Belknap Hot Springs

Ashlie and I may no longer be roommates, but we still make time to get together for adventures.

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This time, Ashlie found a hot springs in the Cascades for us to go to. I’ve wanted to visit a hot springs for years, but unfortunately they’re reputed to be crowded and clothing-optional places. Belknap hot springs, however, is owned by a hotel. It’s much less rustic but bathing suits are required.

I don’t have pictures of the actual hot springs because my phone ran out of storage. Basically, the hot water is pumped into a swimming pool, so it’s rather like being in a giant hot tub. It felt rather glorious. I had some really sore muscles that week, so bad I was taking the handicap entrances to avoid stairs, and it was nice to have a good soak.

Also, it was a pretty location, out in the woodsy mountains. The Mckenzie river, swelled with the winter rains, rushed past, though when I was down in the pool I saw more ugly fence than actual river.

It cost $8 for an hour, and $15 for all day. Ashlie could probably have soaked for hours, but we only stayed for an hour since I tend to get overheated easily. It began to rain softly, and the rain made little glitters all over the water. It was beautiful. I recommend going when it’s cold and rainy.

We saw a bridge over the river, so after we were properly dried and dressed we crossed it and went wandering around the paths on the other side. I was still too sore for a proper hike, so that was a nice alternative.

The paths wound through the woods, at times crossing small streams and skirting around ponds. There was still snow on the ground at places. There was some bamboo and other non-native plants, as well as the usual wild things. And then around the corner was a secret garden, all abandoned-looking.

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It was a nice adventure.

 

 

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A Stupid Failure Who’s Wrong About Things

“What didja get?” I asked Nick, who sits beside me in French class, when he got his quiz back.

“I got a B,” he said. He gave a short, mirthful laugh. “I didn’t even study!”

“Émilie,” said the teacher, handing back my quiz. I’d gotten an A. But I’d also studied pretty hard. And somehow I, who had studied and gotten an A, felt like I was stupider than Nick, who hadn’t studied and had gotten a B.

Why?

I pondered this.

I had the opposite problem in  my fiction writing class. I dashed off a charming short story, preparing myself to be praised and affirmed by my teacher for my original concept and specific details, only to receive a B+. I was startled and hurt, and then I tried to logic my way out of those feelings.

“You’ve gotten far worse grades,” I reminded myself. “You can still get an A in the class. Besides, you kinda deserved that B. This is a 400 level class. You have to put in some effort.”

 I couldn’t entirely logic my way out of my feelings, however.

It’s one thing to get a B on a physics project or something, but this is writing. This is something I’m supposed to be good at.

No, scratch that. This is something I’m supposed to be good at with very little effort.

There’s a difference.

The catch to the story is this: My teacher allows us to re-write our stories for a better grade. My B+ was not set in stone. But I’d have to set up an appointment to talk to her about it. I’d have to face up to my failure.

A guy I know (let’s call him Bill) ceaselessly whines about his terrible life. I mean, nothing goes right for poor Bill. He’s had the worst luck imaginable, and the people in his life treat him terribly, disappointing him again, and again, and again.

Except, what Bill doesn’t know is that his life is fixable. Maybe not everything, but some parts are. Everyone in Bill’s life can see it except Bill, because Bill cannot entertain the notion that he might be wrong.

“Sometimes you have to be wrong to fix your life,” I ranted at Bill in my head. But then I felt like a hypocrite. Because similarly, sometimes you have to be a failure to fix your grade.

I swallowed my pride and went to my teacher’s office hours to ask about how I could re-work my story.

Owning up to that feeling of failure was about much more than a better grade. In re-writing my story, I became a better writer, one step closer to becoming the writer I want to be.

The times I learned the most interesting things were the times I allowed myself to be stupid, like when I joined a robotics club while knowing nothing about robotics. The key to repairing and maintaining my relationships with my family members has been pinpointing the areas where I’m wrong and owning up to them. (Or, sometimes, pretending they’re right while still secretly thinking they’re wrong.) And things like sewing, that I’m good at, came at the price of failure after failure after broken-needles and seam-puckering failure.

