The Almost-Giveaway: Thirty Little Fingers

There. Now that you’ve met The Real Sheila J. Petre, let’s talk a little more about her book.

Thirty Little Fingers: Seasons of Young Motherhood is a charming mixture-book, as if Sheila gathered up her best concoctions – the tastiest reserved morsels and most delicious literary crumbs – and sandwiched them all between its covers. There are many short stories about real-life motherhood, some that make me want to cry and many that make me laugh. There are toothsome recipes from her kitchen. There are poems, always my favorite portions of her work. There’s baby talk and word pictures and messiness and color and joy. And superglue. And HoHo cake.

One of my favorite things about the book is this: not only is it about being a young mother, it is perfect for young mothers. You can open it to any page and start reading – that’s what I do. And then set it down to settle a fight or tuck a young ragamuffin back in bed. And then pick it up again in a new place, and read and laugh and cry. A lovely index at the back of the book helps you find the right parts over again, when you want to return to them.

Sheila writes about marriage and mothers-in-law, about jealousy in relationships and about savoring the moment, about other languages and cultures, about mothering mishaps, about meltdowns and giggles, about everyday life with small people. She is an expert at capturing emotion and detail, and surprising you with a twist at the end of the story.

She is selling Thirty Little Fingers for $13 each, which includes shipping.

She’d also like to offer you Confessions readers a chance to win a free copy, but there is one small problem. She loves to give, but as an honest and hardworking Mennonite woman she does not believe in reaping where you did not sow. For this reason, she would like to invite you to earn a copy by taking a whack at the following quiz.

Can you correctly identify the ten titles below, chosen from among the dozens in Thirty Little Fingers?

  • Six of them are stories (in your answer, mark them with an S)
  • Two are poems (mark with a P)
  • One is a recipe (R)
  • And one is not in the book at all (mark N/A)

Isn’t that fun? You are invited to give the quiz your best shot; we will give away up to five free copies of Thirty Little Fingers based on your scores. There shall be nothing random.org about this, unless of course you all tie for the top. Please don’t.

Here’s the quiz:

  1. The Boundaries of an Odor
  2. A Camel in the Night
  3. Domestic in Early Winter
  4. Domestic in Late Winter
  5. How Often Overwhelmed
  6. Incidents in a Paper-Chain Factory
  7. Love, Prayer, and a Muslim Daughter
  8. Mixed Pickle
  9. Supermom and the Super Glue
  10. Yes, You May Come to Dinner, if You Don’t Mind Eating under the Kitchen Sink

I took the quiz myself before seeing a copy of the book, and scored less than fifty percent correct – which all in all I thought was quite good, in fact better than Sheila’s husband scored (and he read the manuscript).

Feel free to tell your friends about this book and giveaway, especially young-mom friends. Remember: even if you don’t find yourself in need of Thirty Little Fingers, you have a young mother somewhere in your life – and I cannot think of a more perfect gift to give her than an hour of your time and a copy of this book.

Want to give it a try?


Obviously if you’ve already viewed this book and its contents, your quiz answers will be considered unfair and your comments will be stricken from the record. So please be honorable.

You can copy and paste the ten-title-quiz into your comment below, or simply do it like this: 1 – R, 2 – S, 3 – N/A, etc. (No clues are contained in the preceding sentence.)

Thirty Little Fingers can be purchased for $13 each including shipping, or $11 each when ordering five copies or more. PA residents should add 6% sales tax. Make checks payable to Sheila Petre. To order, contact Sheila at PO Box 127, Mercersburg, PA 17236, or sheilajoyful@emypeople.net.

I earned two copies of Thirty Little Fingers in exchange for hosting this earnaway. All opinions expressed are my own.

This offer will close next Thursday at midnight, with results to be posted on December 22.

A plain and joyful face: in which we meet Sheila Petre

Sheila J. Petre is one of my favorite Anabaptist writers. She has a delightful way with words, she’s human and fallible, and she’s shockingly funny.

Sheila lives in Pennsylvania with her husband Michael and their seven children ages ten and under. In addition to nurturing these favorite people, she gardens, writes, laughs, hosts foreign exchange students, and preserves her household’s food and sanity, though not in the same jars.

Today I’m sharing an interview for which I interviewed her for. (Help, Sheila? I need your way with words over here.) Some of you already know her writing; it has appeared in several magazine publications. Sheila recently released a brand-new book called Thirty Little Fingers: Seasons of Young Motherhood, and that’s what I want to talk to you about.

