Category Archives: News

Fire, Book Problems, and Other Things that Stress Me Out

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted in a month, there are two very specific reasons:

  1. I’ve been stressed out
  2. 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.

Find Me On

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Twitter: @emilysmucker

Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog

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Update on Everything

Part 1: Update On My Book

Self-publishing is a process, I’ll tell you that.

Throughout the past couple months, I’ve been finished with the writing part of my book, and just trying to figure out everything else: Hiring a photographer, having a photo shoot, hiring a cover designer, hiring a copy editor/proofreader, sending out portions of my book to 26 people I’d written about (just in case they had any objections/corrections), choosing a printer, and hiring someone to format the interior. Whew!

Finally, over the weekend I made ALL the final corrections. Most of these were from my copy editor/proofreader, so I just had to click “accept, accept, accept” a lot. Although there were a few larger issues I had to think through, like giving a bit of explanation about words like “Beachy” and “Anabaptist.”

Then, I had to make all the corrections from the 26 people I’d written about. Well, maybe only about 10 of them issued corrections, and most of those corrections were pretty small, but sometimes it took a bit of brain power to make the narrative still flow well.

But finally it was done. Done! Hands shaking, I sent it off to the printer.

I still have a few hurdles to jump through, and I don’t know when I’ll have books in hand. But hopefully before too long I’ll be able to announce the cover, official release date, and pre-order link.

Part 2: Update On My Dad

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I feel like a lot of my life is still oriented around caring for Dad, but there aren’t really a lot of updates to give.

His right hand is healing very well, and his legs and feet are great, so he could really do almost everything for himself if it wasn’t for his left arm and his neck. He still can’t lift his left arm. And his neck brace prevents him from fully watching his feet as he walks. So he can walk around the house with his arm in a sling, but on the road, where it’s more uneven, he needs to use his walker still.

Part 3: Update On My Family

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My family is in this very interesting stage of life right now. I never thought we’d be a family that all lived in the same area, and yet, here we are.

Jenny, Amy, and I live in the upstairs rooms of our house, while Mom and Dad inhabit the downstairs. Steven was downstairs too for a while, but he moved to Corvallis to live with Ben so that we could have a guest room again. One or the other of them often comes down and spends a night in the guest room.

And Matt and Phoebe are in an Airstream in the yard. I love having them so close.

Part 4: Update On My Life

At the end of my year of travel, I decided to stay in Oregon at least until I could get my health and finances somewhat sorted out. I had basically no travel scheduled between September and February, but after that I had a lot of random stuff I was going to do, like take a trip to India, and take a trip to Italy, and maybe live in Houston for a while.

Of course Covid canceled all my plans, but on the other hand, the health and money angles of my life are much more optimistic. I have all kinds of ideas about what fun stuff I want to do as soon as I can get myself properly vaccinated.

For now, I find myself deeply content despite my circumstances. I miss adventures, but I know this lifestyle is temporary. Between Covid and Dad’s accident, I’m in a unique stage of life. The adventures can wait.

I enjoy having family so near. I enjoy all the visitors who come sit on our porch and chat. And besides that, publishing a book makes me feel so creatively fulfilled. Which brings a deeper, more lasting contentment than adventures do.

*****

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Twitter: @emilysmucker

Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog

YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker

Patreon: patreon.com/emilysmucker

 

The Aftermath of Dad’s Accident

What a strange summer it’s been. With the virus still looming, we had the first wedding in our family, I turned 30, I worked (and am still working) through the last stages of getting my book published, and my dad had a terrible accident that changed everything.

The first week post-accident, I drove to the hospital over and over again, hauling people, supplies, or emotional support. I made the trip in the cool of the morning, before the dew dried on the grass and I had to go to work. I made the trip in the evening, when Simone, my boss’s wife, took my place on the combine so I could get off early and spend some time with my family, perhaps spread out on the hospital lawn, sorting through the mountains of paperwork and decisions that faced us.

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I  never went inside the hospital, except once, when I had to use the bathroom. Hospital rules said only one visitor every 24-hour period. Amy took a shift, Ben took a shift over the weekend, and Mom took the rest of the shifts.

People on Facebook told us we ought to be thankful that someone could be with him in Covid times. But though I had been perfectly willing to quarantine, social distance, and wear a mask to stop the spread of Covid, I found myself burdened and upset by this limitation. I wished I could go inside with my mom and provide emotional support, as Dad lay there at his worst, with the brain trauma, pain meds, and surgery anesthesia making him not quite himself.

