Sunday, April 30, 2006

Dying Choices

My brother Fred used to tell the joke about the guy who got on the bad side of the Mafia and suddenly found himself in a room with a noose hanging from the ceiling, a bottle of poison, a gun, and a tank of water. "How do you want to die?" he was asked. "Of old age," he said.

Every once in a while I spend a bit of time wondering how I'm going to die. There is no particular fear or dread in this, ("for me to live is Christ and to die is gain") although obviously I'd prefer something simple and sudden to protracted and painful.

My friend Sharon announced the other day (can't remember the context) that, "Oh, mercy sakes, no, I do NOT want to live to be a hundred!"

Well, the truth is, I'd like to live to be 103 like my Grandma Yoder, with her mind tack-sharp up to the end. (But with just a teensy bit more humility and humor, please) It would really be fun if the whole clan bowed and scraped before me like the Yoder multitudes did to Grandma.

However, I could go earlier with a bad heart (Miller genes) or (more likely) I could space out while driving and pull in front of a truck.

My sis Becky with her terrible asthma thinks she'll die like Aunt Lyddie, 87 pounds and tethered to an oxygen tank.

My latest cold is settling into my chest again and as always making my asthma go bananas until I feel like I'm turning blue, so maybe Becky and I will end up wandering the halls of the Evergreen Manor together, pulling our oxygen tanks behind us.

Actually, I'll probably go in such an utterly bizarre way that it would make a wonderful story, but I won't be here to tell it. Arrgghh.

(And in case you're superstitious, No, I have no premonitions.)

Quote of the Day:
"Any time a preacher wants to make sure he has an attentive audience, he should start preaching a series on the Song of Solomon."
--Matt, since Paul still hasn't decided where to go after The Commands of Christ

Friday, April 28, 2006

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Little Maple Leaf Stickers, eh?

Our old friend Steve Byer commented on a recent post, "Hey, Dorcas! Your book is listed on! Is your publisher going to put those little maple leaf stickers on the spine for sales this side of the border? I'm guessing your book qualifies."

I don't know anything about little maple leaf stickers, but they sounded cute so I emailed Kate the PR person at Good Books and told her that if the book needs Canadian content to qualify for the stickers, it certainly has some (picking blueberries, hitting the moose, etc.)

Kate emailed back and said I need to be a Canadian author to qualify for the maple leaf stickers. Well, wouldn't you know, I am actually a Canadian citizen, since we decided to finish out our eighth year in Canada so we could go through the process, just in case we ever wanted to go back to live or work or go to school.

When I raised my right hand and affirmed loyalty to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and her heirs and successors, I never dreamt my citizenship would come in handy in the form of little maple leaf stickers on a book jacket.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom! There's a picture over there of a lady and she's NOT MODEST!"
--Matt, 8 years old and intrigued with what's appropriate and what's not, in a loud voice in front of the secretary at the official place where we got our citizenship. I told him that even if she has a gown on like that, he shouldn't talk that way about Queen Elizabeth.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

This 'n' That

I have been a mom for 20 years. Some days I feel like I still don't know what I'm doing but then I think back to how I was back then with this new baby and I wish I could go back and give me some advice.

Matt: Happy birthday! I love you. I'm so glad you're my son.

* * *

My mom is 85 and still very active. Recently she was clearing some brush and scraped her leg on a stick. It got infected and she's had quite a time getting it to heal. So my brother who lives next door has been telling her to please take good care of herself. So yesterday after she did all the Saturday cleaning she went outside and got the ladder and cleaned the leaves out of the gutters along the roof.

* * *
As mentioned on Friday, Jenny is now seven. Paul's cousin Darrell's wife Simone was pregnant with her first child at the same time I was expecting Jenny. She delivered Dawnisha about six weeks after Jenny was born.*

It was a big shock to everyone to hear that Dawnisha had been born with incomplete arms. On the right, she had a short stub with three fingers (or is it two--can't remember). On the left, there's an upper arm, an elbow, and then a short section with three fingers.

She looked so tiny and fragile back then. The doctor said she would eventually do everything but throw a ball, but it was hard to imagine.

Today in church Dawnisha was sitting beside Jenny and the two of them were sharing markers and paper. At one point Dawnisha scootched off the bench and yanked a heavy hymnbook out of the rack (to put on her lap) with her left hand while clutching two fat markers and a pad of post-it notes in her right.

I have a feeling she'll be cleaning out the gutters when she's 85.

