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.]