Tomorrow she and I will be offering you a chance to win (ahem: earn) a copy of this delightful read. But for today, I’d like to let you behind the scenes into our interview, and some little-known facts about an author-friend I’ve come to love very much. So here we go.

1. What does the J stand for in your name, Sheila?

I was born in May, but named after my mom, Laura June, who was born in June. Since we named our second daughter Laurel June, she will now have to say her middle name is June because her moms’ middle name is June because her mom’s middle name is June because she was born in June. Thus we complicate things for our children.

2. Why do you write?

Because it’s something I can make a success of. I’m horribly competitive, and don’t like doing things that I can’t succeed at. I rather flop at sewing, so I stopped doing it.

Alternate answer: I am almost obsessed with giving. Writing is one of my most natural ways to give. I see it not as a spiritual gift (which I must exercise or fall out of the will of God, as some would believe), but as an expression of a spiritual gift, which is in this case, giving.

…And when?

Any time of the day, and as often as I can. Once, at Michael’s recommendation, I tried to wake early to write. Some weeks later, he agreed with me that this was not working: He doesn’t like grouchy women.

It’s the question people ask more than any other, how I find time to write. Slowly over the years, I have begun to acknowledge the grace of God more publicly, more freely. He manifests it to me in various ways: Michael’s encouragement of my writing; my particular church setting; my maid; my children’s general health and well-being.

3. Have you published other books?

I wrote Transplanted in 2011 at the request of Delmer Martin, a widowed friend; it’s his first wife’s life story. From Joy…to Joy, published in 2012, is a small compilation of poetry detailing the journey through grief. Vignettes is a directory of 200+ Anabaptist women writers, now in its second edition. Thirty Little Fingers is the first that is exclusively mine.

4. What is your favorite response to your books?

My favorite response to Thirty Little Fingers so far was from my cousin Anthony, who edited it for me. I heard through the grapevine that Anthony’s wife was glad he read the book because now he is finally convinced that she is normal.

5. What corners do you cut to eliminate the things that just don’t matter, and focus on the things that do?

I wear disposable diapers on my babies. I quit having the cloth diaper discussion some years ago, so I’ve eliminated the energy that goes into having that discussion, too. My mother-in-law, who loves to sew, does a lot of my sewing. We as a church don’t have a lot of mid-weekly functions, and I don’t have nearly as much company as I wish I did. I don’t have girl-parties. It matters less and less to me what people think about what kind of a housekeeper I am. (Translation: My house is often a mess.) I grew up the next-oldest of eleven, and in recent years, I have been increasingly grateful for the ways my childhood taught me efficiency in running a household with many members.

6. Tell me a little about your kiddos?

They are average in all but height, intellect and physical appearance, wherein they are a little above average.

There is a small cache of job-treasure-hunt papers in my kitchen, in Rachael’s handwriting, which say things like “I’m hiding on the table. Please get these dishes off of me quick! Fast! HURRY!” And “You need clothes tomorrow. Get them.” And “The calendar needs changed. Please change it. It isn’t October anymore but November!” Laurel has been cackling over Laurel stories out of the book for the last week, particularly those wherein she trumped a preschool Rachael. Joshua still has one of the most beautiful smiles you will ever be bowled over by. Older women regularly want to kidnap Isaiah; they don’t know what a homebody he is, pure introvert. Allegra is four, one of my favorite ages, and would subsist on junk food if we let her. (Sometimes we let her.) Benjamin is my most good-natured and I am happy to tell you he can go potty in the potty chair now. Stephen, ah, I love all my babies more, younger, something Michael claims I’ve said with all six of my last ones. He can’t be right; I wouldn’t have said it with Rachael, since I had no others to compare with her.

7. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Have you ever met a woman who would change only one thing about herself if she could? Physically, I would have slenderer ankles. Spiritually, I would always be sure I have the Holy Spirit within me. Personality-wise, I would be less competitive, and I wouldn’t be so selfish in conversation. Circumstantially, I wish I lived closer to my mom.

…And what do you like most about being you?

Physically, I like my face most, because it is such a plain face, not homely and not gorgeous, which has spared me hours of trauma associated with either extreme. Circumstantially, I like most that, whew, what don’t I like most? I like my family, house, church, maid, midwife, friends.

8. What do you like most and least about being a writer?

I like most that it brings me into contact with so many interesting people, and least that I meet too many people to meaningfully connect with them all.

9. What’s one thing you wish you could do, but probably never will?

Again just one thing? Give birth to twins. Ice skate. Write poetry in another language. Wear boots to church. Permanently organize my closet full of children’s clothes.

10. Favorite color?

Blue or purple or maybe maroon.

…Favorite food?

