Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Thoughts on Jonas the Storm and the Nest News

The blizzard is over in the East. In Washington, DC, Matt made a few forays out from his apartment to photograph and film Jonas, the big storm, mostly for my sake, I think.

I've been clicking through friends' posts full of snowdrifts and buried cars, and instead of feeling grateful for the fact that I can go outside and drive away any time I want, without sliding or shoveling, I am filled with jealousy.

Two years ago we had a (relatively) big snow and the girls and I went on a walk and it was too wonderful for words.  And Amy said, "Snow just makes you happy, doesn't it?"

Yes.  Yes, it does.

So this evening I asked Paul if he thinks this is God's way of calling me back to mission work in Canada.  He said feeling called because of weather somewhere isn't really valid, he doesn't think. Otherwise we'd all feel "called" to mission work in Hawaii every winter.

He also didn't remind me that I used to get so sick and tired of snow and cold that I would just about despair by March.

However.  If I went to Canada now, I could go out the door without starting half an hour ahead of time by making piles on the floor of everyone's gear, taking everyone potty, and then pulling on sweaters, ski pants, extra socks, coats, hats, scarves, mitts, and boots before we ventured forth.

It would just be me.

I'm not even sure they need us in Canada.  Siberia, maybe?  Or maybe Mongolia.  A missions recruiter once spoke at my folks' church in Minnesota and said they need Minnesotans in Mongolia because people from everywhere else are too freaked out by the Mongolian winters.  But Minnesotans would feel right at home.

*     *     *

Here is an update on the Sparrow Nest, my future writing cabin by the creek.

Paul had gotten permission from the county land-use department, was making good progress with building, and had started constructing a walkway when someone from the county road department saw it and stopped in.

He was not happy.  He was also someone who delighted in saying "No!"  No, he said, taking me across the road to point at things and emphasize his emphatic No's--  No! This isn't safe!  What if a car would slide off the road and hit that concrete pad?  No!  It's not safe for me to cross the road here, with those curves, and what if our grandchildren want to go to and from the cabin? It's certainly not safe for them!  [I wondered what grandchildren he saw hiding in the bushes, as I sure haven't met any yet.]

I said But! Everything will be built on the other side of the fence, so what is it to you?

Oh my!  It was very much to him.  The road has a right-of-way!  For 30 feet from the center of the road!  The fence was put there before the laws were in place! [This bothered him, I could tell. Also that the trees had the audacity to grow that close to the road.]  But now? No! No walkway! No cabin! No anything!

You know, in the halls of government and bureaucracy, where permits are issued and permissions granted or not, and licenses renewed, and taxes paid, there are many people whose job it is to say No, but they divide into two categories.

1. The kind who say No! Nuh-uh! No how!  And who take a nasty delight in doing so.
2. The kind who say No, but let's see how we can work it out so your goals are met and our requirements are met as well.

Mr. Road Guy was of the first category.

He also wrote a letter to the land use people saying, essentially, You can't let this happen!!!

By this time I was recalling the story of Nehemiah rebuilding the wall, and then those two nasty dudes, Sanballat and Tobiah, came by and shrieked NO! and did all they could to intimidate everyone and stop the project.

So I recruited a handful of friends and asked them to pray.

And Paul went back to talk to the county land-use people.

They were of the let's-work-it-out sort.  Which meant that they thought it would be do-able but they cranked up the requirements.

First we had to apply for a variance, which involved them writing to the neighbors and asking if this was ok with them.

We have nice neighbors who said it was ok.  Mr. Coffey from next door told Aunt Susie that it's ok with him as long as we let him sit in the back door and fish.

Any time, Max.

They gave us the variance.  I was grateful and happy.  But there's one more hoop to jump through, that I know of, and that's the engineering study.  They want to make sure the cabin is designed not to fall into the creek during a windstorm, or something.

Now Paul is drawing up careful blueprints because he wants to save the fee an engineer would charge.

So if you want to feel invested in this project, you can pray for all the proper permissions to be granted.

I'm told there are places in America where you can just build stuff.  You own the property, you put whatever buildings you want on it. In fact, Chris the niece's husband from Holmes County, Ohio, said he could build a skyscraper in the middle of Berlin, Ohio, and there would not be any regulations in place to stop him.

