I’m Moving!

Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com

After my year of travel, people frequently asked me “what’s next?”

It’s a valid question. One of my reasons for taking the trip was to potentially find a place to move to in the future. I guess I dreamed that one place would magically be “the one.” I’d step out of my car, it would be love at first sight, and I’d magically belong.

But life didn’t quite work like that. While I returned with a number of places I could see myself permanently settling, I wasn’t necessarily drawn to one place over other places. I enjoyed my short jaunts in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia enough that I would have moved to a city in a heartbeat if I could have afforded it, and the warmth and sunshine of Florida was so lovely that I considered temporarily moving south each winter.

However, by the end of the trip my health and my wallet were so strained that I decided to stay in Oregon at least until I finished my book. And then, just as my editor returned her first round of edits to me, Covid hit, keeping me in Oregon even longer.

And in that time, my priorities shifted.

I’ve written about this extensively on my Patreon, but haven’t elaborated much on my main blog, since it’s personal, vulnerable territory that I don’t necessarily want to blare to the whole world. But here’s the TL;DR of what happened.

  1. In the process of writing my book, I had to delve deep into my feelings. Yikes! I discovered just how lonely I’d been as I traveled. In the book, I write about my feelings as though I was aware of them as they took place. In reality, while I felt all those things, I didn’t realize I felt most of them until I wrote about them. So the writing process was very difficult emotionally.
  2. I ended up leaving the church I’d grown up in. Ever since then I haven’t had a church home.
  3. As a vulnerable person, the whole Covid era was/is very hard.

In the end, I’m left with this overwhelming conviction that family is the main thing that’s going to determine my future living situations.

(I’d be curious to know if the Covid era affected you the same way at all. I keep reading random articles about people re-adjusting their priorities and moving close to family as a direct result of the pandemic, and I’d link some but a lot of them I couldn’t read the whole thing because it was behind a paywall. [We need a Netflix of articles! How can I make this happen???] But if something similar happened to you or someone you know I’d love to hear about it.)

Anyway. My whole family has been around for almost a year, but post-pandemic we’re all moving away. Steven is the only one of my siblings with plans to stay.

Jenny is going to grad school to get her PHD in math. At some point she and I thought, “Why not move together?” So then, I no longer had the big overwhelming decision of where to move. I decided to just go wherever Jenny goes.

Just recently, she made her final decision: We’re moving to Blacksburg, Virginia, and she’s going to Virginia Tech!

To be honest, I was a big apprehensive when faced with the idea of moving to Virginia. I briefly lived in Virginia when I was 20, and let’s just say, that was the first time I realized that racism is alive and well. I’d never in my life heard people say such horrible things about black people, slaves, and other minorities.

However, I’m willing to give the state another chance. Also, I’ll be in a completely different community than I was in before, and I know that it’s unfair to judge an entire state as being a certain way. The people of my hometown have little in common with the people of Portland, after all.

So yes, Lord willing, this August Jenny and I will set out for Blacksburg Virginia! I am really, really looking forward to it. In my head, it signifies a new era, new adventures, and putting the Covid era behind me. Maybe that’s idealistic. But Jenny and I both had our first shot already, and by the time we get to Virginia we’ll be fully vaccinated. Virginia seems like the type of place that would open up faster than Oregon anyway, and I feel like by August enough people will have Covid antibodies to provide enough herd immunity to get back to normal. Right? One can hope, anyway.

So, Blacksburg. Any readers from that area? What should we expect? What should we do/see? Any advice?

***

Order my book:
Print Version
Kindle Version

Follow me on:
Instagram: @emilytheduchess
Twitter: @emilysmucker
Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog
YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker
Patreon: patreon.com/emilysmucker (This is where I post bonus blog posts, about more personal/controversial subjects, for a subscription fee of $1 a month [or more if you’re feeling generous]. I try to post twice a month.)

Thoughts about Books: The Watsons, by Jane Austen and John Coates

1880157

Jane Austen is known for her six main novels, but she wrote a few other novellas and fragments that aren’t particularly well-known, except to her die-hard fans. Personally, up until now I’d only read the main six. But a friend lent me a copy of The Watsons, an unfinished novel by Austen that was then finished by a man named John Coates.

