Monday, April 29, 2013

My Bizarre Life

Maybe a month ago a nice young lady from Ohio--I'll call her Katie--ordered a copy of Tea and Trouble Brewing.

I took a white bubble-padded envelope that had contained a book I ordered from Amazon, then I scribbled out the old address label, tucked Tea & Trouble inside, folded in the excess, and slid it all into a nice yellow envelope.

I addressed and return-addressed the yellow envelope and sent it off, media mail.

A few weeks later I got something odd in the mail.  It was the white padded envelope, still open on one end, with my book inside.  I decided the package must have been damaged in transit and they salvaged enough of my scribbled-out address off the label on the old envelope to send it back to me.

There was no sign of the yellow envelope.

I sent Katie another book right away.

Today I got an email from Katie.

Hi Dorcas,
I did receive the book you sent me on Saturday; thanks a lot! I ordered all four of your books for my mom for Mother's Day, and made sure to order them early enough so I could "proofread" them before I give them. =). . .

Actually the reason I'm emailing you though is because I got another package in the mail today from you, with two bottles of pills (Simvastatin and Levothyroxine). I'm sure they were sent to me by accident. Do you want me to mail them back to you or to another person? 

What in the whole world was this all about??  I have never taken either medication in my life.  How could they have showed up in an envelope from ME??
Or was I going crazy, forgetting my meds and mailing pills to strangers?
I wrote back:
I have NO idea what is with those pills!
Were they in a taped-up yellow envelope??  Because this is what happened with your book:
I wanted to pad it so I got a white bubble-padded envelope that had been sent to me from Amazon.  I put my book in there and then slipped that into a yellow envelope.  A while later I got the book back in the white padded envelope, and the yellow one was nowhere to be seen.  I had scribbled out the address on the white one but somehow they got it back to me anyhow.
I'm wondering if a batch of packages got run over or something and they patched things together the best they could and stuck the pills in the yellow envelope and sent them to you?? Was there an invoice in it, or any indication where it was from?? [Besides me??!!}

She replied:
 No, there isn't any invoice or other paper, but the label on the bottle has an address and phone number of a pharmacy, and the doctor's name as well as the name of the patient, so if they're not yours I'll try calling the pharmacy and I figure they'll be able to tell me what to do with them. And yes they're in a taped-up yellow envelope and it looks kinda torn and re-taped, so I'm guessing too it happened in the mail somewhere. My sister and I shrieked with laughter when we opened the package because we thought you had sent them to me by mistake!! too bad. =)
I wrote back:
Well I am glad it gave you some amusement but rather embarrassing to think you thought....well never mind....but seriously i could see myself doing that so I will now be quiet.
Yes, by all means contact the pharmacy.
[Simvastatin and Levothyroxine]

 Katie said:
Ok I called the pharmacy and they are sending me a return label, so it's all straightened out. Thanks for your help! And don't be embarrassed... I do stuff like that all the time. In fact, recently after I signed in to my gmail account on an iPad at Best Buy then couldn't figure out how to sign out again, and then wildly waved at a man in McDonalds that I thought was somebody I knew, my best friend told me she thinks my purpose in life is to do dumb stuff to brighten people's days! So I laugh with them and life is a little brighter for all of us. It's just nice when other people do things that are slightly low IQ too sometimes, so I feel better about myself. Anyhow, I did get a laugh out of this whole situation and hopefully Mr. X will get his Simvastatin and Levothyroxine soon. (hahaha)

I thought that was a happy ending to a very bizarre story.  Feeling the need to share it, I posted about it on Facebook.  Not five minutes later, Emily came in the front door and said, "Do you know we have crop circles in the front yard??


 No, that's not supposed to look like an alien face, with my shadow and all.
Face or not, it's still creepy.
I brought up the subject at the supper table.  Steven smiled to himself.  Maybe this one is easily solved.

Then, since life happens in threes, we have the case of the sheet music.

I will post the email I finally wrote after great frustration and far too many emails and phone calls [more than I documented here] hoping to catch the attention of a live person who would resolve this once and for all.