Sometimes, to become the person I want to be, I have to be a stupid failure who is wrong about things.

…..

(This blog post was partly inspired by this article, which is a fascinating read if you have the time.)

Reflections on 2016 (Part 4 of 4)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The Christian Grad Fellowship

As September rolled into October, Ben started grad school and I started my senior year of college. We compared schedules. Mondays and Fridays we could carpool, we decided.

But then he added a caveat. “I’ll be staying at school a little later this Monday,” he said. “I’m going to a Christian Grad Fellowship meeting from five to six.”

He also mentioned that there would be free pizza. I don’t remember when in the conversation this occurred. “I’ll just come too,” I said. “No one will know I’m not a grad student. Besides, I’m older than you.”

My class ran past 5 so I was late, but there was still plenty of pizza by the time I arrived. I got a couple slices and sat down by Ben. Across the table I saw one of my teachers from the year before. He must be the faculty adviser.

I tried to remember if I’d cried in his office.

I tried to remember if I’d corrected him in class, and if so, how rude I’d been about it.

“Let’s go around the room,” he was saying. “say what your name is, and what your field of study is, and a random fact about yourself.”

Oh great. Now everyone was going to know that I didn’t actually belong.

Ben introduced himself, and then it was my turn. “Sorry, but I’m just an undergrad who’s here stealing your pizza,” I confessed. “But my brother Ben came and I figured that since I’m older than him, surely I could come too.”

People laughed, and I realized that no one cared that I was an undergrad, or if they did they were too nice to say so.

I went to all the meetings after that.

The Election

What a terrible, terrible election season.

I watched the internet slowly divide like an amoeba into two echo chambers where everybody yelled and nobody listened. If you yelled into the wrong echo chamber there was an explosion and a rapid unfriending and the internet divided a little bit more.

I made the decision to do the right thing in real life and refuse to yell online. If God tells me to blog about a particular issue, I will, but I’m committed, for now, to listen.

I think the division bothered me more than the president, though, because I felt like the president was a direct result of the division. And any terrible things he might do could never be solved if everyone yelled and yelled and yelled as though that was the mark of true morality.

The Beach

I go to the beach when I need to calm my soul, and the weekend after the election was no exception.

The whole CGF crowd went. We did all the things…splashing in the waves, browsing a used bookstore, eating clam chowder, watching for whales, roasting hot dogs on the beach, finding critters in the tide pools…and no one mentioned the election. Not even once.


Amos Turns 100

“Who’s doing the most interesting thing over Thanksgiving weekend?” My teacher asked the way teachers do, as though we have a life an no homework. But for once I had the best answer.

“I’m going to my grandpa’s 100’th birthday party.”

“Really! What’s your grandpa’s name?”

“Amos.”

“Amos. What a great old-man name.”

We flew in Friday, and drove to the rental house where the various Yoder relations were staying for the weekend. It was right on a lake, obviously, being Minnesota. There was snow and a sunset and it was really quite breathtaking.

Saturday was Grandpa’s 100th birthday.

My cousin Jason chatted with Grandpa and Great-Uncle Johnny

It was a great weekend. I love my family.

 

Mom and Aunt Margaret stole my phone and took selfies. 

Of course I had to write a term paper. I tried to simultaneously write a term paper and have a good old chat with the Yoders. It didn’t work out so well.

But I survived.

The Mice

The mice got worse and worse, in that old farmhouse.

I got home from my Thanksgiving trip and worked on my term paper at the kitchen table. Mice scuttled under the stove. One dashed across the floor and under the sink.

“It’s okay,” I thought. “At least they’re not upstairs.”

Darrel and Simone, my landlords, wanted to move into the farmhouse when my term ended. Ashlie, my roommate, had already moved out. I was going to move back in with my parents, but wanted to savor my last few nights of going to sleep and waking up exactly when I wished, without being bothered by noisy family members.

That evening, in my room, I saw a mouse run under my bedroom door, look at me with round black eyes, and dart out again.

I shoved a rug under my door.