They told us that Dad needed to go to a skilled nursing facility for two weeks. Amy called around to various places, but they all said the same thing. “No visitors. He can talk to you through a window.”

Of all the things I’d heard so far, this terrified me the most. More than the bleeds on the brain, or the pinched spinal cord, or the broken back, or the shattered wrists. The idea of Dad, at his lowest, being alone like that, chilled me to the bone. “Surely we can just bring him home?” I asked. “There are eight of us. Surely between the eight of us, we can take care of him?”

Indeed, there were eight of us. Imagine that. We’re never all in Oregon at the same time, but right now, we are. Amy hasn’t moved back to Thailand yet. I’ve come home from my coast-to-coast wandering. Ben’s still in Corvallis, 30 minutes away, with a year left to go before he graduates with his PHD. Steven’s living at home again, briefly, while he completes his Paramedic internship. He’s planning to move in with Ben soon. And Jenny, of course, still lives at home too.

Matt and Phoebe had planned to move to Houston a couple weeks after their wedding, but they were already considering delaying that, and staying in Oregon longer. Both their families are here in Oregon. The weather is so much nicer this time of year. And Covid is exploding in Houston, while Oregon has done relatively well.

When Dad had his accident, then, they delayed their move to Houston indefinitely. For a while they lived with Phoebe’s parents, but then they bought their first home, an Airstream trailer, and just last night they moved into our side yard.

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So there are eight of us: Dad’s wife, six children, and one daughter-in-law. Surely we can figure this out? The hospital people were dubious, but they were impressed with Mom’s care taking and Dad’s progress, and decided maybe we could handle it after all.

Monday was a frantic scramble to get all the equipment he needed. I was on the combine, utterly useless at the moment, but watching the drama via our family WhatsApp group.

There was a list of items we needed, most importantly a hospital bed. Amy called Love Inc. in Eugene, and they said they had everything we needed except for the shower chair. Okay, perfect. The shower chair wasn’t urgent.

Then, at 3:30 Matt sent an urgent message. We’d run into a hiccup. Love Inc. had said they’d call Amy back when they had the items ready for her, but they never called. They close at 1:00. She tried calling the Corvallis branch, but no one was answering.

This was a problem, because Dad was supposed to come home the next morning.

A flurry of messages ensued. Mom sent Matt some more numbers to call. Matt called, and then told us different prices for different types of hospital beds. But none of them would be delivered in time. Oh dear. Well, finally we found one that would only be several hours late. Surely Dad could survive on the couch or something for a couple hours. Or, could he just get discharged from the hospital a couple hours later?

Matt said he’d call and reserve the hospital bed that could arrive the soonest, when suddenly a message came in from Amy. “No no we got everything!!”

What!?

Turns out, there’s been a miscommunication. When Love Inc. hadn’t called back, Amy and Steven had decided to just drive in and see if the stuff was available, even though they were technically closed, and it was! They even had a shower chair after all, that had just arrived. And it was all free.

Apparently Amy had her data turned off, so she didn’t see the other messages until we’d almost ended up with two hospital beds. But thankfully, she managed to stop Matt in time.

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Amy and Ben setting up the hospital bed

We brought Dad home on Tuesday, July 14, a week after his accident. (Also, interestingly enough, it was Matt and Phoebe’s one-month wedding anniversary.)  Everyone except Steven got off work long enough to see Dad come home. But Steven’s job, as a non-emergency medical transport driver, allowed him to be the one to drive Dad home! So we were all there when Dad arrived.

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Dad, just after he came home.

Dad was having trouble sleeping through the night. When things got dark, it did strange things to his brain, causing him to have agitated obsessive thought spirals about bins at the warehouse, and what should be moved where. So we left the kitchen light on, and made a schedule of who would get up to check on him when.

But what if he needed someone in the middle of the night?

Mom thought maybe she should sleep on the couch, but she couldn’t sleep with the light on. Could we go buy a doorbell somewhere? We concluded that it was too late.

“Is there any way we could put his bed next to the piano, and he could bang on it?” I asked.

We experimented with this. At the time Dad had very little use of his arms and hands, so we swiveled the bed to where he could bang on the piano with his feet. It worked very well, under the circumstances, although he didn’t end up needing to use it. Just as well, as it probably would have woken the whole house. And the next day we bought a doorbell, which we’ve been using as a call button ever since.

