Friday, September 29, 2006

Happy Birthday!

Today is my niece Annette's 27th birthday. She was the child who first made me an aunt and she has been very special to me ever since. It has been fun to watch her grow into a beautiful, articulate, and Godly young woman, and it has been heartwrenching to see her suffer through her brother's death.


May your day bring you joy, and may your suffering somehow make you "come forth as gold."

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I shed a daily dose of tears, usually when I sit down for my Bible time, for my nephew who died almost three months ago. And then I go back to laundry and phone calls and everything else and am reasonably ok.

Not yesterday. His death weighed heavily. Partly it was because I talked to my SIL Geneva and she said Leonard's sister Annette was having a hard week. And partly it was just, well, who knows why.

In the evening we went to church, since we have special meetings all week, and Frances V. was sitting behind me. Afterwards she said, "How are you?" politely and I politely said fine. A minute later she looked at me very intently and said, "Dorcas, how are you?"

Well, that opened all the faucets. I sniffed and dabbed and talked. Frances stroked my arm and told me God is with me, he really is.

And then she said that I was on her mind all day, that she sensed that I was carrying something heavy and prayed for me.

She's right. God is with me, he really is.

Quote of the Day:
"Why do we have too lisin too one prson for 90 min"
Jenny, in a note on the back of the church bulletin. Honest, our sermons are not 90 minutes long.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Book Signing

On Saturday night there was a book signing at Barnes and Noble. This was the display right inside the front door.

This is the fortunate author, in the outfit her daughter picked out (since she couldn't decide what to wear), pen in hand, free decaf vanilla latte at her elbow, and business cards (to make her feel professional) and Kisses in a Smuckers cup available to customers.

There was a steady trickle of interested people. Despite the absence of lines stretching down the sidewalk, the author was happy. She was especially happy, at the end, when the event coordinator gave her this:

And she was really really happy when she came home and found that the box has two layers!

Quote of the Day:

Customer: Oh! But you're so much smaller than I had imagined!

Me: If you don't mind my asking, why exactly did you think I would be bigger?

Customer: Oh, well, because, well, you've just accomplished so much!

Me: Hmmm. . .

(Afterthoughts) So Karen Kingsbury is 6-3 and 250 pounds??. . . Maybe if I eat all those Godiva chocolates I'll be as big as people think I ought to be.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Many Hands

Today was the annual church cleaning and I was (yelp of panic) put in charge of cleaning the sanctuary.

High ceiling fans, acres of upholstery, hundreds of miniblind slats, endless woodwork. I figured I'd be there all day, along with the others assigned to the same job.

I arrived at 8:30 and Ana was there soon after. I began washing the pulpit with hot water and Murphy's Oil Soap. Ana started washing one bank of pews.

Arlis, the lone man, brought his ladder and started dusting the lights with a long-handled feather duster.

Carrie and Frances came and vacuumed and washed pews.

Sharon and Teresa started on the miniblinds.

Around 10 we had coffee and donuts.

I washed the woodwork all around the perimeter, then started on the windows.

At 10:30 I was astonished at our progress.

By noon we were all done. All the windows, all the pews, all the miniblinds. The entire carpet was vacuumed. The communion table was pushed back in place. And Teresa had put pretty fall-leaf arrangements on the windowsills.

What amazing things happen when we all work together.

Quote of the Day:
Emily: Mom, at your wedding did you have last-minute doubts or did you have peace from God and unfathomable joy?
Amy: My goodness, the questions you ask at 7:30 in the morning.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Somebody play Taps and strip me of my MennoMom badge, but. . . I hate canning.

I hate the whole process--washing, cutting, cooking, straining. And manhandling these huge kettles of boiling water or tomatoes. And washing jars. And having every surface in the kitchen full of jars, kettles, and bowls the size of washtubs.

And don't get me started on the cleanup, chiseling dried bits of corn or tomatoes or applesauce from the floor, the table, the side of the stove, and my shoes. And washing tubs that are way too big for the sink. And cleaning the screen tube thing from the Victorio strainer of a million shreds of apple peel stuck in those little holes.

As in writing, I hate the process but love the product: dozens and dozens of fat jars lined up in military rows on the pantry shelves. Now that I really really like.

