Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Guest Post on Properties of Light

Lucinda at Properties of Light asked me to do a guest blog while she's off on a mission project in Canada.

So I did.  It's kind of a motherly post, about our choices accumulating into a pile that constitutes our life when we're my age.

You can read it here.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Busy Birthday

Today was my birthday.  I'm 53 years old now, which sounds terribly old but it doesn't feel that bad.

I decided to document what I did on my birthday, which proves that even when you're 53, sometimes you decide to act like a 15-year-old, complete with selfies.

Mostly, though, this is for me, to remind myself How Blessed I Am.

First I made a pot of tea for me and a pan of oatmeal for my dad, just like always.

Then Paul took me out for breakfast at Denny's.  But first I took my tea along, on my lap, because I like to sip tea while someone else is driving.

After a large breakfast, Paul dropped me off at Grocery Depot.  I love Grocery Depot.  These slabs of frozen pig were 99 cents a pound.  Now that Jenny's working there, I think I'm once again known as the go-to person who will take the stuff that's not selling or that doesn't fit in the freezer or that they simply don't know what to do with.

I am happy to fill that role.

Courtney rang me up.
It was nearly noon before we got home, so I bustled around to prepare for the annual birthday tea with Anita the neighbor and Lois the sister-in-law at 2:00.  This is a long-standing tradition of ours, since our birthdays are all close together.  The three of us are almost never together otherwise--maybe at funerals now and then.  But we love love love these birthday afternoons together, and we talked, and at 5:45 I just HAD to tell them another story, and they graciously listened.

See, you can have a lot of fun at these ages.

During our tea, Jenny came home from buying peaches, and my Sunday school pupil, Tanner, came by with the raspberries he and his brother picked for me.  Oh my.  Heaven.


Jenny made supper since it was my birthday--shrimp alfredo with spaghetti, and a spinach salad, and ice cream with fresh fruit.

Then the girls brought out a large, awkward package wrapped in a tablecloth.

It was an adorable yellow watering can.
Their one stipulation was that I need to get that awful green plastic watering can off the porch, now that I have this one.

I thought we needed a good shot of Paul and me, but first I had to get the raspberry seed out of my teeth, which Jenny felt compelled to document.

All right, now for the real picture:

After supper I talked with Matt on Skype for a long time, interrupted by a fun phone call from Paul's sister Barb, who likes to call people on their birthdays.

It was almost dark by then, but I decided to go on a quick bike ride in the lovely harvesty evening air.

When I came back I went to say hello to the calves, Merry and Pippin.

 Hey!  Why don't I take a selfie with the calves?!  So I did.

Steven came home late from his classes.  While he heated some leftovers and hunted for the comics, I tried to strike up a conversation, which is what I do.

Quote of the Day:
Me: Why don't you sit down and tell me about your life?
Steven:  Ahh, always with the broad questions.

But he talked enough to make me happy.  It was a good ending to a very good day.

I am indeed blessed.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

I Knew Them Back Then

Sometimes you don't realize how special a time was until long after it's gone.

The members of A Capella Harmony Quartet were all in Oregon for a little while, so they arranged to sing for our evening service today.

The parking lot was full when we arrived.  Cars were being parked on the grass to the south and on the ball field.  The sanctuary was full, so we sat in the balcony, where people hauled in Sunday school chairs and joined us.  Apparently the foyer below filled up as well, and we heard the clank of folding chairs as edges and corners filled up with overflow seating.

The singing was just lovely.  And, I'm told by someone who knows music, it was also just GOOD.

Later I was also told that, despite the fact that AHQ parted ways a long time ago, they're still one of the most popular groups in the acapella-only slice of the Mennonite church.  Hence the great turnout.

I thought: Wow.  I was here when they began.

First it was four young guys singing after church, just for fun.  Well, three really young guys and Tom.  I think Byran and David were 12 when they started, and Tom was a few years older.

Gradually they became a Group, and they'd be asked to share a few songs on Sunday evening, and Tom would get up front and ask "the boys" to join him.

They sang more, and better, and for more people.  They made a recording, then another and another.  They sang at weddings and Southern Gospel celebrations and churches.

