Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ideas for Uses for Stuff

I am a Yoder by birth, which means I  like to save, keep, rescue, and repurpose things that most people would throw away.  Right now I need some ideas.  I have some objects that seem loaded with Potential and Possibilities but the Good Uses are all hidden behind a foggy window in my head and I need someone to wipe the glass.

1. I found this fabric at a funny secondhand store in an old metal barn on the coast near Bandon, one of those quirky places run by a man with a big mustache who was relaxing out front on an old bench seat from a van.

It's a denim fabric, about two yards, with simple orange and blue stripes.  It was only a dollar and had Etsy and Pinterest and Instagram all over it, so I bought it.

But now: what would be the best use of it, and would justify that momentous no-turning-back First Cut that always terrifies me, since I am scared of commitment?

2. This is a skirt hanger made of sturdy metal bars and flimsy pink clothespins.  The pink clothespins died one by one, but the bars remain.  And I think, surely there's a creative use for this.

I tried hanging it in the kitchen for dish towels, but it got in everybody's way.

I could still use it for a skirt hanger if I used regular clothespins, but I have enough nicer hangers that I'd rather use.

I will toss this if I don't find a use for it soon, as even my Yoder repurposing has its limits.

What do you think?

3. This was another $1 find that I snatched up like only veteran garage salers can home in with bat-like radar and grab. It's an old toolbox, obviously homemade, with lots of scratches, personality, and signs of wear.


Do I fill it with flowers?  Put it up on the wall for teacups?  Take quart jars of lemonade out to the threshers next summer??

Would it have a useful and decorative purpose in my writing cabin?

Help me out here.

4. I saved the last Laughing Cow cheese box because it is just so cute.  However, I didn't tell my daughters because they would have had a fit.

But just tonight I found this on Pinterest.  Ta da!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Cottage Beginnings

Things are happening with my writing cabin!

I am a bit like an excited duck chasing a June bug about this, flapping my wings and quacking, so if you find this annoying, please continue your walk around the park and pay me no mind.

But yes, actual things are happening, like measuring and buying and pounding stakes where the corners will be.

If you are a bit ADD, and you have a husband who has a lot more great ideas than time, it can be a long step from Maybe We Should to Real Things Actually Happening.

I have old friends far away.  Sometimes when we communicate, we say, wouldn't it be fun to get together and chat over tea?

Yes, it would.  But we both know what it would take to coordinate this.

So this is like the old friend actually showing up at the door.

The cabin will be across the road by Muddy Creek in an area that is covered with water at times during the winter.  During the big flood of I think 1996 that area was filled up almost to the road.  So I want the cabin way up above such dangers.

So the other day Paul got a surveyor's scope and ruler and beamed and calibrated and marked, from the Official Elevation Marker at Leroy and Anita's next door, over to the signpost, and then across the road.
Here are Paul and Jenny, measuring and marking.
The ice cream lid has a purpose. Really.
To set things on, or something.
The cabin will have to be up on very high posts, we realized.  But better a bit stilted looking than washed away.

I've been on Pinterest, scouting for ideas, off and on, by searching for cabins and cottages and small houses.  I got some good ideas but the featured buildings never seemed quite what I was looking for.

A Facebook friend asked me if I'm going to utilize Treehouse Masters.  I had no idea who that was, but it turns out to be a Pacific-Northwest-based crew who designs and builds tree houses, and who has their own TV show.

And then I realized I had been searching all the wrong things on Pinterest.  I plugged in "tree house" and before me bloomed a thousand ideas that were exactly what I wanted.

Like this.  [Read more here]

"Is this the same idea as the she-shed that is all the rage here?" asked another Facebook friend.

My snooty answer: I hope I am as high and dry above this world's swirling fads as this cottage will be above the next flood. I've dreamed of something like this for a long time.

Meanwhile, we continue to discuss names.  Dear me, it was easier to pick names for the children.

I still like Acorn Cottage but the children think it's a strange choice, and others have pointed out the obvious and inevitable jump to Nut House.

Ben goes to college with one of those people whose name seems to be entirely comprised of surnames--something like Dorington Chase Wilkins.  Ben thought "Dorington" would be a great name for my cabin.

I think: will it take too much explaining? And is it too egotistical?

The other day Jenny sat down at the computer and shrieked:

Quote of the Day:
"MOTHER!!  You are NOT naming it OATMEAL COTTAGE!!"

It's no wonder some of us moms go around perpetually confused.  What was she talking about?

Well! There was a little tab at the bottom of the screen, and it SAID, "Oatmeal Cottage."  SEE?

Oh, child.

Earlier that day I had looked up a Trim Healthy Mama recipe, and then I had "minus-ed" the page, or that's what I call it, but I'm sure normal people call it something better, when you click the little dash in the little box third from the end at the upper right.