Quote of the Day:
(After Amy made a grocery run and found some bargain tubs of Peter Pan peanut butter)
Emily: You know you're a big family when you buy things labelled, "Great for day care, schools, restaurants."
Paul: And when you actually buy six of them.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Dutch Cd

I have my John Schmid cd playing, since the rest of the household isn't here to protest. But as Matt says, "When I hear that cd playing, I hear Leonard laughing."

Last Christmas I played "In Dutch" after Christmas dinner and all of us Dutchies laughed like crazy. I especially remember Leonard losing it after, "Da-hame hen mir un alde Gons, sie choomped ins vassah un shiddled ihra shwans."

That translates into "At home we have an old goose, she jumps in the water and shakes her tail" which proves that Leonard had a true sense of Dutch humor and "got" what the "Englishy" in the family merely sat and looked perplexed about.

Gotta go cry.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Good Times

Last night Paul and I had an overnight at the coast to celebrate our anniversary, which was actually back in the middle of August and harvest, a little detail I didn't consider back when we set the date.

So we walked on the beach and went out for breakfast and put the cares of life aside.

While we were walking on the beach, I suddenly realized that 22+22=44, so I said, "Hey! I've been married half of my life!"

And Paul, true to his nature which he cannot lay aside, nay, even on a romantic walk on the beach, began clicking and whirring in his brain: "Ok, hmmm, June 29...ok, and August 10...aaaand, yeah, it's almost exactly half of your life, just about three days off!"

I love him anyway.

Quote of the Day:
"I do."
--Paul and me, back in 1984. We still do.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Prima Donna?

I once read in the newspaper about the performers that come to the Hult Center in Eugene and all the special requests they have for before and after, such as organic Ceylon tea in bone china cups or unchilled apricot nectar or an Ultraloft down futon to take a nap on.

So silly.

Well. I just got an email from the book-signing guy at Barnes and Noble, wondering if I have any special requests for Saturday night...." such as type/brand of pen, type of beverage, etc."

You have got to be kidding. I figured I'd take my water bottle from Grocery Outlet that's been refilled at our faucet umpteen times, and the cool green pen that my brother Marcus gave me for Christmas that I just love and on which I put a "Mom" sticker so no one else uses it with their sticky fingers. (In my dreams).

I guess I just don't know how to be a fancy author. I'm supposed to give a talk to the Willamette Writers Group in January, and the coordinator just sent out a list of all the speakers for the year and their subjects. The others have paragraphs like this:

Garth Stein will talk about the creative process in fiction, specifically, the moment that the writer disappears and the work emerges with its own pulse, its own thoughts, and its own needs. Getting there takes hard work and an understanding of the craft of writing. Being there is a tremendously gratifying experience. What can you do as a writer to lay the foundation that allows a creative jolt from beyond? And, most importantly, how does one guide a work that may not exist entirely within one's conscious self? Trust the creative process. Remember, you do not write a novel, you believe it with all of your might. Then, the novel writes itself.

or this:

How does research fit into our narratives, enriching them with texture and authenticity? How, when and where do we begin? Which questions – architectural styles? train schedules? exchange rates? weather? – need answers and which can we safely invent? In this talk, Portland author Martha Gies will talk about the role of research in her past and current work.

or this:

Karbo is the author of three novels, all of which were named New York Times Notable Books. The Stuff of Life, a memoir about caring for her father during the last year of his life, was a People Magazine Critic's Choice, and winner of the Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction. A past winner of the General Electric Young Writer Award, Karen is in addition the recipient of an NEA Grant. Her essays and journalism have appeared in Outside, Elle, Vogue, Esquire, The New Republic and the New York Times. Her most recent book is the first in a trilogy for young readers, Minerva Clark Gets a Clue.

And then we have lil ole me:

Dorcas will talk about her monthly “Letter from Harrisburg” column and the process of writing it. Also a bit of background about Mennonites and her family. She will answer the questions she hears most often: "Do your children mind if you write about them?" and "How do you find time to write?" She’ll also answer questions from the audience.

