Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Review: Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind

Here's one thing I got right, as a mom:

One of my daughters says that at the ends of summers, when the other moms in the checkout lines would be sighing that they can't wait for school to start again, I would tell the children that I like having them home, and it makes me sad when school starts.

At our current stage, I know that leaving is good. It's what adults do. They grow up, find their way, and leave home--not necessarily in that order.

Even though the process is right, this also makes me sad.

If you're with me on all these mom FEELINGS, I want you to know that there's someone who Gets us.  Brenda Yoder launched a new book today, and I agreed to review it.  It's called Fledge--Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind.

The title has two significant meanings. "Fledge" is what young eagles do as they leave the nest. It's also the process of attaching feathers to prepare an arrow for flight.

Appropriate, right?

Arrows are for warriors, she says, and it takes a warrior to equip a child for their God-designed journey.

Also, isn't that the prettiest cover you ever saw?

Brenda and her husband have four children. Some have left the nest and some have not, so she writes from the perspective of still being a hands-on mom at the same time as she has kids leaving for college or mission work.

Brenda's style is detailed and meditative, so it isn't a fast read. There are Scripture verses to study, personal stories, professional perspectives from her work as a counselor--although these are subtle, as she wanted the book to be mom-to-mom--and questions at the end of each chapter, called Building Up and Letting Go, to help you process your own life and stage.

Here's one of my favorite lines:

Yet with all the focus and preparation on the fledgling, no one really checks on Mama Bird and all the changes that happen when your quiver starts emptying—changes for you, your child, and your family. 

This is a book that cares for the Mama Bird. It understands the grief she's feeling, the joy, the regrets, the hope, the frustrations, all of it.

One of the author's goals was to be "real" in her writing, and I don't know her personally but I get the sense she succeeded. She is honest about family life, and I won't list all the things that struck me as having happened at our house also, except to say I could relate to what she said about those impossibly busy years and the regrets that lurk after they're over, of short tempers and trying to do way too much, and the lingering effects on relationships with our children. She also writes about all kinds of dilemmas you face, such as when three children have three different events in a single day, and how in the world do you decide who you're going to "be there" for?

Everything is written from the standpoint of God's overarching plan for us and our children. This is not about us floundering helplessly until we manage to shoo them out the door. It's about a divine calling for both us and our kids.

In the chapter on control, she talks about how God wants us to lead and guide our children, neither hovering nor ignoring, but then there's a gentle process of releasing that control.

The final chapters come back around to taking care of the Mama Bird. Self-care, identity, mid-life stuff, and so on. Giving yourself grace. Accepting. Looking forward.

This book is about launching your children, and if you're a mom at the fledging stage, it will make you feel understood. Even better, it will help you see a thread of God's plan leading all the way through your mothering journey. You will understand more deeply and you will think hard about how you got to this place and where you want to go from here.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Letter from Hburg--Farewell to an Old Van

Old Van Was Like Part of the Family

March 11, 2018

They emptied out the van last week, removed the wheels and hoisted it onto a trailer. It looked hollow, tired and a bit lopsided. You couldn’t see the stories it contained, the adventures, the accumulated trips and experiences and conversations stuffed to the ceiling, seeping out the doors and trailing behind as it was hauled away.

It was a big piece of red and white metal that rattled and clanked and devoured too much gas, but it was much more than frame and wheels and seats.

Back in 2000, we needed a big family vehicle because we had five children and, with Paul being both pastor and church school principal, we often wanted to transport lots of children besides ours.

My parents were visiting at the time, and we took them along to Portland to look at this 1992 Ford Club Wagon. Mom, as I recall, mended my sons’ jeans as we drove. Dad was impressed with Paul, who not only knew what questions to ask the dealer but also paid for the van in full that day.

“Are you OK with saying that this is the Lord’s van?” Paul asked me after we brought it home. “We won’t consider it ours, exactly, so we’ll let it be used for all kinds of things — church, school, loaning it out to other people, wherever it’s needed.”

“I’m fine with that,” I said, “except I don’t think the Lord is going to clean out his van. So if everyone is going to use it, let’s rip out the carpet and put in something that’s easier to wash.”

Paul said, “I don’t think you can do that.”

I said, “I am sure you can.”

We located a vinyl mat, shaped to fit, that could be swept and washed. Whenever I swept sand out of the corners after a trip to the coast or wiped up sticky Mountain Dew puddles after a school field trip, I was grateful I had insisted on taking out that impractical carpet.

For years, we took the family to church in the van on Sundays and filled it with school children twice a day during the week.

“It was always quiet in the morning,” our youngest daughter, Jenny, recalls, “but in the afternoon everyone would be talking. That’s one of my favorite memories: all the conversations, coming home from school.”

Even when the roads were icy, I could safely haul the children to and from school. Despite its ungainly size, the van was cooperative and easy to handle, like a gentle Clydesdale. I could tell that it liked me, so I liked it back, and we got along well. I even drove it to Portland, full of sisters-in-law, when we went secondhand shopping on 82nd Avenue, and then back home again, stuffed with Value Village and Deseret Industries bags and also laughter, empathy, and shared stories of life with Smucker men.

When I walked out of WinCo every other week with two heaped and heavy shopping carts, pulling one and pushing the other, the van always was easy to spot in the parking lot, its red top rising head and shoulders above the other vehicles. I could easily fit the groceries inside, but I had to do it strategically or the bags would topple and the soy sauce bottles and cans of pineapple would roll away under the seats.