In contrast, I'd say Oregon is a weensy bit over-regulated.

What with waiting for all the permissions to be granted, and with cold, wet weather, Paul hasn't made much real progress on the Nest.

But Nehemiah's wall got built, and I have faith the Nest will be built as well.

Quote of the Day:
"Do you ever get that feeling that no matter what situation you're in, you're the most dramatic person there?"
"Yes.  All the time." [sigh]

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

On Fear and Perfectionism

We weren't married long before my observant husband told me that every time I have a big project, I dance around and around it, and plan and prepare and think and make lists, but I don't just dig in and DO it.

He, who attacks projects like our 8 cats launch toward their dish after clawing 3 feet up the glass patio door, when Jenny feeds them in the morning, he was understandably mystified.

While I have progressed a few miles on this in 31 years, I still fight that barrier.  Which is why the upstairs hall hasn't been painted in years.

If you don't mind spending a little time in my head, I'll explain something I learned about myself recently. Then you can play Life Coach and tell me what to do.

The catalyst for this self-discovery was, of all things, a bookmark I was trying to color.

You know how adult coloring books are all the rage now.  I'll bet half the women in America got one for Christmas.  I did--from Jenny--and it's wonderful.

But I haven't started coloring in it yet.

This is significant.

A few months ago I decided to take a ride on this wagon and downloaded and printed a document with four bookmarks all doodled and swirled and lined with cool black ink lines.

I cut out the bookmarks and tried to start coloring the first one. And I felt paralyzed by fear.

Fear of beginning, fear of choosing colors, fear of getting it irretrievably wrong.

Yes.  Just that afraid.  Of starting to color a 3-cent bookmark that could easily be tossed and reprinted.

I realized I felt that same paralyzing fear with the following projects:
1. Painting a room.
2. Cutting out a dress.
3. Writing a novel.

My friends on Pinterest who know me in real life can attest that I pin pictures of cute dresses by the hundred but actually sew them in far smaller quantities.  Ideas are easy to come by, wild, exciting, energizing.  But choosing a fabric and pattern and making that first cut--that's just overwhelming.

I think we might be discussing perfectionism here, that fear of beginning because it's such a big step and there's no turning back and WHAT IF I GET IT ALL WRONG??

I have danced around writing a novel for some ten years and am still both intrigued and utterly terrified by the idea.

How do you overcome fear and perfectionism, that's what I wonder.  If I came and asked myself for advice, I'd probably start with, "Just grab your markers and color that silly bookmark!"

Quote of the Day:
"The Bernie Sanders Society meets downtown every Saturday morning."
--a lady at a book sale in Eugene.  Somehow it struck me as a uniquely Eugene thing to say.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Letter from Harrisburg: Adventures in the New Year

In the new year, don’t be afraid to say yes to new adventures

For The Register-Guard
JAN. 10, 2016

We had a totally new experience on New Year’s Day.

I had had only a vague knowledge of what a quinceañera was. A party and a fancy dress on a girl’s 15th birthday and a rite of passage in Latin America — that was all I knew.

Then we got an invitation to our young friend Eunice’s quinceañera.

“What do we wear?” I asked Eunice’s mom, Aila. “Is there a meal? Do we bring a gift?”

Laughing, she explained that it was somewhat formal and yes, they would serve a meal, and gifts were nice but not required.

She also said this one would deviate from Mexican custom in that there would not be alcohol or dancing, and they would not announce that their daughter is now ready for marriage.

I didn’t realize that I also would learn about what happens behind the scenes to get ready. My sister-in-law, Bonnie, was asked to bake the “tres leches” cakes for Eunice’s party.

Bonnie called me. If she baked the cakes, would I be ­willing to decorate them — maybe in those swirled roses that are the latest thing?

I said yes, even though I had never made swirled roses. Then I looked up how to make them. “Hold the icing bag, push once, then swirl around,” the directions said.

All right then.

I took my supplies to church, where half a dozen Spanish-speaking ladies, tubs of tamales and unbelievable fragrances filled the kitchen.

Soon Bonnie and her daughter Stephanie arrived with six large sheet cakes, all made in a light, sponge-cake texture. Stephanie stabbed each cake numerous times with a fork and then, in a disturbing procedure, poured a sweet, milky mixture — the “tres leches” — all over each cake until it was soaked.

