Saturday, December 16, 2023

Review and Giveaway: Once Upon a Bedtime in a Faraway Land


UPDATE--The winner of Once Upon a Bedtime is Kaitlin Weaver who entered the giveaway on Instagram.
THANK YOU to everyone for sharing your fascinating stories!


If you're an Anabaptist and a creator, you've probably wondered if you have what it takes to succeed outside your cultural bubble.

We have been hindered, I think, by an unspoken belief that we're not good enough.

When I was a little girl in a little Amish school, the teacher [my dad] reminded me at times not to get too full of myself when schoolwork came easily for me and I finished my arithmetic long before Robert Byler did, because if I went to public school, oh my. . . I would very soon find out that I wasn’t nearly as smart as I fancied myself.

Then we moved to Minnesota when I was ten, and I actually had to go to public school. On about the third day, Mrs. Locher had us go up to the chalkboard, four at a time, and work out a math problem. I think she was assessing our skills.

She gave us a 3-digit multiplication problem. I worked it through as I had been taught, one step at a time, three layers under the line, add it up, done.

I looked around. I was the only one who had done the problem. The others didn’t know how.

That was my first clue that maybe my dad was wrong about Amish kids not being as smart as kids in public school.

He isn’t the only one. At times I still run into this subtle message that we need to stay in our own “circles” because we’re not good enough to operate among all those fancy, educated Englisch, or we have nothing to offer them, or they wouldn't be interested in what we produce.

Inspired by Roaring Lambs, by Robert Briner, I feel strongly about pursuing the sort of excellence that can influence not only people inside the Anabaptist or Christian community, but those outside it as well. We have a lot to offer, and I'm always gratified when a creator is good enough to do well both inside and outside of the Anabaptist bubble.

Which brings us to Margie Yoder. I first saw her artwork when her Christmas silhouette panorama showed up on Instagram. And she was offering a free download!

It was incredible, I thought: detailed, creative, precise, and just pretty. I poked around her site. She wasn’t a professional artist or graphic designer, but an Anabaptist mom and missionary who offered Christmas artwork easily as beautiful as anything Out There.

Full disclosure: shades of my dad, I had a moment of disbelief that a Mennonite lady actually produced this Christmas scene. A good lesson for me, honestly. Of course a Mennonite was that good!


Margie is offering this to YOU!
Email her at thebirdandthebrush@gmail.com for a free download.

On her site, I found that Margie is an illustrator. I loved her style, so I asked her to do the cover and inside drawings for my book, Coming Home to Roost. I'm happy to say she caught exactly the vibe I was looking for and more besides.

Since then, I’ve recommended her to numerous other writers looking for an illustrator.

This shows the universality of Margie's work.
My grandmas were white and very Amish, but they also knew what a fly swatter was for.

I don’t know if Laura Rohrer Showalter is a writer who saw my recommendation, but I’m happy to say that she and Margie have collaborated on a new children’s book that is simply delightful.

In Once Upon a Bedtime, a little boy imagines sleeping in homes and beds around the world. Written in rhyme-and-rhythm poetry, the book takes you and your child to Canada, Kenya, and many other places. In each  heartwarming scene, you’ll find the same little stuffie and slippers tucked into the picture.


There's a heartwarming authenticity to Margie's pictures.
She lived in Kenya. This is how Kenyan homes looked and felt when we were there 20 years ago.

Laura Showalter's writing is smooth and gently cadenced, with the accented syllables naturally falling into the right place with normal pronunciation. I appreciate that a lot.

I hope this book gets picked up by lots of bookstores both Mennonite and Englisch, because it deserves to be out there and available.

And I hope you get a copy and read it to the children in your life.

To order copies or to contact the author:

https://www.laurashowalterbooks.com

To contact the illustrator:

https://www.margieyoder.com/


ALSO: A giveaway—

I have an extra copy of Once Upon a Bedtime to give away. To enter, comment on my blog or on Facebook and/or Instagram. One entry/comment per platform. 



Include your name and an exotic or unusual place you’ve slept, from Grandma’s musty couch to a sleeping bag under the stars in Alaska to an uncomfortable seat on an international flight. Pull up the memory and tell us about it.

Winners will be chosen on Wednesday, December 20.

Then follow this author's and artist’s example and go do excellent work.


Thursday, November 30, 2023

Announcing a Writing Conference for Western Anabaptists

Are you an Anabaptist writer in the West?

We'd love to have you join us at a writers' conference on February 24, 2024, in Brownsville, Oregon.
Whether you're an experienced author, an editor, a poet, or a blogger, you're welcome. If you write only in a journal and hardly dare hope for more, you're also welcome here.
And whether you're from California, Alaska, or anywhere in between, we'd be delighted if you joined us.
Actually, anyone is welcome, Mennonite or not, but the focus will be on Anabaptist writing and publishing.
Here is our program, which you're welcome to share in messages or social media. Message me if you'd like the pdf form to print and distribute.
We're still making decisions about specific workshops and times but wanted you to have enough information to know what's happening and to save the date.