Don McGarry's cat had four kittens, and he took it as a sign, and named them Tom, Byran, Konrad, and David.

AHQ did an impressive job of combining creativity, excellence, and humility.

Paul went on several tours with them, where Paul would talk about missions in Mexico, and the quartet would sing. [Since we weren't a singing family, and you can't have the missions talk without the singing.] I went along on a tour in the South, and we went to places like Florida and Georgia, and we had sweet tea and pink-pod-purple-eyed peas.

And then after they had been all over the country and had sung for all those fancy people, they would come back to Oregon and sing those same songs for us at little old Brownsville Mennonite.

When they sang Then Came the Morning, it always made me cry.

Eventually life, college, marriage, and such things got in the way, and the group disbanded.

But today they were there again, on the platform at Brownsville, with a lot more life lived, and the songs were not just fun, as they had been in the past, but sung out of hearts that knew them to be true.

They sang Then Came the Morning and it made me cry again because it was about the Resurrection and so achingly amazingly right and so beautifully sung.

Did I have any idea how blessed we were back then when Tom would step up to the platform and ask "the boys" to join him, and when we watched the group grow into what they became?

No.  But I know now.

I wonder: what wonderful future something is sprouting, all ordinary and hidden, in someone I know and see all the time, right now?

Quote of the Day:
"There's an Office Deppot and a Hair Saloon."
--Konrad Krabill, who deliberatly mispronounced things, in a rumbling commentary from the back seat of the van on one of our trips with AHQ

Sunday, June 21, 2015

On Dads, Smuckers, Sickness, and Good Things Accumulating

I've never understood why dads are so maligned in our culture, from the inept Berenstain Bears dad to commercials and YouTube videos that portray Mom as all capable and efficient, and Dad as the bumbling burping guy who's kind of along for the ride.

If a girl has a good Protector Dad, she won't put up with any nonsense from other men--that's been my observation.  Our girls have had employment situations where there was opportunity to be preyed on by creepy men.  I never feared for our daughters, who are all tough and articulate and would have put such a person exactly in his place.  Unlike the young lady they knew who said, all bewildered, "Well, yes, I gave him my phone number.  I didn't want to hurt his feelings."

A single mom can teach her daughter to be wise and strong.  But I think there's something magic about a strong dad that imparts an invisible security and suppleness in his kids, without even consciously trying.

Paradoxically, a dad's message of "I am here and I will fight for you" also says, "You have what it takes to go do what you need to do."

So Happy Father's Day to Paul, who is the person we turn to when the oven door shatters, the electrical outlet buzzes, the headlight breaks, the scammer calls, confidence lags, and any sort of danger lurks.


Last weekend was the Smucker reunion at Drift Creek Camp, a Mennonite facility way back in the mountains of the Coast Range, east of Lincoln City.  You have to navigate miles of one-lane twisty roads to get there.

Four of the young ladies present were pregnant, which tells you how the population graph in this family is going.

If you want to see pictures of the weekend, click here.


Unfortunately, a number of people at the reunion had sore throats.  Thanks to a strict regimen of diet and supplements and flu shots, I hadn't had bronchitis in two years.  But the combination of late nights and cold rooms and being rundown ahead of time was too much, and since I can't be content with a simple sore throat, I've been fighting that miserable cough/fever/asthma crud ever since.

My dad is here again for part of the summer, and he also got sick which worried me seriously.  But he got better after two days, which means his constitution at age 98 is better than mine at 52.

I've tried to be productive with immobile things like organizing recipes while outside the windrowers are rushing by and the guys are prepping the warehouse and harvest is HERE, the earliest harvest since Paul's had the warehouse.

Once again we are relying on a supply of sons and nephews to sack seed, with my nephew Austin Koehn coming to replace Paul's nephew Austin Smucker later in the summer.


I have been thinking about things accumulating.  Not only things like papers in the office, but also things like choices and things you need and good health.

I wrote a guest post for a friend about this, which will be up in about a week, so I won't elaborate here.

Except to say, so few things in life are done in one fell swoop.

