Friday, February 26, 2010

Circle Letters

Several times a month an envelope filled with letters would arrive and Mom would take a few moments to read all of then before continuing with her work. She was a member of numerous circle letters. One of them was for all her Mast girl cousins close to her age, another one was for her siblings, several others were for some of her school friends, and a variety of others. And hardly a Sunday afternoon or evening passed that she didn't have to write a letter for one of the circle letters.

I dreamed of the day I would be old enough to be in a circle letter. Mom told me I would have to be able to write well before I could join one so when ever I had spare time in school I would often write a letter to Mom and Daddy or my Grandparents.

I kept hoping that Mom would announce that I was ready to join a circle letter but she didn't say anything about it and I knew it was useless to beg for one. But on the morning of my tenth birthday as I came into the kitchen I noticed a gift bag beside my plate on the table. I hurried over to see what I had received. The first thing I found was a box with three of the cutest little "dishes" that I would use to keep my pins in since I now wore cape dresses regularly.

I was thrilled with them, but the next packet I found I could barely contain myself with joy of having one of my most cherished dreams realized. There was a tablet of paper, a box of envelopes,  a book of stamps, and a pretty piece of paper that Mom had written Address Sheet along the top and the numbers from 1 to 10 written along the side. I quickly sat down and carefully wrote my name and address beside the 1 and then entered names and addresses of several cousins and best friends in the remaining slots.

That day in school I wrote my first letter for a circle letter, and mailed it the next day. Several weeks later I received an envelope nicely fat from being filled with letters from nine of my friends. I read everyone's letter and removed the letter I had written and put it into a box to keep like Mom always did with her letters and then quickly wrote a new one so it would be ready to mail the next day. Years passed and I joined lots of other circle letters but none of them were ever as exciting as the first one I had.

The first one is still going in it's journey from house to house and I find it quite entertaining to go back and read all the letters I wrote from the day I turned ten up to a few years ago.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What Were They Thinking?

Every once in a while we see something that makes us wonder "Just exactly what were they thinking?"

One such thing we discovered last week on our weekly trip to town. For the past month or so the phone company has been putting all their little flags beside the road to mark the place for the lines they wanted to bury. We didn't pay much attention to them as bit by bit they were getting things done.

But what they did last week we're still trying to figure out what they were thinking when they did this.......

I applaud the owner for just nicely spreading the gravel around that nuisance this week instead of knocking it over like I would be tempted to if something like that would appear in the middle of my driveway!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Broilers

Behind our barn we had a little white building. Every June we would take a day and clean it up nicely and take numerous wheelbarrow loads of wood shavings and spread them over the floor. We would check our kerosene heaters to make sure they worked properly and once everything was ready we would wait impatiently for the mailman to deliver several packages.

A few days later he would drive into the lane. As Mom or Daddy went out to see what he wanted we children would watch hopefully. As several large boxes appeared we could hear the noise of a hundred baby chicks peeping.

As the mailman left we would all hurry to the building we had readied for the chicks. We children would crowd around the boxes as Daddy and Mom opened them and helped them carefully lift the chicks and place them beside the feeders that had been filled with baby chick food. I loved baby chicks, they felt so soft and fluffy and watching a hundred of them run over the floor and eat their feed and drink their water made me wish I could stay with them all day.

Daddy would check the thermometer to make sure it was almost ninety degrees and then herd us back outside. As we resumed our work and play I looked forward to chore-time when I could once again hold a few chicks. It didn't take them long to lose their cute yellow fluffiness and turn into awkward chicks half fluffy and half feathered and as they grew so did their appetite. It was John and my job to keep their water cans filled and they had to be checked every few hours. As they grew to fully white feathered broilers I looked forward to the day when I could do something other than tote water for the ever increasingly thirsty broilers.

Between eight and ten weeks they were full grown and a butchering day was planned. Aunt Emma would come to help Mom do the butchering. I never could watch Daddy take them one by one to the chopping block, but once that part was over John, David and I would have to defeather them and take them inside to Mom and Emma where they would hurry and butcher them before we brought another batch in.

It was a long day but at the end when row after row of jars of chicken meat were lined up on the shelves in the basement I looked forward to many good meals. There is nothing quite as good as homegrown chicken meat.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Things To Do

We have things to do and places to go and a whole lot of things to get accomplished. But most of those things and places have to wait because of crippling mud we are dealing with right now. I have experienced all kinds of weather in the short period of time I call my life. I have lived through tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, floods, and drought. But I have never before encountered mud on the scale we have now.

