Monday, November 15, 2021

You Can Worry If You Want

Yesterday I got yet another private message from a reader: "Are you ok? You haven't been posting anything. I'm worried about you."

The mom part of me is horrified at putting burdens of any sort on anyone. You know how we are. "No no, I'm fine, really. I'm not coughing up much blood. Oh no, I don't have an appetite anyway, so don't bother bringing anything."

DON'T WORRY. I only have a perpetual asthma cough. But it's awfully nice of you to ask.

I'm just poking my head into the online world to give a quick wave. I guess I posted something similar to this back on September 21, which shows that I keep expecting life to settle down enough to allow me to write, but it takes way longer than I think it ought.

The word for the past couple of years is CHANGE. 

As with many of you, Covid was a huge disruption, bringing lots of complications, even though none of us ever got the virus. Then there was Paul's accident and the abrupt end to everything he'd been employed at. Lots of adult children living here transitioned suddenly to having only one at home. Large remodeling and building projects involved crazy amounts of planning, upheaval, work, and carpenters in corners of the house like mice, scritching and scurrying.

At such times, I find, it takes a while for your mind to catch up with itself and figure out what's happening and who you are now. Writing helps to sort it out, but it's probably best if this is private journaling rather than cogitating online. If you don't even know who you are and what you're doing, how are you supposed to have anything coherent to say or write? That doesn't stop some people, I admit, but I'd like to wait until I have something articulate to say.

So, if you've been concerned, here are a dozen nibbles from the large potluck dinner of our lives. My intention is to assuage your worries, but you may well read things into them and decide to worry all the same.

[Actually, that's something I'd like to write about someday "when I have my full mind" as my neighbor Anita says--how we can't help but put the truth about ourselves into our writing, no matter how hard we try to hide it. Pictures on Instagram can lie, but writing doesn't. That's what I think.]

1. My niece Emma-Lynn got married in South Carolina. What a fun trip that was. I had never seen my sister Margaret's place, near Cheraw, and it was so special to stand around her kitchen, chopping vegetables and talking and just being a gossipy aunt.

Three sisters: Margaret, Dorcas, Rebecca
Purses, comfortable shoes, and discussions about everything--that's what aunts
are all about.

Nic and Emma and the bridal party

Annette the niece, Jenny promoting peace, Kathleen the friend,
Rebecca coming to the rescue

Marcus and Paul, the exhausted uncles, after the wedding

2. But before the wedding, my daughter Emily and I did a brief book tour in Pennsylvania and Virginia. This involved the usual intensity of book events in faraway places: lost books, delayed flights, long drives in the dark on weird eastern roads, and lots of conversations with people crammed into a short time. It's like a hard hike up a mountain--exhilarating but totally exhausting.
At Harrisonburg, Virginia

3. In between, I got to see the apartment where my two daughters, Emily and Jenny, live in Blacksburg, Virginia. There is nothing quite as sweet as being able to see and experience where your adult children live.

I had such fun buying steak and shrimp at "Gucci Kroger"
and cooking fajitas for the daughters.

Jenny gave me a nighttime tour of the VT campus

4. Oh, but before that, Jenny graduated from Oregon State University! That baby girl of mine is amazing, and I am going to brag on her. She got a degree in math, one of the toughest majors at OSU, and she had a 4.0 average. She got an A (not, heaven forbid, an A-minus or anything lower) in every single class she took in four years of college.

Jenny is a natural teacher who was always tutoring other students through physics and advanced calculus, so it was painful for her to do her last year of college from her bedroom because of Covid. 

She decided she wants to be a math teacher, which requires an advanced degree. Four different schools [Baylor, U of Houston, OSU, and Virginia Tech) offered her a full ride to get her Ph.D. She chose Virginia Tech. Because she's a teaching assistant, she also gets a stipend to live on. 

If you met Jenny, you would see a funny redhead who likes coffee, combines, clothes, conversation, and cats. You wouldn't think "math nerd," at first glance, I don't think. 

I like how she defies stereotypes.

5. We built a barn. This place has never had the normal farm outbuildings like machine sheds and sheep barns. We stored canoes, tools, and extra bed frames at the warehouse, a quarter mile away. With Paul transitioning out of running the warehouse and turning it over to his nephew, we felt like we needed space for that stuff here.

Well. You will find that after twenty years of cramming all the garden things into the carport and all the boxes of books in the chicken shed and under beds, the very suggestion of a barn brings creative ideas popping up like put-to-bed children on Christmas Eve.

I could have a room just for storing and shipping books! Paul could have an area for woodworking! We could set it up for an RV hookup! I could have a quilting room in the loft!!

"Just how big are these quilts you plan to do?" someone asked me.
This space turned out bigger than I had pictured in my head, but
I can think of lots of uses for it.

And, oh yeah, we could have a room for the chickens.

It actually happened. We will skip the parts about how much time, money, and ripping up of soil all over the place it involved. I have been slowly hauling flower pots and fertilizer out of the back corners of the carport and organizing them in my spacious garden room in the barn.

6. Well, The garden room is spacious, but is it big enough for tubers from 114 dahlias? That is what we're figuring out now. My dahlias were slow to get going, but then they went absolutely crazy.

We haven't had a good freeze yet, but it really was time to put them to bed for the winter. Paul did most of the digging and hosing off for me, despite having only one fully usable arm. "How does he manage that?" wondered Amy, in a call from Thailand. Well, he'd shove the fork in the ground, give it a good stomp, and crank out the root ball with his right arm.