Relationships, the Tupperware in the cupboard replacing the Cool Whip containers I used in our poor days, sewing skills, discretion, the collection of quirky little chickens on the kitchen shelf.  All accumulated little by little, taking advantage of the moments, over a long time.

Quote of the Day:
I was sick in bed with bronchitis.  Emily was tagging bags at the warehouse and came home with a headful of dust.  She wondered if there was anything she could do about it.
Me: [croaking] Have you ever used a Yeti pot?
Emily: ???
Me: NETI !!!  A Neti pot!!
Emily: Well, I guess a Yeti needs a place to go too.
Me: [strangled laughter]

Monday, June 15, 2015

June's Column--Dad, the Bag, and the Printer

You knew I was going to get more mileage out of that printer fix, right?

Hacking  a system  of values

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
JUNE 14, 2015

My dad and his turquoise bag arrived this week. Dad is 98 years old. The bag is about half his age.

My sister Margaret recalls that the bag came from a Dumpster in 1988, when Mom and Dad were restocking their lives after a house fire and hit an occasional bonanza in a stash of garage sale leftovers.

It’s a deep bag, with two short, sturdy handles, in a textured Naugahyde that was probably in style in 1965. It already looked brittle back in 2005 when I flew with Mom and Dad to Pennsylvania for my niece’s wedding. A zealous TSA agent, spotting Dad’s razor on an X-ray, pulled aside the bag for further inspection.

She dipped in and hoisted out Mom’s nightgown by the shoulders, then sweaters, a toothbrush case, and finally Dad’s heavy metal razor. Her rubber fingertips daintily screwed the bottom piece, and the flaps on top slowly opened. No razor blade. She smiled. All was well.

What she didn’t know was that Dad, who had read somewhere that you can’t take razor blades on a plane, had mailed them ahead of time to my sister’s house.

That episode forever gave me a sick feeling about both TSA and the turquoise bag.

That bag went on road trips to Iowa, full of magazines to read, rugs to crochet and sandwiches for lunch.

It went across the country on the train a few times. And then, this week, it came to Oregon again, by air this time, along with Dad and my brother and sister-in-law. Dad’s razor didn’t alert TSA this time, but his pocketknife was confiscated.

The bag sits sturdily in Dad’s room, undaunted and hideous.

My parents used things until they wore out. Then they repaired them and used them some more.

They did not throw things away.

When we sorted through my parents’ possessions for a sale six months after Mom’s passing, we found Dad’s heavy barn mitts, the grimy yellow fabric mended and re-mended until it looked as patchworked as a map of Europe, with even white stitches on all the national borders, way up to the North Sea.

In my dad’s lifetime, our culture has gone from Depression-era frugality and a determined use-it-up-wear-it-out philosophy to billions of single-use diapers and Cool Whip containers tossed into landfills.

My parents didn’t talk about why they lived like this. It was the right and responsible thing to do, like saying please and thank you. They might have mentioned stewardship of God’s creation and benevolence now and then, but they had no articulate philosophy for feeding table scraps to the chickens and taping the broken broom handle back together. Why would you think of doing otherwise?

Thankfully, a growing crowd of young people is questioning our consumerism and articulating why. Those cheap breakable gadgets, strings of Christmas lights and cute shoes are cheap only because they were likely made by someone twisting wires with his teeth or inhaling weird chemicals all day and getting paid less in a month than you get in a day, they say. And a landfill full of cellphones and water bottles calls for modern words like nonrenewable resources and recycling and economic inequity.

Does this mean, astonishingly, that my parents were actually hipsters, reusing and recycling before it was cool?

I also wonder which has the greater virtue — doing the right thing just because it seems right or doing it for well-thought-out reasons.

I find myself, as always, in the middle — frugal because it seems right, concerned about waste and economic disparity, equally appalled at the Naugahyde bag that won’t quit and the impossibility of fixing anything slightly technological.

The daily items of Mom and Dad’s life could be understood and repaired — the torn apron, the worn-out leather on a harness, the dangling hinge.

Our daily tools can be neither comprehended nor repaired by normal people.