Dear Sirs:
You are I are developing a long and painful history, and one more chapter has been added to the saga.
Synopsis of chapters:
1. At the behest of my children, I ordered a booklet of music in March.
2. Two days later, the children said they don't need it after all.
3. The booklet arrived.  I sent you an email saying, "Can I return it unopened and be refunded?"
4. You sent me a stock email that did not answer my question.
5. I returned it unopened.
6. I received an email wondering about this.
7. I called and talked to a woman who may or may not have been irritated with me.  I thought we got it all figured out.  The flowers bloomed and life was good.
8. The plot thickens: A second package arrived in the mail from Sheet Music Plus.
9.  I thought it might be a ticket to Cancun, since I am such a valued customer.  Or at least a Starbucks gift card.  Instead, it was yet another copy of the sheet music I had originally ordered. With a bill.
10. I called about this.  A nice gentleman told me he'd email a return form.
11. Which he did.  I returned the package.
12.  My husband reviewed his Visa bill and discovered that we were charged for sheet music on March 13th and this was never refunded.
13. He was not happy.
14. Neither was I.
How will the story end?  With a happy sigh and sunshine and laughter and balanced Visa bills?  Or with ongoing chapters of frustration and despair, of darkness and gloom and packages of sheet music doomed to forever passing in the mail?
The story waits.  It is for you to decide.
Dorcas Smucker
 I sent it to every email address I could find on their site.

I received the following replies, both from THE SAME GUY.  [Unless "Kevin" is a trademark name like Betty Crocker.]

Thank you for contacting Sheet Music Plus.
Our records show that your inquiry has been addressed by one of our Customer Service Representatives. We thank you for contacting us and hope that everything has been resolved.
If not, please do not hesitate to contact us again.
Customer Service
Thank you for keeping us informed. The order was returned to us and resent. I guess at some point an error was made. You have not been charged in any way. We have already refunded you for the item. Please keep or donate the item as you see fit.
We look forward to helping you with your sheet music needs in the future.
Let us know if we can be of further assistance.

Customer Service
I am thinking:
Dear Kevin: You are mistaken.  I have indeed been charged "in any way."  And I cannot "keep or donate the item" because I returned it to you.
I was ready to have He Who Pays the Visa Bill call and resolve this, since the stories usually end abruptly, three or four chapters quicker, when he calls instead of me.
However, he just checked online and the charge has been refunded.
We are very happy with this development.
All the same, I think I'll go hide in the bedroom for a few days with a tinfoil hat on my head.
Mrs. Smucker
p.s. You were supposed to laugh at my story, or at least smile.

Later: Steven says, "I was just messing around with the mower, seeing how low the blades could go."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tutorial: Altering Sleeves That Bug You

This is a tutorial on sleeves.  Specifically, it’s for anyone who sews who has had trouble with your garment feeling tight or binding across the front or back as soon as you lift or move your arms.

I’m not talking so much about the sleeves being too tight around the bicep.  That is fairly easily remedied if you’re willing to widen the sleeve and put in a few tucks or gathers at the top.

I’m talking about a mysterious malady I’ve struggled with for years.  You make a dress and fit it carefully so it seems to have the right amount of “give” around the bust and back.  Then you insert the sleeves and suddenly you feel like you’re in a strait jacket.  You reach forward slightly and the dress pulls tight across the back.  You reach back and it stretches tight across the bust.  Or you lift your arms and the whole dress lifts along with it.

 If this has never troubled you, or if you figured out the solution in 7th grade Home Ec,  you can move along.

Or if you sew and wear only stretchy knits.

If you have a touch of claustrophobia like me, and that tight, binding feeling makes you panic, stick around.

Back in the 1980’s and early 90s I sewed lots of dresses and never had trouble with this sort of thing.

Patterns looked like this:


Now obviously styles were pretty loose and big.  But was that the only reason the dresses didn’t bind?

I don’t think so.  Later in the 90s we had semi-loose-fitting styles, but this was the era when the sleeves started driving me crazy in both homemade and ready-to-wear.

I could never figure it out.  The dresses themselves weren’t tight, and if the sleeve was big enough across the bicep, why did it feel like the underarm seams were going to pop if I gave someone a hug?

I made ridiculous-looking too-wide sleeves with puffs and pleats and gathers at the top and bottom to take in the excess, hoping to fix it.  It might have helped a little, but never enough.

Recently I made two dresses to wear in Thailand, where it will be hot enough that if anything is tight and binding I will panic.

