(I am at my mom and dad's.  This was an email I sent to my family and Emily thought it should be posted here. So she did.)

So last night I got to thinking that between the clumsily-held matches, the inferno in the wood stove, and the kerosene liberally squirted into the fire, there was a good chance that the house would go up in flames some day or night and there I was, down in the basement bedroom with no good fire escape.

So I pulled the nightstand out of the corner and over just under the window and made sure I could open the window and escape if I needed to and put my purse in grabbing distance.

Yes.  I could rest in peace.


Over in the corner where the nightstand had been were two clusters of dead ladybugs, maybe a hundred of them in a webby cluster 18 inches up on the wall, and another two hundred in a pile on the floor.  I'd have to vacuum them up in the morning.

I tried to sleep.

Odd plops and noises came from the corner.  I turned on the light.  The ladybugs  on the wall were coming alive, crawling a bit, and plopping to the floor.

I went upstairs and got the can of Raid and sprayed it on the ladybugs.  Then I went back to bed.

Soft scritches and plops and other noises continued.


I sprayed some more.

The mass of bugs on the floor was quite un-dead.  But they seemed oblivious to the Raid.


I gave up and went to sleep with a sense of doom.

In the morning the house had not burned down, the ladybugs had not taken over the room, and I was reasonably fine.

The end.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Mysterious IT

I am always amazed at how some people just have it and others don't.

Like popularity.  I have one son with that mysterious something that makes everyone like him and want to be around him.  "A cool dude in a family of nerds," say his sisters.

And that's all I'll say about him, except that he just has IT. The Cool It.

Then, some people have the Respect It.

Sometimes on Wednesday mornings I volunteer at school and help with the first and second graders.  Now and then I'm left with the little first grade boys while the second graders are having their math class.

These boys are unusually active, I think, even for boys.  And they do not listen to me.

It is odd.  I put on my best brisk, all-business, no-nonsense Mom voice and try to talk like I fully expect them to do what I say.

It doesn't work.

A few weeks ago I was doing math flash cards with the first graders.  They bounced around and acted crazy.  One of them acted like he was strumming a guitar and singing the answers in a country-song twang.  I managed to stop him when he sang about his woman leaving him.

I commanded.  I took fuzzies out of their jars.  I demonstrated how they should behave.  Nothing worked for long.

At the supper table I talked about this.  I said, "Maybe they aren't capable of holding still.  You know how boys mature more slowly. Maybe they just can't."

Paul said, "I don't know why you have so much trouble with those first graders.  They're perfectly fine for me when I teach their math class."

Which brings us to my point: Paul by his very breathing commands respect from children.  Now, granted, there is a lot of foolishness that goes on because he is oblivious and/or deaf, but if he tells a bunch of kids to stand in a line and do flash cards, they do.

And nobody wants to get sent to his office.  Definitely not.

The family agreed: Mom is not Dad.

Jenny said, "Dad is just more . . . scary."

I said, "So, how can I be more scary?"

Jenny said, "You don't want to be scary."

I said, "Yes, I do.  At least a little bit."

We agreed: if you don't have IT, you can't just decide to change this.

Paul said I can lay out the Mr. Smucker card next time if I need to.

Ok.  I would.

Last Wednesday I once again was supervising little first graders.  I said, "Remember last time you guys were pretty wild?  Well, I talked to Mr. Smucker, and he said, 'Send them to me if they don't listen."

The boys said, "Oh.  No.  We don't do that here.  Miss Stephanie doesn't send us to Mr. Smucker."

I said, "Mr. Smucker said I should if I need to."

They shook their heads.  I obviously didn't understand.  "We don't get sent to Mr. Smucker.  Huh-uh."

I said, "We'll see."

They were supposed to be taking tests which requires silence. All of a sudden two of them, across the room from each other, started arguing.  Loudly.  I reminded them they are supposed to finish their tests without talking.

One immediately was quiet.

The other, who must have some latent Smucker genes, just HAD to fire back one more shot.  I again reminded him to be quiet.

He snapped, "HE started it!"

Ooooohhh, the time had come.

I wrote a note and sent him to Mr. Smucker.

Mr. Smucker spoke to him kindly but got him to admit why he got in trouble.  I don't think he enjoyed this.

