Thursday, July 24, 2014

News Bits and a Good Reminder

I'll be at the Lane County Fair today from 3-9 pm, if any of you want to stop by.  Look for the Authors' Table in the glass-topped Atrium.

Also, I have a little piece on the Amish Wisdom blog, on differences between Amish/Mennonite communities.

Click here.

Or if you want to share the address:

Sitting at the fair for hours makes it tempting to play the comparison game.  To my left might be a first-timer with only one book for sale who repeats his or her pitch over and over to passersby and might sell only a book or two.

Smug chuckle.

To my right might be Bob Welch, who has so many books he can hardly fit them all on the table, and so many people coming by to buy and talk that sometimes there's a line, waiting.

Sighs and despair. 

This verse was a good reminder this morning:
No one from the east or the west
or from the desert can exalt a man.
But it is God who judges:
He brings one down, he exalts another.
--Psalm 75: 6,7

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sunday Evening Ramblings

Tonight I am going to be like my friend Miriam over at Prairie View, who often does a "Sunday Wrapup" blog post, except I am going to be less precise and profound than she is. She chooses her words very carefully.  You should follow her blog if you don't already.

Also I have a column deadline coming up and am convinced there's nothing happening about which I can assemble 1200 words, so if I list out a few things, who knows what inspiration may strike.

I've seen a lot of news items about the anniversary of the first moon landing.  How well I remember it happening, and now I think, it must have been HUGE news for these little Amish kids to know about it.  Or, more specifically, my brother Fred, who knelt by the tall upstairs window that evening and gazed out at the big glowing moon up in the sky above the buggy shed.  "They landed on the moon today," he said.

He gazed for a long time.  "Hey!" he said, "I think I see something!  I think I can see little black dots moving around on the moon!"

Rebecca, who was 8, and I, a year younger, rushed to the window and also gazed at that intriguing moon.  Pretty soon--why yes!--we could also see little black dots moving around!

Everyone who has been part of Fred's life for any length of time has a similar story.


We had our appropriately nicknamed friend Chip come and cut down a big pine tree south of the house this week.  We used to have five of these trees.  They were planted by my in-laws back when this house was moved onto mostly-bare property, and the trees had the advantages of being cheap and fast-growing.

They had the disadvantage of dropping pine cones that felt like the evil offspring of Legos and pincushions on bare feet.  And they grew long, long needles--probably the Native Americans wove laundry baskets out of them--that dropped by the billions every fall and had to be raked up while wearing protective footgear, as they also stabbed exposed feet at every opportunity.

Sometimes you've invested a lot of time and effort into a bad decision and you hate it but you also hate to see it go.

But in this case it's for the best.


I have been thinking about rest.

Because I seldom get to rest my mind, something that, I am seeing, is even more important to the sanity of ADD introverts like me than I had previously thought.

I was so spoiled during much of the last school year, with that house-to-myself alone time every morning that I could count on, in which I could have my Bible time and make phone calls and plan my day or week.

This summer, there are seven of us here.  The boys' schedules change every two weeks, Paul works all crazy hours, Dad is here and is an early riser, and Emily is driving a combine so works from about 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.  The Night Guy gets home just after 7 in the morning, dusty and tired and hungry.  He clunks his lunch box on the kitchen counter and slams the front door as he goes to get the paper.  Soon Dad is thumping through the kitchen with his cane in hand, eager for oatmeal.

The Evening Shift Guy comes home after 11 pm and also makes noises, such as creaking the ancient floors of this house when I am just falling asleep, plus, I am told by someone who was tempted to violence, he sometimes showers after midnight and SINGS IN THE SHOWER.

The in, out, slam, ring, talk, eat, clatter, creak continues all day long.  Especially the talk.

And I do not get to be alone, at home, to plan and think and work without interruption.

