Thursday, June 30, 2016

What's Been Happening--KLCC and ISC

I'm not sure it's good for introverted writers to speak on the radio.  We do best with a chance to edit, sleep on it, and rewrite before our words get splattered on the world.

On live radio, you have to think fast, ad lib, answer quickly, change directions right in the moment, and other such terrifying challenges.  Worst, your words go flying away from you out into the airwaves and YOU CAN'T GET THEM BACK TO EDIT THEM.

It's best not to think about this, after the fact.

Nonetheless, I agreed to do a 1-hour radio show on KLCC, the local NPR/OPB station, because Pete LaVelle asked, and I had just written an article about saying Yes to new experiences.  I was to share the music of my culture and background.

You can survive anything with a pretty notebook and a thermos of tea, I always say.
So the Eugene community heard lots of John Schmid and Antrim Mennonite Choir.

I had fun and learned a lot, but folks, if you can't give yourself grace for making mistakes, you don't belong in radio.  I handed Pete the host the wrong CD at one point, and got distracted when he asked a question, and so on, but most of the evening went really well and, as I said, I had fun and learned a lot.

Emily went with me and also Kayla Kuepfer, who taught at a church school at Sheridan, Oregon, this past year and sometimes came down for weekends.

They had lots of fun.

KLCC doesn't archive their programs so I can't give you a link.  I confess that's a relief.

Then it was time for ISC.

So Paul has been a school teacher and principal in the ACE system for years and years.  ACE stands for Accelerated Christian Education, and it's a curriculum that is all individualized.  Students learn on their own via booklets called PACES.  The teacher supervises the process and helps individual students as needed.

It's not a perfect system but it works well for small schools with only a handful of students in each grade, where hiring teachers to teach every subject for every grade would be out of reach practically and financially.

Every year, ACE organizes a number of regional conventions for their schools and students.  For example, kids from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and northern California attend a convention in Newberg, Oregon, every March.

Competition is a big part of convention.  The kids can enter some 160 events including all kinds of track and field, music, speaking, needlework, science exhibits, metal- and wood-working, and much more.

The winners at the regional convention can compete at the International Student Convention.

This year it was at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Missouri, and attended by over 2000 students from all over the world.  Paul and I took nine students, stayed in the dorms with them, and had a great time.

First things first: a selfie on the plane.
We flew in the day before and had a few hours free, so we took the kids to Worlds of Fun.  Well...I say "we."  Personally, if I ever swindle the elderly or poison someone's well you can take me here to punish me.  Maybe have them hurtle me down a metal track or spin me around 150 feet in the air.

Since I hadn't earned such punishment, I stayed at the motel across the street.  I could still hear the tortured screams of the unfortunate people over there.

 The next day, we went on to Warrensburg.

There were lots of fun activities while we registered.

And there were people there from many different countries.

The Kenyans wore their traditional clothes for a day.
I enjoyed eating lunch with Rachel, one of the Kenyan sponsors, who helps run
a homeschool co-op in Nairobi and says the number of homeschoolers in Kenya is
increasing fast--50 families joined their co-op in the last year.
I judged quilts, knitting, crochet, and afghans.  All the work was impressive and some was just stunning.

Aubrey ran the 200 meter run.

Jenny recited "The Unbarred Door" in front of the judges.

The students did a lot of mingling and meeting outside in the warm evenings.  Here our girls are getting to know the South Africans.
  The fifth and final day consisted of the awards ceremony.  I was unbelievably proud of Jenny for winning first place in poetry writing out of 76 who entered.

Here's the big screen as Jenny got her medal.

Happily, each girl got a medal--Aubrey and Ashley in photography, Mikala in dressmaking, Janane in web design, and Jenny in poetry writing.
Then we all got back in our borrowed van and headed for Kansas City to the airport, over an hour away.  The sky was looking ominous but the weather wasn't too bad, but then suddenly the kids' phones lit up with weather warnings--Tornadoes! Flash floods!

Oregon kids are not used to wild weather and had no context for this. Except to be very afraid.

We spent about 45 minutes at the Steamboat Arabia museum, wishing it could have been 2 hours more, and then a staff member told us that the Kansas City airport had just been evacuated and everyone sent to the basement because of tornadoes in the area.

The Oregon kids' eyes got really big.

Paul thought we should just go charging on to the airport, because the van's owner was going to be there waiting for us, and because this is how he deals with scary situations.

The kids were not ok with this.

