Thursday, April 30, 2020

ABC Post 11--Upside Down and Kate Brown

This Corona virus is turning everything upside down and sideways.

1. We haven't been to church in weeks.
2. You can pull up to the bank in a mask and no one minds.
3. Our church has a worship team, with services on YouTube.
4. I feel sorry for Kate Brown.

Kate Brown, in case you don't know, is the governor of Oregon. She and I have never seen eye to eye on much of anything, from foster care to farm policy to fiscal matters.

She happened to speak at Amy's graduation from community college. It was a fine speech as speeches go, but I thought it very odd that she, a liberal governor, had a multi-point gun analogy in this speech. It wasn't anti-gun, either. Just a comparison of life with shooting, or something, and hitting the target. I should have taken notes.

I thought, really, Kate Brown?

Then the Corona virus hit, and like every leader in the entire world, Kate Brown was in the hot seat. Oregon had one of the first diagnosed cases in the country. With limited information, a constantly changing situation, a looming crisis, and half a dozen differing opinions yelled in her ears, she had to make a decision, right now.

So she did. She closed schools and told people to stay home.

Was it because of this that Oregon has had one of the lowest COVID-19 rates in the country, or was it because she left a loophole for people to go outside in our beautiful natural habitat for exercise, or were we just really lucky?

As with so many other aspects of this pandemic, it's too soon to tell.

Oddly, Kate Brown may have saved my hide.

When the Corona virus hit the West Coast, I very quickly formulated a strategy. I have asthma, so I know what it's like to feel like I can't breathe. In the strongest possible terms, I didn't want to catch a disease that, according to reports we were hearing from Italy, fills your lungs and takes your breath, inch by inch.

Obviously, medical treatments were going to be hit and miss for a while, since it was a new virus. So I decided I would be super careful until the first wave had passed, things settled down, doctors knew what they were doing, and effective treatment was standardized. Then I could loosen up.


Our fiction-writing critique group was planning to meet one more time in March, but we weren't sure if we should. Then Kate Brown told everyone to stay home, so that made the decision for us. Three days after we would have had our meeting, one of our members came down with a nasty case of the Corona virus.

Of course there are lots of if's in this scenario, but it was a close fly-by, and I was quite happy not to have been exposed.

So she made a decision that benefited me, but that's not why I feel compassion for Kate Brown.

People end up in leadership for all kinds of reasons. Some are appointed, others volunteer, some feel a calling, and still others shove and elbow and campaign and fight for the job.

Leading is a challenging but rewarding job, most of the time.

When a crisis hits, it can be worse than your worst nightmare.

Suddenly, you're in the spotlight like you've never been before. Stuff is unfolding around you too fast for you to keep up. Everyone is looking to you to make a decision. At least five opposing, angry, desperate factions are yelling at you that you ought to do what they say, or there's going to be a total disaster, and it will all be your fault.

And there you are, smack in the middle. A decision must be made. Only you can make it.

Your information is limited. You don't have time to research and ponder and weigh.

No matter what you decide, it's somehow going to be wrong. You will not handle the situation perfectly, because it isn't possible.

People will be furious at you. They will proclaim your faults and idiocy in loud voices, to you and to others.

Time will very slowly reveal who was right and who was wrong, but no one will remember the ones who yelled the loudest about what turned out to be wrong. In fact, they themselves will forget they ever said such things.

Few will know what it took for the person in charge to keep his or her head, make decisions, and endure all the consequences with grace.

I've watched my husband serve as a leader for many years, and I've watched from the sidelines as crises unfolded. I can still feel the weight of it, the terrible impossibility of ever getting it all right. Somehow, in those times, he kept his head, but I absorbed the shock waves from the explosions, and the hot emotions.

That's why, while I have multiple opinions about our leaders' decisions and the virus-related repercussions in this country, I don't say much, [except maybe about the appalling lack of tests!], and I try to make it easier for everyone in charge, from the President all the way down to the people at Safeway who tell you where to stand.

Whether they came by it with integrity, or begged and cheated for the job, every leader is in a terrible position right now.

And that is why I feel sorry for Kate Brown.

The world is truly upside down.

Please don't comment about specific policies, quarantines, Kate Brown, or politics in general.
I'd love to hear how you and yours have handled leadership, crises, and fallout.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

ABC Post 10--Interview with a Covid/Hospice Nurse in Chicago

For today's post, I interviewed my sister Rebecca. She is a nurse in Chicago. Join us for a glimpse of a specialized medical field and the stories that few of us will ever see.

Please tell us who you are and where you live.

I'm Rebecca, Dorcas's sister.  I live in the southwest suburbs of Chicago.  

Describe your work pre-Covid 19.

I work as a hospice nurse.  Hospice is a service offered to those who medical professionals have determined have 6 months or less to live.  Patients may have cancer, Alzheimers disease, COPD, or a myriad of other diseases.  Hospice is a Medicare covered service that provides visits by nurses, chaplains, medical social workers, and home health aids, also medical equipment like hospital beds and oxygen, and  medications called 'comfort medications' that help with the typical symptoms that come with the dying process.  Our patients can be in privates homes, nursing homes or in hospitals.

My work entails visiting our hospice patients, doing a thorough assessment on them, especially focusing on managing typical end of life symptoms of pain, shortness of breath, agitation etc, as well as providing emotional support to the patients and their loved ones.

I also sign patients into the hospice system, called a Start of Care, as well as death visits when a patient passes.  Up until Covid-19 I was working in the hospital with our hospice patients maybe 10% of the time. The rest of the time I was with patients in their homes or in skilled nursing facilities.    

Describe your work currently. What has changed with Covid 19? What has stayed the same?  