Quote of the Day:
"Did you know Sharon Coblentz sometimes drives with her feet? Felicia told me."
(Legal disclaimer: this is purely hearsay from my daughter whose veracity is normally reliable but who has been known to get the story wrong on occasion. Neither the subject nor other independent sources or witnesses were contacted regarding this report.)

*You can read the whole story in my new book, Ordinary Days--Family Life in a Farmhouse. Ask for it at your bookstore in June.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Celebration Season

Today we celebrated Jenny's birthday--she's a big girl of seven. (Can it be, it seems like yesterday, etc. etc. etc.)

From April 21 to August 10 is celebration season at our house--seven birthdays, Mother's and Father's Days, and our anniversary.

By the end of the summer I am always tired of cake and parties. But the nice thing about having three babies in June and July was that they were born in Canada and if it had been in March or October I would have had to go out to the hospital in civilization three weeks ahead of my due date to wait and hope that the labor and planes and weather would cooperate to get Paul out in time for the big event. But, as I said, they came in June and July when he wasn't in the classroom.

Steven upset the family tradition by coming with a November 6th birthdate. But that was just an arbitrary date that the social worker pulled out of the air, since no one had any record of his birth. I have a feeling he was actually born between April and July like the rest of us, since he is such a Smucker in almost every other respect.

Quote of the Day:
"Why do we have to leave at the crack of dawn?"
--Emily, when we were getting ready to leave for the zoo at 10 a.m. last Saturday

Thursday, April 20, 2006


I just got home from another grocery-shopping expedition. Spent lots of money. Filled the car with bags and jugs and boxes. (Best bargain: Life cereal at Grocery Outlet for 99 cents a box. I bought 14 boxes.)

And next week I'll have to do it all over again. (Well, maybe the Life will last two weeks.) And in the meanwhile somebody is sure to whine that there's nothing in the house to eat.

I figured out today that our family eats probably 112,000 calories a week. No wonder I'm always scrambling to keep food on hand.

Quote of the Day:
Steven: (eating a bite of bacon) Hmmm!
Me: What?
Steven: The part that I tasted, tasted like termites!
Me: Really??
Steven: Yes. It's good!
Emily: Did you ever think you'd have a child tell you your food tastes like bugs and you'd take it as a compliment?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Your Linguistic Profile:

80% General American English
15% Upper Midwestern
5% Midwestern
0% Dixie
0% Yankee

Monday, April 17, 2006

Rescue in the Fescue*

Across the creek and a field or two from our house is Harris Drive. Amy’s friend Carrie lives there with Loras and Ruth Neushwander, Paul’s great-aunt and uncle. Up the road from them is where Paul’s brother Steve lives with his family, and way back in behind their place is Paul’s Uncle James’s shop.

James is a calm, slow-spoken 60-something farmer.

Amy came home from the Emirates in March and decided she needs to get in shape, so almost every day she drives over to Loras and Ruth’s house to go on a walk with Carrie. They walk all the way to the end of Harris Drive and back.

On Friday they were on their way home when suddenly they thought they heard someone calling for help. They stopped and listened, and sure enough, there came a faint, faraway, "HEELLPP!!"

Carrie was the first to recognize that it came from James’s shop, and they took off running. As they arrived, this is what they saw:
Picture a tractor tire lying on the concrete, like a big donut. Now picture a big piece of metal, like a tin can with the ends out, set into the center of the tire/donut. A pair of feet stuck out from under the tire, and from inside the "tin can" a hand was waving a hat.

Amy still can’t quite piece together how this all happened, but it seems James had dual tires on the tractor and was trying to take the outside one off when it fell over on top of him and thoroughly pinned him down. So he was sitting in the middle with the tire pressing down on his legs. He had been there for an hour and a half.

Carrie grabbed a bar of some sort and used it as a lever to lift the tire, and James wiggled his way out. He was unhurt, thankfully, but was losing the feeling in his legs. He expressed his thanks as effusively as Uncle James expresses anything. The girls left, happy that they had been at the right place at the right time and that they heard him even though the wind was blowing the "wrong" direction. James, I am told, felt better after a soak in a hot bath and did not need medical attention.

Quotes of the Day:
"I just wish I would have had a camera along."
"Well, I guess the first guy you rescued wasn’t your handsome prince."

