Sunday, September 25, 2016

Why I Appreciate My Siblings

If you recall, we have a formerly-stray cat who was named Herbie Ferbie before anyone had a chance to do a personal inspection, and then he had five kittens which cleared that question up real fast.

One of the kittens is white.

I looked outside one day and watched Herbie nursing the white kitty and suddenly a curtain was pulled aside, the mists parted, and I clearly recalled my grandma Miller quoting a poem she'd learned in school, which means that this was coming to me from some 120 years ago, from Mommi's memory and mine.

I could just about hear Mommi saying it, in her cracking voice and German accent:

Kitty my pretty white kitty
Why do you scamper awehh?
I have finished my work and my lessont,
And now I am ready for plehhh!

The memory was followed by an immediate urge to share it with someone, so I found my phone, took a photo of the kitty, and sent the shot and the poem to my two sisters on our WhatsApp group.

Margaret said, "Love love love!!! Hadn't thought of that for years..."

Rebecca said, "Oh my. This is stirring up some dusty attic in my brain. Love it!"

One of the biggest blessings of having siblings is being able to share memories with someone.  To pull something out of the past, share it with them, and have them not only remember it with you but share their own perspective of the event, that is just such a gift.

I've had plenty of conflicts with both siblings and technology, but once we figure out the latter, it's a great way for us 50-somethings to connect with the former, especially if we live far apart.

And there's something about passing 50 that makes you appreciate siblings in a whole new way.

I've always been intrigued with the threads and themes that weave their way through our lives.  Sometimes they're bright and visible; sometimes hidden for long stretches.  What I really like is when you realize that a more-recent thread is actually attached to one from way back then.

I've always liked the verses from Ecclesiastes about casting your bread on the waters.

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.

The verses took on a special meaning for us when we read them during our family worship in Kenya and Amy lit up like a Christmas tree and said, "There's our sign!"  So we adopted Steven and from a family of seven became a family of eight.

But it turns out the verse was special to me long before then.

A few weeks ago, we sisters had just had a conversation, precipitated by Dad's thorough gleaning of my grapes, about how it was such a terrible sin to throw away food when we were young.

Margaret wrote:
"Never heard the mush story! Reminds me of having a warm gooey Velveeta sandwich in my lunch for our 2nd grade field trip to Lake Ripley.  There was no way I could choke it down, and I think Mike Peterka was in similar straits so we snuck off and fed some surprised but grateful ducks in a stream.  I felt SO guilty.  And never told anyone.  Imagine my horror, a few months later, when you announced one day that there is a verse, Cast thy bread upon the waters, etc. and I knew I was doomed, and this verse was a sign from God that I would forever be haunted because of my wastefulness."

It was like seeing a thread go back a lot further than I had ever realized.

And of course we had a conversation about how our lives were saturated with guilt over normal kid stuff, and it is so nice to have siblings to validate your feelings.  Husbands are wonderful but can be completely bewildered about weird emotional tangles from your childhood.  Sisters were there. You don't have to explain a thing. 

I laugh harder over messages from my siblings than just about anything else.

If you're on Facebook, you've no doubt seen the videos of this guy named Ted Yoder who plays the hammered dulcimer [don't feel bad; I had never heard of it either].  Recently his videos went viral, as these things do on Facebook, and like every other current or former Yoder in the country I thought, "Yoder?!? From Indiana?!? I'll bet he's freindschaft!!"

My brother Fred sent me a link, so I asked him.  Our text conversation:

Me: I am very intrigued with this character and his music and the Yoder angle.  Is he freindschaft?
Fred: No idea.
[8 hours later]
Fred: Ted Yoder is Abie P Mattie's sister Sadie's granddaughter Lizzie's husband.
Me: Did you make this up?
Fred: If you really think you need to ask that, let's explore our connection with Abie P.
Me: Yes help me out here.  I'm not accessing this file.
Fred: Abie P was the great grandfather of all those Benders that are step related to us through Sim Detweiler's second wife Mandy.
Me: And there are little black dots walking around on the moon.
Fred: Dorcas Dorcas Dorcas...
[A week later]
Fred: I'm sure you could have followed the genealogy thing had I thought to mention Sam and Ella who ran the Das Amishen Essen restaurant or Polly and Esther who had the fabric store.
Me: Oh of course.  And Ketty Chupp with the hot dog stand.
Fred: There you go. There you go.

I like to think that with every passing decade I get a wee bit better at sniffing out Fred's error from his truth, even though it's as cleverly disguised as ever, and he still has that magic way of making me feel foolish and guilty for NOT believing him, even via text.

