Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Story--A Thanksgiving Poem


I want to write a story,
I said.
A good story,
with good people,
a tale that winds on pleasant paths,
that makes me gasp
and smile
and breathe a happy sigh
at the end.

All right,
they said,
those conference speakers
come from the mysterious
world of Publishing.
And also my friend Pat,
practical and kind,
who writes Fiction,
first you need
All right.
And, Godlike, I created
out of nothing but
words and
the memories of all the people
God had already made
and let me meet.
I liked these humans
I had made--
two teenage girls
full of spunk and fun
mischief and potential.
Now what? I said
and I was told that
I must now
make my precious Characters
face hard and painful things
and even suffer
and not know what to do.
I must get them up a tree
and throw rocks at them
must have the reader
shedding tears.
But why? I cried
I like these characters
love them, even,
these humans made of words
that I’ve created.
Why must they not only
meet a gentle obstacle or two
easily hurdled,
but also be rejected
suffer loss
be disappointed
suffer pain,
and in the blackest moments
lose all hope?
They looked at me
kind eyes that knew,
and said,
It's not a story
if you don’t.
The reader needs the Characters
to struggle and keep on,
through all the hard,
to try new ways,
when none of it makes sense,
to cling to hope
when all is hopeless,
and finally,
at the end,
to overcome.
All right,
I said,
and as I formed the story I
sadly forced my precious Characters
to be rejected
and suffer pain
and not know what to do.
But what an unexpected joy
to make them triumph in the end
and find them wiser than before
resilient yet still
their fun and lively selves.

As I typed and edited
manipulated time
chose events
and shaped my characters
I came to see
that my attempts
and even those bestselling books
from conference speakers
are only knockoff paperback
flimsy imitations
of the vast and overarching
Story we are part of
all around us
behind and beyond us in time.
This is the most epic of Epic Sagas
and we are characters
struggling trying hoping
learning growing wondering
what on Earth is going on
suffering crying and
ultimately triumphing.
He is the Storyteller
shaping the narrative
and allowing his beloved characters
made not of words but
flesh and blood and soul
to face dilemmas
and obstacles
to face black nights of hopelessness
because the Story matters
and He’s already
typed the ending
and He knows
that on the final page
both He and we will triumph,
overcome all obstacles
destroy the enemies
and looking back
breathe a happy sigh
it all makes sense
and all the suffering mattered
We will see
how all the threads connect
and all the meaningless frustrations
were actually clues
and all the pain and suffering
mattered more than we
could even dream.
Behind the scenes and
hidden from our vision
were crowds and armies
cheering us and
battling wild fights
on our behalf.
The hopeless nights had purpose
in chapters that couldn’t
any other way.

The Author knows
what He’s about
and I a minor character
face my daily challenges
and pain,
and I give thanks
to be included in this story
and that
the ending is already typed,
edited and published,
and we win.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Book Review: 30 Days to Discover the Genius in Your Child

UPDATE--We have chosen a winner: Betty Griffin, who commented on Facebook. Thanks to everyone who entered the drawing!

This post is a review of my friend Sharon Kuepfer's book. First, as usual, I had to share all the wider thoughts and memories the book generated. So scroll down to the second part to read about the book, and to the third part to see how to buy or win a copy.


 As a young mom, I found a wide spectrum of parents’ views on children’s potential, from Deciders on one end to Discoverers on the other.

Deciders see their children as “Tabula Rasa,” or blank slates, as the philosophers used to say. These parents plan to make the child into the person he or she ought to become, not only a football player, farmer, Fundamentalist, or fiddler, but a certain kind of personality as well. Deciders tend to follow systems and methods, expecting specific and equal results with all their children. At their worst, they are rigid and inflexible, pushing children into roles that simply don’t fit.

Discoverers see their children not as blank slates but as unique little people who come pre-programmed with personalities, giftings, and natural bents that it is up to the parent to discover and encourage. They tailor their parenting and guidance to each child’s talents, limits, and even preferences. They tend to be looser about rules, workbooks, and what you wear to church, and at their worst ignore terrible behavior and a need for routine.

Like I said, it’s a spectrum. Most parents teach specific skills and behaviors; most find that natural giftings manifest themselves early on. Many parents slide back and forth on the spectrum at different stages of parenting.

I’d say I was somewhere in the middle, pushing too hard with the workbooks and chores in adolescence but letting the kids explore and discover their own interests in other areas.