I have a feeling the first graders will take me more seriously next time, not because I am any more scary or respectable, but because I will keep my word of sending them to the big guy that they all view with awe and a touch of fear.

Now the fact is that there are plenty of times, at home, that I am the strict disciplinarian and Paul is the big softie that thinks the child needs a lot more talking to and chances before the consequences start.

It has driven me crazy at times.

So why why why do children click their heels and salute when he walks by?  And they ignore me.

I don't have IT, that's for sure.

Quote of the Day:
"Hey...would you mind bringing my brown fuzzy boots that shlompf shlompf? They should be in my closet. Thanks!"
--Amy, whom I can't wait to see this weekend at Justin & Esta's wedding, in an email today.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lots of Stuff

This post is like Lizzie Wenger's store: it has a lot of random stuff in it.

I've been home over a week and have been up to my chin in Girls For God Club, laundry, prepping for two women's retreats, catching up, and putting together the Perfect Outfit for a wedding next week.

Our fine young friends Esta and Justin are getting married in Toronto, where Esta's from and also where Ben lives, so of course we have to go.  Paul and I are an "honorary couple" and I'm not sure what that means but I was asked to wear cream, sage green, or black.

I was planning to sew a dress but then last Sunday in church Jenny was sitting to my left, and her friend "Bridget" was sitting beside her, and Bridget was wearing a very dressy sage green dress.  The wheels spun in my head.

I asked Bridget and her mom after church. Sure! they said.  Or the mom did.  Bridget may have been more hesitant.

Maneuverings were done in the restroom.  I could zip the dress, which counts as an excellent fit.

I bought three little black "shrugs" and will choose one to wear and return the rest.

I am happy.

But Jenny is horrified, just very vocally chagrined and grossed out and horrified, that her MOM is wearing her FRIEND'S dress to this wedding.

EWWW.  That's just WEIRD.

Jenny doesn't know how hard it can be to find a dress that fits when you're 50.
*     *     *

But I still had a few things cogitating about our momentous trip East.  So I'll write Hopefully The Last Eastern Trip Post.

Here are some things I experienced for the first time on that trip:

1. Stink bugs.

We were at the cabin after Christmas when I saw one, walking along the table with its flat gray body.  I was about to pounce when the girls said, "Mom! Don't squish it!  It's a stink bug!"


"I'm serious.  DON'T squish it."

I wrapped it in about six layers of kleenex and squished, since moms always know best.  Soon it smelled awful in there.

Wow.  Oops.

When I got my luggage in Portland, what should I see crawling on the outside of my suitcase but a stink bug!  I decided I had to save Oregon from the plague, smell or not.  So I did.

2. Chick Fil A.

Amy was driving me to the airport.  Where shall we stop to eat?  I scanned the sign with all the options.  Yes!  Chick Fil A!

The chicken sandwich was excellent and so was the iced tea.

Let's bring Chick Fil A to Oregon.

3. Lizzie's.

"I want to take you shopping at Lizzie Wenger's," said my sister Margaret with an innocent smile on her face.

Actually, she didn't say Lizzie Wenger's, it was Lizzie-Something-Else, but on the very-off chance that Lizzie vanity-Googles her name someday, I'm changing it slightly.

Margaret drove to this farmhouse out in the country and told us we can wander around.  Ok, sure.

There was a lot of junk outside.  The more you looked, the more there was.  And an old barn.  With a horse inside, since Lizzie and her husband are horse-and-buggy Mennonite.
We kept wandering.

More stuff.  More and more and more stuff, everywhere.

We went through the rabbit hole into this dark little shed.  It was full of stuff.  More stuff than you ever saw in that amount of square footage in your whole life.

Then I saw a door leading to another room.  It was full of old Tupperware.  Oh!  Another door!  Baby clothes.  Another door!  Coats!

It was like a really bad dream.  Dark, low ceilings, more and more and more rooms and spaces and sheds and doors, stuff stuff stuff stuff stuff, on and on and on.  And it was freezing cold.
I had a brief panicky moment when I wondered if I'd ever find my way out.

All the stuff was for sale.

Clothes and books and knick-knacks and kitchen utensils and a million other things.
I've never seen anything like it.

I didn't leave with anything except a few pictures, memories, and a new resolve to get rid of my stuff as I get older lest I turn into Lizzie Wenger.