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Dad was pretty much bedridden at first. He could sit up in a wheelchair for a little bit. And we bought extensions for a walker that he could lay his arms in, since his wrists are shattered. But he mostly lay in bed, and visitors conversed with him through the window.

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Dad’s first visitors were Kevin Baker, who is his fellow pastor, and Kevin’s son Chavon. Chavon does odd jobs for Dad, and was the first person to find Dad after his accident. According to Chavon, Dad’s face had been so coated with blood that Chavon didn’t recognize him at first, but eventually he identified Dad by the shape of his nose.

As time has gone by, Dad has been spending more and more time in his wheelchair. He likes to wheel onto the porch to chat with people, unless it’s really hot, in which case he sits in his wheelchair and talks through the screened patio door. Already, talking through the window is a thing of the past.

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The boys have been building a wheelchair ramp, which is almost completed now.

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This morning, Mom realized that Dad’s head stitches have been in too long. Skin was beginning to grow over them. So, after getting permission from the home care nurse, Mom decided to take them out herself! It was very fascinating to watch.

Today, Dad has been home for a week and a half. Already, he’s made amazing progress. He can mostly feed himself now. He’s just so much better at adjusting himself to make himself comfortable. He’s sleeping well, with no more agitated thought spirals. He can tap at his phone with his good hand well enough to make phone calls, and he loves to wheel around the house with his phone on speakerphone, merrily chatting with whoever.

It’s really nice to watch him doing this. It makes him seem like my dad again, moving around, making decisions, and entertaining himself, instead of lying there helplessly.

This whole journey has been emotionally taxing for me, but seeing Dad’s rapid improvement makes it much easier. Also, receiving so much support from our community has been so helpful. And I finished up my combining job last Monday, which has made things so much easier for me. I don’t have the energy for a real job + a care-giving role.

Of course we have a long road ahead. Although Dad’s legs and feet are in great condition, allowing him to walk with a walker, and his right wrist is healing well, allowing him to feed himself and make phone calls, his left arm is still limp. Dad is unable to move himself between the bed, the wheelchair, and the walker, because he can’t lift his arm. We have to help him.

In fact, with all his injuries, from his wrists to his neck to his skull to his back, I’m sure we’ll have to help him for quite some time.

But that’s okay, because we have plenty of help.

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Endnote: I’ve been posting a number of updates on my Instagram stories (https://www.instagram.com/emilytheduchess/). You can view everything I’ve posted so far under the “Dad’s Accident” story highlight.

The Story of Dad’s Accident

It was a damp chilly morning, the day after my birthday, and I couldn’t help but think about what a nice birthday it had been.

I’d been afraid that my 30th would pass with little fanfare, since we’re still rather in Covid times. But it had been so lovely. Many people had reached out to wish me many happy returns. On Sunday I’d had friends over for an outdoor tea party. On Monday, the actual day of my birth, I’d arrived at work to find a light-up “Happy Birthday” sign in the combine. And this morning, my whole family had gathered for breakfast, both to celebrate my birthday and to have one last get-together before Matt and Phoebe left for Houston.

“What time are you going to work today?” I asked Jenny.

“1 pm. You?”

“I’m not sure yet. I’m waiting for a call from Darrell.”

Jenny and I both work as combine drivers, me for our neighbor, and Jenny for a farmer north of here. On these cloudier mornings, it takes a while for the grass to dry out enough to harvest. So after the rest of our siblings went to work, Jenny and I hung out in my room.

At 11:57 am I got the call, not from Darrell, but from his wife Simone. I thought it was strange that she was calling, but whatever. “Hello?” I said.

“Hi Emily. I just want to let you know that if you don’t want to come into work today because of your Dad’s accident, that’s fine.”

“Wait…what? Dad was in an accident?” I exchanged a horrified look with Jenny, who was close enough to also hear Simone’s words.

“Yes, he fell off a forklift at the warehouse. He has a gash in his head and his arm hurts. They’re about to take him away in an ambulance. Your Mom and Amy are here right now. So if you don’t want to come in to work today, that’s fine. We’ll figure something out.”

At that point I was too shocked and confused to make a decision about coming in to work.

It took a while for us to figure out exactly what happened to Dad, and even now there are a lot of things we don’t know. Only Dad was there when it happened. But here’s what we do know:

In one building of the warehouse, there was an auger high up on the wall. Dad had raised a pile of pallets on a forklift, set up a ladder, and climbed onto the pallets to fix the auger.