We will send more information later about an exact schedule, workshop specifics, and --we hope!--opportunities to meet with an editor one on one! The location is listed as tentative, but I'm told there's a good chance the damage from the fire in the church will be repaired and the facility will be ready for use. Please let me know if you are looking for specific help, information, feedback, or encouragement. We might be able to include it in the program!
Registration is $50 per person or $80 for two, so bring a friend.
Contact laurasmucker@gmail.com for more information or to register.

Contact me at dorcassmucker@gmail.com to be added to the email-update list.

Thank you for your interest and prayers. I hope to see you in February!





Monday, November 27, 2023

Sale on Books!


We're having a Cyber Monday [and Tuesday!] sale at our website.

Use code BOOKSNTEA to get 15% off all my books, Emily's books including her newest (Emily--Diary of a Sick Girl), and even my dad's life story.

Here's the link: MuddyCreekBooks.com






Monday, October 09, 2023

Just Walking--A Memory from Kindergarten

 


A file cabinet in the back of my head contains hundreds of drawers packed with thousands of memories.

Just when I assume most contents have long since disappeared, it turns out they’re actually all there, waiting for the right nudge. I can go for forty years without thinking of a specific event and then something yanks open that particular drawer and there it is, intact, the details neatly typed.

So things that happened to me don’t vanish from memory, which is both comforting and disturbing.

I am still in Texas, helping Matt and Phoebe. On Saturday,  the heavy blanket of humidity and heat lifted and a blessed breeze blew. I went on a walk after dark, the road illuminated by streetlights.

We note two things:

1. People in this town don’t walk much.

2. I tend to power walk rather than stroll, swinging my arms like an Onward Christian Soldier. I try to tone this down and walk a little more normally when real people are around.

However.  I was alone and the streets were deserted. I covered a lot of ground, fast.

Until the streets weren’t empty after all.  Just as I passed an apartment building, I heard a man’s voice. I stopped. “Excuse me?”

 A man and woman were getting out of a car, carrying grocery bags—rattly disposable plastic ones, of course, since this is Texas and not Oregon. The man was turned toward me. “Hello,” he said, and then added, with concern,  “Is everything ok?”

“I’m fine!” I said. “Just out walking.” I pumped my arms a little to explain the fast, determined pace.

He looked amused but deliberately polite. “All right. Good night.”

I marched on and BOOM, a little drawer slid open and my brain pulled out a vivid memory from kindergarten.

The first year we lived in southern Ohio, we went to a public school in the little town of Glenford. Kindergarten was a new experience and a wonderful adventure for this little Amish girl, full of new things to learn, lots of other children, lying down for naps after lunch, and a Christmas tree in December. Over it all was the benevolent but awe-inspiring presence of Miss Lewis, a woman so tiny she wasn’t much bigger than the tallest kindergarteners.

But she was large in skill and character, and I thought she was amazing—wise, beautiful, in charge. She had short hair like other Englisch ladies, I noted, just as I noticed everything about her, including the fact that she had a sharp bosom that was so different from the rounded chests of my mom and all the other Amish ladies. Knowing nothing of Englisch vs. Amish undergarment styles in 1967, I puzzled over this and even talked about it once to my family at home, demonstrating with my hand the front of Miss Lewis vs. the curve of Mom.

I was known for observing all the details and saying them out loud, especially the things that everyone else somehow knew not to say, regularly embarrassing my family. Often, as in this case, a simple, factual explanation would have solved everything. 

Miss Lewis graded our assignments with stars. One, two, or three, or—the highest height of achievement—three stars with a circle around them. She would look at my paper or listen to me read, whip out her pen, and draw each star in one quick series of motions, without ever lifting her pen. A slanty line up, down, left, right, down—and there was a star! Just that quick! Would there be a second? A third?? A circle around them all???!!! If so, my day was made.

I watched her closely and tried to copy those quick motions, and finally I achieved it. What a great day when I could also draw stars, just like Miss Lewis!

I practiced on paper and then, for reasons I still don’t understand, I drew three stars on the surface of my desk. Maybe I was planning to lick my finger and rub them right off, a universal skill of elementary kids everywhere.

But before that could happen, Miss Lewis saw what I had done. She was Not Pleased. And she said I have to stay in at recess.

People. The horror and humiliation. 

The other kids left. I endured Miss Lewis’s patient lecture with courage, and I don’t think I cried, but I was close. I believe she had me scrub off my artwork with something besides a finger and saliva. Then she said I can go play with the others for the rest of recess.