I went to sleep but kept being woken by a rustling in my trash can. I sat up and turned on the light. I’d spilled a bunch of peanuts a few weeks prior, and I’d swept up all the ones I could reach and dumped them in my trash can. Now, there was a hole chewed in the trash bag, and mouse turds inside.

I set the trash can outside my bedroom door, and tried to go back to sleep.

Rustle rustle. Something was running around under my bed, grabbing the peanuts I hadn’t been able to reach with my broom.

“That’s it,” I decided, and I put on my bathrobe and got in my car and moved home a week early.

Holidays

My school vacation was a month and two days. So that was a nice and slightly boring break.

An ice storm hit, turning the world into magical fairyland

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A Kenyan gotcha-day meal: Our Christmas Eve tradition. 

 

Steven and Matt came home for the holidays. Everyone was here except Amy. We went to the coast for a few days to have family fun time. 

I didn’t do anything fancy New Year’s Eve, just hung out with my friend Elaine and drank sparkling cider and argued about who the best guy in Lord of the Rings is.

I also caught a bad cold at the end of the year that stretched on and on for three weeks, but at that point I’d been healthy for half a year so I couldn’t complain too heavily.

Now, at the end of my recap, I feel as though I should give some philosophical insight into what I learned in 2016. Hmm. What did I learn in 2016?

I learned that nonfiction how-to type books are just like textbooks, in that there is no reason to read the whole thing. Just read the first paragraph of every chapter and/or the first line of every paragraph, and everything that’s titled “conclusion,” and you will have read the entire gist of the book.

You’re welcome, for that insight. Now go have a fantastic 2017.

Reflections on 2016 (Part 3 of 4)

Read Part 1
Read Part 2

Summer

Every year, the beauty of being outdoors all day in an Oregon summer overwhelms me.

The smell of the twilight dust. The wild mint growing in a lavender haze at the edge of the fields. The brilliant sunshine that makes the grain look like gold and the sky an impossibly deep blue. The chilly gray mornings when it’s too wet to work, so I curl up with a book and sip my earl gray.

Growing Old

I turned 26 on July 6, unsure of how to feel about my age. In general, I have loved growing older. I don’t buy the cultural myth that younger people somehow live a better life. The older I get the less I care about my image, the more I learn to listen instead of talk, and the more courage and freedom I have to live my life the way I wish to.

However, in a weird way I feel stuck in a perpetual young adulthood I can’t escape. In Mennonite circles I am often lumped in with the youth, since I’m unmarried, and at college I hang out with the 18-21 crowd. And my face has weirdly not aged in the past ten years. If I slick my hair back and stick a round veil on the top of my head I look almost exactly as I did when I was 16. My college friends are often quite surprised when they find out how old I am.

So I’m kind of in an odd middle place, age wise. But I don’t mind so much. I’ve just had to learn to befriend people of different ages and life stages than myself.

Work

I worked sporadically through July and August, driving a combine or tractor when the weather was nice and the equipment was working, and taking little vacations when they weren’t.

Some days my combine clogged up ten times or so in one day, and I had to find the wrench that was as long as my arm and crank the header mechanism backwards so it would regurgitate the grain.

Other days my air conditioner would quit while both spare combines were broken down, so I’d just have to deal with the oppressive heat. I learned that the trick is to drink water. Lots of it. Guzzle it down and take a bathroom break every hour. You can survive more heat than you thought you could.

Daycations

My roommate Ashlie was always up for adventures on my days off. Here are a few Instagram shots of us exploring the beaches and woods.

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Fairy

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Think Positive

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One day I fell asleep in the woods

I also spent one glorious weekend with a group of friends, camping by a small lake with a tiny island.

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Getting up early

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Making breakfast and tea

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Cuddling the babies

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Writing for hours on the tiny island

Also, the swimming was perfect. Warm-ish, not too deep nor too shallow, rocky bottom. It was glorious.

Note to self: swim more.

September

I blogged about the first half of my September trip pretty consistently.

First I visited my cousin Stephy and got introduced to geocaching.