We loaned it out to Gospel quartets touring churches in the Northwest, to Uncle James and Aunt Orpha when their children came home for visits, and to the church youth group to take on mission trips to Mexico. When Paul’s cousin Caroline and her family flew in from Ohio and borrowed it, they were driving on Interstate 84 near Multnomah Falls when a rear wheel suddenly came off. Somehow they pulled safely to a stop while the wheel and tire plowed through blackberry bushes and vaulted over the railroad tracks, never to be seen again.

It soon was repaired, but the miles accumulated, and the dents and rattles increased.

For almost 20 years, we hooked either a pop-up camper or a trailer of gear to the hitch, loaded the seats with hyper children and patient adults, and left for three days of Bible Memory Camp, our church’s reward to the 9- to 14-year-olds who memorized 50 Bible verses.
Bible Memory Camp, 2008

2016 I think
Afterwards, I cleaned out sand and battered flip-flops and little cards with printed verses: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15 and 16.”

Two or three times a year, Paul stuffed the van with students and took them on field trips — to OMSI in Portland, almost every year; to Mount St. Helens to the north and the Wildlife Safari to the south; to the aviation museum in Eugene and the carousel in Salem. Once every winter, I set a bucket of homemade hot chocolate mix and a large insulated tub of boiling water in the back, and Paul drove the school kids to Tombstone Pass to play in the snow.

Soggy mittens and socks lurked under the seats afterwards, and sticky cups and crumpled lunch bags.

We drove on long trips as a family, sometimes with an extra cousin or two. On the way home from a Christmas trip to Minnesota, we inched along an icy Wyoming highway while the teens in the back seat quietly repeated the 23rd Psalm until we finally reached a safe place to spend the night.

Our daughter Amy and her friend Carrie cooked for a harvest crew one summer and used the van to haul groceries from the store and hot food to the field. One evening, our huge old dog, Hansie, disappeared. Overnight and into the next day, we worried and searched. Finally, I felt a strange compulsion to look inside the van. I slid open the door and there he was, having slipped inside and behind the back seat while Amy was unloading groceries.

In an old photo, I see our children climbing into the van, parked under the oak tree on a snowy day, with Hansie looking on.

Acorns dropping on the roof of the van were always the sign of summer’s end. One night, the oak tree quietly fell over, sprawling its gnarly branches over the driveway and yard, engulfing the van in its heavy embrace. Miraculously, when the tree was cut up and hauled away, the van still could be used. We replaced the broken windows and tried to pry out the dents. It served us for another eight years.

Soon after the tree fell, Hansie also collapsed. Friends helped me place him on blankets behind the back seat, and I drove him to the veterinarian to be put down. Then I drove him home to be buried, crying all the way.

One by one, the kids grew up and bought their own cars. We still loaned out the van, but it grew less and less reliable, and when the engine finally gave out, we decided it was too old to repair. A friend bought it and hauled it away to be recycled.

A faithful and reliable means of transportation is no small thing, nor is taking a group of people from here to there and back in warmth and safety. The van was the Lord’s, but the experiences were ours, and the travels and destinations. The stories are ours as well, and all the conversations, and 18 years of memories still trailing on behind.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

At the Widow's Warehouse: A Story

This story has a few limbs that all must be examined if it is to make any sense. I admit, it's a stretch, even then.

1. I want grandchildren someday. Some obvious miracles need to occur before these gifts can arrive, and I'd like them to happen in the proper order, if possible, so I pray about all this. My faith does better with visual reminders, so I've collected a few little animals, from garage sales and such, as faith seeds. Someday I want to keep them in my purse, as grandmas do, and pull them out at the right times to entertain the little descendants.

2. Meanwhile, I keep these animals on the desk in the little corner where I do my Bible study and prayer every day. With time, they have taken on personalities, and they always seem to be in the middle of a story. When I rearrange them, another story takes place.

3. I have a really terrible time with the discipline of writing, so I set a timer and reward myself with some kind of visual reward every 15 minutes, whether it's coloring in a square on a chart or pinching another clothespin to the top edge of my laptop. Today the only place I could find some peace and quiet to finish my column was in my Bible study corner, so I transferred one little animal from the pasture on the right to the one on my left whenever the timer beeped.

4. So, of course, their story began and progressed at the same pace as my column, in 15 minute intervals, one animal after another, a bit unevenly. Also it was supposed to be a bit of "Amish" fiction (covering strings and the name "Emory") but it was hard with all the trucks and combines that showed up.

5. Just for fun, I decided to share each chapter on social media as it developed. Just to be clear, this was not the same writing I was doing for my column. That was something else entirely.

6. It is very hard to follow five different posts on Facebook or Instagram, so I'm sharing them here for the people who wanted to see all of them in the right order.  I'll try to fill in a plot hole or two while I'm at it, as pointed out by my daughters.

7. If you are thinking I'm actually a small child in a 55-year-old body, you would be correct.

At the Widow's Warehouse

Characters, left to right:
Sadie, the young widow.
Her son Emory.
Uncle James.
Henry the truck driver.
Mary the farmer's fluttery wife.
Cousin Randy from the pellet mill.
Amanda the combine driver.

Chapter 1--
Sadie looked on with a mixture of curiosity and concern as Henry, the big and strong (but not handsome, to be honest) new truck driver and warehouse manager showed her son Emory how to clean the pit before the next load came in. 

It wasn’t easy for a young widow, raising an adolescent and running her late husband’s business. Emory thought Henry hung the moon, that was for sure, Sadie thought as she tucked her dusty covering strings down the back of her dress and tried not to look like she was listening.