Finally we had a prayer meeting in the museum parking lot.  The worst thing was that it was so hard to just get information--where were these tornadoes going on, exactly?

We started driving.  Soon the sky dropped down further and got 4 shades darker, the wind kicked up, and the kids' eyes got bigger yet.

We stopped at a gas station for gas and snacks.  As we walked toward the station I saw a large yellow-vested employee standing off to the side, hands in his pockets, watching the world go by.

"What do you know about the weather?" I hollered at him, above the wind.

"Weellll, they say there's tornadoes," he drawled calmly, all relaxed and easy.

"So, what do we DO?" I chattered frantically as everything blew sideways.

"Mehh, just keep watchin' it I guess," he shrugged, comfortably.

We holed up in the gas station while the worst of the storm whipped around outside, then we dashed back to the van and went to the airport.

All was well.

Paul and most of the kids flew back to Oregon.  Paul got part of a night's sleep, turned around, and flew with Ben, Steven, and Emily to Chicago the next day.

Jenny and I flew to Chicago, rented a car, spent the night, and went on to Indiana the next day.

Because: WEDDING!!

That story tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What's Been Happening--Gatos, Girls, Grad, Guitar

The last months have been crazy.  If I tell you what's happened, maybe it'll sort it out in my own head as well.

In May, Peppermint Patty had kittens.  I so appreciate cats who have small litters and who take good care of them.

Amy came home for a visit!  She's been in Thailand for 2 1/2 years now.  The happy truth is that she loves it there, she has lots of friends both Thai and American, she speaks Thai, she's teaching English which she enjoys, and she lives with a lady named Kimberly who sounds like a dream roommate in that she's low-maintenance emotionally but does high maintenance around the house.

The downside of this joyful life is that Amy is just terribly far away, and all the Skype conversations in the world are not like having her slip into the kitchen in the cool early morning and make a pot of coffee.

But, as I said, she came home for a visit.

This is sort of an odd photo but it's beautiful to me because:
1. Three daughters together
2. On one couch
3. Eating popcorn
4. Three daughters together!!
When Amy comes, she brings fabric with her.  That is just icing on the happy cake of life.

Two days later, Jenny graduated from high school.
Mikala and Jenny changed the church sign for the occasion.

Jenny's senior portrait.
Taken by Kristi Smucker
All of us but Matt were here for graduation.
The graduates sang a song, a BMS custom.
Deana, Mikala, Janane, Jenny

Cousin Allison helped exclaim over the gifts.
Another portrait

We gave Jenny a guitar for graduation.  My inner 10-year-old gets a big kick
out of posing this bear in all kinds of situations. Silly, yes, but it was way more fun
to have Jenny come downstairs and discover her gift this way than just
GIVING it to her.
All of a sudden my babies are all grown up.  And I'm only...let's see...54, as of today!  My dad is still traveling, writing, and reading Tolstoy at age 99. His mom lived to be almost 104.

So I'm making lists of things to undertake and learn in the next 50 years.  A fun exercise, really:
Learn woodworking
Study watercolor painting
Study depression and gut health
Teach sewing
Climb mountains
Or at least hills
Take just enough counseling classes to learn the magic question to ask to make people figure out how to fix their problems, right away and of their own volition.

[More "what's been happening" posts to come.]

Quote of the Day:
Emily: Hey Jenny, do you think you'd like to marry "Nathan."
Jenny: I've never met him and I've barely stalked him so I have no idea.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My Life, These Days, At Home

After three months of travel, deadlines, celebrations, more travel, graduations, and other wonderful but completely exhausting things, I have been at home for a long time, like three whole days.

I love being at home.

And I love how being at home isn't boring because all these little stories happen when I'm at home, especially if I have some of my wonderful children around, such as Amy, who is home from Thailand for a far-too-brief time.

Anyway.  These are the sort of things that are happening to me these days:

We used to have chickens, and then they got old, and we didn't have chickens any more for I forget how many years.

But now I have chickens again, since Coastal Farms was giving away chicks on Easter Eve, and Paul got me fifteen.

I love having chickens again.

The nests have sat empty for all these years and needed to be cleaned out before this batch of hens decides to start laying.  They weren't that terrible, with just a few years-old dried up literary awards, as my sister Margaret used to call them.  [Pullet Surprises]

What I needed to clean out the nests was a scheifly, otherwise known as a pancake turner.  But one doesn't just grab a pancake turner out of the drawer to clean nests.