Then I went to Pennsylvania to hang out with my friend Janessa. We day-tripped to the Delaware beaches and I got knocked over by a giant wave.

Then I visited my brother Matt in DC and got trapped in the world’s second largest library.

Some adventures, though, are delightful to experience but don’t make very interesting stories. Such was the case with my weekend in Pennsylvania, after I returned from DC.

I had planned this trip because I wanted to hang out with my friends Amanda and Jewel. Seeing them again was beautiful. But looking back on it, all we really did that weekend was talk. And eat ice cream. And talk. And drink smoothies. And talk.

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Jewel and Amanda

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Let’s take a selfie even though the lighting is terrible!

I also visited my cousin Annette that weekend. I had wanted to spend more time with her but she’d just had a baby and it was a little chaotic at her place.

(I’d insert a photo here but I can’t seem to find it. Close your eyes and picture a beautiful mother holding a lovely baby in flowered baby pajamas.)

Endings and Beginnings

After our weekend in PA, Amanda and I took a road trip to Chicago. You know. Just because.

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Photo Credit: Amanda Gingerich

I mean, she lives in Illinois, and I found a cheap flight from Chicago to Portland, so it was really the only logical thing to do.

We stopped by Lake Michigan for a while.

I’ve always viewed large lakes as inferior oceans and never had much desire to set foot in one. However, the whole place was vast but tranquil in a way that my ocean never is, and I appreciated it.

It was a pleasant day, but not hot, so I left my swimming clothes in my backpack and padded barefoot over the warm dune to the beach. I let the water lap over my feet, and it was an oddly pleasant half-warm temperature. I waded in further, and further. The ground sloped so gradually that I was only up to my knees.

“I’m gonna swim in my clothes!” I told Amanda, who was beside me, holding her long skirt out of the water.

She smiled. “Go ahead.”

I had never swum in my clothes before, for the simple reason that I always wear skirts. But here in the wide deserted lake, no one would see if my skirt floated up in a tube around my waist. So I just plunged in, deeper and deeper. As it turns out, swimming in a skirt is easier than one would expect.

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Photo Credit: Amanda Gingerich

Later, I found a dry and mostly-clean outfit in my backpack, and rolled up my wet sandy clothes in a plastic bag so they wouldn’t dampen my other things. We stopped for some deep dish pizza, and then she dropped me off at the airport and we said our goodbyes. I flew home with sand still between my toes.

And then college started, my very last year, and then I’ll have to decide what I want to do with my life.

It was a great summer, overall. Nearly perfect. I didn’t fall in love, but one can’t have everything you know.

Read Part 4

Reflections on 2016 (Part 2 of 4)

Read Part 1

Spring 2016 was much more eventful than Winter 2016 was, in both good and tragic ways.

On the tragic side of things, my great-uncle James and great-aunt Orpha, who lived just down the road from me, got in a terrible car accident in early spring. James was killed right away. Orpha held on a little longer, but eventually she too passed on. We held a joint funeral for them in early April.

Their little brick farmhouse stood empty. It’s a charming place, built by my great-grandfather. My Dad’s cousin inherited it but wanted to do a number of repairs and alterations before moving in, so my friend Ashlie and I moved in for a while. It was somewhat odd, moving into a home that had been vacated so suddenly, with perishable food still in the fridge. I brewed my tea in a “World’s Greatest Grandmother!” mug.

The Christian Gang

I asked my history teacher if I could copy someone’s notes, because I’d  missed the first class and all, and he said, “sure, Tim can help you. Tim, this is Emily. Emily, Tim.”

I could tell by Tim’s handshake that he was a homeschooler. From a Christian homeschooling family. I don’t know how I could tell from a handshake, but I could.

One day I was walking to class with my textbooks in one hand and my tea in another. I had no free hand to open the door, but that was okay because the Korean-looking chap in front of me opened the door for me. “Hi, are you in my History of the Roman Empire class?” he wanted to know.

“Yes,” I said.

“I’m JB. Nice to meet you.”

“I’m Emily, it’s nice to meet you too!”