Mostly, I recall the incredible sense of discovery when they were born. With each one, I thought, “So that was YOU! I knew someone was in there, kicking and squirming, but I didn’t know it was YOU!”

In the ensuing days and years, that feeling of finding out who this little person is only increased. Look at him, stacking blocks! Look at her, making up stories with Little People for four hours straight! It pains me that I missed this early discovery in Steven’s life, but I still recall his delight, at the orphanage, when I had him mix blue and yellow paint and he yelled, “Iss GDEEN!!” So I was finding out about him as he found out about colors.

Christian parenting was system-heavy when our kids were little. Most people took specific courses and followed certain teachers. The pressure was intense. Often, I felt like we needed to go against the prevailing systems to work with our children’s needs and bents, like we were Discoverers in a world of Deciders.

My impression is that the methods of 1990 have faded away, but the pressure has only intensified. From Gentle Parenting to Tiger Momming, the voices are more insistent than ever. Discipline is always a big issue, as well as safety, nutrition, and limits on electronic media. When I read some of the debates on social media, it makes me relieved I’m not raising little ones right now.

A big issue, both then and now, is education. The young moms I talk to make schooling decisions with endless research and anguished second-guessing. Most of our conversations have been about teaching children to read.

In that area, for sure, I was a Discoverer. I found that if I read a lot to the children, they were ready for phonics around ages six or seven. I used the ACE Learning-to-Read curriculum because it was free to use from the school where Paul taught, but we were flexible with it. Amy learned to read at age 4 from watching me teach Matt. Jenny never needed the ACE course because she learned to read from pointing at letters in books I read to her. Emily didn’t really read until age 7 ½.

I’ve tried to communicate this mixture of intention and observation, waiting and deciding, to numerous moms, but I never felt too successful.


Happily, I now have a book to hand to moms navigating not only teaching children to read but educating them at every stage. My friend Sharon Kuepfer has published a new book, 30 Days to Discover the Genius in Your Child. I wish I could have had it in hand when I had young children, as it provides a unique, multi-angled way of looking at how children learn and a balance of relaxed observation with intention and structure. It’s not a guide to specific schedules and benchmarks, but a way of looking at learning as an integrated part of life.

 Sharon is the mother of five young adults and definitely a Discoverer. I've known her for years and remember her as a quirky, relaxed mom who saw no need to follow the fads of the day. When “groupings” of pictures and little shelves and baskets were all the rage in home decorating, she kept her walls almost bare because it simplified cleaning. Likewise, she didn’t follow parenting fads if they didn’t suit her children’s needs. Apparently this was more difficult than it appeared, as she writes about the pressure to get her son up to grade level. “It felt like we were going against every grain there was to go against!”

However, Sharon is also a Decider in her own way, deliberate and intentional. She observes, researches, reasons, decides, and then does. She calls her approach the SIFT method—Sharon’s Interest Focused Teaching--describing  it as “a powerful learning style for any educational setting, in which children—or anyone really—can follow their interests, giftings, and passions.”

30 Days is, as the title indicates, a guide to learning about your children. Observation and documentation are key methods, and Sharon tells you how, each day for a month, without making it all huge or overwhelming.

The introductory chapters address all the “But what about?” objections that pop into your head. She does this thoroughly and well, then moves into the daily chapters. Each one looks at an aspect of learning and life skills, along with many stories and anecdotes. Each chapter includes assignments which involve an activity, such as meeting with friends or playing music or introducing children to tools and devices and jotting down how they react and respond.

The overall theme is one of discovery, and the knowledge you gain from working through this book will enhance whatever education method you choose, from public or private school to homeschooling to unschooling to your own unique hybrid.

This shows you the book's readable style and cute illustrations.

While she discourages rigid curriculums and endless deskwork, Sharon recognizes the need for children to learn academics. One of the first exercises involves writing down long-term goals for children. She wanted hers to be able to pursue a university education if they chose. That meant they needed skills in math, reading, studying, writing, and so on.

Then, she shows you how she met that goal without resorting to hours a day hunched over desks in the dining room.

One of the most satisfying aspects of this book is that it opens your eyes to all the ways your children can learn academic and social skills. The book is liberally sprinkled with real-life examples, so we see how her children and others learned math, planning, organizing, cooperation, and much more from following their interests. They baked cookies, played at setting up a “motel” in their house, pursued little businesses, and a lot more. The magic of observing and writing it down is that not only do you notice each child’s learning style, but you document how much education is going on in the middle of playing and projects.