I am thankful for siblings and smartphones, which isn't something I thought I would ever say about either, back when we were first learning to know each other.

Quote of the Day:
[Sunday evening]
Me: I'd be more inclined to go to singspiration if there weren't so many congregational hymns.
Emily: I'd be more inclined to go to singspiration if there were more congregational hymns between 26 and 29.
[Long confused pause]
Me: OH! Hims!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How Women Treat Their Husbands

Based on scientific observations of women at garage sales and on Facebook, I have concluded that far too many American women don't treat their husbands with respect.

Earlier this summer I stopped at a few garage sales in a local smallish town.  First I impulsively bought a lovely antique dresser for the princely sum of $25.  After all, I was driving the van, and the seats were out, and there was the dresser, and we needed it for our stuff upstairs while Dad stayed in our bedroom, so I figured God wanted me to have it.

Mr. and Mrs. Garage Sale were both friendly and engaging people.

Of course I couldn't lift a dresser into the van by myself.  So Mr. Garage Sale came to help.  Mrs. did too.

Mrs. took charge of the whole process.  "Lift that end up!" she snapped at Mr.  "No! Down below!"

"This way!" "Up!" "No! Be careful!"

She hopped into the van and maneuvered while he lifted the bottom end and pushed.  She hollered commands the entire time and informed him how he was doing it wrong.

He tucked something underneath the dresser to protect it.  She yanked it away and tucked it in right.

He brought the one broken drawer and set it in.  She grabbed it and set it in correctly with an annoyed sigh.

The process was excruciating to watch.

I checked: no rings, so maybe they weren't Mr. and Mrs. after all.  It was obvious that they both lived there, though.  I was tempted to suggest to him that he deserves better than this and maybe he should just, you know, LEAVE.

Because I have a hunch that when "Mrs." talked to the dog, the neighbors, the cashier, the kids, or anyone else, she didn't TELL them what to do, she ASKED.

"Wanna come here, Freckles?"
"Would you mind picking up our mail?"
"Can you feed the cat?"
"Could you ring that up separately?"

But with Mr., it was all imperatives.  And all combined with the most obvious signals that he was completely inept and incapable, in sharp contrast to her full capability in every situation.

From there I went to another sale a few blocks away.  This time Mrs. and the teenage daughters were running the sale.  While I was there, Mr. pulled up in a pickup truck.

Mrs. hollered from behind the table, "Where were you?  We've been waiting for an hour!"

He replied, from the pickup window, that he had gone to a few other sales.

Mrs. and the teenage girls all turned to him in annoyance.  "Really? All right, whadja buy this time?!"

He told them.  A grill, I think.

My word, the huffs and sighs and rolled eyes.  "Can you BELIEVE him?!  Having a garage sale and going out and buying more junk?!"

Mr. looked defeated and humiliated.

I felt very sad.

If you click any wifey-mommy videos online, whether it's commercials, monologues in the car, or anything else, Christian or secular, you're going to see this same attitude over and over.

This DUMB guy.
Can you BELIEVE this?
What on earth is he up to now?
World, neighborhood, universe, everybody: Do you SEE THIS STUPID THING MY HUSBAND JUST DID?

And I think: this is your husband.  He is a person.  He becomes who you believe him to be.

You wouldn't treat anyone else this way.  Not your friends, the mailman, the cat.

If a teacher did this to your child, you would have them fired.

You do not own the key to the One Universal Right Way To Do Things.

His way is probably just as good as yours.

And if he buys a grill you don't need, you discuss this IN PRIVATE.  Like ADULTS.  Admitting that you have a few tiny faults of your own, but you can work this out, because you made vows to honor each other, and stuff.

Is it easy to make your husband's bumbling the brunt of a joke before others? Yes.  Have I done it myself? Yes.

But I repented when I became aware of it, and I am on a mission to not ever be a publicly-shaming, eye-rolling, Garage Sale sort of wife.

Starting with ASKING instead of TELLING.

Quote of the Day:
"Are you weirded out by possibly sticking a few clothing items in with food?"
--Ben, to Jenny, while packing for a camping trip to the Wallowas

Saturday, September 17, 2016

What Surgery Was Like

"Your first surgery?!  At age 54? You are a super human being!"

I heard that a number of times in this process.  It's nice to be called a super human being.

So this is my wide-eyed walk through my first and hopefully last surgery, which might be kind of TMI like LBJ showing off his scar to the press.  He also had gallbladder surgery, but obviously it wasn't laparascopic like mine.  Yikes.