The classrooms all opened up into the gym, and the playground was on the opposite end from the kindergarten classroom. So I started out across that enormous, cavernous, empty gymnasium, bigger to me than the echoing acres of Paddington Station in London would be, over 50 years later. Step by step, all alone, my tiny little Amish self in my little dress and white organdy covering, trying to be brave.

I believe it was a janitor, or possibly the principal himself, who came walking toward me. “Dorcas!” he said. “What are you doing?”

I’m sure he meant, “Why are you in here when everyone else is outside?” but I was absolutely not about to tell him what I had done, and the consequences. I also wanted to cry but was Not About to do that. Also, I still wasn’t that comfortable speaking English and had to think hard about what words to say.

So I made myself smile, and I said, “Just walking!”

Because, after all, that is exactly what I was doing.

He was amused.

Later I learned that the janitor related this story to others, including various teachers.  Miss Lewis told my parents at the next parent-teacher meeting, and everyone was Highly Amused at Little Dorcas who was Just Walking.

It’s significant to me that no one in this story shamed me. I was made repentant by Miss Lewis’s exhortation and bewildered by everyone else’s reaction, but no one made me feel bad about myself, in that moment, for that answer, or like I was an embarrassment to the family.

When the Texas guy looked amused yesterday and the file drawer suddenly opened, I felt that not much has changed, really. I am still Little Dorcas, marching along, trying to be brave. And when someone asks, I tell them I’m just walking, and they are amused, and I’m not sure why.

 I still observe the details and ask questions and say things out loud. It still gets me in trouble.

I still draw stars with a quick series of motions and I still think it’s a mighty cool skill to have.



You can find my books at muddycreekbooks.com.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Best and Worst of Times


By the Agape restaurant, you can get pellets from dispensers and feed the friendly goats.
I don't see that combination happening in Oregon, but the East is a different animal than the West.
Liberty learned that if you put the pellets anywhere but the palm of your hand, the goats might bite your fingers.

Like so many misadventures, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Emily had floated the idea of her and I doing a small book tour in the East this fall. When she received an invitation from a library in New York to come do a reading and signing, it felt Meant To Be.

When you self-publish, you arrange your own book signings, which means trying to figure out the demographics and details at places you’ve never been, plus finalizing all the specifics and doing all the publicity.

When you go Back East from the West Coast, you (or at least I) try to fit more into your trip than it can comfortably hold, the way you max out your suitcases with about 40 pounds of books and 10 of clothes and shampoo. Why not go early and visit Jenny in Virginia?! And then maybe we can borrow Jenny’s car for all our travels?! And Paul is leaving for Nepal—why not have him fly out with Emily on the companion pass so we can have a little more time together before he leaves?

Thus began the most complicated trip I’ve ever planned. The good thing about this was something I realized when I was talking with my niece and she said, “I wouldn’t have the brain space right now to think through anything like that.” And I realized—My brain is healing! I went through a couple of years when I couldn’t plan an overnight trip to the coast without crying in sheer overwhelmed anxiety. And look at me now. I worked hard for this recovery, but it still snuck up on me, and suddenly I’m scheduling book signings and train trips and visits!

The unfortunate thing about a complicated itinerary is that one thing—just ONE THING—can blow up the whole plan.

It wasn’t the canceled flights that sent it all sideways, although that was bad enough. I had a stopover at Houston Hobby and texted Matt and Phoebe that it made me sad to be only half an hour away from them but I didn’t have time to see them.

Then the flight to Baltimore was delayed for five hours. Well! I texted again, Matt came and picked me up, and Phoebe fed me a fine dinner. What fun!

Matt and me. I am still smiling at this point.

Back at the airport, the flight was delayed further, then cancelled.  I was rebooked for the next day, flying Houston-Dallas-Louisville-Baltimore. 

Matt came and got me. I spent the night at their house.

The next morning, I flew to Dallas and an hour later boarded the plane for Louisville. I was all settled when an announcement came that the next leg, Louisville to Baltimore, was cancelled.

I got off, along with a dozen others who were as upset as I was but used different language to express it. I just repeated, “Oh my stars!” a few times.

“You can’t get to Baltimore today,” said the man at the counter.

“So what am I supposed to do?” I said, channeling the voice Paul uses in such cases that means, “This is your job to sort this out, so do it.” 

The man tapped and frowned. “There are two seats left on the afternoon flight.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll take one.”

While I waited, I used my last good tea bag and tried not to despair. I also thought, with a sense of doom, that I was very tired and spending a lot of time in crowded airports and planes, not a good combination for someone who gets sick easily.

Oh well.

I flew from Dallas to Memphis to Myrtle Beach, seeing places I’d never been before, then to Baltimore, where Jenny’s friend Kathrine and her husband Luke appeared like comforting angels and took me to their cute brick house only ten minutes from the airport. I spent the night in their upstairs, and Kathrine put me on the right train in the morning, headed for Roanoke.