Driveways and dirt roads are filled with deep ruts, paved roads are buckling and getting all sorts of eruptions and potholes because of all the moisture that has no where to go. Since we can't do anything else we have been catching up on various odd jobs around our little corner of the earth.

Cleaning up tree limbs and burning them occupied part of a day. The children were all impressed with the bonfire.

There's only a certain amount of baking a person can do before you really don't want to see another cooking spoon for a while.


So now there is really nothing left to do except find a cozy spot and wait until the mud starts drying up and we can continue with our life.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Magazine Article

One lovely summer day we were pleasantly surprised when a vehicle drove in the lane and Daddy's brother Ezra  got out. Daddy quickly went to meet him and they stood there visiting for a little while and then Daddy noticed that Ezra's wife and children were waiting in the van so he invited everyone to come into the house.

It was a short day as we played with our cousins and Mom and Daddy visited with Ezra and his wife. Their driver, Jerry, spent most of his day with them which we all considered annoying. A good driver never tried to follow his passengers around or sit with them when they were visiting with family and friends.

Several weeks later we received a letter from Jerry and we were surprised to find out that not only did he do a little taxi work for the Amish but he was a professional photographer and would often write articles for different magazines. He had been impressed with our woodworking shop and wondered if Daddy would consider allowing him to come and interview him, take a few pictures and do an article for the WOOD magazine about our shop. Mom and Daddy talked it over and decided to do it, since it would be some free advertising and Jerry had assured them that he wouldn't take pictures of them.

Several weeks later Jerry came and set up his cameras in the shop. He asked lots of questions and took even more pictures. He got Daddy to go ahead and work and he would take pictures being careful to only get his hands. As the day passed Daddy started getting suspicious that Jerry was taking pictures of more than just his hands as he worked. Jerry assured him that he wouldn't even dream of taking advantage of this opportunity and take pictures that we didn't want to have taken.

It was a long day and when he finally wrapped everything up and left we breathed a sigh of relief.

Almost a year later the article was published and we felt betrayed and insulted when we read it. Not only had he lied and taken lots of pictures but the entire article held almost no truth. He even had our address wrong where people could write to for more information about our furniture.







Daddy assembling a chair with John's help and David watching.
Daddy hid the magazine and told all of us that we would take this as a lesson and never again allow anyone to do an interview or write an article about us unless we know them personally and can trust them. Over the years he would look at the pictures again and enjoy them, but time never did remove the sting of  what Jerry had written in the article.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Amish Peace

One of the perks of having a blog is that you get to meet many great people that you never would otherwise. One such friend is author Suzanne Woods Fisher.

Recently I received a package in the mail from her.  Since I have a weakness for packages I laid aside what I was doing at the moment and opened it. Inside I found one of her latest books, "Amish Peace" After flipping through it a little I started reading bits and pieces and before I knew it I had read the whole book.  I found it to be very interesting as each chapter was a short story of either memories Amish people had shared or interviews they had done. At the end of each chapter were a few questions to ask yourself that I found quite thought provoking.

As I laid the book aside I felt acutely reminded what all we sacrificed when we left our comfortable little world in an Amish community. Though we don't even consider returning I was glad to find a book that shows some of the qualities I admire and miss from the Amish culture.

Suzanne did not ask me to review her book, but I wanted to share with all of you that I had finally found a book about the Amish  that I actually enjoyed reading.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Singing

"We'll be having the singing tonight" Daddy announced one Sunday on the way home from church. John, David, and I looked at each other in the back seat and smiled. It was always special to have the singing at our house. The families in our district took turns opening our home to the youth to spend an evening singing German hymns. Since the only time there were singings was on the Sundays we had church our turn to host came only once a year.

Once we got home we had our usual after church lunch and once the dishes had been cleared away we all went to take a nap so that Mom and Daddy would hopefully let us stay up until the singing was over.

As evening approached Mom made a simple supper. Daddy went to the attic to find our backless bench and set it behind the table that had been opened to it's full length. Mom spread a table cloth over it and set out one of her pretty water sets and several salt shakers. Before long we could hear buggies drive into the lane, the girls came inside while the boys unhitched their horses and then stood visiting in the barn until it was time for the singing to start.

Once seven o'clock arrived everyone came and found a seat at the table. John, David, and I sat on our own little chairs a little distance from the table with Mom and Daddy. For the next two hours there would be no talking as one song after the other was announced and sung. After an hour or so they would pass the salt shakers and who ever was feeling a little hoarse would make a little pile of salt next to their songbook or in the palm of their hand. They would moisten their fingertips and then lick the salt which seemed to do the trick and they continued singing.

