A Day in the Life of a Combine Driver (Featuring a Fire)

Note: This is a post about July 22, although I just finished it now. So it’s a month out of date, but it describes an actual day I experienced on the combine.

7:53 AM – I wake up. The sky is gray, so I know I’ll be starting work late. I got to bed late last night and I am still tired, so I go back to sleep.

8:30 AM – I wake up again. This time I get out of bed and make myself some tea and toast. As I pass the sewing room, mom tries to chat with me, but I just grunt a reply because I haven’t had my tea yet.

8:49 AM – Darrel sends me a text saying I’ll start work at 11:45. That gives me a nice chunk of time to relax before starting my day at work. I watch a little YouTube, chat with mom after I had my tea, and write in my diary about the interesting dream I had last night. I also do a little laundry and pack my lunch, but overall I’m pretty slow and relaxed.

I should explain that Darrel, my boss, is my dad‘s first cousin. His farm originally belong to my great-grandfather, as did my dad‘s grass seed cleaning business. My uncle Steve’s business is on that chunk of land as well, so at my job I’m likely to run into assorted relatives from time to time.

Also, I live really close to work.

11:25 AM – I get another text from Darrel saying that we won’t start until 1:00. This may seem like short notice but I was pretty sure this was gonna happen because the sky outside was still gray.

I don’t know how farming works with other crops, but with grass seed, we don’t get started until it’s sufficiently warm to dry out the crop. When the seeds are dry they thresh out better. It’s also important to have dry seed so it doesn’t spontaneously combust bus when you store it in piles.

Oregon nights get chilly, so it always takes a bit until we can get started for the day. I know it’s technically about temperature and humidity, not cloud cover, yet I always start later on cloudy mornings, and the time I start is typically correlated pretty well with the time the sun comes out.

11:50 AM – since I have a little extra time, I decide to do a bit of work for LifeX Marketing. I’m taking a break from my marketing copywriting job while I harvest, but I sometimes still do a bit of work if I have time.

I also eat some leftover soup from last night’s supper.

12:50 PM – I take my packed lunch out of the fridge, put it in my backpack, and rush off to work.

Back in June when I came to Oregon for the summer I left my car back east, assuming I could ride a bike to work and borrow a car if I need to go anywhere else.

Well unfortunately, we’re a bit low on cars right now. Mom, Dad, and Ben all have cars, but there are no extras floating around. Then Steven needed to borrow Mom‘s car for a bit while he was in the process of buying another one, making the situation even worse.

When I talked to Mom about borrowing a family bike for the summer, she informed me that all our bikes were old and falling apart, and she got rid of them. She’s been planning to buy some more but hasn’t yet.

For a minute there, I thought I was stuck with the following options:

  1. Walking to work
  2. Digging in the barn to see if Matt and Phoebe had left a hoverboard behind. And then learning how to ride it.

But then I asked Darrel if he had an extra bike lying around and he found one for me.

I really enjoy biking to work, actually. It’s so close that it doesn’t take much time or energy but I like getting a little bit of exercise every day.

12:58 PM – I get to work.

I never quite know how things are gonna go until I get there. Sometimes I’m supposed to take a farm vehicle to the field we’re working in, and sometimes I’m supposed to stay at the house for a bit and pick blueberries. Sometimes Darrel tells me this information himself, and sometimes his wife Simone fills me in on what’s going on.

It’s not a blueberry farm, but they do have a few bushes for their own personal use

Today when I arrive, Darrel is at the house. We get in the pickup and drive the back way to the shop, where he gets on the combine to take it to the field and I follow with the pickup.

A note about “the back way.”

One thing I never really thought about until I started working on farms is the way that so much land is not accessible by roads. Since all houses and businesses are built along roads, it feels like roads go everywhere. But they don’t, especially if there’s some geographical weirdness like a bend in the creek that doesn’t have a bridge over it.

So farmers create these little dirt and gravel roads to access their fields.

“The back way” is one such road.

Growing up I didn’t realize that this was its purpose, and I thought it was just a shortcut between my dad’s business and my cousin Stephanie‘s house. Also, we used it to access “the deep hole,” which was the only proper swimming hole along this section of the creek, and where I used to go swimming with my cousins.

I’m not even sure why it was called “the back way.” That’s just what we all called it.

Now, of course, I drive the back way all the time because it connects the house, the shop, and most of the fields.

1:09 PM – I start combining. Usually, Darrel has the combine all ready and I just hop on and go, while he drives off to do whatever farmers do all day. But today he wants to drive a round on the combine first.

I’m not 100% sure why, but I think he’s trying to get a feel for how well the grain is feeding through.

As we slowly make our way around the field, Darrel driving and me in the buddy seat, he tells me about how he doesn’t actually have a moisture tester. Typically he just keeps an eye on when the other farmers start for the day, and then we start too.

1:14 PM – We spot a plume of smoke in the sky. Where is it coming from? We speculate. Surely they wouldn’t be burning trash at the warehouse in hot dry weather like this? Darrel calls Simone and asks if she knows anything about it. She doesn’t.

We continue around the field.

Then Simone calls Darrel back. I can’t hear what she’s telling him, but Darrel immediately throws the combine into third gear and roars out of the field as fast as he can.

“Kenneth’s field is on fire!” he tells me.

My uncle Kenneth owns numerous fields, but due to the location of the smoke, I knew exactly which field is burning: The one right across the road from my house.

Darrel says we’re going to get in the water truck and drive over to see if we can help. I feel a bit like a firefighter as we sprint from the combine to the pickup, drive the pickup over to the shop, and then run from the pickup to the water truck. But the water truck doesn’t go very fast, which feels very frustrating in the heat of the moment.

We go back up the back way, past my dad’s warehouse and my uncle Steve’s pellet mill, and over the bridge to the main road. As we pass the office, my cousin Randy comes running out.

“You want to hop in?” Darrel asks.

“Do they need more help? We were going to bring our water truck but we heard they had it contained.”

“I don’t know, I’m just heading over to see,” says Darrel.

“Well, let me know if they need more help.”

“Okay.” And we drove off again.

When we drive up next to the field and can see the fire well, I’m very relieved to see that:

A: It is not that large, and

B: It is nowhere near my house

A firetruck pulls up behind us, flashing its lights, and we pull off to let it pass. Multiple firetrucks are in the field. “It looks like they have it contained,” says Darrel.

He’s nervous about driving his truck into the field since it’s not very high off the ground, so with the fire seemingly under control, we turn around and head back.

“The field hasn’t even been harvested yet,” says Darrel. “The fire must have been started from the railroad tracks.”

However, when I tell this to my family group chat, mom writes back and says “Lois said it started in Leroy’s field and his truck is on fire.”

(But amazingly, by the time everything was said and done, Leroy’s truck was still salvageable and most of Kenneth’s crop was saved as well.)

1:42 PM – We go back to the field we’re combining. I take a picture of the exact location where we sped out earlier.

I ask Darrel to tell me exactly what to do if I ever start a fire. It’s still my biggest combining fear, though in eight years of combining I’ve never started a fire.

When I get back around the field, Darrel gets off and I continue on.

“This has been an exciting day,” I think. “Maybe I should write a blog post about a day in the life of a combine driver.” I pull out my phone, open my WordPress app, and begin writing this blog post using voice-to-text.

When I tire of that I do some other activities, such as:

  • Listening to a Dear Hank and John podcast
  • Writing a novel in my head
  • Thinking
  • Listening to music on the radio

When people ask me what I do on the combine for hours on end, they often assume I listen to podcasts and audiobooks. Which would be an excellent use of my time if only I could make myself focus.

The truth is, my mind wanders to such an alarming degree when I’m listening to things that I pretty much only listen to podcasts if they’re a bit silly, and audiobooks if I’ve read them before.

That way it doesn’t matter when I completely miss big chunks due to a wandering mind.

Mostly I just spend my time thinking.

It occurred to me one day that as long as I’m alone, I’m never bored. I get bored in public places like church, waiting rooms, and airplanes. But never when I’m truly alone.

The hours tick by, and the field gets smaller and smaller.

Suppertime approaches. Sometimes I ask for a break at suppertime to go home and eat, but other times I don’t bother. Today is one of those “don’t bother” days. I packed a lunch in the morning but ended up being home at lunchtime, so now I eat my packed lunch for supper.

