Monday, October 23, 2017

October RG Column

Life’s twisty path leads to good spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m sure I would have, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Two New Books

My two new books are available!

The first is Sunlight Through Dusty Windows

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


There’s my other new book!!

I am very excited about this one!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s also available on Kindle.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Postage is $2 per book.

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

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

Here are all of my books and prices:

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

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

Again, postage is $2 per book.

And here’s a SPECIAL:

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 01, 2017

More Sparrow Nest Pictures

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