Tea and Trouble Brewing, by Dorcas Smucker

Product DetailsI wish Dorcas Smucker lived next door. I would drop by regularly to steep myself in the vibrant activity of her household, the warmth and wisdom of her conversation, and the rhythms of rural life, while sharing sharing a pot of tea with Dorcas, of course.

In the absence of this opportunity, reading Tea and Trouble Brewing is not a bad substitute. I even had company at times, as Dorcas’s wit was too good not to share. Like this, from the opening essay, “The Perfect Cup of Tea”:

While I am still a loyal American, it troubles me to think of 90,000 pounds of tea being dumped into Boston Harbor. Such a waste of perfectly good tea, and such punishment for peaceful, hardworking New England women who needed that early morning pot of tea as badly as I need mine.
No doubt there were frustrated Colonial mothers who upbraided their Sons of Liberty at Sunday dinners for years, insisting that surely there would have been an alternate way to get their message across.

Or her chapter on her maternal anxieties over her children’s performances and competitions, in which she describes a basketball game in which her two sons play on the same team:

Suddenly it seemed terribly important to me that people comprehend that those two fine young men belong to each other, and to me. Especially to me. They really should put big round stickers on the guys and matching stickers on their parents in the stands, so everyone would know. (p. 30)

Fine idea. I think this is what I appreciate most about Dorcas—her frank openness about herself, her humanity, and indeed, the human condition. Who can’t find something to relate to in her writing? I have been surprised at the varied types of people who have told me they are faithful readers of her column.

Turning 40 this year precipitated not a little anxiety for me, so I was quick to turn to the chapter titled “Why Birthdays Matter.” What I found, in summary, was gentle and insightful encouragement to turn my gaze away from myself and count my blessings:

Everyone else in my life enjoys having their birthdays noted as much as I do, so I need to return the favor as often as possible. And getting older is truly a gift and a blessing—many people would love to reach my age and never get the chance.  (p. 128)

“Rethinking Life Choices” reinforces the value of contentment, relating a brief period when, approaching 50, Dorcas began to contemplate the “what ifs.” What What if she had become a doctor and tended patients on the other side of the world? She asked a niece if she ever attended weddings and wished she had designed her own differently. The niece replied, “That’s a good way to go crazy. I just don’t go there.” In musing on her niece’s wisdom, Dorcas reflected that, regardless of what might have been, what is is most important. “Right now I need to sew pretty dresses for my daughter and take good care of the wounds that show up in my household, and I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing, here and now.” (p. 45)

Dorcas also writes with sensitivity and experience on the very common experience of motherhood. I have one child, in contrast to Dorcas’s six, but I could appreciate her confessions of maternal failures:

I punished unjustly. I got sucked into talking on the phone with a possessive friend and brushed off my frantic 5-year-old until she burst into frustrated teas. I bought too few Christmas gifts that the children wanted and too many that I thought they ought to want. I didn’t put sunscreen on the children that time they went swimming at a family reunion in the Midwest and fried their little shoulders in the hot sun.

Then, of course, there was the forgotten birthday, and many more dark examples that I can’t bring myself to confess. (p. 134)

Really? Dorcas Smucker has committed dark maternal sins she’s ashamed to confess? I’m not alone in that experience?

But Dorcas’s writing abounds with grace—the fact that we are all equally in need of it, and there is more than enough to go around. This formulation of her lifelong wish from the chapter titled “Resolutions” resonated with me: “I would like to, once and for all, get my whole life in order, get it all together, make it all work.” (p. 170) But she concludes with the resolve to remember that, “It isn’t about perfection and getting it all together, but rather about moving with the currents of grace that move all around me.” (p. 172)

In “Skipping the Garden,” Dorcas writes about the year she opted not to plant a garden. I fully expected her to conclude that the decision was a mistake, that planting a garden, no matter how small, was worth whatever small sacrifices she might have to make in other areas.

Not so. Instead, Dorcas wrote about what she learned from the experience—about community, and sharing, and unexpected blessings.

Most of all, I came to realize that most of my dilemma was not about having a garden.
Deep down, it was about trying to get it right, about being a good Mennonite and a good Oregonian. It was about being true to my heritage and other vague and noble concepts that are far too heavy a burden for a small patch up dirt to carry. (p. 40)

I appreciate Dorcas’s openness about her faith and how it is manifested in her outlook and lifestyle. As my husband said, a conservative Mennonite has to be a good writer in order to be a popular columnist in Eugene. Actually, it is interesting to note the values certain of us in the more conservative end of the spectrum share with those who lean the other direction … like simplicty, and the value of community.