Including a banana. I don’t like bananas, but I’m trying to learn to like them because they’re such a handy fruit if you’re packing a lunch.

7:52 PM – I finish the field I’m in.

As I dump the last of the seed into the seed truck parked in the field, I give Darrel a call. “I’m done with the field,” I say.

“Okay,” he says. “You know that place where there’s that extra patch of seed? Drive there and wait for me.”

There’s a small bit of ground between this field, the hazelnut orchard, and the ditch, kind-of part of this field and kind-of not. Like an extra thumb. I don’t know how to describe it. Let me just add a google maps image.

So I park next to this thumb and wait there in the golden hour.

Different farmers do things differently when it comes to end-of-the-day protocol. The first farmer I ever worked for had me drive the combine back to the shop every evening. The next farmer had me park at the edge of the field, and wipe the dust off the windshield while I waited for the engine to cool down.

But Darrel typically takes my place at the end of the day, drives for a round or two until he determines that it’s too cool to keep working, and then parks the combine himself.

Usually I work until 8:30 or 9, but Darrel lets me off a bit early today. He’s going to just finish up the last thumb himself. He tells me to walk out to the middle of the field to fetch the seed truck, and that Simone will meet me at the edge of the field with the pickup.

I enjoy the walk through the field. The world is beautiful. But I do get a small sliver in my leg from walking through all that straw.

This, by the way, is the same truck I once drove into the ditch. It’s relatively easy to drive, though, once you get the hang of it. Especially if there aren’t any ditches around.

I drive to the edge of the field, and sure enough, Simone is waiting with the little white pickup. We switch places. I get into the pickup and drive up the back way to the house, and she takes the seed truck too…I’m not sure where.

8:19 PM – I am done for the day. I get on my bike and ride home.

8:30 PM – I get home and dig around in the fridge for supper leftovers. Then I get on my computer and mess around online. I post on Facebook about how there are more redheaded female protagonists than redheaded male protagonists, which is one of the things I pondered on the combine today.

When the temperature falls, I go outside and sit in the hot tub, easing my aching muscles. It still feels strange that we are fancy hot tub people. (We got it so Dad could exercise and potentially regain muscle activity after his accident.)

Finally, after my soak, I get into my PJs, read a little Daniel Deronda, and go to bed.

Thus ends the day in the life of a combine driver.

Was it a typical day? Yes and no. The fire was unusual, and yet unusual things are not uncommon. One day you might have a major breakdown, the next day a friend might come and ride with you, and the next you might drive a truck in the ditch or something.

Overall it’s my favorite summer job, full of sunshine, wildflowers, and plenty of time for a wandering mind.

***

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Unexpected Travels

I’ve done a lot of traveling in the past few weeks. Some of it was planned, and some of it was unexpected. This is a post about the unexpected parts.

It all began when I decided to come to Oregon for a good chunk of the summer and work in the harvest again. As you can guess if you’ve flown in the past month or two, tickets were a mess—expensive, inconvenient, and canceled at the last minute.

The only halfway decent tickets I could find gave me a 9-hour layover in Phoenix, which I planned to redeem by crashing at a friend’s house and exploring the city. But after arriving at the airport, discovering that my first flight was canceled, and being re-routed hither and yon by a less-than-enthusiastic American Airlines lady, I ended up with a 5.5-hour layover in Los Angelos instead.

Is 5.5 hours long enough to leave an airport and explore a city? Not really—not when you’re tired and hauling your luggage with you. But when I looked up the LA weather and saw that it was nice and decently cool, and when I looked on Google Maps and saw that there was an In-N-Out Burger right next to the airport, I came up with a plan:

I was going to walk to In-N-Out Burger.

Have you ever left an airport on foot before? I never had. Frankly, airports don’t seem set up for it, and I was worried that I’d have to dash across busy roads or yank my suitcase through grassy medians.

But it’s possible. Google Maps found the proper sidewalks for me, and I walked to In-N-Out, right next to the airport but still 1.4 miles away.

It occurs to me now that the hype surrounding In-N-Out may be an Oregon-thing rather than an everywhere-thing.

In-N-Out is a California-based burger chain, and for some reason it’s a big deal. A few years ago they opened a location in Oregon, an hour north of where my family lives, and it was a Whole Thing. Every time I passed it I saw a drive-through line that you wouldn’t believe, stretching on and on until I couldn’t even see where it ended. My sister and her friends would drive all the way there just to get burgers even though, as I mentioned before, IT WAS AN HOUR AWAY.

So while I was never willing to make the hour drive and sit in the Mennonite-funeral-procession-length drive-through line just for a burger, I was willing to make a 1.4 mile walk hauling my heavy backpack and even-heavier rolling carryon when I was in LA with nothing better to do.

Now, you’re probably wondering: is it over-hyped?

Frankly, I was in no position to make that call. After my 5+ hour flight and long walk hauling luggage over overpasses in the California sunshine, that burger and fries was the best thing that had ever happened to me: It was filling, affordable, and delicious. Airport food could never.

Also, I appreciated the fun vibe. Very 1950s, with all the employees in red aprons and little hats. They seemed to be having fun, and one employee in particular walked around hyping people up about the food and taking care of their trash with the most cheerful enthusiasm I have ever seen from a restaurant employee (except maybe those hyper-enthusiastic Dutch Bros kids).

There was a little park across the street, perfectly situated to watch airplanes flying in. So after eating, I went over there and dozed in the grass like a homeless person for a while.

Much more pleasant than an airport floor, I must say.

Overall, my tiny unexpected stop in LA was lovely, although I was quite sore from luggage-hauling when I got home. But I took care of that by soaking in the hot tub.

The same morning I discovered that my flight to Phoenix was canceled and got re-routed to LA, I also found out some really horrible news: my cousin Conrad’s month-old son, Damien André, had passed away suddenly. Devastating news, and compounding pain on a family that’s already endured so much this year, when Conrad’s brother Austin was kidnapped in Haiti.

Almost as soon as I got home my family was busy figuring out which of us could make it to the funeral and how to get there. Conrad and his wife Rhonda live in northeast Washington, which despite being the state directly above Oregon was still an 8-hour drive away.

This is us after 5.5 hours with 2.5 hours left to go.

Thankfully my Aunt Geneva lived near and was willing to give us a place to stay, so we drove up Friday, spent the night at her house, went to the funeral Saturday, and then came home. There were evidently multiple events happing near Spokane that weekend, so hotels were extremely expensive, and some of my relatives got up insanely early to drive there and back in the same day.

Anyway, I have nothing to say about the funeral except that it is really, really awful for a baby to die, his mother sitting there with empty arms.

I saw Austin at the funeral and gave him a big hug of course. He is here, he escaped, he is alive, and yet his wee little nephew Damian isn’t and I, frankly, don’t understand the ways of God.

Anyway, hopefully that’s the end of my unexpected travels for a little while yet. In a week or so I’m gonna park myself in a combine and spend the summer driving around in rectangles, solving the world’s problems and working out some novel plots in my head.

How to Communicate Kindness

Note: This was originally posted a year ago on my Patreon, but today I decided to share it on my main blog to close out the April Blogging Challenge

In the past year especially, I’ve seen a lot of online posts about racism. Inevitably, someone in the comments will say something to the effect of, “whatever, I’m just going to treat everyone kindly no matter what their skin color is.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea, because if it’s that easy, then why are so many black people hurt by well-meaning white people?

This idea actually goes way beyond race. I mean, why did well-meaning people say hurtful things to me when I struggled with illness or singleness? They thought they were being kind. Why didn’t it feel like kindness?

Here’s the difficult truth: sometimes kindness is like a language that doesn’t translate. You can feel, in your heart, like a kind person, but if you don’t communicate it well, it’s like saying “I care about you” in English to a Korean woman. If the message isn’t received and decoded by her, it’s meaningless, no matter how sincerely you meant it.

In this article, I’m going to provide eight ways in which you can more effectively communicate kindness. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few things that I’ve discovered, either from my own life or from listening to others express their frustrations.

But I want to be clear, from the start, that this is not about changing your heart, it’s about changing your communication style. I’m writing this with the assumption that you are not racist or sexist, that you believe all people are equally valuable, and that you genuinely want to treat everyone kindly.

