With my book finished, I suddenly have time to make YouTube videos again. I’ve dabbled in various types of videos, but my favorite thing to do is make/sew stuff, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on in the near future.
Sometimes you just need to get away from it all. Also, sometimes your mom is craving some home-alone time. These are the reasons why my sisters and I spent most of the week at a little Airbnb by the ocean.
Amy had to work until Thursday, but Jenny and I can take our work with us, so the two of us left on Tuesday. It was a great day. First, because were going to the coast (of course), but also because that morning, Jenny got accepted into one of the grad school programs she’d applied to. Fully funded and with a generous stipend. We danced around, yelling with joy.
We arrived at our Airbnb, put all our groceries away, and explored the place. As soon as I walked into the kitchen I got déjà vu. “Hey Jenny,” I said. “What does this kitchen floor remind you of?”
“I don’t know,” said Jenny. “It looks a little familiar but I don’t know why.”
“It’s the same flooring that’s in the playhouse!” I said. I don’t think Jenny was quite as moved by this as I was. I distinctly remember the day that Dad, Amy and I went to pick out playhouse flooring, but Jenny wasn’t even born yet back then.
Jenny built a makeshift desk in her bedroom out of a nightstand and an end table. I decided that I’d work at the little desk in the living room.
It was a bit wobbly. A decorative glass ball rolled off and fell to the floor with a crash. Oops! It didn’t break, though, thankfully. I guess those glass balls they sell in all the coastal tourist shops are a lot hardier than they look. But just to be safe, I fenced them in with coasters so they wouldn’t roll off again.
We made pasta and fish for supper, and ate it on the couch while watching television. “I feel exactly like those worldly people the preachers used to preach against,” I said. “Remember how they’d say that the world was going down the tubes because no one sat down for family dinners anymore? They’d just eat in front of the TV?”
After our show was over we did the dishes, marveling at how easy it was to clean up when it was just the two of us in the house. But that is when we ran into the Problem of the Onion.
That is, we had a partially cut-up onion, and nothing to put it in.
I feel like we have this problem every time we go to an Airbnb. We bring food, we cook, and then we look at our leftovers and half-used onions and think, “what do I put this in?” Because we rarely think ahead to bring Tupperware containers or Ziploc bags.
Jenny searched the cupboards for saran wrap, and found nothing. “Here, we can put it in this,” I said, picking up a crock from the counter. It was sort-of like a cookie jar.
“But isn’t it kind-of gross and dusty?” Jenny asked dubiously, while I examined it to make sure there was nothing inside it already.
“Not anymore,” I said, plunging it into my dish water.
So Jenny had no choice but to put the onion in the crock, even though she thought it was a very weird place to put an onion.
Wednesday it poured rain, but we still visited the ocean since it was just across the street. There was kind-of a maze of driftwood and soggy places you had to cross before you made it to the beach. I took my camera along and snagged a shot of Jenny leaping from one log to another.
Mostly, it was a relaxing week. Of course we had to work or (in Jenny’s case) do online school, but when we weren’t doing that we read books, walked on the beach, or watched Netflix.
Here’s a kind-of funny story: We don’t have Netflix at home, because we already have Amazon Prime and we’re too cheap to pay for all the streaming services. But in vacation rentals, the TV always seems to be signed into some random person’s Netflix account. Presumably, some previous Airbnb guest who signed in and forgot to sign out again when they left.
So, there are certain shows that we only watch when we’re on vacation. (How very Beachy Amish of us, hahaha)
My cousin Dolly told me that the best Asian drama she’d seen was one called Accidentally In Love, on Netflix. So last summer when us girls took a coast trip after Matt’s wedding, we watched a few episodes. Then, when our family took our Christmas trip to the coast, we watched a few more episodes. And finally, on this girl’s trip, we watched even more episodes. (The show, I should note, is nothing earth-shattering, just charming and silly.)
Amy came on Thursday. “Hey Emily,” she said. “Did you notice anything about the kitchen floor?”
Then we reminisced about buying floor tile for the playhouse. Funny that this was such a distinct memory for both of us. We were really young and poor then, but Dad built us a playhouse from old pallets and we got to go to Home Depot or Jerry’s or one of those places and pick out flooring. It was just those cheap linoleum tiles that they use in college classrooms and stuff. But picking them out for our own little playhouse was exciting.