The Watsons begins with Emily Watson (called “Emma” in the original manuscript, and changed to “Emily” by Coates, presumably so as not to confuse her with Emma Woodhouse) being driven into town by her older sister Elizabeth, so that she can attend a ball. We find out that there are six siblings in the Watson family, two boys and four girls. Their father is a relatively poor clergyman. It turns out that Emily, who is the youngest Watson sibling, doesn’t actually know any of her brothers and sisters. She was raised by a wealthy aunt, and is only now returning to her father’s house after her aunt was widowed and re-married someone who doesn’t want to be responsible for Emily.

As they ride to the ball, Elizabeth tells Emily all about her siblings and the other people in town whom she will encounter at the ball. Thus, we learn about these people alongside Emily.

Interjecting Thought: It is so strange to me how normal it was in Jane Austen’s day for rich relatives to adopt their poorer relatives as an act of charity. Imagine your loving parents sending you away to a rich aunt’s house so that you could get a better education, and then never really seeing you again. Bizarre! But it happens all the time in Austen novels.

Emily meets three important/eligible men at the ball: A Mr. Musgrave, who seems to be the Mr. Wickham/Frank Churchill/Mr. Willoughby/Henry Crawford of the story; A Mr. Howard, who seems to hold promise as a proper love interest; and Lord Osborne.

Lord Osborne is by far the most interesting of the three. Honestly it’s hard to tell, from the fragment that Austen wrote, if she intended him to be more of a Mr. Collins or a Mr. Darcy. His defining characteristic is that, though he is rich and thus considered a “good catch,” he is painfully awkward. He doesn’t dance, but he immediately takes a liking to Emily, so he asks his friend to dance with her. Then, he spends the whole dance standing basically at his friend’s elbow, chatting with him, so that he’s sort-of in the same sphere as Emily.

Besides these three men, Austen also introduces us to about half of the Watson family. Of the six Watson siblings, only one, her older brother Robert, is married. He shows up with his wife fairly early on. That leaves three Watson siblings, Margaret, Penelope, and Sam, who are mentioned but never seen when Austen’s fragment ends.

Austen allegedly told her sister Cassandra a few things about how she planned to end the novel. She was going to kill off Mr Watson, Emma’s (Emily’s) father, and make her have to go live with Robert and his wife. Lord Osborne was going to ask her to marry him, and she was going to refuse. Lady Osborne, Lord Osborne’s widowed mother, was going to be in love with Mr. Howard, while Mr. Howard loved Emma. Eventually, Emma would marry Mr. Howard.

In the years since Austen’s death, several people have attempted to finish her novel. The typical approach was to leave Austen’s work untouched, and write an ending using the exact plot points that Austen intended to use. This often resulted in pretty short books, about half of it being Austen’s work, and half being new work.

John Coates took a different approach to ending Austen’s book. In fact, his Author’s Note at the end, explaining how he went about the process, is one of the most interesting parts of the whole book, in my opinion.

First, Coates prioritized making an interesting novel over being unflinchingly faithful to Austen’s legacy. Although he used some of the plot points that Austen had told her sister about, he didn’t use all of them. He also, *gasp,* changed a few small things in the original manuscript. First, as I’ve already mentioned, he changed “Emma” to “Emily.” There were a few other word choices he tweaked. But the most interesting thing, to me, was what he did with the character of Penelope. Penelope is only mentioned in Austen’s fragment, but Coates decided he wanted to make her one of the most interesting characters in the novel. So he invented a personality for her, and then tweaked Austen’s manuscript slightly to add hints about her character so that she made more sense when she finally showed up.

Coates also made his novel much longer than other manuscript-finishers had. He thought that Austen’s fragment seemed like the opening to a long, leisurely novel, so he wrote a long, leisurely novel. Then, when it became clear that it was a bit too long and leisurely and needed some trimming down, he trimmed the whole book, including the Austen section.

Interesting, huh? It’s so weird, because it just seems wrong somehow to even dream of editing Austen’s work. And yet, it was an unfinished fragment. Logically, if Austen had finished it, she also would have edited it somewhat.