Would Henry’s influence be as good as his gear-shifting on the old Ford, that was the question. Ach vell. There was another load of fescue coming and dinner to put on the table.

Chapter 2--

Slowly, Henry turned and shuffled back to the truck with his dusty jeans sagging. Emory looked around for the broom as Sadie turned to leave.

“Ooooooh, Sadieeee!” It was Mary, John Yoder’s young wife who drove the seed trucks when John was on the combine. She hopped out of the truck, fluttered her hands and giggled. “You won’t believe what I just heard on the field radio! You know I told you how Jacob Miller hired that skinny little girl from Idaho that’s here visiting Sam and Ella for the summer because she teaches in the winter and wanted to work in the harvest this summer and I don’t know what Jacob was THINKING because here she was in that 80-acre field over by Pete and Carol’s and of all things she. . .”

Blessedly, Uncle James showed up beside Sadie just then, clearing his throat. “Uhhh…excuse me…Sadie…” he said in his slow deliberate way, “…but….are you aware…..that the….cleaner….hopper….appears… to….be…..overflowing…..??”

What?!? Sadie shrieked and ran, leaving Mary standing there, mid sentence, still fluttering her restless hands.

“Chapter 3--
"Relax, Sadie, it’s ok, I took care of the cleaner hopper,” said Cousin Randy just as Sadie puffed to a stop by the bagger. “It was my fault. I had asked Jason to bring the forklift over and help me load a truck, and he didn’t realize how full the hopper was. We got it cleaned up. It was only a little bit of seed, really.”

“Thanks!” was all Sadie could manage to say. She liked Randy, who ran the pellet mill next door and was always ready to help but didn’t make her feel stupid. “In…my…day….,” said Uncle James with a chuckle, “my…father…was known…to occasionally…take a nap…and…overflow the…hopper.”

“Ooooooh, Amanda!! Are you ok?? What in the world, sweetheart?!” 

Good grief, why was Mary still here? And who had showed up beside her but Amanda herself, Jacob’s skinny little combine driver from Idaho! “What did I HEAR about you almost dumping your combine in Muddy Creek??” Mary exclaimed.

Poor Amanda looked about to cry. “Has everybody in the valley heard about this?!” she said.

Mary just giggled.

“It was that clutch!” Amanda wailed. “I’m serious, there’s that little bit of slope in that field, and all of a sudden I was rolling, and I COULD NOT get it in gear, and I was trying to radio Jacob with my other hand, and …” She was really crying now.

“Dear me,” said Sadie. She walked over, patted Mary on the arm, and said, “Didn’t you get a call from John that the next load is almost ready?”

Then she turned to Amanda.

Chapter 4–

Mary ran for her truck, knowing what John was like when he had a full load on the combine and she wasn’t back yet.

Randy went back to the pellet mill, and Uncle James headed home for dinner.

Henry parked the truck and checked the scales. “We’re losin’ a lot on that ryegrass,” he thought. He was not thinking about Sadie even though you, dear Reader, hoped he was.

“Listen, Amanda,” said Sadie, “we all do dumb stuff our first year on the combine. Mary set her dad’s orchardgrass field on fire when she wanted to make the combine pretty and lit a candle and propped it by the gearshift and it fell out when she turned a corner.”

Amanda smiled shakily. "Oh! I almost forgot!" she said, "I have something in the car for you. Jacob asked me to drop off the tags for his Marshall while they're pulling my combine out."

"Thanks," said Sadie. "I was wondering when they were coming."

“Mom! I’m hungry!” said Emory.

“All right,” said Sadie. “Let’s go eat.”

So they did. But first Emory turned and waved at Henry, who grinned and waved back with a large and hairy arm.

The end.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Happy Pursuit of Staying At Home

I wonder how long I could stay at home without going a little dotty.

The first year I was in Oregon, teaching at Lake Creek School at the tender age of 19, I had something going on every single evening of the month of December. Programs and practices and youth activities and out to dinner with my cool friends and family gatherings with my landlord's family and church and many other wild and happy activities!

I was out of Minnesota and off the farm, and I had a life!! At last!!

Some years later, we have the last few weeks of January, 2018, in which Paul and I drove an hour and a half one Sunday morning to go to Dema Chupp's funeral, then that afternoon we went to a fancy AirBnB house for a retreat with the church ministry team for a couple of days.

We had exactly one day at home before we flew to Pennsylvania for a school administrators' conference. The following weekend I was gone again, to the church ladies' retreat at the coast.

"Do you like doing this sort of thing, or would you rather stay home?" Emily asked me before we went to Pennsylvania.

I said, "To be honest, I'm already thinking, 'Only one more week and I'll be home again, making tea in my own kitchen!'"

Paul said, to Emily, "I think she goes away just for the thrill of looking forward to coming home."

Since the ladies' retreat, I have stayed home a lot. I make tea in my kitchen, with the best water in the world in my own sturdy kettle. Every time a planned activity gets canceled, I do a happy little Mennonite-lady dance.

Every day when there's nothing scheduled away from home, I feel blessed and grateful.

One day I gathered every smidgen of tea from two pantries, one cupboard, the gift drawer, and the countertop, and I sorted and evaluated it all. Then only one of each type went into the kitchen cupboard, and the rest went into the pantry, sorted by type.

I've found that you can read all about downsizing and efficiency, but the key ingredient that is often missing for me is staying at home to do it. When you're gone a lot, you lose track of where you put the box of mint tea, and you're all rushed, so you buy more. Also, the white jasmine tea that no one likes migrates to the back of the top shelf, where no one sees it, and sits there taking up space for years.