Friday I decided to write a blog post about the trip, and I tried to remember if anything funny had happened so far. Jenny was in class, so I asked Amy.
“Hmm, well, Jenny fell off a log yesterday.”
“She did?” I was in a zoom call at the time, so I hadn’t gone down to the beach with them.
“Also, Jenny said something really funny yesterday, but I don’t remember what it was.”
“What did you say that was funny, Jenny?” I asked, later, when she was out of class.
“I said, ‘This house is not well-lit, but it sure does have a lot of hooks,'” said Jenny.
She was right. There was an extraordinary amount of hooks in the house. My room had two rows of hooks for hanging clothes on, and Jenny and Amy’s room also had two rows of hooks, plus another hook by the door. Downstairs there were big hooks by the front door for coats and hats, and little hooks for keys. The kitchen had hooks for pots and pans, only there were three times as many hooks as pans. And another set of little hooks for potholders. And hooks by the back door.
Oh well. It just made the place charming and quirky I guess. And it is nice to have places to hang all your things.
The only other funny incident Jenny could remember was that one day, as we’d walked on the beach, we’d found a bouquet of abandoned carnations. Maybe, we decided, someone had proposed, gotten rejected, and then, in frustration, tossed the bouquet aside. Do people have flowers when they propose? We picked a few of them out of the sand, went home, and put them in a vase.
Saturday we did some exploring, and Amy took pictures which I then stole for this blog post.
I just realized that I don’t have a single picture with Amy in it. Probably because she was the one behind the camera in these pictures. I promise she was there too, haha.
Sunday was our last day, and when we went to the beach, the surf was higher than I’d ever seen it. The places between the log maze were all completely flooded, and the logs looked very slippery. But even if we had made it over, there wasn’t really any beach because the waves kept flooding over it.
We went to North Jetty Beach then, intending to eat our lunch while watching the waves. But it was weirdly stressful. The surf was high and full of logs that were drifting and bobbing about in the water. A huge sneaker wave came in, and we scrambled up a sand dune while a couple on the jetty had to beat a hasty retreat.
But what was really stressful was watching other people, who presumably hadn’t seen the previous sneaker wave, start walking way out onto the jetty. Yeah, no thanks–I came to watch the ocean, not watch people get swept into the ocean. We packed up our stuff and left.
(And yes, before I wrote this post I googled to make sure no one had actually gotten swept into the ocean that day. It seems that no one did. Presumably, everyone kept a close enough eye on the ocean to run away from any sneaker waves, but still. Stressful much?)
That, then, was a strange end to our trip to the coast. We drove home and took long naps. I suppose we’ll do it all again someday, hopefully on a day when the ocean is just a little bit tamer. After all, at some point I’d like to find out what happens next to the characters in Accidentally in Love.
Last Sunday I found out that Annette from the gas station had passed away. I just keep thinking and thinking about her, and about how strangers can make meaningful impacts on your life.
In early January 2019, I was at a random gas station in rural Florida when I locked my keys and my cell phone in my car. It was dark. I was hours away from anyone I knew. I started crying.
“Are you okay?” said a kind stranger named Annette.
You can read the full story on my blog here, or in my book, but essentially, Annette took the situation in hand. By hook or by crook, she was going to help me get back into my car. Even if it meant asking the stranger at the other end of the gas station if he’d lend us his tools. Even if it meant borrowing duct tape from the lady who worked behind the cash register.
Before long, a small group of people, all strangers to each other, were working together to solve the problem of How To Break Into Emily’s Car. And in the end, when we succeeded, we cheered like it was New Year’s Day or a hometown football victory.
Annette gave me her phone number. “If you ever need anything, you can call me,” she said. We texted a little bit…not much…but we did become friends on Facebook. I always thought that if I happened to be driving through her area again maybe we’d grab coffee or something. And when my book became available for pre-order, she promoted it on Facebook.
But last Sunday I got a Facebook message from Annette’s mom. “Have you heard about her death?” she asked.
Annette was murdered by a man she barely knew. She was so young, only 24, and had two small children. Cruel beyond words. It makes me think that the world is a terrible place, except that when I was alone and vulnerable it was a safe, kind place, because of Annette. And that seems so unfair.