And then he fell.

He doesn’t remember falling. He remembers coming down the ladder with his hands full of tools, so for a while we were saying that he fell off the ladder. But the ladder itself never fell over, and his tools were still up on the forklift pallets. So did he actually fall off the forklift or the ladder?

We’re not sure.

There is a large pool of blood on the floor, where Amy later found his glasses and hearing aid. It seems he lay there unconscious for a while until his head wound clotted up. Then he got up, and called Mom at 11:15 am. How he called Mom when both his wrists were shattered and flopping unnaturally is beyond me. “It was hard,” he remembers.

Mom was taking a nap and didn’t hear her phone. Dad left a voicemail, but he didn’t manage to actually talk. So it’s a voicemail of eerie silence.

It was Chavon Baker, a 14 (I think?) year old boy who does odd jobs around the warehouse, who found him. And from what they say, Dad was a horrific sight, with blood all over his face, even in his teeth and eyeballs, and his bloodstained beard sticking out in all directions.

Chavon ran and got Kevin Birky, my cousin who runs the warehouse. Kevin called 911, and then called Mom. For some reason, Mom heard her phone this time, and she ran out the door without telling Jenny or I what was going on.

The warehouse is surrounded by the farm where I work, since it was all the same property back when my great-grandpa owned it. So Simone was driving through, saw what was going on, and ran to get Amy, who is also working for them this summer. Only Amy does housework, so she goes to work at a set, non-weather-dependent time.

In this way, both Amy and Mom were there to see Dad as he was splinted and bandaged and shuttled away in the ambulance. Then they came home, and we were all confused and agitated, trying to figure out what to do. Jenny had to leave for work, but I decided not to go to work, and to drive Mom to the hospital. Amy opted to stay home and make sure things ran smoothly on that end.

I’m not sure what I thought would happen. I did have a vague idea that I probably wouldn’t be able to go in and see Dad because of Covid, but I still wanted to be close by as moral support for Mom. So she went in, and I parked, and started wandering around the beautiful woods next to the hospital.

All alone.

The next two hours were achingly lonely. Mom sent a couple meager updates to the family WhattsApp group telling us that they were doing a CAT scan. Then, there was no info for over an hour.

I’ve been spotty with responding to texts these last several days, but there at the hospital I eagerly and instantly responded to everything that came in. I was starving for connection.

The grounds were lovely, though.

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Finally the CAT scan results came back.

“Talked to Dr,” Mom wrote. “Brace yourselves: Both wrists shattered. Skull fracture above left eye. A few bleeds on brain. Back broken in 3 places.”

Prior to this, all we knew was that there was a gash in his head and he had one sore arm. We had no idea it was this bad. Later, we learned that there were a few breaks in his neck as well, but nothing that was in danger of paralyzing him, thank God.

Finally, Mom had a chance to call me. Basically, Dad was going to be in there for a long time. He needed surgery. I might as well go home.

So I did, and there was something about sitting on the porch steps with Amy, talking about everything, that was so wonderful after being so alone. But it made me really worried for Mom, by herself at the hospital, with no support. I know we were lucky that there were no Covid patients at the hospital, and that Dad didn’t have to be there alone, but still, I knew that this must be so isolating and stressful for Mom.

Steven works an early shift so he came home in the afternoon, and Ben was unable to concentrate on his work so he came home too.

Oh yes, there was one added layer of weirdness to this whole day. The electricity was out! They were working on the power lines. So I was trying to make myself a late lunch on a propane camp stove, since I didn’t have anything to eat while I was at the hospital, and then just as I was finished it came back on. Ha.

Jenny called us frequently, and she was in a weird head space too. But when she told her boss what was going on, he told her to go home and be with her family. So she came home, and Matt and Phoebe came over, and all of us siblings were together.

Matt and Phoebe decided to delay their move to Houston. Matt is still able to work remotely, due to Covid. It’s so strange, how Covid is separating us in some ways yet bringing us together in others.

We all called Mom that evening, and she put us on speakerphone so we could talk to Dad. It was bizarre…he sounded completely normal and sane, but then the sentences that left his mouth didn’t quite logically connect to each other.

The hospital rule is, only one person per 24-hour period. So none of us could give Mom a 4-hour break to get some rest, and none of us could be in there with Mom. Dad hardly slept those first two nights because he was in such terrible pain. (Oddly, it’s mostly his wrists that hurt, not his head.)

Dad had surgery on his wrists on Wednesday. So far, the plan is to heal his back and neck by using a brace. We’ll see how that goes.

Thursday morning, Amy went in to take Mom’s place. Jenny and I went back to work, although I asked to get off early. And then it rained, so I got off extra early. That was nice…it meant I was home when Mom woke up, and was able to debrief with her.

Then, this morning I took Mom back to the hospital to switch with Amy again. It’s a little cloudy still, so I don’t need to go to work until 1:00 pm. So now I have time to write this blog post, I guess.

I guess the real question is, “how is Dad doing?”

This is a hard question to answer. In some ways, he’s very lucky he didn’t end up killed or paralyzed. He has a healthy body that should recover well, and he really is quite “with it” considering how hard he whacked his head open.

The two things, right now, that feel the most heartbreaking are his confusion and his pain.

He can’t seem to get on top of the pain in his wrists, and it’s making it really hard for him to sleep.

As for his confusion, he’s in that terrible place, almost normal brain function, but not quite. I sent a video clip to my friend Esta because I didn’t know how to explain what he was like, she she said, “it’s like he has a clear coherent thought, and then halfway through saying it he forgets it.”

Yes. That’s exactly what it’s like. And how awful that must feel! It seems like it might be more of a mercy if he were completely out of it.

Dad is a problem solver by nature, and he seems to be in constant state of wanting to fix things. The “things to fix” are mostly his pain, and warehouse problems. This is the beginning of harvest, and while Dad had trained Kevin to run the warehouse, there are still a lot of things Dad takes care of by himself. So he keeps remembering things he needs to do about the warehouse, but then not quite connecting all the dots, and not quite being able to communicate.

In his worst moments, right after surgery, he kept getting mixed up about the wedding as well. Once he said that if people want to know what’s going on with warehouse stuff, they should ask Phoebe.

Still, I think a lot of this confusion is due to the surgery anesthesia, not the head injury. Amy had a moment with Dad where he was back to his old self mentally, although it didn’t last. But hopefully these moments will happen with more frequency as the anesthesia wears off.

Anyway, that’s where we’re at now. It’s hard to keep people updated because we keep learning of new random problems. According to Mom, the nurse just told her, “This is what happens with trauma patients. New stuff shows up every day.”

I might write more when I know more, and I might not. Right now, we’re looking at a long and difficult recovery.

Why is no one talking about finger foods? And other coronavirus hot takes

food pizza hands friends

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Cover your cough. We get it. It’s the same set of advice we get every year when the seasonal flu hits. But every time I wonder, why does no one talk about finger foods?

American eating habits are weird. We often wash our hands before a meal, where we eat almost everything with knives and forks. But how many times have you seen someone wash their hands before snacking? And snacks are finger foods. We shovel popcorn and Doritos and grapes and pretzels into our mouths, often eating out of communal bowls.

Then, what do we do with that Dorito dust that’s left a thick cheesy coating on our fingers? Do we pause the movie and run to the sink? No, we often lick it off.

I’m not doctor, and I’m no nurse, but it seems to me that eating with your fingers is one of the most direct ways that viruses could get inside of you. Especially if you haven’t washed your hands first, and especially if multiple people are grabbing handfuls from the same popcorn bowl, and especially especially if you lick your fingers.

And I can’t figure out why no one mentions it in the same list as “wash your hands” and “stop touching your face.”

Today is Thursday morning, and I’m sitting in a deserted Starbucks. People are coming through the drive through, and a few folks are coming inside, quickly picking up their order, and then departing again. But no one is hanging out.

Just two days ago, on a Tuesday morning, I came in at the same time, and it was packed.

I feel like everything changed yesterday. We reached 1000 confirmed cases in the USA, and more and more we heard stories of people who had all the symptoms of coronavirus but couldn’t get tested. Celebrities came down with the virus. The NBA suspended their season. Trump placed a ban on Europeans traveling to the USA. Oregon declared a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people. Oregon State University, where two of my sisters go to school, announced that they’re switching to teaching everything remotely.

Yesterday was the tipping point. Everyone is scared, now. Between Tuesday and Thursday, Starbucks completely cleared out.

The two most popular stances to take regarding coronavirus are “panic” and “roll your eyes and telling everyone they’re overreacting.” Although after yesterday, I’m seeing much more of the former, and much less of the latter.