This is another significant conclusion from my travels: people are your most valuable resource when traveling. Having Matt and Phoebe in Houston made all the difference in that debacle, and Kathrine’s generous offer to pick up and house anyone in Jenny’s family who flies into BWI was a lifesaver.

Kathrine's hospitality went above and beyond.

Side note: I am very fond of Kathrine, but that is not because we have similar backgrounds. She was raised in the Philippines, an only child whose nanny fed her like a little bird until she was in the third grade. Luke, however, came from a line of blue collar people in Maryland. His family worked in construction, and his grandpa had a sheet metal business. I understand that sort of history.

That information led to stories about Uncle Jimmy, Luke’s dad’s brother. Uncle Jimmy grew up working in his dad’s sheet metal business and kept on when he was out of school. That was basically all he did. When he was thirty, he rode on an escalator for the first time, and it freaked him out. When he was forty, still plugging away in his dad’s business, a woman who was a bit older than him asked him for his phone number. He didn’t have a cell phone and gave her the business number that reached the old rotary dial phone in the shop. Whatever she did worked, though, and they started dating. One night they had a double date with Luke’s parents. Uncle Jimmy thought he’d treat everyone to a movie and popcorn and stuff. He brought $20 for this splash. We assume he hadn’t been out on the town since about 1985. But despite the phone and the movie debacle, Uncle Jimmy and this woman were married four months later. They have a number of dogs, including one with kidney problems, which the new aunt described in detail to Kathrine the first time they met.

I do love stories about interesting people.

Uncle Jimmy’s marriage caused a rift in the family business, and now he has his own sheet metal business. Luke didn’t say this, but I have a suspicion that Grandpa had conveniently underpaid him all those years and the new wife said You Are Worth More Than This.

Good for her.

I hadn’t been on an Amtrak train in probably 20 years, and the ride to Roanoke got me hooked. Comfortable, quiet, roomy, relaxed. Plug-ins on the wall, hot coffee a few cars down, lovely scenery, room to work or sleep. I am planning future trips.

Then, at last, I was with Jenny! We had lost a day, so we crammed as much into the next few as we could. I met her lovely roommate Rebekah, a girl from Malaysia who somewhat incongruously has become well known as a writer and meme-maker in the Anabaptist world. I saw Jenny’s office, met a bunch of her friends, and had dinner with my nephew Derek and his wife Grace and their baby in the next town over. Jenny and I walked all over the Virginia Tech campus, had lunch at the pescatarian place, and worked on our own projects at a coffee shop.


Jenny in her office.
Jenny got me hooked on Hagoromo chalk a couple of years ago. She said it's the favorite of grad students everywhere. I saw proof of this at Virginia Tech.
I crept down these stairs to do laundry and hoped Jenny was alert and cautious whenever she comes down here to pay her rent or do her wash. Yikes.

Before I came, Jenny had told me she wants me to fix her sewing machine as it had completely stalled. The motor revved but it wouldn’t sew. I was delighted not only to have my daughter trust me with the task but also because I love taking things apart and figuring out what’s wrong.

So Jenny gave me screwdrivers and I started taking her precious machine apart—throat plate, bobbin case, and so on. I removed the slab on the end that covers the light and most of the threading loops and fished out a long, stuck, piece of thread.

It still didn’t work. I fiddled and fussed some more.

Then, suddenly, it worked.

I had flipped the little prong on top. The machine had been in bobbin-winding mode. That was all.

It was tempting to tell Jenny that I had done an amazing, complicated fix, but that wouldn’t help her the next time it happened. So I told her. I think she felt a little silly, but now she knows.

I slept in Jenny’s bed while she was on an air mattress in the living room. Wednesday night I was freezing cold all night. I couldn’t find extra blankets, so I pulled a coat and fuzzy onesie pajama out of Jenny’s closet and piled them on the bed.

The next morning I felt absolutely terrible—congested, fever, cough, throwing up. Jenny insisted I take a Covid test. It was positive.

You don’t think about how many people you’ve seen and how many lives you touch until you test positive for Covid. Jenny and Rebekah, who both teach at VT, have a whole protocol to follow if they’re exposed or get sick, which they both did, but not as severely as me. So did Derek and Grace. My sister and her husband were going to stop in a few days later before a trip overseas, and I thought I could not bear it if Rebecca missed out on seeing her grandbaby because I had infected them all. I don’t think Luke and Kathrine or Matt and Phoebe got sick, but it still pained me that I had unwittingly exposed them all.

Seriously, we all touch more lives than we realize.

You also don't think about how hard it is to rearrange the logistics if you suddenly get really sick, or how hard it is to think when you have a fever, or the logistical nightmare of making arrangements with people who are in the air most of the day. 