If you’re a Discoverer who’s intimidated by lists and schedules, this book provides a gentle and adaptable structure that is easy to follow and provides the rewards of documenting what you’re already doing.

If you’re a Decider who’s afraid anarchy will break loose if you let go of methods and bookwork, this book will give you a month-long taste of Discovery learning without insisting that you embrace every aspect of it for the rest of your life.


1.    Win it! I have a copy to give away, so comment to enter the giveaway. You can comment here, on my personal and author Facebook accounts, or on Instagram. “Me!” is sufficient, or comment with something you discovered about your child. [I have comment moderation on the blog, so don't panic if your comment doesn't show up right away. Also include your name, please, so I can reach you if you win.]

DDrawing will be Thursday morning, November 3rd.

2.    Order a copy. Here’s the link onAmazon, and here is Sharon’s website. Or you can get it from the publisher, Masthof Press.

Not only will you see your children in a new light when you read this book, you’ll find out a lot about yourself as well.

Quote of the Day:

Ben: How much would I have to pay you to say "This book is about discovering your kid’s genius in 30 days. With my kids, it took me about five. Still a good book, though."?

Me: Name your price.

Ben: The problem is I don’t have much money. I need Matt’s funding behind me.

Me: I'm quoting you either way.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

This Stage of Life: "OR" vs. "AND"

I am sixty years old now, a fact thoroughly celebrated this year. Paul organized one wave of surprises after another, beginning with our children all coming home to surprise me, followed by a party for local friends and a fun weekend with my sisters.

This is the most profound fact I’m finding at sixty: Life is “OR,” now, not “AND.”

I look at old letters and blog posts, and I think, “Life was all AND back then.” I gardened AND grocery shopped AND blogged AND served a hot lunch at school AND did minister’s wife duties AND flew to Minnesota regularly to see my parents.

These days, it’s OR. I can garden OR host visitors OR travel OR write. Not all the above.

Part of this is that my energy and brain capacity have dimmed. The other part is that I feel a lot less obligated to keep the world spinning. There’s not a lot of me, and I need to spend it carefully, choosing an occasional “yes” while leaving a sea of “no’s” behind.

That is why I haven’t been active on Life in the Shoe since June.

The last six months, beginning with the kids showing up at that overlook on the Oregon Coast, have been crazy in a very good way.

First was the avalanche of celebrations. Then came summer with the urgency of outside work like planting dahlias and trimming hedges. After that came a flood of adventures.

My two sisters, Rebecca and Margaret, came to visit at the end of August. I treasure them, and time with them, more and more all the time.

After that, on the fourth of September, a long-held dream came true when three of my Smucker sisters-in-law and I traveled to the UK for ten days.

Lois, Bonnie, Rosie, and me in front of a mirrored wall at Heathrow

I had two weeks at home and was barely over the inevitable jet lag when Paul and I left for Thailand to visit Amy. Paul was going to go on to India and Nepal to visit Open Hands savings group, but we both got Covid and our plans went completely sideways.

Paul and me at a temple near Chiang Mai

Fabric shopping with Amy

Now I am at home, once again in the cocoon of misery that is jet lag but planning to stay tethered here for a long time. The fall rains have begun, very delayed and welcome, so I might be able to post more, eventually, about all our travels.

So, as you see, I chose adventure and people over writing blog posts. I also took a break from meeting with my fiction writing group and almost all hospitality and time with friends, which was painful, but again, life is very much OR at this stage.

I did, however, fit a couple of “ands” in between. My dahlias survived a late planting and sporadic attention from me, and now they’re exploding into bloom like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

I also assembled a book of essays to finish out the series of books on family life that I’ve been collecting from my newspaper articles for almost twenty years. This one contains a number of columns from the paper that never made it into a book, along with other material I wrote around the same time, roughly five years ago.

During a long layover in Seoul, Korea, I finished the edits on the book and sent it off to a proofreader, which felt like the ultimate attempt at “and”—trying to make a deadline while traveling overseas.

We still have a number of steps to complete, such as formatting, cover design, and printing. It looks like launch will be in March.