I told myself ahead of time that surely if I've had two wisdom teeth pulled out and 5 babies pushed out, I can do this.  Here's what I found out:

How gallbladder surgery is like childbirth:
1. You know it's coming up and no one else can go through this for you.
2. You shouldn't read up ahead of time on possible complications.
3. You move slowly afterwards.
4. It's nice to have someone bring you tea and toast.
5. At least you get to keep your socks on.

How gallbladder surgery is not like childbirth:
1. Your fears are only for yourself and not for a baby.
2. Right up until you lose consciousness, you could decide to not do this after all and walk out the door.
3. You sleep through the worst parts.
4. You get to sleep a lot afterwards.
5. It's much easier.

My biggest fears:
1. That I would be awake but paralyzed during the surgery. [It happens.  I read it on the Internet.]
2. That I would wake up with a permanent headache like my friend's sister did over 30 years ago. [According to the Internet, that happens to plenty of other people too.]
3. That it would be scary to be anesthetized.
4. That I would have sleep paralysis, waking up.
5. That I would say crazy embarrassing things as I was waking up.
6. That the doctor would say, "Actually, we pulled out your gallbladder and there weren't any stones left in it.  Oops.  Too bad."
7. That I would react to anesthesia like my sister did, and barf uncontrollably afterwards.


All my life I've been afraid of the wrong things.

The scariest part was when the anesthesiologist held a mask to my face to breathe into and out of, right after I lay on the operating table.  The mask had a triangular shape made of a puffy plastic tube, meant to make an airtight seal on my face.  I had that panicky feeling I get when my face is in water [no, I'm not a swimmer] and I jerked my head and yanked the mask off.

The anesthesiologist was a very understanding woman who told me that if I hold it on myself, it won't be as scary.  I still had to deliberately talk myself through each breath, but it worked better, and about four breaths in, I was completely out.

I didn't wake up during surgery.

I didn't have to deal with nausea at all.

Nor did I wake up with a headache.

Actually, I had a very hard time waking up.  It was like the deepest of Sunday-afternoon naps, where you just want to sink down into the blissful sleepiness and stay there.  I was somewhat aware of Paul being there and getting briefed on my medications, and all of a sudden they wanted me to get up and go home.

What??  Noooooo.  I think I mumbled, "I ..." but they wouldn't let me.

So there was no danger of me saying loopy things, because I could barely form words.  I came home and was steered into bed, where I slept and slept until evening.

Not letting me sleep was the only way they were unkind at the surgery center.  Otherwise, goodness.  During the pre-op I put on this gown with what looked like a vacuum cleaner attachment ring at the side.  Then I sat back in a recliner and the nurse tucked a blanket around me and then attached a vacuum hose--it looked like--to the gown, but it blew warm air in.  Oh my word.  I should see if I can buy one on ebay for cold winter evenings.

I asked the nurse if it's like a vacuum cleaner where you flip the switch and it sucks air back out, but she didn't find that amusing.

The doctor told Paul that everything went exceptionally well and that my being a smaller person made the process much simpler.  He also said they sent the gallbladder off but will give me the stones at my first visit afterwards.

I thought: Why would they give me the stones?  Maybe I can line a little succulent garden with them.

Ben and Jenny are off backpacking in the Wallowas in Eastern Oregon. Paul and Emily are taking very good care of me.

Quote of the Day:
"One slip of the scalpel and you could be delivered."
--my brother Fred, on the risks of gallbladder surgery

Sunday, September 11, 2016

September's LFH

Abundance follows man of austerity

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
SEPT. 11, 2016

My hens didn’t start laying until my dad arrived.

I got them the night before Easter, given away by Coastal Farm and then hauled home, along with a sack of feed, by my husband, Paul, who knew I wanted to raise chickens again.

So the 15 chicks prospered and grew large, stepping around the field by the henhouse with a quiet but determined gait that reminded me of Amish ladies working in the kitchen before a wedding. If I named the hens after the particular Amish cousins they each resembled, I will not admit that here.

But they didn’t lay eggs. It was time, even reading the charts generously skewed toward the far end of the timetable. I found one egg in a nest one day and the kids found one in the field.

“Come on, ladies,” I said. “Please. It’s time. You really need to start laying.”

They ignored me, even when I spoke Pennsylvania German.

Then my 99-year-old Dad came from Minnesota for a six-week visit. This is the third summer he has done so.