I like cakes fluffy and moist, not soggy. What a strange tradition.

Out came gallons of whipped cream frosting. Bonnie put a thin base coat on each cake, dabbing at the oozing milk at the edges with paper towels.

I mixed blue and green food color with a small bowl of ­icing to make a passable teal color, swiped two streaks of it down the inside of a parchment decorator bag, filled the bag with white ­frosting, and made my first swirled rose. Push once, swirl counterclockwise, and there it was, pretty, rose-like, and tipped in a touch of teal.

Stephanie whipped cream for more and more icing, Bonnie frosted and swabbed, I filled and refilled my ­icing bag and covered cake after cake with careful swirling rosettes.

We put the six cakes in the big refrigerator and went home.

The quinceañera was lovely, with Eunice in a long, fluffy, teal dress; attendants in brown satin; speeches from her pastor, mother and friends, all translated into Spanish; and symbolic gifts. First a Bible “to guide you through life,” a bouquet of flowers, an embroidered pillow, and a watch, “To remind you to use your time wisely and invest in worthwhile things.”

The tamales and beans were delicious, but I was nervous about my first bite of that soggy cake. I could have skipped it, but why miss an opportunity to try something new?

It was astonishingly good. Cold, just sweet enough, and complemented perfectly with that whipped-cream ­icing. I ate more than I should have.

I’ve been thinking: Maybe my word for 2016 should be “yes.”

For the sake of my teenage and 20-something children, I try to keep up with the trends that blow through their lives.

Choosing a Word for the Year is one of them, mulled and decided upon by dozens of their generation. Some choose “joy,” or “pursue” or “contentment” or “conquer.”

I was not ­intending to join the fad, but the word “yes” bubbled to the surface, and I decided to pick it up and keep it.

A second trend is adventure, demonstrated on that public ­platform of Instagram by young people who wander the country or the world in VW vans or refurbished campers and hiking sandals. They post dreamy pictures of campfires, ocean sunsets and mountaintop views, all labeled with a dozen hashtags, known in my day as pound signs, along with words put together without spaces like #followthehorizon and #adventurecalls and #pursuethedream and #thewanderinglife.

These adventurers are followed by thousands of people who, we assume, live much less exciting lives and long for the wild and free living of dreamers and vagabonds. If these onlookers are anything like our kids, they go to work or school every day, have car trouble about once a week, can’t afford Starbucks ­coffee and feed the neighborhood cats when their owners go visit family in Seattle.

Thankfully, despite the occasional envious glance at yellow vans on Instagram highways, our kids have learned that you can have all kinds of new experiences, learn things you never knew, and even get a taste of wildness right where you are, in your daily dutiful life.

The key is in being willing to serve.

“These people seeking adventure want interesting things to happen,” says our 22-year-old son Ben. “But you don’t have to go to the corners of the world for ­interesting things to happen. Sometimes they’re right in front of you and you don’t realize it.”

He cites the guy on the bike as an example. Ben was driving home from church one Sunday when a young man on a bike waved him down on Highway 99 East. He wanted directions to the train station so he could go to Denver. He has friends there, he said. He seemed vague, troubled and incompetent to be on his own.

There on the shoulder of the road, Ben had a decision to make. He could point the guy in the general direction of Eugene, go home, eat Sunday dinner and read the paper. Or he could offer to take on this man and whatever problems and risk he brought with him.

They maneuvered the bike into the car, and Ben brought him home, gave him lunch, took him to the train station — where he couldn’t travel because he had no identification — took him to the bus ­station and bought him a ticket.

“You can keep my bike,” the man said. “It wasn’t stolen” — which made Ben guess it ­probably was, but he was never able to track down an owner.

And he never heard from the young man again.

It wasn’t a hike up an Alaskan peak or a swim across a flooded river, yet it had all the elements of adventure: a choice to make, a yes instead of a no, an element of risk, a few surprises, and a good story to tell afterwards.

If you open your life to opportunities to serve, you never stop learning, and you never know what will happen next.

Our daughter, Jenny, agreed to help her cousin by babysitting her two children for an evening. Jenny sent me a text: “I never told ­Annette that I’ve never changed a diaper, so I had to wing it. It worked out OK, though.”