With that being said, here are some ways to better communicate kindness.

1. Defer to people’s expertise

This is something that I’ve heard women, single people, and ethnic minorities all complain about. Certain people, often (but not always) confident married white men, get asked for their opinions and expertise in a way that other types of people don’t. Often there will be someone else in the room⁠—maybe a woman, a shy single man, a black man, or a “weird” person⁠—who has studied this topic in depth, but their expertise gets overlooked.

If you’re part of a group that is having a discussion or making a decision, you should look around the room and think, “who is actually the expert here?” And then you should ask that person what they think.

2. Ask people about their lives

This is somewhat basic, but important. It’s good to have a fair idea about what people do for work, what they went to school for, and what their most passionate hobbies are.

Not only will this make them feel seen, but it will make you better able to defer to their expertise. And it benefits everyone⁠—if you know who’s passionate about interior decorating, for instance, you’ll know who to call when the church bathrooms need to be re-done.

3. Believe people

Over and over, I’ve heard people who’ve experienced trauma, abuse, etc say that one of the most traumatic parts of the whole experience was not being believed.

Now, it feels weird to say “believe people” as a blanket statement, because, I mean, we’ve all been lied to at times. We all know that some people use lies to manipulate and destroy others, and we don’t want to be a part of that.

My mom has become really good at believing people, to the point that many people end up trusting her and sharing things with her that they don’t tell anyone else. So I asked her how I should phrase this section.

She told me that when people tell her things, she always starts off by fully believing everything they say. Since she’s not a judge and jury, there’s no obligation to be skeptical or to need to figure out absolutely for sure if this is true or not. So she just believes.

Later, if she finds out other information, she can always adjust her thoughts on the matter.

(I will also add that Mom does not gossip about things people tell her, and I feel like when lies are destructive it’s usually because people are spreading those lies through gossip.)

4. Let people define what is hurtful to them.

As someone who struggled with chronic illness and depression, I found it hurtful when people would say, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” If you said this to me, and I called you out on it, your first response would probably be defensiveness. It would feel, to you, like I thought you were a terrible person. And you’d hate to feel like a terrible person. So your mind would rush to rationalize yourself, and you’d say something defensive like, “I was just trying to help.”

But the truth is, as the one who is struggling, I’m the one that gets to define what words are hurtful, not you. You haven’t gone through that, so you don’t get to decide what is and what isn’t hurtful for a chronically ill person to hear.

This is true for so many things. If an Indigenous person is hurt that you once dressed up in feathers and fringe on “Pilgrims and Indians day” at school, they’re allowed to find that hurtful. If a woman is hurt when you say “you’re being too emotional,” she’s allowed to. If a man is hurt when you use the term “toxic masculinity,” he’s allowed to feel that way.

Our defensive reaction comes because we don’t want to be terrible people. But the good news is, when most people say “that hurt me,” they’re not saying “you’re a terrible person.” They’re not saying you did it on purpose. Actually, they’re probably assuming that you have a good heart, or else they probably wouldn’t even bother.

Furthermore, you can still validate other people’s feelings and allow them to be hurt even if you did nothing wrong.

Short story time: When I worked for the school newspaper in college, I once made a lady very angry with something I wrote in the paper. I had no clue how to handle it. I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong.

The journalism advisor told me, “you just go to her and ask her how she felt, and then nod along and be sympathetic while she tells you how terrible it was.”

“But then what?” I said. “Do I have to issue a retraction or something?”

“Oh no, of course not,” said the advisor. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

This was the first time I realized that I can validate someone’s hurt feelings without admitting wrongdoing, and it was revolutionizing for me. The angry lady ranted to me, and I said “that sounds hard,” and then it was all over.

5. Sit with wordless pain

Some people are talented at this, and some people (aka me) are naturally terrible at this. But one of the kindest things you can do to someone who is suffering is be there for them without being able to “fix” it in any way. Often our minds rush to “comforting” platitudes like “God will never give you more than you can handle,” “he’s in a better place,” etc. Practice showing up and shutting up. Practice sitting with discomfort.

6. Simply apologize

The frustrating thing about life is that there is literally no way to always say and do the right thing. For instance, I found the phrase “God will never give you more than you can handle” to be hurtful, but some people legitimately find it comforting.

Sometimes you will hurt people out of your own pain, and sometimes out of your own ignorance. Sometimes you’ll say or do something that would be completely innocent to 99.99% of people, but it will trigger a wounded person in a way that seems completely irrational. Sometimes people just are extremely sensitive. Sometimes people demand an apology out of their own entitlement, or because they’re trying to manipulate you.

But in most cases, a simple apology is the easiest way to communicate kindness. No explanation or defensiveness, just “I’m sorry I hurt you.” Apologizing doesn’t even always mean that they are “right” and you are “wrong.” It just acknowledges that their hurt was real and legitimate, even if you privately think it might be a bit irrational.

7. Give people opportunities to say what they think

In a group setting, take note of who speaks and who doesn’t. Particularly pay attention if people get talked over, interrupted, or seem like they’re just about to say something when someone else cuts in with their idea.

Then, be the one to say, “I think Sandy had something to say,” or, “what do you think, Bill?” or, “You kind-of interrupted Sandy,” or “Sorry we rushed ahead to a new idea, Bill, were you finished with what you were trying to say?”

Now, some people are observers more than talkers, and might not appreciate being put on the spot. But in general, showing in a group setting that you care about people’s perspectives, even if they’re not elbowing their way into the spotlight, is a great way to communicate kindness.

8. Listen

I’m realizing, now that I’m at the bottom of this list, that most of the things I listed are forms of listening. It makes sense I guess⁠—listening is the oft-forgotten key to good communication.

So that’s the thought I’ll end with: the key to communicating kindness is to have a stance of listening. Zip your lips and open your ears. People want to feel heard, and the kindest thing you can do is listen to them.

***

This post, as I noted above, was originally posted on Patreon. I have a Patreon account where I post bonus material–typically stuff that’s more personal or controversial, that I’m not sure I want to share with the entire world.

I want my work to be accessible to every income level, so I only charge $1 a month. If you wish to support me with more you can edit your amount at any time, but everyone receives the same articles.

I typically post twice a month, but occasionally I only post once a month. Once a post has been up for a year, I remove it.

Highlights from last year that are still up on my Patreon include:

***

And with that, the April Blogging Challenge is over! Much thanks to Mom and Phoebe for doing it with me.

***

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What The Bunnyslipper! The Story Behind My Favorite Catchphrase

Today I’m going to tell you the story behind my favorite catchphrase.

When I was young, most common expressions were taboo. You weren’t supposed to say “oh my God” because that was taking the Lord’s name in vain, but neither were you supposed to say “oh my gosh.” The thinking was, if the substitute word makes you think of the “real” word, it’s just as bad.

So instead we said things like “oh my goodness,” “oh my word,” and “what in the world!”

Then, the Visiting Preachers would come to do a week of boring meetings, and they’d dedicate an entire sermon to the evils of “euphamisms.” According to the Visiting Preachers, not only was “gosh!” a bad word, but so were “goodness!” and “mercy!” because goodness and mercy are attributes of God.

Well, to be honest I never took the visiting preachers that seriously. At the same time, there is something a bit silly about saying “oh my goodness!” But I wasn’t about to be edgy and start saying “gosh.”

What I wanted was an expressive word, something more interesting than “goodness” that had no ties to the divine and couldn’t be misinterpreted as a “euphemism.”

I was a teenager at the time, and at school, people were always coming up with bizarre new catchphrases and expressions.

Like, there was a picture book that had been in the school library forever called “Tikki Tikki Tembo.” One day, when someone was mad, another kid said “ooh, Tikki Tikki Tembo.” And it caught on. If someone was mad you made fun of them by saying “Tikki Tikki Tembo.”

Or once the cool kid started calling people “doughhead,” and it became a thing.

I don’t even remember all the catchphrases. I just know there were a lot.

So I decided to invent my own catchphrase.

At the time we were writing short plays in our writing class. My younger brother Ben and his friend Drennan wrote a character in their play named “Matilda Bunnyslippers,” and when we acted out the plays, I got to play Matilda Bunnyslippers.

Well, I was enamored by the name and used it as an online alias at times.