But I’m sure you’re wondering, “Did it work? Was it a good novel? Did it feel like reading a new Jane Austen novel?”

Well, yes and no.

I very much enjoyed reading the book. In fact, if Austen had finished it, I could see it being one of my favorites. Mostly because it featured a family very similar to my family: six clergyman’s children, all of marriageable age, with only the oldest son actually married.

Still, even though the story was fun, with Lord Osborne and Penelope being perhaps the most interesting characters, it was very clear that this wasn’t a “real” Austen novel. I’m not 100% sure what it was that made it feel inauthentic. Coates was really good at making the language “match up” with the way she wrote. I think, overall, it was a little too interesting to be authentic Austen. The things that happened seemed a bit more dramatic than the things that usually happen in Austen novels. At the same time, it lacked Austen’s famous insights into the oddities of human nature.

You know how it feels to watch a movie that’s based on a book by your favorite author? Like, you sort-of get the same feeling you got from reading her books, but it’s not quite the same? But you still enjoy it? That was roughly the same feeling I got from reading this book.

This is the third time, in my recollection, that I’ve read a book which was started by one person and finished by someone else. The first was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and the second was The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Jones. In all three cases, the finisher was vastly inferior to the starter. However, The Watsons didn’t upset me nearly as much as the previous two did. I think that, since Austen had written such a small piece of the whole book, It felt less like an Austen book that Coates had finished, and more like a Coates book that Austen had started. The ending didn’t make me feel cheated.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours? Have you read The Watsons, either Austen’s original fragment or someone’s attempt to finish it? What are your thoughts, in general, of people finishing other people’s unfinished books?

Thoughts About Books: Station 11, by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven: A novel | IndieBound.org

I would like to start briefly (or not-so-briefly) posting my thoughts about every book I read. This is not quite like a review. Just thoughts. To me, there is no pleasure quite like thinking about books.

The most recent book I read was Station 11, by Emily St. John Mandel. I read it because Amy handed it to me and said “hey, you should read this book. I want to know your thoughts.” So I did.

I didn’t realize that it was a pandemic book, because I just dove straight in and didn’t even read the back cover. But it is, and that’s not a spoiler. (These, by the way, are going to be spoiler-free thoughts, which might be difficult, but I’ll try.)

Station 11 starts out as a book about a pandemic, but just as the panic is starting, suddenly the book jumps ahead 20 years to the post-apocalyptic universe that exists when 99.9% of humanity has been wiped out. And then it jumps back in time, to before the pandemic. I think the point is to make you think about the infrastructure that exists, and how normal it seems…the electricity, the airplanes, the fast food, the gadgets, the internet…but how dependent it is on millions of humans in thousands of random jobs, doing their little part to keep the system running. And how everything would crumble, and what humanity might look like after 20 years of not having those things. How the worst in us would come out, but also the best in us.

Thought 1: The Gap Effect (A term I made up, because I needed a term)

I kept perceiving flaws with how Mandel depicted the pandemic and aftermath. Little things, like, “why is no one moving to farms?” and “why aren’t they riding bicycles?” as well as some giant plot holes with the pandemic itself that I suppose I only think about because I’ve just experienced a pandemic. For instance, we now know that in the event of a catastrophic pandemic, rich people would immediately quarantine, while poor people would keep working their “essential business” jobs. This would leave rich people in a much better position to survive than poor people. This, however, was never touched on in the book.

I kept telling myself that these little things didn’t matter. And in a way, they didn’t. Mandel did something very smart, in that she kept the world of her book very small and focused on her characters. Maybe more rich people in the world survived than poor people. Maybe the death toll wasn’t as bad in say, Asia. Maybe people in Holland rode bicycles, and people in Colorado moved to farms. We don’t know, because the three or four characters she followed knew next to nothing about the world beyond their immediate surroundings. In the universe of Station 11, the pandemic killed the majority of people in existence. This disrupted the global communication network. This plot trick allowed Mandel to keep us in the dark about what the world looked like outside of the realm her characters inhabited.

While this was smart, I found it unsatisfying.