I wasn't fit to drive the car from Blacksburg to Baltimore as planned, or to go to New York for those events. We finally figured out how to get to Lancaster, PA, and decided to have Paul and Emily do the events in New York.

Through all this, I was trying to make sense of the fact that the last time I caught Covid, a year ago, I was visiting Amy in Thailand. What in the world is with that? And are my daughters going to develop anxiety every time I come visit them??

Paul and Emily flew in, and Paul came by train to fetch me and Jenny’s car while Emily stayed at Kathrine’s. Since everything had to go sideways, he got on the wrong train in Baltimore, hopping on the MARC, a local commuter train, rather than the Amtrak. By God’s mercy, both trains went to Union Station in Washington, DC, and he switched.

Then we had to figure out how to ride in the car together, with me all feverish and drippy, without Paul and Emily getting infected, especially since Paul was leaving in a few days for a trip to Nepal and India.

It was complicated. We decided to wear N95 masks, which is what medical people do in the presence of infection, and hope for the best.

Once again, Kind People came through. I was able to isolate in a guest apartment belonging to a board member of Open Hands, the ministry Paul works for. Paul and Emily went on to New York to do the book signings without me. The library cancelled their event, which was hugely disappointing, and the second event was not well attended because my judgment of the demographics of the area had been way off.

It was all very disheartening.

I used to look for signs in situations when everything went wrong. Had I not prayed enough about the trip, had I missed obvious cues, was I being punished, was there a major life lesson I needed to learn?

I don’t do that any more. You do the best you can with the information you have. Things happen. You deal with it. You know for next time.

Then, things turned around. I felt better, Paul stayed well and left for Nepal, and Emily and I went to our final three book signings at Main Street Exchange (a modest clothing boutique) and two Good's Stores, each one better attended than the last. We had a wonderful day with my niece Annette, I flew home without the slightest hiccup, Emily went on to a work retreat, and Paul thoroughly enjoyed his trip.

Paul says this little girl was eating fruit of some kind while having a lively conversation with him, despite the fact that neither could understand the other.

At Good's Store in Ephrata, the employees had decorated our table with greenery and this little hen. It spoke of welcome and forethought.
Cora and her daughters drove an hour and a half to see us at Main Street Exchange! Cora and I went to a little Amish school in Ohio when she was in first grade and I was in fourth.


Between customers, Emily browsed the lovely clothes at Main Street Exchange.


Stacey-Jean got a group of ladies together for coffee and encouragement. We're all part of a Facebook group and it was lovely to meet in person.
At Annette's house, Emily helped the girls sew doll clothes.
She is their "Aunt Emily" and is honored to have the title.


Sometimes trips go well, and sometimes they don’t. This one was both the best and worst of times. I haven't extracted any profound meaning from it yet, except that it's lifesaving to have people to call when everything goes wrong. God bless everyone who stepped up in our desperate moments.

I hope I am as willing and available when it’s my opportunity to help when someone else's plans are going completely haywire.

My friend/neighbor/niece Dolly housesat for us and took care of everything including the dahlias, which were still blooming gloriously when I got home.
For the first few years, my dahlias were mostly purples and whites. I'm slowly cultivating more pinks, corals, and yellows, thanks to strategic specifics on my Christmas lists.


I call these dinnerplate dahlias Pink Patricias, because my friend Pat Lee gave me the tubers.


-----
My new book, Coming Home to Roost, is available at MuddyCreekBooks.com.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Update to the Book Tour Plans

Unfortunately, while visiting my daughter Jenny, I came down with Covid. This has altered our book tour schedule slightly. 

The event tonight at the Lodi library in NY has been canceled. Emily and Paul will be at the event tomorrow, September 16, at Milly's Pantry in Penn Yan, NY from 10am to 3pm, but I will not be there.

By Monday I should no longer be contagious, so I plan to do the Monday and Wednesday events in PA as scheduled. Here is the information for those events:



If you think about it, please continue to pray for my health!







Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Ask Aunt Dorcas: Putting Off the Hard Tasks

 Dear Aunt Dorcas,

I’d love to hear your thoughts on avoiding things that feel too hard or overwhelming. For me that tends to be tasks that either have a lot of details to keep track of or things that I know are outside my ability and require heavy dependence on Holy Spirit. It’s not that I avoid them forever, but there tends to be a period of avoidance before surrendering to the inevitable and diving in. Can you identify? What have you learned along the way about dealing with these types of tendencies?

--Naomi

Processing corn feels like a huge, overwhelming task.
But I had lots of help, and that made it much easier.

Dear Naomi,

Just this week, a young woman asked me how I motivate myself to go places. She knows me well enough, especially that introverted part of me, to know that I'm always ecstatic when plans are canceled. I find it really hard to get ready and go out the door, into the car, and off where I need to be.