To answer your questions before you ask them: The title isn’t finalized, so I’m not announcing it. This is not fiction—that is still percolating. And it’s not about Paul’s accident—I’m not ready to put that on paper. It’s about life past age fifty, with adult children. And because they’re adults now, I see this as the final book of essays about family life, because I can no longer write about them in the same way or pay them $5 to let me mention something funny or dangerous they said or did.

The fact that I’m writing again, in several different venues, testifies to a good work happening in my life. The last three years have been wild and difficult, beginning with my dad’s death and careening on to Covid, Paul’s accident, deaths and disasters around us, and many private griefs and challenges.

Eventually, by God’s mercy, spring came, my brain thawed, and the words trickled like a tiny stream of melted snow in the high Cascades.

I am excited about being sixty years old, about the possibilities and opportunities before me, and about “bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” [Colossians 1:10] 

If life forces me into “OR” mode rather than “AND,” I hope to choose wisely and make the most of whatever I pick.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Book Website

 All of my books are available at this website.

Monday, June 13, 2022

An Odd but Divine Moment

 I have a gift for landing in odd situations among unusual people.

Today I roped Paul into going to Springfield with me to buy an old-fashioned porch-swing-in-a-bench off of Facebook Marketplace. Paul typed the address into his phone and off we went.
We were directed down a back road right by the river, which looked alarmingly high and close by. We were in a neighborhood of older trailer homes on large lots. As one does, we drove slowly, craned our necks like tourists, turned around twice, and tried to read the house numbers on the shabby mailboxes, all while the directions on the phone bore no relation to what we saw before us.
Finally we pulled in a driveway, as close as we could get to the red teardrop on the phone screen. We waited.
An older woman and a dachshund appeared at the door. I got out of the car. "I'm looking for..." I began, but was interrupted by the woman.
"Stop right there!"
Certainly. No problem at all.
Then I saw she was talking to the dog.
They came closer. She was very old, and tiny. The dog, a coppery brown, was on a leash. She spoke briefly to the dog, inserting a word that began with F.
I said I was looking for 1440. "Oh, this is 1243."
"Oh. Where is 1440, do you think?"
"Oh just around there." She waved her hand at the curve in the road. "I live all alone here and it's so d... lonely. All by myself in that big long house. Here!" And she handed me the leash.
I was too surprised to do anything but take it.
She marched back to the back door of the trailer while I stood in front of our car holding a purple leash and feeling a bit stunned. Paul watched from the car, no doubt thinking, "There is my wife in a bizarre situation, her natural element."
The lady returned and took the leash. I suppose I could have left then, but I noticed a bandage on her arm. "You hurt yourself!" I said.
"Oh yeah, had a d-- fall and it hurts like h--. I hate it here. All by myself." She tottered briefly, and I prepared to catch her, but then she recovered. "It's my knee. See how swollen it is? G-- I hate my life. I want to go back where I came from."
"And where is that?" I said, looking at her knee, an obvious swelling in the thin leg.
"Germany. Wiesbaden. Forty years ago."
"Sie sprechen Deutsch!" I said.
"Oh. Ja." She said more in German, and I actually understood her.
She told me her name is Monika.
Then it was more bitter words about how alone she is, how scary it is at night, and she doesn't know what to do. All of it was scattered with some of the bluest language I've ever heard in a person her age.
I feel like one thing I offer the world is listening to stories. To my great grief, I can't fix anyone or anything. I can never think of profound or spiritual things to say. I can never make it all better. The one coin I offer in my cupped little hand is a talent for asking questions and listening to the answers.
Our church has been on a renewed mission lately to share the Gospel with people and not stay locked into the silence that has been the Anabaptist tradition for hundreds of years.
So I thought about that, in this moment, and felt that I should not only stay, instead of slipping back into the car with a polite smile, but I should keep asking and listening, and not try to tell her anything.
"Do you have family?" I said.
"Well, I had a son, but he up and killed himself." She took a deep breath and looked out toward the river. "And I have two daughters, but they're off and gone. I never hear from 'em."
The pain in her voice expanded in the air until it surrounded us both, like a cloud, and we stood in it, quietly.
"So I'm all alone. I don't know what to do."
The dog stayed close to our feet, quietly waiting.
I asked about social services, Medicare, anything I could think of.
"Nobody can do nothing."
I took out my phone, wondering if I should commit to anything, in this moment. Visiting, calling, anything to mitigate this desperation.
"What is your number?" I typed in "Monika" and the number she recited.
"You can't do nothin' for me," she said.
How well I knew. I can't fix lives. I am not in a place to take on more projects or people. But I wanted her information, just in case.
Paul was still watching, and he probably knew what was coming next.
"May I pray for you?" I said.
I expected a rebuff, but she said it was ok.
I put a hand on her bony shoulder and prayed for God to show her that He is with her, and to give her peace, and to bring people and help to her.
By this time, the Marketplace guy had messaged the correct address. The earlier one was two digits off.
I got back in the car, and Paul drove the short distance to the correct house, another trailer in among huge trees.
A congenial older man waved us back behind, to an assortment of canoes and grills and furniture among flower beds and an RV. He praised the Lord for his goodness as he showed me the bench from the ad, and it was exactly what I wanted.
When I paid, he said, "Thank you! God bless you a hundred fold! This is all going to help in Ukraine, you know. God keeps blessing us, and people keep bringing things for us to sell."
Paul went to back up the car, and I had an idea. "Do you know the lady up the street?" I asked the seller guy. "Monika."
He thought just a moment. "Oh yeah! Monika! She comes around and talks to us. I knew her husband."
I explained how we had stopped there. "She feels all alone," I said. "It seems like she could use some help, if you would be able to do that."
He nodded. Then Paul arrived, and we loaded up the bench, which ended up fitting perfectly, even though [he said later] he had been sure we couldn't get it in, when he first saw it.
We passed Monika's house on our way back to the freeway. I felt I had placed her in God's and the neighbor's hands. Maybe, I thought, she wasn't as alone as she thought she was.
Maybe none of us are.
Maybe the kindest thing we can do is remind each other of that.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