*Ok, so it wasn't exactly in the fescue, which is a type of grass, but I have thought for years that someday there ought to be a news headline like this from around here, as I mention, incidentally, in my new book, Ordinary Days, Family Life in a Farmhouse, which should be available in a month or so.

Friday, April 14, 2006


Yesterday I drove the school van and was again reminded of the Kropf/Smucker gene that makes people love to argue.

Emily, Preston, Ben, Justin, and maybe a few others were discussing in loud voices and heated tones whether or not you can love someone you don't know. I heard snippets about Stanley Warfel (an 80-something guy from church), missionaries, "all the people in the world," and Osama bin Laden. They talked about being nice to people, praying for people, and really caring about people.

And when the last child had been dropped off, nothing had been resolved.

After over 21 years in the family I am still amazed at how these people love to argue. Actually, they prefer to call it discussing. They love to rally the facts, volley the figures, intimidate, whip back with snappy replies, and trap the other person in his own reasoning. If they run out of logic, they talk louder. If all else fails, they yank the steering wheel and turn the conversation down a side street to utterly confuse you.

My children are expert arguers. If there's nothing handy to argue about, they invent something. Matt and Amy used to have long arguments over the supper dishes about whether a horse or a helicopter would be the best transportation back and forth from the warehouse. "But a horse is nice and friendly and you could hug it." "But a helicopter would be more efficient." Recently, Ben and Jenny had a huge row over whether that was a chomp or a nibble that Jenny took out of Ben's pretzel. "I told her she could have a nibble and she took a chomp!" Then there was the time not long ago when Jenny and Emily had a big argument over whether or not Emily was winking with both eyes at the same time.

I don't know how I got myself into this situation because I hate arguments. I refuse to discuss an issue purely for the sake of discussing it, without a goal of reaching an understanding, and arguments, with voices raised and barbs thrown, make me want to duck and run.

I do, however, love conversations. Three or four ladies around a table, just talking. No agendas, no winners and losers. One tells a funny story and we all laugh. Another shares a humiliating experience and we all sympathize. Another feels tired all the time and we tell what helped us be more energetic.

That's what I like.

Quote of the Day:
"What do you say if someone compliments you on your humbleness?"

Monday, April 10, 2006

Poor Days

When I was a child, we were poor. Poverty, fear, and a mysterious something called "de shult" (the debt) hung over us like an ominous cloud, affecting everything we did. It seemed everything good "out there" was a No--"We can't afford it."

Some people have rosy memories of being poor but I am not one of them.

Paul and I refer to an era in our lives together as our "poor days." It includes when we were first married and Paul was teaching in a church school, the eight missionary/voluntary service years, and the first few years back in Oregon. Like most missionaries, we returned with few material things--no house, vehicle, or furniture. We did, however, have 4 children.

It's bad enough when you're on the mission field and everyone else is poor as well, but when you're surrounded by families who have been staying put and earning money for years, it's much harder. Your kids get invited to birthday parties and you can't afford a gift. They need shoes and even Goodwill is too expensive. Every trip to the grocery store is an agony of coupons and prioritizing and number-crunching.

Our fortunes began to change when Paul bought his dad's warehouse. We are not rich by any stretch but if one of the children needs shoes, I actually have the option of walking into PayLess Shoes and buying what they need. I hope I never forget what a privilege this is.

In spite of our lack of money, I have one shining success from those days: my children say they didn't feel poor. Life felt full of Yes's rather than No's, they say. Apparently they never caught on how much we struggled, and as I recall they were always grateful for the garage-sale clothes and gifts. When they reminisce about those years, they talk about playing by the lake in Canada, hunting for tadpoles in ditches here in Oregon, making mud pies, and setting "traps" for rabbits with a carrot, box, and a string to pull at the right time.

I guess there's one exception to this: Emily says she will someday bring up in therapy how badly she wanted an American Girl doll and we never bought her one.

Quote of the Day:
"Emily is the only person I've ever known who could make a full-length film and play every character by herself."

Saturday, April 08, 2006


It seems Bloglet hasn't been delivering my posts to your email inbox as requested. Sorry about that. I just tinkered with a few wires and changed a few batteries at the Bloglet site, and it should work now.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


This sort-of relates to the post about the reader getting the writer's intended meaning and who is responsible for what.

I am constantly amazed at how people read my stuff and read into it whatever they want. I can write about painful things I experienced as a child, and people will gush to me about my idyllic, wonderful Amish childhood, as though everything I just said/wrote went 'whuff' right over their heads.