So only the first two words of the recipe showed in the tab at the bottom.

The recipe was for Oatmeal Cottage Cheese Pancakes.

Meanwhile, I need an uncomplicated name that conveys rest, oak trees, creativity, water, and such things.

But not oatmeal.

This weekend we were down to two children at home.  Two!  I dropped a few chicken thighs in a tiny little crock pot this morning to make honey mustard chicken for lunch, and it was easily enough for the four of us.

I thought: maybe the kids will all leave home about the time I get my cabin, and I won't even need it!

And I also thought, "What if there's nothing magic about this cabin and it won't make me a prolific and good writer?"

But then I decided I was just feeling guilty for being so blessed.

One of my faraway friends, Dorcas Stutzman, said, regarding the building of a cabin, "For some reason this takes me all the way back to our giggling fits in Jonathan and Cynthia's trailer house."

And I said, "If you come visit, we can sit in the cabin and have more giggling fits, if we still know how."

My friend Sharon testifies that I still know how.

Maybe the writing cabin will be a place where nebulous ideas and wishes become reality.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Cousins and Friends

Last week Paul's niece, Leah, sent me a CD with photos from the Wilton Smucker reunion in June.

I was struck by how similar Jenny and her cousin Allison look in this shot.

I think they were more tired than sad, despite those woebegone faces.

Actually, they looked alike in other pictures from that weekend too.

Here they're sitting between Steven and Grandpa Yoder.
 Jenny was born less than two months before Allison, and they have been like two peas in a pod ever since they were little.  At 16, they are best of friends.

Allison's eyes are blue while Jenny's are brown.  Allison has blonde hair; Jenny's is red.  Allison's features are a bit finer.

But they walk alike, laugh alike, and carry themselves the same way--and they have for years.  They are very similar in size and shape.  When Jenny decided she wanted a "cape" dress, Allison sewed her one from her own pattern and it fit Jenny perfectly.

Here are two shots I took at the reunion.  Allison and Jenny are on the left, and they're not posing for the pictures.  They just DO this.

I found the reunion pictures intriguing enough that I sent them to the rest of the family.  Matt reminded me of how the two girls hit it off in Poland when Allison's family lived there, and we went to visit, in 2004.  I think that was the first time we had noticed their remarkable similarities, and John noted that they even squealed alike, about the same things.

That Sunday morning they tried to look as alike as possible, from navy-blue dresses to French braids.

 I'm not sure why I'm so intrigued with similarities in cousins--maybe because I didn't have any girl cousins my age.

The truth is, I might have had cousins who were a lot like me.  After all, I had over 50 first cousins.  But we were at the young end of the family tree and our oldest cousin, Sylvia, was 50 years older than the youngest Yoder cousin, my sister Margaret, who was good buddies with Sylvia's grandchildren.  When I was 16, the freindschaft wasn't likely to notice if 40-year-old Barbara had been like me when she was my age.

This was at another Smucker reunion, maybe 10 years ago.
So it just makes me happy that the time and the genes were right for these two to not only be cousins, but to be the same age and so very much alike. . . but still just different enough to keep their friendship interesting.

Playing dress-up, long ago.
If you have a cousin who is also your best friend, you are blessed.

Quote of the Day:
"That guy can land-plane in a bit straighter rows than I can."
--Emily, who has learned to observe crops and fields as we're driving along, like a true farmer

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Column: The Hot Summer and Weariness of Soul

From this summer of heavy burdens, we emerge stronger

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
SEPT. 13, 2015

About seven years ago I directed a Christmas play called “Why the Chimes Rang.” It began as a good idea for a school program but turned into a bad-dream project that muddled on and on. Every aspect of it, from the singing to the costumes to the behavior at rehearsals, steadily degenerated into chaos as time went on.

That’s how it’s seared into my memory, at least, which is why I haven’t directed a play since.

One of the characters was a young mother who was hungry and lost on a winter night. The actress was supposed to come down the church aisle, unsteady and desperate, clutching her baby in her shawl as the winter winds blew the snow down on the village.

She had one line to say: “Oh, I am so weary and cold.”

Thankfully I had a sense of humor, and the girl who played this part was not easily discouraged, because for some reason she could not recite that line.

“Oh I am so tired and hungry!” she would say before collapsing into the snowbank, a pile of quilt batting from the sewing circle, covered with a white sheet.

“No, no.”

Back up the aisle I sent her. A slow turn, and toward the front again, into the wind: “I am so weary and tired!”

“No! WEARY and COLD.”

“Oh, I am so cold and hungry!”

I’m not sure that she ever got it right, even on the night of the program. I should have let her ad lib. Who would have noticed?

