Monday, December 18, 2017

The Spiritual Winds

It seems like everyone is writing about church these days.

Asher Witmer is doing a whole series examining his history and experience with the Mennonite church, and what he is seeking and hoping for, over at 

Harvey Yoder writes, "I'm old enough to remember the walls and ditches and barriers created by people from different church groups among the Amish and Anabaptists. When I was Amish, people who left the plain church were often excommunicated, including myself. Jumping into the Beachy Fellowship circle was liberating, freeing and we talked among ourselves how restricting the old churches are. The Charity movement raised an incredible hullabaloo as people from all the plain churches flocked into this seemingly radical, unnerving and yet strangely attractive cult-like fanaticism about family and church and no standards. . . .Charity groups sprang up like mushrooms after a spring rain all over the United States,. . .Fast forward to today. The hot summer sun of modernism seems to have withered most of the mushroom churches. . . . Many of the adults and most of the children growing up in those circles have left the Charity churches and have disappeared into the general society. All in the matter of roughly 20 years."

It all makes me sit back in my rocking chair by the fire and reminisce about all the winds and trends that have blown through the American Christian church and especially the Mennonite church in the last 50 years.

And how those winds affected me. Or mostly how they didn't.

My most disaffected stage was when I was at our Beachy Amish church in Minnesota as a young adult. Dear me, the Rules, the Legalism, the Traditions. How could the old ladies like Mom and Joe Ketty and Alvin Mary just go on going through the same motions week after week and not want Something More, something Deeper, something with Life? 

How were they ok with just being so Stuck and so Spiritually Dead?

I also had issues with the leadership. I felt then, and still do, that that congregation was almost cult-like in how difficult it was to leave. Surely, if someone wanted to leave, it would be much wiser to simply say, "Ok, you're an adult, and God is working outside of this little church. Go see what He has for you."

[Which is pretty much the approach my pastor-husband has taken, God bless him.]

Instead, I and others endured phone calls and meetings with ministers that were far too much like the woman taken in adultery, accused and condemned before Jesus and the crowd.

But then all my agonizing about leaving or not, and how and when, and trying to explain it to the bishop--none of that was actually necessary in the end because I chose the one single acceptable way to leave our church--I got married!  To a Mennonite man who charmed everyone with his steady confidence and great insights into Scripture and life!

They still ask him to preach when we go back to visit.

After that, I never really went through those agonizing decisions about Leaving The Church. Instead, I am now a lot like Alvin Mary and Joe Ketty and Mom, plump and contented, sharing news and recipes after church.

Interesting how the grandmas, so traditional, so limited in their view of the world, so not on fire for Jesus by our fresh-from-Bible-School definition, quietly went around teaching children, feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and healing the sick, actually doing exactly what Jesus said to do.


But I was going to talk about the winds that blew.

Whenever a new breeze whistled through my religious world, the chief proponents were always the ones I saw as Cool Spiritual People.

They always seemed to be on a different plane than me, like they had sniffed the jet stream and knew deep and high things the rest of us couldn't fathom. They used new and different words, and in their little groups, they immediately understood each other. Yes, mmm-hmmm, praise Jesus, my spirit bears witness to that.

I was never cool and spiritual. I was both attracted and repulsed by the changes I saw, wanting to be included, but thinking it was kind of pretentious and weird. But I would never have said that out loud. And I couldn't bring myself to use the vocabulary.

Mostly, I always knew that I was a bumbling sinner with lots of issues. It was important not to pretend to be something I wasn't, so no high and lofty spiritual life for me.

We note with all of the following examples that I had a persistent inferiority that colored my perceptions. Sometimes it made me cynical about trends that were actually timely and healthy, but it also saved me from following others down some bizarre paths.

There's no place like a Mennonite Bible school for dividing the cool and spiritual from the Not So Much. I can still see them--their eloquent prayers, the books they read, the long discussions on Apologetics and Eschatology. They were Deep.

And you-know-who was not-so-much, not a doubt about that.

During my school-teaching years, I attended a conservative Mennonite church that had a vocabulary and values surprisingly different from my Beachy-Amish background. These people were always talking about Convictions. You were supposed to have them, lots of them, the more the better. It didn't really matter what they were about, except they always had to do with church rules and being more conservative. They kept tabs on each other's convictions. Conservative was good and even cool. So if you would say--and show--that you had developed a conviction for a bigger head covering and longer dresses, you got lots of approval.

I was very bad at this, with the resulting disapproval and pull-asides and earnest exhortation.

There was a wind that blew through a neighboring church during my teaching years. It was the chic place to attend, where people murmured "mmmmm, yes, praise God," in normal conversation, and they would all get out of their seats during the service and hold hands and sing "Bind Us Together." They learned to start their prayers with "Father God," which was always one of the first signs of a traditional Mennonite becoming enlightened, and they were into speaking in tongues and exorcising demons.

I wasn't sure what to make of this, and watched in awkward fascination from the sidelines.

I've written before about the Bill Gothard/Basic Youth/ATI movement which came after we were married. It was hard, sometimes, to have so many friends who were part of my life and yet immersed in a system that Paul and I were suspicious of. Some friends were accepting of our choices, others were a bit too forceful in their gushing to us about the joys of homeschooling, of not using contraception, or of following Gothard's monthly schedule for sex, which seemed creepy at the time and now seems absolutely horrifying.