I have my own ideas about how these should work out, along with my own realizations of how I fall short, and I tend to imagine that someone like Dorcas must have them more or less perfected. But what does that really look like? I wish I could observe on Dorcas’s household for a week—or a day—to see how a Mennonite household in the Eugene area operates. What insights would I gain or surprises? What would surprise me? What habits that I take for granted are completely absent from the Smucker household. What practices, foreign to me, are part of their regular routine. And what do Mennonite girls do if their American Girls dolls come with earrings? (p. 80)

I did learn from Tea and Trouble that the Smuckers are, indeed, acquainted with such facts of the modern world as cell phones, fast food, Duck football games, and Facebook. Dorcas even has a chapter on “Joining Facebook” and her discovery of all the friends and acquaintances who had already joined, including (the tipping point), “Harold Shrock, a burly, good-Mennonite stock truck driver for Smith Seed, the kind of man you hope will come by if you have a flat tire, but not kind you would ever expect to know his way around a computer, let alone Facebook.”

Suddenly I felt like I was out on the playground, picking dandelions, completely oblivious to the fact that recess was over and everyone else in my class had not only heard the bell and gone inside but had left on the bus for a field trip to the Umqua ice cream factory. (p. 89)

Dorcas gave me three copies of Tea and Trouble Brewing, one to keep, one to give away to a blog reader, and one to give to someone I know who “is having a hard time.” So in the spirit of sharing, I thought I would give a copy to a reader who intends to pass it on to someone else (after reading it, of course). So tell me who you hope to share the book with and also, if you had the opportunity to share a pot of tea with Dorcas, what would you want to discus with her … and what kind of tea would it be?

Failing that, you can purchase your own copy of Tea and Trouble from Amazon or directly from Dorcas. You’ll want a few extra copies after reading it, to give away as Christmas gifts. Dorcas recommends that those who want to pay by credit card should buy through Amazon (click here: Tea and Trouble on Amazon). To pay by check, send $15 to Dorcas Smucker, 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446.



Filed under book review

36 Responses to Tea and Trouble Brewing, by Dorcas Smucker

  1. I’d love to share this book with my sister who is just as big a fan as I am! If I could discuss something with Dorcas over a cup of tea (peppermint tea) I would want to hear more about her experiences in Northern Canada.

  2. I am a great fan of Dorcas’ writing and now of yours as well! What a well crafted review! If I win, I will pass the book along to my mother after I’m finished with it. She appreciates a well-written turn of phrase more than most. =)

  3. After I read it, my mother would really enjoy this book. She had a very hard year and would love the funny quips and extra giggles. 🙂 Eventually, the copy might find its way into our church library where it will be enjoyed by many.

  4. Donella Wadel

    Ah-h! Her new book sounds just as captivating as her other three! I just discovered her books this summer and look forward to reading her new one. I’d share it with my mom. I passed the others along to her as well. =) Tea? I wonder if Dorcas would drink a latte instead? Or could I serve her tea while I drink a latte and we talk about being wives and mothering. But the title is “TEA and Trouble Brewing” so perhaps I would serve gingerbread spice tea with a pumpkin dessert of some kind.

    • Amanda

      Isn’t it interesting how many of us would like to share Dorcas with our mothers?

      I do believe there is a reference to espresso in one of the essays, so perhaps Dorcas would accept a latte. Could I join you for the pumpkin dessert??

  5. Carol E

    I have followed Dorcas’ blog for the last 7 years and would love to own one of her books. I enjoyed the snippets you included in your review… it sounds like she included some of the thoughts that inspired me and gave me strength for my journey. I would share the book with my oldest daughter who also enjoys reading some of Dorcas’ blog posts. I would love to sit down and talk with Dorcas on how to raise your children, tie heart-strings tightly, and then be willing/able to let go and let God take them where HE wants them… how you cut the apron strings and let your sons become men. Oh, I could learn so much from her. The tea would, of course, be Earl Grey! I found a container of loose leaf Earl Grey at a “Bent & Dent” store and thought of Dorcas’ post on tea. I bought it, thinking of her and wanting to experience some “REAL TEA” 🙂

    • Amanda

      It’s no surprise that Drocas’s writing inspires thoughts of mothers and daughters. One day I, too, will be thinking about letting go of my now-five-year-old daughter–probably sooner than I think.

  6. Bertha

    Oh it sound like just the kind of book that would bring refreshing waters to my thirsty hearty…. I would love love to share the book with alot of people actually, but more specifically with a dear friend of mine who has shared many cups of tea with me and who recently unexpectedly last her 20year old son to a sudden heart attack. I would love to talk to her about how to deal with undiminishing mounds of laundry, so many rainy days and a headstrong yet very sensitive three year old. Perhaps she would have some ideas on how to make rice and beans in twenty different ways and to make it reach around a few extra times….Maybe she could teach me how to know when to give an extra nudge to a struggling friend or give her some space….yea, i defínetly would have alot to ask of her wisdom 🙂

  7. Vivian

    I must say this review was as enjoyable to read as Dorcas’s own blog and columns. I would love to sip lemon ginger tea with her and hear about her journey from growing up Amish to being an Oregon Mennonite. I would read the book to my husband, perhaps sparking discussions of our own, and share it with my mother-in-law, a former librarian, who would find it delightful.