I got to meet Lizzie after I found my way back out.  Margaret went inside the house to pay for a few things so I joined her.  Lizzie was big and robust, with a brown checkered dress and a brown apron and little round glasses.  She talked and talked.  Her patient old husband, Mahlon, was sitting in the kitchen.  He had the flu.  So, she told us, she's giving him "Cream-a-tartar!  In water!  It cleans the blood, ya know!"

Meanwhile, Emily asked Lizzie if she could use her bathroom.  Lizzie said yes, and barked at Mahlon to show Emily where the bathroom is.  It took her a long time to come back, and I think you should all go over to The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots and prevail on her to tell the story for herself.

"So," said Margaret with a big grin when we left, "now you've been to Lizzie's."

Yes.  We have.

 And here's one conclusion I came to:

There are just more antiques in the East.  I'm sure of it.  And they are a lot cheaper than they are here.  Barb's beautiful house is decorated in antiques*  that I'm told were bought for low/reasonable prices.  I don't think you could do that in Oregon.
*Emily: "It looks like Pinterest exploded in here."

Your average little out-of-the-way secondhand store in Pennsylvania will have antique furniture sitting around for not much, like this sturdy old kitchen chair I was drooling over, for $10, near SMBI.

I think the Oregon antiques are in moldering piles somewhere on the east side of the Rockies where the wagon trains dumped them off.


Quote of the Day:
Me:[modeling a tiered denim skirt]  Does this skirt make me look 50 going on 14?
Jenny: No, it makes you look like 50 going on homeschool mom.

[The Smucker house: where you'll always get an honest answer.]

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Letter from Harrisburg

Today's Letter from Harrisburg is about those times when our adult children take a different path than the one we'd have picked for them.

Right here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


My mom always made sausage or hot dogs, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes on New Years Day.

I never gave it much thought.  It was just this quirky thing that her family had always done, probably an old Amish custom.

I think I’ve done this once or twice in all our married life.  It never went over big, sauerkraut not being a favorite around here.

On our trip we spent part of two days with Paul’s sister Barb in her to-die-for old farmhouse in southwestern Pennsylvania.
She lives there with a family from her church, the Ludwicks.

The day we left, Mr. Ludwick was working in the kitchen as I walked through.  I noticed a red crock pot on the counter.

Curious, I peeked inside, and there was a simmering mixture of hot dogs, kielbasa, and sauerkraut.

I had a sudden flashback to my childhood.

I thought for a minute.

It was New Years Day.

I think the Ludwicks attend a Mennonite church now but I’m pretty sure they grew up as “Englisch” as they come.  Mr. Ludwick works for the FBI—you can’t get more non-Amish than that.

Yet, there was that pot of sausage and sauerkraut on New Years Day.

I didn’t have a box in my brain for this.

As it turns out, the Ludwicks have German heritage from way-way back, and this is just something they do, apparently without giving it much thought.
Maybe we can conclude that sausage and sauerkraut on New Year’s is a German custom, rather than uniquely Amish.  But still, I find it fascinating that these people would keep it up, this many years later.

 Barb said, “I think people in the East are just more traditional.”

Is she right?  I have a quiz for my dear readers who are not of German-Anabaptist extraction:
1.      How many generations “off the boat” are you?  (Or were your ancestors there to meet the boat?)
2.       Do you still keep up ethnic traditions?  If so, what are they?
3.      What part of the country do you live in?

I’d love to hear your answers.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

East vs. West:Flying, Dresses, Sermon Illustrations

I am safe at home and happy to be here.

The East is different from the West in many many ways and one of them is this: In the East, you can pretty much drive wherever you need to go.  You know how Mennonites are always going to visit Mom, attend reunions and weddings, and get together for the holidays?  Well, you can do all that by driving.

If you can find your way on those beastly roads, that is, which they all seem very capable at.

Well, theoretically we could drive from Oregon, too.  Only we don't like to think of driving 1800 miles to Minnesota three times a year to see Mom and Dad.

The ladies at my table at the retreat were talking about flying, something they very seldom did.  One woman about my age had flown exactly once in her life.  Wow.

[These ladies were also unfamiliar with the Izze drinks we were served with our snack.  That surprised me, and made me feel sophisticated, as I am good friends with Izzes, thanks to the girls working at Grocery Depot.]