I also began saying “oh my bunnyslippers” instead of “oh my goodness.” It became my thing. Now, no visiting preachers could accuse me of indirectly taking the Lord’s name in vain.

This was when I was like, fifteen, by the way. I’ve been saying this for ages and ages. But it never caught on. Not in school, not in college, not anywhere.

However, at a certain point in life I switched from saying “oh my bunnyslippers” to “what the bunnyslipper.”

And that has made all the difference.

In fact, I think you should start saying “what the bunnyslipper.” It’s very satisfying. We can just collectively forget that the “oh my bunnyslippers” awkward mouthful ever existed.

So far I’ve gotten, like, four people outside my family to say it. (But half of them might have been making fun of me.)

In my family, though, most of us use that expression now.

So that’s the story of that. I’m very sorry that this post is so short. I had a nice long one planned, all about how to make money with writing. But I didn’t have time to finish it, so that will go in the drafts for later.

I promise I’ll have a nice juicy post on Friday though, to close out the April Blogging Challenge.

In the meantime, you can check out Mom’s latest blog post in her MLM series, which she posted yesterday. Phoebe will post tomorrow.

***

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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.)

ABC Post 16: Nine Life Hacks I Made Up (That Actually Work!)

I’ve always secretly wanted to work as a life-hack inventor.

Surely you’ve seen those weird videos that pop up on Instagram or whatever. They promise to give you amazing life hacks to, say, repurpose old jeans. Next thing you know you’re watching someone turn jeans into bizarre unflattering bedroom slippers, sequined chaps, or ugly chairs, using nothing but a stapler and a hot glue gun.

Yeah. I don’t know who comes up with those things, but I bet I’d be great at it.

I love innovation, and I invent my own life hacks all the time.

Some of them horrify Jenny, such as when I put a sock on my reusable mug because it was too hot to comfortably hold.

Some of them cause Jenny to accuse me of trying too hard to be “not like other girls,” such as when I packed for a trip in my serger carrying case.

“You have a suitcase!” she said.

“Yes, but this is just the right size!” I countered.

However, other life hacks have proved so useful that Jenny, too, has started using them.

So here are nine life hacks I invented. It’s not a comprehensive list…just the first nine things I thought of this evening when I decided to post on this subject.

1. Use rubber kitchen gloves to open jars

I know it’s a stereotype that women can’t open pickle jars, but in my case it’s very much true. My week little wrists start painfully tingling when I exert effort on jar lids.

Once I read that you should wrap a rubber band around the jar lid, and that helped somewhat. But recently I discovered that if you pop on a pair of rubber kitchen gloves, you can open any jar, no matter how horrifically tight the lid, with ease.

(If you don’t already own a pair of rubber kitchen gloves, you should buy one. In my opinion they make cleaning and doing dishes much less dreadful. And they only cost like, four bucks.)

2. Wear a pen in your hair so that you always have a pen

I’ve been putting my hair up with a hair stick or pen for my entire adult life. Usually I go with the hair stick because it seems…I don’t know…classier I guess.

But I go through pen phases too. And there’s something extremely handy about always having a pen on hand.

Not on hand, I guess. On hair.

3. In a pinch you can use hand sanitizer instead of deodorant

One day it occurred to me:

Hand sanitizer kills 99.9% of bacteria, right? And armpit stink is caused by bacteria. So couldn’t you use hand sanitizer instead of deodorant?

I tried it, and it’s surprisingly effective. I still use deodorant, but if I ever forget, or if my deodorant ever fails me, I grab some hand sanitizer, rub it in my armpits, and it solves the problem.

I’ve also discovered that if you rub it on your clothing it kills most of the stink there too.

Now, time for an obligatory embarrassing story:

Once I was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping at Ross, and as I walked into the store, I realized I stank.

I mean, stinking in Ross isn’t the worst thing ever I guess. But I was heading somewhere afterwards and I didn’t want to stink there.

I looked around for some hand sanitizer. Sometimes they have them, you know, on walls near doorways. (Especially now in covid/post covid times, but this incident happened pre-covid.)

Finally, after a lot of searching, I saw it. A large bottle of hand sanitizer…at the checkout counter. On the inside of the checkout counter. Presumably for the cashier to sanitize her hands after handling lots of germy cash.

I would have politely asked for a squirt, but no one was at the checkout counter. So I casually reached over the counter and took a squirt for myself.

Now my hands were full of sanitizer that was quickly evaporating and leaking through my fingers. I booked it for the bathroom.

There was an employee at the bathroom door. I don’t remember if she was cleaning it or why she was there. In any case, I couldn’t open the door because my hands were full of dripping sanitizer, but she quickly opened it for me and I rushed in.

After I’d administered the sanitizer, I exited, and the employee was still there.

“Feel better?” she asked.

I didn’t know how to explain that my frantic rush was about hand sanitizer and armpit stink. So I didn’t.

“Yes,” I said.

4. Use sticky tack to cover annoying electronic lights

I can hardly stand to sleep in a room with bright little electronic lights.

You know, like the ones on your computer, router, etc. Bonus points if they blink. Horrifying. Who can sleep?

I used to throw clothes over the lights, but one night it was hot and the only fan I could find had lights on it. You can’t just throw your clothes over a fan. Not if you want it to fan you. So I had to get innovative.

That’s when I tried sticky tack. One little blob on the light, and it blacked it right out.

5. Use sticky tack to keep your plugs in place

For some reason, the outlets in my apartment are really loose. I mean, like, the holes must be bigger than usual because the plugs slip right out of them.

Sticky tack to the rescue! A few dabs on the plug and it sticks firmly in place.

6. Use a clothespin to make your teapot infuser fit your mug

Loose-leaf tea is tastier than tea-bag tea, but most people stick to tea bags because it’s so much easier.

However, instead of messing with fiddly infusers like this:

I’ve begun to just take the infuser that came with my teapot, stick a clothespin on it so it doesn’t fall to the bottom of my mug, and pour in the tea and hot water.

Loose leaf, now, is still a bit more complicated than teabags but not much. One spoonful of tea goes into the infuser, I pour the hot water in, I wait five minutes, and I pull the infuser out by the clothespin. Then I dump the leaves into the trash or compost.

7. Carry a mug and tea bags with you

It’s usually quite easy to find free hot water. Many places have hot water dispensers, or at least a microwave in some back corner. Coffee shops, at least ones in the USA, will give you free hot water (although if they’re busy I recommend giving a tip).

This way you can have a free comforting hot drink wherever you go.

If you don’t like tea, you can do a similar thing with 3-in-one coffee packets.

Similarly, I recommend taking instant noodles with you on airplane trips, nabbing some hot water from a coffee shop, and enjoying a virtually free hot meal on your layover.

8. Get the noisiest kid to calm the other kids down

I discovered this hack by accident years and years ago, and it’s surprisingly effective.

If you’re ever in a situation where you’re surrounded by a bunch of rowdy children who need to calm down, instead of yelling, try this:

Pinpoint the rowdiest ringleader of the bunch. Tap that kid on the shoulder. “Hey Billy. It’s time to line up to go inside, but the other children aren’t paying attention. Can you help me get them to line up?”

Suddenly Billy is putting his leadership skills to good use. The kids are calmly lined up in no time.

9. Use a piggy cell phone grip to solve your drainage problems

While composing this post this evening, I asked Jenny for help. “Can you think of any life hacks I’ve invented?”

“You mean good life hacks or funny ridiculous life hacks?” she asked.

“Either.”

“Well,” she laughed. “There was the time you used the phone piggy thing to unplug the drain.”

Okay, so.

One Christmas, Mom gave us all these “piggy cell phone grips.” They were supposed to prop your phone up, but I never used mine because I had a pop socket that did the same job. So I stuck the piggy cell phone grip in a drawer.

Then, later that year, our bathroom sick drain was having issues. You know this kind of drain plug, right? You’re supposed to be able to raise and lower it with a knob behind the faucet?

Well, the raising-and-lowering capability quit working. If you set it just so in the sink, it would drain fine. But if it fell down in, it was almost impossible to get it back out.

One day I had a brilliant idea: The piggy grip!

I suctioned it to the drain plug, and it worked perfectly. Now, if the plug fell in, you could grab the soft rubber pig body and pull it up again.