I loved singing and was always sad when after two hours the closing hymn was announced. As the boys went to hitch up the horses again and the girls stood chattering until their ride drove up to the house I looked forward to the time I would be old enough to go to the singings every time, but I made up my mind I would never lick any salt.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Pet Peeves

I was surprised recently when I received an email from a reader that felt I'm not being honest on my blog. That I'm always focusing on good and happy things.  I chuckled about it, deleted it, and have thought about it since and decided to do a post on some of my pet peeves and things I dislike.
  1. Mud.  I don't enjoy going outdoors and having to wade through mud to get to where I want to go. I also don't enjoy having it tracked into the house by people who don't have the courtesy to remove their shoes inside the door.
  2. Health fanatics. I really don't have the slightest interest in the latest greatest health food and healthy diets. I find it very annoying when pale sickly people try to tell me how to eat more healthy.
  3. On a similar note. I really cringe when I have to listen to your tale about the last time you were sick or the details of childbirth. Those are on the list of least favorite topics of discussion.
  4. Bad movies. After watching them they make me feel like I totally wasted an hour or two of my life that I'll never be getting back.
  5. Surprise parties.  I despise these with a passion. If you're tired of having me as a friend go ahead and throw a surprise party in my house for me. That should do the trick.
Those are only a few things on my list of pet peeves and things I dislike. So you see, my life isn't perfect at all, but I choose not to focus on all the little annoyances but rather on things that make me smile. It helps my sanity and the sanity of my family and will hopefully help me be a sweeter person once I'm eighty.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

New Teacher

As the school year ended we heard whispers that teacher Hannah was transferring to another school. I felt sad, because we all really liked her.

Summer vacation didn't seem quite as good when we faced the fact that at the end of it we wouldn't be welcomed back to school by Hannah. A few weeks before school started we heard who would be taking Hannah's place.   LV's sister Lydia. I wasn't sure what to think about that news. I really liked Lydia and wondered if LV would have to be nicer to everyone now or if Lydia would stick up for her kid brother.

School started and I was pleased to see that Lydia made LV stay after school everyday to help her straighten everything up before she went home. It seemed so nice to be able to walk home from school without worrying about having to put up with LV.

The fall days were beautiful and we soon were settled in a comfortable routine with our new teacher. With weather so beautiful recess was usually spent playing baseball. I still hadn't learned to really enjoy recess but had found my own little niche in baseball. They bent the rules a little bit teacher Lydia was the pitcher and  I got to be on first base no matter who was up to bat. I was pretty good at it and always felt a little smug when I helped get someone out.

There were a few boys who were really good at playing and they hardly ever made an out. So when the day finally came that I managed to get LV out I was especially happy. He looked thoroughly disgusted and walked over to Eli a little second grade boy who practically worshipped him and whispered something to him. I didn't pay too much attention to them and focused on the game we were playing until I felt something slip into my hand. When I looked Eli quickly ran away and I just as quickly dropped the nasty horse _______ that had been placed in my hand. LV stood there laughing and I felt disgusted knowing that he had gotten Eli to do his dirty work. Our truce was about to be broken and I vowed to get even with him somehow.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Favorite Things

Every once in a while I have a day where I like to focus on the many things around me that I enjoy.

Up first... my happy helpers. Life would be really dull without our three children.



The little snow fort that Sailor is building in our front yard. He has to walk quite a distance from his building project to the drift where he fills the dish pan with snow to make cubes to place on the walls.

Our kitchen.... happens to be the favorite room in the house.


Good music.

Pretty flowers.

So many simple things that make life a sweeter place.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pansy

Our cow Jenny was getting too old to keep our family in milk so Daddy visited some of the area dairies to see if someone would have a friendly little Jersey they would be willing to sell. When he came home he was happy to have found someone who said they had just the cow for us. Gentle, sweet disposition and a great milker who would be sure to provide all the milk we could possibly have use for. He had paid for her and they would deliver her free of charge sometime the following day.

The next forenoon John, David and I were playing outside when we saw the man come with the cow and unloading her in our pasture. We ran inside to tell Mom about it. She came outside as the man went on his way. We joined Mom to go to the pasture to have a look at our new cow. When we got close to her we saw why they wanted to sell her. Not only did she look older and more worn out than Jenny but her udder was practically dragging on the ground.