I ran into him a few times after that, and he invited me to a few Catholic events on campus. He sat at the front of the class with Tim and this other guy named Sam. Sam remembered me from a geology class two terms prior, even though I didn’t remember him. Since I knew them better than I knew the Dutch basketball player I usually sat by, I moved up to the front of the room.

Sam and Tim came in discussing theology one day. I don’t remember the exact topic but when I asked them about it Tim said, “are you a Christian?”

“Yes,” I said.

“What kind?”

“Mennonite.”

“That’s legit,” said Sam.

I called them the “Christian gang” in my mind, because they were all Christians, and they all sat together, and they took all of the Christian history teacher’s classes.

One day we were talking about church history. Tim, the Protestant, jokingly asked JB, the Catholic, not to call him anathema.

“Well both of your ancestors persecuted my ancestors,” I decided to remind them.

Funny, isn’t it? Who would have thought, back when we were burning each other at the stake, that in 500 years we would be sitting together in class, the “Christian gang” at a secular college, joking about our differences as though they barely mattered at all.

The Wedding

My cousin Derek got married over Memorial Day weekend. There aren’t many weddings on my Mom’s side of the family so it was a momentous occasion, and besides that, my whole immediate family was going to be together for the first time in a year and a half.

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Photo credit: Amy Smucker

The wedding was in Indianapolis, over the same weekend as the Indy 500, so needless to say transportation and hotel accommodations were scanty and expensive. We flew into Chicago, and then drove our rental car to this super sketch hotel in Indianapolis. Cheap smelly rooms opened onto sagging concrete balconies that looked like they were going to fall of the side of the building.

“Can you go down and get some ice?” mom asked me.

“Um, okay, if someone goes with me,” I said, grabbing a water bottle to use as a weapon.

“I’ll go,” said Jenny, clutching an uncapped pen.

We walked to the lobby. The clerk watched us through a pane of bulletproof glass as we fiddled with the broken ice machine.

“I know what this place reminds me of,” I whispered to Jenny later, when we were back in our room, sans ice, but alive. “In movies, escaped prisoners always hang out in hotels like this.”

The wedding, on the other hand, was beautiful. Here are a few snaps I stole from my sister Amy:

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Derek and Grace cut the cake.

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Siblings and cousins blowing bubbles.

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Mom with her sisters and one of her brothers.

The downside to the wedding was that it took place just before dead week, and I kept having to dash off for a while and work on my term papers.

The Stressful End

I had four term papers to write: an easy one, a stupid one, a hard one, and one in which I had absolutely no clue what I was doing.

Everything seemed to come tumbling down around my ears those last few weeks. The wedding, the term papers, a bout of strep throat.

My Rhetoric teacher came in one day with the outlines we’d written for our term papers, the papers in which I had no clue what I was doing, and said, “I was shocked by how terrible these outlines were. Instead of having class today, I’m going to my office. You should all come see me.”

I looked at my outline. I’d gotten a C.

She left class, and we all got up, en masse, and followed her to her office. The first student went in to talk with her and the rest of us waited outside and chatted about our favorite episodes of The Office.

I think I was third in line. I told her I was confused. She told me that I was supposed to come to her office and get help from her. Her favorite thing to do was help students with research papers, she said.

“But I’m scared to ask you questions, because you always mock the people who ask you questions in class,” I told her.

“I only mock those who can take it,” she replied.

I left that meeting even less excited about asking her for help.

Needless to say, the stress of it all caught up with me, and when term ended mid-June my immune system crashed and I got really sick. Lie-in-bed-and-wish-I-were-dying sick. But it was okay because term was over and I had the rest of the month to recuperate.

(In fact, remarkably enough, I didn’t get sick again for another six months.)

The Late Days of June

I spent those last days of June, between college ending and harvest beginning, hanging out with my family and going on adventures.

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Camping

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Boating in Clear Lake

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Exploring Portland

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On the river

It was lovely.

Read Part 3

Read Part 4

Reflections on 2016 (Part 1 of 4)

I’m going to re-cap my year, because I’ve been soooooo lazy about blogging.

