My turn: Book suggestions

Well, you guys sure made enough fuss about “only one book!” Did I say “only one book”? I did not. I suppose “favorite” does tend to sound rather exclusive… except to those of us who love best whatever we are savoring at the moment…


Well done!

I am pleased to find that you powered through your frustration enough to leave a comment anyway… and pleased to find that you love good books! Well, I won’t deceive you: there were a few weird ones in there, but by and large—great choices, girls, great choices. I am toying with the idea of compiling a printable list of your suggestions. It looks like a lot of work for me, but maybe if you say Please.

Meanwhile, I had a little book hunt of my own.

On Tuesday last, I failed (again) to show up at my boys’ school (this may or may not have happened before) and help out for fifteen minutes like I’d promised (“this is because I was an airhead on Tuesday and I’m still an airhead now”).*

I might never have thought of my missed appointment again, except that my son got in the van and said “Mom, why didn’t you come?!”


I emailed his teacher: Is there anything I could do for you to make up for my oversight yesterday?

She said: Oh, let’s see, what would I like? How about you let me borrow one of your favorite novels to read this winter?

Now that’s a teacher who talks my language. Plus she offered free forgiveness, books or no books.


I gathered a basketful for her to pick from, since I don’t know what she likes and what she’s read. These are not “my favorite books in the world” but they were on my shelf and I love them.

Thanks for your suggestions, everybody. That was fun!
Giveaway results coming next Wednesday.


(*Quoting Ree Drummond. She cracks me up.)

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Giveaway: Footprints on the Ceiling

Dear folks, I’m delighted to announce two things today—

First, Dorcas Smucker is paying a virtual visit to this spot {right here right now} as she makes her rounds on a blog tour, with our own private interview coming right up…

And second, she is giving away an autographed copy of her brand-new book, Footprints on the Ceiling, to one of you!

This is her fifth book. Some of you know

Ordinary Days
Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting
Downstairs the Queen is Knitting
Tea and Trouble Brewing (also available on Kindle)

All are worth your time… now, Footprints on the Ceiling joins the pack.

It’s a collection of stories drawn from real life in an Oregon farmhouse. Dorcas is a pastor-and-teacher’s wife and a mom of six. She writes about daffodils and mysterious spots on the ceiling, yellow teapots and foreign travel, frantic searches through trash cans and the irresistible Christmas Eve kitten (who wouldn’t stop yowling).

What I like about Dorcas is that she’s down to earth. She is at home in her house, her family, her skin; and while she is always interested in learning new things, she doesn’t reinvent herself or pretend to be something she’s not. But the best thing? She believes that all stories should come out right in the end. She blends ripping good humor with real-life wisdom, always set against the backdrop of that firm and quiet optimism.


Today she’s offering a copy of Footprints on the Ceiling for free, to one of you readers. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment, and answer this question for me: What is your favorite book in the world?

(You are not allowed to say “The Bible” unless you really want to be stubborn–in which case be my guest–first, because it is the Ultimate Book: that’s a given and nothing else holds a candle to it; second, because I don’t want you coerced/ guilted into saying it; and third, because you would be missing the point, which is giving book suggestions to each other. Forgive this interruption.)

Dorcas blogs here, at Life in the Shoe. And now, as nearly face-to-face as we can get.

Hi Dorcas. I’m going to pretend we’re chatting over tea… You write a lot about your children. What’s some of the most pure fun you’ve had in mothering?

There’s been a lot of fun but my favorite times are when we’re all in the kitchen, maybe eating, maybe doing dishes, maybe just hanging out, and there’s this snappy, loud, constant, funny conversation going on.  The older they get, the better the conversations get.  I sit back and just listen and smile.  One of my children’s friends said recently, “People don’t have these kinds of conversations at my house.”  So I know how fortunate I am.  Otherwise: there’s that adorable stage at maybe 18 months when they laugh at everything.  And the fun of dressing little girls in matching dresses and going off to church.  And going to visit adult children on their own turf.