Daddy had gone to a lumber kiln to get more lumber for our woodworking shop and we knew he would be disappointed once he saw the cow the farmer had tried to give us. Once he came home and we told him about it we all went back outside to have another look at the cow. As we expected Daddy wasn't happy. There wasn't much we could do about it though and the cow obviously needed to be milked. He asked us to bring the milk pail and a cake pan. I ran to the house to get what he needed wondering what he would use a cake pan for.

After giving it to Daddy, he slid the cake pan under her udder and started milking. It was a slow process of sliding the cake pan in and milking a little bit until the pan was full then emptying it into the milk pail. After chores were done Daddy went to the pay phone at the corner store in the village and called a cattle dealer and told him we have a cow to sell and that we want a good one to replace her.

Several days later the dealer came and unloaded a pretty little fawn colored Jersey and took the old cow the farmer had sold us. We all admired her as she lay under our apple tree and chewed her cud. once chore time arrived we once again followed Daddy to the barn. This time there was nothing wrong and it didn't take long for the pail to be filled with frothy milk. As we were finishing up the chores we discussed what we would call our new cow. We didn't want to call her Jenny like the family cow before her, as we turned her back out to pasture Mom stood there watching her graze and turned to Daddy and asked. "How about Pansy?"

"Pansy sounds fine to me." was his reply. I said the name to myself a few times and decided I really liked it. A pretty little cow like that was perfect to be named after Mom's favorite flower.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tidbits

One of the biggest regrets I have is, that I didn't have a camera when our children were babies. So many moments that have been lost because no one was there to capture the moment and preserve it for later years.

Several weeks ago we had family come visit for a little while, and this little guy was so cute and precious that I just had to share his photo with you.

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We have had more snow and mud to deal with this winter than we have ever had since we live here in a part of the country that was supposed to be friendly during the winter. I'm really ready for spring and yet at the same time trying not to feel envious at the folks living where we used to, who are enjoying 36" of snow with more forecast for today.

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I have this huge ivy plant that just keeps getting bigger. Every few months it will bloom, producing clusters of sweetly scented unique flowers. I would like to start a new plant from it and was hoping there are some people with a green thumb who can give me pointers on how to do that.

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I have been plagued with spam comments for quite a while already and finally decided to quit allowing anonymous comments for a few weeks to see if that helps. I don't want to use word verification if I don't have to.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Withdraw Thy Foot

Teacher Hannah had each of us students in school memorize a verse from the Bible each week and required us to recite it on Friday afternoon. Anyone who could do it perfectly would get a small prize. I used to spend lots of time rehearsing and practising to make sure I would get my weekly prize.

One week we had to memorize a verse out of Proverbs. I brought the reference home and Mom helped me find it in the Bible and after she had read it she said something about what a nice verse it was and that we should have it on our wall.

That was all I needed to hear. I got a piece of paper and with a blue permanent marker I carefully copied the verse and tacked it on the wall above the kitchen table. After I was done I read a little more and was intrigued how each verse in Proverbs had it's own little nugget of wisdom and asked Mom if she minds if I find more verses to copy then we could rotate them and not be tired of any of them.

She gave me permission and I set to work to find verses that I especially liked. When Saturday came I happily removed my first verse and tacked up a new one. I noticed Mom and Daddy seemed a little amused at my choice but they didn't say anything.

The next day was our inbetween Sunday and much to our delight Mom's younger brother John Henry and his family came. He was a very special uncle and visits from them were always a treat. We were all having a good time when Mom suggested we all move to the kitchen for snacks and popcorn. As we settled on our chairs and resumed visiting John Henry got to his feet and said, "Well, I think it's time we head for home."

We were all surprised and then Mom noticed that he was reading the verse I had tacked to the wall which read. "Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbors house lest he grow weary of thee and so hate thee." She quickly assured him that we weren't tired of their company and that I had chosen that verse for this weeks motto.

He settled back in his chair and the rest of the afternoon passed swiftly. And once they were heading home Mom suggested that I find another verse that wouldn't risk offending anyone.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Learning to Bake

The kitchen is one of our favorite places in our house. I enjoy playing with food and trying out new recipes. Rosebud is getting to be very efficient at making the more simple things and delights in finding a recipe that she can handle on her own. Sunbeam likes being involved too, mostly by holding measuring cups and licking the cooking spoons.

Recently I was reading some letters that I received from my Mom several years ago and found a poem that she wrote about me.

Learning To Bake

The day for bread making is here
And baby sits next to the bowl
I will gather her smiles of cheer
As I stir and punch the dough.

Time now for baking a cake
The toddler, she climbs on a chair
And laughs with glee at the slithering egg
I released from its shell with care.