January: The Sleepy Month

At first I thought it was jet lag, because I’d just returned from a trip to Thailand with my brother Ben. I slept during the nights and took three or four naps during the days. I didn’t go to a New Year’s Eve party because I was sleeping. The remainder of my vacation passed in a blur.

“Is jet lag supposed to last for two weeks?” I finally asked myself.

Winter term started. I had an Ethics of Rhetoric class pretty late, like, 5 pm or so, and I walked to it, all cold and sleepy, and arrived early. A bearded hippie-looking man was waiting by the door. I assumed he was taking the class too, and struck up a conversation.

More people arrived, including a number of folks I knew from previous classes. There aren’t a whole lot of us COMM majors. Then the previous class ended and we all walked in and the hippie man, it turned out, was our teacher.

He was hilarious. Very sarcastic. I sat with my friends. The whole class had a riveting discussion about ethics and it would have been quite interesting if I wasn’t so sleepy.

“I can’t live like this,” I thought. So I went online and dropped half my classes. Ethics of Rhetoric was an interesting class but the late hour was too much, and it had to go.

I was left with two classes, and during the two-hour break between them I’d go into the basement of the Memorial Union, eat my lunch, and take a nap. One Tuesday day I saw a group of students praying together in a circle of couches near me.

“Interesting,” I thought.

They finished up and left, except for one guy who stayed and played with his phone. I went over and talked to him. His name was Caleb, and he was with Cru, a Christian campus organization. They were meeting every day for 30 days to pray for campus.

“Cool,” I said. “Can I come too, on Thursday?”

“Sure,” he said. “Um, are you religious?”

That made me giggle inside. “Yes, I’m a Christian,” I said.

On Thursday I met up with Caleb and a couple other Cru people. We chatted a bit about some retreat they were all going to the next day, and then prayed together.

Later that day I got a text from Caleb. “Hey, sorry, I should have invited you along to the retreat! Do you want to come?”

“How much would it cost?” I asked.

“For you it would be free.”

So of course I went. I was tired of tired, sick, lonely days, and wanted something interesting in my life. And it was fun, but I felt very, very old among the 18 and 19-year-olds and their boundless energy and flirtation and giggles and excitement.

However, a few Cru staff from the University of Washington came along, and one girl, Micaela, was a total kindred spirit. I hung out with her for most of the weekend.

That was pretty much the only interesting thing I did in January.

February: Slow Improvement

The doctor thought I might have mono, but the tests came back negative. So I just kinda survived through February, gradually getting healthier and healthier, while also acquiring a sty in my eye that got worse and worse.

Let’s just say that Winter 2016 was not my finest hour.

Notice how my right eye is conveniently excluded from this picture

March: Rejuvenation, Adventures, and Class Confusion

By March I pretty much felt okay, so I guess my sleepiness and exhaustion was just a bug I picked up in Thailand. Huh.

Well, there’s nothing like a lack of health to remind me to enjoy health while it lasts. So in March I did ALL the adventures.

Since I only had two classes Winter term, and since one of them had a Monday final and one of them had a take-home final, I pretty much had two weeks of Spring Break. So for the first week I went to the Redwoods with a group of girls, and for the second week I went camping in Southern Oregon with my brother Ben.

Then it was back to the daily grind.

 

Getting classes for spring term was a complete mess. I had to beg teachers to let me into classes I needed, and even then I ended up in some pretty dubious ones.

Now, let me just say that up until that point I had never in my LIFE dropped a class for moral or religious reasons. I have assumed from the beginning of my college career that I might not agree with everything being taught, but it would be useful to understand what the general academic consensus was on that issue.

That March, however, I found myself in a very unfortunate class. Logic was tossed out the window in favor of political correctness. Two fundamentally opposing ideas were presented as both true. No one even acknowledged that they were opposing ideas, because doing so would delegitimize one or more popular social justice movements.

It drove me absolutely batty. I quietly dropped the class.