I should have kept track of how many people on this trip, in both Virginia and Pennsylvania, when we told them our itinerary, said to me, with disbelief, "Are you flying back ALONE?"

 Well, yes I am.

As it turned out, I could also have said, "And my flight to Denver will be delayed so I'll be positive I'll miss my flight and spend the night in Denver, but then the flight to Portland will be delayed also, so I'll catch it in plenty of time, and get in at 11:20pm.

"Then I'll take the shuttle to the Ramada Inn, since our car is parked there, and I'll pick up the car key at the front desk and then go hunt around for the car in the parking lot.  When I start driving, the car will act all stubborn like the emergency brake is on even though it's not, and I'll spend half an hour pulling forward and back, shining my cell phone into the back of the wheel well to see if something is rubbing on the wheel, and hoping I find something so obviously wrong that I have to spend the night in the Ramada.

"Then suddenly things will loosen up and the car will run fine and I'll drive home which is two hours down Interstate 5, and I'll stay awake because someone is praying for me, I'm sure.  And then I'll hit the ground running and get ready for another airplane trip in 17 days, to a wedding in Toronto followed by most of a week in Minnesota with my folks."

Trust me, I would give a lot to be inexperienced at flying and have my parents and sisters within a day's driving distance.

There are things that eastern ladies are good at that I am not, like decorating for an event and navigating those roads and persuading their children to live close to home, so maybe it's ok if I am more comfortable with flying than they are.

Odd how you think everyone else lives like you do, until you find out differently.

Like: dresses.

I was so impressed with the cute but very modest dresses the SMBI girls were wearing.  I had sewed 8 dresses for Amy last summer, but I remembered sewing all my own before I went to CBS way back when.  I was curious if the other girls at SMBI sewed their own dresses or had their moms make them.

So I asked.

"My mom."
"My mom."
"My mom."

Oh dear.  These were girls from all over.  Is our generation failing to pass on the skill?  Amy and I had decided it was more efficient if I sewed and she cooked and cleaned, but maybe next time I should insist she sews for herself.

I talked to Emily about this.  She said, "Well!  When I went to SMBI I asked a few girls where they got their dresses and they said, 'I went to Goodwill and got a bunch!'"

Imagine how handy that would be.  And that has to be distinctly eastern--to find nice Mennonite dresses at Goodwill.  Wow.

I went to a little church with Amy on Sunday.  The minister used the following as sermon illustrations: Pickett's Charge, Papa Bear in the Berenstain Bears, and the Battle of Gettysburg.  I had never heard a Mennonite minister do that.

Don't worry, he also talked extensively about other things, like Ahab and redeeming the time.

I think Oregon ministers are more likely to extrapolate illustrations from grass seed.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom's giving you that 'I can't believe I raised you this way' look."
--Jenny, to Steven

Monday, January 07, 2013


I’ve heard about SMBI for like, forever.

A guy from my home church was the first person I knew who attended, some time after I left home, and a slightly-cynical young person told me later that folks in church thought he was qualified --paraphrasing here--to teach, to preach, to instruct in righteousness, to reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine  because –they would breathe in reverent tones—“He went to SMBI.”

Now, I find that reaction interesting, seeing as how it was something new and different –a CHANGE, no less in a place not comfortable with change—and they were so positive about it.

For good reason, I found in the years since.

Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute is a college-level Bible school in the hills of central Pennsylvania that offers four or five 6-week terms each year.  It's not quite the exalted place that the old home folks thought, but a good place where good things happen. I have known dozens of young people who were funneled through its doors and out into missions, voluntary service, and serving back at their home churches.

Watching these young folks, I developed a positive impression of the school as a place that gave young people a spiritual anchor and also an impetus for going out and making a difference in the world.

And of course, I have seen a gazillion SMBI photos online—on Xanga when that was fashionable, and now on Facebook.

Emily’s dream of attending was attained in 2009, when she took in a 6-week term, and Amy attended the following year for two terms and is now back for more.

Both girls raved about their SMBI experiences—the classes, the friends, the spiritual growth, the traditions, and the staff who took an interest in who they were and what they could become.

But I had never been there myself.

Until we decided that I would drive Amy’s car the second week of our Eastern Trip while she went to Passion in Atlanta, and then after the ladies’ retreat in Reading I would drive the car to SMBI and she would take me to the airport.