Dorcas Smucker lives with her husband and six children in a 95-year-old farmhouse near Harrisburg. The family is involved in their grass-seed business plus their Mennonite church, extended family, and school. Dorcas writes a monthly column, “Letter from Harrisburg,” for the Register-Guard, detailing life at the Smuckers.

The highest praise my mom could give someone, back in the day, was that they were "just so nice and common." Maybe my goal, even with people offering me special pens and beverages, should be to stay nice and common enough to win Mom's approval.

Quiz Results

This one was called, "Are you a slacker mom?" This is what it told me:

Your quiz results make you a Smarty Pants Mom.

Smart parents like you have smart kids. They need plenty of intellectual stimulation and you provide them with all they need, plus lots of love. You know how to help them with algebra homework, and you are superior at kissing boo-boos.

Hmmm....Smarty Pants Mom. I like the sound of that.

Quote of the Day:
"When Trevin plays house he always wants to be the cat."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

On Teaching Writing

A new phase of life: I'm being asked to teach people how to write. This throws me into something of a panic because I don't know how I learned how to write so how can I teach someone else?

True, I took writing classes, but I can't remember exactly what I learned. It felt like the teachers simply affirmed and guided what I somehow already knew.

So, can writing be taught? And if so, how? Or is it simply a matter of affirming and guiding what's already there?

Who taught you to write? How did they do it?

And, if someone "hates" to write, how can they be convinced otherwise?

(I am of the "if you can talk, you can write" persuasion, which is probably as annoying as those people who tell me if I can talk, I can sing.)

Quote of the Day:
"I used to think that Joan of Arc was Jonah Vark."

Monday, September 11, 2006


Normally my editor at the paper puts a little blurb at the end of my column with my email address and other pertinent facts. In yesterday's paper, however, this vital information was missing, so I didn't get one email response. Paul said maybe it was to keep my head from swelling but I don't think that's the issue at all! (She protests a little too hotly.) I just like to hear from SOMEBODY so it doesn't feel like I threw my very self out into the void and not a single person caught me.

So it was reassuring to have so many comments on the link in the last post and to know there are others who have been through what I have. Thanks, all.

Meanwhile, applause and appreciation to people who link, refer, review, and comment: Mary Ann, (9/11 post) who used to be a little girl in pigtails at Lake Creek School, and to literarygirl, (9/6) who seems to live in Eastern Oregon and otherwise I have no idea who she is. Lollyjane is a zippy young writer from Wisconsin(?). And then there's justpeachy607, who wrote a to-die-for review. She seems (MennoGame alert) to be my Aunt Lyddie's son Truman's son Freeman's wife's sister.

Quote of the Day:
(At church Sunday evening, all observations whispered urgently and preceded by taps on my arm)
"David has a really shiny forehead!"

(these were about the visiting speaker):
"When he says his S's it sounds like a snake! Ssssssss!"
"It isn't as interesting as Dad's sermons!"
--Jenny, of course

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Friday, September 08, 2006

Happy Stuff

Today, as I do every so often, I left the house and tried to check off everything on my list. Not a terribly wise goal, but I do so love to finish things. So I--
--dropped a rug and 10 books off at Loretta's Country Bakery where she will sell them on consignment
--dropped baby clothes off at Zelma's (to take to the pregnancy center)
--dropped some bigger outgrown clothes off at Rita's
--picked some plums at JoAnn's
--donated a book to the library
--mailed 2 packages
--stopped at two garage sales
--bought underwear and socks for the children at ShopKo
--got gas
--took Ben's sandal to the shoe-repair place
--checked at JCP and Ross for polo shirts for Paul (with pockets!) (no success)
--got camera batteries at Batteries Plus
--donated two boxes of goodies to Goodwill
--bought 1 cartload of groceries at WinCo
--redeemed my pop-can receipts at Safeway
--bought a vanilla latte at Starbucks
--dropped off ten books at the Tri-County News where they sell them for me for free
--stopped at Barnes and Noble to see the front-window display and did not dance a little jig on the sidewalk because I don't know how to "jig" plus I am a proper Mennonite woman, but inside I was bouncing up and down because they have a big poster there with my PICTURE and NAME and all the details about my book signing on Sept. 23.