 

The next day I went to my film class. I slipped into the room, with its dark walls and theater-style seats, and sat down in the back.

“Oh, hi Emily,” said the person next to me.

It was the hippie teacher.

“Oh, hi,” I said.

“So, you just dropped out of my class last term. I hope I didn’t scare you off.”

“No, I was just really sick and had to drop half my classes.”

“Oh, I hope you’re feeling better now.”

“I am, thank you.”

It was time for class to start, so he walked to the front of the classroom and started teaching. “How many of you like zombies?” he asked.

Most people raised their hands. I didn’t.

“Eww, zombies? I hate zombies,” I said to the girl on the other side of me, who I kind-of knew. I think her name was Mindy.

“Um, I think this whole class is going to be about zombies,” she said.

“Wait, what?”

“Yeah.”

“In this class,” the hippie teacher was saying, “we will be exploring an array of zombie films spanning the last few decades.”

Nope. That’s it. I can stomach a lot of things for the sake of academics, but I cannot stomach anything horror related. I get nightmares, people. Insomnia first, then nightmares. Not worth it. So I left that class too.

“Huh, I’m gonna be, like, the girl that always leaves his classes,” I thought.

I signed up for a History of the Roman Empire class since I had a smidgen of elective credit left, and thankfully I got on the waitlist for a COMM class about social movements. Unfortunately, the teacher of the social movements class turned out to be the type that makes fun of her students in class. This made me scared to speak up. I told her this, once, and she said I was not to worry. She only made fun of those who could take it. So there was that.

However, I had a very interesting experience with my history teacher. After class, when I went up to tell him that I’d missed the first class and did I need any handouts, he looked at me and said, “are you from Harrisburg?”

“Oh wow, yeah,” I said. “How did you know?”

“I know some of the Mennonites there.”

I ran into him later and he told me that his wife had been Mennonite. Somehow I mentioned the history of persecution that Mennonites have faced. He replied by saying something in Christianese, I wish I could remember the exact phrase, something like “that’s the burden of the gospel.” So from that I knew that he was a believer also, because he spoke my native tongue.

That class was like a breath of fresh air for a Christian kid like me. I mean, the teacher taught history not religion, so it wasn’t a “Christian” class. But there was definitely an underlying Christian worldview which was kind fun, after wading through worldviews unlike my own for so long.

That was how March ended, with renewed health and the beautiful beginnings of a spring term.

My eye was still oozing and gross, though.

Stay tuned for the rest of the recaps, coming soon to a blog near you!

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Read Part 4

Trapped in the World’s 2nd Largest Library

I like to meander through beautiful places alone.

I didn’t mind that my brother Matt had to work while I was visiting him in Washington DC, because Washington DC has many beautiful and free things to see. I set off on a muggy morning and meandered up the shady side of the street to the National Mall, past a huge United Mine Workers rally, through the lovely botanic gardens, and then finally up Capitol Hill to the Library of Congress.

“How are you doing?” asked a friendly security guard as I struggled up the hill, perspiration running down the back of my shirt.

“It’s…so…hot…” I panted.

“Don’t worry, you’re almost there!”

Finally, sweaty and disoriented, I reached the Library of Congress. Through the door, around the corner, and down a long hallway I went, not paying much attention, just following the crowd. I stopped then, enthralled at the sheer beauty of this hallway. It was covered in art. Ceiling, floor, walls, everything.

Suddenly I noticed that everyone around me was dressed very nicely. Also, they were all wearing official-looking name tags. I got the distinct feeling that I had wandered down the wrong hallway and was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be.

I left the hallway the way I’d entered, and there at the entrance was a sign I’d missed before in my heat-induced disoriented state. It advertised an international literary event. All the people filing past looked very important. Were they famous authors? I looked at their faces but didn’t recognzie anybody. I guess I should spend more time staring at book jacket photos.

I gave up and went to look at the Gutenberg Bible for a while.