Grilled steak with mushrooms and mashed potatoes. Either that or HoHo cake.

…Favorite leisure activity?

Nursing my baby while reading a book. Playing Scrabble with my older children or Blokus with my younger ones. Preparing or receiving mail. Shopping for food or gifts (if there’s enough money in the checking account). Curling up in front of the fireplace to read a book. I would say “writing, writing, writing,” but writing is more than a leisure activity for me anymore.

…Favorite word?

Home. If I could have two, all home.

11. Any guilty secrets you’d like to share?

Besides how much grilled steak I can put away in one sitting? I’m a very disorganized thinker. And conversationalist. Writing has become an exoskeleton for me, and I can go back and straighten my thoughts later. Also, my mom would tell you that from a very early age, I have liked to shock people. Conveniently for me, in Pennsylvania Mennonite housewife culture, sometimes the quickest way to shock people is by being honest.

{shrieks of laughter from Shari, who may or may not have found this to be true}

Now I know you folks are fond of shocking honesty, so prepare yourselves against the morrow. Tomorrow I’ll tell you more about Sheila’s new book!

Fragrant Whiffs of Joy giveaway result

Well, that was a long week. Some of you kept saying “Is it too late to enter?” and I thought Friday took its good old time coming…

Thanks to everyone who joined the whimsical side of the giveaway! We have a winner! Congratulations to Betty Yoder, who will soon receive a free copy of Fragrant Whiffs of Joy in the mail.

I am the final stop on Dorcas’s blog tour, so now it’s time to choose the practical option. To order Fragrant Whiffs of Joy or any other book by Dorcas Smucker, contact her at dorcassmucker@gmail.com, or 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446.

Fragrant Whiffs of Joy sells for $12 each plus $2 postage. Checks or PayPal accepted. Also available on Amazon.

A full listing of books is available here on Dorcas’s blog, along with a Christmas special that’s good through the end of December.

Thank you for your kind words in the giveaway about her blog and mine – we will probably like you for a long time now. And again, thanks for joining the fun!

Giveaway: Fragrant Whiffs of Joy

Update: As of 1:00 pm on December 1, 2017, this giveaway is closed.

Confession: Sometimes I need to be reminded that it’s going to be okay.

This is not the same thing as pretending it’s okay when it’s not, as I wrote in my last post – I mean I need to be reminded that it’s going to be okay in the end.

I’ve never been sure if I’m a pessimist or an optimist, because I try to put a good face on everything, especially if you meet up with me in real life, but hidden inside myself I’m often sure we’re all going down, boys. My husband, on the other hand, has more than his share of snark and cynicism, but underneath it all, a constant certainty that we’ve turned the corner. He’s relaxed, it’s going to end well, and life is good.

What do you call that?

I love his steady perspective and rely on it more heavily than anyone guesses (except him) (and sometimes not even him), but from time to time I really need to hear a woman older than me say that it’s going to be okay. What is the “it”? It’s mothering, pastor’s wife-ing, mistakes, canning season, science experiments in the boys’ bedroom, wintertime, life. It may not be easy, but it’s going to be okay.

This week I remembered why I love Dorcas Smucker so much as an author and a friend: she’s a beautiful optimist. The ugly kind of optimist is the one that denies any hardship or pain, but delights in throwing solutions around. Stop crying, hon. Chin up. The beautiful kind of optimist is the one who’s seen a lot, handled a lot, freaked out a lot, and come full circle to the satisfying rest of experienced living: not much is worth hyperventilating about. Relax, hon. Cry, breathe, smile. Try again.

Dorcas recently released a new book, Fragrant Whiffs of Joy, a fresh collection of the newspaper articles she writes for the Eugene Register-Guard. She’s stopping by here today (kum ba ya, my Lord) to share a copy with you.

When I sit with Dorcas, which isn’t nearly often enough, she usually has a cup of tea in hand. She’s been an important sounding board for me in writing, mothering, and letting go of shame.

The book itself is like a cup of tea: relaxing, fragrant, warm. She writes about her ninety-eight-year old father, her six grown children off to college, her blackberries, her jam-packed schedule, and her cats. She sends texts to the wrong people, wilts in the heat of summer, makes lists, buys too much fabric, assembles a pot roast to put in the oven. You can see her bustling around, loving people, laughing with children, canning grape juice. And saying, “It’s going to be okay.”