My interaction with Annette was very brief, but I know two things about her: she was kind, and she knew how to solve problems. And those are two traits that I deeply admire.
Rest in peace, Annette, and thank you for making the world a kinder place.
Last Thursday I did three giveaways: One here on my blog, one on Facebook, and one on Instagram. Today, I randomly selected the winners!
First up we have our Blog giveaway where I asked for your favorite Christmas tradition. Our winner, Laura, wrote, “My birthday is near Christmas and I think it’s neat how everyone feels so celebratory around my birthday! 🙂” Congrats, Laura!
Next, our Facebook Winner. On Facebook I asked entrants to name their least favorite Christmas song, and our winner, Nikki, wrote “I really dislike All I Want For Christmas Is You!!”
Finally, on Instagram, Lyn was our winner. Lyn wrote, “I entered because, well, it’s not often my friend’s imaginary and ill-fated romance for me enters into a book.”
Yes, Lyn was in my book, at the end of chapter 7. Congrats Lyn! You may not have won the heart of the architect, but you won a copy of my book!
(By the way, a big thanks to all 3 of you for responding to my email/DMs so promptly! I’ll have your books in the mail tomorrow.)
Now, on to my random thoughts.
I found my Instagram comments so fascinating. I asked people to write one thing they hoped to do in 2021 (although any sort of comment counted as an entry), and I’d say 90% of the responses were “travel.”
Of course, that would be my response too. But it made me think: do most humans have an inborn desire to travel?
If so, how can that be so? Haven’t most humans, for most of human history, not really traveled much?
Why do we travel so much? Because it’s cheap and easy? Because we see so many amazing places on Instagram? Because the ease of travel mean that our loved ones move to far-flung corners of the earth?
Or do we just want to travel because of all the Covid-related travel bans? Do we just want what we can’t have?
I was also fascinated by how many people thanked me for not requiring them to tag friends in order to enter the giveaway. I know that the whole “tag all your friends, follow this whole list of people” strategy probably nets an Instagram page an impressive amount of new followers, especially if they’re giving away really expensive, awesome stuff. But it’s such an annoying system, and it’s strange to me that it’s just the Accepted Way Instagram Giveaways Are Done.
Another random thought: I enjoyed reading people’s least favorite Christmas songs, but compared to the other two questions I asked, I didn’t get nearly as many interesting answers. Here’s my theory: a positive will always be more interesting than a negative. Liking something is inherently more interesting than not liking something.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree?
Maybe it’s just a personal preference, but I’ve noticed this about people in general. The guy who was obsessed with trees, and could name every species in his home state, was much more interesting than the guy who never watched Star Wars. And yet people often mention things they don’t like, or movies they have never seen, to try to prove that they’re interesting.
(This is not to say that everyone who entered the Facebook giveway was boring, LOL. I mean, I was the one who asked for your least favorite Christmas song. It just made me think about that concept in general.)
The one exception, I think, is coffee. No one cares that you like coffee. (But then again, no one cares if you dislike it either.)
(Although to be fair, no one probably cares that I like tea either, and yet I put it in the title of my book. Haha. I’d better stop now.)
Those are my random thoughts of the day. Thank you all so much for participating! I loved reading through your comments.
On Tuesday, November 17, I woke up feeling grumpy. All these little things were going wrong in my life. My books still had not arrived, even though I’d told everyone that November 16 was my official release date. I’d been heavily exposed to Covid, and still didn’t have my test results back, so I was wearing a mask whenever I wasn’t in my bedroom. That got old really fast. And finally, Oregon was going into another lockdown. It made sense, with Thanksgiving coming up, but it also made life complicated.
I guess today is technically our Thanksgiving, I thought to myself. We were celebrating early, both because of the impending lockdown and because Steven had to work Thanksgiving day.
Then the verse “give thanks in all circumstances” popped into my head, and I felt a wave of guilt. I’d been grumpy and grouchy for days, not feeling very thankful at all.
Today I’ll choose to be thankful in all circumstances, I thought. And then, it turned out just like a Sunday School story. Once I decided to be thankful, everything started going right for once.
First, I got the news that I was Covid-free. Yay!
Then, I got the news that my books had arrived! I pulled on some clothes, and mom and I drove down to the warehouse in our terrible minivan. They had just been unloaded, all those boxes and boxes of books, sitting on a pallet and shrink-wrapped together.