My girls always think I need to declutter and downsize, so I had a bright idea.  I would see if there were any scheiflen way in the back of the drawer.  If so, I'd know that I hadn't used them in a while, and I could safely relegate them to henhouse duty.

Win, win.

So I riffled in the back of the drawer and sure enough, there was a big stainless steel scheifly.

I took it to the shed, cleaned the nests, and laid it by the feed sack to use in the future.

Meanwhile, the girls were getting ready to go camping.

About two hours after I'd taken the scheifly outside, Amy was riffling through the drawer.  "Do we have any long-handled, metal pancake turner we could use for cooking over a fire?"


*     *     *

This evening I went on a walk in the lovely summer eveningness.

My brother-in-law Kenneth's field, just to the north of us, is all windrowed, a lovely golden sight in the fading daylight.


What was that, right by the third row in?

A black shape, still and furry.

No no no, surely not a dead cat.

I walked over to Powerline Road and then turned in the field approach.  Over the bare dirt, through the trees, up to the cut grass, and then I could see it better.  Yes, definitely a cat.

Oh NO.  We've lost a cat to a windrower both of the last two harvests.  It's no fun to lose cats in any way, but dying by windrower is especially nasty, not that I have experienced it, but just from observing.

I hesitated before I crossed the windrow, which is basically a three-foot-wide line of cut, piled stalks of grass, because I wanted to give any snakes underneath a chance to go elsewhere.  And while I paused I looked at the cat, still about 20 feet away, to see if it was breathing.  No, mercifully, no sign of life, so at least it wasn't lying there suffering.

I don't have long enough legs to straddle the windrow, so I stepped right in the middle of it with a very loud dry-stalksy CRUNCH.

The dead cat leaped in the air and ran for the house in a black blur.

I also leaped in the air and felt like I might be having a heart attack, which would still be a nicer way to go than being caught in a windrower.

Happily, the cat and I are both very much alive.

*     *     *

On the way back to the house, I picked up the broom that I'd been cleaning the playhouse with, before I cleaned the chicken coop, and I carried the broom into the kitchen.  Paul was working on his computer.  He looked up and asked, casually,

Quote of the Day:

"So, how far did you fly?"

[Did I mention that I love being at home? And clever husbands.]

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sunday's Column: "They Grow Up So Fast"


Graduation brings mist of wistfulness

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
JUNE 12, 2016

I have become that well-meaning but annoying older woman who looks wistfully at babies in church or the grocery store and comments, uninvited, “Make sure you enjoy them while they’re little. They grow up so fast.”

I wasn’t ever going to say that. In the swamp of exhausted young motherhood, those intrusive words were accusing mosquitoes buzzing around my head, a dank whiff of guilt, a splash of worry that everyone else had just loved this stage and I was the only one who didn’t.

Of course I adored my children and delighted in kissing their exquisite baby cheeks and writing down the brilliant questions they asked at age 4. But the enjoyment was an intermittent thing, slotted between the realities of chiseling off the mashed potatoes super-glued to the high chair tray, 2-year-olds bent on destruction, overly verbal preschool sisters putting each other down with subtle nastiness, and, in those pre-Google days, trying to find out if the English ivy leaf the baby had just eaten was poisonous.

“Mine are all grown up now,” the older women always said, there in the McDonald’s restroom as I jostled the fussy baby and shooed the toddler into the stall, or in the foyer after a church service in which our kids wrote in the hymnals or shot a rubber band across the aisle or asked in loud voices if the lady in front of us was pregnant.

“This too shall pass,” people told me during the weeks of chicken pox, the months of morning sickness and colic, the reckless insanity of small boys pulling Crock Pots or hot coffee on their heads.

It didn’t help.

I found the chicken pox photos when I was hunting for pictures for the slide show at Jenny’s graduation. April, 1994: four miserable little children covered in pox. Amy looked like she’d been dunked in boiling water. Emily was blotched with big oozy spots. The boys were thickly polka-dotted in red. I recall blurred weeks of exhausted days and frightening fevers turning into long impossible nights, crying with weariness.

Incredibly, I found myself examining the chicken-pox photos with just a bit of nostalgia. Look at what we survived! I was so needed, so indispensable, and we were all a lot tougher than we knew.

I made sure Jenny, our youngest, got the vaccination. Jenny is 17 now, taller than me, lively, energetic, gracious, freckled, ambitious and funny.

And grown up, so suddenly it stuns me.