So I measured very carefully to get a good circumference around the chest.  I widened the sleeves, which looked a bit silly but I wanted plenty of room for movement.

And to my great frustration BOTH dresses pulled tight across the chest and bicep as soon as I moved my arms a couple of inches.
Obviously I was missing something, and I was determined to figure out what it was.

There is something inherently daunting about the science of fitting a sleeve into a garment.  I mean, your arm is a moving cylinder attached to a stationary cylinder, and how in the world do you figure out how to fit a piece of cloth around it all?

But I was going to learn if it was the last thing I did.

So I researched online and bought a book and thought too much about it.

Here’s the first thing I discovered: The amount of flex in a garment when you move your arms is NOT primarily due to how wide the sleeve is, but to THE ANGLE OF THE SLEEVE IN RELATION TO THE GARMENT.

For example.

T-shirt sleeves are almost perpendicular to the body of the shirt.  Or, 90 degrees, or sticking straight out.  This gives you the MOST flexibility.

Polo sleeves angle down just a bit more, closer to the body of the shirt.
[Sorry, I'm not the best Paint artist.]

In most blouses, the angle is even narrower.  This is when you start feeling that tug when you reach.
In this dress from the 50s, it looks like the sleeve hangs almost parallel to the dress and the angle from sleeve line to dress line is very small.  This is when you’d truly feel like you’re in a strait jacket.

 Maybe this was the pattern Paul's mom used for her wedding dress.  Here's Jenny modeling her grandma's dress from I think 1956.

Conclusion: if you want flexibility, the sleeve needs to be set in at the largest angle possible, with the most flexibility when the sleeve sticks straight out from the body.

How do you do that?

Here's a typical sleeve pattern.
 The key is in that curve along the top of the pattern.

The sleeve seam is kind of like the sine curves you may have seen in high school math.  If you’ve sewed much, you can sort of see the top of a sleeve pattern in these pictures, like a hill curving into valleys on each side.


Note the difference in the heights of the two "hills" here.

Here’s the formula:  A high curve at the center = a small angle of sleeve to body = a tighter fit and less flexibility

A low curve = a large angle of sleeve to body = a looser fit with more flexibility.

Before we go further, remember there's a trade-off here--with the more comfortable sleeve you'll also have more bunching of extra fabric under the arm.  So you have to find a balance that works for you.
How to:

One thing you can do is make the body of your blouse/dress from a modern pattern and use a sleeve pattern from the 80s.  First check to make sure the sleeve opening is roughly the same size and the old pattern doesn't have a dropped shoulder.

Or alter your pattern.

Lay your pattern down and put a pin at the top of the hill.  Pivot the pattern to the right and mark the top edge, then pivot to the left and do the same.

Then taper in so you're back to your normal sleeve width. It makes for some funny wings on the pattern but makes a lot less bulk than if you went straight down to the wrist.

Like this:
 I got this picture from a website about altering your dress patterns so you can wear them for flamenco dancing, and I didn't have the Paint skills to remove the label. 

Just so you know.

Since you used the original pattern and didn't change the length of the armhole seam, the sleeve should fit into the armhole just fine.

Et voila!

A dress you can move in.  And hug, and tie an apron, and reach to the top shelf, and maybe even play volleyball.

Have fun.  Let me know how it goes if you try this.  I'm still perfecting the process.

P.S. Lots of further insights and great ideas in the comments, and a recommended book, and how to order it if you're internet-shy.  Thanks, everyone!

 Quotes of the Day:

"Oh dear, Mom.  It looks like an old lady dress.  And yes, it minimizes your stomach, but only by making your hips look huge."
--Emily, affirming two more reasons why the above yellow flowered dress was a "fail."

"Ach, ich hass nehe fuh mich-selvet.  Es fit nee-net kscheit!!"*
--My mom, who was happy to sew for the rest of the world but hated to sew for herself.  I understand.

*"I hate sewing for myself.  It never fits right."

Monday, April 15, 2013

On a Variety of Subjects

You are all invited to hear Steven and Jenny sing in the Joyful Noise spring concert at Fairview Mennonite Church on Sunday, April 28th.  Prelude music starts at 5:45 and the concert at 6 pm.  The church is located at 35100 Goltra Road Southeast, near Albany.  Admission is free.
=     =     =     =
 As you may recall I posted about some dresses I bought recently.  As it turned out, the person they were intended for passed away just a few days after I got them, so I still have them here.
I'd be happy to pass them on to someone local who could use them.  Let me know.  They're size 5X.