Seeing my books for the first time was such an amazing feeling. I’d worked so hard for this. And here it was. A book. Tangible evidence that I’d created something, in all those hours I spent at my computer.
Then I went home and started packing up orders. I’d allowed people to pre-order the book, because I thought that would be more efficient. And it would have been if my books had arrived, say, even four or five days before my release date, as I thought they would. But since they arrived after the release date, I had a bit of a scramble, getting them all out.
I finally had to take a break so that I could help make Thanksgiving dinner.
Wednesday was pretty magical. I went to the post office and mailed about 1/3 of the pre-orders, as well as several full boxes to bookstores and distributers. “You have so many packages. You must own a small business,” said a woman in line behind me.
I explained that I’d published a book, and she, as well as the other gentleman in line behind me, were so excited for me. They told me all about the Mennonites they knew. And she ended up, several weeks later, buying two of my books and writing me a really sweet letter.
Now, 2020 has been a really hard year for me. I know this isn’t remotely unique in these times, but between Covid stuff, Dad’s accident, and other tragic events in the community, I just feel so fragile and worn down this fall. I clung to my book as the one good thing that was going to come out of 2020. And it has been really good and really happy. Still, it has also been a bit more than I could handle sometimes. And by Thursday, I’d overworked myself so thoroughly that I got sick.
This added a whole new layer of complication, because it was only 11 days since my Covid exposure. I didn’t think it was Covid, and yet I felt like I should quarantine just in case, so I had to try to trade favors with my family members to get them to take my books to the post office for me. And then Mom went to the warehouse again to fetch more books, and the terrible van died. It really was a dramatic day.
Still, with the help of my family, I managed to get caught up on orders by Saturday. I never got re-tested for Covid. I guess the testing system was overloaded that Friday, because I couldn’t get through to urgent care. But it really didn’t seem like Covid, and getting Covid 11 days after exposure is pretty rare. Besides, I’d just gotten a negative test. I concluded that I’d gotten sick by overworking myself, because that’s fairly typical for how my body works, unfortunately.
In the days since then, I’ve mostly felt grateful and overwhelmed. Somehow with website stuff, sending out orders, trying to figure out international shipping, giving up on international shipping and deciding that I need to figure out how to make a Kindle book instead, etc etc etc, I’ve felt like I just can’t keep up with the marketing things I intended to do. I’ve hardly done blog posts and Instagram posts. I haven’t done any giveaways yet. I haven’t done promotional livestreams or blog tours or anything like that.
However–and I’m so deeply grateful for this–so many people have stepped up and done all these little promotional things for me. Posting about my book on their Instagram stories and Facebook, so all I have to do is click “share” and I’ve done a little promotion right there. Chris Miller made me a book trailer. But mostly, people have been buying the book, and that means a lot. I mean, I know it’s pandemic times and a lot of people can’t afford to buy books right now and that’s totally understandable and fine.
But a lot of people have bought my book, and the idea that people care about my words enough to purchase them…well, wow. It’s just incredible, really.
So, thank you.
P.S. I called my book the One Good Thing of 2020, but that was kind-of a brain fart because, hello. Matt and Phoebe’s wedding. That was also a Good Thing of 2020. So I guess there were two good things, haha.
With all the ill health, tragedies, and general unpleasantness of 2020, I didn’t have the energy to make the Big Splash with my book release that I’d hoped to make. There was no launch party, not even a virtual one. Currently there are no book signings planned. When I finally had a release date and a pre-order link, all I did to launch it was post a picture to my Instagram and a picture to my Facebook.
But I was so amazed and blessed by all the ways people stepped up and supported me; they shared pre-order links, and commented their congrats, and seemed happy and willing to help promote my new book.
That very day I got a text from my friend Chris Miller, offering to make me a book trailer. (Chris is married to my cousin/BFF Stephy, and is a very creative person. We’ve collaborated on projects before, most notably the Christmas play last year.)
Chris came over the next morning and we sat on the porch and discussed themes and camera angles. He wanted to go for a golden hour autumn look, so the plan was to shoot an interview the next day, and then get together on Saturday to film some b-roll footage.