Now: doesn’t that seem like the sort of thing that ought to be featured in a ridiculous life hack video?

If you know of any life-hack-video-producers, put in a good word for me, please!

Speaking of life hacks, Phoebe posted on Wednesday about one of her must-have camper life hacks: quakehold museum putty.

Or, if you’re tired of reading about life hacks, you can head over to Mom’s blog to read yesterday’s post about MLMs, moms, and product pressure. She will post again on Monday.

Have you invented any fun life hacks? Let me know in the comments!

***

Order my book:
Print Version
Kindle Version

Follow me on:
Instagram: @emilytheduchess
Twitter: @emilysmucker
Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog
YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker
TikTok: @emilytheduchess
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.)

ABC Post 13: What I’ve Been Reading Lately

I’ve been extra tired the past few days and don’t have the energy to post about important and potentially controversial topics like MLMs or artificial scents. So I’m gonna do an easy post today.

Are you feeling nosy about what I’m reading? Well then this is the post for you.

I try not to read more than one book at a time, but lately I feel like I have piles of books I’m trying to get through. (Which means, unfortunately, that they’re all a little bit boring. Oh well. Such is life.)

I’ll take you through them one by one and share my thoughts, why I chose to read it, and if it’s living up to my expectations.

Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot

Daniel Deronda is a huge book, and I’ve owned a copy for probably ten years without reading a single word of it. I like to have a handful of unread books on my bookshelf so I never run out of things to read, but ten years is a bit much.

I convinced my WhatsApp book club to read it with me, and we decided to take two weeks to read the first ten-chapter section.

Then I forgot about it until two days before the deadline and spent my weekend frantically catching up.

Lucky for me, Daniel Deronda is wonderful. At least so far. Why have I never read this before? Good grief.

I know why, actually. I wasn’t a huge fan of the BBC mini series. I found it depressing. So I know that the book is going to take a depressing turn soon. However, I’m enjoying the ride so far.

Also, I vaguely remember that the story goes into the plight of Jewish people during that time period (1870s England). So I’m curious how that part of the book will be handled, and I’m hoping it’s a nice break from the casual racism that often crops up in old books. It’s nice to know that there were people back then who cared about social justice issues, and I always find it interesting to read about social justice from a different era’s perspective.

So far I love it, but as with all the books in this post, I’m only partway through and may change my mind.

Changeology, by Dr. John Norcross

I rarely read nonfiction, but I picked this book up at the local used bookstore because I was upset about my work habits and I was trying to figure out how to change myself.

(By “work habits,” I mean that I struggle with self-discipline, procrastination, genuine health issues, etc. This makes it hard to get into healthy work habits. I tend to avoid doing my most difficult work and then spend all day dreading it.)

I’m still midway through the changing process, so the jury is still out on whether this book helps me change. But while Norcross is obviously an academic first and writer second, I actually find the data in the book fascinating.

I mean, I’ve always really wondered about change. How are some people able to drastically change their lives, while others try and try and try but never manage to actually change?

Well apparently Norcross is the expert on this and has been studying it for 30 years. So informationally I find the book fascinating even though it doesn’t have the easy readability of most self help books.

I guess I’ll let you know if it actually helps me change.

Give Me Some Truth, by Eric Gansworth

This is the “main” book I’m ready right now, and it’s interesting and boring at the same time.

I checked it out of the library because it was about some teenagers forming a band. In the novel I’m currently trying to write, my characters form a band. But I don’t know much about bands. Hence, I decided to read a book on the subject.

Lo and behold, I learned a lot from the book, but on an entirely different subject.

The book is set on a Tuscarora reservation near Niagara Falls in 1980. I assume this is very close to where the author actually grew up, because he is very knowledgable on his subject, and it’s fascinating, full of random insightful little details. Like how beaded trucker caps were super popular on the reservation. I would never have realized that was a thing.

Or the way that they all had relatives in Canada, because the boarders between the US and Canada were arbitrary lines drawn by white people that cut through their area. So there’s all these family get-togethers and parties and such in early July, and some of them are Independence Day celebrations and some of them are Canada Day celebrations. But no one cares that much because they associate with being Tuscarora much more than being American or Canadian.

But they still celebrate the holidays.

Anyway, it’s full of really interesting cultural things like that. But it is so boring. I mean, it doesn’t have much of a plot.

Belong, by Radha Agrawal

I checked this book out at the library because I was looking for practical tips on how to make friends and form community in new places.

It’s okay I guess.

It has a fun, easy-to-read format with illustrations on every page and all these sections for you to write down your values or what you look for in a friend or whatever. But it’s a library book. So I’m not gonna do that.

There’s some good advice in it, but the author and I are very different people. Her energy levels make me feel tired just reading it, haha.

A Treasury of Hans Christian Anderson

I used to read fairy tales and folklore all the time, and somehow I’ve gotten out of the habit. So this year I’ve been slowly making my way through a volume of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales.

I think the most interesting thing about Anderson’s fairy tales in particular is the way he weaves Christian themes into his work in a completely bizarre fashion.

For example: “The Snow Queen” begins with a magic mirror made by the devil. It falls to earth and shatters. Shards of it fall into Kai’s eyes and heart, setting in motion the events of the story.

The central conflict of “The Little Mermaid” is that she wants to become human, not just to marry the prince, but also to gain an immortal soul and go to heaven someday. It ends in a bittersweet way: she doesn’t get the prince, but she gets to earn her way to heaven by doing good deeds.

But my favorite is The Marsh King’s Daughter where, just as you think the story is wrapping up and the princess is about to marry the prince, she decides to go to heaven for a moment. When she returns, she realizes that hundreds of years have passed on earth during her moments in heaven. The prince and her family are long dead. The end!

The Odyssey, by Homer

For a long time I never read The Illiad or The Odyssey because they seemed much too dense for me. But one day at the bookstore I saw a Penguin Classics version of The Odyssey and decided to give it a try.

I found it surprisingly easy to read.

Here’s my conclusion: I think it’s easier to read classics that were written in other languages than it is to read English classics. Especially if they’re really old.

For example, I don’t read Shakespeare. I did once–I somehow managed to get through Romeo and Juliet but it was an annoying story and not remotely worth the effort. So I haven’t bothered since. I watch and enjoy Shakespeare on stage, but that’s it.

However, classics in other languages are much easier because all you have to do is find a modern translation and bam! It’s written in words and phrases you understand.

Of course The Odyssey is still bizarre but not any more bizarre than, say, Hans Christian Anderson. (Actually I’d say it’s much less bizarre than Anderson.)

***

Anyway folks, that’s what I’ve been reading lately. What have you been reading?

Also: for more posts in the April Blogging Challenge, check out Mom’s blog and also Phoebe’s.

***

Order my book:
Print Version
Kindle Version

Follow me on:
Instagram: @emilytheduchess
Twitter: @emilysmucker
Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog
YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker
TikTok: @emilytheduchess
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.)

ABC Post 11: Some Happy News + A Few Updates

Yesterday I received some happy news, but before I get to that I want to give a few updates about some of my previous posts in the April Blogging Challenge.

First, a great number of people commented on my last post to express their disappointment that the prune juice didn’t lead to me having to suddenly use the abandoned outhouse in the woods.

I guess this is one of the pitfalls of real life; it doesn’t follow a proper narrative arc.

While it’s true that my stomach burbled ominously, it settled down after a bit and I was fine. I wrote the post so quickly that I didn’t even notice that unresolved plotline.

However, in the event that I would have needed an emergency bathroom, I probably would have used the woods before I would have used that outhouse. First, people had thrown their trash down the outhouse hole, and I don’t know if anyone is ever tasked with cleaning it out but I didn’t want to make their job harder. Second, the floorboards of the outhouse were of dubious strength. And third, I hate to think of what was probably living in the carpet on the toilet seat.

Regarding my post about memes, I just have to post a few more of the memes of me because I find them funny, okay?

Meme by Emily Miller
Meme by Emily Miller
Meme by Emily Miller
Meme by Packy Sporre

Okay now, on to the good news:

As many of you know but some of you may not, I’ve published two books. My most recent book (the one parodied in the above meme) is The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea, about a year I spent traveling around the USA living in a different Mennonite community every month.