But what is hard to see from this perspective is that the people who were into Gothard seemed like the ones who had it all together, and we were just stubborn and weird, and we didn't love the Word like they did.

When we were working in Canada, it seemed like anyone who was anything in the mission got into counseling, and Touching Lives of Hurting People. Once again, they had a vocabulary all their own, and an aura of deep knowledge and insights. They quoted Dan Allender, went to Winnipeg for training, and talked about Heart Issues.

Paul and I were never encouraged to become counselors. After the trauma of the riot at Stirland Lake, a counselor was brought in to meet with anyone who wanted to discuss their experience. I was in the depths of morning sickness and remember thinking, desperately, "I don't need counseling; I need casseroles!" But I didn't say it out loud, and I didn't meet with the counselor.

Later there were the Charity churches and all their offshoots, which blazed over the landscape like a prairie fire. A Charity-offshoot preacher that we sort of knew was in church one Sunday, a powerful-looking man, sitting there frowning darkly and analyzing it all--the Sunday school lesson, the sermon, everything--was it actually the True Gospel or Traditional Platitudes? Somehow it was his to judge, and I was gratified that he reported to someone after church that Paul's sermon was Solid and True.

Why did I think this random pretentious guy was anyone to take seriously? That is just disturbing.

The shake-up in music in churches, from congregational hymns to "worship music" and choruses led by a band onstage, didn't affect our churches that much. However, it seemed the people who left the Mennonite church always gravitated for churches with the newer music style. More recently, however, Mennonite young people gravitate toward Liturgical churches.

Today, it seems like the cool spiritual young Mennonites are into adventure, photogenic missions, and being as urban and hipster as possible but retaining just enough of the cultural flavor to be unique and to keep the community connections. They also seem to be into drinking alcohol, not in excess but just enough to be sophisticated and to show that they are free in Jesus. The girls often retain some kind of head covering, such as beanies and fedoras and toques, with a low bun and lots of dangling strands of hair around the face.

Once again I am thoroughly uncool and confused.

From my perspective in the rocking chair, I've seen the ending of many of these stories. Mennonites tend to judge your life by how your family turned out, so I will do the same. Honestly, there really is not much rhyme or reason. I can think of Gothard followers whose families are complete disasters and others who are healthy and thriving. Many of the traditional folks who stayed in conservative churches did fine, but the churches with lots of convictions also produced an alarming share of pedophiles and cheating husbands. And of those who left, some did very well and some serve as an example of What Can Happen If You Go.

The only pattern I can find is that the people who were the noisiest about how we all ought to live often fell the farthest and crashed the hardest.

Meanwhile, the changeless, traditional Alvin Mary type of women were always plump and warm and welcoming, and always made me feel loved and special. The church of my childhood is still Beachy-Amish, but is a much more nurturing place than it used to be. Our church, where Paul has pastored for years, has had horrible hard times but is still a spiritual home for our family and a place where people know my shortcomings and love me anyhow.

Some things I've learned:
--We are all a bunch of sinners and Jesus is our only rock, foundation, salvation, and hope.
--Don't let anyone fool you with their awesome spirituality. The most truly Godly people will be the most humble and the most honest about their flaws.
--Both tradition and change can be good or bad, and you often won't know which until 20 years later, so good luck with that.
--A new wind blowing through your life and church might be a weird cult or it might be a fresh working of the Holy Spirit. Listen to Scripture and the Still Small Voice within about whether or not to move with the wind, and don't listen so much to friends or enemies or persuasive leaders or the Amazing Spiritual People or the newest bestselling author.
--If you follow Jesus, He will do all kinds of amazing things in your life, even if you are bumbling and stumbling and a little weird and full of issues.
--All the Glory is His, and you should be suspicious of anyone who wants a piece of it.

Friday, December 15, 2017

December's Column--Fighting the Darkness Without and Within

Stoke the fires within to fight winter gloom

By Dorcas Smucker
Register-Guard columnist
DEC 10, 2017

When I get annoyed at green fields, I know it’s time to fight back against the darkness.

I love Oregon, really. As a long-ago transplant from the Midwest, I am still in awe at the wildness of the Pacific Coast and the impossible magnitude of the Cascades. I like the secure sense of living in a valley framed by mountain ranges, and I love that there are always new waterfalls to discover.

But I have never learned to like Oregon winters — neither the gloomy skies nor the listless rain that hangs around but seldom works up the energy for a good impressive storm nor the damp cold that somehow chills my bones like Minnesota never did. Things that ought not to be wet are constantly soaked and dripping — trees, grass, cars, roofs, even chickens venturing out of the coop. And the way moss and mold creep over anything that stands still for a season — that is almost scary.

Every fall, it seems for a short time that things are progressing properly, as nature intended. Harvested grass fields are bare, acorns fall, temperatures drop, leaves drift downward, and rose hips emerge bright and red from brown wild-rose bushes beside the road.

Then the autumn clouds move in like a gray army, bringing a chilling and smothering of spirits. The days grow shorter, compounded by the end of daylight-saving time that cuts back the evening light by an hour.

Just when I think the bare fields ought to be frozen and covered with snow, they suddenly turn a bright, garish green.

You’d think I would find it refreshing, that splash of color. Instead, I find it annoying, taunting me with the fact that nature is all mixed up here, and this soggy winter will go on and on, verging on the edge of both fall and spring, without ever getting snowy and frozen for more than a few days, if at all.

When I waste emotional energy on green fields, of all things — that’s the sign that the encroaching darkness and mold have reached my soul.

Whether it’s seasonal affective disorder or just an unreasonable grumpiness, I have learned, after 20-odd years, it’s best to resist.

Giving in is easy, sinking into a self-absorbed and pitiful cocoon until spring. Unchecked, it can become clinical depression. Fighting back is tough but ultimately worthwhile.

Simple daily disciplines always come first, such as taking vitamin D, limiting sugar in my diet and going outside during the day.

I also choose gratitude, a simple discipline of the heart. Thanksgiving comes at an opportune time, bringing feasting and deliberate counting of blessings just as the last soggy leaves fall and the days grow constantly shorter. The holiday compels me to see, again, all that I’ve been given. It may be 35 degrees with sleet outside, my least favorite weather of all, but inside I can set the thermostat to 75, if I please, and the furnace does my bidding. We celebrate with a huge turkey from WinCo, an array of side dishes and a dozen friends and family, and I don’t have the time or desire to feel sorry for myself.

My third strategy is planning ahead for easy and fun activities, such as having my neighbor and friend, Anita, over for tea and conversation. Five family members came in the door, rattled around the kitchen, and left again as we talked at the table one afternoon. “I like how you just decide to do this, and then you do it, even if people come and go all the time,” Anita said. “You don’t wait until things are perfect.”

Waiting for perfection, I’ve found, lets the winter gloom spread like moss on an abandoned shed. Scheduling coffee with the sisters-in-law, a Handel’s Messiah concert, or half a day of secondhand shopping is a powerful antidote, even if the timing is inconvenient or the weather turns out to be terrible.

Even something as small as a London Fog from Dutch Bros, sipped in a car with rain streaming over the windows, brings warmth, indulgence, and a gentle boost of hope.

Lastly, the most powerful pushback of all is generosity.

It’s not surprising that the winter solstice coincides with Christmas, when we celebrate the light and hope of Jesus, the gift to a dark world. Giving becomes a personal form of light as well, dispelling the inner shadows. Choosing gifts for friends and family makes me think of others and what they need and enjoy.

Almost every winter, I host a giveaway online. I invite my blog readers to nominate people who have had a difficult year, so I can mail them a free book. The emails land in my inbox and I sit there in tears, reading of cancer, sick babies, car crashes, spouses abandoning their families, and a dozen other incomprehensible tragedies.

A book of mine will never make everything better, but I like to think it will feel like a little shaft of comfort, showing that someone cares. It dispels the selfishness in my spirits as well, proving the truth of Jesus’ paradoxical statement: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over …”

Some years, my husband and I participate in the annual “cookie project” of Gospel Echoes Northwest, a ministry based in Tangent. We go to a state prison and distribute cookies and handmade Christmas cards to inmates. There is nothing else like it for transforming your perspective and making your daily world — in any sort of weather — feel like a paradise of freedom and opportunity.

I may never come to love an Oregon winter. But choosing discipline, gratitude, deliberate fun, and most of all, generosity, will effectively fight off the invading inner gloom.

Around our walnut tree, during the longest nights of the year, quiet but determined daffodils already are pushing up from the cold wet soil. The prophet Isaiah still calls, “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” And when the evening sun breaks out from behind the clouds and slants across a flagrantly green ryegrass field, it is truly a beautiful thing to see.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Happy Sad Giveaway Project

This is the season of long nights and short days, and it is also the season of gloom in weather and spirit in Oregon.

...but rainbows help.

I've learned that I need to deliberately choose light, just to survive. Today, when the sun was shining in grand fashion and the sky was blue, I went on a walk and also sat on the porch with the sun full in my face.

I also try to choose light in my spirit. As I wrote in my column for this month, to be published on Sunday:

Giving becomes a personal form of light as well, dispelling the inner 
shadows. ...

Almost every winter, I host a giveaway online. I invite my blog readers 
to nominate people who have had a difficult year, so I can mail them a 
free book. The emails land in my inbox and I sit there in tears, reading 
of cancer, sick babies, terrible car crashes, spouses abandoning their 
families, and a dozen other incomprehensible tragedies.

A book of mine will never make everything better, but I like to think it 
will feel like a little shaft of comfort, showing that someone cares.  

Ok, so I sent that off yesterday, and in a lovely bit of timing and affirmation, I got this note today:

A little more than 4 years ago, we had just buried our 31 year old brother-in-law after he drowned and I was really struggling with knowing how to deal with the grief myself not to mention how to help our eight children. I remember so well the day your book came in the mail. It felt like a light was handed to me in the middle of a very dark tunnel. That certainly wasn't the end of the struggles but several things gave me hope-your delightful writing and the fact that someone cared about me.

I cried, of course. And decided it's for sure time to post this giveaway again.

I've decided to call this almost-annual event the Happy Sad Giveaway Project, because it is always the oddest mix of tragedy and joy.

As mentioned, I sit at the computer and weep as the emails and stories roll in, but it is glorious to know that this is a little tiny actual thing I can do, and the nominating, helpless, concerned friends can feel like they are doing something tangible as well.