My job description has not changed with Covid-19.  My goal is still symptom management and emotional support of patients and families.  What has changed is that we have a growing number of hospitalized hospice patients who have Covid-19. 

So instead of being in the hospital 10% of the time, I am now there 80% of the time.  And since nearly all of our hospitalized patients test positive for Covid-19, that means that most of my time in the hospital is with Covid-19 patients. 

What is it like for your patients i.e. how sick are they when admitted, and are they able to recover from Covid?

Because they're already in hospice, patients generally don't go home if they're positive for covid. So there's comorbidity-- Covid plus another condition that had them in hospice. 

Many of them come from extended care facilities that don't do this level of care, oxygen and all that. At this point they're way too sick for nursing homes.

So no, they don't usually go home from the hospital.

What is it like emotionally for them and also for you? Are any of them allowed to have visitors? If not, how does that change your work and/or the emotional load for you?

Having hospice patients with Covid adds a huge layer of emotional stress. It's already hard, and the family is struggling, but before Covid, the family would be around the bed, holding their hand.

Covid adds a huge layer of stress for nurses. The patient is alone in the room, with the door closed. You feel like you're all they've got, not only to comfort the patients but being that connection with family.

If you can, you set up a phone call. I had a patient last week who had been married 60 years, and of course they couldn't be together. He had an Ipad, so I FaceTimed his wife. I was holding up the Ipad, and she was on the other end of the call saying, "Honey, I love you! Can you say you love me?"

He could still hear, but he couldn't respond. She was begging him to say that he loves her, to blink an eye or something. But he just wasn't able to. There was such pain in her voice.

Before Covid, I was already being clear with the families about what was happening, and giving support on the phone as needed. But now, with the families not able to see their loved ones, I'm doing lots of emotional support over the phone.

It's a drop in the bucket to what they need, but it's all you can do.

Can you share more stories of actual people and how it's been for them?

One patient I had recently was a woman who was a ward of the state. There was no family to contact, and there was no family involved in her admission to the hospital. The state had assigned her a legal guardian. There was no emotional attachment there, only a legal responsibility for her affairs.

She passed away and there was no family to call, no family to care that she was gone. It was a whole new layer of grief as a nurse.

How do you process all that?

Through a lot of prayer—with the patients and on my own. That burden of being the last kind touch that the person receives, that's very significant. Even though it's an added layer of hard, it's an added layer of rewarding as well

Another of my patients was in the hospital for a surgery, and the family of course couldn't be with him. But he was able to come home. I was doing the start of care at the house when the ambulance brought him home from the hospital. 

Watching him and his wife reunite after weeks and weeks, and being part of that reunion, was just the happiest job situation yet. The man has dementia but still knew who she was. She refused to leave his side. I had to do all the forms and everything right there, because she was staying right beside him. It was so sweet and so wonderful to see them being together after being apart so long. 

How would you describe the Corona virus situation in Chicago at this point?

I don't follow the news and stats religiously, but what I understand is that Illinois has the 4th highest number of Covid cases by state, following NY, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.  The vast majority of Illinois' residents are in Chicago so as a city we are suffering, not like NYC, but still, the numbers are high.

So far in IL there have been nearly 46,000 cases and 2000 deaths.  Most of those are in Cook county in Chicago, which is the county we live in.  The hospital where I work has about half of the inpatients testing positive for Covid-19.  So far, there have been enough ventilators and PPE to go around, though we do ration and reuse PPE that normally would be considered disposable. 

First one wing was all Covid patients, then a second wing, then a third, and now half the hospital is Covid. This hospital has about 400 beds, so about 200 are Covid patients. Most of them are in their 50s—not elderly. The youngest is 28. Thankfully, most are recovering.

We try to keep the hospice patients in their own areas. We have our own hospice office at the hospital. 

We're always interacting with the nursing staff and doctors, giving voice to our patients and making sure their symptoms are being managed.

Covid just makes an added layer of stress for medical workers in every way. For example, you wear extra layers of PPE, but still everything you touch is dirty. Like I'll have to write something down. OK, now my pen is polluted. Or I need a bandage. I can't run get a bandage from the supply closet without taking all my gear off. It's challenging! 

Anything else you want to add would be great, just a view from the inside that those of us holed up at home might not think about.

This affects so many people at so many different levels. I did a death visit, and the son had tears in his eyes. He said, "I can't even buy flowers." They can't have a funeral either of course. He said, "My mom would have wanted flowers."

The fact that so many elderly have Covid makes me wonder if we have all been exposed, especially since the elderly that live at home hardly see anyone, and somehow they were exposed. I do feel that social distancing is important, though, because I recognize that we have limited ventilators and ICU beds. If we're all out together we can overwhelm the hospital capacity.

With my job, though, you're with people all the time, and there comes a point where you can't protect yourself any more.

How do you reconcile yourself with the danger?

This job has been a dream of mine for many years. It's been a huge gift to me—I love my job. I feel like I'm here for such a time as this. I believe the Scripture that my times are in his hands.

I'm not cavalier—I'm very careful—but I don't feel anxious.

How can we pray?

For me, you can pray for my safety, that I won't get sick. For physical and emotional strength to hold up. And that I'll be able to have compassion and care for patients well.

For Chicago, you can pray for the curve to flatten and the numbers to decrease. The numbers are still really high.

Thank you, Rebecca, for all you do, and for taking the time to give us a glimpse of your work world. Blessings to you and all the others like you.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Winner of Anything But Simple

The winner of Lucinda Miller Kinsinger's Anything But Simple is Anna L. Martin.
Congratulations to Anna, and a big thanks to all who participated!