This book contains my best-of-the-best, all-time favorite Dorcas Smucker quotes, the one that has graced a chalkboard on my wall for two years: “This is what it means to be an adult, I think: to make peace with the life you didn’t foresee, to see spiritual significance in the daily repeated tasks, and to find fulfillment in doing them well.” That’s from one of my favorite chapters, “Love on a Plate and Fragrant Whiffs of Joy.” (p. 13)

Another favorite chapter, that kept me laughing upon multiple re-readings, is “Heavy Burdens in a Hot Summer,” in which Dorcas pulls back a memory of directing a Christmas play. One young girl acted the part of a poor mother clutching her baby through a snow storm. Dorcas writes,

She had one line to say: “Oh, I am so weary and cold.”

Thankfully I had a sense of humor, and the girl who played this part was not easily discouraged, because for some reason she could not recite that line. “Oh I am so tired and hungry!” she would say before collapsing into the snowbank: a pile of quilt batting from the sewing circle, covered with a white sheet.

“No, no.”

Back up the aisle I sent her. A slow turn, and toward the front again, into the wind: “I am so weary and tired!”

“No! WEARY and COLD.”

“Oh, I am so cold and hungry!”

I am not sure that she ever got it right, even on the night of the program. I should have let her ad lib, I guess, because she had the right idea. The original line is now seared into my memory, and I always think of it at times like this.

Sometimes, in certain seasons of life, it feels like we’re all weary and cold, fighting our way into the winter wind. Our shawl isn’t nearly enough protection, and we are about to collapse into the snowbank with the baby in our arms… It seems we will never reach the front of the church, and we certainly won’t hear the miraculous chimes when they ring in the steeple on Christmas Eve. Health issues, difficult relationships, financial stresses, caregiving – all of these can seem like trials that will never end. (p. 60)

I think you need this book.

If you’re interested in owning a copy, you have two choices: one whimsical and one practical. First, you may leave a comment below and be entered in a drawing to win one copy that Dorcas and I are giving away today. Second, you can order the book directly from Dorcas – that way it’s guaranteed.

Or you can try the first option first, and if that doesn’t work, go on to the second. That ought to do the trick.

Dorcas’s earlier books (also delightful) are available on her blog:

Ordinary Days
Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting
Downstairs the Queen is Knitting
Tea and Trouble Brewing
Footprints on the Ceiling
Sunlight Through Dusty Windows: The Dorcas Smucker Reader

To order a book, contact Dorcas Smucker at 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446, or dorcassmucker@gmail.com. Fragrant Whiffs of Joy is priced at $12 each plus $2 postage. Checks or PayPal accepted. Discounts available for combination orders. Also available here on Amazon.

Would you like to own this book? Please drop a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.


I was given three copies of FWOJ – one to give to a blog reader, one to give to a personal friend who had a tough year, and one to keep. Giveaway will close in one week. Open to US residents only. Winner will be chosen by random.org.

Update: As of December 1, 2017, this giveaway is closed.

The words you gave me

We apologize for the delay. The proprietor of this blog wishes to state that she was temporarily flattened by pizza sauce, sweet corn, and birthday parties.


Aw, you guys are so fun!

It’s chancy putting a game out there and not knowing if anyone will want to play. I loved watching you dig into your bookshelves. Your booklist was charming – reference books, all-time favorites, and even one of my dad’s titles – ranging from serious to slapstick. There were some classics, some inspirational, and some dry as toast, with a splash of whiskey (not recommended at home). Your kindness to me and each other was delightful. Thank you.

Did you know that one of you arranges her books by the colors of the rainbow – which pleases me to no end?

And these words…!

My friend Sheila emailed me to say that she checked four bookshelves hoping for something good. Four! and found “of” twice. “It’s a random word, dear, not a Message From Jehovah,” I told her. Her next email made me laugh. “At least it rhymes with love, she says, straightening.”

My friend Cris found page sixteen completely blank, between the introduction and part one of a medical tome. Very significant, that. If only I knew in what way.

We ended up with two main characters, Pat and Charles, besides dad and God. Your “boring” words held everything together (theoretically), and you had some winner nouns even though they didn’t know how to play nice with the other kids. The washstand and the R.R. were particularly unwieldy.

The following paragraph uses each of the words given me to date, and only those words, although some of them are used more than once.

Those schemes for the back door breakfast analogy you want will have dad as God. I want more green smoke for you. Pat schemes to have Charles for early breakfast. The washstand is in the windy October world. Charles is packing. Pat helps. I said I loved today. Charles had that last o’clock of life. The R.R. voices will have soul’s word in it. In Pat’s defense, I observe that Charles will have loved God.

I mean honestly, guys, it’s not a thing of great beauty. You can do better than this.

Are you sure you checked the right bookshelf?

Okay.

Well, that was silly and fun. What would you compose from our word list?