So while it was alarming to see how much tea I actually own, it was utterly satisfying to get it all in proper order, and to get rid of what no one uses.
"Don't judge," as worldly people like to say when they know they are being ridiculous.
I've also been setting up my new sewing room upstairs, now that the old sewing room is a guest room. This has been a long process, starting with boxing up and storing my sewing stuff when Dad came last summer, and only recently picking through it again. My pattern stash is a lot like my tea stash, with some of the same unfortunate duplicating and also there's that whole boxful I got from my friend Sharon when she moved, which never got sorted and put away.

So the patterns are to get categorized this week, after I get the box of mid-size children's patterns down from the attic, and I hope to send half of my collection to the MCC Relief Sale.

[Which still leaves plenty for me, trust me.]

Along with sorting and organizing, I've been sewing.  I finished an apron I started long ago, altered two blouses to make them fit, made a skirt from start to finish, and also made a little girl's dress just because I was in the mood to make a little dress.

No wonder my mom always looked so blissful and content, staying home and sewing while the snow fell.

But was I going just a little crazy? I watched for signs. Was I living vicariously through my daughters' adventures out in the big world? Well, I always do that, so that doesn't count. Was I arguing with people in my head? Not excessively.

I kept sewing and organizing and also staying caught up with our laundry, which is a wonderful thing. I made tea several times a day and read two books. I canned sausage like I was preparing for a siege.

One day I took offense at something Paul said, and over-reacted just a teeny bit. But we talked about it almost right away, and I didn't spend a week arguing with him in my head before I brought it up, so that was all ok in the end and not too alarming.

Then on Saturday I thought, "Hey! Tomorrow I can go to church and talk with people! That will be fun!"*

That was when I knew that staying home this much was good for me, and healing and healthy and life-giving. Because when things are far too busy and we are running, traveling, going, meeting, driving, flying, and just zipping hither and thither, then church becomes a heavy obligation, another thing on my endless list, and a duty to be dutifully performed.

I'm always glad I went, but getting out the door on Sunday mornings--that's the hard part.

*Yes, I also go to church to worship God, in case you're worried. But I was also happy about talking to his people.

We don't have much on the calendar for this coming week, either. I am starting to ask God who I'm supposed to call, write to, invite over, or meet for coffee. Certain people are coming to mind, women who aren't visibly needy, but they show up in my thoughts with a quiet nudge. Yes, her. She needs someone to talk to.

Because that is also a benefit of staying home: you feel like you have something to give to others, room in your soul for another, space in your mind for listening--instead of cringing when the phone rings or feeling overwhelmed at another email to answer.

There's a bestselling book called The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up. If I wrote my own version, I would call it The Lifechanging Magic of Staying Home.

But first I'll go have some more tea.

Quote of the Day, from Christmas vacation:
Jenny: Dad should learn to play the didgeridoo. It helps with snoring.
Matt: Jenny, be VERY. CAREFUL. what you wish for.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Review of Good's Online Store (and a coupon)

Some time ago I was asked to give a talk to a local business group about how they can meet the needs of the Mennonite community.

I said that Mennonites generally value self-sufficiency and thrift. So any business that will help us do things for ourselves, for a reasonable price, will be our friend. For instance, Detering Orchards or Horse Creek Farms and their you-pick fruits, or Territorial Seed and its amazing garden seeds, or Hurds Hardware and its custom metal fabricating that will build exactly the attachment for the forklift that Paul needs to do his job at the warehouse more efficiently.

Almost every Mennonite or Amish community of any size has a little store that sells bulk foods, fabric, cookbooks, and canning supplies. Almost always, they are carefully chosen items, of good quality, for a reasonable price.

Self-sufficiency and thrift, you know.

I love to shop at such places because you don’t have to dig through aisles of nonsensical throwaway gimmicky stuff to find what you really need, nor do you have to worry that this can opener will break after a week.

These places distill their inventory down to the basics, but they also have half an aisle of pretty candles and teapots that you can give your sister-in-law for her birthday.
You would like to shop at such a store, I'm sure.  If you live in or have visited Pennsylvania, you probably know all about Goods, which is a large version of the little Amish and Mennonite stores found further west.

If you don’t or haven’t, you can now shop at Goods online.  Right here.

I was given a voucher in exchange for an honest review. So here’s my assessment of their website and its offerings:

   1.    The site is pretty without being cheesy.  I appreciate that they don’t co-opt the Amish name in order to sell products, although you'll find a Pennsylvania Dutch cultural flavor throughout, such as the brass quoits set from Fisher's Harness Shop.

    2. I liked the subdivisions of merchandise on the main page. Lawn&Garden, Health&Beauty, etc. And my favorite: Fabric&Sewing.

3.      My one complaint about the website was at this point. You can find subdivisions by brand name, such as Dritz, Moda, or Schmetz; but you can’t click on product categories like fabric, thread, and scissors.  So your options are to do a search at the top of the page or to click through all the products and hope you eventually get past the fabric swatches and on to sewing supplies.

4.       Clicking through the fabric products is a treat because they have many colors and prints and solids, especially the Tropical Breeze brand. I don't know how the price compares to other sources, but they also carry Moda quilting fabrics which are about 30% cheaper than at Oregon’s Fabric Depot. I managed to click my way through this section without buying anything which took great resolve.