Friday, April 24, 2020

ABC Post 9--Review and Giveaway--Anything But Simple

I first met Lucinda Miller Kinsinger when she joined us for a writers' dinner in 2013.

Lucinda is in the front row, on the right.
Since then, I've enjoyed following her blog and was delighted when she wrote a book for Herald Press's Plainspoken series, Anything But Simple. It's well-written, with a sharp clarity and a unique voice--a Mennonite girl in Wisconsin, milking cows and touching on universal memories and emotions.

Mostly, though, I was struck by Luci's honesty and courage. If you are Anabaptist, you know instinctively what sort of things you're expected to tell out loud and what you aren't. You know what happens when you say too much.

Doubts about God, shocking family stories, or mistrust of church leadership might be divulged to a close friend or family member, but not usually to others at church, the wider Mennonite culture, or "The World."

Luci chose to include a few such items in her book. They are not salacious or gratuitous, but meaningful parts of her story. I believe Anabaptist literature is made better by it.

I want to be part of a "faith and practice," as we say, that can handle an honest telling of someone's story. If we can't, then I believe the fault lies with the faith and practice, and not with the story or the teller.

Here's Lucinda speaking for herself:

When I was maybe thirteen or fourteen, I began the creation of an obliviously sentimental novel about the dashing and rebellious runaway slave, Onesimus. I never made it past the first few pages—of which all I can remember is the way his mother ran her fingers through his long black hair—and destroyed the evidence several years later.

When I was twenty-four, I wrote a YA novel about a rebellious young man who rode a motorcycle and hated his Mennonite upbringing. For this book, I attempted—though did not quite achieve—realism. The book held promise, but deservedly remains unpublished.

Third time’s the charm, they say. When I was thirty, I published a memoir called Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite. Seems I have a thing for rebellious young men, because in the very first chapter, I featured the rebellious young man who was my dad and the day I learned of his troubled past. (And who knows? Maybe that’s where all the rebellious young men stories rooted: in my dad, whom I admired.)

I WAS ELEVEN years old. Or maybe I was nine or ten or twelve—I can’t be sure. What I am sure of is sitting in the auditorium of the Sheldon Mennonite Church on one of our varnished wooden pews—those pews I loved on sunny Sunday mornings when mellow sunrays burnished them gold—and listening to words like punches, like Cain’s song that grabbed your insides and twisted them double, coming from my dad’s lips.
My dad was a poet, you see, who stood at the pulpit and moved us with his voice, stretched us up to our tiptoes, down to our tears, who made us cringe sometimes—at least if you were his daughter and concerned about what people would think— because he was so very honest. He was smoother than the other preachers—more polished in his manner and not likely to drop an “ain’t” or an “I seen” into his message—but he said things the others wouldn’t say.
This Sunday he told us about his past, and it was a past I had never imagined or guessed. I was not too far beyond the age of believing things were always as they were. I even thought, when I was very young, that Dad and Mom had been brother and sister when they were children and then went ahead and got married. Because who could imagine them apart?
Dad, I thought, would have grown up loving Mom. He would have grown up handsome and godly and wise, just as he was now—smarter than any other person in the world. And now he stood trim, black suited, dark haired behind the pulpit, his forehead shining like God himself, and told us that when he was seven he’d told his dad he wanted to go to hell. Told us that when he was an adolescent he hated his Mennonite parents and their Mennonite rules and vowed never to be a Mennonite himself...

Anything But Simple is not, however, about the rebellious young man who was my dad, though the kind, quirky preacher he became does play a significant part. It’s not really about being Mennonite, either...or at least not in the cutesy way of Amish fiction or the encyclopedic way of an informational book. 

It’s about being young, idealistic, and confused. It’s about doubting the big things—I mean the really big things like the existence of God—and getting tripped up by small things—I mean the embarrassingly small things like finding a bathroom in time. It’s about a human who happens to be Mennonite...or should I say a Mennonite who happens to be human?

It’s about simplicity, or trying to be. I did a trailer about that once.

Dorcas, who is one of my role models when it comes to writing, was kind enough to publish this review on her blog. To thank her for that (and also because the last couple of authors featured here held giveaways, and I wouldn’t want them to outdo me), I offering a giveaway.

Comment below to be included in the drawing. Please leave or link enough contact information so we can find you if you win. The giveaway closes at 9 am on Monday, April 27.

If you don’t happen to be the winner, the book is available through the publisher, at Barnes and Noble, and on Amazon (where it’s currently discounted).

If you prefer an autographed copy, you can order directly from me at Lucinda J. Kinsinger, 8018 Garrett Hwy, Oakland, MD  21550 (for cash or check) or through my PayPal account (be sure to include your shipping address). I offer it for $12.99 plus FREE shipping.

I blog over at and would love to have new visitors! Please stop by.
Giveaway is over. Winner is Anna L. Martin. Congratulations, Anna! Thanks to all who participated!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

ABC Post 8--Ask Aunt Dorcas--Advice Freely Dispensed!

For today's post, I decided to host an advice column called Ask Aunt Dorcas.
Aunt Dorcas and her pet chicken, whom she is trying to resemble.
Dear Aunt Dorcas, 
I have a teen who thinks his world has come to the end because he's been stuck at home for 45 days with two "Boomers." He's got a lot more days to go. Any advice?
--Desperate Donna

Dear Donna--
First of all, I feel sorry for everyone in this situation. Most of us are stuck at home, but I doubt that many have your unfortunate combination of one lonesome teen and two Boomers. Kind of world-ending if you're 14, I would say.

Mom: Oh dear. I can't get into this Zoom call. Henry, can you help me?
Dad: HUH? Did you check your email for an invitation?

