An open letter to Bill Gates

I wrote about Heinz Gaugel, German artist by way of Holmes County, and his daughter and great-granddaughter showed up to leave a comment. I wrote about Anthony Kleem, painter of our favorite puzzles, and he stopped by the blog to say hello. At that point, I decided I would write only about people I admire. You have not seen me writing about politics, for example, since then [cough]. So here is my letter to Mr. Gates. I have every hope he will see it by end of day tomorrow.

Yes, that was a joke.

Dear Mr. Gates, Sir:

My son is in love with your business policies, especially the ones that produce billions of dollars. He is sort of waffling between two ambitions for his future career: qualifying for disability so he can sit around watching TV and eating Pop-Tarts, or buying a lime-green Ferrari and a large motorhome so he can spend his life driving around the country with his wife and fifteen homeschooled kids.

He is nine years old, but I feel he has great promise for a future in business strategies, and I was wondering if you would take him under your wing and steer him. Forgive the mixed metaphors. I am not sure if he is an egg or a ship or a cow in that analogy. (We come from the country, and there’s just so much literary fodder right out the window.)

He wrote you a letter today, which I have enclosed below. In it you will see his obvious talent coming out. He is a great writer. He invents creative solutions to financial predicaments. He is focused and to the point. He bonds quickly with people and could make a great salesman for sure.

Dear Mr. Bill Gates,

Could we be friends? I would be very flattered to be a friend of such a kind, brilliant, rich, handsome, gentleman like you.


Your friend?

Regan Zook

He is also patient beyond his years. I believe he only intends to hit you up for more, um, material benefits in his third letter or following, so he’s taking a while to plow the field. Under the circumstances, I think that shows a certain greatness of spirit.

Alright. I will close with that, and if you could see your way clear to lend him a hand we’d be happy to join the throngs currying favor with the richest man in the world. Excuse me, I meant the next richest man in the world. Bye for now, he needs me to prepare him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.


Shari Zook

Rumpelstiltskin Reloaded

Some time ago I complained heartily about the fault lines running thickly through the story of Rumpelstiltskin. Remember?

“If anyone can hand me a better version that actually makes sense of the key elements in the story, be it a paragraph or a page, I will publish it here. Put on your thinking cap; ask your children for solutions; dig out your reference books. Serious, satirical, or sappy—anything would be better than the above. I’m grading for logic, not polish. Best version gets a prize, and I’m not joking.”

Incidentally, a Shari Zook version is not forthcoming. I had fun trying. I wrote a Memphis version in which the King turned out to be Elvis; but it just didn’t work. My husband told me so, and he is a) prone to overrate my work, not underrate it and b) never wrong. So that version called in sick and will not be showing…

But I’m happy to announce that I had three other takers! I’m linking to their versions below. Some snowy afternoon, curl up with hot chocolate and enjoy them all. Then cast a vote, or tell me which parts of the rewrites were especially fun.

Rumpelstiltskin Over Easy, by Regan Zook

  • This succinct version was written by my 7-year-old son. Paragraph breaks were added for readability; original spelling and punctuation have been preserved. The moral of the story is: Problems? What problems? There’s always a way out somewhere. Includes original artwork.

Rumpelstiltskin – An Alternative Ending, by Ryan Zook

  • Short, ironic, and political, this version finds its own solution to the problem. Meet Jenny, a savvy young woman who forms surprising alliances.

Rumpelstiltskin Re-Imagined, by Amy Smucker

  • Romantic, bittersweet, and almost modern, this version takes its time to develop a storyline that actually makes sense. Meet Annie, a young woman working hard to pay off her father’s debt—and Will and Andrew: the two young men who fall in love with her.

Many thanks to the participants for their courage and inspiration! No way I could pick a “best” version, so everyone gets a prize.

Amy's pen

Don’t you wish you had joined the fun? That’s okay, next time you’ll be braver…

The mayhem and the macabre

We had a lot of drama this summer.

You wouldn’t think it, since the walls are still standing and the sunlight is slanting gently down on the goats’ pen. But we did, in our small way.

Once in our yard we found an unfortunate starling—as Dickens would say, dead as a doornail. We trust he died of old age, peacefully in his sleep, although his posture was not necessarily one to encourage hope. Regan, who hardly allows us to kill flies in this household, was quite upset. But he thought, seeing the damage had already been done, perhaps he could keep the corpse? No, no, and again no! We were firm on this.

We should have gotten our first clue that evening, when as we put the boys to bed we sensed a slight twinge of old septic in the air. Sometimes our innocence, like our hope, is not warranted. It was the next night, when the ghost of the bird cried out for revenge, that we went hunting, and found a certain Walmart bag, knotted up, in a certain son’s drawer of treasures…

I will spare you the rest. It was vile. For days.

And then [this one is not macabre] there was the time that Kelly and Regan were playing tug of war with a blanket in the upstairs hall. He let go, and she tumbled backwards down the steps. Her father was also in the hall, and made an amazing lunge that saved her halfway down. She was still bumped up quite a bit, and screaming. We comforted, soothed, and settled… then carried her the rest of the way downstairs and laid her on the couch. She went ballistic—a piercing shriek that drowned out thought—and we found we had laid her down on top of a bee.