However, thirteen years ago I published a book titled Emily, about my experience with West Nile virus.

Unlike my most recent book (which I self-published), Emily was published by a “real” publisher, sold in Barnes & Noble, etc.

My book deal just kind of fell into my lap.

Throughout my 17th year of life/senior year of high school, I missed out on almost everything because I was so sick. During that time I kept a diary in an Open Office doc password-protected on my computer, and I blogged regularly on Xanga.

My Aunt Rosie somehow found out that a publishing company was looking for teenage authors to write a series of books by teenage girls for teenage girls. I think maybe it was advertised in a homeschooling magazine? Anyway, she knew I liked to write so she gave me the information, and I sent in some writing samples and a link to my blog.

I, along with a girl named Marni and a girl named Chelsey, were selected to write the first three books in this series.

I just went back and looked at the emails now, and the 31-year-old-writer in me is astounded at the quick turn-around time. I got the offer on November 24, 2008, and was expected to complete the first draft by February 5, 2009, and the second draft by February 28, 2009.

So here you go, you 18-year-old writer you! Just write a book in three months, no biggie!

But with my teenage confidence, I wasn’t fazed.

Also, due to the vast quantities of diary and blog writing I’d done over the past year, my “writing” was really more like “compiling.” Probably 80% of it was already written.

My editor called me every week to keep me on task, I wrote a draft, a second draft, and then went through it again in the spring after the proofreader added her notes and comments, and by that August I walked into a Barnes and Noble and found my very own book on the shelf.

One of the things that I didn’t realize about adulthood until I reached it was that you change an enormous amount between the ages of 18 and 23. I expected life to plateau somewhat in adulthood, but that didn’t happen until I was maybe 25.

Which meant that only a few years after I’d published Emily, it made me cringe. It’s very much written by a teenager, okay?

Also, I had such a not-like-other-girls complex. My bio literally read “She loves dreams, Dr. Pepper, badminton, watching people, making movies, and unlike 99.5% of Mennonite girls in America, not coffee or scrapbooking.”

Cringe cringe cringe.

I really have no idea how well the book did. I didn’t get royalties but instead was paid a flat fee. I could purchase my own books at half price and then re-sell them, which is the main way I earned money from that book deal.

As the years went by, I continued to sell them. I’d buy a box of 100 books, and after a year or two or three they’d start to run out and I’d buy another box.

And the more time passed, the more I began to gain a different perspective on that book. I saw it as less “cringe,” and more as the book I was meant to write at that time. There’s nothing like the feeling of being a teenager and missing out on what seems like such an important stage of life because you’re sick.

For young girls going through that, my book was the relatable content they needed.

So I continued to sell and give away copies over the years.

Last winter, I noticed that once again my stock was dwindling. So I called my publisher and asked to order another 100 books.

Only to be told, “your book is out of print.”

I guess it’s reasonable that my book would eventually go out of print. After all, it had been 11 1/2 years at this point, and it disappeared from the shelves of Barnes & Noble long ago. But I’d never made any sort of contingency plan for what I’d do if my book went out of print.

I wasn’t even sure what “out of print” consisted of. “Can I buy the rest of the stock?” I said.

“No, it’s out of print,” she said.

“Can I…buy the rights back?” I said. “I could re-publish it myself. I still sell copies of that book.”

“Well, the rights should revert back to you automatically,” she said. “But your case was a little different, since it’s part of a series. I’ll have to talk to some people and get back to you.”

The next day she called me, not because she had any news, but just to update me on the newsless state of the issue. She asked for my email address, saying she’d email me when it got resolved.

Then I never heard anything.

I knew I needed to follow up, but I was putting it off.

Part of the issue was, I never caught the name of the woman helping me, so I didn’t know who to ask for when I called back.

The other issue was that I always procrastinate on fiddly little tasks like this, especially if they involve making phone calls.

But finally I put it on my to-do list for Monday.

I woke up Monday morning to a new message request on Facebook. It was from a woman, also named “Emily,” who recently found her well-loved copy of my book. She said that my book got her through her teen years, because she was chronically ill and deeply related to that feeling of missing out on life.

And so she decided to reach out and let me know.

That message gave me the courage I needed. Procrastinating no longer, I picked up the phone and called my publisher.

The woman who answered the phone was the same woman who’d helped me earlier, and she remembered me. She was surprised that the issue had never been resolved. She herself didn’t have the power to resolve it, but she promised me she’d get on the case of the CFO until he resolved it.

I really didn’t know what was going on, guys. Like, was I going to get my rights back? Was I going to have to pay something for it? I don’t know how any of this works.

But then, yesterday, I got a Very Happy Email.

The rights to Emily have reverted back to me, and I am free to re-publish!

I am very excited because to be honest, there’s a lot about the initial publication of Emily that I didn’t like and had no control over.

Mostly, I guess, the cover. I was never a big fan of the poor sad girl with purple eyes.

And I can’t tell you how many people over the years have looked at the cover, then looked at me, and said, “is this you?”

No. It’s not me. It’s some random model. I don’t even know her name. Marni’s cover model friended her on Facebook, but I have zero clue who is on the cover of my book.

That’s why my number 1 cover goal with The Highway and Me was to stick myself on the cover. Although it did lead to this exchange at the fair last summer:

Shopper: (Looking at my book) is this you?

Me: Yes!

Shopper: Did you dress Mennonite on your trip?

Me: Um…yes

Shopper: Okay because it doesn’t look like it from the cover.

Me: …

At first I thought I’d re-publish Emily with an actual factual photo of myself on the cover, but all my photos from 2008 are pretty bad. So I’m thinking of going with an illustrated cover.

(If you run across any Instagram artists with teenage-book-cover vibes, please DM them to me! My Instagram handle is @emilytheduchess.)

I’d also like to add some new material to it. Not sure what yet, but I have some ideas, like pulling some stuff from other random notebooks I kept in that era. For instance, in the book I talked about writing a Thanksgiving play for my youth group, but never getting to perform it because I was too sick to direct. I still have that play and could easily add it in.

And of course I want to add some sort of epilogue-ish-thing with some info on my health post-book, because people are always really curious about that.

If you have other ideas, I’d love to hear them.

In case you’re confused about all the book projects I’m working on, here’s a list of my current four projects, and where I’m at with each

1. Re-publishing Emily

Just got the rights back. Planning to re-publish it and release it this fall.

2. My fantasy novella

I wasn’t sure what to do with this, since it’s very different from my other content. Currenly I’m planning to edit it and publish it as a cheap e-book at some point, but it’s not super high priority. Maybe sometime this year.

3. My Book of Essays

My official “next book” is a collection of essays about trying to find your purpose in the post-college/school era of life. Currently it has no title and only a vague, evolving theme. My goal is to finish the first draft this year, so it could potentially come out in 2023.

But it’s very personal and thus kinda hard to write, so we’ll see.

4. My Novel

I’m always working on a novel, but novels are notoriously difficult to write. After finishing The Highway and Me, I worked on a novel for a year before finally giving up. I moved on to my novella, which I finished. Finishing my novella made me feel like I could do anything, so I promptly started on another novel, because I’m…I don’t know. Obsessed, addicted, crazy, you choose the adjective.

It’s my “fun project.”

I haven’t actually written written any of it, as I’m still working out the plot. I decided not to start writing until I had the whole plot figured out, because I did that for my novella and then lo and behold I finished my novella.

So it had to be a good plan, right?

I don’t know if I’ll ever finish this novel, but it is my most-fun project even though it’s also my lowest-priority project.

Those are my four projects. You know, besides my “day job” (part-time copywriting work), my Patreon, and this blog.

And speaking of blogs…my relatives have written some fantastic ones which you should absolutely check out.

Wednesday, Phoebe wrote a fascinating post about The Problem with Fragrance. Then yesterday, Mom wrote a hilarious saterical post called How To Be A Fantastic Mom Of Adults. Mom will post again on Monday.

***

Order my book:
Print Version
Kindle Version

Follow me on:
Instagram: @emilytheduchess
Twitter: @emilysmucker
Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog
YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker
TikTok: @emilytheduchess
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.)

ABC Post 8: Squandering My $5 Tax Refund

When money comes to one unexpectedly, the best thing to do is squander it. 30 years from now you won’t remember or care if you spent your money on practical things like bandaids or cupcake liners, but you WILL remember the wonderful day you carelessly squandered.