    • Amanda

      So glad you enjoyed the review. I share your desire to hear about Dorcas’s “journey.” I read selections to my husband as well, and am eager to share it with my mother-in-law, a book collector and also a former librarian!

  8. Cheryl

    I would share the book with all the ladies in my small group. I would enjoy comparing notes with Dorcas about raising teenagers over plain spearmint tea.

  9. Bertha

    My previous comment didn’t show up.. so I guessI will try again and see if it works!! I would love love reading this book and as to who I would share it with? I would share it with my good friend who recently lost her 20 year old son unexpectedly to a heart attack one fall day not very long ago…. She has drank many cups of tea with me as we have walkerd on this our road to heaven (as is the name of the road we live along 😉 I would love to have the wonderous opportunity to learn from all the wisdom of Mrs. Smucker…. on mothering to stubborn three year old and wet-bottomed babies. I am sure she would have insights on being a missionary in a strange country and how to deal with lkife when you feel small and alone and far away from home and WHAT to do with postal ladies that keep closing the doors when they are supposed to be working and it’s normal business hours ona regular day. Perhaps she would have insight on how to make and keep friends and when to give helpful nudges or just retire and pray….

    • Amanda

      Sorry–I just hadn’t had a chance to approve the comment yet. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend. What a difficult time she must be going through.

  10. Some years back my wife brought home a copy of Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting. I started to read and couldn’t put it down. If I were to receive a copy, after I finished, I’d let her read it. Then I’d put it in the church library.

    • Amanda

      I’m sure your wife is gratified at your enjoyment of Dorcas’s book. Congratulations on the being the first male to respond, and thank you for your input!

  11. Cathy

    I also would share it with my mother, and friends from church.
    I’d discuss some of the things i found we have in common.

    • Amanda

      Tonight I was discussing the book with a friend at church, and she said, “As I read I kept saying, ‘That’s just how I feel, only I wouldn’t know how to say it like that!'”

  12. What a lovely review! I can’t wait to read this book. I would pass it on to my best friend, for sure. I would love to talk with Dorcas over a cup of rooibos tea with lots of hot milk and sugar.

  13. Beverly

    I would share the book with my mom and a friend from church who generously loans me her books. To share tea (an herbal variety) with Dorcas would be a treat indeed! I imagine we would play the ‘Mennonite game’ to determine mutual friends and acquaintances, and then I would tell her how I appreciate her honesty and love the humor in her writing.

    • Amanda

      It has been a while since I read Dorcas’s earlier books, and I had forgotten what a keen sense of humor she has. I really appreciate it!

  14. Krista

    Thanks for a good review. I would share this book with my mother and sisters and then I would want it back to read it again before it goes to the church library where I first found Dorcas’s books. I would make some good meadow tea (mint) as we call it here and we would discuss marriage and relating to our young adult children.

  15. Jo

    I would love to give this book to my mom! She has allof the other books Dorcas wrote and I don’t think she’s aware that this book is out. I would love to surprise her with it. Jo

  16. Cara Dailey

    I would share the book with my little circle of valley friends that I had to leave last year when we relocated to the dry side. I often share Dorcas’s column with them on our little club facebook group and always get so much out of them. We send books and fabric and seeds to each other often.

  17. Elisa Gray

    I would share the book with my mother who grew up in a simpler time and also is in need of grace. She is so often unhappy. I have had the opportunity to have tea with Dorcas. She gave me daffodil bulbs from her garden that make me smile every spring. I wave at her house when I drive by on my way from Florence (on the coast in Oregon) to Portland or points beyond. It was a fabulous visit.

  18. Great review! Dorcas is a talented writer, and you’ve summed it up very well.

    P.S. – Don’t enter me in the drawing, though. My turn’s coming up. I’ll be hosting her next week. 🙂

  19. Dawn Harshbarger

    All of Dorcas’s books are in our local library. After reading them I wanted to share them with everyone. The only way I could think of was to get them in the library. If I win a book it would go straight to the library-after I read it of course.
    Would love to drink chai tea with Dorcas and talk about far away places.

  20. Twila

    Would love to win this, and then pass it on to my pastor’s wife. And would also love to have Dorcas over, just to visit with her about life and we’d be drinking hot vanilla chai tea.

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