5.       Some other things that caught my eye on the website were the outdoor thermometers, pretty journals, canningsupplies, and women’s clothing. They even carry Carhartt jackets for women! At most retailers, women’s clothing is far less durable than men’s. Carhartt is a happy exception. But I didn’t buy the jacket because I bought a Carhartt hooded sweatshirt a couple of years ago, and it’s still my go-to cool-and-windy-day jacket.
I decided to use my voucher to pay for part of a new Victorio strainer. Mine has turned out many a quart of applesauce and tomato juice and is nearly worn out. I expect the new one to be of high enough quality to hand down to my daughters when I’m no longer canning.
If you use the following link, you can get a 10% discount off regular prices. This offer is good until March 17.
Or you can use the coupon code DORCASBLOG when you check out.


Quote of the Day:
"She also liked small, local shops, places where you were able to buy pins and candles and tins of syrup--the sort of real things that you needed, rather than the insubstantial clothes and flashy electrical goods that newer, louder shops sold."
--Alexander McCall Smith, describing Precious Ramotswe, in The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, number 15 in the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series.

Monday, February 12, 2018

LFH--Thoughts While Canning Sausage

Traditions of thrift and sharing build wealth of a community

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
FEB. 11, 2018

The pig was 12 cents a pound, live weight.

My delight with this bargain was tempered by a pang of sympathy for the hog farmer, whoever he or she might be. You think of such things when you once drove a load of pigs to the sale barn at age 16 in an old pickup truck that liked to stall at intersections. Our family finances, sketchy at the best of times, descended deeper into debt and despair when the price of hogs dropped.

I’ve learned since then that poverty is far more complicated than dollars and wages and prices. It also encompasses invisible and immeasurable metrics of support and skills, opportunity and relationships, and values and traditions.

My husband’s sister Lois and her husband, Ken, are remarkably self-sufficient, even for Mennonites, in every domestic art from gardening to rug-making to keeping livestock to home repairs. Ken reminded us that he could help us butcher a pig if we needed pork, and when he found a 600-pound hog for that impossibly low price of 12 cents a pound, we agreed it was time.

My husband, Paul, and Ken worked together in Ken and Lois’ cold utility room on our half of the pig, slicing the meat into strips and feeding it into the grinder. Then they mixed up the sausage, following Paul’s Grandma Lena’s famous recipe, here in its entirety:

90 lb. ground pork
5 T. pepper
5 T. ginger
2 c. salt
Optional: 2 T. sage

The hardest part of the process, says Paul, was cranking the old sausage stuffer that used to belong to Grandpa Orval. Paul turned the handle and Ken carefully controlled the casings so they were full but not bursting. After that, Ken smoked the meat for three hours in his brother David's smoker.

Meanwhile, I dug in the pantry for all my empty quart canning jars, Kerrs and Balls and Masons, many of them older than I am. I also pulled my pressure canner off the shelf and borrowed another canner from Lois and two more from Simone, the cousin’s wife just down the road. Paul stomped heavily into the kitchen and placed an enormous blue plastic tote of sausage on the table, then a red one a few minutes later — 150 pounds of meat in all.

The long cold sausages looked and acted alarmingly like large snakes, coiling heavily in the totes and then flopping in muscular curves and curls when I lifted them out, one by one.

In the Smucker family tradition, there is one and only one way to can sausage. You cut it into 2½-inch pieces. Then you put seven of these, upright, into the bottom of the jar, like stout spools of thread standing side by side. Seven more stand upright on top of these, and two more lie down on the very top.

That is how it’s done.

There must be a faster way. I picked up a long rope and carefully threaded it head first into a jar, then coiled it around and around and snipped it off when it reached the top. I shoved another piece down the empty space in the center and snipped that off as well, and the jar was full.

“No one can fill a jar like Lois,” Ken had told Paul. “She can get two pounds of meat in a quart jar.”

I weighed my jars. Two pounds of meat in each. Yes! Quickly, I filled one jar after another, coiling and pushing. They looked just as horrifyingly snake-like inside the jars as out, but I wanted the job done fast.

Paul, who seldom has opinions about food preparation, happened to come inside as I was working. “I’ve never seen anyone put sausage in a jar that way. Are you sure it’s OK?”

“I don’t see why not.”

He actually called Lois, just to make sure.

She laughed. “I don’t think it ever crossed any of our minds to do it that way, but I don’t see why you couldn’t. All of us — Grandma Lena and Mom and Aunt Susie and Aunt JoAn and I — we always did it exactly the same — cut it in chunks and put seven in one layer, seven in the next and two on top.”

I felt like those spunky and courageous girls in “Amish” novels, breaking family tradition like this.

After they’re filled, the jars must be pressure-canned at 10 pounds of pressure for an hour and a half. Every good farm wife has an extra stove just for canning, especially if the kitchen stove has a flat surface. My canning stove came from my friend Gina years ago, for $20.

It’s stained and old, but it works perfectly.

Watching two or three pressure canners at once takes even more courage than breaking a family tradition. I flitted nervously back and forth, monitoring gauges and timers and burners, knowing that if one of the canners exploded, it would take half the house and me with it. And what would Grandma Lena say if I showed up in heaven as a result of canning sausages a new and very wrong way?

When I had used up all the non-mayonnaise jars in the pantry, I poked around in the east half of the chicken shed for the box of jars I inherited from my mom’s stash. In typical ingenuity, she had zig-zagged a long strap of old fabric and duct-taped it cleverly under and around the heavy box to form two handles.

My daughter Amy washed out the spiderwebs and dust and sanitized the jars in the dishwasher. Emily filled them with the last of the sausage. Seven quarts per canner, 90 minutes each, batch after batch. Rows of sealed jars, plump and proud on the counter. Another generation learning by doing. This is also how it’s done.