Does it get easier or harder as they grow?

I think even the worst adolescent drama is easier than colic, and teenagers learning to drive is easier than getting up three times every night and also chiseling smeared mashed potatoes off the high chair.  However.  When the baby is asleep in his bed you know where he is.  And when the teenager is late coming home and won’t answer his phone, well, there’s no anxiety in the world quite like that. So things change, but the easy/hard question varies so much with each child.  And sadly, you still don’t get much sleep when they’re teenagers, what with midnight fridge raids just across the wall and noisy late-night conversations upstairs.  Erma Bombeck said there was a study that said women in their 50’s have trouble sleeping.  She said it’s no wonder–by that time, they’ve forgotten how.

Have any advice for young moms?

Maybe this should be my next book.  :)   In a nutshell: if you show up and do the best you know, things will probably turn out ok.  You can chill just a bit, you know.  Not everything is a crisis.  However, if you’re the sort of mom who lets her child break the eggs in the grocery store and thinks it’s cute, please chill a bit less.  You’re the mom, after all.  So be the mom.  Ultimately, your own character is the deciding factor–your child will likely be a lot like you.  Also: read to your child for 15 minutes a day.  And answer their questions, although you’re allowed to ask for silence after the 85th question of the day.  You’re the mom, you know.  You make the rules.

I noticed this book is dedicated to Ben. Is there a book for each child?

I’m working my way down through the list, and it was Emily’s turn this time, but she wanted me to dedicate my first novel to her.  So I skipped her, and dedicated this one to Ben.

A novel? Really?

Well, I’ve kind of crossed the Rubicon there–I now HAVE to write a novel so Emily isn’t left out. The short answer is yes.  The “when” is far less certain.

I love the shoe theme in Footprints on the Ceiling! What’s your own favorite pair of shoes?

I love my white Clarks sandals in summer, and in winter my basic Naturalizer slip-on Mom shoes that look dressier than running shoes but still take me to town and prayer meeting and the dentist, in all kinds of weather.  And I can wear them with socks.  I also like my one pair of high heels but I seldom wear them because I lose my balance.  I wore them to a wedding last summer and told Paul beforehand that he has to stay close by at all times because I need to hang onto him so I don’t fall.  And later a young friend said, “It was so sweet.  Paul was just so attentive to you at the wedding….”

What’s the craziest thing about publishing your fifth book?

The agonies of editing, and the self-doubts.  Seriously, you’d think I’d be beyond ten minutes of deliberating over a comma.  And you’d think the nasty voices would stop–you know, the whispered “stupid stupid” “dumb dumb dumb” “shallow shallow” as I review each chapter.  I’m told there are writers [Harvey Yoder who wrote for CAM in particular] who pretty much scrawl a good rough draft and then let the editing crew take over and finish it.  I absolutely cannot do that, even when I hire an editor to go over my manuscript.

Any idea where you want to go from here?

So many ideas, so little time.  My next project is typing up and publishing my dad’s memoirs.   I’ll keep writing for the newspaper as long as they want me and/or I feel led to do that.  A novel, of course.  Maybe a compilation of blog posts.

How fun!!

Footprints on the Ceiling is available for $15 per book, postage included.  You can mail a check to Dorcas Smucker, 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446.  US addresses only.  To send a copy to Canada or overseas, email Dorcas at  Also available here through

This post contains affiliate links.


Now for the giveaway: What’s your favorite book in the world?

Open to US residents only. Giveaway closes in one week.

Birthday goodness

What I think about birthdays is this: They are a day to catch a glimpse of how much we’re loved.

If we lived with such an outpouring of abundance 365 days a year, it would go to our heads. This should not be, and I look forward to the day when we will live out all our moments in the realization of infinite love, without going to insecurity, performance or egotism—but meanwhile—we live here. And He gives us a few days a year in which to wash our souls in it, and then go on.