Teenager: Really, Mom? [clickclickclick] There you go. I TOLD you twice before, just click on the blue flixiated gizmo and open the refracticated icon! It's not that hard.
Mom, Dad, and Teen: DEEP SIGH.

So, yes. Outdoors is your friend, I would think. Take him to any walking trail that's open. Take him to a friend's house to shoot baskets, 6 feet apart. Work together to clean the gutters.
Make lots of food.

Best wishes,
Aunt Dorcas

Dear Aunt Dorcas,
How can a person live responsibly and compassionately in light of information overload and globalization without losing one's mind and becoming paralyzed? e.g., fairtrade coffee/chocolate, clothing factories in Asia, destroying the Amazon for toilet paper, polluting the ocean with microplastics, using/wasting energy on luxuries, like air conditioning, etc. 

Dear Amy--
That is an excellent question, and most of us who want to be aware and responsible have faced the same paralysis.

I wanted to be a good steward and not wasteful, so I've always donated good used clothing to Goodwill or St. Vinnie's. Good for me. Even better, I found out that the items they can't use get baled and sent to other countries, so people there can have affordable clothing. How virtuous I felt.

Then we went to Kenya and I found out that those bales of castoff clothing have pretty much destroyed the local fabric and clothing industries. Ok, now what?

I've sort of made peace with these dilemmas by knowing that I'll always have to balance many factors in these decisions: my information capacity, our finances, the people I take care of, my values, and the shortage of hours in a given day. People come before things, and God before all.

Empathy without boundaries leads to self-destruction, I read recently, and it resonated deeply in the sense of all the people who need my help, but also in these questions of economics and sustainability.

So I draw boundaries with how much information I take in. I define the goals of loving God, loving people, and living simply. And then I choose my "causes." I haven't worried too much about fair trade tea, but I deliberately choose to buy fewer things, buy things with less packaging, and repurpose to reduce the amount of garbage I generate.

I also find I have to draw boundaries with others. If your best friend is earnestly trying to convince you that your use of air conditioning is destroying Appalachia, it's hard to say, "I don't have the brain space to get excited about this right now."

But honestly, sometimes you have to. There isn't enough of us to go around to every worthy cause.

She can work on reducing electricity use while you buy locally-made clothing.

Best wishes,
Aunt Dorcas

Dear Aunt Dorcas,
If one is uninvited to a wedding because of social distancing concerns, is a wedding gift still necessary?

Dear Susan,
We never dreamt how many dilemmas this social distancing would foist upon us, did we? I decided to call upon the local experts, Matt and Phoebe, who are facing this very situation of a greatly edited wedding guest list.

Matt says: "I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask, since I wouldn’t care much. I’d probably say a card is in order though."

Phoebe says, "I think if the person feels the need to ask, then no. To me, that indicates they are feeling some level of inconvenience or apprehension about the prospect of giving a gift. In my opinion, a gift that cannot be given enthusiastically need not be given.

Certainly the couple would appreciate a gift (as they would have if the person had attended the wedding) but in my opinion a gift is never compulsory. Isn’t that the essence of a gift, after all—freely given? If I were in that situation, I wouldn’t want anyone to feel obligated.

That said, if it doesn’t overburden the giver, I think it would be kind and in good taste to give a gift anyway, especially if the person is close to the couple. The couple is likely feeling very regretful over having to uninvite people to their wedding anyway, and sad that their wedding is not going as planned. Receiving gifts despite those circumstances would mean a lot to some people.

If the uninvited guest feels burdened by the prospect of having to come up with a gift/is short financially, etc. but wants to acknowledge the occasion and show support, perhaps a card would be a good idea."

Aren't they wise? I sure think so.
Aunt Dorcas

Dear Aunt Dorcas,
I have a friend who firmly believes that you have to play with your children a LOT. As in, drop what you are doing and play with them if that’s what they want. If company is over, it does not matter, we go out and play with the children. 

Now, I could learn some from her, because I rarely play with my children. Read, yes. Card or board games, yes. But pretend play? It’s very hard for me.

Somehow I feel this is overrated in today’s world. I have hurts from my upbringing, but I don’t recall ever feeling hurt that my mom didn’t play with me. It never crossed my mind that she should. So am I just being selfish and trying to find an excuse not to give in to something that comes hard for me? Maybe. But surely there ought to be a balance? 
--Concerned Carol

Dear Carol,
Aunt Dorcas is heaving a deep sigh. This is something about which she has Many Strong Opinions. While she tries to be understanding and flexible with how today's young mothers mother (all those funny stretchy wraps and reasoning earnestly with toddlers and never giving them candy) this is a subject that turns her instantly curmudgeonly and old-fashioned.

Yes, parents should be involved with their children, and sometimes this will involve play. Every dad should have a tea party with his daughters about twice a year, if they invite him. Moms should play those unspeakably boring games with their kids maybe--I don't know, once a month? Even if they are sure that Jesus will come back and the entire Tribulation and the Great White Throne Judgment and probably the Millennium too will all pass before this Phase Ten game is over.

Moms also need to go outside every now and then to whack the croquet ball or pitch the softball.

But in general, children should play on their own. When children are in that imaginative play mode, they truly enter whatever world they've created. Maybe they're deep sea divers, as mine used to play, after they figured out that Ben's big boy shorts on their heads made passable diving helmets. Or maybe they're moms in church with their babies. Or whatever they imagine when they're immersed in their Legos.

It's unique to childhood, and adults destroy the magic. No matter how much you both pretend, it's not the same.

Kids need other kids, like siblings, cousins, and friends, to play this kind of immersive play with them. Not moms and dads.

I'm sure your friend is trying, like we all are, to be a good mom. She's making it harder than it needs to be. A mom needs to have her own friends and life, and she ought to let her children shape their own world of play without constantly inserting herself into it. The kids might beg her to come play because they're used to it, but Mom is doing them a favor if she joins them as a special treat, not as an obligation.

Somebody needs to be the adult. Mom will do a better job of this than the kids will. And they can do a much better job at being kids.

That's what I think.

Aunt Dorcas

Send your questions to, message me on facebook, or comment below.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

ABC Post 7--WAWC, the Wedding, the Bathroom, & Such. Also I Need Your Advice.

Updates and Footnotes:

1. Remember WAWC, last year's Western Anabaptist Writing Conference? We had decided not to plan a similar event for 2020 because of our son's wedding. Now we're so glad we aren't trying to make projections about group meetings and travel in August.

However: we would like to plan another conference for 2021, in either June or August. Please comment if you have preferences.

Also, please plan to attend. 

2. Have you been keeping up with the other April Blogging Challenge posts on my daughter Emily's blog? If not, you should. The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots. Just to pique your interest, her latest post was Why Guys Should Stop Talking to a Girl's Dad Before They Ask Her Out.

3. Emily also has a Patreon page where she posts on more personal/controversial subjects. You have to pay a bit to see those, which not only helps her writing pay for itself, it also helps to weed out the trolls and stalkers.

4. Here are a few more Sparrow Nest details that you might have wondered about if you're planning your own cabin:
     a. Internet. We had tried to get our Alyrica internet to project its gamma rays out to the cabin, but that didn't work, so mostly I took my Iphone out with me and set up the hotspot. It wasn't ideal, by far, but it reduced the temptation to waste time browsing online. Recently, Paul had an extra device that's a hotspot all on its own [not a phone], which he wasn't using. So that's now out in the cabin and it works fine. A little too fine, sometimes, threatening to become a Distraction.
     b. We had originally planned to put a little wood stove in the cabin for heat but went with propane because the logistics are so much more complicated with wood. [Chimney, safety, hauling wood, starting fires, etc.] But I still think wood heat would be awfully cozy.

5. The three winners of the Spice Thyme cookbook were:
   a. Ellie on the blog

   b. Anita Eshleman on facebook.
   c. Martha Knepp on Instagram.
The response was enthusiastic and the number of commenters blew me away. Thank you to everyone who tossed their name in the hat. If you didn't win, please think about investing in a copy of your own or taking a page from my friend Simone's book and telling someone to get it for your birthday.

Here's the ordering information again.  $25.99 per book USA, or $31.99 in Canada.

USA retail customer special: Order one book for $5 shipping, two for $3, or three or more for FREE shipping! Bulk discounts are also available. Offer expires May 15, 2020. Please mention where you saw this ad to receive your discount.
Canadian retail customer special: Order one book for $15 shipping, two for $10, three for $5, four or more for FREE shipping! Offer expires May 15, 2020. Please mention where you saw this ad to receive your discount.

Distributor Offer: 60% off whole cases
Wholesale Store Offer: 40% off whole cases
10 books per case

USA Contact:
Angela Amstutz
15 Bromley RD
Huntington, MA 01050

Canadian Contact:
Aneta Wiebe
Box 162
Eden, Manitoba R0J0M0

6. The wedding: Matt and Phoebe assure me that there definitely will be a wedding. They're just not entirely sure when and where and how. I admit I have migrated from "Ooooooh, you guys, please have a big splash of a wedding with hundreds of people because we've waited so long for this!" to "Let's just get you guys married, one way or another."

Covid-19 is changing us in subtle ways.

7. The bathroom. The remodeling project has been delayed until the virus is over, so we still have our exhausted bathroom. But if we won't have a boatload of wedding guests filling the house, will it really matter if the bathroom project isn't done by June?

The commode still flushes and the shower still sprays. We are grateful for this.

And finally:
8. This section is for all of you who are in some stage of the writing and publishing process, whether it's starting a newsletter for your organization, helping your mom write her life story, writing a Bible study, putting your sermons into a book, or writing a novel.

I need your input.

I get a lot of messages similar to this one from a lady named Esther Zeiset--[quoted with permission]--

I'm wrapping up a 3-years-long project of writing about my husband's 33-year career in prison chaplaincy, and just when I started getting serious about the publication process, COVID-19 hit. It's an 80,000 word manuscript which I'm editing for the umpteenth time, with special attention (this time) to comma usage rules. i guess I've lost some steam for the project - who in the world will have the interest or the money for such a book after all this distraction and turmoil?? Advice? I almost hate to ask 

Last year I wrote a series of blog posts on How to Write and Publish. Right now I'm expanding them, with plans to self-publish into some sort of textbook/workbook.

However. I've never done anything quite like this, and I need advice on which format will be the most useful for you, Esther Zeiset and the rest of you who feel an urge to write and publish but don't know how to go about it.

I'm imagining who this might be: maybe Victoria from the counseling course who had an idea for a children's book. Homeschool moms who might want each high schooler to work through it. Writers like my friend Darlene who self-published their mom's life story but also write poetry.

My question isn't about the content but about the sort of book format and binding that would be most useful.

I plan to include a lot of my own expounding and yammering, but I also want to have plenty of supplementary questions to guide you through your own projects. Of course you'll need to write down the answers to those questions.

Here are some options. If you are in the market for this kind of help, please comment and tell me which format you'd like.

Or if you have a better idea, share that too.

Option A.  All the content would be in a paperback book. You would write your answers in the book, in the spaces provided.
Advantage: Everything under one roof.