With many forms of media, a lot of my enjoyment depends on whether or not there is a gap between the premise I think is going to happen and the premise that actually happens. For instance, when I was a young teenager, one of our VHS tapes had a preview of a movie called Never Been Kissed. The movie was about a 25-year-old woman who was totally uncool back in high school, who then went undercover and pretended to be a high school student again. The preview made it seem like this time, with the natural confidence that comes with age, she would be “cool,” and it would be an interesting redemptive experience.

But when I finally saw Never Been Kissed, there was a huge gap between the movie I thought I’d see and the movie I actually saw. Turns out she was just as awkward at 25 as she’d been at 18, and while she became cool eventually, it was more through dumb luck than anything else. So I was left with this hollow feeling, that the movie could have been so much more than it was.

This frequently happens to me with movies and songs, but it’s much more rare with books, which is why books are my favorite form of media.

But unfortunately, Station 11 had the gap effect for me. The premise of “99.99% of people are killed in a pandemic” is fascinating, and my mind spins in a billion different directions, imagining what might happen. And yet, so much of this was left unexplored in the book, leaving me longing for what the book could have been.

Thought 2: Literary Fiction

In the classes I took for my writing minor, literary fiction was considered the end all be all of books. I found a lot of it frustrating and pretentious, and a lot of it made me experience the gap effect, because writing beautiful sentences always seemed to be prioritized over delivering on a premise.

Nevertheless, there’s something about the literary style of writing that brands things more deeply onto my brain. I frequently think about those books and stories I read in class. At their best, they provided deep insight into the human condition and how people think.

Station 11 is a literary book with a post-apocalyptic premise. And while the gap effect happened for me in a way it maybe wouldn’t have happened if Mandel had stuck to a more conventional literary “plot,” I still deeply appreciated this combination of genres. I adore books that have an interesting premise. What if you found out, after you were orphaned, that your parents had been part of a secret organization they never told you about? What if you lived in a castle, but were so poor you were barely surviving? What if you’d spent your whole life trying to please your relatives that you didn’t like, so that they would provide for you in your upcoming spinsterhood old age, and then discovered that you only had a year left to live? What if a witch’s curse turned you into an old lady?

Usually, my main gripe with literary fiction is that the premise is often so boring. Someone just kind-of wanders through an ordinary life and has deep beautiful thoughts about it all. So if you know of any other books like Station 11, a literary fiction book with an actually interesting/wild premise, please recommend!

Thought 3: Cleverness

I love cleverness in books, and I discovered something very clever in this book that I’d like to talk about. I don’t really feel like this is a spoiler, but maybe it kind-of is. I’m going to talk briefly about some things that happen in the middle of the book, but none of these things are supposed to be “surprises” of any kind.

One of the most interesting characters is this woman named Miranda. Miranda is the most insightful out of all the characters. She sees right through people, understanding when they’re putting on an act, or trying to be someone they’re not. She doesn’t really do anything with this information, just kind-of quietly observes, but through her, we as the reader get a lot of insight into the human condition.

Miranda is a deeply creative and introverted character, and she spends a lot of her time creating sci-fi comics. She tends to incorporate things from her real life into her comics. For instance, before Miranda’s marriage, she worked as an administrative assistant and drew comics in her down time. She loved the work environment, with its clean, quiet order, and vast windows. When she drew her comics, she incorporated this room into it, only with a view of a weird planet landscape instead of a view of Toronto. In fact, it’s hinted that the main character of her comics is, in some ways, a version of Miranda herself.

Miranda is from a little island between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland. When I looked up this island to see if it was a real place, I discovered that not only is it real, but the author, Emily St. John Mandel, is from there.

Still, it wasn’t until I discovered that Mandel worked as an administrative assistant as her day job that I realized that Mandel wrote herself into the book as Miranda. Mandel has deep insights into human behavior, but she wrote them as Miranda’s insights. Mandel incorporated things from her real life into her book, just as Miranda incorporated things from her real life into her comics. Mandel wrote herself into her book as Miranda, just as Miranda wrote herself into her comics.

I find this deeply clever and fascinating.

