Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Things I've Learned Lately

1. Staying home all summer doesn’t mean I have time to write blog posts every Tuesday as I had purposed to do. That was sort of magic-fairy thinking. Not traveling doesn’t mean automatic hours in front of the computer. You also have to not cook so much, or talk with so many people, or water the hydrangeas regularly.

2. Mackinac is pronounced Mackinaw and Tijuana is pronounced Tia-juana, despite the spellings. I waited until I was 61 to learn this, after no doubt proving myself an outsider in both places.

[Note to various commenters: it turns out that when you’re speaking Spanish, you say “tee-HWAH-na” and when you’re speaking English you say “tee-uh-WAH-na.” Kind of like when you speak English you say Germany and when you’re speaking German you say Deutschland.]

3. This is a good summer for snakes but not so much for me. Some summers I don’t see any around here. This year I’ve run across four, not counting the dead one on the road. I didn't "run across" that one or any of the others as in driving over them with a car, but run across as in merrily scooping up grass clippings along the blocks along the flower bed and literally raking my fingers right across the back of a very zigzagging, very alive, very striped garter snake. I can still feel it. I have not been the same since.

4. My husband has hidden reserves of clever humor. 

Me: I am so sick and tired of finding snakes around here! I picked up a piece of cardboard in the garden to see if there were any volunteer potatoes coming up underneath and there was

Paul: A volunteer snake??

Me: YES!! 

5. Speaking of volunteer plants, the mystery bush in the garden turned out to be hollyhocks! It showed up last year, multiple stalks in a cluster with squash-like rough leaves. But it produced neither flower nor fruit. I left it over the winter, and it grew even taller, then developed green bud things along the stalks, reminding me of both artichokes and ground cherries. Suddenly, I noticed a few blobs of red, and soon the whole thing bloomed in hollyhocks. I have no memory of planting it. Maybe a few seeds resurrected from previous owners long ago when the garden was dug through two years ago with numerous holes and trenches for the sewer line for the barn.

6. Our fine son Ben is annoyed by, or at least suspicious of, many types of people. 

a. People who wear stretchy caps when it’s not cold.

b. People who cover as much of their car as possible with stickers. This includes people in Subarus with every outdoor and left wing cause who think they’re sticking it to the man with stickers about socialized medicine as well as people with every manner of Bible verse slapped on every surface.

c. People who talk about their dog like it’s a child.

d. People who add unnecessary letters to children’s names. 

e. People on bikes who never yield to pedestrians and want to be treated like either a car or a pedestrian, whichever is most convenient.

f. People who self-describe as “creatives.”

g. People with tattoos in a language they don’t speak.

7. Ben said, “Clearly I’m annoyed by a lot.” He was finishing his dissertation at the time. I’ve learned that finishing up a doctoral dissertation and presenting it are unbelievably, alarmingly stressful.

8. Paul’s cousin Darrell is harvesting a type of ryegrass called Koga. I had never heard of it. Technically, it’s “Koga Tetraploid Annual Ryegrass.” 

9. “Conservative” has changed its meaning in the Mennonite lexicon. I had a conversation with an Amish person about taking pictures and it opened up a memory of my Uncle Art and Aunt Vina and Uncle Ervin taking pictures of us when we were Amish, which was ok because it was in our house and no one would ever know. These relatives were all “Conservative,” which, in that day, meant Conservative Mennonite Conference. “Conservative” meant that they could do and have all kinds of cool things like plaid dresses and pretty belts and taking pictures. Today, that conference is known as CMC, and the term “conservative Mennonite” has different and more restrictive connotations, at least when used by people in my sphere.