Next comes the spoon licking age
She holds the cup while I pour
The walls tell tales of shortening and sage
As well as the cupboards and floor.

Alas when she has learned to read
It's cookbooks that hold the charm
Find one in her bedroom and one indeed
Stuffed down by the sofa's arm.

"May I try this recipe? Please Mom, yes!
The dough is all tied in a bow."
"I will be gone but you can I guess
But remember you'll be on your own."

Beholding the kitchen upon my return
It took me some time for to see
Amid the clutter, a flour smudged girl
And six pastry bows as neat as can be.

The years have flown and she now resides
With her husband and munchkins three
They eat her inventions and then besides
She has eighty one cookbooks to see!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sadness

It was our inbetween Sunday and as usual we got up late. We were almost ready to sit at the table to have our breakfast when we heard a car drive in the lane. When we got up to see who it was we saw an elderly man who did a lot of taxi work for the Amish. Daddy went outside to see what he wanted. It wasn't long before we heard the car leave and Daddy came back inside. We immediately sensed that something was wrong. When Daddy said that Grandpa died we all started crying.

I didn't know Grandpa Swarey all that well since we lived so far away, but I still wasn't prepared to hear that he had passed on. I had been working on a scrapbook for his birthday and now I would never get to give it to him. No one was hungry for breakfast anymore so Daddy hitched our horse to the buggy and went to see if he could find someone to take care of our chores while we went to the funeral. Mahlon wasn't quite two years old yet so they asked Grandpa Masts if they could take care of him till we got back.

By mid afternoon we had the suitcase packed and all the arrangements made and were ready to go. Our driver arrived in an old green clunker car. daddy sat in front and John, David, and I sat in the back with Mom. Once we got to Canada where the speed limit was posted by kilometers he got all excited and went speeding down the road. We passed everyone else and Daddy's explanation that kilometers and miles were different apparently didn't make any sense to the driver as we rushed on into the night.

Once we got to Grandpa Swarey's a few men came out of the house to welcome us inside. As was customary, several families had volunteered to take turns to sit up all night until after the funeral. We were shown to a room where we settled down and slept the rest of the night.

When morning arrived we had breakfast with Grandma. There were lots of neighboring women and girls there cleaning the house and cooking and baking in preparation of the funeral. After we were done eating we sat in the livingroom where there were rows of chairs and benches set up. Since we were family we got to sit on the chairs close to Grandma. Other families from neighboring churches stopped by for a few hours to share their condolences and sit and visit quietly for a few hours. I had never been so bored in my life as the day dragged by.

Finally by evening Daddy's other siblings started arriving and all the cousins arrived with them. Our parents gave us permission to sit together. It was much more fun to have someone our own age to talk to. The next day we were still sitting in the living room and by now we children were all getting fidgety and so when our parents gave us permission we all went outside to play. We had so much fun that it didn't seem possible that everyone was gathered for a sad reason.

The day of the funeral arrived. As buggies started pouring in the driveway and lots of sober faced women and children dressed all in black made their way to the house I wished I would be young enough to sit with Mom and Daddy like John and David were doing. There was an older man telling everyone where to sit and when it was finally time for the grandchildren to sit down I wasn't very pleased to see I was sitting right behind cousin John.

Cousin John was big and enjoyed nothing as much as being mean to younger children. I always tried to keep my distance from him. I comforted myself with the thought that he would surely not try anything during services.

As the first minister stood up and started preaching cousin John shifted back until he was sitting on my knees. I squirmed and he sat forward a little. It wasn't long before he was on my knees again. His sister was sitting beside me, nudged him and hissed "Behave yourself!" He sat back even farther to annoy her, so she leaned over and told me to use a pin and stick it into him. he overheard and sat forward, but I prepared myself. I removed a pin from my apron belt and held it ready. The next time he would sit on my lap there would be a surprise waiting for him.

It didn't take long. As he shifted back I held the pin firmly and felt triumphant when he jumped forward. His parents happened to see the disturbance and his Dad made him go sit beside him for the rest of the services so my victory was even better.

Once services were over and everyone filed past the casket we all headed in a long procession of buggies that made their way slowly to the little graveyard. The horses walked the whole way and I thought we would never get there. Once everything was over we headed back to the house where the women from the community had prepared a big meal. It seemed nice to have everyone talking and visiting in normal tones once again. Once we were done eating it was time for us to go home again. We said good-bye to Grandma and the rest of the aunts, uncles, and cousins and started on our long trip home.