Those are my primary thoughts upon reading this book. I think it’s the sort of book that almost everyone will appreciate in these pandemic times. Of course it covers some very heavy topics, particularly an enormous amount of death, including murder and suicide. But there was nothing especially graphic. The book never tries to shock you, just make you think. It will never be my favorite book, but it is a book that I think most people will enjoy.

Launching My E-Book!

I am happy to announce that I’ve made a Kindle version of The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea, which you can order here. Of course in my heart of hearts I love print versions of books best, but the Kindle version offers a few advantages you may be interested in:

  1. It is $5 cheaper than the print version.
  2. It is part of the Kindle Unlimited program, so if you have Kindle Unlimited you can read my book for free.
  3. I enabled the lending feature, so if you know someone who bought the e-book version, you can borrow it from them even if you live in completely different areas.
  4. Best of all, you can now access my book even if you live outside of the USA!

My goal throughout this process has been to make my book feel accessible to as many people as possible, especially those who don’t have a lot of extra money. I’ve been there, and I know how it is. Making an e-book version of The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea is another step in that direction, and I’m so excited!

***

Order my book:
Print Version
Kindle Version

Follow me on:
Instagram: @emilytheduchess
Twitter: @emilysmucker
Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog
YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker
Patreon: patreon.com/emilysmucker (This is where I post bonus blog posts, about more personal/controversial subjects, for a subscription fee of $1 a month [or more if you’re feeling generous]. I try to post twice a month.)

I Think February Is The Worst Month Of The Year

I like to think that I’m in the final stretch of The Bad Times. Coronavirus cases are falling, and my county just moved from “extreme” risk to “high” risk, loosening restrictions. My brother, aunt, and a few friends were able to get vaccinated. Spring is coming, eventually, and we’ll be able to do things outdoors again. By summer, perhaps I too will be able to get my vaccination. And in the fall, I’ll probably move away from Oregon, and start having real adventures again (I don’t know yet where).

Thankfully, the past couple months have been relatively disaster-free for me and those near me. Unlike in 2020, no one I know has tragically died, none of my family members have been critically injured, and the state has not caught on fire.

Nevertheless, I’m finding February almost unbearably difficult this year.

When actual tragedies were happening, I gave myself a lot of grace to be unproductive. But now it’s different. Now I desperately want to be productive, but it feels like all the little frustrating things are working against me. I got sick—some weird nasty thing that doesn’t seem to be Covid, but I can’t quite shake it. One day I feel better, and the next morning I wake up with a sore throat again. Then we started a never-ending remodeling project, which means that I can’t just stumble downstairs for toast and tea without running into strange men. Also, it’s noisy. And smelly. I know it will all be worth it when we have a lovely new bathroom and office, but I just wish it could all happen when I wasn’t sick.

Winter was actually pretty mild this year, and both the camellias and the daffodils bloomed before February even began. I’d even begun doing some yard work. But then we hit a stretch of truly the most terrible weather possible: cold rain. Like, 34° and raining. Day after day. Just be snow already! But nope. The creek flooded enough to cut off power to Mom’s writing cabin, aka, the only place you could go to escape construction noises.

Anyway. I keep telling myself, SOON. Soon I’ll feel healthy, the remodeling will be over, and I’ll be able to go to Starbucks again. Soon soon soon.

I have little else to say, so I suppose I’ll end this blog post here. Here’s to brighter days and cheerier topics!

You can order my book here.

You can find me on

Instagram: @emilytheduchess

Twitter: @emilysmucker

Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog

YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker

Patreon: patreon.com/emilysmucker (This is where I post bonus blog posts, about more personal/controversial subjects, for a subscription fee of $1 a month [or more if you’re feeling generous]. I try to post twice a month.

I DIY’d a Pair of Bernie Sanders Inauguration Mittens

Making a Purse out of a Shark Toy (Video)

With my book finished, I suddenly have time to make YouTube videos again. I’ve dabbled in various types of videos, but my favorite thing to do is make/sew stuff, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on in the near future.

Anyway, enjoy this video, and feel free to subscribe to my channel if you want to see more content like this!

You can order my book here.