Up until now, my stance has been one of fascination. I’ve always been obsessed with abnormality and unpredictability. Like, I really didn’t want Trump to become president. But I was still fascinated by his bizarre rise to power.

Sometimes I watch the world like it’s reality TV, and don’t think about the fact that abnormality isn’t just entertaining. Abnormality creates real issues that affect real people.

So I’ve decided I want to change my stance. I don’t want to be fascinated by coronavirus, but I don’t want to panic or bury my head in the sand either. So I think, instead, I’m going to try to enact a stance of compassion.

Compassion, first of all, means taking care of myself and complying with annoying laws that limit gathering sizes and such, not for the sake of my own health, but for the system as a whole. I’ve read that the goal, now, is not to stop coronavirus, but to slow it’s spread as much as possible, so that hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with more patients than they have equipment to help.

At some point, compassion may come down to caring for sick people, even if it puts my own health at risk. I mean, who knows what will happen with hospital capacity and such. But as Christians we have to prepare for that possibility.

I don’t know what compassion looks like on the Internet. I don’t know how to calm fear with typed words. I don’t know if I should even try.

I will say, when my own thoughts slip into a panic spiral, the thing that has helped the most is listening to musical renditions of psalms. This is one I particularly like:

I have no more hot takes on coronavirus. I hope you take care of yourself. And I pray that God will redeem this situation, and use it to make us become more compassionate towards each other.

The Engagement

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My brother Matt and his girlfriend Phoebe are both originally from Oregon, though they currently both live in Washington DC. But Phoebe’s grandpa was turning 100, and Matt needed a vacation, so they both came to Oregon for a week and a half.

Hmmm.

“Have you bought a ring yet?” I asked Matt.

He winked at me. Then dug in his backpack and pulled out a small wooden box. Inside was a glistening diamond ring, custom made to be tiny enough to fit Phoebe’s finger. “I helped design it,” Matt said.

“You did?” I was impressed. My brother Matt, designing diamond rings!

“Yes. See, normally the diamond is held by these four prongs, but those can loosen over time. So I had the jeweler add these extra…well…I call them ‘support brackets.'”

I laughed and laughed. Of course Matt would make sure Phoebe’s ring had proper support brackets.

Thursday they went to the coast for the day. How suspicious. I was up in my room when they came home, and I heard muffled voices downstairs. No screams, but…I had to make sure. So I went downstairs, and there were Matt and Phoebe, looking as casual as can be. Maybe too casual.

“Hey Emily,” said Phoebe.

I looked at her hand. There it was. The glistening ring.

I’m gonna have another sister! I haven’t been this excited since Mom was pregnant with Jenny. Or maybe when we decided to adopt Steven. But there’s something about a sister.

Matt went upstairs to get Amy and Jenny, and there was laughter and hugs and screams all around. Mom was weeping.

It’s been a long time, folks. I’ve been dreaming about my siblings getting married ever since Matt went to Bible College…what was it…fourteen years ago? And yet here we are, unmarried. All of us.

“Is the curse broken now?” Jenny whispered to me, and we giggled.

Mom said, “did someone sacrifice a goat in the backyard?”

I laughed, but I wasn’t quite sure what the joke was. “Wait, what do you mean?”

“Wasn’t there something with the Red Sox being cursed, and a goat?”

That made me giggle for real. “Well, um, first of all it was the Cubs. And killing the goat would have probably made things worse. But sure.”

As much as it felt like a “curse” that no one in my family had any romantic luck until now, the truth is, Phoebe was well worth the wait.

When Phoebe and Matt first started seeing each other, one of Phoebe’s friends was aghast. “But is he a Calvinist?!?” she wanted to know. We laughed and laughed about that one. “But it’s even funnier now,” Matt says, “because our whole relationship seems predestined.”

The truth is, if Matt had married the girls he crushed on in his early 20s, he…well, perhaps it’s too drastic to say he’d be miserable. I’ve seen people enter unwise relationships before they were ready and, by the grace of God, live to tell the tale and still love each other in the end.

But the way it ended up worked out so perfectly. He’s done with grad school, and well established in a successful career. She is also done with college and financially stable. We all love her to pieces. And her family loves Matt. They both love DC, but go “home” to the Willamette Valley on holidays.

Suddenly the narrative in my head has shifted. From “we’re that loser family that can’t make our relationships work” to “we’re taking our time and doing it right.”