“It’s not so bad when I’m doing something WITH someone,” she explained. “If I’ve arranged to go to church with someone else, I get ready and go. But if they don’t go, then I end up not going either.”

I thought about this. In the last week, I had gone to the fair and sat there for six hours even though it was a rainy day and very few people were even at the fair, let alone wandering past the authors’ table. I went to the doctor for a physical even though I dreaded it with a heavy knot in my stomach. I went to church twice on Sunday, and on Thursday I went to Emily’s Red Barn Coffee Hour, a weekly event.

In every case, I overcame my inertia because of commitments to someone else. I had told Bill Sullivan I’d be at the fair from 12-6, and I wanted to keep my word. Also, if I didn’t show up, he might not invite me to the Christmas event for authors and artists. I’d have to pay the doctor if I didn’t give him 24 hours’ notice. I was committed to teaching my class on Sunday morning, and on Sunday evening, Paul was going to speak so of course I needed to be there for him. And Emily feels discouraged if no one shows up for her coffee klatsch, so I always go.

We see here what motivates me to do the hard thing of showing up: prior commitments, other people counting on me, financial cost, and the shame of dropping the ball.

There are many many times when I think I really need to go get groceries or pick up some fresh fruit at Detering Orchards or take a box of books to the post office. Grudgingly, I comb my hair and pick out a clean outfit. Then I look at the clock and think, “This really could wait for tomorrow,” or “I think I can cram that box in the mailbox,*” or “I’ll bet Paul would love an excuse to run to Harrisburg.” Then I stay home and feel inordinately happy about it.

*Prepaid labels are a blessing, but I don’t know the post office ladies as well as I used to.

Your situation is different. It seems you avoid specific tasks that seem overwhelming. But I think we connect on the emotions and the dread.

I have a theory that we are all having a rough time of it. Our collective mental health isn’t very good, we all struggle with inertia, and normal tasks seem harder than they ought. I base this on my own experience, conversations with my grownup kids, watching my friends’ struggles, and people online. I feel like something has shifted, and not in a good way.

I have excellent reasons for being fragile and struggling with normal responsibilities, I'd say, because the past three years have brought an insane load of upheaval, change, tragedy, and challenges. I try to give myself grace. If I manage to hang onto my pool noodle until the wave passes, I give myself points for that.

But that doesn’t explain the pervasive cloud over the whole culture. The only upheaval I shared with everyone else was Covid, which was not experienced nearly the same by everyone, so it doesn’t seem like it would make us all equally discouraged.

But here we are, and things are hard.

My sense is that Covid, smartphones, an individualistic culture, the high cost of living, and probably other factors have all chipped away at our connectedness. We show the results in random, unexpected ways—such as struggling to do the tasks we find difficult.

I hope we learn whatever lessons God is trying to teach us and have the wisdom and courage to change.

So here’s my advice to you, both general and specific.

1. You’ve already identified a number of things about the tasks you find difficult. Lots of details, not in your skills or giftings, needing to rely on God. Good for you. Analyze a bit deeper and look for information, letting go of any shame and frustration. Are there outside factors such as fatigue that make it worse? Who is asking/telling you to do these things? What will happen if you don’t do them at all? Are they more difficult than they used to be? Jot down the answers and see if you can find insight or patterns.

2. Look at your life, schedule, and health—mental, physical, and spiritual. If you are constantly overwhelmed with surviving, anything beyond basic, simple work is going to feel like Too Much. If you can ease the stress, do that. If not, give yourself grace. This stage will pass. Also, recognize that factors like depression and ADHD will affect how you approach work. It helps to know what’s typical, and the information can help you find a path around the obstacles.

3. Make sure you actually need to do the things. Is this for sure your job and your assignment? Should it be delegated to someone else? If you feel a deep resentment, it’s often a sign that you are doing it because of pressure from someone else, and you ought to be saying “No” but feel like you just can’t.

4. Get others involved, even though this takes humility and a pushing back against an individualistic mindset. We need other people, connection, accountability, support, and understanding, all things that we are collectively losing in my [admittedly small] world. It takes humility to push back, and to admit, tell, and ask.

As mentioned, it’s the commitment to others that gets me going when I’d rather stay home. A contrived accountability helps me in other challenging areas. Maybe I’ll tell my daughter I can’t get online until I’ve worked an hour on an article, or I’ll post a chart where everyone can see if I’m taking daily walks.

When I’m stressed and/or can’t sleep, my brain finds it restful to scroll through reels, those captivating little movies on Instagram. I can easily lose all track of time. It’s embarrassing. So then I have a choice—keep trying to do better with a combination of shame and great effort, or recognize that I need assistance. I have a “fun money” jar where I save cash toward a girls’ trip, so I’ll text one of the daughters and tell them I have to put a dollar in the jar for every reel I watch that day.