Disadvantage: Not so suitable for planning multiple projects.
Option B. All the content would be in a paperback book. There would be questions for you to answer, but NO space to write in the book. You would write your answers in your own separate notebook that you picked up at Walmart for 15 cents in the back-to-school sale.
Advantages: You could use one textbook to plan as many projects as you wanted.
Disadvantages: an extra notebook to keep track of.

Option C. Everything [text and questions and space to write] would all be under one cover, as per Option A, but it would all be SPIRAL BOUND.
Advantage: easier to use.
Disadvantage: extra cost. Parallel creases on the fleshy side of your hand.
Option D. The text and all my pontificating would be in a paperback book, then you would buy a separate little stapled companion workbook to fill out the answers for your own project.
Advantages: more versatile for multiple projects and people. Cost savings of one textbook and multiple little workbooks as needed.
Disadvantages:more botheration; more to keep track of. 

E. The final option: the how-to chapters and fill-in-the-blank pages would all be together on a stack of 8 1/2 x 11 looseleaf paper that you would insert into your own ringbinder notebook.
Advantages: cost savings. Easier to keep/use only what applied to your project. Easier to include with other English projects for students.
Disadvantages: sudden gusts of wind if the papers weren't secure. 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Note: The Content in the above illustrations will not appear in the actual book and is not intended to be a substitute for professional writing advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your publisher or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding writing or publication.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Update--cookbook winner!

The winner of the Spice Thyme cookbook is Ellie, commenter 75. [I sent you an email, Ellie. Please send me your mailing address.]

THANK YOU to everyone who entered the drawing.

If you didn't win, please consider buying Spice Thyme for yourself or suggesting it for your Mothers Day gift.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

ABC Post 6--Spice Thyme Cookbook Review and Giveaway

UPDATE--The drawing is over.
The winner is commenter #75--Ellie!

When Angela Amstutz first contacted me about her book, I admit I was dumbfounded at the idea of two Mennonite women assembling a cookbook about spices.

Wasn’t that like kind of like an Inuit writing about hummus? Or maybe a Kenyan showing us how to make huevos rancheros?

Maybe, I thought next, the authors--Angela and her friend Aneta Wiebe--worked in India or Grenada, and they learned to cook the local foods and will show us how.

I paged through the book. Mashed potatoes? Wait. What? Chicken noodle soup? Biscuits?

This is what I figured out, eventually, and then it all made sense. See, I can put a hot meal on the table. Beef, pasta, vegetables. It’s nutritious, and it tastes ok.

My daughter Amy can make the same sort of meal, but as each bite hits your mouth, subtle flavors radiate deliciously into your tongue and up the back side of your nose. “Ooooh! Yum!” You say. “This is amazing.”

You take seconds and thirds.

This book is about replicating that sort of magic, breaking down the details so someone like me can master the skills. It’s more about taste and flavor than about being hot and spicy.

It’s actually right there in the subtitle—“Exploring the flavory world of culinary spices and herbs.”

Spice Thyme is also a textbook about spices and flavorings of all kinds. One section tells you how to grow your own herbs, another how to dry and preserve them, and a long chapter in the back shares all kinds of information about the history, sources, and uses of every spice you can name. You'll read why Holy Basil is called that odd name, for instance.

I was especially delighted with a section on making your own spice mixes. So far we’ve made a Cajun spice mix and also pizza seasoning.

I found that when I left my copy of Spice Thyme lying on the kitchen counter, family members walking by would pick it up and start reading, randomly. It is that interesting and well-written. It also has almost 600 pages and hundreds of recipes, many of them with color photos.

Most of the recipes feature traditional American-Mennonite food, but other cultures and their tastes are represented as well. There’s a section on Peruvian food, plus dahl from India, African bean stew, Delightful Guacamole from a contributor in Honduras, and seven variations of borscht, a Russian-Mennonite soup.

Our youngest daughter, Jenny, age 20, paged through the book, suggesting recipes to try, so I told her to put a post-it note on the ones she wanted me to make.

This was the result:

I also jotted down a few of her snarky comments, such as, “Scrapple? When you measure meat by volume, I’m not sure I want it!” [page 258]. But seriously, I have a notion to try it with the "extra" meats from the pig we got from the neighbors.

But then Jenny found Cheesy Biscuits on page 90 and couldn’t wait to try them.

Besides the biscuits, which were delicious, we tried the Cajun Chicken Pasta on page 319. Paul, who has very traditional Mennonite taste buds, found it a bit too spicy, but the rest of us thought it was wonderful.

Cajun chicken

I look forward to reading and using this cookbook a lot more.

Angela will be giving away three copies of Spice Thyme--one to blog commenters, one on my page on Facebook, and one on Instagram [@dorcassmucker].
Comment below to be included in the drawing. USA addresses only. Please include enough info so I can find you if you win.
Drawing is 9 pm Saturday, April 18.

Read on for Angela's guest post, a sample recipe, and ordering information.

Ask your local bookstore to stock it.

The need for a book
Ten times in the last two days, my inbox received what was labeled as a Quarantine Cooking Recipe Exchange, the kind of exchange that you pass on to 20 people and receive reems of recipes in response to your own small contribution. I thought chain letters and recipe trees were a thing of my teenage days, and back then I did them… and never received anything back. Why do they all say that no one drops out (not true) and that you will receive dozens of (in this case) new recipes (also not true)? Since I was required to forward the exchange to twenty people each time I received it, and since I do not have 200 people in my contacts who would appreciate this, I gave up and am not doing any at all.
                But I agree with the thought behind the exchange; the world needs recipes right now. Many women who usually work away are at home all day, and the rest of us are thinking twice about going away. What better time is there to spend extra hours creating delectable, home-cooked meals for our families?
                I have a solution for this recipe need, and it’s a whole lot simpler—and far more efficient—than forwarding this email to twenty of your unwilling friends.