I once bought a pressure washer to clean a winter’s dog tracks off the porch and a summer’s dust off the siding. It had a yellow body the size of a four-slice toaster and cost about $60 — for me, a substantial investment in a cleaning gadget.

One day it stopped working. I couldn’t fix it and my husband, whose abilities approach miraculous, couldn’t either.

Determined, I located a business that repaired pressure washers. I took my cute little washer into the shop, where huge muscular washers sat around on the concrete floor like a bunch of Great Danes taking a break from eating cats.

The large bearded man behind the counter took one look at the machine I carried and turned to me in complete disbelief. No. Absolutely not. He wouldn’t even take a look. Fixing it would be far more expensive than buying another one.

I knew he thought, but did not say, “Crazy woman.”

It felt sinful to throw away that pressure washer, for reasons I could articulate — the irresponsible waste! — and reasons I couldn’t put into words, that vague sense that tossing a toaster-sized mix of plastic and metal in the trash had implications far beyond this moment and the money lost.

Is it possible to bridge the old ways of reuse and repair with the new mysterious and secretive electronics? I’d like to think “Maybe.”

Computers and printers, I admit, are a huge improvement over carbon paper, Ko-Rec-Type, and hand-drawn charts.

Not long ago, our printer suddenly turned a normal page into a few streaks and dots. It was stubborn and silent when I enquired what was wrong.

“Please?” I said, as I changed the black ink and pressed the proper little pictures on the screen.

“Pretty please?” I ran it through cleaning and maintenance procedures. “If I offer you incense and garlands of hibiscus?”

“You might as well give it to Goodwill,” said my husband, Paul.

Furious at the printer, at these secretive and unfixable electronics, and at everything wrong in Western Society, I determined to fix it myself. Plus, we had just bought all those new ink cartridges.

I had an idea. So the black didn’t print, but would the other colors? I changed a document to purple. With an obliging ca-dunk and bzeee, out came the paper, clear and purple. The day was saved, I told the family.

The college kids grimaced. Seriously? Thermo-fluid Dynamics assignments in purple?

OK, maybe not.

I had another idea. Quietly, I popped out the blue ink cartridge and replaced it with a black one.

The printer was deeply offended. It hissed at me, and scathing words appeared on the little screen.

“How do you know this, you stupid machine?” I snapped back. “The ink cartridges look exactly the same!”

I inspected them further and found a little chip with strange gold patterns on the front of each cartridge.

Where the printer couldn’t see me, I pried off the chips and glued the chip from the blue cartridge onto the black, let it dry, and nonchalantly inserted it, then clicked on a document to print.

It did. First in a fading blue, then in a definite black.

Sermons could be printed again, I crowed. And grocery lists and research papers and checks for warehouse employees.

My children — who communicate with electronics in fearless harmony, as starlings understand the wind and fly without conscious thought — they were impressed.

“Mom! You hacked it!” Emily said.

“Hacked it?” Hacking is what pale brilliant 20-year-olds do in musty basements. Moms my age do not hack.

“That’s what it’s called!” Emily insisted. “You fooled the machine. And got around the system! So, you hacked it!”

Really? I felt smug and happy.

Today, my husband called me from our grass-seed warehouse. “I’m changing the dust bags, and they’re about a foot and a half too long, so I had to cut them off, and I was wondering …”

“Yes! I want them!” I said, and instantly pictured the tote bags I would make of the tough canvas tubes. They will be sturdy and practical, with two short handles apiece. They might even serve me so well that 40 years from now I can take them, mended and a bit brittle, to carry my sweaters and toothbrush when I pay a visit to my exasperated children.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Sunday Stuff at the Smuckers

--Two people in this house are unable to pronounce FAFSA right.  They say FASfa.  This is the federal financial aid program, so these are educated people we are referencing.  They talk about FASfa applications and FASfa deadlines and getting more FASfa grants after you're 24 years old.

Often, operating under the delusion that maybe after the 500th correction they will finally say it right, I interrupt with an emphatic "FAFsa!"

Other times I scrinch my shoulders and think fffffffffff sounds at the hamburger I'm frying.