I think the only thing I didn't get done was to look at BiMart for a propane outdoor stove to cook apples on for applesauce. (Since I borrowed Regina's to do corn and was hooked.) But I checked enough things off my list to feel finished and happy.

I came home just in time to get the three Bigs off to youth camp. Then Paul and I and the Littles ate supper. I was almost falling asleep so I told the children I want to lie down for 15 minutes and then we'll clean the kitchen.

Well, I slept for an hour, and woke up to the sounds of banging in the kitchen, where I found that Ben, Steven, and Jenny had done all the dishes and cleaned up the whole kitchen beautifully.


And one more happy thing--Mrs. Good at Good Books contacted me about coming up with a chapter outline for the next book!

Quote of the Day:
"OOoooooh, wah de Vina doh?!"
(Oh, was Vina here?)
--my mom, back in the day when Becky and I would clean up the kitchen to surprise her, and she would insist that surely Aunt Vina had helped us because we had done such a good job

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Mt. Baldy

Mt. Baldy is a small bump in the Coburg Hills not far from where we used to live. Somehow this picture made me think of it. (Matt's on the left.)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Home Alone

Today Pigga the fluffy cat was lying on the porch, sleeping in a patch of sun with a big happy smile on her face.

I thought, That's like me with all the children in school.

Paul is back in the classroom full-time this year, so he doesn't come marching in and out of the house all day, shouting on his cell phone. Matt works at the warehouse from 8-1 and at his engineering job from 2:30 to about 7. Amy is teaching this year, full-time until college starts and then half-time.

Emily, Ben, Steven, and Jenny are in school, under the tutelage and guidance of their dad and sister and another teacher, the sweet young Mrs. Baker. So they are not rattling around the house at all hours, throwing pillows in the air or arguing loudly about whether or not Emily was winking with both eyes at the same time.

And I? I am home alone. It is wonderful. I have time to think. Today I closed my eyes for a while and listened to the clock ticking. I'd almost forgotten that clocks tick. I love being home alone.

I don't normally go this ga-ga over school starting. In fact, normally I dread it and cry and all that. But ever since Lenny died I have had this desperate desire to have some quiet time alone. These two months, the noise and action of the family have grated on me far more than normal.

And now I feel like I have been handed a gift--hours a day to be alone and quiet. One of these times I'll be ready to have Anita over for tea or the Harrisburg Hens for Prayer&Share. But for now I'm happy to putter, ponder, and pray all alone. Oh--I also can 20 quarts of tomato juice and work on a speech for next week. But it's all good.

Quote of the Day:
"Oh, Emily, if you look at that cross-eyed it looks like two eyes with no mouth!"
--Jenny, about Emily's mole

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Two Months

Today it's two months since Leonard passed away. I think of him every day, but being distractedly busy recently has not allowed me to really ponder much. Yet the grief is never far away. It is heavy like a rock in a backpack...not like a sharp knife piercing, just a dull weight.

A rash of young people in our lives are suddenly pairing up and dating. I would really have enjoyed seeing Leonard grow into this phase of life. Not sure why this in particular hurts so bad, but I would so have loved to see him get married, and he would have made an awesome dad.

Recently I saw a musical performance in which a young man who looked remarkably like Leonard wore a tux and sang. I thought, "That's how Leonard would have looked at his wedding." It was almost more than I could handle in a manner appropriate in public.

"The pain never really goes away, but life goes on," experienced people tell me. They're right.

We Preoccupied Authors

Sunday evening at church the youth group sang a few songs. Now Emily isn't very enthusiastic about this sort of thing at the best of times but that night I noticed that at one point she simply quit singing and stood there silently. It was like her engine stalled for a minute or two and then she started it again and kept going.

Fast forward to last night, when Emily handed me her magnum opus of the summer: a long multi-chaptered story involving children, flashbacks, drama, a cave, angry relatives, and a happy ending with all strings tied in a neat bow.

Then she said, "Sunday night when we were singing at church I all of a sudden realized I had a flaw in my plot and I was trying to figure it out and finally at the end of the song I thought of a solution and I was like 'Oh!' and Bethany was like 'What??'"

That, obviously, was the little pause in the singing. We authors can get very distracted by our own minds.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, did you know that I could fit more than 3.5 million sugar cubes in my room?"