Unfortunately the next day was foggy. Not the golden sunlight look we were going for. That’s fine, we’ll just cram it all into the Saturday photo shoot. That will work, right?
Saturday morning found me frantically washing the bird poop off my car and the mud off my red rubber boots, and cramming all my stray car junk (including a beard and cane from that previously mentioned Christmas play) into some brightly-colored suitcases I found in the attic. Chris showed up around 11 am with everything…camera, microphones, lighting, a script-ish thing (shot list? I forget the official name), etc. He had this whole vision for the video. It was so much fun.
First there were shots of me walking out the door with my luggage, which was harder than you’d think because they were heavy with all the junk from my car. Also, I was trying to juggle a suitcase, a duffle bag, a mug of tea, and my red rubber boots. I was supposed to heave an excited sigh at the top of the steps, which sounds easy enough, but just try it once. Try heaving an exciting sigh that doesn’t sound silly. Are you trying it right now? It sounds silly, doesn’t it?
Yeah. We decided I should take a sip of tea instead.
Then there were shots of me packing up my car, which was when I noticed that I’d done a pretty bad job of washing it. Oops. But Chris said no one would notice, and truly, when I watched the video, I didn’t.
After that it was the drone shots, first of me driving down our road, and then of me crossing the Harrisburg bridge.
By this time it was long past lunch, and when we stopped to pick Stephy up I begged her for some snacks. Ha. She obligingly fixed me some sausage and crackers, and we were off, this time with Stephy in tow to hold the clipboard and cross off the shots as we did them. We were headed to Finley Wildlife Refuge to get some hiking shots.
Well, before that there was this treacherous GoPro shot. It was suctioned to the outside of my driver’s-side window, and Chris wanted me to roll down my window while driving. This was all well and good except I wasn’t supposed to look at the camera. I was terrified of rolling it down too far, so that the GoPro would become un-suctioned, snap off my window, and go bouncing and rolling down the road.
But everything was fine, and the GoPro stayed firmly in place, even though I did roll it down a little too far once.
At Finley, a few casual wildlife-refuge-goers watched us with increasing interest. After we’d filmed for a bit, they approached us. “Can we ask what you’re doing?”
“I wrote a book called The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea, about a trip I took around the USA living in a different Mennonite community every month,” I said. “It’s coming out on November 16, and Chris here is filming a book trailer for me.”
The older of the two pulled out his phone. “What was the name of it again?” he asked.
I told him, and he tapped it in. Either that or he was just pretending to, so as not to be awkward. I don’t really know. In either case, he then asked, “will it be on Kindle? I kind-of like just reading books on my phone.”
I told him that for now it’s not, but in the future, who knows? I guess I’ll ask you readers…do you have interest in a Kindle version of my book?
Anyway, after that it was a lot of hiking shots. These were mostly fairly straightforward, although there was one where he balanced precariously on a sign, held the camera out over the path, and filmed me as I walked underneath it.
Through all of this, Stephy was there with the clip board. “Does this remind you of all the times I used to coerce you into making weird little films with me?” I asked her.
She laughed. “Kinda, yeah.”
It was getting late, and we still needed to film the interview. “What do you think?” Chris asked. “Should we film here in the woods, or on your front porch? Which would fit the vibe of your book better?”
“I don’t know,” I said. Then, for some reason I started describing the photoshoot Janane had taken for my book cover and promotional photos. She’d done some photos of me in nature, some with my car, some in the city, and some in a coffee shop. “That’s it!” said Chris. “We need a coffee shop. Should we drive into Junction City and film at Starbucks?”
“I feel like we don’t have the time,” I said. “What if we stopped somewhere in Monroe?” Monroe was the next town we’d pass through on our way home.
“Yes, let’s do that,” said Chris, making a snappy decision. We went to our cars and drove out of there, me following Chris, Stephy in Chris’ passenger seat googling for coffee shops in Monroe.
I guess there are no coffee shops in Monroe, though, because all we really found was the library.
It would have given a similar vibe, I think. After all, I did just as much writing in libraries on this trip as I did in coffee shops. Maybe more. But as Chris set up his multiple cameras, fancy lights, and three types of microphones, the sun slowly slid behind the Coast Range. I shivered in the cold October twilight.