I love having the family around me, and I love everything about summer except this part, which you will get if you're introverted, and won't if you aren't.  I could take off and be alone somewhere else, but what I need is time to work and plan in the house where I can actually see what needs to be done.

So, while longing for brain-rest, I was thinking about the verse in Psalms--"My soul finds rest in God alone."

Is this longing for alone time actually a misguided longing for more of God, like so many other longings in my past, like that hunger for second-hand shopping that hit me in Kenya?  And if so, how does it work to fill it, since I can't exactly sit down and read the Word and meditate for any length of time, which is kind of the standard answer.


After steadily writing his life story on a lap desk for several weeks, my dad suddenly announced that he is finished.


"Yes, I've said pretty much everything I want to say."

I think: But there is so much more I want to know.

I suggested he write more about meeting Mom, and their courtship.  He wasn't sure he has more to say than what he's already said.

When I edit his story, I will be tempted to edit it into something it isn't, I'm afraid.  I want it to be somehow more romantic, more spiritual, more aware of how his decisions affected his children, more personal, more feely.

I must make peace with the fact that it is what it is, and it isn't mine to fix, and neither is his life.


Harvest is going well.  Paul figured out how to handle a full summer's crop despite the loss of storage space and an elevator in Steve's fire.  Emily enjoys driving combine for her uncle.  Paul is keeping up pretty well despite being tired after a mysterious fever that knocked him down for about two weeks and had us all pretty scared.


I take Dad around and show him stuff, like the Great Pyramids of grass seed stored outside at the warehouse, and nephew Austin sacking

As I processed these shots they suddenly reminded me of this silly meme that was circulating recently called Kim Jong Un Looking At Things.

Google it for about a thousand more examples.


Which brings me to This Stage of Life, when you have such a tangled birds' nest of memories in your brain that very odd wires connect at times, such as Dad and KJU.

Or like this person we saw who reminded me instantly of Dr. Goat in an old children's book I haven't read for probably 40 years.

A son and daughter who were with me confirmed the comparison.

Or like this conversation we had that Emily wrote down and posted on Facebook:
Me: What is the CAT doing in here?
Mom: Twining around your legs and meowing.
- later -
Me: Does "twine" just mean "twist?" Is twine just called "twine" because the threads are twined together?
Mom: I think so, because the Bible talks about "fine twined linen."
- later -
Mom: (singing) Zuckerman's famous pig!
Me: May I ask what put that song in your head?
Mom: When I said "fine twined linen," what popped into my head was, "fine swine, wish he was mine..."

When I'm writing, a detailed memory is a blessing. At other times, it can get a bit bizarre.

Now to see if any of these ramblings can balloon into a coherent column. . .

Quote of the Day:
". . .met your dad yesterday. For a man of his age, his taste in hats was excellent."
--Cam Passmore

Sunday, July 13, 2014

On Waving

A charming niece of Paul's got married this spring and moved to the Midwest where, she says, summers are not like summers in Oregon.  There is humidity, she says.  And mosquitoes.  And it doesn't cool off at night.

Anyone who has lived in both places is aware of the unbelievable perfection of Oregon summers.  Sunny, dry, well-behaved.  Largely mosquito-free.  So reliably rain-free that people leave their car and bedroom windows open all summer.  And when they go on a road trip to the Midwest, they have unpleasant surprises when they get in their car in the morning after a midnight thundershower.

However.  There's one thing very right about the Midwest, summer or winter, and that is waving.

I don't know how it is in cities, but in rural areas you wave at everyone.  Say you're driving to town for some Atrazine or Purina pig chow.  You wave at the guy out mowing his lawn, and at every driver you meet on the road.  If the guy on a tractor is within reasonable sight, you wave at him too.  You wave at the people on the sidewalk.

[Edited to add:  Maybe I should clarify that I know this is true for Minnesota and Oklahoma, so I use the term "Midwest."  But it might not apply at all points between and beside.]

In Oregon, you wave only if you know people.  In fact, waving at everybody is considered odd at best and boldly invitational at worst.

Maybe not everyone in Oregon is like this, but I learned from my mother-in-law, who feels strongly enough about it that she once got in the car and drove down the road to correct little Matt, who was walking from Grandma's house to the warehouse and waving at all the trucks going by.

She implied that waving in such a way sends a message you don't want to send.  Waving at truck drivers was somehow more dangerous than waving at people in smaller vehicles.

However, like I said, you ARE supposed to wave at people you know, no matter what they're driving.  I keep getting into Awkward Moments with waving and its social expectations.

1. The Itchy Eyebrow.  I'm driving along and what looks like Bonnie's blue minivan is coming the other way, so I wave and smile and ... oops!  It's definitely not Bonnie, so I quickly scratch my eyebrow and/or adjust the mirror.

Sometimes it's worse.  Recently I was driving to town and saw Simone in her car at her in-laws' place, and in the field right next to them was a big yellow combine growling along, and I very quickly extrapolated that Simone must have dropped off her daughter Dolly, who is driving their new combine--didn't they buy a Case?-- this year despite some physical challenges, and that must be her out there, how cool is that, yay for her, the brave little thing, and so I smiled hugely and waved happily and exaggeratedly, and then I saw through the dust that it was most definitely not Dolly but someone much bigger, older, and maler.  Who I hoped couldn't recognize me.

2. ABCDEFG, Someone is Ignoring Me.  Often I'm driving along and I don't recognize an oncoming vehicle--or I'm too zoned out to look--and right at the last second I suddenly see that it's... Arlene!!  And it's too late to wave, so I look both oblivious and rude.

Some people are nice about this and some are actually offended.  "Hey, I met your husband on 228 yesterday and he never looked at me or waved."
"Uh, yeah, well he had a lot on his mind.  I'm so sorry."

3. Did She Or Didn't She? [Only her hairdresser knows for sure.]  Well, I guess this probably happens in the Midwest as well and is just as awkward.  I'm biking along Substation Drive in the pleasant summer eve and there's a combine in the field by Milford and Susie's, so I'm sure the driver is someone I know, so I need to wave.  I wave and the bike wobbles.  But it's dusty enough and the sun is just right so I can't see if the driver saw me and waved back.  What to do?  I don't want to be all oblivious and rude, so I wave again a hundred feet down the road.  I still can't tell, so I wave again.  Then I turn around by the bridge and repeat the same thing on the way home.

4.  The Rude Returner.  I go back to the Midwest for a visit and run into town with my brother.  He waves at everyone with a forefinger that pops up automatically from the steering wheel like a spring-loaded flag.  I do not.  He is taken aback at how I've lost my manners.  In the grocery store, everyone I meet in the aisles looks at me and says hi, a custom that is just as important as waving.  The first two times, I jump and almost shriek.  Then I think, Ah, I'm back in the Midwest.  Where they get the humidity and mosquitoes wrong, but where they get a lot of things right.

Wouldn't that simplify things to have a single rule: Always Wave at Everyone If You're Driving.  And Say Hi To Everyone If You're Not.

Quote of the Day:
"Oh dear.  I'm gonna be a terrible mom.  The cats were looking at me with these big pleading eyes and I'm like, 'You have food.  You have water.  DEAL with it.'"

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

A Post About Nothing In Particular Except Life In July

"You haven't posted in a while," said my mother-in-law.
Sometimes I eat lunch on the porch and watch other people work.
I thought Ok, if Anne--who doesn't even get online, but relies on email feeds--notices, then it's probably time to post.

I said something like, "I've been really busy."

I thought something like, "Nothing is really happening."

Which isn't entirely true.  But this is the sort of stuff that's happening:

I bought two big fat [butchered] chickens at the grocery store.  I cooked one in the crock pot and thought I would pick off the meat and save the broth and make a big vish of chicken noodle soup.

The meat all disappeared just like THAT.

So I baked the second chicken yesterday and served it with baked potatoes and lima beans.  I picked off the leftover meat to make chicken noodle soup and I said, "DO NOT EAT THE CHICKEN IN THIS CONTAINER."  By this morning, most of it was gone.

I wonder how chicken-less chicken noodle soup would taste.
Here my great-niece Izzy and I are celebrating the 4th.
We are suddenly in the middle of harvest.  Fragrant field smells and lovely sunsets and big combines crawling across fields.  It seems there is always a hungry person in the kitchen fixing food, having just come home from work or just about to leave.

Ben is sacking seed with the help of Cody, who came with his grandpa who was dumping a truck.
Here's Cody's grandpa, Leonard Baker, blowing the last seeds out of his truck.
My dad is staying with us.  I am quite sure he isn't the fridge-raider, as I am always urging him to eat more.

Emily took her grandpa blueberry picking.  He is 97 and didn't think he'd ever gone blueberry picking before.
Here's Paul, putting some seed into totes, because someone had a field of K31 certified fescue, and there was a field of regular fescue next to it, and the seed from a buffer zone in between had to be kept separate.  It made more sense to put it in totes than to use up a whole bin for 4000 pounds of seed.  Something like that.  I do like having a hardworking and dusty husband.
Jenny has been taking lots of practice driving tests online, but she was still fearful that she'd fail.  I said, "You had a big brother who insisted that he was ready and I took him in and he failed TWICE.  There's an inverse relationship between competence and confidence in this area, I think."

Paul took her in today.  Of course she passed.  She came home and made lots of noise about this.  "Don't drive yourself crazy," said her grandpa.  And then he laughed and laughed.

I said, "Did you tell anyone?"
She said, "I told Allison, Emily, Janane, and Deana, and I asked Janane to text Ashley because for some reason my phone won't let me."
All right then, that should do it.

The ruins of Steve's fire have been cleared away and the new building project is underway.
"And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, . . " Isaiah 61:4
Cousin Trish and her husband are building a big straw shed across the way.  "Does that shed remind you of anything?" I asked Emily.
"Yes!  It reminds me of Noah's Ark," she said.
"Me too!!" I said, and then we both didn't feel quite so weird any more.

So I told Trish I feel like one of the wicked people in Noah's day who is watching the ark being built.  She said, "Oh dear!"

I also feel like we live back with the Druids or whoever they were, in ancient England, and they are putting up Stonehenges all over.
First they criss-cross the field with big balers and stackers.  Here's the last one leaving, with our new calf over there in the corner.  We actually have two calves: Merry and Pippin.

They weren't up quite in time for the summer solstice.
Some girls were over and they baked and decorated cupcakes.
Here they're sharing with Paul.

 Now this was actually worth blogging about: my sister-in-law Laura called and said her cousin Kathryn is in town and they'd like to get their former classmates and teachers together.  Which would include me!

It was a fun time of reminiscing.  The two girls who used to fight in the car on the way to school and then pour out their hearts to me about it at school?  Well, they sat and discussed homeschool curriculums.

Left to right: Celesta Yoder Nelson (teacher), Laura Schrock Smucker, Kathryn Bender Garbutt, Greta Gingerich Shaum, Rosie Smucker Leichty, Esther Schrock Troyer, Gina Gingerich Hostetler, Senesa Showalter Yoder, Dorcas Yoder Smucker (teacher)

1983--the same group plus a few more girls and all the boys
Two mean boys--who weren't there--are now preachers.

Kathryn once put ketchup in a teacher's shoes.

Alton K. once dumped a bottle of glue in Kathryn's hair.

When this bunch was about 16 years old, five of them went to the coast overnight and rented a condo.  Without adults or cell phones.  None of them would e.v.e.r. let their daughters do the same.