Sometimes, in certain seasons of life, it feels like we’re all weary and cold, fighting our way into the winter wind. Our shawl isn’t nearly enough protection, and we are about to collapse into the snowbank with the baby in our arms.

At such times, life is just a lot of hard slogging, on and on, one step after another. We grow weary in body, which makes us extra weary and cold in spirit as well. It seems we will never reach the front of the church, and for sure we won’t hear the miraculous chimes when they ring in the steeple on Christmas Eve.

Health issues, difficult relationships, financial stresses, caregiving — all of these can seem like trials that will never end.

This hot, dry summer, paradoxically, has been a season of wintry weariness of soul.

Just by definition, summer in farming country is exhausting: long days on a combine, seed-cleaning machines running around the clock, ripe peaches dropping from trees and needing to be canned today, hungry animals, thirsty gardens, and never quite enough energy to reach around.

With its record dryness and heat, this summer seemed especially endless and difficult. The grass died, the lilac leaves — normally hardy through the heat of August — started curling in July, and the potted flowers on the porch wilted as soon as my back was turned.

The calves’ pasture turned brown and we supplemented with sacks of feed. The waiting grass fields became ripe not only for harvest but also for any stray spark that would ignite and destroy them. We turned on sprinklers to keep the pasture grass and flower beds alive, but the well kept running dry.

With extra responsibilities, such as taking in my dad for six weeks, two bouts of bronchitis and weeks of recovery that made a normal day’s work feel like climbing Mount Hood, I found it the most challenging summer in years. The rest of the family, busy with jobs, harvest and summer classes, was unable to pick up the slack.

Daily life became a hard climb uphill, day after day.

I sensed that I was not the only one short on rest, facing relentless demands, and losing the sense of joy that normally comes with summer.

For my family, summer meant sacking seed at night and sleeping restlessly in the heat and noise of the day; studying for tests for summer college courses late at night; stocking shelves while friends were swimming in the river; and fixing worn-out belts and motors high in a dusty warehouse in motionless heat.

Harvest ended, but the heat continued. We watched, helpless and horrified, as fires burned all over the Northwest. We waited and prayed for rain. The smoke burned our eyes and made us feel surrounded by a fog of poison.

I’ve found in summers past that young people with long hours of alone time on combines and in deserted warehouses end up with too much time to think and no outside voices to counter the inner noise. Regret, addictions, depression — whatever the weakness, it shows up here. Sometimes it’s just a weird outlook on life, and they start having arguments in their heads with "all the stupid people on NPR" or with Rush Limbaugh or "that opinionated sports show host."

Then they think, “Wait. I am arguing with people on the radio.”

It’s the season when people apologize. I first noticed this years ago, when a young friend was driving combine and then wrote me a note explaining that she’s afraid she left the wrong impression, but really she meant this and not that, and she feels very badly about her mistake.

Combine syndrome, I named it, that strange summer struggle of the soul. I tried to encourage my children and their friends, “It’s just a hard season, right now, and a tough trail. Be gentle with yourself.”

The day I found myself lecturing a Hollywood celebrity, I knew I had a bad case of combine syndrome of my own. It was one of those silly stories that takes over the news feeds, something I would ignore in saner times, but there I was, forming a speech in my head to set them straight.

I laughed at myself, which is what you learn to do at my age, especially if the choice is down to laughing or crying. I also went back to reading my Bible more, my anchor of sanity in the crazy times. I recommended it to the combine-driving and seed-sacking and exhausted people in my life as well, even if it’s only an encouraging verse tacked above the bagger. “... be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” Or this one from Galatians: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

“And,” I said, “You need to talk with real people with real voices who speak real words to you.”

I took my own advice one morning, cooking oatmeal for my dad and then escaping to Jake’s CafĂ© in Harrisburg to meet my friend Gina for breakfast. Those two hours were like a large Iced Kicker from Dutch Bros. on a 100-degree day on an un-air-conditioned tractor.

At least I knew this, among all the hot days and the dry straw swirling and the threat of fire — the season eventually ends. I’ve been here before, and I know. It doesn’t last forever.

This was my survival message to myself and all my weary loved ones: “One day when you least expect it the farmer will tell you you’re combining the last field today, and you’ll have time in the afternoon to go swimming, or you can sit up late with friends on a Sunday night because you won’t have class the next day.

“The day will come when the sackers won’t be working night shift anymore, the blueberries will all be in the freezer, the farmer won’t need you to do flail-chopping until next week. Your mind will think normal thoughts again, the confusion will pass, the guys on the radio will be only an occasional noise in the background.”

Eventually, a cloudy day turned into showers and then an actual rain. The brittle lilacs got a drink at last, the lawn turned a timid green overnight, and the air cleared of that lingering smoke.