A Low-Drama Life Update (Well, Maybe Medium Drama)

The April Blogging Challenge is over, but I still have a few posts lined up. First, a general update on our lives, then a few book reviews in the weeks to come. Plus a question or two for Aunt Dorcas.

Did I say low-drama?
Maybe not this scene with the sisters-in-law.
[Laura, Lois, me, Bonnie, Rosie]

While we've had surprises and illness this spring, I'm delighted to report that nothing catastrophic has happened recently! After the past couple of years, with deaths, near-deaths, dangers, and disasters, I treasure the normal and ordinary.

The daffodils bloomed on schedule, and the purple camas are popping out in the grass under my cabin. We've had ten times as much rain in April as we did last year in April, so the farmers and foresters are happy.


As we recall from this post, the kids all came and surprised me for my 60th birthday, and the greatest surprise of these was Amy coming from Thailand.

We were still out at the coast in a vacation house when Amy got sick and tested positive for Covid. She drove home and settled in in the loft of the new barn because she was determined that none of us were going to catch her germs.

Chatting with Amy from a safe distance.

Thankfully Amy never got horribly sick—more like a really nasty cold. She’d come out on the steps and talk with me, and after she felt better we went on walks. But it was still disorienting to have her so close yet so far away. Amy’s been gone off and on for the last 18 years, and I have always had these odd dreams where I walk into the kitchen or out of Safeway and there she is, smiling and delightful as ever!

“Amy!?” I say.

“Didn’t you know I was here?” she says.

Then I wake up and she’s still on the other side of the world.

Having her here but not here increased the likelihood of those unsettling dreams.

[It was helpful, though, to find out that the barn works well for someone to stay in. We’ve hosted a number of events, but this was the first someone boarded there for a few days. ]

Finally, though, she ended her isolation and stayed in the house. But that didn’t last very long, because she and I and Paul took off for REACH, a conference in Pennsylvania featuring every conservative Mennonite mission and ministry you can think of. Emily came from Virginia and joined us. 

REACH was fun but also a bit insane, so full of milling masses of people that even the extroverts were finding it a bit much. Paul helped man the Open Hands table. Luckily for us, they had set up big vertical banners on the table, so the girls and I could duck behind the table and hide. We rested, ate, and gossiped back there in peace.

From there we went to Virginia for a few days with Emily and Jenny on their turf. There is nothing quite like hanging out in your daughters’ apartment and seeing them function like real adults.

"Why is there a wire whisk on the shoe rack??"
(It keeps the front door from banging into the shoe rack.)