So here I am, in the hallowed halls of SMBI.  I have seen that long flat front brick wall that always looks so imposing in photos.  I’ve sat in the public lounge that I’ve seen in a hundred laughing photos—often with one shy person at the edge that I felt sorry for.  I’ve seen the dining hall and the coffee-cup rack and The Great Divide.  I’ve met the administrator and his wife and the secretary* and the deans.

*Amy thought I should blog about her.  Her name is Bethany, and she is fun, helpful, professional, insightful, efficient, and cute.  And single.

And I wish I were 18 again.  I would come here and study hard and make friends and laugh at inside jokes and face my own fears and have intense conversations and be inspired to do great things with my life.

Well, knowing me at 18, I would also make very heavy weather of which guy happened to sit across from me at the dinner table and hope it’s the one who asked the blessing on the food beforehand because oh my stars isn’t he just so SPIRITUAL which of course means he wouldn’t have the time of day for a sinner like me and then I’d go mull this over in the prayer closet and ask God for a sign like if we both volunteer to do dishes tomorrow morning it means it’s ok if I like him and then we both do but the whole time he jokes around with this fashionable little gal from Indiana with the new wire-rimmed glasses who makes me feel frumpy and old and he accidentally sprays a shot of water at her from the dish-sprayer and she shrieks and he looks pleased and I am done with asking for signs.  For good.  Until next time.

Ok.  Never mind.  I’ll stick with visiting SMBI at age 50 and not attending at 18.

But like I said, this is a good place, and good things happen here.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Travel Stuff and the Cat Named Fred

The rest of the family is now at home so I will go ahead and tell the world that we were all gone for over a week.

Once upon a time I posted about the children feeding the neighbors' animals while they were gone and a random friend of the neighbors said, "Hey, I knew I could break into your house if I wanted to because I read on Life in the Shoe that you were gone."


So I didn't tell the world where we were, so you wouldn't break in and steal my Polish pottery, and also because I was out of wi-fi range most of the time, and also because I would rather talk with my amazing family members than post.

So.  Not that there's anything valuable at our house (besides Polish pottery) to steal, but Steven is home now, so don't try it.

I spoke at a ladies' retreat in Reading yesterday and today, and now after driving down I-76, known as The Turnpike, and then driving in all 4 points of the compass over mountain roads, and crossing Fortune Teller Creek three times, and asking a drawling hunter for directions, I'm in a Starbucks with Amy, who will continue at SMBI and will also haul me to the airport on Monday.

Goodness, how do I even begin to summarize this trip?

A few things come to mind:

Bad: I hate finding my way on Pennsylvania roads.  I cannot tell you how much I hate this.  I say this with venom and bitterness in my voice and heart.  I hate roads that say North but do not go north.  I also hate Google maps.

Good: I like Pennsylvania people.  Like Annette and Jay and their little love-bug Justice, and Curt and Tresa who were in Thailand with us and fed us at Shady Maple, and the lovely ladies at the Cornerstone Ladies' Retreat, and Barb who gives wonderful, detailed directions that are not like Google Maps, and also the drawly hunter at the little convenience store who said I can follow him and he'll take me to 655--with no evil intent, I am positive, but he gave such good directions I declined his offer--and my sister Margaret and her crew, and all the rest of you--you know who you are.

Starbucks is closing soon and I'll lose my internet connection so I will tell you the story of The Koehns' Strange Cat.

The cat is yellow and big.  His name is Fred.

He likes to be held, not because he is loving and cuddly, but because he is a king and this is what his subjects should do.

One day I went up the stairs of the 150-year-old farmhouse to our bedroom.  Fred stood in the doorway and looked at me like Ok, get busy.

Then he went in the bathroom and looked at me again.  I was supposed to do something, but what?

He hopped into the bathtub.  I thought, Ok, this is not what cats normally do.

Maybe he's thirsty. I put in the plug and put in just enough water to make a little puddle.  he didn't drink it.

I brushed my teeth.

He looked at me like  Hello??  O Slave, do you still not get it?

He began licking the drips from the faucet.

Ah ha!
I turned on the faucet just a teeny bit and also pulled the plug.

Fred turned up his head and drank.  Licklicklicklicklick.

He was happy.

I turned off the faucet.

That is an unusual cat, I think.