Email or call 541-520-8510.

=     =     =

The lady who passed away was named Karen, and she and her husband attended our church for many years.  Karen always sent us birthday and anniversary cards.  There were years when I wasn't sure I or anyone else would remember my birthday, but Karen always did.

She spent the last three years in a nursing home.

I (and half a dozen others) happened to be with her when she passed away.  That was a new experience for me, and in a strange way it was a beautiful experience, a very peaceful and gentle passing.

After the people came from the funeral home, the hallway outside Karen's room at the nursing home began filling with staff people, from the head nurse to the chaplain to aides to blue-clad maintenance guys.  As they wheeled her outside, all these people slowly followed, singing Amazing Grace.

That was beautiful too.

When I came home afterwards, there was a gorgeous double rainbow in the sky.
We buried her on a rainy day at Alford Cemetery just up the road.

A train went by, of course.  A train has gone by at every single burial I've ever attended at Alford Cemetery.  In the old days, when this happened, Acapella Harmony Quartet would spontaneously sing "Life is Like a Mountain Railroad," and then go back to "We are going down the valley," after the train had rattled on to Harrisburg.

On the way home after the meal, guess what: another rainbow.
 Rest in peace, Karen.
 =     =     =
I have been sort-of following the case of the abortion doctor, Kermit Gosnell, who was such a butcher he would have felt right at home at Auschwitz.  I won't comment on how you ought to feel if you are pro-abortion, but I think it's good for us pro-lifers to see and hear the details.

Proverbs 24:11--
Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.

We will be held responsible for what we knew, and probably for what we should have known, and for what we did or didn't do as a result.

I am wondering: where are the men who fathered all those babies?  To my knowledge, not a single one has testified or even been referred to in the case, or mentioned in news articles.

It's like they don't exist.

Something is very wrong there, too.
=     =     =
A few years ago my friend Mary Hake started working on a story-poem about a little girl growing flowers.  As she wrote it, she said, she visualized Jenny as the girl.

Recently it was published by Clubhouse, Jr.  When they asked her if she has any ideas for the artist, she said, "I picture a little girl with long red braids, in a flowered dress."

This was the result.  We are all proud of Mary and feel honored on Jenny's behalf.

=     =     =

 Last night I was reading Corduroy Mansions, an Alexander McCall Smith book that I picked up at Goodwill.  In it he mentions a children's book called Struwwelpeter which he describes as "that none-too-gentle children's classic."

I was intrigued.  It certainly looked like a German name for a boy with messy hair, based on my Pennsylvania Dutch upbringing.

Sure enough.

The book is full of stories about children who were bad and something awful happened to them, which seems pretty typical for books from a hundred years ago, in German and English both.

I assume the w's are pronounced like v's, which would put the pronunciation pretty close to schtroovel, as we called it, with a good roll to the R.

Schtroovel was a noun, meaning a single tail of hair out of place as in, "You have a schtroovel hanging in your eyes."  We didn't use that word much.

Much more common was the plural, schtroovella, as in, "Comb your schtroovella back before we eat."

Most common was the adjective schtroovellich, which means messy-haired and had a distinctly negative implication, like there was some flawed moral character involved as well.

Mom had known someone named Nancy in her past who always had such messy hair that she was known as "Schtroovelich Nance."  If Mom told us, "Du gooksht vee [you look like] de Schtroovelich Nance," you got the feeling that you had more deficiencies than just needing to slick your hair back.

Interestingly, this word has enough power in the culture that it gets passed down in odd tortured forms long after people have lost the German language.  Paul's mom wouldn't be able to speak enough Pa. Dutch to save her life, even though she grew up in Pennsylvania, but she still used to tell her daughters they were "stribbly" or maybe it was "strubbly."

She would also say that her children were "sneaky," which is a word study in itself.

It's also interesting that the "struwwelich" person in the children's book is a boy, because we always applied the term only to girls.

I'd love to hear some other people's history with "struwwela."