(I realize that this sounds like bad advice. But I have to occasionally give myself bad money advice or else I’ll never have any fun.)

This time of year people are squandering their tax refunds, and I wanted in on the fun. So imagine my delight when I opened the mailbox the other day and found my Virginia tax refund.

Five entire dollars!

Unfortunately, due to inflation and such, there’s not a lot one can buy with five dollars. I decided to use an Instagram poll to narrow down my choices.

“What shall I splurge on?” I asked my Instagram followers, presenting the following three options:

  1. Gas for a vacation to the other end of town
  2. A slightly fancier than usual toothbrush
  3. Mystery beverage from the Asian food store

Initially, people voted for “gas for a vacation to the other side of town,” but after a bit “mystery drink from the Asian food store” began to catch up. Which was fine with me. Every time I go to the Asian food store I look longingly at the rows of unique and delicious-looking beverages.

But I never try them because I rarely let myself squander money.

When Jenny came home from school she was laughing. “Your Instagram story was so funny!”

“I’m glad you found it funny,” I said. “I was trying to be funny, but no one laugh reacted. I guess they were too busy voting in the poll. What did you vote for?”

“I voted for ‘slightly fancier than usual toothbrush,’” said Jenny. “That was by far the funniest option.”

“A lot of people are voting ‘vacation to the other side of town,’” I said. “Which I don’t really understand. The toothbrush is the funniest option and the Asian food store drink is the best option.”

“Yeah, but everyone understands the gas prices joke,” said Jenny. “Not everyone understands the toothbrush joke because they don’t understand how we live.”

However, by the end of the day the toothbrush had overtaken the gas, and the Asian drink was by far winning overall.

Today I went to the Asian food store to buy my drink.

So many options!

I wanted something mysterious…something where I wouldn’t know what to expect. So instead of purchasing some delicious-looking green tea or sparkling grapefruit juice, I grabbed an odd-looking bottle of some sort of plum drink. 

This drink only cost three dollars, so I went next door to Dollar Tree (which Jenny and I colloquially call “dollar twenty-five tree” due to its hike in prices) to look for something fancy that I could glue to a toothbrush.

That way I could have both a slightly fancier than usual toothbrush AND a mystery drink from the Asian food store! What a life!

I considered all kinds of stickers, bows, nail polishes, glitter glues, and even googly eyes, but settled on butterfly-shaped fake jewels.

When I got back out to the car I looked at my gas gauge. Could I afford to take a vacation to the other end of town too?

I decided that I could.

On the northwest side of town, farther than I’ve ever been before, was a “park and natural area” so I decided to go take a relaxing vacation there.

Wander the paths. Eat a picnic. (And by picnic I mean some snacks and my mystery drink from the Asian food store.)

The wandering was nice and so were the snacks, but I sampled my drink and wasn’t impressed. At first it tasted very sweet, like kool-aid, but then it had a strange, almost medicinal aftertaste.

And that’s when it struck me.

Plum drink. Dried plums make prunes. Which means prune juice is probably just plum juice, right?

Did I just squander my tax refund on prune juice?!?

I forced myself to finish it, hating it more the more I drank.

My stomach burbled ominously.

I continued wandering around the “park and natural area” and fairly quickly came upon some abandoned farm buildings to explore.

I crawled through this hole
Then through this hole
Down these rickety steps

And into this tower/silo thing. It reminded me of Belmotte tower from I Capture the Castle.

Then I went back up the rickety steps, back through the hole, and on to the rest of the abandoned farm. This included an outhouse with a carpeted seat.

Finally, when I was finished exploring I settled by a pond to write some of this blog post.

This was the first time I’d used my AlphaSmart in months. It was so cold outside all winter, and I was doing so much work that required an Internet connection, that it wasn’t practical. But it felt so nice to write in nature again like I used to last summer.

That was the extent of my vacation. Although there were numerous restaurants and stores on the northwest side of town that I’d never been to, I only had 63 cents left.

So instead I went home and tried to make my toothbrush fancier than usual.

The truth is, this toothbrush was already fancier than usual because I didn’t buy it myself—rather, I got it for free when I went to the dentist. And making it fancier was quite a challenge because it had to be waterproof and it couldn’t interfere with the tooth-cleaning process. One little butterfly jewel was all I could manage.

But then I had all these leftover jeweled butterflies. Not one to be wasteful (despite my attempts to squander money), I proceeded to add a little razzle-dazzle to some other things about the house.

Slightly-fancier-than-usual sunglasses

Slightly-fancier-than-usual alarm clock

Slightly-fancier-than-usual strainer

Slightly-fancier-than-usual toilet brush

So as you can see, while the mystery drink from the Asian food store was a bit of a letdown, I now have a number of fancier-than-usual objects to cheer me up.

What are you planning to squander your tax refund on?

***

This April, Mom, me, and Phoebe are taking part in the April Blogging Challenge. Mom posted yesterday about hosting a fabric swap, and Phoebe will post tomorrow.

***

Order my book:
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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.)

ABC Post 6: Making Memes of Me

I read an article recently that claimed that the only good thing left on Facebook is private meme groups.

I’ve found this to be semi-true. Tiktok has more interesting content, Twitter has more news and current events, Instagram is better for actually keeping up with people…but Facebook does have one thing going for it, and that’s the groups.

Particularly the private meme groups.

In the early 2010s I was part of Facebook groups with people I actually knew, like people I’d done theater with, people in my youth group, or people I went to Bible School with. But now all my active groups are either weird niche topics or meme groups.

I actually have a love-hate relationship with groups and I tend to delete them if they get too active and overwhelming–especially if they’re full of drama and inside jokes I don’t understand. But then sometimes I hop back in later if I’m bored. You know how it is.

Anyway.

This winter I joined an odd meme group called Mennonite Hood Memes (MHM). It is a mix of Mennonite, Ex-Mennonite, Menno-adjacent, and Kingdom Christian types.

In my opinion, the most interesting thing about the group is that they are big on original content. So unlike other meme groups where people are mostly re-posting memes they found other places, most of the memes in MHM were created by members of the group.

In fact, MHM has some meme templates that I’ve only ever seen in MHM, like this one, which I think is from the Mennonite Church USA archives.

Meme made by Roslyn McCulfor

Recently I met one of the MHM members, Jolynn, in real life.

As far as I know I’d never met Jolynn before, just knew her from various meme groups. But you know how it is in the Menno-world…Jolynn’s mom was from Oregon so I know a lot of her family, we have mutual friends, my mom knows her sister, etc.

Anyway, Jolynn moved within a couple hours of where I now live in Virginia, so we decided to hang out. Jolynn’s friend Becky, who’s also in MHM, later joined us.

Since I still dress Mennonite and Jolynn doesn’t, I thought it would be funny for us to re-create the Mennonite lady meme template. “It’s too bad I don’t have a white net covering,” I mused.

With this, Becky sprung into action. She no longer dresses Mennonite either, but she kept a lot of her clothing, and soon she’d outfitted us with:

  • A cape dress
  • A white net covering
  • Black stockings
  • Black shoes
  • Some conservative Mennonite book I’d never heard of
  • A prop cigarette (made with rolled-up paper)
Meme made by Jolynn Lehman

Once Becky had pinned the covering to my head, we were all set to re-create the photo. Here’s what we came up with:

People then started making memes with the new template.

Meme made by Packy Sporre
This one also made by Packy Sporre

Then, since a photo of me had already been made into a meme, I decided to meme one of my old pictures.

Backstory:

10.5 years ago I was in a play at my community college. This was my first time doing “real” theater and I was very excited. But then one day the director said, “okay for tomorrow’s rehearsal I want you to wear your makeup.”

And I was like, “um…I don’t know how to do makeup.”

Like literally, I’d never worn makeup before. Maybe a few dabs of cheap concealer on a pimple that just made it look worse. That’s it.

I knew that I’d be required to wear makeup, because otherwise I’d look too washed out under the harsh lights. But I had this idea that someone else would do our makeup for us.

But no, we weren’t fancy enough for makeup artists. Every actor had to do their own makeup.