It's also a way of showing my gratitude for the fact that people have been buying my new book, totally of their own volition! I always find that amazing.

This is how it works:

You write an email ( or a letter (31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR, 97446) and tell me about someone in your life who has had a rough year and who might be encouraged by a book from me. If you like, you can specify which book to send, or tell me which ones they already have.

You also tell me the person's name and address.

I reserve the right to decline. But if I feel this is a qualifying recipient, I mail them a book.

A few rules: I'll mail them only within the USA. You can nominate someone in another country only if you provide a US mailing address.

Sunlight Through Dusty Windows is not eligible.

You can't nominate yourself!

The deadline is December 20.

Also: don't count on this to arrive in time for Christmas, because I'm busy with other book orders and events, and also I use Media Mail, which is slow and unpredictable at this time of year--but also much less expensive.

A list of titles is right here

One, two, three, GO! And be blessed!

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Two Book Sales

Local people:

There are two book sales this week and I'd love to see you there.

The first is at the Register-Guard building on Chad Drive. It's on Thursday, Dec. 7, from 4 to 6 pm.

The second is in the Atrium at the Lane County Fairgrounds. It's on Saturday, Dec. 9, from 10 a.m to 5 pm.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Letter from Harrisburg: Old Friends

Old friendships are life’s priceless gems

By Dorcas Smucker
Register-Guard columnist
NOV. 12, 2017

"I've made new friends, but there’s nothing quite like old friends who know you and your family and your past,” a friend of mine said wistfully on a recent visit to Oregon, at a lunch in her honor.

I agree. Most friendships are only for a season of our lives, it seems, but once in a while we are given a friend who was there early and never really leaves.

My cousin Kay is that sort of lifelong friend. From childhood family reunions to living in the far North as young moms to random events since, our paths keep diverging and then unexpectedly connecting again. Recently, we met once again, at a church women’s retreat in Colorado, where Kay lives with her family and I was invited to speak.

The event organizer, on finding out that we were cousins and longtime friends, asked Kay to talk briefly at the end of the weekend about our shared history. She told of living in Kansas and seeing these Minnesota cousins when we came to visit our grandparents, sharing a duplex and a private code with me years later, late-night ice cream, and much more.

“Who would ever have thought?” we said afterwards. Her sisters and mine have lost touch, for the most part, but she and I keep showing up at the same place and time, as though this gift is meant to continue.

My first memory of Kay is when I was 7 or 8 years old, at a family wedding or funeral in Kansas. She and her sister walked in wearing little pastel-colored plastic barrettes in their hair. Our family was too Amish for anything fancier than bobby pins, and I sat on the backless benches and envied Kay and Cheryl those gorgeous pink and yellow barrettes shaped like bows and flowers.

Kay was my sister Rebecca’s age, Cheryl and I were a year younger, and the four of us had a kinship that went beyond our common Yoder genes. We were all dreadfully poor, for one thing, unlike our comfortable relatives. We all attended public schools, when most of our Amish and Mennonite friends went to church schools, and we shared a sense of humor.

So we wrote each other letters, because all Amish and Mennonite girls had penpals back then, and we had wild slumber parties with cousins in Iowa. Dutiful visits to aged Amish relatives in Kansas were brightened by the prospect of seeing Kay and Cheryl’s family. When the sisters attended a short-term Bible school in Minnesota, Rebecca and I drove four hours through a snowstorm, at night, to spend a weekend with them. I slept in Cheryl’s bunk and whispered with her so much the dorm mom came and shushed me.

Our paths diverged, and I never saw Cheryl after my grandma’s funeral. Oddly, it was Kay, who had always been more my sister’s buddy, who formed a lasting friendship with me.

In her talk at the women’s retreat, Kay recalled the period that bonded us most — the year spent living in a duplex at a remote residential school for Native American students in Canada. Kay and her husband, Gaylord, and son Dallas were on one side of the house, and Paul and I and our son Matthew were on the other, with a shared basement. There were no phones to connect us to the outside world, but each building or apartment had an ancient crank phone and a specific pattern of long and short rings, like our own Morse code. Two longs and a short for the girls’ dorm, for example. Everyone heard every ring, and anyone could listen to the conversations.

Kay and I came up with a ring tone of our own: five short rings meant “Meet in the basement.” The whole campus was mystified about this strange ring tone that wasn’t on the list we all taped beside our phones. Our secret worked until someone caught on. One evening the phone clattered with five short rings, and she and I headed to the basement where we both waited, confused, for the other to say what they wanted.

It was a year not only of chats in the basement but also of tragedy. In January, someone set fire to the generator shed that supplied power to the campus. Not long after, the students erupted in anger one night, breaking windows and assaulting and seriously injuring dorm supervisors and other staff.

We were 125 miles from police, fire and medical services. Kay and I and our babies huddled and prayed, and ever after had that unique friendship that comes from surviving something terrifying together.

Those incidents made us question our roles in the North, the Native culture, and most of all in the school. It led Paul and me to move to a reservation even further north, at the chief’s request, to help them establish a school so the older kids wouldn’t have to move far away to get an education.