[The commenters also inform me that CMC is now RNOC—Rosedale Network of Churches]

10. It is ok to hire help. I feel extravagant and silly doing so because, after all, I come from Amish stock, we are almost empty nesters, and I am reasonably healthy and capable. However. Even though I am no longer doing multiple loads of laundry a day or baking gigantic pot roasts, it turns out this nest has a lot of cubic footage, cobwebs, and dusty corners, and the outside is way more acreage than is easily handled without a bunch of teenagers to help out. So. I hired a cousin’s daughter to whip the hedge into shape and a niece to clean weekly and another niece to bake food for the freezer.  My parents ran their own house and farm until Mom was 93, and I don’t recall them ever hiring help until the family got someone to live in and take care of them. I’ve learned I can honor their incredible work ethic AND get the nieces to work for me. The world is still turning, and I can still speak Pennsylvania German. Amazing.

11. Listening is a gift. Recently I was doing a bit of shopping and as I walked to my car a young woman came running across the parking lot. She gave me a hug and wished me a late happy birthday. She said, “I just want to bless you, because you were the first person to listen to me.”

Well, of course I started crying, as one does.

Listening, in the moment, consists of pouring more tea, nodding, saying “mm-hmm” repeatedly, and asking a question now and then. It doesn’t seem like enough to merit a hug in a parking lot five years later.

But apparently it is.

12. The problem was with Apple and not with me or my phone. See, a while back my phone went as blank as my brain when I have a writing deadline on a sunny day. I plugged it in, pushed buttons, and pleaded. Nothing.

I was about to plague our son Matt with yet another desperate, tearful, tech-related entreaty when Paul suggested we take the phone to Best Buy and ask them what to do.

The nice young man behind the counter said, “Oh, this is an issue with the latest update from Apple. It goes into what we call ‘brick mode.’”

He showed me how to fix it. Press the “up” volume button. Press the “down” volume button. Press the power button for longer than you’d think.

It worked!

In the following weeks, the phone went into brick mode a few more times, and I knew what to do.

When there’s a problem of any sort, I assume I’ve done something wrong or stupid. But sometimes it's not my mistake at all, but a glitch in the system and someone else’s error.

What a profound revelation.

12. Harvest in Oregon is just as fun to watch and feel and smell as it was when I first experienced it, 41 years ago. You'd think it might grow old. It doesn't.

13. I've been learning about stress and autoimmune things and activating the Vagus nerve to make your body and mind settle down and behave. One way to do this, say the Instagram experts,  is to stick your head  [still attached to your body, please] into the freezer, or to plunge your face in cold water.

Sudden revelation: this is why Canadians and Minnesotans are so chill: all winter, they plunge their faces into air that's often colder than your freezer, for long periods of time.

No one's as happy as Minnesotans walking into the coffee shop when it's 25-below outside and billows of mist surround them as they stomp inside in their parkas and Sorel boots. "Cold out dere," they mutter, grinning through their frosty beards.

Their Vagus nerves must be humming along like a well-maintained Case combine in a field of K-31 fescue.

Maybe I need to spend summers in Oregon and winters in Minnesota.

This is Emily harvesting Darrell's Koga ryegrass.


  1. Does the vagus nerve really spring into action if you freeze it? If so Florida is the wrong place for me.

    1. Like I said, I heard this from Instagram "experts." More research needs to be done.

  2. I regret to inform you that Tijuana is actually pronounced like it's spelled and only English speaking people say it Tiajuanaas far as I know. The rest of the post was good and I enjoyed reading.

    1. Google has both, depending on which language you're speaking. But it would make sense to say Ti-hwana in Mexico.

  3. So many pearls of wisdom! My fav is about listening and about the Vegus nerve, which I have been learning about too!❤️

  4. #2 Tijuana isn't pronounced Tia-juana; that is a bad, probably Midwestern pronounciation. It is three syllables tee-hwa-na, emphasis on the second syllable. I know because I grew up in San Diego with a Spanish teacher father, and went there plenty of times. #5 What a lovely surprise!! Hollyhocks are so old-fashioned and pretty. #10 I feel the same way; I tell my husband we need to adopt a crew of 4 or 5 teens to help around here; all our slaves, I mean children, are grown up and gone. #13 Winters in Minnesota? Oh no! Winter for me is such a hard season to get through. It is dark and cold and long. I struggle with S.A.D. and living here has just been terrible. Growing up as I said, in San Diego, I think of winter as someplace to visit, then you go home to pleasant weather and a picnic at the beach.
    It's truly amazing all the things we learn in life! Thanks for sharing your insights.