Dad always has advocated moderation, simplicity and austerity. “Too much” was one of the worst sins, in his opinion. Too many crackers in your split pea soup, too much of Mom’s homemade bread, too much talking — all brought on his darkest frowns and his deep “Ach. That’s enough. Don’t go to extremes.”

You certainly didn’t need another new dress, and deprivation was far better than excess.

Today, Dad still refuses second helpings and new socks, and he has a pair of shoes he bought secondhand in 1964. He weighs about 100 pounds.

Yet, when he showed up at our house, things suddenly went wild with abundance.

A day after his arrival, he went out and visited the hens. I don’t know what he said, but that afternoon six eggs lay in the nests. It was the beginning of a flood of eggs that we have fried, hardboiled, used in baking, and given away, and still they accumulate in ever-larger baskets on the kitchen counter. I even had a disturbing dream one night that I went in the henhouse and hundreds of eggs lay all over the floor, the straw bale, everywhere.

Last summer the blackberries at all my favorite picking spots were sparse and hard. Was it that little bit of rain in July or was it some magic from Dad? He and his cane thumped determinedly to the bushes at the edge of various cousins’ fields, and the berries were huge and sweet and plentiful. I baked pies and cobblers, froze berries in sandwich bags, and even made blackberry jam and jelly for the first time.

Dad’s new book went a bit crazy, too. During his previous two visits, he spent hours on the living room couch with a padded lap desk across his knees, writing out his life story with pen and paper.

He chose the title: “A Chirp From the Grass Roots.” I let him tell his story on his own terms even though it seemed sparse on all the interesting details, in keeping with his life philosophy of eschewing excess.

I found a printer and ordered enough copies to supply his grandchildren, nieces and nephews, then I also made it available on as an e-book.

The book immediately sold so well I ordered a second printing and will soon need a third. Former students wanted copies, and perfect strangers, and even a woman from Sweden who saw it on social media. It’s painful enough to check the Amazon rankings when you’re a fragile author, but to find that your dad’s book is vastly outselling yours is far harder to accept graciously.

How does he do it, he of the careful salvaging of the good half of a wrinkled apple and repurposing of AARP envelopes?

Even the cats took up the mood of lavish abundance when he came. A cautious silvery stray cat appeared at our house some time ago. He never let us get close or pick him up, but he would sneak nervously across the porch and grab some food when the other cats had finished eating.

The children named him Herbie Furbie.

Then Dad arrived, and Herbie not only made himself comfortably at home, he also had a litter of five kittens under the porch.

Yesterday, two black kittens showed up as well, scampering stiff-legged under the picnic table. I have no idea where they came from.

Then the grapes ripened. Seedless and green, with a tough skin and sweet, slippery inside, these are meant for fresh eating, but they hung from the vine in such numerous clusters that we couldn’t have begun to eat them all.

Dad offered to pick them so I could make juice. It was a wonderful idea, except for the fact that I was organizing an all-day women’s retreat at church. But keeping Dad busy is a good thing, so out he went with a bucket looped on one of my husband’s belts across his shoulder, a rose trimmer, and his gray trilby hat.

I washed jars, assembled the steamer and prepared my speech.

The night before the retreat, I canned nine quarts of juice. The morning of, I got up early and did five more. More grapes sat waiting when I got home, so I filled 10 more jars.

Dad hollered, “This is just the tip of the iceberg!” and kept picking.

I filled every empty quart jar I had in the pantry plus pickle jars and jam jars and spaghetti sauce jars. I found a box of jars in storage, washed out the dust and spiders, and filled them with juice.

Buckets of steamed, limp grape skins went to the chickens. To make more eggs.

“I think this is about half of them,” Dad announced proudly. He kept picking, coming inside to rest between buckets, but always grabbing his cane and marching back out.

Thankfully, my friend Shannon needed grapes, so Dad and I filled two boxes and a 5-gallon bucket one morning and I dropped them off, feeling relieved.

That afternoon, Dad came in with two more buckets full. “I just found a really good cluster!” So I once again assembled the steamer, poured the grapes in a dishpan to wash, and bought two boxes of jars from my friend Sharon.

One could logically argue, I suppose, that nature is no more to be manipulated or influenced than a 99-year-old man who is used to doing things his own way.

But I like to think that there has been just a bit of magic in my summer, a fun collision of events, an unpredictable agency conspiring on his behalf.

Also, the pears are dropping from the tree in such quantities as I’ve never seen in 16 years at this house.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Diamonds, Grapes, Kitties, and Such Like

How does this color of grapes produce that color of juice?