Oddly, there in that frozen village, the one food we almost never got was ice cream. So on a visit to the mission headquarters, where Gaylord and Kay now lived, I confided my ice cream cravings and Kay decided I must have some. Late in the evening we drove to town. Dairy Queen was closed and so was McDonalds. Finally we went to Safeway and bought a pint of ice cream, but we forgot completely about spoons. We tore up the lid into makeshift scoops and sat in the car in the snowy parking lot in our winter coats, in the dark, eating out of the same pint of ice cream, laughing and talking.

Eventually we lived on the same side of a lake in Canada, and our growing children played together. Mine got the most vicious case of chicken pox I’ve ever seen. Kay brought her kids over to expose them, then set up an infirmary just like mine in her living room. But instead of our crew’s week of blistered skin and high fevers, her children got about a dozen pox apiece and kept on playing outside.

When we hit a moose one night and our van burned up, Kay gave me support and courage, and Gaylord loaded up the shell of the van and hauled it away.

Then we parted ways again.

Years later, Kay mentored and mothered our daughter Emily when she moved to Colorado’s dry climate to fight depression and a long-term illness.

Last week, I stayed in Colorado an extra day after the retreat to have time to talk with Kay. As always, she was so busy with a stream of people coming to her house that we had to go away in the car to be alone.

We didn’t get ice cream, this time. Instead, we drove around the countryside and she showed me where her married children live and where a mutual friend died in a car accident five years ago.

As always, we talked fast and intensely. We discussed our children’s choices that make us either proud or worried. We talked of husbands and history, grief and growth, memories and milestones. We discussed our creative hobbies and extravagant hopes for the future.

When one of us said, “If I had the chance, I would do things differently,” the other assured her that we all did the best we could with what we knew.

In a world of transience and change, I am thankful for old friends. They understand, without long explanations, who you are and where you came from. They have read the entire story of your life and seen you at your youngest and your worst, but have stayed with you anyhow. They have invested deeply in your children.

Best of all, whenever you meet, they fill you up once again with grace and sympathy and laughter.

Kay and me

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

On Hosting: A Thanksgiving Poem

I make my sister's dressing every year
"Aunt Becky's Yummy Stuffing" it is called,
So full of melted butter that I think
On any other day I'd be appalled.

I find "Joe-Katherine's" make-ahead potato
Directions in the blue Grove City book.
And for the best pecan pie to be had
In Bonner's Ferry Recipes I look.

Carrie Gingerich gave the recipe
For butterhorns with lots of eggs and yeast.
I mix a double batch of it because
We're feeding many at tomorrow's feast.

I thaw the corn that, as my mother taught me,
I cut from off the cob with sweeping strokes.
And Mrs. Habedank in Home Ec said
The fork goes on the left for proper folks.

Each year I gather family, friends, and strangers
To crowd around our table, long and wide
We laugh and talk and learn to know each other
And eat too much and maybe more beside.

Today I'm thankful for the gifted women
Who taught me all I know of cooking's art.
And special thanks to Mom for showing me
That hospitality comes from the heart.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Final Week of Blog Tour

The home stretch begins! Here are the final blog reviews and giveaways for Fragrant Whiffs of Joy.

Monday--Kendra at The Days of My Life.

Tuesday--Luci at Properties of Light.

Wednesday--Su at Born to Know Him.

Thursday--we put aside blog tours and focus on people and food and blessings

Friday--Shari at Confessions.

A very happy Thanksgiving to each of you.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Blog Tour Schedule for the Week

Here's the schedule for all the stops on the Fragrant Whiffs of Joy blog tour.

Everyone is doing a giveaway, and most are open for a few days, so if you missed a post you can go back and enter the giveaway a few days late.

These bloggers are worth reading, giveaway or not!

Monday, November 13: Rosina at Arabah Rejoice.
Christine at Shall Run and Not Be Weary.

Tuesday, Nov. 14: Jolynn at Then We Danced
Gina at Home Joys

Wednesday, Nov. 15: Tina at her author website, Author Tina Fehr.
Aurelia at Gravel Road Musings

Thursday, Nov. 16: Emily at EmilyMiller85
(Just one today!)

Friday, Nov. 17: Lydia Jo at Lydia Jo, the Blog
Bethany at About My Father's Business

Saturday, Nov. 18--Ruthie at The Blonde Bookworm
Dorcas at The Delightful Cottage

That's all for this week, but there are still more coming next week!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Two New Stops on the Blog Tour

Today we visit Anita Yoder at Tis a Gift to Receive. She recalls the one time we met and had tea together, and made me wish we could do it again.

The second stop of the day is Mary Ann Kinsinger's A Joyful Chaos, in which my book has the honor of finding a home in her special cupboard.

Both of these women are authors and bloggers, so be sure to check out the good things they have to offer.

And don't forget the giveaways!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday's Blog Tour Stops

The Fragrant Whiffs of Joy blog tour and giveaways continue: 
We have two reviewers for Friday: Rosalyn Schlabach at All of a Kind Mom.

And Gertrude Slabach at My Windowsill.
Rosalyn does lots of book reviews, from the looks of her previous posts.
Gert is a fellow author and a mom of six young adults.
And a sneak peek at Saturday’s reviewers: Anita Yoder at Tis a Gift to Receive and Mary Ann Kinsinger from A Joyful Chaos.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

FWOJ Blog Tour: Rachel at Wildflower Days

The Fragrant Whiffs of Joy blog tour begins with Rachel at Wildflower Days.