I have been reading about poverty — from news articles on fees and fines that impede progress for low-income people, to Barbara Ehrenreich’s condescending but informative book “Nickel and Dimed.” I’m learning about the descending spiral of poverty and the difficulty of climbing up and out.

When we had four small children, I stayed at home and Paul worked a barely minimum wage job. We slowly worked our way out of that frustrating lifestyle to a pleasant place where we can now buy new shoes if we want to, and a car breakdown doesn’t derail us financially.

This transition was possible because we always have had access to that mysterious source of wealth that is never tallied on government reports or factored in economic projections — the resources of a caring family and community, skills and equipment and thrift passed from one generation to another, and a willingness to help others for no compensation besides eventually being helped in return.

The price of commodities is out of my control, and there is little I can do about vast inequities and financial policies. We donate money to charities that offer help to the poor, and I loan my pressure canner to others who need it. But maybe my husband and I need to find new ways to draw people into our circle of family and community, trading their skills with ours, sharing what we have, teaching what we’ve learned, and learning from them.

True, we put hours of hard work into this project, but it was mostly because of a generous circle of people who offered, taught, loaned and helped that we were able to gather 65 quarts of the best sausage in the world for less than $50. We are abundantly blessed and breathtakingly wealthy.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Writing, And the Disappearing Kitty

"I drive by there, and I just picture you in your little cabin, writing away!"

Several people have told me that, recently. So today when I worked in my Sparrow Nest I thought about what I actually do when I "write," since I do a lot more than just type and create.

Today I:
1. Deleted about 100 emails and slid the publishing-related emails over to the Muddy Creek Press folder.
2. Called one woman to tell her I can't speak to her group in May, but my schedule is open this summer or fall.
3. Made a list of all the books and websites that I promised to review, so I don't forget, being prone to overpromising and underdelivering.
4. Texted another woman to say I could speak to her group's Mother-Daughter tea.
5. Inventoried my books. This was actually done in the non-coop side of the chicken shed and is one of my least liked activities, but it must be done for tax purposes.
6. Gathered a few notes for my upcoming talks in Montana, and put them in a folder.
7. Updated my calendar with the above speaking events, hoping sincerely that I didn't forget any, being prone to nightmares about not showing up when I've promised to be there.
8. Sipped tea.
9. Re-read my newspaper column for February to see if I missed anything that someone could possibly get offended at, before it's printed on Sunday. Why do I do this? I NEVER predict what will offend people and am always blindsided.
10. Admired the pretty dry-erase markers that Steven gave me for Christmas and chose the teal-and-berry one to write on the board that I'm so proud of--one of my mom's old metal work-table toppers, covered in dry-erase contact paper.

Sometimes I do all the above stuff when I ought to type and create, but am putting it off.

We have too many cats. At least two strays came by and had babies under our porch. Of course it's hard to know that this has taken place until the kittens are big enough to go exploring. And by that time they're completely wild.

But not too wild to come eat the food we put out for the family cats.

People will often take kittens if they're tame and cuddly, so it seemed logical to bring a few inside and calm them down. Even a shelter is unlikely to take them if they're terrified and a bit crazy. So about a week ago, I poured food in the dish and then stuck my arm out and grabbed one and put it in the back of the house where there's a tile floor and you can shut all the doors.

I did this a second time, except that kitty went completely crazy, scratching wildly at my hand and then disappearing in a blur. It squeezed in behind my desk and crouched there.

I read online that a bit of Benedryl will calm down a frightened cat, so I mixed Benedryl with cat food and offered it. Hours later, it was still pop-eyed with terror and hadn't eaten the food.

Well. Epic fail, as the young people say. I might as well put it back outside.  So I got a broom and gently moved toward the kitty.

It went insane, leaping up and streaking toward the kitchen, scratching and scrambling. Honestly, it would have been easier to herd a squirrel.

Then it disappeared.

A couple of hours later, the girls and I heard a faint meow. It sounded like it came from a kitchen cupboard.

What in the world?

Carefully, we opened cupboards and looked inside, moving dish drainers and cereal boxes. No cat.

The meowing repeated, muffled but real. We were totally mystified.

We took the front panels off the bottom of the dishwasher and refrigerator. No kitty. But the meowing still sounded from underneath, somewhere.

"It has to be in that space under the cupboards!" Emily said.

Paul said, "That's impossible. There's no way a cat can get in there!"

We said, "But it IS."

It was the weirdest thing, because Paul couldn't hear a thing and for all he knew we were just messing with his mind.

We poked and hunted and shone flashlights, completely flummoxed. The meowing repeated, RIGHT in THERE.

Could Paul come saw a hole in the bottom of the cupboard? Or could he get Kevin Baker, who built the cupboards, to come and pry it apart?

Paul said he'd call Kevin in the morning.

We pulled out the stove. Back behind it, down near the floor, were several small openings where you could get a glimpse of the old 2x4's and wainscoting from a hundred years ago.  What if the cat had slipped in there and back in the dark hidden corners of the kitchen cupboards? 

Or what if it was down under the floor somewhere?

I have a horror of any living things trapped in dark spaces, so the thought of that cat down under the floor gave me chills.

The muffled meows made me suspect that's where it was, and it would die there, and we'd have to tear up the floor like in The Telltale Heart. "Tear up the planks, I admit the deed..."

Paul, of course, said a cat couldn't possibly get down in the floor.

Before going to bed, I left the stove pulled out from the wall and put a HavAHart trap with food and water in the middle of the kitchen.

I didn't sleep well, hoping all night for the clang of the trap.

