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!

My cheeky request

One of the highlights of my December is the Christmas photos that find their way to our mailbox. I have no font big and bold enough to say how much I LOVE these warm-hearted gifts. I pore over them, checking how much all the kiddos grew since last year, making sure I know everybody’s name, loving the sweet newborns, admiring the seasoned faces of the women over sixty. Then I hang the photos on my wall for months.

If one of the givers is you – thank you! You brighten my world, both in this space and in the real world, where I live and love and know you.

And to the rest of you – I had a little idea, and the idea that I had was this. I offer you all these words and images on my blog, and through them you kind of know me. Not really but kind of.

Some of you have been reading and commenting for weeks or months or years, and through your words I’ve built up an impression of you in my mind – but I don’t really know you at all, not even what you look like. Others of you I’ve met, but it’s been a while. (You know where this is going, right? I told you it was a cheeky request.)

If you end up with an extra Christmas picture, would you tuck it in the mail for me? It would make my day.

I have some extra Christmas cards myself, because of “If you buy this many you get a reduced rate” but also “You can only buy in multiples of this” – and so for the first ten people who send me an unexpected photo, I will respond with a family photo of us. I think it will be fun.

Our address is:

21205 Hunter Rd
Meadville, PA 16335

And yes, I will remove that info after a week in case any bad people too stupid to find us on the internet have been waiting for this chance to locate our house; so please don’t worry… 

Do you want to? No obligation is laid on you to do this; you don’t owe me anything. But thank you for letting me ask.

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!

Advent activities 2017

Most years at Christmastime, I enjoy putting together an Advent calendar for my family.

The calendar varies from year to year – sometimes I focus on quiet reflection and sometimes on lively activity; sometimes I hang the activities in a long paper chain, or make a poster with flaps that open. I try to create a mix of inward-focused and outward focused ideas (bringing our family joy and bringing joy to others), and I customize it to include the holiday activities already in our plans – like a whole heap of music, as you will see.

Sometimes I try too hard and it stresses me out. But the kiddos and I love having something special to do each day, to build our joy in the coming of Christmas.

Here’s our family’s Advent list for 2017:

  1. Go ice skating as a family.
  2. Cut paper snowflakes.
  3. Attend a candlelit hymn sing.
  4. Prepare a baked item to give to a pastor or teacher.
  5. Create a Nativity scene from an unusual material (marshmallows, snow, metal, paper mache).
  6. Invite guests into our home to sing carols and share a snack.
  7. Make a handprint wreath.*
  8. Make music on stage.
  9. Spend the day with people we love.
  10. Listen to live Christmas music.
  11. Prepare a hot cocoa bar (chocolate spoons, various toppings and dippers).
  12. Make Christmas cards for people who will never give back to us.
  13. Write letters to Jesus.
  14. Play Handel’s Messiah on CD, in its entirety.
  15. Celebrate the birth of a human child.
  16. Drive to look at Christmas lights, with snacks, in our PJ’s.**
  17. Go Christmas caroling.
  18. Spend time praying for needs around the world.
  19. Invite one guest to dinner.
  20. Plan a family cozy night: popcorn, spiced cider, books.
  21. Eat a snowman / gingerbread man lunch.
  22. Watch a Christmas movie.
  23. Read holiday books from the library aloud.
  24. Draw names and give a “certificate of service” to one member of our family.
  25. Give what we have: Gather a basket of household items to share with a neighbor or friend.***

Additional ideas that might still fit into Christmas vacation after the 25th:

  • Care for someone else’s baby.
  • Send mail to cousins and friends.
  • Sing in the streets.
  • Draw names; give each family member $1.06 and take a jaunt to the dollar store for an impromptu mini-gift exchange. (This is my mom’s idea and I think it’s wonderful.)

Do you use an Advent calendar for your family? What simple activities bring you joy in December?


* Trace a handprint from each person in our family, cut out multiples on pretty paper, glue into a wreath with the fingertips facing out.

** The Christmas lights will not be eating our snacks, and our snacks will not be inside our PJ’s. I hope a few well-placed commas made that clear. Also I hope we are not in an accident that night.

*** We plan to gather items we’d like to give away: new soaps, some tea or hot drink mixes, homemade goodies, any household items that come to hand, maybe the piano – I don’t know – and show up at someone’s door with it all in a basket. This will be nicer than it sounds, I promise. If any of you mock me I may show up with it at YOUR door, so there.

Reminder on September Farm coupon

Just a quick reminder that today is your final chance to use the September Farm coupon for 20% off a one-time order, using the coupon code CONFESSIONS20.

September Farm has another promotion running, expiring tomorrow, offering a $10 gift card free of charge with a purchase of $50 or more.

CONFESSIONS20 coupon expires at midnight.

Thanks,

Shari