I love how she gets exactly what I was trying to say.

Join in for the giveaway!

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Blog Tour and Giveaways

Fourteen years ago, when I self-published the first version of Ordinary Days, the part of the process that nearly did me in was marketing.

Buying ads, calling radio stations, eagerly offering my book to innocent acquaintances--it was all completely nauseating for this still-half-Amish girl, so I did very little of any of those.

In case you didn't know: If you're Amish, you draw as little attention to yourself as possible. You do not brag.

"What's this I hear about a book of yours?" your neighbor might say. You shrug. "Aach, vell, I put a few of my letters together, just because the children wanted me to. It's nothing much."

So that was why I was happy to hand things off to Good Books. THEY could place the ads and call the bookstores, and I could be quiet and humble.

I am publishing my own book once again, but in a very happy turn of events, I don't have to say a lot about it. A couple of weeks ago, I put out a simple call for help, and a whole bunch of very "hilflich" [helpful] ladies came pouring out of the interwebs, and they are going to do all the talking about my new book on their blogs.

I just love them, and I think you will too, because not only do they have interesting things to read when you poke around on their websites, but they are each going to give away a book as well!

The blog tour starts on Thursday the 9th and continues until after Thanksgiving! Didn't I say that I had lots of volunteers?

Watch for Rachel Miller at Wildflower Days on Thursday. Rachel writes about her "hundred kids" and has a wonderful perspective on life and ministry.

On Friday, we'll meet Rosalyn and Gert.

Please come along. This will be fun!

Quote of the Day:
Me: Um, the books haven't arrived yet. Do you have any idea...?
Guy at printers: Whoa, Oregon must be a long way away! If they're not there by Monday, we'll track it down!
Me:Ok, thanks.
Guy: Who did your cover? I never seen a purdier cover!
Me: [warm fuzzy thoughts] It was an artist I found, from London.
Guy: How much did it cost, if I may ask?
Me: xxx dollars.
Guy: OH ho ho! That's cheap!
Me: [more warm fuzzy thoughts]
Guy: Ya, we go through a lotta books here. We just sent out ten cases of Linda Byler's new book. She's really doin' good with her new publisher!
Me: [cold and very un-fuzzy thoughts]

The books arrived Monday, but they were seven miles away, at Smucker Manufacturing. Someone from there called, and we picked them up. So I have even more cases of books than Linda Byler has, I think.

Monday, October 23, 2017

October RG Column

Life’s twisty path leads to good spot

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
OCT. 8, 2017

My high school class chose this motto, back in 1980:

“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for your dream precedes the goal.”

We found the motto by paging through the Argus catalog, full of posters of sunset photos or colorful graphic art overlaid with inspiring words. The class officers made a list of the best phrases and then we voted. Surely such a profound directive would propel us into future greatness.

I laugh about this now, because I’ve learned that we hardly know what to wish for at that age, life takes strange and unpredictable turns, and we are led by powers far beyond our own initiative.

At 18, I had a snooty attitude about marriage and children, and I was determined to be an independent single woman. It was a face-saving way to cope with the painful fact that the cool guys never paid attention to me.

A few years later I ate all my lofty words and married Paul, who didn’t need to be cool because he was kind and smart and confident and got big things done without making any noise about it.

I have a dreamy young friend who, I found out recently in roundabout fashion, feels sorry for me. She sees that I am like her, impractical, artsy and imaginative. And I am stuck with Paul who is a practical, mostly predictable and completely non-poetic seed-cleaning Mennonite minister.

She has a point, I admit. I often have said that if Paul and I can make it for 33 years and counting, almost any marriage can, because we have a dozen impossible polarities. It has taken hard work and sometimes anguished communication to come to understand each other and work together.

But we have learned that when we combine our strengths and balance our weaknesses, we make an amazing team.

I give up too easily. He is too stubborn. I am good at ideas but defeated by practicalities. He loves to plan, build and budget. Together, we dream up ideas and reach goals in ways that even my starry-eyed high school self could never have imagined. Travel, house renovations, business opportunities, even adopting our son Steven — I came up with the bright idea. He figured out how we could make it happen.

Now, Paul is making another hope of mine come to life.

For a long time, I wished vaguely for a quiet place to get away to write. Two years ago, Paul dismantled the shed his grandfather built in 1947. I forget whose ideas were which, but we concocted a brilliant plan: We would build a little writing cabin beside the creek, using the lovely old weathered boards and beams from the shed.

“But wouldn’t it get flooded every winter?” I said.

“Not if it was on concrete pillars,” Paul said.

So he got a permit, and he and his nephew Keith, who combines both practical skills and great ideas, poured four concrete posts, 8 feet tall, to hold the building safe and high when the winter rains came.

Paul began building the structure in a storage shed at our seed warehouse. I was giddy with excitement.

I imagined old boards on the floor with a gentle whitewashed look. Paul and Keith figured out how it could be done. Old corrugated tin on the roof? Sure, why not? Shiplap on the walls, rustic beams to make a little loft — it would all be mine for the asking.

Then an official from the county did his best to destroy my dream. “That road guy, may a hundred chickens peck his ankles,” I referred to him, bitterly, as he came by to find fault and wrote letters to other county departments insisting that we shouldn’t be allowed to do this.