The interview went fairly well. I enjoy talking to a camera, and Chris had emailed me, several days previously, with the questions that he wanted me to answer. The only problem was that Chris kept asking me new questions, or questions worded slightly differently.
“So, why should people read your book?”
“Um…because…I think they’ll like it? This wasn’t on your list of questions!”
“No, you asked…” I flipped through my notebook. “You asked what I hoped people would get from this book.”
“Oh, well what do you hope people will get from this book?”
“I hope reading this book will inspire people to try new things, to reach out to strangers, to reach out to their family, and overall, to pursue what really matters in life,” I said. But see, I couldn’t have thought of those things on the fly. Goodness.
By the time we wrapped up it was really quite dark. “If the lack of lighting becomes an issue with this footage, would you have time to re-shoot next week?” Chris asked.
“Sure,” I said. Privately I also wanted more practice on what I was going to say.
We shot the interview again on Monday, at Max Porter’s in Junction City. Well, we were planning to shoot at Max Porter’s, but then a couple sat down in our shot and we moved to the outdoor seating area of the bar next door. “No one will know,” said Chris. “I’ll blur out the words on the door.”
Chris had arrived at Max Porter’s, hurried and dusty from a different video shoot at my Uncle’s pellet mill. “The lighting is just right!” he’d exclaimed, and he’d pulled out one camera and one microphone. No tripods, no extra lighting, and no cables needed. He wasn’t going to let the sun disappear before he got his shot.
This time it was such a simple, smooth process. I’d taken notes on the previous interview and just written down everything I wanted to say. So Chris didn’t ask questions at all, just turned on the camera and sat there while I rattled off my entire monologue several times.
And that was it! By Wednesday he had the first draft to me, and after I made some suggestions, he sent the second draft to me on Friday. Or was it Thursday? It was super fast. I had to watch it quickly, before I went out of service, because I spent last weekend in the Colorado mountains.
Anyway. Please, if you want a promotional video for your business, check out Chris’ company, Brantbury Studio. It was a fun, collaborative experience with great results.
And of course, if you want to pre-order my book, you can do so here.
Yesterday I got the news that my books have been printed. Soon they’ll be shipped to me, and then I’ll start packaging up and sending out the pre-orders. Yay!!!
Today, I thought I’d share the story behind the story. How did I come to write this book?
According to my Google Docs archives, I started it on March 8, 2019. At 1:01 pm EST, I opened a new document and typed:
“I’ll drive if you’ll give me this coffee,” I said.
There were about two inches left in my sister Amy’s paper cup of gas station coffee. It was cold. But I wasn’t drinking it for the coffee, I was drinking it for the caffeine.
“Okay,” said Amy.
From The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea
But in my memory, I started the book six days before that, on a cold dark evening, as I was driving north on that long road that stretches between Lancaster City and Myerstown. I was thinking about death, and life, and love. I’d spent the last four days with some of my dearest friends as they grieved the loss of their cousin Ian, and I’d seen grief so up close, so raw.
And then, a song came on the radio.“Love Alone is Worth the Fight,” by Switchfoot.
I listened, and in my mind a movie played, of all the pain and heartache I’d witnessed in the past four days. They were hurt so deeply only because they’d loved Ian so much, and yet, it was all worth it to them. They never regretted loving him so much.
Because love alone is worth the fight.
I’d been traveling for six months at this point, and the whole time I’d had a vague idea that I would probably write a book about this experience. But up until now, the trip seemed like a random assortment of haphazard events, the most interesting of which I could never write about. (Yes, I did have some romantic drama. No, I didn’t write about any of it.)
But now, I had something. A vague ghost of a theme. Something that went a little deeper than “I did this crazy thing, and then I did that thing, and then I locked my keys in my car again.”
I’m going to start this book, I decided. And six days later, I did just that. Those exact words are in my book now, only on page 5 instead of page 1. (Also, with a couple of light edits. “My sister” was deleted, and the last “said” was changed to “agreed.”)
Despite the fact that my first words made it into the final draft relatively unscathed, most of that first draft wasn’t so lucky. I began it with only a vague idea that I had something deeper to say about my trip, but I didn’t have a firm grasp on the themes.
Partly just because I wasn’t even finished with the trip yet.
It’s kind-of funny, actually. When I returned to Oregon on June 8, 2019, I thought the trip was over. It hadn’t been a calendar year, but it had been a school year. By August I was starting on my second draft.