Still, the literary event kept nagging at me. If there was any way the general public could attend, or any way I could sneak in, I would never forgive myself if I didn’t try. So I walked down the enchanting hallway again, toward the open doors at the end that led to some sort of large meeting room. My t-shirt was soaked with sweat and I had a denim backpack instead of a calfskin purse, but I tried to look like I belonged as I sauntered past the table where name tags were being handed out.

“Excuse me, did you get your name tag yet?” One of the name tag table attendants asked me.

I could have come up with an excuse. “I just need to pop in and tell Katrina something, is that okay?” However, being an honest person, I said, “Do I need one?”

“I’m sorry, this is an invitation-only event,” she told me.

Oh well. At least now I knew. I exited the hallway once more.

Most of the actual books in the library cannot be accessed by the general public, but I began meandering around admiring the artwork and the book-themed exhibits. Aimlessly, enchanted, because the rest of the library was just as beautiful as that hallway. I felt a weird ache, and suddenly I wanted to cry. It was just that beautiful.

I’ve never in my life seen something so beautiful it made me want to cry. I’ve read about it in books, but never experienced it. (My camera was acting weird and wouldn’t let me take very many pictures, but you can get the general gist by doing a google image search for Library of Congress art or Library of Congress architecture.)

Finally I decided that if I wanted to see everything I would have to start in the basement and work my way up.

The basement was full of long beautiful hallways lined with locked doors. The doors had letters and numbers on them and I assumed that’s where the books were kept, sorted out according to some vast and complicated Library of Congress sorting system. The only part of the library that resembled a city library was the children and young adult section, where the books were on shelves and you could pull them out and read them.

I was exhausted, so I plopped down on a beanbag chair and read for a while. The perks of going places alone.

I suppose the Library of Congress gets a copy of every book published, even the advanced readers copies, because there was a whole table full of YA books that aren’t coming out until 2017. You couldn’t check them out, but you could read them.

The main floor had some ancient Bibles on display which I’d already looked at, as well as a map exhibit that didn’t look too interesting, so I went back to the second floor, where I was able to go out on a small balcony and look over the main reading room. This room is for people who are doing actual research projects, and when I saw it I decided that someday I’m going to come back with a research project, and I am going to sit in that beautiful room and look through stacks and stacks of books.

I was going to look at an exhibit about books that have shaped America, but first I went to look at Thomas Jefferson’s library in an adjoining room. Thomas Jefferson once had the largest library in America, but when the original Library of Congress burned down in the war of 1812 he donated his personal library as a replacement. 2/3ds of his books burned down in a subsequent fire, but his remaining books, as well as exact copies of the missing books, are on display.

As I was meandering around, thinking about how much this library was like Mr Norrell’s from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, A library employee walked in. “This exhibit will be closing in four minutes,” she said.

Were all the exhibits closing or just the Jefferson Library? She didn’t say, but I quickly left to explore the books that have shaped America. Soon I was absorbed in reading summaries of The Cat in the Hat, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and The Fountainhead, writing down the books that I wanted to read. I meandered from contemporary books all the way back to Common Sense, and then I gave a satisfied sigh and turned around and saw that every single exit was closed.

Was I locked in? I tried the handles.

Yep.

Was there another exit? I walked to the back of the room, where another row of doors led to the Jefferson Library. They were all locked too.

Hmm.

I imagined myself going all From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler and spending the night on the floor of the exhibit. Then I tried to think of the most non-dramatic way of exiting. Banging on the door? Calling 911? Waving out the window and hoping someone below saw me?

“I wonder if I can just unlock the door,” mused my practical side.

I examined the door again. There was a brass knob at eye level, so I twisted it. Click!

I tried the handle again. It opened.

A janitor was mopping the floor outside. I wondered if this was a common sight to him, people exiting exhibits that were supposed to be already closed. Maybe he was the one who had to answer the desperate knocks of those who tried banging on the door before they tried twisting the knob.

Was it okay that the exhibit was now unlocked? Oh well. I supposed the janitor could tell the appropriate people if it was a problem.

I’d spent so much time in the library that the day was now growing cool. I walked back to Matt’s place on the opposite side of the street, catching the shade of the setting sun.

Thus ended my adventure in the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen.