Sunday, November 27, 2011

Short Poem And Long Explanation

When I write something, I always want people to "get" what I'm trying to say.

You might think "duh" but believe me I have been in plenty of critique groups and on plenty of blogs where writers prided themselves on turning out such obscure, foggy, wafting, poetic stuff that only they themselves and an Enlightened Few could understand it.

Not me.

You can't get any more normal-reader than Paul, who is only interested in what a piece says at first rapid read, and if it doesn't tell him anything, then what's the point?

So if I write something and he gets it, I know I'm good to go with the rest of the world as well.

On Thanksgiving morning I woke up feeling heavy in spirit. We've had a lot of difficulties recently, a lot of decisions to make, and a good share of misunderstanding and such, and I'm sorry to make you curious but I can't elaborate.

What if I were thankful for all of THAT, I thought, and recoiled at the very thought, and then reconsidered.

And then I got up and wrote a poem about determining to give thanks for those things we don't normally feel warm and grateful for on Thanksgiving.

I posted it here on the Shoe.

And then I had second thoughts. Who did I think I was, writing poetry?

So I had Paul and Jenny read it. Both were completely mystified at what I was trying to say. Something about whining about all the awful stuff in my life??

Ok, then there was no way anyone else would get it.

So I pulled it off.

Well, today Shelley the nephew's wifelet posted about Thanksgiving. And she referenced my poem, which wasn't there when she went looking for it again, and she had completely understood it, I could tell.

So I'm going to post it again. I've learned three things: A) Maybe going solely on Smucker-by-birth evaluations isn't always the best idea B) A simple word of encouragement from you can make a big difference to someone else. Thanks, Shelley! and C) As long as at least a few people understand you, it doesn't matter so much if the rest don't.


I normally give thanks this day

For all the good and pleasant stuff

Like tea and health and family

And house and clothes and food enough.


A longer list is left unsaid:

The things I don’t appreciate:

Frustration, pain, and endless work

The silence while I pray and wait.


Today I’m stepping out in faith

To see these too as gifts and grace

My thanks a symbol of my trust

Of purpose not of useless waste.


The cat with worms; the hungry teen

Who ate that Starbucks bar I’d hid;

The wind and rain; the gaining weight;

The suddenly-defiant kid.


I thank Him for the blogger moms

with hits a thousand times of mine,

The memories that still return

Of pain and shame when I was nine.


The folks who irritate me so

With grating quirks and talking much,

The ones who don’t appreciate

My friendly intervening touch.


The situations I can’t fix

That drive me to despair and tears.

The quiet suffering that lasts

For days, then weeks, then months and years.


The niece with infertility—

Should I give thanks for good held back?

For loved ones deep in grief and loss?

For Kenyan friends with constant lack?


The words I have to leave unsaid,

And situations I can't share.

The deep regrets of choices past

The list of things that seem unfair.


I come today with hands held out

To trust the Father’s hands to sift

Through all the life that comes my way

And thank Him for His choice of gift.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving N Stuff

As always the book giveaway has been a ton of fun and I have a stack of brown envelopes here ready to mail on Monday.

And as always the stories that come with the nominations are simply heartbreaking and they all qualified by my rather subjective standards. Well, all those unfortunate people are so blessed to have friends and family like you to care for them.

And I haven't reached my max yet so feel free to send me a few more names.

I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving and long weekend.

On Monday the school kids had a Thanksgiving party. Jenny of course wore the outfit in the recent tutorial, and Paul, of the great dignity and lack of drama, agreed to dress up as well.
On Thanksgiving Day we had dinner at the church fellowship hall with a fun combination of people that included Aunt Allene, Uncle Milford and Aunt Susie, Stanley Warfel, Paul's mom, Uncle James and Aunt Orpha, and my brother Phil and his wife and family. This was the first holiday in a long time that Phil and Geneva could just up and go somewhere, as they've been caring for Geneva's dad for six years. He passed away at age 91 two weeks ago and now their lives and routines are completely different.

Yesterday we all went outside and cleaned the yard in one marathon work session. Paul and the children raked leaves while I trimmed and pulled and swept in flower beds.
Steven innocently rakes leaves onto an innocent pile.


I also sewed a quilted purse, something I've wanted to do for a long time. I like the look and feel of Vera Bradley bags, but not the prices, so I made my own and am very happy with it.

Then Jenny got inspired to make a drawstring backpack.

Tomorrow Steven and a bunch of his friends get baptized.

We are very blessed.

Quote of the Day:
[stolen from Emily's Facebook page, so "Me" is her.]

Steven:It's gonna beep!
Fire alarm: Beep, beep, beep!!!
Me: Steven, what did you push??
Steven: There's a fire! Hee hee hee
Me: (very annoyed) Steven, WHAT DID YOU PUSH?
Steven: I pushed your buttons.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On Reading To Children

My educational philosophy came from
a) how I was raised
b) intuition
c) the situation I was in
d) one random class I took on creativity for pre-schoolers
e) what my children were like.

So there we were, way up north, out of the educational winds that blow through American/Christian/Mennonite society. We had very few electronic devices. But we had books. And time.

We also had phenomenally smart, curious, engaged, creative children. Ok, doesn't every parent say that? No, but they should. I've had people tell me, "Your kids are so clever. They say the most amazing things." True, but I want to say, "LISTEN TO YOUR CHILDREN. You'd figure out how clever they are too."

So, this became my strategy for "educating" my preschoolers:
1. Read to them.
2. Answer their questions.
3. Let them bake and do other work with you.
4. Turn them loose when they play and don't over-manage things.
5. Limit screen time.

Obviously this worked, if you know our children at all.

Later Paul became the school principal and through anguished phone calls from young moms I came to realize how hideously complicated our culture has made the preschool years. My word. These moms would detail to me how they got THIS workbook for their 4-year-old and THAT one when they were five, and how much should they be reading when they come to school, and Ruth likes CLP Learning-to-Read but Tina likes ACE and their cousin likes Sing-Spell-Read-&-Write and oh, dear, what if little Harold can't read nursery rhymes by September?

And always, always, they were sure they hadn't done enough and their child wouldn't be ready for school.

And I would always say Calm down. Read to your children. Answer their questions. Let them do stuff with you. Send them outside to play with sticks and mud. And, especially with boys, I'd say, Ditch the workbooks. Dear me, what punishment, to set these wild little 5-year-old boys down to workbooks when they should be outside playing with the dog and running trucks through the sandbox.

I don't think I convinced any of them, unfortunately. Moms like to make things complicated, I think.

Today Matt, of the 118-why-questions-in-one-day-at-age-3 and the recent engineering degree, linked a Thomas Friedman article on his Facebook page. He also noted, "To Mom and Dad: thank you," which made me weepy.

Anyway, Friedman says:
There’s no question that a great teacher can make a huge difference in a student’s achievement, and we need to recruit, train and reward more such teachers. But here’s what some new studies are also showing: We need better parents.


“Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all. The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socioeconomic background.

There's a lot more. You can read the whole thing here. And while it doesn't advocate following my ideas step by step, it's still really affirming for parents who want to help their children without obsessing over workbooks for 4-year-olds.

If you don't do anything else, you busy young parents, READ TO YOUR CHILDREN.

Quote of the Day:
"It always had this mysterious ending. Was it really just a hedgehog, or could she really talk and stuff? And she had this thing called a pinney. She heated her irons over the fire, which was interesing. And she starched things. I'd never heard of starching things and there was also this thing, the girl could look down people's chimneys or something. and there was like a robin and Mrs. Tiggywinkle washed his red thing (me: waistcoat) and she washed something for Peter Rabbit which is weird cuz he was in a different story. And all her hairpins were wrong side out and you explained to me that was all her prickles because she was a hedgehog and there was a hen, Henny Penny, who always said the same thing I go barefoot barefoot barefoot, and you always said it the same way."
--Emily, when I asked her what books she remembers me reading to her and she went off about The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Easy Pilgrim Costume

Monday is a dress-up day for the kids at school. They can be either Pilgrims or Indians.

Jenny opted for "Pilgrim" so I got her outfit together today. I thought I'd share the easy-peasy directions for the cap in case there are other moms out there needing a quick Pilgrim-transformation for their daughters.

First you cut a rectangle of white fabric. About 18 inches by 12 inches.

Serge the edges, or turn under and narrow hem. The less in a hurry you are with this, the nicer the result.

On one long edge, fold down about half an inch and iron it. Then sew it along the serged edge.

Turn the fabric over and fold up about 3 inches along the other long edge. Iron it but don't sew it.

When you sew along the narrower fold it makes a neat little casing. Take a foot-long piece of ribbon and thread it through and tie the ends.

If you grew up in my setting, you see white satin ribbon and think "coppa bandel." The rest of you: never mind. So, take two more pieces of ribbon, maybe a foot long each, or less.

Stitch them to the folded edge to tie under the chin.

Here's the finished back.

For the collar, I found a dress pattern with a big collar that lay flat. I took a ruler and pencil and lengthened the front point, then cut out two pieces.
I sewed them together in the back, serged the edges, and sewed on ribbon ties at the front.

Again, less of a hurry, and doing all the edges "right" would make a nicer product.

The apron came from a stash of Great-aunt Berniece's vintage wedding-server aprons.

The dress is one Jenny had on hand.

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: Mother, thou art the best seamstress in all of the New World. Do I look authentic?
Ben: If I were a professor of history, I probably wouldn't say you look authentic. But I guess I'll just say you do.
Jenny: Prithee, Mother, I request permission to kick our brother Ben.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Some of us, writer types in particular, take ourselves way too seriously and when someone wants to interview us, we talk so much they almost beg us to be quiet.

So maybe we could learn a bit from a certain 9-year-old boy, son of my friend Arlene, who is staying with us (along with his sister) while his folks are at a wedding. I thought I'd interview him and see what clever observations he comes up with. But he didn't see any compelling need to be either talkative or clever.

What a thought.

Q: What do you like to do at our house?

A: I like to play Legos. I like to play chess.

Q: Chess!? Did you play chess at our house?

A: Not really. I like to play puppets.

Q: You were cold last night, right?

A: Yeah.

Q: But not the nite before?

A: Nuh uh.

Q: What do you think of Ben?

A: I think he is nice.

Q: What about Steven?

A: He's kind.

Q: What else?

A: I like it at your house cuz it's fun.

Q: Did you talk to your mom today?

A: Yes.

Q: What did she say?

A: She said hi and are you being good and stuff.
She said are you being kind to others

Q: Is she a good mom?

A: Yeah. My dad is nice too.

Q: Did you talk to him today?

A: Yeah. He also wants me to do some stuff.

What if we all gave such concise answers whenever someone asked us a question? How much more efficient the world would be. And how much quieter.

Quote of the Day:
"Ben, stop using logic and use common sense!"

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Annual Giveaway

The last two Christmases I've had book giveaways and they were a lot of fun for me but the biggest benefit was hearing all these gut-wrenching stories and realizing how phenomenally blessed we are.

And in giving these people a little bright spot in their holidays, as I got some amazing letters in return that warmed my heart.

So I'm doing it again.

Here's the deal:

You can nominate someone to receive a free book that I've written. Send me an email or Facebook message with their name and address, and tell me why they ought to receive a book. I'm looking for people going through a hard holiday season due to grief, health issues, job loss, etc. If you prefer a specific book, tell me that too. (Ordinary Days, Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting, or Downstairs the Queen is Knitting)


Don't nominate yourself. Duh.

Please stick with people with genuine needs rather than "Aunt Sadie is in perfect health and all but she deserves a book because she's so sweet."

Last year two books didn't get out til after the holidays (Sorry!) so this isn't a cast-iron promise that people will get them by Christmas.

I'll limit the number of books I'll give away so it's first come first served.

Drop me your nomination at

Let the fun begin.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Yes and No

I have a hard time saying no.

Actually, I have a really terribly hard time saying no. Especially to good spiritual helpful projects. Especially when good kind people ask me. I drown in guilt and second-guess myself.

But yesterday I said no.

My friend "Belinda" is always helping people, and she had offered--well I will just say she had offered to can applesauce for someone who needed it even though that's not exactly what it was.

It turned into a huge project and Belinda called and asked if I had anything going on and could I help her?

It's very hard for me in a situation like this to say, actually I have a lot going on: dishes, laundry, writing to Amy, getting groceries, emailing that one lady back, reminding Steven to scrub the blop of ketchup he left on the carpet, washing my hair, and making supper.

Because that doesn't sound nearly as important as helping to can applesauce for a deserving family.

But for once I knew what I needed to do and I said no.

So I did dishes and laundry and got groceries and did lots of other fiddly stuff.

That was yesterday.

Early this morning my sister-in-law Geneva called and said her dad passed away during the night and they were having a private burial this afternoon that we were invited to. [Phil and Geneva have taken care of him for six years and he's had a long, lingering, slow demise.]

So. Because I said no to Belinda yesterday I could say yes to today. I had a clean outfit to wear and gas in the car and food here for the children after school. I pulled chicken enchiladas and cinnamon rolls out of the freezer to take along. I had piecrusts on hand so I made two apple pies, one for my brother's family and one for us. And I left before noon with no frantic last minute dashing around the house while watching the clock and was able to spend a few hours with Phil and Geneva before the burial, making tea and talking and ironing Phil's shirt and trying to get Geneva to take a nap.

It's not always bad to say no to a good thing.

We'll see if I remember that next time.

Quote of the Day:
"Is there something you should be writing?"
--Paul, when I was mopping the kitchen at 10:30 pm

Monday, November 07, 2011

Analyzing Authors

Today I was writing about my addiction to tea, and in researching I ran across the best analysis ever of tea, by our old friend Alexander McCall Smith of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series.

Here it is.

Tea, for me, is one of the great subjects. It is a romantic trade, it does not pollute excessively, it has all sorts of health benefits, it calms and wakes you up at the same time. It promotes conversation. You can give it to the vicar when he calls – if vicars still call – and you can give it to the builders when they come to knock down your wall. Builders still take sugar, but then I'm sure they need it.

Tea can be drunk by everyone. Pilots high in the sky drink tea as they fly across oceans. Captains on the bridge of the humblest vessel drink it as they plough slowly through the waves. Submariners drink it as they sail under those very waves. A person who is troubled in heart can drink tea and for a moment feel happier about life. A person who is happy with his lot can drink it and perhaps think about those who are not quite so happy. Members of Parliament may drink it – at our expense – and not feel too guilty. Policemen drink it – as the Ahlbergs point out in the story of the cops of London town – and so do robbers. I have seen a horse who loved to drink it from a cup. Dogs like it, too.

I must now go and put the kettle on.

He is the first person I've ever run across who acknowledges the horror of mixing the flavors of tea and coffee, and of how American motels err in this regard.

Certainly you will find tea (in the form of tea bags) in your room, but how do you make it? The answer is that they expect you to make it in the coffee maker.

Now the problem with that is that if there are two flavours in this world that cannot – in any circumstances – be combined, it is tea and coffee. To make tea in a container that has been tainted with coffee is to ensure that the resultant tea is undrinkable. The flavour of coffee lingers in a vessel long after the last cup was brewed, and it is impossible to use that vessel for tea-making no matter how much it is washed. Try it. Put coffee in a vacuum flask and then, after washing it out thoroughly, try to use it for tea.

He just GETS the charm of tea. Read it if you like tea also.

Meanwhile we move on to another favorite author of mine--Lucy Maud Montgomery. I have been over-indulging in her stories ever since Emily found me a new and very inexpensive Jetbook (Kindle knockoff) at the bent-n-dent grocery store where she works and Matt helped me download half a dozen free collections of LMM's short stories.

I've also been analyzing her stories to figure out their structure, hoping to emulate their charm someday.

And I've come across some very interesting things that keep coming up which I may or may not emulate.
1. A first sentence that plunges you right into the story. "I had two schools offered me that summer; one at Rocky Valley and one at Bayside." "At sunset the schoolmaster went upstairs to write a letter to her." "Miss Hannah was cutting asters in her garden."

2. A recurring theme of families fragmented by death, and of children being raised by people other than their parents. With all the halfs and steps it reminds me of children today, but the sequence was always marriage-death-remarriage rather than marriage-divorce-shacking up etc.

3. Girls at boarding school having fun. That happened a lot back then.

4. Women who got to stay home and keep house were to be envied. Women who had to be employed were to be pitied. The former got married, or were adopted by rich relatives. The latter were thin, haggard old maids who didn't have any family and had to live in bare boarding houses and either teach school or work in department stores or be maids for wealthy people.

5. Bachelor farmers were quite common, and quite self-sufficient. They usually had housekeepers, grim old aunts who didn't darn the socks and didn't clean corners.

6. Women farmers were surprisingly common too. Most of them were the efficient-manager type who got along just fine with a hired man and a French-Canadian boy to run errands. The exception was the little widow with two little boys whose pigs kept getting into the bachelor farmer's garden, and at first he got all upset but then he fell in love with the widow and married her, and then she was to be envied because she was well taken care of and got to stay home and keep house and do all the cooking she wanted without worrying about the pigs.

7. Unrequited love was a good and noble thing, and if you wrote secret love letters for 20 years and kept them in a box up in your room because you could never marry because you were from two different classes, your love was still a good and noble thing, and somehow you kept up the energy of this high and noble true love and didn't get tired of it after 20 years even if you never talked to each other.