But then at the end of August, Grandpa had a stroke, and I flew to Minnesota to help care for him in his last days.
By this point I’d found the real opening line of my book: “When Justin shoveled dirt onto his son’s grave, it rattled like thunder.” (It was actually a line from my diary, originally.)
Because that’s how my story really began: not with asking my sister for her coffee, but with me, at a funeral, on the day I’d planned to leave Oregon. My cousin Justin’s son, little Asher Kai, was stillborn a week before his due date. He passed away on September 11, 2018, and his funeral was on September 15. I left for my trip on September 16.
A year later, on September 11, 2019, my 102-year-old grandpa passed away. His funeral was on September 15, and I left Minnesota and came back to Oregon on September 16.
This, I decided, was the real end of my trip, and I added two chapters accordingly.
Still, figuring out the themes didn’t come naturally to me. For that, I have to deeply thank my friend/editor Janessa Miller. I know that there can be all sorts of issues with hiring your friends, but I so needed my editor to also be my friend. Someone I could honestly and openly talk about my feelings with.
It was she who forced me to really look deeper into my story, not just as a series of disconnected events, but as events that I had feelings about. Events that shaped me, and changed me. (I’m an enneagram 5 and feelings are hard. Not because I don’t have them, but because it feels weird to talk about them. And also, I don’t always know I’m having feelings while I’m having them. I have to think about it for a while first.)
(Example: during my whole trip, I never realized that I was lonely. I didn’t discover it until I started writing about it, and sending drafts to Janessa, and hearing her say, “but how did that make you feel?”)
By the third draft, with the help of Janessa, I’d finally ironed out the themes.
The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea is a story of adventure, exploration, identity, heritage, community, faith, and loss. Follow Emily’s story as she embarks on the road trip of a lifetime, haphazardly finding her way through community after community in an attempt to figure out where she truly belongs.
From The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea
In total, I wrote five drafts of the book, although I’m not sure if the last two “count” as drafts.
The first draft was just a brain dump of events. It was also incomplete, since I “finished” it before my trip had technically “ended.” It took me five months to write, but I took it pretty slow.
The second draft was the hardest. It took me six months, and then I sent it to Janessa for her first round of edits.
The third draft took 2 1/2 months, and then I sent it to Janessa for a second round of edits.
The fourth draft took 22 days. It was just polishing up a lot of little things. Then I sent it to the proofreader, and I also sent bits of the book to all the people I’d written about, just in case they were uncomfortable with anything I’d said about them.
The fifth draft, which was just correcting all the little things the proofreader had found and adjusting a few things people had asked me to change, took 15 days.
And then, on August 8, 2020, it was done!
That is the story behind the story of my book, The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea. Sometime soon I’d like to tell the story behind the cover. And also, I’d like to tell my self-publishing story. So there are two future blog posts you can look forward to.
It’s been a journey, but honestly, this book is one of the greatest achievements of my life. I’ve never, ever done a project like this. (It was completely different from writing my first book, which I might elaborate on in a future blog post).
Anyway, here is the back cover summary:
When Emily Smucker decided to spend a year traveling around the United States, living in a different Mennonite community every month, the world seemed exciting and limitless. She was ready to find her place in the world and begin her career as a freelance writer and editor.
Emily’s trip took many surprising twists and turns: visiting an Amish church in Ohio, swapping travel stories with homeless people in Delaware, and attending far more funerals than she expected. But through the adventure and excitement as well as loss and loneliness, Emily clung to her faith, experiencing a deep connection with her Heavenly Father.
The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea is a story of adventure, exploration, identity, heritage, community, faith, and loss. Follow Emily’s story as she embarks on the road trip of a lifetime, haphazardly finding her way through community after community in an attempt to figure out where she truly belongs.
Thank you guys for following along with me on my journey. I appreciate you endlessly.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted in a month, there are two very specific reasons:
I’ve been stressed out
I’ve been waiting to post until I could give an actual release date and pre-order link for my book.
When I last posted, I thought I’d be able to give this information within a week or so. But self-publishing is a journey, especially when you’re doing it for the first time. And one leg of the journey, which I expected to take less than a week, has now taken over a month.