You can find me on

Instagram: @emilytheduchess

Twitter: @emilysmucker

Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog

YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker

Patreon: patreon.com/emilysmucker (This is where I post bonus blog posts, about more personal/controversial subjects, for a subscription fee of $1 a month [or more if you’re feeling generous]. I try to post twice a month. My latest two posts were titled What 2020 Has Given; What 2020 Has Taken Away, and The Ditch on Either Side of the Road.)

Going to the Ocean with my Sisters

Photo by Amy

Sometimes you just need to get away from it all. Also, sometimes your mom is craving some home-alone time. These are the reasons why my sisters and I spent most of the week at a little Airbnb by the ocean.

Amy had to work until Thursday, but Jenny and I can take our work with us, so the two of us left on Tuesday. It was a great day. First, because were going to the coast (of course), but also because that morning, Jenny got accepted into one of the grad school programs she’d applied to. Fully funded and with a generous stipend. We danced around, yelling with joy.

We arrived at our Airbnb, put all our groceries away, and explored the place. As soon as I walked into the kitchen I got déjà vu. “Hey Jenny,” I said. “What does this kitchen floor remind you of?”

“I don’t know,” said Jenny. “It looks a little familiar but I don’t know why.”

“It’s the same flooring that’s in the playhouse!” I said. I don’t think Jenny was quite as moved by this as I was. I distinctly remember the day that Dad, Amy and I went to pick out playhouse flooring, but Jenny wasn’t even born yet back then.

Jenny built a makeshift desk in her bedroom out of a nightstand and an end table. I decided that I’d work at the little desk in the living room.

It was a bit wobbly. A decorative glass ball rolled off and fell to the floor with a crash. Oops! It didn’t break, though, thankfully. I guess those glass balls they sell in all the coastal tourist shops are a lot hardier than they look. But just to be safe, I fenced them in with coasters so they wouldn’t roll off again.

We made pasta and fish for supper, and ate it on the couch while watching television. “I feel exactly like those worldly people the preachers used to preach against,” I said. “Remember how they’d say that the world was going down the tubes because no one sat down for family dinners anymore? They’d just eat in front of the TV?”

After our show was over we did the dishes, marveling at how easy it was to clean up when it was just the two of us in the house. But that is when we ran into the Problem of the Onion.

That is, we had a partially cut-up onion, and nothing to put it in.

I feel like we have this problem every time we go to an Airbnb. We bring food, we cook, and then we look at our leftovers and half-used onions and think, “what do I put this in?” Because we rarely think ahead to bring Tupperware containers or Ziploc bags.

Jenny searched the cupboards for saran wrap, and found nothing. “Here, we can put it in this,” I said, picking up a crock from the counter. It was sort-of like a cookie jar.

“But isn’t it kind-of gross and dusty?” Jenny asked dubiously, while I examined it to make sure there was nothing inside it already.

“Not anymore,” I said, plunging it into my dish water.

So Jenny had no choice but to put the onion in the crock, even though she thought it was a very weird place to put an onion.

Wednesday it poured rain, but we still visited the ocean since it was just across the street. There was kind-of a maze of driftwood and soggy places you had to cross before you made it to the beach. I took my camera along and snagged a shot of Jenny leaping from one log to another.

Mostly, it was a relaxing week. Of course we had to work or (in Jenny’s case) do online school, but when we weren’t doing that we read books, walked on the beach, or watched Netflix.

Here’s a kind-of funny story: We don’t have Netflix at home, because we already have Amazon Prime and we’re too cheap to pay for all the streaming services. But in vacation rentals, the TV always seems to be signed into some random person’s Netflix account. Presumably, some previous Airbnb guest who signed in and forgot to sign out again when they left.

So, there are certain shows that we only watch when we’re on vacation. (How very Beachy Amish of us, hahaha)

My cousin Dolly told me that the best Asian drama she’d seen was one called Accidentally In Love, on Netflix. So last summer when us girls took a coast trip after Matt’s wedding, we watched a few episodes. Then, when our family took our Christmas trip to the coast, we watched a few more episodes. And finally, on this girl’s trip, we watched even more episodes. (The show, I should note, is nothing earth-shattering, just charming and silly.)