Once I told my fellow actresses that I didn’t know how to do makeup, they tried to help me out. I don’t even know where this makeup came from, but someone found me some foundation, this pink stuff that went on both my lips and my cheeks, and an eyeliner pencil.

The makeup was awful. Very thick and gross. The eyeliner pencil didn’t work very well, so I switched to this other type that came in a solid cake and was applied with a wet brush. That was much easier to apply, but then the liquid would spread through the lines in my eyelids instead of staying in a nice straight line, sort of like when you write on your hand with a very liquidy pen.

But the lip stuff was the worst. I don’t know how anyone can stand the feeling of wearing lipstick. It was nasty, drying my lips out, and it got on my teeth.

Anyway: My main point is that I didn’t like the makeup and I was pretty bad at applying it. Of course, with the harsh lighting and distance it looked fine to the audience while I was on stage, but I wasn’t exactly snapping selfies.

As the show was wrapping up, our director gave us each a pickle-shaped Christmas tree ornament as a gift. Once, in the dressing room during intermission, I jokingly put the ornaments on my ears and struck a “supermodel” pose. My castmate Kim took a pic and put it on Facebook, and I was a little embarrassed but that’s life.

But anyway, I knew it would make a great meme, so I unearthed it and created this:

People thought it was especially funny to see this after just seeing me in a cape dress and white net covering. I don’t think people realized this picture was over ten years old. I really haven’t changed an enormous amount in 10 years, except for about 6 gray hairs and a wrinkle between my eyebrows from constant skepticism.

Speaking of skepticism…

Next thing I knew, my “skeptically buying shoes while a skeptical man looks at me skeptically” picture, from my last blog post, was memed by an MHM member named Avery Amstutz.

Then today, this gem showed up on the page.

Like several other memes I’ve featured on this post, this one was made by Packy Sporre, who is a very prolific meme-maker.

Anyway, I’ve found great joy in these memes of me, so I thought I’d share them with you as well.

(I don’t know if I want to recommend the group or not. You might love it or it may not be your cup of tea. So if you join because of this post and then get into a terrible argument with a troll, please don’t blame me, lol)

***

Want to get caught up on April Blogging Challenge posts? Yesterday Mom posted a book review, and Wednesday Phoebe posted ten things about herself to help you get to know her better. Mom will post again on Monday.

***

Order my book:
Print Version
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Follow me on:
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Twitter: @emilysmucker
Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog
YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker
TikTok: @emilytheduchess
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.)

ABC Post 3: Awkward Memories That Live in My Head Rent Free

I think I attract awkward moments.

I think they just find me, somehow. No matter what I do, I will end up in an awkward moment.

Like the other day, I walked into a coffee shop and the door closed on my boot and took it clean off my foot. Then the door closed, with my boot on the other side of it.

And it wasn’t one of those boots that easily slips back onto your foot. So not only did I have to go back outside to retrieve my boot, but I didn’t want to block the doorway while I struggled to put it back on. So I stuck my toes in and hobbled to the cash register, ordered, and then yanked at my boot while the barista prepared my tea.

Anyway.

I have these awkward memories stored on movie reels in the dusty back parts of my brain, and sometimes a random incident will trigger one of them. Suddenly it starts playing: an awkward memory from my past.

Last night someone on the Internet mentioned Roald Dahl, and it triggered one of those awkward memory reels.

The Elevator Memory

Backstory: I dream every night, and often these dreams are very vivid and very funny. It happens, at times, that I’ll see a person or incident and it suddenly makes me remember something funny that happened in my dream.

In such cases, it takes all my willpower not to tell everyone around me about the dream.

And sometimes my willpower fails me.

I’ve learned to leave out the boring parts of dreams, so usually this is just a couple sentences. A little cringe, but not too egregious.

But one time…

It happened in the Oregon State University library, six stories tall with a very slow, very busy elevator. As soon as I climbed onto this elevator full of strangers, I remembered my dream.

“Oh, last night I dreamed that this elevator was the great glass elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!” I announced to everyone. “It shot through the roof of the library and into the sky!”

No one responded. Not a smile. Not a chuckle. Not a groan.

Slooooooooooowly the elevator doors closed.

Slooooooooooooooowly the elevator began to climb.

Sloooooooooooooooooooooooowly the doors opened again, and I scuttled away to hide in an abandoned aisle of books.

The Escalator Memory

I guess the awkward elevator memory made me remember my awkward escalator memory.

One time, when Jenny was about 4 and I was about 13, we went to a mall with our cousins. It was my job to watch Jenny. Jenny and one of her cousins about her age were obsessed with riding the escalators, so I and another older cousin took them up and down the escalators several times.

On one of these trips, I failed to hold Jenny’s hand as we stepped on the escalator. I did not realize that this was a crucial part of the experience.

About halfway down, I realized that Jenny was not with me. She was still at the top, crying because I hadn’t held her hand.

All my big sister instincts kicked in at once. By hook or by crook, I was going to rescue Jenny. So I started booking it back to her…up the down escalator.

Which TBH is pretty hard, even though it goes pretty slow.

For some reason, the last sprint was the hardest. I felt like I wasn’t quite going to overcome the momentum of the escalator. But then, with a valiant lurch, I did it! I reached the top and rescued Jenny!

That’s when it registered that there was a kind handsome young man at the top of the escalator, and he was saying, “I can hold her hand.”

In fact, he’d been saying this the whole time I was huffing and puffing my way up the down staircase, but I’d been too singularly focused to notice.

Billy and the Paper Airplane

I had a teacher in community college who had a few unorthodox teaching methods. Several awkward things happened in his class, and this is one of them.

The first day of class, I arrived late and the only available seat was right up front. It was a pretty crowded classroom, and the frontmost student table was right up against the teacher’s desk. So the distance between the teacher and I was conversational-distance rather than teacher-student distance.

Then, of course, that was my seat for the rest of term.

On one side of me sat a mom who was returning to college. On the other side of me sat Billy, this all-American, good-looking-in-a-very-basic-way, baseball-playing, cap-wearing guy who occasionally said something interesting, but whom I paid very little attention to.

One day I arrived early to class and was one of the first people to enter the room after the previous class had vacated. The teacher of the previous class gave my teacher a box of donuts and said, “we didn’t eat all these, you can give them to your class if you want.”

My teacher then held up the box of donuts, and as the whole class filed in he said, “Emily brought us all donuts today, so don’t forget to thank her!”

And a bunch of people started thanking me before I had a chance to explain.

Then, my teacher decided we were going to prank the class next to us. For some reason, there was just a door between these two classrooms. He had us all make paper airplanes, and then he opened the door and we all threw our paper airplanes into the next class.

My airplane never made it to the next classroom, but I retrieved it.

Then, feeling clever, I wrote a note on it. I said:

Since I “brought the donuts,” does this mean I can take the leftover donuts home with me?

Then I tossed it at my teacher.

At this point, we’d all settled into our seats after the paper airplane prank. My teacher took the paper airplane I’d just tossed and, pretending to read the note out loud, said, to the whole class:

I have such a huge crush on Billy, but I’m too shy to let him know. Can you tell him for me? -Emily

Then he put the paper airplane down and we got on with the class.

Regarding what happened next, all I remember is that after class I retrieved both the paper airplane and the donuts, ran after Billy, and showed him what the note really said. He didn’t seem fazed, so I presume he understood the nature of our teacher and never actually thought I had a crush on him.

This teacher, incidentally, is one of the former teachers I’ve kept up with the most. In fact, he occasionally reads this blog.

Final Thoughts

So yes, those are the types of awkward memories that live rent-free in my head. There are many more where those came from, but those are the three I thought of today.

At least they make good stories, you know?

Also: I’m sorry to say that the picture I put at the beginning of this post has nothing to do with the contents of this post, except that it’s one of the most hilariously awkward photos of me. Amy took it when we visited Kenya in 2011. I was buying shoes. I don’t know why I was so skeptical.

Or why the shoe seller was so skeptical.

This has been post three in the April Blogging Challenge. Yesterday Mom posted about her friend Verda who passed away, and tomorrow Phoebe will post on her new blog.

***

Order my book:
Print Version
Kindle Version

Follow me on:
Instagram: @emilytheduchess
Twitter: @emilysmucker
Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog
YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker
TikTok: @emilytheduchess
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.)