=     =     =
 Quote of the Day:
"Sometimes I feel like it would be easier to just go around naked!"
--anonymous exasperated teenage girl trying to assemble a suitable outfit for a special dinner.  She has my sympathy.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tea at GFG

A few years ago Paul's aunt Susie had a dream of starting a girls' club for the girls at church who were in those middle years--old enough to be away for an evening but too young for youth group.
Me and Susie--partners in crime
It got off the ground as an offshoot of the sewing circle.  We decided to focus on, among other things, teaching the girls practical skills.

The girls voted on a name and came up with the laborious title of Proverbs Thirty-One Training Club, shortened to PTTC.

Of course the boys called it the Potty-Training Club, and eventually it got changed to the more workable Girls for God Club.

Last night we taught them to "do" tea.

We divided into three groups, then rotated them through three stations.

They made a proper pot of tea under my direction.


 They each set a place for themselves, under Susie's supervision, with a cloth napkin as a place mat, plus a napkin and ring, a vase with a flower, a teacup they brought from home, and whatever other decorations they wanted to add.  Each table was also supplied with milk, sugar, crackers, and cheese.


 And they made scones under Teresa's direction.

The lovely Teresa and her daughters.
 If your dough is sticky, make sure you wash your hands afterward.


Then we partook together and they all tried to crook their pinkies and we enjoyed the food, the tea, and each other's company.

The school board was having a meeting in the next room, so we took them some of our leftovers.  The girls peeked through the little window and watched them.  "They're eating their scones with these HUGE CHOMPS!" they reported, demonstrating with exaggerated puffed cheeks and grinding jaws.

Oh well, at least WE know better.

At Girls for God, you can be a cartwheeling tomboy before everyone arrives and then be a proper young lady with a British accent.


The important thing, as Aunt Susie says, is that you get to know God.

2 cups Bisquick
1/3 cup yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup 7Up
1/4 cup Craisins (optional)
1/2 cup white choc. chips (optional)

Since this recipe turns out different every time, either drop them onto a cookie sheet like drop biscuits if the dough is sticky, or flatten and cut pizza-style if it's firm.
Bake at 425 until light brown.
Butter and/or frost if desired.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Thoughts About Marriage

My children's friends are all getting married.

Matt pointed this out to me the last time we talked on Skype.  Kevin, Brandon, the other Brandon, Lyndon, Keith, and now Justin, all happily passed into the land of matrimony.

Amy's cousin Jessi and friend Phebe are also married.  And her Bible school friend Krispie got married yesterday, and her Jamaica co-workers are getting married.

And now the cousins and friends Emily and Ben's ages are dating.  Emily's friend Esta married Matt's friend Justin.

My children find it kind of an odd experience.  Especially when Keith had a child, Matt couldn't quite get his head around the fact that his cousin, who got into numerous insane scrapes with him, was a DAD.

Emily, who doesn't approach things subtly, sees it as a fine information-gathering opportunity, asking her cousin,  "So, I see you were holding hands this evening.  How did you decide that?  I mean, did you talk about it, or did it just sort of happen?"

I think about this now and then, that my children aren't getting married like other people's.  Not obsessively, let me emphasize, but in that grand-scheme-of-things way that you do at 50, when you realize that you and your children are actually part of sweeping trends and patterns of society.

We skipped out on a lot of Sweeping Trends in the past.  Mom never got into Women's Lib,  a few of us actually waited for marriage in the carefree pre-AIDS era, and we had a lot more than 1.2 children.

But now I look back and realize that at least some of the trends and statistics applied to us.  My high school class of 29 came almost entirely from intact families with married parents.  My classmates started getting married soon after high school.

Now, I go back and many of those classmates who were married then are divorced now.  Their children are in a variety of living arrangements.  Their grandchildren are few, and often don't have married parents.

Just like all the statistics you read.

My Christian/Mennonite friends and relatives mostly married young.  It was just what people did, the normal pattern, but it was considered a bit proletariat for the ones who saw themselves as more intellectual , and it portrayed a certain flair and independence if you weren't all into getting married and sort of slid into it later, yawning just a bit, like, well ok, but I could be happy single, just so you know.

While I was teaching school and living with Noah and Fannie, a wonderful old Amish couple, my friend "David" took my other friend "Sadie" on a date which of course portended many more to come, then marriage.  Fannie thought David was a better man than his brothers because, "Aeh macht sich room."  That is, he takes action.