That bee, it turns out, was the forerunner. First he was just one, and easily dealt with—and then we found another, several days later… and now on these warm sunny days our upstairs windows are swarmed by them. Two to five on a single pane. Where are they coming from? Almost I would take Jehoshaphat back instead.


It’s been a little wild, these last six weeks. I’ve been canning and editing and writing titillating descriptions of pickles. Not joking. I’ve been weeding flowerbeds and harvesting from the garden, and celebrating the warm rekindling of an old friendship and the sparkling addiction of a brand new one. I’ve planted those poppies and hung the wall art and sewed the desperately-needed dresses for my daughter; taken a sick son to the doctor and sat in the classrooms and made the fellowship meal food and pulled off the birthday party.

I’m dreaming of a very quiet October. But you know, I really love my life. Drama and all.

King of the wild cards

This post is an inside window into what it’s like sending my sensory-driven son Regan to first grade. He is blessed: with an amazing school, a small classroom, and a wonderful teacher who loves him–Miss Yvonne Yoder. Though I wrote the post as if to her, she knows every bit of it already. And more. It’s just for you, so you can see in… and for me, so I can see too.


Dear Teacher,

When I enter your classroom my eyes are big and blue, tinted almost with fear though I am not afraid. Where you see a single image, I see a thousand—a host of colors and shapes shouting at me to attend. I feel a little dizzy, my pupils wide.

I walk slightly stiff-legged. Maybe I’m acting a little babyish because I’m so excited. Maybe I’m pretending I’m a robot. I love pretending. I especially like pretending to be a robot, because the jerky arms and legs help me feel calm and focused.

I like my robot lunchbox with the flashing eyes and I like show and tell and I really like how I feel when you get down on my level and smile at me. I can’t stand being last in line and I can’t stand raising my hand if you don’t call on me and I can’t stand chapel because it’s so boring to sit still. I respond better to hand signals than words and I will have an ear infection in the first month of school and I spell my name wrong on purpose.

I love recess. I love our alphabet rhymes with hand motions. I love art class. You will always be able to tell my art from the others’ because I will find a way to make it mine. Once when you told us to sign our work, I wrote Regan Regan Regan Regan Regan all around the edge of the paper. I was so happy with my painting and I wanted everyone to know who made it.

I always need to know about relationships. I need to know what game is rowdiest and which child is kindest and whose backpack is coolest. I always know who my first best friend is, and my second best friend, and my third best friend, and fourth best friend. This all changes multiple times a day, but I never lose track. When I am angry at someone, he is immediately demoted to my last best friend.

I want people to like me, though I don’t really know how to make them do it. I bet your substitute teacher doesn’t like me as much as T, because she gave him the best notebook and called on him twice and me once. I will stick out my tongue at that teacher when she is not looking, and when she catches me I will pretend I never heard of a tongue before, much less this “sticking it out” bit. I am very good at pretending.

I like to know what I can get away with. I had to find out if you’d really take away a joy stick if I was naughty, and sure enough you did; but I’m pretty sure that your teacher’s aide wouldn’t. See? I got away with it.

You will learn to watch me like a hawk because I am king of the wild cards. Happy to furious to crying to laughing—I can do it all in 10 seconds flat. I will beat up on somebody someday and run away from you a few times and try your patience to no end. I’ll be an angel one day and a devil the next. It’s good you’ve taught a lot of kids before me; you will need every bit of your wisdom.

I hate to put you through all this but I love you a lot and there’s no one else I’d rather do it to…

I will amaze you and baffle you, charm and repel you. You may love me or not, conquer me or not, but I’m pretty sure you will never forget me.



Preschool training

Confession: All I wanted was to raise kids who were polite and well-mannered; intelligent kids who knew how to think.



They know how to think.

You may well say it was a trifling goal, a sideline aspiration. (Most of mine are.) I agree with you, but I still wouldn’t have chosen this Regan-path for myself. I didn’t want my child to be the one for whom hushed, impromptu parent-teacher conferences must be held in hallways and empty classrooms. I imagined him the head of the class, not the head of the outlaws. I imagined no fuss, no worries, and above all, no punching.

I signed up for a tour of sunny Spain and ended up in northern Saskatchewan, where punching is par for the course. As well as lying, petty theft, time-outs on the playground, and smiling threats on the lives of loved ones.

regan age 5I would like each of my children to be imbued with a large dose of Normalcy. My second son has it in stripes, interspersed with Devilry, Brilliance, Freakishness, and Disconnect.

I receive daily opportunities to lay down my idol of Well-Mannered Kids. (Or it lays down on its own, Dagon-style, smashing face first to the ground.)

I am learning to pray things that won’t be polished and articulate no matter how hard I try. I think when the Holy Spirit translates them to the Father they sound like


Please, please keep my boy.

Please, please sanctify his mother.

And I am learning, painfully, to do this–

open my hands