Amy came on Thursday. “Hey Emily,” she said. “Did you notice anything about the kitchen floor?”

Then we reminisced about buying floor tile for the playhouse. Funny that this was such a distinct memory for both of us. We were really young and poor then, but Dad built us a playhouse from old pallets and we got to go to Home Depot or Jerry’s or one of those places and pick out flooring. It was just those cheap linoleum tiles that they use in college classrooms and stuff. But picking them out for our own little playhouse was exciting.

Friday I decided to write a blog post about the trip, and I tried to remember if anything funny had happened so far. Jenny was in class, so I asked Amy.

“Hmm, well, Jenny fell off a log yesterday.”

“She did?” I was in a zoom call at the time, so I hadn’t gone down to the beach with them.

“Also, Jenny said something really funny yesterday, but I don’t remember what it was.”

“What did you say that was funny, Jenny?” I asked, later, when she was out of class.

“I said, ‘This house is not well-lit, but it sure does have a lot of hooks,'” said Jenny.

She was right. There was an extraordinary amount of hooks in the house. My room had two rows of hooks for hanging clothes on, and Jenny and Amy’s room also had two rows of hooks, plus another hook by the door. Downstairs there were big hooks by the front door for coats and hats, and little hooks for keys. The kitchen had hooks for pots and pans, only there were three times as many hooks as pans. And another set of little hooks for potholders. And hooks by the back door.

Oh well. It just made the place charming and quirky I guess. And it is nice to have places to hang all your things.

The only other funny incident Jenny could remember was that one day, as we’d walked on the beach, we’d found a bouquet of abandoned carnations. Maybe, we decided, someone had proposed, gotten rejected, and then, in frustration, tossed the bouquet aside. Do people have flowers when they propose? We picked a few of them out of the sand, went home, and put them in a vase.

Saturday we did some exploring, and Amy took pictures which I then stole for this blog post.

Note the mask dangling from my ear, LOL
This is my favorite picture. We were trying to do silly poses, but it just looks like Jenny has three legs.
Jenny on the beach at sunset
We went to look at this cool swampy place across the dunes from the ocean.

I just realized that I don’t have a single picture with Amy in it. Probably because she was the one behind the camera in these pictures. I promise she was there too, haha.

Sunday was our last day, and when we went to the beach, the surf was higher than I’d ever seen it. The places between the log maze were all completely flooded, and the logs looked very slippery. But even if we had made it over, there wasn’t really any beach because the waves kept flooding over it.

Looks like the beach disappeared into the ocean

We went to North Jetty Beach then, intending to eat our lunch while watching the waves. But it was weirdly stressful. The surf was high and full of logs that were drifting and bobbing about in the water. A huge sneaker wave came in, and we scrambled up a sand dune while a couple on the jetty had to beat a hasty retreat.

But what was really stressful was watching other people, who presumably hadn’t seen the previous sneaker wave, start walking way out onto the jetty. Yeah, no thanks–I came to watch the ocean, not watch people get swept into the ocean. We packed up our stuff and left.

(And yes, before I wrote this post I googled to make sure no one had actually gotten swept into the ocean that day. It seems that no one did. Presumably, everyone kept a close enough eye on the ocean to run away from any sneaker waves, but still. Stressful much?)

That, then, was a strange end to our trip to the coast. We drove home and took long naps. I suppose we’ll do it all again someday, hopefully on a day when the ocean is just a little bit tamer. After all, at some point I’d like to find out what happens next to the characters in Accidentally in Love.

A Tribute to Annette from the Gas Station

Photo by sergio souza on Pexels.com

Last Sunday I found out that Annette from the gas station had passed away. I just keep thinking and thinking about her, and about how strangers can make meaningful impacts on your life.

In early January 2019, I was at a random gas station in rural Florida when I locked my keys and my cell phone in my car. It was dark. I was hours away from anyone I knew. I started crying.

“Are you okay?” said a kind stranger named Annette.

You can read the full story on my blog here, or in my book, but essentially, Annette took the situation in hand. By hook or by crook, she was going to help me get back into my car. Even if it meant asking the stranger at the other end of the gas station if he’d lend us his tools. Even if it meant borrowing duct tape from the lady who worked behind the cash register.