Neither method has changed things so far.

Rhonda Strite, whom I know only from afar via Facebook and also through her being a friend of Amy's roommate Kimberly in Thailand, recently posted about annoyingly mispronounced words.

This is one of my pettest of peeves.
When people pronounce "strength", "strenth". Same way with "length".
It just sends me. And my throat makes the "nkgth" sound silently, over and over, desperately trying to repair the damage.
So please, don't be one of those people.

This sent the conversation down a long trail in which people brought up many more such words.  Warsh for wash, pitchers for pictures, mirra for mirror, li-berry for library.

"Just don't forget "strenGth". That's all I ask," said Rhonda, about 40 comments in.

To my family: It's FAFsa.  That's all I ask.

--There's lightning in the southern sky this evening. I wonder how many Willamette Valley families were, like ours, out in the yard, wrapped in blankets, watching, gasping at the sudden flashes.

Iowa families would not do this, I'm quite sure, especially for lightning so erratic and far away.  They probably don't get quite so excited about snow either.

Funny how this works.

In Oregon, families don't go out and dance in the rain like some people do in arid places like the Middle East.

Most winters, if the sun happens to come out in January or February, I go to the window and just Look.

I doubt they do that in Oman.

--If you've lost a loved one, the strangest things can instantly take you back.  Right there.

Last week I washed some throw rugs, including one of the many Mom crocheted for me.  It started unraveling, so after it dried I got a crochet hook and started working that long dangling rag strip back in.

Just like that, I was back in Minnesota, and Mom was on the couch with a rug in her lap and a sturdy steel crochet hook in her hand.  Stab, loop, pull through, wrap, pull through again.

My hands were her hands, even though I don't think she ever formally taught me to crochet.  The motion of the hook was hers, the firm grip on the rag strip, the determined yank to free the hook from the thick, just-formed stitch.

Grief that takes your breath away, just that quick.

Today we sang Abide With Me in church, and I was instantly back in that country church at my nephew's funeral, drowning in loss, and then big, blind, black Mr. Bear stood and sang eight verses of Abide With Me in a voice that came from the depths and reached to the heavens, a splash of stunning beauty in an ocean of pain, and years have passed and with the first note of that song in a normal Sunday service, I am right there again.

--Another woman whom I know only online, named Stephanie Leinbach, wrote about how she rebelled at being seen as a blogger.  

I want to ask one thing of you.  Please. Don’t call me a blogger. . . .
What Tropical Breeze is among Mennonites, blogging is on the world wide web. In February 2014, there were 75.8 million WordPress blogs, and that was only for WordPress. The world doesn’t need another blog, and when I signed up with WordPress in May 2014, I became (approximately) blog # 75,800,001.. . .
It took me four months to publish my first post. And during those four months, I told only one person what I was up to.
I found the whole situation mortifying. I still do.

You can read more here.  Ironically, I think she has stopped blogging and now posts via email.

When I first read this post, I thought, "What? Surely that's just making a very big deal out of something inconsequential."

I am not like that.

Except I am, I realized a day later. Not with blogging but with cruises and Keurigs.

I have a horror of both.  Not that I'd judge you for going on or having one, but if I succumbed to either I'd feel like I had finally been enslaved by utter American materialistic worldliness.  Plus I'd be like everyone else, and I have this secret pride about being above such common things.

But then I saw a flyer for a Mennonite musical cruise, going from Seattle to Alaska I think, on which the great John Schmid would be featured, and also my old friend Dorcas Stutzman and her family, and other such people, and I was tempted.

If they asked me to speak on a Mennonite cruise to Alaska, I think I could justify it.  Especially if they paid my fare, and Paul's too, and we could eat for free.

But the Keurig doesn't tempt me, not even the little tubs of Earl Grey tea.

Quote of the Day:
Me: What class are you taking at the University of Maryland?
Matt: Spacecraft Attitude, Dynamics, and Control.  Only slightly easier than the teenage version.
Me: ??
Matt: Teenage Attitude, Dynamics, and Control.
Me: Ah. Indeed.