Paul stayed calm. He went to the Linn County offices and asked questions, filled out forms and pursued permission. He made phone calls, waited, filled out more forms, and made more trips to Albany.

On evening walks, I would look at the building site and those lonely posts and wonder if they still would be there, standing useless, 20 years from now.

Paul spent hours drawing detailed blueprints at the kitchen table. He had an engineer inspect them, and he refused to tell me how much he paid for this.

“I think I’d have given up,” said our friend Nelson after Paul told him the whole story recently.

I’m sure I would have, too.

It takes a rare gift to out-stubborn unsympathetic county land-use officials. Paul eventually got that precious yellow permission slip through plodding determination and none of my bitter deprecations.

Cold weather, a huge new storage shed for our business and church responsibilities further delayed the building. Finally, Paul hired my nephew Austin to come out from South Carolina for the month of August. Austin builds portable sheds for a living. The cabin came together delightfully fast when he showed up, daily acquiring a layer of insulation, beams, roofing or siding.

Our son Matt came to Oregon for the eclipse and helped as well.

On a brilliant day in late August we gathered on the side of the road as a large crane lifted my beautiful cabin off a trailer and high overhead, up and up as I held my breath, and then gently down into the slots on the posts, just as Paul had designed it.

Paul still works on it almost every day — sealing the old siding boards, building steps, and installing windows and doors.

While he works on the outside, I sit inside and type as the wind blows and acorns fall from the oak trees all around.

At 18, it never crossed my mind that I could accomplish more if I got married to a polar opposite. I never thought to wish for a husband — and also sons and nephews — who would invest time and effort into making my crazy impossible dreams come true.

I think the posters in that 1980 catalog should have had wise sayings like this: Life seldom transpires as you predict or plan. Sometimes our dreams choose us, rather than the other way around. The best things come through waiting, sacrifice and loving even when it’s hard.

There’s a rustic little cabin by the creek that proves them true.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Two New Books

My two new books are available!

The first is Sunlight Through Dusty Windows

Skyhorse Publications, who bought out Good Books, the publisher of my first three books,* decided to combine them all under one title. The result was this plump book that contains more cogitations than anyone ought to read at one go, but this was not my decision to make, having sold all rights to Good Books when the books were first published, and barely escaping with my soul and my children.

*Ordinary Days
Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting
Downstairs the Queen is Knitting

In case I haven't made it clear, I am just a bit bitter about publishers. Books are all business to them, and authors are mere word-generating and (hopefully) money-making machines.

I was supposed to get a free copy of this book in the mail, since I’m the author, after all. Instead I got a copy of a book on how to go camping. It’ll make a nice Christmas present for [BEN DON'T READ THIS!] that person in the family who likes to go camping, so I wasn’t too upset. Eventually I got a proper copy of my book.

Worse was when I ordered 50 copies of Sunlight Through Dusty Windows at what I assumed would be the normal author discount of 50%. When the bill arrived, I thought they cost an awful lot, plus I had to pay shipping and all.

“Oh,” said the lady at Skyhorse, “You have to order in multiples of 20 to get the 50% discount.”


But buying this book is less expensive than buying the three titles individually, so if you want this book despite my gloomy view of it, you can buy it on Amazon. Or you can order it from me. The price is $18.

Again, just to be clear, it's my first three books combined.

The one redeeming quality of this book is that the cover picture looks like a scene from our house. That's kind of cool. And also my sister Rebecca and her husband thought of the title.


There’s my other new book!!

I am very excited about this one!!!

It is self-published, and I am loving self-publishing!!!!

Not only do I have control of the process, but the world is full of people who are happy to help me!!!!!

The title is Fragrant Whiffs of Joy. Emily found that line in the story about cooking for a big family and thought it would work as a book title. I agreed.

It is available directly from me for $12. Actually, I don't have any copies in hand yet but they are being printed as we speak and should be here before the end of October, so I'm taking orders now.

If you plan to be at the ladies' retreat in Canon City, Colorado, on October 27-28, you can buy a copy there.

Eventually Whiffs will also be available on Amazon, but not yet.

It’s also available on Kindle.

As mentioned, I tried to do as many steps as possible on my own this time, and posting it on Kindle was the only part of the process that didn't go well. At first, every apostrophe showed up as a brief burst of Beetle Bailey-style cussing. I finally got that fixed, and then the page numbers appeared randomly throughout the text.

So the Kindle price is $3.99 but will go up $2 when I straighten out the glitches.

This book is my sixth compilation of Register-Guard-column essays. It includes stories about grown children, my dad coming to visit, chickens, cats, farming, travel, marriage, illness, fabric, and Aunt Orpha.

Emily was the main editor of this one, and you might recall that she impulsively gave it the working title of In the Grass the Snakes Are Slithering when she needed a title as she was saving the document.


I got concerned comments and alarmed emails about this, and a serious pull-aside in church. It was a very bad idea, people don’t like snakes, what in the world?, what was I thinking?, and it was a poor testimony besides.

My dear People: It was a temporary title.  There is no possible way I would put such a name on one of my books.

It was also Emily’s idea to leave the stories in chronological order this time instead of grouping them into categories.

I’m especially happy about the cover on Whiffs. The artist is Laura Hughes, a young woman from London who draws the most charming cats and teapots I’ve ever seen.  She also drew the teapot on the cover of Tea and Trouble Brewing. In the five intervening years, she’s become much better known and has illustrated children’s books for well-known authors.