Is it silly? Should a grown woman have the character and wisdom to not get sucked into the Instagram whirlpool? Yes and yes.

Does it work to get my daughter involved, and does it yank me out of that spiral? Also yes and yes.

Tea makes hard tasks easier.


5. Recognize that you are always learning and growing. We are always struggling in our cocoon until we break out into a new stage of growth. Change is really hard, and we don’t change until the misery of changing is less than the misery of staying the same. It will take you a while to learn to do the hard tasks right away, but you’ll get there, and meanwhile there will be failure, frustration, and fatigue.

Embrace the process.

One of the many things I learned through my husband’s catastrophic injuries three years ago is that God made our bones and muscles to need resistance, pushing, pulling, and hard work. That is the way of health, strength, and thriving.

The same seems to be true in emotional and spiritual maturity. Accept it. Something amazing is happening. You are going to get there.

I wish you all the best.


I hope the societal winds shift, the clouds lift, and we become more healthy and connected. I hope we all do our part to make this happen, even if it means telling someone we are having a hard time.

We were not designed to figure it out on our own.

That’s what I think.

Aunt Dorcas






Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Book Tour--Upstate New York and Pennsylvania

 My daughter Emily and I will soon be holding some book events "back East" as we say in Oregon. If you live in either of these areas, we'd love to see you.

Here's our schedule:


If you can't download the poster, here's the information:

Friday, September 15, 6:30 pm--We'll read from our books, meet visitors, and have books for sale at the Lodi Whittier Library.

Saturday, September 16--We'll be at Milly's Pantry from 10 am to 3 pm, 19 Main St., Penn Yan, New York.

Monday, September 18, 1:00 to 4:00 pm--find us at Main Street Exchange, 3000 Lincoln Hwy. East, Gordonville, PA.

Wednesday, September 20, we'll be at two Goods Store locations. 
10 am to 12 pm at East Earl
2 pm to 4 pm Ephrata

You can bring books and have us sign them, shop for more, or just come and say Hi.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Travel: Interesting Things In Kansas and Uncle Johnny Turns 100


When Uncle Johnny calls me, he hollers into the phone, wondering how I’m doing, how Paul is recovering from his accident, and, sometimes, when I’m coming to see him. “You’ll come see me when I’m in a box,” he grumbled one time, and I thought that was probably true. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if I found a way to see him before that?

I holler my answers when Johnny asks me questions, and on a good day he hears about 10% of what I’m saying. But we still manage to feel connected and up to date, and that’s what matters.

Johnny is my dad’s youngest brother. Dad lived to be almost 103, Johnny just turned 100, and their mother was almost 104 when she passed. “Sucks to be you,” a young friend told me when I quoted these numbers. But I am ok with the longevity genes I carry, because “Kansas Mommi” and Dad and Johnny made it look like long years of enjoying life, pursuing interests you didn’t have time for when you were fifty, and (Mommi especially) getting by with speaking your mind because people give you a free pass when you’re old. Dad was reading a classic—I think it was War and Peace—shortly before he died, and he wrote countless letters in his final years. Mommi was also a prolific letter-writer, with a mind tack-sharp almost to the end. Johnny had been living alone since his wife, Bertha, passed away maybe six years ago, and he hosted a revolving roster of visiting relatives in his basement. “Johnny’s EconoLodge,” he called it. In the last year, his son and daughter-in-law moved into the basement to stay with him.  Up to age 99, Johnny also had a job spraying his neighbors’ fencerows.

When the family announced a 100th birthday party for Uncle Johnny, I remembered his comment about seeing him in a box and decided to prioritize seeing him alive and well.

So Paul and I, as well as most of my siblings and their spouses, headed for Kansas two weeks ago. We stayed in some friends’ beautiful house and filled our days with a book event, an afternoon tea with a fun bunch of ladies, a visit to a museum, church on Sunday, visiting an Amish family whose daughter lives with our daughter in Thailand, cooking dinners for all of us, and of course the party itself, all in the context of Kansas in August.

At the tea party, I met my friend Miriam’s daughter-in-law, a lovely young lady who told me she grew up in Washington State, in the mountains, no less. She indicated that the transition to Kansas hasn’t been easy.

I tried to imagine it. Living in the Northwest, you expect the horizon to be like a frame around your world, and you get used to driving an hour or so and seeing a completely different landscape. All the physical features—from forests to desert to ocean beaches to high mountains—are wild and huge and breathtaking.

The graph-paper-grid roads, the landscape, and the farmhouses reminded me of Minnesota where I grew up, only Kansas is more so. Roads don’t detour around lakes, and the land is even flatter than central Minnesota. The roads are wide and the fields are wider.

I heard someone use the word “boring.”

“Here, we watch the sky for drama, rather than the landscape,” one of the women said.