I have had people find all kinds of connotations in my articles that I never intended or that even occurred to me...I have warned against global warming, advocated exploiting foreign workers by shopping at Walmart, and even had risque` innuendos, judging from the group of older ladies who told me what they loved about a particular column and, "We said to each other, 'Ooooooh, we bet there's going to be another little Smucker soon!'"

Recently I found my first book for sale on ebay, a strange enough experience in itself, but then I found this description of it: "I really enjoyed these stories of life among the Amish."


Quote of the Day:
"Hey! This says Lip Smucker!"
--Jenny, looking at the Lip Smacker case Aunt Margaret gave Amy

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Chapter 2

You may recall the post a couple of months ago about Steven and the card that he made for Gospel Echoes for their annual cookies-and-cards-for-prisoners project. It went to a prisoner named Michael and had a profound effect on him.

We wrote to Michael and told him about Steven, and this week we received a long letter in reply that included the following:

"In that letter I received I was very shocked and heartbroken that at some place so far away a boy grew up similar to the way I did. But what really affected me the most is finding out he is from Kenya. I must be honest. Before I received your letter I was a former White Power Gang member.

Since I received your letter I have done a lot of soul searching. I have read the Bible every day, and I have been learning the answers to the questions I’ve always had.

Since that letter I have gotten I covered my tattoos that were racial and one step after another I started practicing how to be a good person and change my thinking habits.

I prayed for forgiveness for my sins and now I’m forgiven. I believed and I feel I was answered with something better than a voice. I was answered with an emptiness that is now filled. I feel the presence of God with me and it’s great.

Thank you for helping opening my eyes. I’ve kind of went on and on in my letter, but it’s only my excitement with the life I live now.


I have heard that God likes to disguise miracles as coincidences. What are the chances of that card from that boy reaching that prisoner? Amazing.

Quote of the Day:
"Lousy Christian workers???"
--Jenny, when I was singing "Rouse, ye Christian workers, be ye up and doing," when I wanted Emily to wake up from her nap and help me in the kitchen

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Prayers, Preachers, Planes

Thank you to everyone who prayed for us. Yesterday Jenny got up and her fever was down. I waited for it to pop back up like it had every day all week, but it stayed down...10:00, noon, 2pm...she went out and helped pick up sticks in the orchard...still down....she went out and played with the lambs and fell in the mud...still down...bedtime came and she hadn't had a fever all day. Amazing. I am grateful.

Today we all went to church and Paul preached. I am going to brag: I think my husband is a good preacher. Actually, I think he is a teacher more than a preacher. Sometimes he gets notes from 7-or-8-year-olds telling him they like his sermons because they can understand them. Middle-aged and old people seem to like him too (except for one who says he talks too fast). He also uses illustrations, often from family life, but always asks our permission first. When he was ordained, I told him I am willing to be embarrassed for the sake of a good illustration. Anyway: I am proud of my guy.

I noticed on a few blogs recently that people were talking about the new movie End of the Spear. I have not seen it myself but was talking to my brother Fred about it and found that he has some interesting connections to it. Fred's wife is Loraine, whose dad, Mel, was a MAF pilot and mechanic in the jungles of Mexico for 20 years. He knew Nate Saint personally and he worked on the plane that the 5 men flew in to the Aucas, making some modification to it to make it more usable for jungle flying and doing the drops they did.

Mel also trained in another man before he left Mexico, and this other man did the same modifications to the plane used in the movie that Mel had done to the original.

Last summer Fred took Mel to the famous annual air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where MAF always has a display. There they got to talking freindschaft (relations/connections) (Fred says all the MAF people know each other and make connections like Mennonites do) and it turned out that the man Mel had trained in was there. They met up with him and not only was he there, but he had after all these years found and bought the old plane that Mel had flown in Mexico, and brought it to the airshow. Fred said it was a very emotional reunion, Mel and his old plane. Here was the cargo net that the natives had woven for him, and there were all the little touches he had added to make it more efficient.

During his years in Mexico, Mel flew about as many hours as a normal pilot, but his takeoff and landing numbers were off the charts. He worked in a relatively small area, and he could fly in 10 minutes what would take 3 days on foot. He also landed on some of the most makeshift, risky little runways, and it was only by God's grace that he lived to tell about it.

God bless the missionary pilots. They are a special brand of people.

Quote of the Day:
"I wish I had that from girls."
--Matt, when I was expounding on the benefits of compound interest