The birth of a book
                I am a spice enthusiast. When an email landed in my inbox several years ago, asking for different ways to use spices and herbs, I clicked “reply” and wrote an email, not to the person who sent it to me, but to the unknown woman who sent it to her. She also replied, and it wasn’t long until we began discussing printing a cookbook together that focused on spices and herbs.
                We sent notices to our friends, asking for spicy recipes, tips, and hints. As the replies dumped back into our inboxes, we began to organize, sort, type, and file them. I checked into many publishing options and we decided to leap into the world of self-publishing. We organized recipes, tested recipes, photographed recipes, and searched for editors and proof-readers and a designer. We wrote informative and inspirational articles, and solicited writing help from seasoned friends. It took a long time, a lot of work, and more dedication than we imagined.
                Now, more than two years later, we hold the finished product in our hands, ready to pass on to those of you needing something to fill these extra hours.

About the book
                Ever wish you had more knowledge of those spices in your cupboard? Did you ever wonder what cardamom or fennel is, or how to use them? What about when your hostess mentions what she put in the soup, and you have never heard of such an herb? Did you ever pause in the isle of your local bulk food store and puzzle over the bottles of tarragon and lemon pepper, wondering how you could use them?
Spice Thyme has the answers to all these questions, and more. Cooks around the world open their cupboards to share tried and true recipes, each of which contains at least one spice. This cookbook also includes essays on how to grow, harvest, and use herbs, how to make your own spice blends, and more. A spice commentary in the back introduces you to fun facts and useful tips about each spice. Broaden your culinary horizons by adding Spice Thyme to your collection!  

Spice Thyme cookbook, spiral bound hardcover, approximately 600 pages with over 600 recipes. Many full color photos throughout. $25.99 per book USA, or $31.99 in Canada.

USA retail customer special: Order one book for $5 shipping, two for $3, or three or more for FREE shipping! Bulk discounts are also available. Offer expires May 15, 2020. Please mention where you saw this ad to receive your discount.
Canadian retail customer special: Order one book for $15 shipping, two for $10, three for $5, four or more for FREE shipping! Offer expires May 15, 2020. Please mention where you saw this ad to receive your discount.

Distributor Offer: 60% off whole cases
Wholesale Store Offer: 40% off whole cases
10 books per case

USA Contact:
Angela Amstutz
15 Bromley RD
Huntington, MA 01050

Canadian Contact:
Aneta Wiebe
Box 162
Eden, Manitoba R0J0M0

And, finally, a recipe for Life in the Shoe readers:

Broccoli Salad
Recipe from: Crystal (Mrs. Steven) Zimmerman, Wellsboro, PA

2 cups mayonnaise
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup distilled vinegar
1 tsp salt
½ cup water
1 tbsp. minced onion
Mix well with electric mixer. Str together the following ingredients and slowly add to the first mixture:
1 cup sugar
1 ½ tbsp instant clear gel
Mix dressing with desired amount of broccoli. Garnish with:
Shredded cheese
Cooked, crumbled bacon

Crystal’s Note: We made this to sell at the market where I worked as a teenager. If you think it’s a lot of bother for broccoli salad, try it! It’s the best!

Remember to comment to be included in the drawing. Include your name please!

UPDATE--comments are closed. Winner is Ellie--comment #75

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

ABC Post 5--The Corona Projects Plus How-to's

From sewing to baking to friendly competitions to gathering in Cousin Darrell's field at 6:30 a.m., we've tried lots of quarantine projects.

Paul reading How the Virus Stole Easter

Here are a few things we've been working on as we wait out the virus, along with instructions in case you want to replicate them for yourself.

1. Me: Sewing T-shirts.  I used to sew dozens of simple, boxy-but-cute T-shirts for the children, but I sewed very few for myself, since I never found a pattern I liked.

Some time ago I found the Anything But Basic T-shirt pattern and have been singing its praises ever since.

A. It's free. Here's the link. Yes, you have to download, print, tape, and cut, but it's worth the effort.
B. It fits real people who have strange shapes and odd proportions. It includes extensive instructions on making the right size.
C. It's easy to sew.
D. It's long, wide, and high enough without alterations.

Yes, there's a funny buckling under my arm.
I prefer a loose fit.
I always like to add a ribbon on the inside/back.
2. Jenny: Baking a Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake.

I'd copy the recipe except the original includes lots of additional information, enough that I don't think it's ethical to copy it here. So click on the link if you have access to blueberries and lemons.

 I like cakes that are moist but not heavy, and sweet enough but not too sweet. This qualified all around.

3. Ben: cleaning out the spare room.

Our son Ben lives in a house in Corvallis, near Oregon State University, with a few other guys. They had one empty room, so when our oldest, Matt, got permission to telework from Oregon for his job at NASA in Houston, Ben offered to let him move into that spare room.

Ben came home for our Easter Sunday family service with an armload of treasures that previous tenants had left. 

1. The kind of hat that stern Asian border officials wear.
2. The sort of box drum that expressionless, deeply concentrating young worship team members sit on and thump with their fingers.

3. A 100% felt fedora.
4. Bamboo knitting needles.

I found this particular combination wildly entertaining. But then, I am easily amused these days.

The hats will go to the costume collection in the attic. They will appear in a future production at Pioneer Christian Academy, I am quite sure.

The drum went to Jenny's room. I don't expect to see it up front at Brownsville Mennonite any time soon, but we now have a worship team on the Sunday-service videos, so who knows what other changes this virus will bring. 