After a week of misery, my gallbladder calmed down and I was able to help out and speak at Diamonds In The Dust, our church's first ladies' retreat.  The retreat was mostly Zelma Baker's idea.  She is a great organizer and delegater, but she really wanted me present-- because she doesn't like to talk up front, I think. Or else because she had this delusion that I know how to put on a retreat because I've been to so many.

Fact: showing up to talk is a very different operation from organizing an event from the ground up.

So Zelma said she had been reminding the Lord that I need to be well enough to be there--in case He forgot.
Zelma is standing over there, with the white sweater, facing this way.

Well.  He didn't and I was, and it was a good good day, with lots of hard but redemptive stories shared and also a lot of tears, which is a good thing when it's empathetic "Oh Sister, I feel for you," tears.

And the food!  Baked goods and yogurt in the morning, then for lunch chicken salad on croissants, other salads of subtle spice and flavor, desserts on multi-level plates.  It looked delectable.  I ate lettuce, since I am on a low-fat diet to keep my gallbladder happy.

Aunt Susie welcomed people and got them all registered.
Speaking of, I am planning to have surgery.  I prayed about this.  After I posted my exhaustion with advice and remedies, most people were very nervous about saying anything, but I still heard a lot of stories and cautions.  I tend to blow with the winds and agree with whoever I talked to last, so I told God to tell Paul what I'm supposed to do, and I'll do what he says.

Paul said he doesn't want me to ever endure another gallstone attack, and he doesn't want me to try home remedies and then be all worried about a flareup if we go visit Amy in Thailand or I have a speaking event coming up.

All right then.

My dad is still here but will be back in Minnesota before I have surgery.  He keeps busy picking my grapes, writing letters, and reading.

Dad's new book is selling well.  I put it on Amazon as a Kindle book and it's selling better than my books.  That is a strange sensation when you are an author with fragile self-esteem and you track the Amazon rankings and your dad is doing way way better than you.

Next thing someone will ask him to speak at a ladies' retreat.

What is it with fruit this year? The blackberries were prolific, the strawberries were plentiful, and my grapevines went completely crazy, twining clear around the lilac bush and producing hundreds of thick clusters of grapes.

Most of them are the green kind that are meant for eating.  They aren't like grapes from the store that you bite into.  Rather, you hold one up to your lips, pop the slippery inside into your mouth, and drop the outside peel on the kitchen counter.  Or that's how some folks in this house do it.

There are way way more grapes than we'll eat, so Dad has been picking them and I steam them and can the juice.

He is very happy about this task.  I am happy about grape juice, but every time he comes in with two more brimming buckets I have the sense of large waves about to swamp my canoe.

"Dess iss usht 'the tip of the iceberg!'" he yelled a few days ago, hauling in two buckets' worth.

On Tuesday night, when I was making supper and getting ready for Diamonds in the Dust the next day, Dad lost his glasses.  He thought they fell out of his pocket when he was picking grapes.

Have you ever looked for a pair of glasses in a tangle of grapevines and grass?

Each of us went out at least once and carefully separated vines, patted around, bent down and looked up.

Finally on my second or third try, there they were, hidden in a clump of grass under a sweep of vine.

I was very thankful.

On Wednesday I canned 5 jars of juice, went to the ladies' retreat all day, and came home and canned more.

Yesterday Dad kept hauling in buckets full, resting, and going out for more.

Finally I said, "Vee feel fon de grapes denksht sin faddich??"
He said, "Ich glaub ich bin bissell ivvah de helft."

[How many of the grapes do you think are done?
I think I'm a little over half.]

As you can see, I have been digging in back corners for more jars.  I'm almost ready to go borrow vessels not a few from the neighbors.

Last night I was very tired.

But we have lots of grape juice to keep the wolf from the door this winter.

In other news, a stray cat came by a few months ago.  The kids named him Herbie Furbie, and while he was brave enough to come sneaking by for food after the other cats were done eating, he was also very nervous and would run off when we tried to befriend him or pick him up.

But he must have decided we were trustworthy people, because he had a batch of kittens under the porch.

This is so typical of how our life goes.

Quote of the Day:
Me: Hosht du all my grape juice ksenna??
Dad: Ya ich hop.  Ich vayss net vee du alles geh-du gdicksht, avvah du dusht!
Me: [faint...because Dad is not one to give compliments, and compared to Mom I am a serious slacker.]

Translation--Did you see all my grape juice?
Yes I did.  I don't know how you get everything done, but you do.