Emily, now 25, recalled how, when she was living in Colorado six years ago, she would bike past a fascinating old mansion and wish she could see the inside. Then she offered to help backstage at a community theater production of “Annie,” leading to a lot of hard work and a whole new world of experiences and friends. Afterward, the man who played President Roosevelt invited everyone to a cast party at his house, which turned out to be the fascinating old mansion, which he invited them to explore from attic to wine cellar.

The year ahead holds opportunity for adventure, I’m sure of it. There will be new experiences and new skills to learn. But they won’t come in green-tinted ­nature photos shared on an iPhone screen. Instead, they will involve people who need something from me, they’ll look like hard work, and they’ll take time. But I want to open my heart to the need, the moment, the Yes, remembering the fun of that Mexican-flavored party and the satisfaction of seeing 150 guests enjoy their beautiful slices of swirled and teal-tinted cake.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Travel, Tears, and Going Home

Our children scattered to the winds over the holidays, making for a strange Christmas, with only Steven at home. He wandered the house, quiet and bewildered.

I told him this is a taste of coming to visit us when we're old.  It's the strangest thing how you're always surrounded by siblings while you're growing up, and it's almost never just YOU AND MOM AND DAD--how weird!--unless you've been really really bad, or there's some kind of emergency--and then you're 45 and you fly home to see the folks and it's just you and them.  Morning.  Noon. Night. Meals. Church. Family devotions.  Everything.

Steven smiled a little and said, "Hmmm."

But then Emily and Ben came home from Thailand, after the most bizarre glitches, all involving China.  You can read more at

Which made it especially propitious that Emily is taking a class on Chinese Anthropology this term.  Today, she said, a speaker from China talked about how much the country has changed in one generation.  In 1990, the speaker's father was going to college, living in a tiny, crowded house in a village of small, crowded houses, and hoping to save up enough money for a bicycle.

Today, the village is a city with new high-rises under construction and a huge spacious high school.  The speaker's dad has two cars and lives in a large, lovely home.  And his trajectory has been repeated millions of times all over China.

But...contrary to how we think things work, the economic explosion has not led to a similar explosion in freedoms.

I hope she blogs about this because she can say it much better than I can.

Meanwhile, Jenny came home last evening after an adventuresome trip to the east coast, where she and her big brother Matt gallivanted south to my sister Margaret's and north to my niece Annette's, with a bit of Washington, DC, in between.

Yesterday Jenny took the train from Lancaster to Philadelphia by herself, and between discovering that the train didn't go right to the airport as Matt had thought, and getting off at the wrong terminal, she had some frightening and frustrating moments.

Twice, she says, she found someone to ask for help, and promptly burst into tears, even though she's not the weepy sort.

This prompted a discussion on the way home from the airport.  Emily and Jenny say they can hold it together, in these situations, until they start talking.  Then they start crying.  I said I keep it down until someone acts sympathetic, then I lose it.

So I'm hoping Jenny has discovered these profound truths:
1. It's normal to feel lost and frightened when you're traveling and can't find the Delta terminal.
2. You can always ask for help.
3. It's normal to burst into tears at such moments, especially if your suitcase handle broke and you've hauled it in the cold for half a mile.
4. Things have a way of working out.
5. If all else fails, you can call Dad.  Unless you're in China.
6. Each terrifying new experience gives you confidence for bigger things.
7. Sometimes you just want Mom.

Steven plans to come home Saturday, and then we'll finally have our traditional Christmas Eve Kenyan meal and our gift exchange.

I'm glad I have kids who travel the globe, but I sure do like to have them come home again.

Quote of the Day:
"I never told Annette that I’ve never changed a diaper, so I had to wing it.  It worked out ok, though.
--text from Jenny while she was babysitting Annette's two children
Last night she added:
"I had a YouTube diaper-changing tutorial ready, just in case."

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Why I Hate Table Games

The only table game I really like is Boggle.

You know, that game where you shake up 16 little cubes and they all fall into place in the tray and then someone starts the timer at the same time as you lift the cover off the tray and then it's a mad 2-minute scramble to find all the words you can and write them down and you see who got words that no one else did and you get points for all the unique words you found.