But she was willing to work with little obscure me and I was pleased with the result.

Fragrant Whiffs of Joy can be ordered from me for $12.

Postage is $2 per book.

You can send me your order and a check:
Dorcas Smucker
31148 Substation Drive
Harrisburg, OR 97446

You can also pay with PayPal at and then send me an email at that same address telling me what you want.

Here are all of my books and prices:

Ordinary Days $10
Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting $10
Downstairs the Queen is Knitting $10
Tea and Trouble Brewing $12
Footprints on the Ceiling $12
Fragrant Whiffs of Joy $12
Sunlight Through Dusty Windows $18

I also have available:
A Chirp from the Grass Roots by Amos Yoder $10
Emily by Emily Smucker $10

Again, postage is $2 per book.

And here’s a SPECIAL:

Any 5 books including Dad's and Emily's but NOT INCLUDING Sunlight Through Dusty Windows for $45.

Free postage on any order over $50. USA addresses only.

Wholesale prices are available for bookstores and such. Email me at or call/text me at 541-520-8510.

Thanks to everyone who told me they're waiting on the new book and encouraged me in the process.

I'd like to do a Christmas giveaway again this year as I have in the past, but that is for a future post. Meanwhile, you can think of people who are having hard times and would be encouraged by a free book. 

Sunday, October 01, 2017

More Sparrow Nest Pictures

On August 25th, we all stood watching as the Sparrow Nest was moved into place.
As soon as it was situated, I handed Matt my camera.
"Take a picture of me when I'm inside," I said.
Later, I discovered he had taken this whole series.
They made me laugh.
They might make you laugh as well even though, as Hillary Clinton once said, No woman in her 50s ever voluntarily has a picture taken of her backside.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Sparrow Finds Her Nest

Two years ago, Paul began building me a writing cabin.

Not long after, you may recall, someone from the county raised a huge fuss about this. Paul ended up hacking his way through a large forest of regulations, permits, inspections, and requirements. You'd have thought it was a high-rise office building with all the complicated engineers' diagrams we needed and the details they picked apart.

Recently, Paul recounted the whole process to a guy from church who went home and told his wife, "I think I'd have given up."

Well, Paul is not the giving up sort.

I'm guessing this is why our marriage has lasted 34 years.

Last October, we got the permit.

He built the floor and frame of the cabin in a storage building at the warehouse. When the weather got cold, he switched to working on our bedroom and completely remodeled it.

And I waited for my cabin. I planned how to decorate and arrange it. And I chose a name: The Sparrow Nest.

Between the road and the warehouse is the "new" bridge, which is about 15 years old, a fine solid concrete and metal structure. It has four holes in it, and some of us have a custom of dropping a rock down one of the holes when we walk across.

I started whispering a wish and a prayer for my cabin every time I walked across and dropped a piece of gravel down a hole.

The months went by and Paul was even busier than normal. Church things demanded his attention, he needed to help transition the school to new leadership, his warehouse manager was moving on, and the most reliable sacker stepped on a nail and ended up in the hospital.

So he decided to commit himself to a deadline and hire help with the building.

My sister Margaret lives in South Carolina. Her oldest son, Austin, builds mini-barns for a living.  He consented to come work on the cabin for most of August, even though he was needed at his job at home.
My dad and Austin
Things happened fast after Austin arrived. They put in the insulation and wiring and ceiling and beams for the loft.

They put the metal roof on and the siding on the outside, both of which came from the old shed that Orval built in the 1940's.

Matt came for the eclipse and helped with the siding.
It was time to lift it into place.

On August 25th, the guys lifted the cabin onto a trailer with two forklifts and carefully hauled it to the site. Then a large crane lumbered over the field and through the trees. Paul and Austin ran chains through metal tubes under the cabin and carefully the guys attached cables.

At the last minute, the crane operator said, "I don't like to work with chains."
Austin said, "Because they're hard to adjust?"
"No, because they break."

Well. Imagine hearing that and then minutes later seeing your precious cabin lifted high into the air.

We watched from the side of the road as it was slowly brought into place above the posts and the guys scurried around to fit it into place. It fit into the brackets on the posts, the cables and chains were moved away, and I exhaled.
The watchers: Darrell, Simone, Matt, Tristan, Jenny, Grandpa, Emily. This was minutes before Jenny and Emily
had to leave for a wedding, hence the nice clothes.

 I was very very happy.

A lot of work remained to be done. Paul has since washed, caulked, and sealed the siding.

Amy and I tied a rope around a little desk and lifted it in. I've been working there when the weather's nice. It is just absolutely right.

Paul built a set of steps so I no longer have to climb to the very top of an 8-foot stepladder to get inside.

Now he's working on the doors and windows. After that, the interior gets finished.

It is, and will be, a lovely nest for this sparrow.

I am grateful to God, for His blessings. To Paul, who saw it through. To Keith the nephew, who had so many good and practical ideas and who was invaluable on moving day. To Darrell and Simone, who helped and videotaped. And to Austin, who sacrificed a lot to come and who worked terribly hard and did really beautiful work.

Now, when I walk to the warehouse, I still drop stones in the holes, but I wish and pray for other things, knowing that God is able to make them happen.