As I knelt in the attic and sat at the computer, sorting through hundreds of old photographs in a hunt for 50 to represent Jenny’s life, the wonder of her childhood, of all their childhoods, of any childhood, plunged me into nostalgia.

“Oh my word! Look at her. She was just so CUTE! So alert, looking right in your eyes at 3 months old! And that curly red hair. Unbelievable.”

In stacks of photos, she was watering flowers, playing with the dog, running, climbing, painting, writing, exploring, dressing up, making terrible happy messes.

Later, in digital photos, she was shooting a homemade bow and arrow, posing on the shed roof, holding a pink basketball, biking, celebrating with friends.

And always grinning.

How did it vanish so fast?
Jenny at 3 months old and as a 17-year-old graduate.
[Grad photo by Janane Nguyen Photography]
In some ways I enjoyed Jenny more than the others, not only because she was less defiant and got only a mild case of chicken pox at 10 years old, but also because by child number six a mom knows what to expect, what to freak out about (not much), and what to let go (most things.)

We know how quickly each phase will pass.

Today Jenny has a driver’s license, a high school diploma and a college student aid application. With her sights fixed on community college and Oregon State University, she wants to be a mechanical engineer like her big brothers. She likes to sing, write and skateboard with her friends.

God help me, when did this happen? I want her back, just for a little bit, that wild red-headed little girl that giggled during her bedtime prayers and studied bugs and leaped fearlessly off the porch rail onto the trampoline.

Her graduation means that all of my six are adults. I’m finished with braiding hair in the morning, replacing boys’ jeans, and conducting lizard and cat funerals. My 22 years as a church-school mom are over as well — no more signing off on homework or sewing angel costumes at Christmas or rooting for both teams at the student vs. alumni softball game.

In fact, I want all six back for a day or a month, noisy and dirty and full of questions, arguing about turns and front seats and whether a horse or a helicopter would be better for going to work at our grass-seed warehouse.

Maybe it’s the unknown that scares me, moving into this vague new phase.

“Your life is so defined,” a single and childless friend told me, enviously, when the kids ranged from 1 year old to 14. “You know your purpose. You know every day exactly what you’re supposed to do.”

If I’m like my grandma, I have 50 years ahead of me, full of possibility but forcing me to define my own roles, my own avenues of ministry, my own investments of time.

A good and exciting stage, but it lacks the crucial essence and purpose of the past.

I look at the young moms around me and see their bulging diaper bags and exhausted eyes. But more than that, I see the fleeting moment of that baby in their arms and his or her smooth plump squishable kicking legs, the endlessly curious eyes and grasping hands — and the words come out of my mouth, unstoppable. “Enjoy them while they’re little. They grow up so fast.”

The intrusive grandmas were right: It’s a miraculous time of life, it all goes by in a flash, you never get it back again, and you miss it like crazy once it’s gone.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Just a Few Thoughts

I am always signing up for things because they need to be done or because I'm hungry for fellowship, then I get overwhelmed, and I think, "I don't think I prayed enough before I said yes." So then I pray more deliberately and still feel like I ought to say Yes to events and people, because I know I'll regret it later if I don't. Maybe God knows I'd never get anything done if I didn't feel overwhelmed.

So I didn't have time for that Smucker-Sisters-In-Law coffee time today, what with planning for a ladies' retreat, a trip to the coast, a girls' trip while Amy's home, and Ben's graduation open house. But what a delicious time of chatting and catching up and planning it was with the Smucker ladies, as always, and I would have been sad if I missed it.

Sometimes I wonder what scale of life would be manageable. Maybe living alone in a 1-bedroom house with 1 cat. Two flower beds. A bike. No writing or teaching. Meeting people for coffee once a week. Living off of tea and Cheerios and fresh berries and peanut butter.

I think I could manage such a life efficiently, and feel organized and PUT TOGETHER which would be glorious. And I could also feel terrifically bored and lonely and pointless.

On Sunday we had a college friend of Emily's here for lunch even though I was as overwhelmed and overcommitted as always and so exhausted I kept falling asleep during Paul's sermon which I almost never do. The friend is from Korea. Before he left, Emily showed him the newest kitties in the banana box on the porch. He was thrilled.

Later I learned that this was the first time in his life that he had held a baby kitten. It was almost a spiritual experience for him.

Well. If I had waited to have company until I felt ready and the hedge was trimmed, JB from Korea might have gone his whole life without holding a 3-week-old kitten.

I averted a great tragedy.