I love to play Boggle.  It has all the elements that make a fun game.
It involves words.
It is fast mentally but not physically.
It is not confusing.
No one talks.
There's a little bit of strategy but not too much.
I usually win.
There's a little bit of luck and a lot of skill.
It doesn't take that long.
You can quit any time.

There are many, many people in my life who love to play games, and there are many, many games that can be played.

Ticket to Ride and Phase Ten and Mad Gab and Monopoly and Mexican Train and Chess and Risk and Rook and Dutch Blitz and Settlers of Catan and many many more.

My anxiety level is increasing just doing this exercise of trying to think of names of games.

I hate most table games.

I know that's a strong word, that hate stuff, but my feelings are in a category far beyond indifference and well into outright hostility.

And yet, sometimes I join the game, because I am polite and I shouldn't make a fuss and I do like to be included in the group and it's rude to sit and read when someone organized a game for the enjoyment of all.

This is why I don't enjoy games:

People talk while you're trying to think.
Luck is always always against me. I always draw a run of 8 when we're looking for two sets of four. [Phase Ten]
I am all confused and going HUH?? while all around me people snatch cards from their hands or the piles before them and SLAP them on the stacks in the middle of the table. [Dutch Blitz]
The people who know all about strategy [Smuckers and men] chuckle indulgently when I make stupid moves [pretty much every game ever].
And the games go on and on.  Oh, People, the tortures I have endured in various and sundry cozy gatherings in living rooms and around dining tables at rented houses at the coast and family gatherings.  I sit and wait for my turn, wondering in confusion what I should do next, or I sit and wait knowing full well what to do next but it looks like Jesus will come back before my turn ever comes around again.  And I have gotten up and made popcorn and hot chocolate before my turn came around again, and texted my sisters, and used the bathroom, and filled the dishwasher.
And I have endured games where people were all about FINISHING this game, round after endless round.
The clocks ticked, the sun set, stores closed, ships came into port and unloaded their cargo and sailed away again, hair turned gray, children grew up and went to college, kingdoms rose and fell, and still these games went on and on and on.

Today Paul's mom was here and she and I and Paul played Scrabble.  Scrabble's one redeeming factor is that it involves words.  But it also involves tons of luck, which is always against me, and strategy, which I am terrible at.  And people talking while I'm trying to think, mostly about whether or not that word is really a word, and what about chemical abbreviations like Fe for iron or Fi the music term, and oh dear you took my spot, and give me the dictionary.

So I had no hopes of doing well but I wanted to be a good hostess so I played.

But this time I got the Q and the U at the same time, miracle of miracles.  If I had had an I, I could have made QUINOA.

But I didn't have an I.  Of course.

However, I was able to make OPAQUE, which was a very good beginning but not one I expected to sustain.

Then I got a J and put it on a triple word block to make JET.

I put long words out into empty spaces, but Paul and his mom found ways to cluster letters into solid blocks, so they made 4 or 5 words at one go, up and down and sideways, and got lots of points.

But I stayed within sight of them, so I played with a little sense of hope, which was a new experience.

"Von" was in the dictionary, yea, even that dictionary that Anne was sure was old and inaccurate because it didn't have nearly all the words that are in her Scrabble dictionary or the paper of 2-letter words she got from Esther Wolfer's mom.

Paul had an obvious lack of respect for any dictionary or list that was not there with us, explaining itself.

As the tiles in the bag ran out I was sure I would lose because in the end we all subtract the value of any letters on our boards and give them to the winner.

I won the game.
I am serious.
I had the most points in the end.
Unbelievable, but Paul will back up the verity of this.

Maybe the wind is shifting and a new era is dawning with the new year.

All the cool bloggers have been looking deep and meditating long to find a Word for the Year.  I have not done this, but suddenly I think my word might be CONQUER.  Or BELIEVE.  Or POSSIBILITIES!

But do not expect me to play Risk or enjoy table games any time soon.  It is not THAT radical of a new era dawning.

Maybe when Jesus comes back I will enjoy Phase Ten.

Quote of the Day:
"I don't like to follow recipes.  A recipe is like a big sister telling you what to do.  And you think, 'Humph. YNTM*.'"
--A Smucker daughter

*You're Not The Mom