Early the next morning I crept into the kitchen through one door just as Jenny came in the other. And we saw the kitty! Not in the trap, but close to it. And then just that quickly it was gone again.

I thought it had slipped back through a hole behind the stove, but Jenny was sure it had been over by the sink. She got down on the floor and felt around, then turned to me with big round eyes. "There's a hole!"

"WHERE?" We had looked on every possible inch, hadn't we?

"It's down here, but it goes UP!"

I felt around. You know how all good cupboards are set in about 4 inches at the bottom, to make a space for your feet? In the little ceiling of that indentation was a hole less than three inches square. I stuck my fingers in and wiggled them, and something hissed.

Jenny and I looked at each other. Yesss!!

But how and what and where did that hole lead to?

"We need to take a picture!" she said, and tried to stick her phone in, but it was too big. I found my old iPhone and Jenny poked it up and in, and snapped a picture.

There it was, in that narrow space between two sections of cupboards.

What a relief that it wasn't trapped down below. And leave it to a cat to find such an impossible hiding place.

When everyone was off to work and school, I opened the door to the porch and dumped the food in the cats' dish with as much noise as I could. Then I left the door open and walked away. Just as I hoped, the kitty made its way outside to join his friends.

I am done trying to tame cats.

However. Sometimes I meet someone or hear someone speak and I just sense things about them, real and vivid things, but I can't for the life of me explain or quantify how I see and know what I do. Recently I heard a speaker who gave me a creepy vibe and I just "knew" he was a wolf in sheep's clothing and took advantage of innocent people.

Paul is always in a bad situation when I go off about these feelings I have, because he doesn't want to squelch my intuition but the truth is he doesn't see or feel or sense or pick up or suspect ANY of this, not one smidgen.

So he was carefully choosing his words and suddenly I had an epiphany. "This is what it's like!" I crowed. "It's like I hear that kitty meowing and I know it's under the cupboards somewhere and you can't hear a thing!"

Paul said actually, we were both right and wrong about the kitty, because it was neither under the floor nor under the cereal cupboard, which he had declared to be impossible, but it WAS back in there, in the general vicinity, so I was right about that.

So maybe when I pick up on spiritual and invisible things about people and Paul does not, we are in some way both right and both wrong.

That is oddly comforting.

But it doesn't solve the problem of having too many cats.

Quote of the Day:
Paul: [fixing curtain rod] Can you get me a screwdriver?
Dorcas: Plus or minus?
Paul: Phillips
Dorcas: [fetches one of each]

Sunday, January 28, 2018

For the Pastor's or Administrator's Wife

Early this morning, just after midnight, Paul and I got home from a Mennonite school administrators' seminar in Pennsylvania.*

I spoke to the women on Friday morning.

As I told them, when the organizer contacted me about speaking, he said he'd like me to give a "lighthearted" talk to these ladies, all of whom are married to school administrators and many of whom, like me, are married to men who are both pastor and principal.

"Um. 'Lighthearted?' To women who are married to men in leadership?" I said.

"Well, yes. Sometimes it tends to get really heavy, and we felt like we need more stories, laughter, encouragement, that sort of thing."

I told him I still can't do the math on combining "lighthearted" with "leaders' wives" but I would do my best.

He said that would be fine.

Paul went with me and was in charge of the small-group discussions with the men who are both pastors and principals.

We both had a really lovely time. Somehow at pastor-couples' retreats I always feel like an impostor, but at this gathering I felt like I belonged.

I told lots of stories and the women were kind enough to listen attentively and also laugh. And they drew me in to small group and mealtime discussions.

There's something magic about talking with people who understand.

*Then we got up a few hours later and went to church, where Paul preached a sermon and I taught Sunday school, because this is what pastors and their wives do. ---

In preparation for the talks, I had asked for ideas for completing this statement, "You know you're married to a principal or pastor when..." I had a number of requests for the list of answers, so I will post it here.

And I'll save the best for last--the lovely tribute that our friend Merle Burkholder wrote about his wife.


Here is my personal list:

You know you're married to a principal/pastor when:
1. You know at least three people who are afraid of your husband and shouldn’t be, and three more that aren’t, but you wish they were.
2. You can call his name and he doesn’t hear you, but if you say, “Mr. ___” you instantly have his attention.
3. You keep a coleus plant for years so he can demonstrate photosynthesis in science class every year.
4. Half of your living room furniture disappears before Christmas, along with your husband’s bathrobe and 4 dish towels. Then you go see the Christmas play and see all your missing items onstage. If it’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, you also see the ham you had put in the freezer for Christmas dinner.
5. You tend to have your babies in late spring, about 9 months after the most stressful time of the year.
6. You’ve been in groups where everyone was discussing a situation, and you knew more than anyone, but you couldn’t say a word!
7. When it’s snowing and your husband says, "Oh, it’s not that slick out there, I think we can have school!" And you remind him there are 16-year-olds driving their younger siblings to school.
8. You have a section in your recipe notebook for how much pizza and pop to buy for honor roll suppers, and which flavors.
9. You have another page for how much hot chocolate to send along on sledding days.
10. You have another page for how much food each family needs to bring for the Christmas program.
11. You’ve driven a van full of wild children to the museum, the mountains, the woolen mills, the newspaper printer, the waterfalls, and convention, if you use ACE.
12. You know which students cheat and lie.
13. You’ve put the children to bed by yourself on Saturday nights.
14. Within reasonable limits, you’re willing to be embarrassed for the sake of a good illustration.
15. You’ve had young adults come up to you and say, “I would never have graduated if it hadn’t been for your husband.”