On the way home from Virginia, Paul and Amy and I had a brief, dramatic incident that ended well. We were on the fourth floor of a motel in Baltimore and scheduled to fly home in the morning. Suddenly the fire alarms began blaring. I never had any concept of how loud a fire alarm is in a hotel, but now I know that it's so painfully loud that you want to get out of there as much to escape the noise as the possible fire.

Paul was fully dressed, but Amy and I were in pajamas. I grabbed my lightweight coat and slipped into my shoes, and Paul and Amy were already gone. We all went down the stairs and stood outside with the other guests.

It was cold. Close to freezing, in fact, which soon became acutely miserable. After a few minutes, a fire truck pulled in and the firemen tromped into the building with full gear, including pickaxes.

More huddled minutes, and finally they turned off the alarm and let us into the lobby.

It is a strange thing to be in pajamas, with my hair cascading everywhere, among a bunch of sleepy people waiting in a hotel lobby. I was glad for my coat.

Amy, it turned out, had chosen her phone instead of a jacket, so she took a few pictures.

Finally, the firefighters tromped back out with their pickaxes, and they let us all go to bed. A glitchy fire alarm, the front desk lady said the next morning, offering neither apology nor refund. 


A few days after we returned home, I came down with a strange, horrible illness that began with a sore throat that flamed like I was gargling with bleach and lye. After two days, miserable and unable to talk, I went to the doctor, who said I had an infection in my throat but my lungs were clear and he was sure it wasn’t Covid. I took a few at-home tests to make sure, and they were negative.

And yet, I rapidly got worse and felt unspeakably awful, the worst I’ve felt since Swine Flu in 2009, or maybe ever. Even though the fever wasn’t that high, my oxygen stayed in a healthy range, and I never got pneumonia, it was still hard work to breathe and the pain was insane. I kept telling myself that each breath in and out was one step closer to recovery. Paul and Amy brought drinks and set them beside me, but I wasn’t very aware of reality, only a sense that something was very wrong.

One night, I woke up at 1:30 with the strangest feeling, as though I had been taken over by something dark, ominous, and spreading, and my body was desperately trying to evict it through my skin and breath, any way possible.

It's almost impossible to describe, really. It was that weird, and mostly likely enhanced by a fevered brain.

I need prayer, I thought, but I didn’t want to wake anyone. My phone was within reach, so I posted on Facebook and asked for prayers, figuring someone, somewhere, would be awake and willing.

I fell asleep and in the morning I opened my eyes knowing that something had changed. The black cloud had passed. I was going to be ok. Paul said, “You look more pert this morning!” Amy said, “You don’t look as dead as you did.”

Recovery took weeks, and I had lost my sense of taste and smell, which told me that despite what the doctor and the tests said, it actually was Covid. Obviously it was a mild case, compared to so many, and I am sobered to think of all the millions who suffered far worse, and even died, often alone, overcome by that black cloud that I was mercifully able to push out and away. 

I am not a foodie, so except for the grief of not tasting my Kenyan tea, I was more intrigued than sad about my altered taste. At a ladies’ luncheon, I worked my way around a flavorless plate of salads until suddenly I had a blast of dill in my mouth from a kale salad. Another day, I made lasagna for dinner, and all I could taste was the oregano. Gradually, most flavors have returned to normal.


So I didn’t die, obviously, but about a week later I felt, in a good way, like I was attending my own funeral. 

Part of the birthday surprise was the daughters planning a ladies’ party in our barn loft. It had to be postponed a couple of weeks when Amy got sick, and that’s when I was told about it. Amy put it all together, from emailing everyone to finding old pictures to display to making meat and cheese skewers and a salad. My sister-in-law Bonnie brought her exquisite cheesecakes.

Amy had told everyone that my favorite gift is words, so various women shared tributes and stories. Words fail me to convey what it was like to sit there and listen to women from multiple stages and places of my life share their memories. It was the kind of thing you hear at people’s funerals and wish they were there to hear it, so I feel incredibly blessed that I got to hear it all in person.

Amy said she likes my curiosity, Laura said I encouraged her writing when she was in fifth grade, and Rosie said I get all worked up on her behalf when she tells me about annoying people in her life, and she appreciates that.

See? It was like being at my own funeral.  I was even crying, it was that lovely to hear everyone say what they said.

Shannon and her lovely daughters, Elissa and Annika

I concluded that you never know what choice or words will affect someone else for the better, and most of the impact you have will be unintentional.