So. I’m not releasing my book on September 16 after all. Maybe…October sometime?
If nothing else goes wrong, I’ll be able to make an official release date within a week or so. But it’s 2020, so WHO KNOWS WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT.
August in Oregon is a hot, dry, dead sort of month. Burn bans become even more severe than usual. Some years we have wildfires, and some years, when the wind is right, a haze of smoke drifts in from a distant fire, making the whole world look like an Instagram filter.
For some reason, I expected we’d have an Instagram filter August this year. Maybe because of how hot and dry it was. Maybe because I heard there were fires in California. Or maybe just because it’s 2020. I expected it, but we had clear, non-smoky skies instead.
But then on Monday, September 7, I looked at the sky at suppertime and said, “does it look a bit smoky out there to you?”
“Maybe a little,” said my sisters.
We cleaned the dishes, and Mom and Dad went out onto the porch to talk to some guests. Jenny took a walk. I went into my room and got on my computer.
Perhaps 20 minutes later, I started smelling smoke. That’s odd. Then Jenny came rushing in. “Emily! Look out your window!”
I looked, and the smoke was coming in, whirling in whitish-gray swirls over the fields. I couldn’t believe it. Never had I seen smoke descend upon us in so hasty a manner.
I grabbed my camera and went outside. The east wind blew, weirdly and warmly and furiously. The guests, choked by the sudden smoke, had to come inside despite it still being Covid times. And then, not long after they eventually left, the electricity went off. I spent the evening trying to sort out book problems using Dad’s hotspot and whatever was left of my laptop battery.
I woke up the next morning with an odd uncertainty about what time it was. Confused, I looked out my window.
It was 9:00 am, and the world was orange.
The funny thing is, you might know more about the Oregon fires than I do. I try to keep up, and then I stop, too overwhelmed to try and make sense of them all. Little towns I’ve visited here and there, up in smoke. Beloved hiking spots on fire. Friends and acquaintances evacuating. So many people evacuating.
My house, surrounded by ploughed fields and farmers who own water trucks, isn’t really in danger. We stay inside, for the most part, charging our phones in case the electricity goes off again.
Tuesday was orange. Wednesday was gray. Thursday and Friday were thicker gray. Today I took Dad in for physical therapy, and the air in Eugene was even thicker than the air in Harrisburg, borderline yellow.
And it was frigid. This week was supposed to be sunny and hot, in the 80s, 90s, even 100s, but I suppose if you block the sun long enough, the air cools down.
On a semi-related note, this spring I bought a camera with my Patreon money, because I wanted to make YouTube videos. Sometimes I take pictures with it too, whenever I need something nice for my blog or Instagram. (Turns out it’s much easier to take passable photographs with a nice camera than with a cell phone.)
When the sky turned orange, I grabbed my real camera. My cell phone was not capturing the true color. I went downstairs, intending to go outside and snap away. But then I saw Dad, sitting between the window and the patio doors, working on his computer. It was dark, because the electricity was out, and the blue of the screen light on his face contrasted with the fiery orange out the windows.
I snapped a picture.
When I looked at it, I thought it was quite a nice picture. It seemed to sum up the trauma and drama of 2020, since Dad’s arm was in a sling. “It’s only missing a mask,” I told Mom, showing her the picture.
“Hey, I should put mine on him!” she said. She’d been wearing her mask around the house. Since the electricity was off, the air wasn’t being filtered, and it was getting rather smoky inside as well.
Mom put her mask on Dad. “Your ears!” she said, trying to work the mask loops over them. “I never realized how floppy they are!”
Longsuffering as ever, Dad went on with his computer work, now masked. I snapped one more picture, and put it on Facebook and Instagram. Mom shared it.
And people have said extremely kind things about it. One person even asked if I ever considered a career in photojournalism. Which I found funny, because photography has always been my least favorite part of blogging. I’m a words girl.
But maybe I should have more of a growth mindset about it. It was fun, after all, to see something cool, take a picture of it, and have the picture look cool too. So if you know of any photography-learning-for-beginners resources, sent them my way. I don’t think I’ll ever be a photographer, but I might become a blogger with better pictures.
Anyway. Life is stressful, but I will publish this book. I am determined. It will be a good thing to happen in 2020, after so many bad things, and I am here for it.