I was very spoiled yesterday.

When I awoke to emails from people I didn’t know, I collared my husband and shook the truth out of him. Okay, he confessed before I got quite so violent. THANK you to each of you who blessed me on my birthday. Your words were a treat and a soul-balm.

And the whole world looked like it had been frosted–I got to make a big snowman with my kiddos.

And my mom spoiled me with this amazing dinner…

dinner at Mom's

And my friend made me tea… and took me out for breakfast.

And I was given such beautiful treasures.


My sis-in-law is making candle rings with foraged wild rose hips… And my sis gave me an ultra-cool book to write in… And my kids know all about me and chocolate… And my husband took the cake with the set of books I’ve been dreaming of for months.

This morning, a friend delivered a mocha and a croissant and this exquisite orchid.


If I were a swearing girl I would be saying things right here about how holy this all is. Actually I am a swearing girl, but I try to keep a lid on it in public.

Then to top off all this sentiment, my cousin [-ish] sent me the lyrics to a They Might Be Giants song that went like this:

You’re older than you’ve ever been…
And now you’re even older…
And now you’re even older…
And now you’re even older…
You’re older than you’ve ever been…
And now you’re even older…
And now you’re older still!

Time is marching on…
And time…
Is still marching on.

This day will soon be at an end…
And now it’s even sooner…
And now it’s even sooner…
And now it’s even sooner…
This day will soon be at an end…
And now it’s even sooner…
And now it’s sooner still!


So. What I do when I’m given a day of love is I bask deeply. And the next morning I get up and luxuriate for a while, and then I go scrub something.

Seven homemade gifts for Christmas

Oh me, oh my!

Our homemade gift exchange brought out some delightful creativity in the family. We had homemade log cabins and furnished doll houses for little girls, wood-framed Lego baseplates for boys, gift baskets of treats, personalized T-shirts, denim blankets, wooden shelves, pretty scarves, knitted slippers, and more…

Here are a few our little family made, most of them super-simple. I share them to spark your thinking. I’m going to say this only once: Do not try them all. I had to make a mental note for 2014–no more than (x number) of homemade gifts!

1. Prepaid dates basket

12 dates

Inspired by this website and armed with funds from a personal project, I created this for my husband: twelve envelopes containing plans and gift certificates for date nights, one for every month of the New Year. You can be as extravagant or frugal as you wish in planning time together! I interspersed bigger dates (an IMAX movie, dinner out, or a mini-golf spree) with no-cost fun (a hike, a picnic, a free concert, an intimate rendezvous). He was delighted, and the planning and scheming brought me much joy.

2. “Fun in a Box” for couples

fun in a box

Using an idea from thedailydigi, I made a list of spunky, low-cost, slightly tacky activities for couples to do together, and gave them to our brothers-and-sisters-in-law in Christmasy little boxes. View or print my list here: Fun in a Box (for couples).

3. Grapevine wreath with seeds

For a sister-in-law who loves to garden, I saved seeds from my flowers and herbs, packaged them in little envelopes, and hung them with ribbon on a homemade grapevine wreath. You could buy seed packets instead of making them yourself; but if you live in the Midwest and have access to woods, chances are you can find an abundance of wild grapevine. The wreaths are sooo fun to wind up.

4. Chocolate chess set


With a simple chocolate mold (available here from amazon), we made black and white sets of chessmen, gluing the chocolate halves together with caramel. And of course, here’s how to make the board if you want a playing set…

5. Sock puppets

sock puppets

This was another favorite project—forgiving, low-cost, and open to infinite variation. Simple instructions at wikihow… and then, the sky’s the limit!

6. Jar mixes

For another SIL, my son layered gluten-free food mixes in Mason jars.

For the fourth jar in the set, we combined bath salts with fragrance oils and a drop of food coloring, for layered relaxation.