I'm sure they could have dredged up dreadful stories of the things I did as their teacher, but they were very kind.  I told them how I finally made peace with some of the inept things I did.  When my daughters were that age, I suddenly realized that this is how teenagers are and this is what they do.  If the school board was dumb enough to hire a 19-year-old they didn't know, then they deserved exactly what they got.

We all survived those years.  They are all gracious people who can read and write and cipher.  And much more.

Quote of the Day:
"True or false:  Trains should be given the right of way in all situations."
--online practice driving test

Monday, July 07, 2014

Letter from Harrisburg

Written word makes family legacies last

If my husband’s Great-aunt Berniece hadn’t written it down, who but a few aunts would remember how the family ended up on this spread of farmland along Muddy Creek, and how a girl from Switzerland became my children’s great-great-great grandma?
The little blue booklet, with a hand-drawn sketch of a peasant girl in high-top shoes on the cover, is held together with a simple plastic binding, which shows that preserving the family stories doesn’t need to be costly or complicated.
“Memories of Mary: The Swiss Maid Who Became My Grandmother,” the title reads. I picked it off my to-read stack of books just before my 52nd birthday, and right there on the first page it said, “Mary Werner Hostetler — June 29, 1864-April 11, 1945. She was exactly 98 years older than me.
Mary’s father died when she was 6 months old, and her grandfather took on the difficult role of providing for the widow and her four children. In 1871 they followed a relative to America, where life was better but still hard enough that Mary had to work for another family to earn her room and board.
That family happened to be Mennonite, and Mary was baptized into the church at age 13. She married a Mennonite man from Missouri named Joseph Hostetler, and in 1895 they moved to Oregon, north of Salem. In 1911, they moved to this area. “One mile from Harrisburg,” the book says, adding, “Later, they bought some land across the road and built a better house and moved there.”
I wish Berniece had included maps.
The 78 pages include stories from Mary’s daughters and a dozen other descendants. Mary became a well-known and respected woman who was called on often to care for the sick, deliver babies and prepare the deceased for burial.
In other chapters, Mary’s grandson Herman broke his arm four times, Lloyd and his brothers made “the first self-propelled windrower ever built” out of a 1931 Chevrolet truck motor and frame turned backwards, and Berniece didn’t have a name until she was 4 years old.
“The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: Develop a strong family narrative,” writes Bruce Feiler in a New York Times article called “The Stories That Bind Us.”
Feiler goes on, citing a study, “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”
Stories told orally are the most entertaining, with dramatic aunts’ expert timing and emphatic descriptions. But oral tales die out with the tellers, and only the most persistent stories survive.
Also, spoken stories change in the telling, but a story on paper is a fixed reference. One family legend that every child in the vast relation knows is how Great-grandpa Daniel’s life was threatened by a carload of rough young men because he refused to buy war bonds, but then his attackers suddenly left. Years later, they told of a mysterious someone keeping them from carrying out their plans.
My 15-year-old daughter Jenny decided to write a poem about this event for a contest, and she used Berniece’s book to review the facts. She learned that three men, at three different houses, all faced the same threats.
Daniel’s son Frank said later, “Only a few years ago, I found out why they didn’t carry out their plans. They were prepared and ready to tar and feather us, but when they came there was a heavenly being that stood between them and us and they couldn’t get ahold of anybody. It happened at all three places.”
Happily, Jenny’s poem won fourth place out of 87 entries. I imagine her poem tucked into the back of her grandchildren’s copies of the little blue booklet.
A written record is also valuable because not everyone is a storyteller. While reading “Memories of Mary,” I was shocked to realize that if we depended entirely on my husband passing on his family history, our children would know only a tiny slice of it. He is great at passing along the values but less adept at repeating the tales.
Also, books are not limited by distance. Great-grandchildren on the other side of the country, far from the aunts and family reunions, can have the same stories easily at hand.