One afternoon, soon after we returned from Pennsylvania, a detective from the Linn County Sheriff’s Office knocked on the door. He wondered if we’ve seen anything unusual at the cemetery up the road, since the neighbors say we walk by there often.

I explained that we do walk that way a lot, but we’d been out of town for a week.

“Well,” he said. “I’ll be blunt. Someone dumped a body there.”


After he left, we of course grabbed binoculars and watched as investigators swarmed the cemetery, now adorned in yellow tape.

Amy drove by the cemetery on an errand and was sure she saw people carrying a casket-sized box. I’m afraid we kind of shot her down, because obviously a “dumped” body would be tossed into the grass and not in a box.


She was vindicated when we heard that the body had been carefully placed in a homemade casket and left by a tree.

Such a strange mystery. My hypothesis is still that someone couldn’t afford a decent burial for their loved one and this was the best they could come up with at the time.

Eventually the deceased was identified by his fingerprints—a 59-year-old man with ties to Idaho and Washington. But the greater mystery of who and why remains. It had to be a group effort, because he weighed 350 pounds. But at this point that’s all we know.

Here's a news article.

Later the same day a few more bodies were found near the river in Harrisburg, but those fit the stereotype of a drug deal gone bad or a batch of fentanyl at a party. There’s a “bad batch” of drugs in the area, Steven says. 

This area used to be placid and safe, populated by trustworthy, low-drama farmers. But that is changing, evidenced not only by dead bodies not far away but also by the invader in my cabin and the homeless young man on the porch last year. Steven, with his work as an emergency responder, says the criminal/addicted/homeless population in Eugene is spreading into the countryside. He wants us to take more precautions, like keeping things locked up.

It’s hard to change your ways when the biggest possible threat in the neighborhood, in the past, was a cougar by the creek.


Amy is a person who gets a lot done and makes it look easy. Among many other things, she painted the living room gray and white. It looks fresh and bright. Like being at the beach, said a neighbor who stopped in.

Then she went back to Thailand. Once again, I am happy for her but it pained me to say goodbye. Pretty soon she'll be popping up in my dreams again, so close yet so far away.

But we made some great memories!


People often ask me how Paul is doing, and the answer is “amazingly well.” I feel like we’ve both adjusted to the reality of the paralysis in his left arm. For example, last Sunday I was getting lunch on the table and asked him if he has enough arms to go pick lilacs for a centerpiece. 

He thought for a bit. “I can cut them with my right hand, but then they’ll fall to the ground, and I can pick them up. Will that work?”

I decided to pick them myself. He set the table. 

He also tutors a few math students, edits math curriculum for Christian Light, works on Open Hands publicity, and takes care of the chickens. Somehow the chicken operation has switched from being my project to his. The chickens report that Paul doesn’t come confide to them in Pennsylvania German, but he keeps much better track of how many eggs they lay each day, and what size, and which hens are the most productive.

It is a blessing to have meaningful work to do, and the mental and physical means to do it.


Three fantastic pieces of news recently were:

1. Paul's nephew Austin, who was held hostage in Haiti for 62 days, is not only free, but engaged to be married to the lovely Cherilyn who was in captivity with him.

2. You might recall that in October of 2020, Paul's cousin's son was driving the vehicle when Tanner Zehr, also Paul's former student, was severely injured and later died. The funeral sermon was the first one Paul preached after his accident. The driver faced a trial at the end of May, but the Zehrs and all of us felt that no justice would be done by harsh charges and a likely prison sentence, as any of us could easily slide off a curve on a gravel road. Suddenly, on what would have been Tanner's birthday, all the charges were dropped.  It feels miraculous.

3.  My niece Janet had her first baby and named her after my mom. Sarah Eleanor. May she live life with the same determination and sense of adventure as her great-grandma.


Ben is the only offspring living at home right now. He goes to OSU a few days a week to help with an undergrad class, but most days he’s home working on his thesis.

The other day I had him go on the porch and check on the cat in labor. When you have an engineer reporting on OB, this is the result:

Quote of the Day:

"I only see one so far. I hope it's not a choked flow situation."

[She went on to have a total of six fine kitties.]

Thursday, April 28, 2022

ABC Post 20 --Ask Aunt Dorcas--Moms and Product Pressure--Part 4--Homemade Cleaners and Mopping Up the Conversation

 As promised, we end this series with recipes for simple, homemade cleaners.