The knitting needles are, of course, mine.

 How to:
Take a deep breath.
Dive in.
Empty closets and drawers.
Return items to former owners if possible. Otherwise, pass things along to your family, or take it to Goodwill after the quarantine.
Scrub everything.
Feel accomplished.

4. Me: Making separate hand towels.

A third of the occupants in this house still work in the wider world, so we've been careful about sanitizing.

Probably 15 years ago I took a large square of terrycloth fabric and made a hooded towel for Jenny. She loved it, used it until sections were threadbare, and finally decided the time has come to part ways.

I cut up the best parts of the towel into hand-towel-sized pieces and serged the edges.

Next I put suctioned hooks onto the bathroom mirror and labeled each with a dry-erase marker.

I keep the clean towels on a stack on the counter.

A couple of times a week, I snatch all the used towels off the hooks and wash them in hot water and bleach.

They will become cleaning rags when the Corona caution is over.

5. Emily and Jenny: Recording a podcast
This endeavor is called Quarantined with Jenny and Emily. I don't know how to link the podcast, but you can find it on Emily's blog.

How to record a podcast: sit on the bedroom floor upstairs. Brainstorm, talk, and laugh a lot for a good part of the afternoon, just loud enough to make everyone in the house curious. Record and publish.

If you want specifics, message the girls, [@emilytheduchess and @therealjenny.s on Instagram] because I have no clue about the technical aspects.

6. Amy: baking monster cookies

When I posted a similar photo last week, people asked for the recipe. Here it is:

Amy Smucker's Monster Cookies

Mix together:

1/2 lb [2 sticks] butter
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 1/4 c. white sugar
Add and mix well:
2 1/2 c. peanut butter
6 eggs
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 1/2 t. light corn syrup

4 t. baking soda
Stir in:
9 c. old fashioned oats
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/2 lb [1 1/2 c.] M&Ms
Bake 12 minutes at 350.

Note: the original recipe called for 2 1/3 cups brown sugar and 2 cups white sugar. We prefer Amy's modifications.

7. Me: refilling printer inks

This little project scratches a number of itches:
A. The desire to save money.
B. The urge to outmaneuver the unfair, frustrating, expensive, darkly conspiratorial computer printer and ink coalition.
C. The secret wish to poke things with sharp objects.

How to: order ink from here, or simply search for ink refills on ebay.
Find a syringe and needle that the naturopath gave you ten years ago to give yourself B-12 shots.
Peel the sticker off the cartridge.
Fill the syringe with ink from the bottle.
Stab it into a hole that the sticker was hiding.
Slowly inject 5 ml of ink.
Replace the sticker, if you wish.

This part is weird but trust me:
Lay a tissue over the coppery part on the bottom. Hold it on tight.
Push the end of the vacuum cleaner hose up against the tissue.
Turn on the vacuum for five or ten seconds at a time.
When a good streak of ink appears on the tissue, turn off the vac.
Pop that cartridge back into the printer.

I haven’t been able to make this work with 3-in-1 colored ink cartridges. This doesn’t diminish the satisfaction of beating the system with the black ink.

8. Me: Making sanitizing wipes.

When we ran out of disposable wipes to sanitize doorknobs and light switches, I was inspired by Zonya Gingrich from Georgia who cuts up old cotton t-shirts and such to save on disposable paper products.

How to:
Gather a few cotton or cotton-blend knit t-shirts, leggings, etc. that are too stained to give to Goodwill. Cut them into roughly 8-inch squares.
Put them into a container.
Pour one of these mixtures over them:

3 c. distilled water
3/4 c. rubbing alcohol
6 T. Dawn dish soap


1 c. water
1/2 c. vinegar
1 t. dish soap
5-10 drops essential oil

Grab one to wipe the frequently-touched surfaces.
Toss it in the dirty laundry.
Wash, dry, and save on a pile.
Make another batch of cleaner and pour it over.

9. All of us: have church at home

We raised our children with prayers before meals, Bible reading at breakfast, and other religious/spiritual exercises that varied with our life stages.

Having a family-only Sunday morning service is new, different, and very special. One surprise is the delight of taking on new roles. Paul, who always organized family worship and Bible times, has been too busy planning an online service for the church to plan something for the family.

So Jenny took on that role. She might, for instance, tell me to be in charge of the prayer time, Amy to lead singing, and someone else to read the Bible passage.

We also watch the YouTube service from church.

On Easter Sunday we went out in a field east of the warehouse and had a sunrise service.

"Well, the women were first to the tomb, so it's appropriate that we showed up here first."

How to:
Appoint one person to plan the service and delegate responsibilities.
Figure out what time to meet.
Do what you were told, even if it feels awkward.

Have the dad make pancakes for everyone beforehand, if you wish.

10. Ben and me: Writing projects and a competition.

I would love to publish three books this year. Ben would like to publish three papers on his smoldering combustion research. These are frighteningly ambitious and frankly unrealistic goals, but this quarantine time is ideal for endeavors that involve long stretches of intense mental work, as long as you have a place to be alone.

However, Ben and I both find an amazing number of distractions from such work.

So, the idea is to motivate each other.
I made this chart to help us.
The little figures are on Post-it tabs.

How to:
Find someone with goals in similar areas and difficulty.

Decide to “compete,” which in this case means, keep up in a friendly manner on how you’re both advancing.

Create a visual record.

In our case: Sit down. Jot notes. Type. Make frustrated noises. Depending on your assignment, be grateful that at least you’re not writing about the combustion rate of lignin or making up stories about Mennonite teens.

Feel free to comment with your own Corona projects.