I thought, "Dumb and Backwards."

And now it's 2013.  Fannie had a point.

It is a good thing for society and for the church, in a large overall sense, when young people commit to each other in marriage and have babies and raise them in a solid, stable environment.

If you read much in both secular and Christian media, you'll note the slightly-alarmed articles and blog posts about the decline of marriage.  Young men are playing video games in their mom's basements instead of taking initiative and getting on with their lives.  Young women are holding out for perfection. Christian parents expect young people to stay chaste until marriage but also to delay marriage until their careers are established.  Guys can't find the right girls.  Women don't feel like the good guys exist, or if they do, they aren't pursuing.  All are frustrated.

Meanwhile, I have conversations with my adult children and find that sometimes the slightly-anguished articles on Boundless fit their situations exactly.

Not that they're sitting in corners pining. As a friend told me that her children said of us, "The Smuckers seem like the type that don't get married until later in life because they're too busy having fun."  And I know it will probably all work out just fine when the time is right.

But still, I think mine would be ready if the right one appeared.

And I wonder why so many young people find this part of their lives so discouragingly difficult.

I've heard a single adult say, "It makes me wonder if something is fundamentally flawed about me."

A legitimate question, and yet as my grandma used to say, "Sis ken heffly so grum us muh net un deckel finna kann."  Or, There's no pot so crooked you can't find a lid for it.

I recently brought up the subject in a Facebook chat with a cousin whose children are the ages of mine and also unattached.  It was soon evident that we could have a long conversation.  It can be a painful subject, especially when the journey for our kids is pot-holed with disappointments.

My cousin said, "I just pray and pray for the children... and their future mates!! believe me someone is getting prayed for constantly... who those people are I have no idea!!"

I wrote back, "Laughing and saying AMEN."

She said she has two friends in a similar situation.  I could also think of at least two mom-friends who have talked to me about this.  Among the six of us we have probably 45 children.

I had a thought.

Surely you know what whoopie pies are.  Those Amish cakey-soft-chocolate cookies put together sandwich-style with a gooey white filling in the middle.

When I bake whoopie pies I am not very picky about blopping them on the cookie sheet and they end up in all shapes and sizes.  So I match them up carefully before I add the frosting.  Ok, small and round with small and round, medium oval with medium oval, large and lumpy with another large and lumpy.

I always feel like a matchmaker and hope they'll be happy together.

So.  Maybe all of us moms should get together and bake whoopie pies.  So to speak.  We could make a list of eligible young people and match up personality types, education, interests, and plans.  Ok, yours and mine are second cousins, so that won't work, and Carol's Sam wants to be a missionary in the Congo and Emily would never make it with her health issues, but we could put Emily with Arlene's Kevin who doesn't talk much but likes to read and listen, and Matt with Sandra's Katie because she's practical but smart enough to understand his work, and maybe Sam with Amy because she's tough enough for the jungle.

Then we'd go home with our lists and they would all friend each other on Facebook and start chatting and it would all work out wonderfully and they would be so relieved to have the prep work done for them.

Others have explored variations of this idea before, like millions of people in India whose families arrange their marriages, and Isaac and Rebekah, and also Shari had some related thoughts over at Confessions of a Woman Learning to Live, here and here, and so did my third cousin once removed Merle Yoder at Find Me On the Road Less Traveled.

In the Christian world, we've tried dating and I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and courtship and Real Courtship that bordered on semi-arranged marriages, and some of these seem to have worked and some did not.

The current system, whatever it is, works for some but not for others.

What do you think?  Is it time for us moms to get out our KitchenAids and aprons and Hershey's Baking Cocoa?

Or should we just be like ice cubes and chill?

[P.S. Claification: I try not to pressure my children because so much of this is out of their control.  I take my cues from them: if they're content, So am I.  But if they're struggling, I can't help but struggle with them. And want to fix it.]

Quote of the Day:
"Mom still uses words like 'peeps' and 'chill,' that were popular on Xanga ten years ago, and she doesn't seem to know they're not cool any more."

Sunday, April 07, 2013

April Letter from Harrisburg

Today's column is about raising young ladies in today's world, particularly Jenny.

Find it here.