Now it's my job to cut the clusters apart and stash they away in peat moss.

7. I got a pig! Actually, he isn't really mine, but I'm caring for him for the winter while his owner, my neighbor and honorary niece Dolly, lives in sunnier climes.

His name is Cornelius. He understands Pennsylvania German.

We went to a housewarming for Dolly today, since she fixed up a travel trailer to live in. All the guests painted drawer handles for her, which has to be the most creative way ever for guests to leave their touch on a new home.

Me, Hannah, Simone, and Dolly

8. The daughters left home. Amy returned to Thailand in June, where she's teaching English in a small town. Emily moved to Virginia with Jenny, since she's a writer and can work from anywhere.

I miss them, especially the conversations. Also, I didn't realize or fully appreciate just how much work the girls did around here--cooking, dishes, cleaning, and outside work. You know how it is with adult daughters. They just appear at your side and artfully snip greens for a salad for Sunday dinner. The guys in the house are helpful but less instinctive about it, requiring far more explaining.

I like to host a crowd for Sunday dinner, but it's a whole new prospect to learn to do this without daughters.

9. The sons have also moved around, but happily they're all within reach right now. Matt and Phoebe moved their Airstream out of the front driveway and are now about ten miles away. Ben and Steven moved home from Corvallis, but only Ben is home now because Steven finally moved to the top of the list for the apartment he wanted, so he moved closer to work in Junction City.

Steven came home for a birthday dinner of Thai food.

I am enjoying Ben's quirky sense of humor. It's subtle and not very noisy, so maybe it gets a bit lost in the crowd when everyone's here. At any rate, it's a special season of having only one kid at home, and he makes me laugh a lot.

This "kid" spends many hours typing upstairs and gets his Ph.D. in March, God willing. The degree is in smoldering combustion.

He likes to make memes on the side.

10. My lovely Sparrow Nest got ransacked. I didn't lock it before we left on a trip, because I forgot and also this is Harrisburg, where you can generally be relaxed about security. 

After we were home a few days, I went out to the cabin with a pot of tea for some nice solitude. When I stepped inside, it looked as though someone had picked up the cabin, tilted it, and shaken everything to one side.

Further inspection told me that someone had been in there for hours doing all kinds of weird things like taking the clock and couch cushions up into the loft, spilling tea and sugar, and sticking a bookmark up on my teacup rack.

"It was obviously a tweaker, looking for money and drugs," said the sheriff when he inspected the damage.

"I don't know that word," I said.

"Tweaker? Druggie, homeless, criminal element. He was probably walking down the road testing all the doorknobs."


Thankfully, I'd had my laptop with me. The intruder broke my computer screen, coffeepot, and dishes, but he didn't slash furniture or break windows.

"Did he jimmy the lock?" the LEO asked.

"No," I said. "I'm embarrassed to admit this, but it wasn't locked."

"Oh, don't be embarrassed! You shouldn't have to lock it out here!" he said.

I can't explain how nice it was to hear that.

Somehow, I had thought my Sparrow Nest had such a mystical, peaceful aura that no one would ever violate it. Well, that proved untrue, and now I'm locking it all the time, even though I shouldn't have to.

The mess in the loft.

The furniture on the main floor was shoved and stacked into one corner.

11. "How is Paul's recovery going?" people ask, even more often than they ask if they should worry about us. 

It looks like he's plateaued with recovering nerve and muscle function in his shoulder and upper arm.

However, he's still learning to compensate in creative ways, and he's gaining strength in his forearm and left hand, which carried two gallons of milk the other day.

12. Another question that people ask is, "Are you working on another book?"

The answer is yes, in the same way that I'm using up my fabric, which is slowly, in tiny increments. At the rate I'm going, I'll publish a book in 2023. And I'll use up the last of my fabric in 2123.

As always, thanks for your concern and for reading this far. If you want me to write more, come do my baking and mulch my dahlia bed.


  1. Thank you so much for taking Cornelius in, especially for taking him almost a week early and just making it work. I really appreciate your flexibility. Also! Your handle got a place of prominence on the door to my lovely pantry! 😁 It seemed fitting.

  2. So good to hear from you! Thank you ever so much for sharing snippets of your life. The blogs I read are like visits to friends and I enjoy every one. I laughed out loud at your "prediction" of when you'll finish using up your fabric. I think I have about that much too. One of my guilty pleasures is to just go up in the (finished) attic and look at it, handle it and dream of the things I could make with it, if I just had unlimited time and energy. I'd love to come do your baking!

  3. I really enjoyed this eventful update!
    Im with you about not having my daughters at home.
    Ido hope you'll post again ..once the dahlias are hibernating😉

  4. I loved this update too! Thank you for taking the time to do it!

  5. I was horrified to hear about what happened to your Sparrows Nest. Very disturbing! You've written about so much activity among your family...what a delight. I don't have any family in Oregon, so I love hearing about it. Have happy holidays! Sending love!

  6. Congratulations to Jenny and blessings to her in her graduate career. Good luck to Ben as he wraps up his thesis. At least typing a technical thesis with scientific symbols and equations is easier today than it was when my generation did it on an IBM Selectric typewriter and we thought we were on the cutting edge.

    Since joining the Mennonites in a Pennsylvania community where an undergraduate degree was verboten only a short time ago I have been impressed with the number of young people who gone on to earn a doctorate.

    I have felt as definite a divine call to my career as a scientist as my father felt to his ministry as a clergyman. The Holy Spirit can use Jenny and Ben in unique ways that others might not be able to fill.