We have this record only because Berniece, the youngest of a large family, recognized the value of recording the family history and decided it was her job to make it happen.
Berniece interviewed her elders, wrote it down and typed it up. She prodded siblings into sharing memories, transcribed tapes, edited a lot and found a printer. She got a nephew’s wife to draw the cover illustration, bought multiple copies and passed them out for years, even to shirttail relations like me.
When you are young and your parents are healthy and your children are babies, you don’t think about writing things down, beyond jotting on the calendar when little Amy started walking and the cute phrases Ben said.
But everything changes when parents are suddenly elderly. You remember a vague image from a long-ago tale and ask your mom about it.
“What was that story about the time Grandma took you and Ervin on the train to visit Aunt Kitty in Cleveland? Who was Aunt Kitty? And do I remember right that Grandma wore a big hat?”
“How’s that?” says your mother, once a fountain of stories. “Aunt Kitty?”
That’s when you frantically start to write down all that you remember, asking your siblings, writing to aunts and uncles. “Was ‘Mommie Schlabach’ a twin?” “Who gave Mom that little table in the bedroom?”
Every scrap of information becomes valuable, every written word, the tiny spidery words on adhesive tape on the back of a bowl from Grandma Yoder. “For Amos. 1946.”
Amos is my dad, and this summer he is working on his memoirs. In Oregon for an extended visit, he sits on the couch and writes, careful Palmer method on the back of papers advertising an odor remover.
Some people choose to type their stories, tell them to a rapidly typing grandchild, or even put on a headset and speak into an Audacity recording program on a computer.
But Dad is 97 and prefers to write his history like he has always written letters — by hand, on his lap.
Dad loses his pen. I replace it. He misplaces his glasses. A kind soul finds them under a pew at church and drops them off. I bring him cups of hot water, his favorite beverage. I praise what he’s written and stay quiet when he’s concentrating.
I pray, let him get it all down. Please, let his mind stay sharp, let the words form and flow into his hand and out onto the paper, let them make sentences, paragraphs, chapters.
Let him tell his story.
He has covered his childhood, the history of the Amish church in Oklahoma and his Civilian Public Service days.
His grandparents lived in Mississippi, but the Amish group left because of tragedy — the young women would get sick and die in their first pregnancy. Malaria, people guessed.
His mother survived only by the grace of God, he writes. Then they moved to a safer climate in Oklahoma.
The Amish young people in his day had problems, he continues, because the young men liked to have fast horses and decorate the manes with shiny red and blue rings. The girls liked patent leather shoes and fancy dresses.
I smile. “Oh, Dad!”
Civilian Public Service changed his life. He went from being on the farm and going to town maybe twice a year, to living in other states with a group of conscientious objectors, working on dairy farms, planting trees and seeing the wider world for five challenging years.
At times he uses outdated terms now considered inappropriate or even racist.
“My best friend in school was an Indian boy named Woodrow Wilson.” I don’t correct him, knowing that his heart appreciates all kinds of people and fearing that I would stop the creative flow.
He is a perfectionist, writing and rewriting. “Rough draft” he notes in a box at the top of the page.
“Just get it down,” I tell him. “We can edit it later.”
My daughters type up the chapters as he finishes them. Jenny reads slowly. Emily types.
“Nah vos ich neksht schrava vill, sell muss ich decida druff,” he says in his German dialect when he finishes the chapter on Oklahoma. “I need to decide what to write about next.”
“Your marriage,” I suggest. “And your children. College. All the places you lived.”
He nods, thinking. I leave quietly and he picks up his pen and a new sheet of paper.
Slowly and deliberately, he writes. It’s as though he is digging up a treasure, handing it to us for safe keeping, passing it on, word by careful word.
“He needs another day,” I pray. “Strength and clarity, words and sentences.”
Because we are not finished yet, and there is always more story to tell.

Minnesota Shots

I posted some pictures of our trip to Minnesota, and my dad's sale, on my Facebook page.  I think you can also see them, even if you aren't on Facebook, if you click here.