When I put the question on Facebook, here were some of the answers. The discussion veered much more toward pastors' wives than school administrators'. I could relate to many of them.

1. You're expected to do a hundred jobs for free, because your husband gets paid or even partially paid for being pastor.
2. You're expected to teach children at church and fill in for anyone absent.
3. You hear the sermon multiple times before Sunday.
4. You make sure the back of your head looks ok because 98% of the congregation is behind you.
5. You're distracted by the message because the Pastor is so attractive.
6. You have the preacher read his scripture passage to you on Saturday night just to make sure he knows how to pronounce Ai.
7. When you had unexpected guests for Sunday dinner!
8. You are typically the last ones to leave church on Sundays and the hours are definitely not 9-5!!
9. Need to be ready for guests any moment of the day.
10. Every spring and fall you host the visiting evangelist for a week in your home.
11. You've left in the middle of the night to go be with someone.
12. You cut short your family vacation and return home early because of a death in the community.
13. You've mastered the skill of acting surprised when hearing "news" that you were told earlier in confidence.
14. You pay careful attention to the sermon, lest you get tested on it afterwards.
15. You raise your family on the front pew at church. Ideally, they should be well behaved, but you feel like you’re providing circus entertainment.
16. You spend time Saturday making sure everyone's Sunday clothes are in order.
17. If having your husband sit beside you during an entire church service is next thing to a date!!
[I would add to this: If you like going to funerals because it's usually just you and your husband in the car.]
18. When you're living in a parsonage and have a borrowed goat staked out in the front yard to trim the grass... but he gets loose and eats the church-owned snowball bush down to the ground.... and your very pregnant self tries to drag said animal away from the devastation... all the while sobbing about the damage... and potential repercussions...
19. When you aren't introduced by fellow members with your name. You are introduced as, "This is my pastor's wife."
20. Everyone else is going on family vacations.
21. If 75% of what you know you aren’t allowed to say, so you sit up late at night and write really bad stories under the guise of fiction novels, then you feed them through the shredder in dread of someone finding them and the sins that an entire community of people worked so hard to hide would be hung out like dirty laundry and those sensational TV shows about the Mennonites and Amish would come asking to use the material!
22. When your family vacations consist of a week of Bible camp with 3 services a day.
23. You meet new people and quickly realize that you know their dirty secrets, but they don't know you know.
24. You might be a pastor's wife if you know what missionary tea is.
25. Your dream vacation is somewhere without cell phone service.
26. A certain person probably knows that you were involved in a family reconciliation meeting and they keep bringing up the topic (such great concern, of course since it involves her family, too) in order to see what information they can get from you.  And you would like to just smack her in the face and tell her to mind her own business - but you can't because your husband is a minister and you're a Christian and a non-resistant Mennonite, after all. So you just smile and act like you have no idea what she's talking about. Later you think of all the things you could have said that would have shut her up, but at the time all you wanted to do was not betray any confidences (and you didn't.)
27. You hear a huge mistake in the delivery or grammar of husband's message but you don't tell him until weeks later because you know he already feels like the message was a disaster.
28. If your husband serves on a denominational committee that requires out of state travel.
29. You know you are the pastor's wife when you feel like you are sitting in the sunshine when he preaches because you see the beauty and grace of God working in his life and your spirits meet in a wonderful way.
30. People are shocked when your kids misbehave.
31. When out-of-state visitors come to church and a thought pops into your head that you hope so-and-so doesn't do this or that...and then an inner sunshine lights your soul because you realize it doesn't matter---you know these people, you've heard their hearts and know they love God and are on a journey -- and it's not our church anyways, it's God's!
32. You may be a pastor's wife if: you've been to a hundred wedding rehearsals; you plan your vacations around the preaching schedule; you appear to enjoy visiting other churches; you're expected to be the encyclopedia of names and church historical events; you cringe as you hear the sound of toes being stomped on as the preacher brings truth, and rejoice with him later as people thank him for it; you are so distracted by a mispronounced word you can't remember the gist of the sermon; and you have spent Sunday afternoons praying against Satan, because the Word must have been especially effective that day.

Last of all, we have the best answer, from our friend Merle Burkholder:

You know you are the wife of a pastor if you are the one he comes home to after the 2:00 AM meeting and you are the one who lets him know that he is loved and that he is welcome in your arms. 
You know you are the wife of a pastor if you hear the criticisms of him and you help him sort out what is accurate and what is not and he appreciates your help in being objective. 
You know you are the wife of a pastor when you stand by him and love him and he knows that he is loved and wanted by you even when others seem to be against him.
You give him confidence to carry on through the difficult moments when he helps to carry the pain of others.
You know you are the wife of a pastor when your pastor sits beside you at the dinner table and you hear his heart for the people he is shepherding. When you help him to understand the things that are happening in relationships, because he is a man, and as a man he sometimes needs a woman who has much more keen relational abilities to understand the intricacies of relationships.
 You know you are the wife of a pastor when you are there to help celebrate the successes and you rejoice with him over spiritual victories.
 You know you are the wife of a pastor when you sit beside him at the Pastor Appreciation Dinner and realize that in spite of all the struggles there are people who appreciate your husband and all he does for them. 

I have been blessed with a wonderful wife who has blessed and encouraged me in so many ways. Edith had the opportunity to encourage and bless me building my confidence, or to criticize me and undermine me and destroy my confidence. She has done an amazing job of being my greatest supporter, and my most trusted and honest critic. I love her, and value her immensely.

Note: feel free to copy, print, or share all or part of this.