That made sense to me. Compared to Oregon’s sedate weather, the Midwest’s tornadoes and hail and thunderstorms are wild drama. If I lived in Kansas, I’m sure I would watch them like all the locals and download a weather-radar app on my phone.

Still, I think I’d find it difficult to look at those flat fields, stretching to the flat horizon, day after day.

However, there’s something I could endlessly watch for sheer entertainment if I lived in Hutchinson, Kansas, and that is the people. Not only does the community offer Uncle Johnny and all his quirks, along with dozens of interesting relatives, it is also home to a unique stripe of Anabaptists who value reading and studying more than any other group of Plain people I’ve had the chance to observe. I decided to make the most of this trait and organized a book signing plus had a boxful of books in the car during Johnny’s party. Happily, that was the right move, and my favorite customer was the Amish woman, probably fifteen years older than me, who bought a stack of books at the event at Rendezvous Coffee and then nimbly climbed into her blue tractor and drove away.

Hundreds of people showed up for Johnny’s party, and the line waiting to greet Johnny stretched around all four sides of the gym. I talked with many different people, finding the most random points of connection. Evelyn and I were penpals when we were teenagers. Emma Grace was the little sister of my playmate Priscilla in Iowa when I was four or five, and now she’s married to my cousin Herman. My cousin Freeman and his wife Margaret came from Oklahoma, and we reminisced about the tea party she hosted at her house and how her son came in with a snake he’d found, which she realized was not a wise move to make if I was her guest. Roy from Montana is my local friend Jane’s brother and he’s married to my cousin Glenn’s daughter. And on and on, with not nearly enough time to connect and observe like I wanted, especially with a bunch of little Amish children kicking a soccer ball or waiting patiently in line. But what I squeezed in was precious and nourishing, deep down.

The Amish generally aren’t big on hugging, but Johnny is an exception. He hugged all of us and let us know how glad he was that we had come. I’m told he learned to hug after his children were pretty much grown up, and his daughter decided The Time Had Come and taught her parents this valuable skill.

Johnny has also learned to use a cell phone. My cousin John Earl’s wife Janice told me that the week before the party, Johnny had asked her to take him to town. They arranged a time, and Janice arrived to pick him up. Johnny didn’t come to the door, and she couldn’t find him in the house. She looked all around the basement, fearing she’d find him collapsed or worse, but no Johnny.

Finally, she called his cell phone. Johnny answered, hollering, “I’m not interested! I’m almost one hundred years old, and I’m outta the game!”

That’s his standard answer for telemarketers.

So Janice knew he was alive, but she still didn’t know where he was.

Finally he came walking in from a row of trees some distance from the house, where he’d been cleaning up in preparation for company coming. He had forgotten about Janice coming to take him to town.

I hope when I’m 100 years old I can still look outside and see mountains on the horizon, because despite being raised in the Midwest, I like having a frame around the world. Even more, I hope that I’ll keep in touch with my descendants and nieces and nephews, find useful things to do and good books to read, and welcome hundreds of people to my party. I hope I drop useless traditions and pick up new ones that serve me far better. I hope I find life endlessly interesting, whether I live in Kansas or Oregon or the uttermost parts of the world.

Maybe the key to an interesting life is not so much where you live, but how, and among whom.

Here's part of the line waiting to wish Johnny a happy birthday.


At the family dinner after the party, they served lots of delicious food, but all that really mattered to us was Amish peanut butter spread on homemade white bread. We used to eat this delicacy at the communal meals after the Amish church services of our childhood, and there is nothing like it in the whole world.
Dipping the sticky substance onto my plate, I tried to explain to my brother-in-law Chad who grew up Holdeman Mennonite and sadly deprived. "This stuff will make everything in your life all better. If you are stressed about anything, it will all go away when you eat this. It is that amazing."
I don't know if Chad believed me, but we see here that my sister Rebecca and brother Marcus immediately partook of their bread and peanut butter before touching the rest of the meal.
That is how it is with Amish peanut butter.

Roy read to the little kids

Paul and my cousin Truman caught up with their lives.

Chad the brother-in-law's cousin John took us on a tour of the Inman museum. He is really good at what he does, and I absorbed more Mennonite history in two hours than in the past ten years. 
Anna and Marcus, Loraine and Fred, Rebecca, me and Paul, and Margaret and Chad
[the sibs are Marcus, Fred, Rebecca, me, and Margaret. Our oldest brother, Phil, wasn't there.]

This lady came to my book signing in a tractor. The writing is from the coffee shop window. I contacted her daughter about posting this shot. She said, "Oh, that's my sweet mom, and she will be perfectly fine with it! Side note: This 84 year old Amish lady learned how to text since she knew that was her grandchildren’s primary way of communicating. She has a very strong desire to keep learning even in the limits of her Amish faith!"
[See what I mean about Kansas people?]