The conversation wandered far and wide since Part 1, especially on Facebook. We discussed the motivations of the MLM moms and entrepreneur moms and moms who have no desire to earn money from home. We touched on stinginess, frugality, privilege, inequities, identity, and much more.

I hope it made Kayla the letter-writer and other pressured moms feel understood and affirmed.

I confess I became overwhelmed, especially when there were 200 comments on one post and more coming all the time. I appreciate all the engagement, and I hope to go back and catch up. We certainly didn't all agree, and I don't think we all understood each other all the time, but I hope you felt safe in speaking your mind.

Instead of sitting with a fire hose aimed at the computer this week, I decided to have tea with a niece, get the dahlias ready for planting, meet with my writing group, and have lunch with an old friend. 

The responses tell me that mom-pressure is a subject we should keep talking about. We should also think about living out the Gospel in daily life, knowing why we do what we do, caring for our families, and following our personal calling rather than the crowd. We should balance the benefits of fitting in, custom, and tradition with a clear view of the perils of the same.

Oddly, even with all the discussion, I never got a good answer for why I get so many private messages from the MLM sellers. I still wonder. Maybe I seem like everyone’s indulgent aunt that is always wanting to help. To everyone who has messaged me: I would love to help you as a good aunt should, maybe not with your online party, but with making you feel like you are loved, valuable, and capable of finding your way.

For now, though, let me help instead by giving you some easy recipes for homemade cleaners.

Remember: if you prefer, it's perfectly fine if you keep things clean with water, an old t-shirt, and a bit of soap. But these might work better for specific tasks.


Here are a few benefits of making your own cleaning products:
1. They cost a lot less than purchased mixtures.
2. You know what goes into them.
3. They’re less likely to set off your asthma, psoriasis, and so on.


Shower Cleaner

[Good for any surface with hard water and soap stains and buildup]

Mix equal parts:


Dish soap [blue Dawn, if you can]

Spray it on your shower or sink and let it sit a while. The soap provides sticking power to the vinegar, which dissolves minerals and soap scum. Wash with lots of water and a bit of scrubbing. Rinse and dry.


 Aunt Dorcas's All-Purpose Cleaner

This is great for dissolving gunk on the kitchen counter, like when someone dripped a bit of egg or made a shake at midnight and set the blender in a little puddle of goo that dried overnight.

Mix and put in spray bottle:

2 cups water

1 t. dish soap

1 t. ammonia

1 t. borax


The Best Cleaner for Greasy Grills

Baking soda

That’s it. Shake it on liberally and scrub with hot water and a plastic or metal scratcher.


Grandma Yoder’s Window Cleaner

Mix together and pour into a spray bottle:
2 cups water [soft water is best]
3 T. ammonia
1 T. vinegar
2 T. rubbing alcohol
a few drops food color, if desired


Mrs. Smucker’s Laundry Detergent

Get a big kettle that holds at least 3 gallons.

1 bar soap (Zote or Fels-Naphtha, available at grocery stores)

Pour 4 quarts/1 gallon water into the kettle.

Sprinkle the grated soap into the water.

Heat it slowly until dissolved. Stir now and then if you wish, but ignoring it is ok too.

Add: 1 cup Borax
1 cup washing soda

Stir. Bring to a boil. Stir again.

Turn off heat.

Add 2 gallons water. Stir.

Let it cool overnight.

Use approximately ½ cup per load. Works best in warm or hot water.


Ant Poison

Mix: 1 box Borax

5 lb. sugar

Sprinkle all around your house's foundation.

 Or dissolve it in water and set it out in little jar lids.

Here are some ideas from Facebook commenters:

Wanda Sensenig:

If you want soft tanglefree hair, apple cider vinegar is an effective, cheap conditioner!


Susan Miller

I do house cleaning for a living. My favorite solution is:

1 c. Water

1c. Vinegar

1 c. Rubbing alcohol

2-3 drops of dish soap (some swear by dawn, I use whatever I have on hand)

If you don’t like the scent of vinegar and rubbing alcohol you can add couple drops of a favorite scented oil...

I use it for all glass things and on most floors.

The April Blogging Challenge is coming to a close. Phoebe posted yesterday about RV parks in Texas, and Emily posts the final ABC post tomorrow.

Aunt Dorcas puts out the last embers and heads for home.