8. Young men who weren't accepted at home or who wanted a new start always went out West, usually to Manitoba. Many came home rich after 20 years away. This sheds an interesting light on Paul's great-great-grandpa Christian Smucker who we are told was the black sheep of the family in Ohio and came out to Oregon many years ago, and who never had much to do with the Ohio Smuckers ever again. So evidently he never went back and snuck down a moonlit road and found his former love out wandering around at night, still unmarried and still thinking about him.

9. Family members kept losing contact with each other and finding each other when a random person did something noble. Like, a man would die leaving a wife and child, and eventually the wife would remarry when the child was in his teens, and they'd have another child, but then the wife would die also, and the younger child would live with another family and the teenager would go out West, and they would totally lose contact. Years later they would meet by accident when the older guy would go to a friend's house for Thanksgiving, and meanwhile the friend's younger sister would after a sleepless night of tormented conscience decide to invite the shy girl in the bare boarding house home for Thanksgiving, and the two guests would take one look at each other and realize they were long-separated half-siblings. And then the brother would take his half sister home with him and she was so lucky that she had a home she could be the mistress of and could leave the awful boarding house and her awful job as a teacher.

10. Abrupt endings. I'd say 75% of LMM's endings are just WHAM. Done. That's it. Before you're quite ready.

Like this.

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!! Look at that spider!!!
Ben: WHOA! That thing's got like a cubic centimeter behind!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Good Morning to You Too

This sweet scene greeted me in the kitchen this morning.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom! Go long!"
[Gotta say this was the first time I heard this yelled at me in the grocery store. I turned around. Jenny was a ways down the shampoo aisle, all wound up and about to throw me a foam football she had pulled out of a display in the aisle. I don't think I went long, but she threw it, and I caught it and threw it back, and then it went back in the display.]

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


When I was young I hated my name. Dorcas Yoder. It was full of R's and O's, and it twisted your mouth, and it was was so WEIRD among all the Lories and Tammies and Vickies. And nobody who wasn't Mennonite had ever heard of it.

I could never buy a cute key chain with my name on it.

And I had a sister who went by Becky, and she was cute and vivacious, and I knew if we switched names I would have a chance at being cute and vivacious too, and she would be awkward and overweight. What was really irritating was that Mom and Dad had "Dorcas" all picked out before Becky was born, and then right before that their good friends had a baby and named her Dorcas, so Mom and Dad switched to Rebecca and saved Dorcas for me, a year later.

THAT close I could have been a Becky. Imagine.

And then my younger sister was named Margaret, a lovely name as well.

I doubt that the Beckies and Suzies of this world ever had to put up with stuff like the lady behind the counter saying, "DORcas??? [Lord's-name-in-vain] WHAT a NAME, eh?"

I used to read Newsweek magazine and gaze in envy at the column by Jane Bryant Quinn. What a perfect name. If I had a name like that, full of N's, I could be a writer too.

Well. If there is a young person reading this who has something in his or her life that seems irritating and unchangeable and beyond redemption, let me just say that you never know. God takes delight in redeeming the very thing that you think stands in the way of you ever doing anything successful and meaningful with your life.

Obviously I got used to "Dorcas" somewhere along the way and had much weightier things to worry about, and it really didn't matter any more.

And then the world kept spinning around and I started writing.

And a very strange thing happened. People thought I had the most wonderful name, that it sounded just like a writer's name ought to sound.

Bizarre, isn't it?

A lovely local woman whom I got to meet one time posted this on her blog--

In this part of Oregon I share my name with several Kathy Davises, and the name Kathleen Davis is just about as common. . .At Adams Elementary School in the 60s it seemed there were Kathys in every classroom. I believe it was in 2nd grade that there were 3 of us. . .At one point, I remember, I wished for a dreamy princess name like Cinderella or something. . .

That’s why I stuck my maiden name in my title for this website. I may still be a little bit envious of people with simple but unique author’s names like Dorcas Smucker, but I’ll get over it. I’m thankful for what I’ve been given.

Interesting, isn't it?

So, you with the celiac disease or "too many" younger siblings or weak ankles or dandruff or strict parents or dyslexia: Hang in there. The Lord loves to redeem these things.

Quote of the Day:

"She strikes me as Godly but unintimidating."

--Jenny. We all like that kind, don't we?