Before long, a small group of people, all strangers to each other, were working together to solve the problem of How To Break Into Emily’s Car. And in the end, when we succeeded, we cheered like it was New Year’s Day or a hometown football victory.

Annette gave me her phone number. “If you ever need anything, you can call me,” she said. We texted a little bit…not much…but we did become friends on Facebook. I always thought that if I happened to be driving through her area again maybe we’d grab coffee or something. And when my book became available for pre-order, she promoted it on Facebook.

But last Sunday I got a Facebook message from Annette’s mom. “Have you heard about her death?” she asked.

I hadn’t.

Annette was murdered by a man she barely knew. She was so young, only 24, and had two small children. Cruel beyond words. It makes me think that the world is a terrible place, except that when I was alone and vulnerable it was a safe, kind place, because of Annette. And that seems so unfair.

My interaction with Annette was very brief, but I know two things about her: she was kind, and she knew how to solve problems. And those are two traits that I deeply admire.

Rest in peace, Annette, and thank you for making the world a kinder place.

Giveaway Winners, and a Few Random Thoughts

Last Thursday I did three giveaways: One here on my blog, one on Facebook, and one on Instagram. Today, I randomly selected the winners!

First up we have our Blog giveaway where I asked for your favorite Christmas tradition. Our winner, Laura, wrote, “My birthday is near Christmas and I think it’s neat how everyone feels so celebratory around my birthday! 🙂” Congrats, Laura!

Next, our Facebook Winner. On Facebook I asked entrants to name their least favorite Christmas song, and our winner, Nikki, wrote “I really dislike All I Want For Christmas Is You!!”

Finally, on Instagram, Lyn was our winner. Lyn wrote, “I entered because, well, it’s not often my friend’s imaginary and ill-fated romance for me enters into a book.”

Yes, Lyn was in my book, at the end of chapter 7. Congrats Lyn! You may not have won the heart of the architect, but you won a copy of my book!

(By the way, a big thanks to all 3 of you for responding to my email/DMs so promptly! I’ll have your books in the mail tomorrow.)

Now, on to my random thoughts.

I found my Instagram comments so fascinating. I asked people to write one thing they hoped to do in 2021 (although any sort of comment counted as an entry), and I’d say 90% of the responses were “travel.”

Of course, that would be my response too. But it made me think: do most humans have an inborn desire to travel?

If so, how can that be so? Haven’t most humans, for most of human history, not really traveled much?

Why do we travel so much? Because it’s cheap and easy? Because we see so many amazing places on Instagram? Because the ease of travel mean that our loved ones move to far-flung corners of the earth?

Or do we just want to travel because of all the Covid-related travel bans? Do we just want what we can’t have?

I was also fascinated by how many people thanked me for not requiring them to tag friends in order to enter the giveaway. I know that the whole “tag all your friends, follow this whole list of people” strategy probably nets an Instagram page an impressive amount of new followers, especially if they’re giving away really expensive, awesome stuff. But it’s such an annoying system, and it’s strange to me that it’s just the Accepted Way Instagram Giveaways Are Done.

Another random thought: I enjoyed reading people’s least favorite Christmas songs, but compared to the other two questions I asked, I didn’t get nearly as many interesting answers. Here’s my theory: a positive will always be more interesting than a negative. Liking something is inherently more interesting than not liking something.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

Maybe it’s just a personal preference, but I’ve noticed this about people in general. The guy who was obsessed with trees, and could name every species in his home state, was much more interesting than the guy who never watched Star Wars. And yet people often mention things they don’t like, or movies they have never seen, to try to prove that they’re interesting.

(This is not to say that everyone who entered the Facebook giveway was boring, LOL. I mean, I was the one who asked for your least favorite Christmas song. It just made me think about that concept in general.)

The one exception, I think, is coffee. No one cares that you like coffee. (But then again, no one cares if you dislike it either.)

(Although to be fair, no one probably cares that I like tea either, and yet I put it in the title of my book. Haha. I’d better stop now.)

Those are my random thoughts of the day. Thank you all so much for participating! I loved reading through your comments.