7. Framed word art

And finally, you know the rage with photos of alphabet letters in nature, to spell inspirational words? Believe, Rest, Love and so on? We shot our own, with the kids forming the letters to spell our word of choice. Turned them black and white, added simple black frames from Dollar Tree, and called that project complete.

We even got our cat in on the E!

E b&w


F b&w


G b&w


Are you inspired? Tired? Haywired? I’m singing Christmas songs…

Last year: a homemade Christmas

Confession: I have trouble talking publicly about Christmas until there’s snow on the ground. This is unfortunate, and unlike my smart friend Gina, who has been doing a Christmas Countdown for weeks already. But yesterday, the magic came… and oh, does it look pretty as it falls!

snow angel

As our extended family gets bigger, the Coblentz side has decided to appoint a different couple to be in charge of our giving each year: first, Dad and Mom planned the event; the next year, my oldest brother and his wife, and so on down the line of siblings. This breaks things up, adds beautiful variety, and eliminates unhappy extended discussions about when and what and how much. (Also it gives several years of cushion time before putting my 15-year-old brother Ted in charge of things, who would undoubtedly have us all out in the woods hunting venison to donate to local soup kitchens.)

One year we pooled money to help my brother and his wife fly home from far away. Once we played A Minute to Win It and said the winner would get the money pool–secretly planning to donate it to the couple who’d been through a lot that year, and give them a vacation together.

Last year, Ryan and I brainstormed a traditional gift exchange, with one stipulation.

September 21, 2013

Dear family,

Christmas is three months away! And while I’m not into singing Jingle Bells just yet, I did want to let you know what Ryan and I have in mind, so you can start brainstorming.

I guess it’s our turn to be in charge this year. We batted around several ideas (donating money to the poor in a foreign country to buy pigs or goats or something; pooling money to do a group activity together—) and finally settled on an idea we really like.

We want to do a traditional gift exchange, with the stipulation that the gifts must be original—made, designed, or modified by the giver. Don’t panic. You don’t have to turn into a “crafty” kind of person to participate; each of you is already good at making something the rest of us aren’t, so think outside of the box and be yourself. Use your imagination, but please don’t overwork, overspend, or overstress.

You may help your child as much as you want.

I made a list of ideas to get you started thinking. Before we exchange names and send the results to you, do you have anything to say? Any curses, questions, or complaints?

Waiting to hear from you,

Ryan & Shari

Two months later, excitement was running high. Gifts were being planned and produced, secreted and stashed in every dark corner. Here’s our list of suggestions.

  • Something from wood
  • Something from yarn or fabric
    • A hat/ scarf/ wrap
    • A blanket or pillow
    • A tote bag
  • Something from nature
    • A plant start
    • A set of fossils (I’m kind of joking, but there are those among us who would love it)
    • Seeds you saved or a wreath you made
  • Something personalized
    • A framed photo
    • A photo collage
    • A mug/ mouse pad/ puzzle/ throw with a personal picture or name on it
  • Something to eat
    • A pie/ a cheesecake/ a dozen cookies
    • A jar mix (great ideas here)
    • Anything you grew or preserved
  • Original artwork or photography
  • A personal audio or video recording
  • A certificate
    • For something to do together
    • For a service you will perform
    • For a gift you will give three times next year (or twelve times, or whatever)
  • A book
    • An online photo book / memory book
    • A homemade book, made by slipping photos of your own into an album or CD case [see tutorial here]. You could make a memory book, an advice book, a grandma’s-brag-book, or a recipe book!
  • Homemade consumables
    • A personal care item like soap or body scrub—many easy recipes online
    • A set of homemade cleaning supplies
  • A handmade toy or game
    • Puppets, play-doh, blocks, doll, sock monkey
    • A piñata
    • A chess set/ checkerboard/ any other game you create

{Click here for the Printable Version–Ideas for Handmade Gifts}


Do you give handmade gifts at Christmas? How do you coordinate your extended-family holidays? I’d love to hear your ideas! Next time I post, I’ll share some specific gifts we made, with pictures.