Even when it seems they’ll last forever, hard journeys do eventually finish, when the time is right. You reach the front of the church and remember your line, or at least get it close enough, and the long slow walk is done at last, and the chimes ring out in the ancient belfry.

As you sit on the pew and rest, you know that it was scary and hard and it seemed it would never end, but it finally did, and you are stronger, better, wiser, and braver for what you’ve just been through.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

On Rebuke and Humility

Many years ago, when I was young and a bit full of myself, [don't say it!] I took it on myself to correct Henry Schrock on a few points of his sermon.

He had mentioned First Corinthians 11 when he meant First Corinthians 13, for one thing.  And then there was some point of doctrine that I questioned him on also.  I don't remember what it was, but I remember my sister laughing at me afterward and saying, "Only you, Dorcas."

Henry's response was to listen carefully with his characteristically bowed head, to smile genially, and to take me a lot more seriously than I deserved.

I think of this now because I have not always been so fortunate in the years since.

There was the visiting preacher who had a bluff-and-bluster sermon about evolution, making it clear that anyone who believed in evolution was just stupid.

I spoke to him afterwards.  It might be more effective, I suggested, to just compare the two philosophies side by side, and consider both seriously but explain why creation makes more sense to you.  Because if you're going to play this game, "they" can make "us" look stupid too.

"But evolution IS stupid!" he said, visibly upset. And that was the end of that conversation.

Then there was the guy who had the same approach to Calvinism vs. Arminianism, and who had the same reaction to my gently-worded challenge.

And the guy who felt that all depression was caused by sin, and none of us need professional help.

I might have burst into tears when I spoke to him, having just lost a nephew to suicide.  His response was utterly devoid of compassion or sense.  He did not appreciate me or my question.

I am making Mennonite ministers look really bad here, so please note that our repertoire of guest preachers includes dozens who were Godly, sensible, and easy to be entreated.

I'm making a point here, eventually.

I don't go around correcting ministers all the time, either.  But if I have a question, I'll ask if the time seems right, with a more diplomatic spirit than I had back when I spoke to Henry Schrock.

None of the men I confronted said that I, as a woman, had no right to question them, although they probably thought that.  I'm guessing that anyone younger, female, or less ordained was disqualified from doing anything but heartily agreeing.

This can do crazy things to your mind.  Like: Oh dear, I'm just too forward.  Maybe I should have complimented him on something before I asked about that.  Maybe I'm just too full of my own opinion. If a well-known important person thinks I'm an idiot, maybe I am. Maybe I should have had Paul ask him instead . . . even though Paul would have wondered why I'm getting him involved if I was the one with the question.

Anyone in any position with a bit of power can fall into this trap, not just ministers. Parents, professors, anyone In Charge of Anything.  I once had a very secular psychology professor who claimed that the blind spot in the center of your iris and the blind spot when you're driving were the same thing, and when I asked her about it after class she smiled like a Rottweiler and tore me apart like one too.

"How dare you question me?" this attitude says.  "After all, I'm all these things that you are not."

And so you're left feeling bad.  About yourself, about them, about your voicelessness in something that really should not have become that big a deal.

Of course there's a right and a wrong way to speak to someone. 1 Timothy 5:1 says, "Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father, and the younger men as brethren."  I'd say my approach was always "intreating," but if someone didn't want to hear it, they'd probably disagree.

I was driving home from Portland the other night and listening to a radio program, an interview with Dr. Henry Cloud.  He was talking about just this sort of thing, and how it affects relationships, and said something I'd never thought of.

The Bible, especially Proverbs, talks a lot about maturity and wisdom.  We tend to think the mature, wise person is the one who has it all together and does everything right.  But Proverbs doesn't say that.

Proverbs says, instead, that the mark of the wise person is that they listen to a rebuke.  They are humble and gentle when corrected.  Maybe even if they're older and more powerful.

The immature and foolish person will respond by being defensive, angry, and hostile, says Dr. Cloud.

"Whoever corrects a mocker [fool] invites insults. Whoever rebukes the evil person incurs abuse. Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning. –Proverbs 9:7-9 (NIV)"

Interesting, isn't it?

It seems a bit harsh to label a Mennonite preacher a mocker or fool, but it's also silly to think that his denomination and position might make him immune.  I'm married to a Mennonite minister who is getting older by the day.  Thankfully he is wise and humble, but he is not immune to pride because of his ordination or age.

We all face rebuke and correction, in a lot of areas besides what we say up front, as in all my examples here.  I suggest that we respond like Henry did back in 1978, and listen with an open heart and a patient smile, and make sure we understand.  Even if the rebuker is a sassy teenager who is way too full of herself. And even if it was an inadvertent and insignificant error like citing the wrong chapter in First Corinthians.

I think of him with gratitude and respect, all these years later.

James 3:17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.