    1. I have been to San Diego a few times and I 100% agree that Minnesota would be difficult after growing up in San Diego.

  5. "When there’s a problem of any sort, I assume I’ve done something wrong or stupid." Same here. That's why people like Paul and Hiromi are so good for us. They know that we're not as stupid as we believe ourselves to be, and they regard this belief as being entirely beside the point anyway. So they just act sensible and set about getting the problem fixed.

  6. Your writings are so interesting and humorous. I can connect in various situations...feeling dumb and stupid cuz I can't always figure out the techy stuff on my phone. Freezing our heads but keeping them attached...πŸ˜… keep these blogs coming. They are good for my soul.πŸ˜„

  7. Melody Schrock7/13/2023 4:30 AM

    Your posts always make me smile. Thanks for putting ordinary things into unordinary words. I agree w Ben on most things, just hadn’t taken the time to think about it or write it down. 😊

  8. I like Ben! :) I thoroughly enjoyed your ponderings as well. And a lovely reminder that we can accept (and even hire!) help and still be good Christians!

  9. I used to read your posts all the time and then lost track....happily I'm on board again and really enjoy them. I so agree with it being ok to have help. We are empty nesters and have help with our yard and also with cleaning. This old mare ain't quite what she used to be! LOL!

    1. You probably lost track because I wasn't posting. Now I'm trying to post once a week all summer, which is challenging. Thanks for returning.

  10. 1) We had hollyhocks at home growing up and now you've made me want some!
    2) My husband would agree with Ben on (g), except his annoyance is people singing songs in a language they don't speak (and they're audience doesn't understand).
    3) "When there's a problem of any sort, I assume I've done something wrong or stupid." Yep. That's me.
    4) If keeping the vagus nerve humming along means needing to live in Canada or Minnesota, I'll pass. πŸ˜†

    1. I love your responses, even if we disagree on the appeal of a cold climate.

  11. Your sense of humor is shining through again. Miss you, Dorcas

  12. I love your take on life. As a fellow Minnesotan and growing up part time on a small plot of land near Grove City, I can often relate or envision what you are talking about. And I now have the shivers from your snake encounter. My home too has started to overwhelm me. I often think where did all this stuff come from? and with each kid moving out I am thinking why isn’t any of it leaving?

  13. I just found out recently that Hollyhocks were known as outhouse flowers. They were nice and tall and hid the outhouse!

  14. The Baritone7/24/2023 8:43 PM

    Regarding 6.b.: Covering your windows with stickers can also be a big vision reduction from the inside, if the windows are heavily plastered...

  15. When I was eight or ten years old, I drew a black and white sketch of a tall flower stalk bursting with hollyhock blooms...then added a hummingbird "standing still in thin air" with whirring wings, drinking nectar from one of its blooms. Upon submitting this sketch to the children's page of the "Idaho Farmer" [my native state farm magazine], I had the delight of seeing it published in the next issue with an editor's note commending the stately hollyhock "that brightens many a country front yard"! A few days later I received $1.00 in the mail for my entry. That event was the catalyst for many more published sketches and short stories. Sadly, all of these childhood original works were lost in a devastating inferno when our farm house burned to the ground during a horrific, blustery March whirlwind. So glad you're back to writing your blog again! Thanks for the laughs and insights!

  16. Lisa Beth W.8/07/2023 6:41 PM

    Sudden revelation: this is why Canadians and Minnesotans are so chill: all winter, they plunge their faces into air that's often colder than your freezer, for long periods of time.

    No one's as happy as Minnesotans walking into the coffee shop when it's 25-below outside and billows of mist surround them as they stomp inside in their parkas and Sorel boots. "Cold out dere," they mutter, grinning through their frosty beards.

    Haha! Love this! I grew up in Minnesota and can totally picture my fellow Minnesotans of Norwegians heritage doing this. And yes, I think the bright and sunny but frigid winters are wonderful and good for you!