“What if we all just get married when we’re 33 or so?” I asked Mom.

“Then,” said Mom, “I would say that I probably should have adjusted my expectations from the beginning.”

I felt that. Because if we’re gonna be honest, most of my family members would probably be happier marrying at 33 rather than 23. The wait, then, is not hard because we are so miserable, it’s hard because we start to wonder if God has forgotten us.

But perhaps we should have adjusted our expectations from the beginning.

The End of the Road

There were eight of us: Four siblings, two spouses, and me, the lone granddaughter. All gathered at the bedside of Amos Yoder, a 102-year-old man who was bedridden following a stroke.

We thought he was dying, and then he started to improve. We thought we should put him in a nursing home, and then he seemed to deteriorate again. We prayed that God would take him Sunday night, before we had to make the Nursing Home Decision. But the next morning there he was, chest still rising and falling, pulse still beating steadily.

We decided not to put Grandpa in a nursing home after all.

We decided not to buy a ticket home, yet.

“I live here now,” I thought.

On Wednesday, a week and three days after I’d first arrived in Minnesota, I finally got a chance to borrow a vehicle and go all-by-myself to Caribou Coffee and get some work done. This was magnificent. I settled down in a quiet corner by the fireplace, opened my laptop, and prepared to float away into a new brain space for hours and hours.

But first, I checked my phone. Oh! A missed call from Mom. And a text.

Gpa just passed away

What! Grandpa passed away? It felt unreal in my brain.

Silly. Of course he was going to pass away. He was 102. He’d had a terrible stroke 12 days ago. He was miserable. He hadn’t had any food or water since Monday morning.

And yet…

This had become routine. Getting up at 1 am for my shift. Meeting Mom at the foot of the basement stairs, and knocking on Uncle Fred’s door as we walked past. Peeling the blankets back, and checking Grandpa’s diaper. Carefully rolling him, cleaning him, re-positioning him, apologizing as he winced in pain from his sore arm. Taking the used diaper out to the incinerator.

And the days. Sitting with Grandpa. Asking if he wanted water. Hearing Uncle Fred tell the magnificent stories he collects from people. Eating the massive meals prepared by mysterious fairies and delivered to our doorstep. Reading through Middlemarch. Hitching rides to nearby small towns from whoever happened to be going.

Trying to find places and spaces to get some work done.

Escaping to the canning closet when I needed to be alone.

Or taking long walks down the country roads.

This is my routine now. This is what we do. But I drove back to Marcus and Anna’s house, and as soon as I walked in the door, It was obvious that the routine was no more.

“Did you let so-and-so know?”

“No, I thought so-and-so would.”

Mom, on the phone: “Paul, I don’t know when the funeral will be. We haven’t discussed it yet.”

“Shall I tell the funeral home people to come get him?”

“No, I’m not ready yet. Maybe in a few hours?”

I stood by Grandpa’s bedside, and it was the strangest thing. Almost seeing his chest rise in another breath, like it had so many times before, when he’d stop breathing for 20 seconds or so before starting up again, more laborious than ever.

But laborious breathing was forever in Grandpa’s past, now.

I thought back to Ian’s funeral, last winter. I remembered the way his mother would reach into the casket, smooth his hair, rub his chest. Loving, motherly touches. It had never occurred to me to touch a dead body.
To me, a dead body seemed rather a frightening thing. The gap between the living and the dead seemed vast, and long.

But in this space, having watched Grandpa hover between death and life for so long, the gap didn’t seem so enormous. “Can I touch him?” I asked Aunt Rebecca. “Is that weird? Can I hold his hand?”

“That’s not weird,” she said, pulling back the blanket for me. “Now is a good time, when he’s still warm.”

I grabbed Grandpa’s hand. She was right. It wasn’t weird. And it was warm. Again, the disbelief that this man was actually gone.

“But look,” said Aunt Rebecca. “Look at how his hands are yellowing, already.”

Yes, he was gone. Gone forever from the terrible pain in his arm, the struggle to drink and eat, the annoyance of flies landing on his face, or his pajamas bunching up behind him. I felt a deep relief, but also a melancholy sense of finality.

Now, the family begins to trickle in. Cousin Jason came yesterday. Dad and Amy arrived early this morning, cousin Keith came at noon, and Matt and Phoebe are booking it from the East with cousin Annette and her husband and children. We gather here, here in Minnesota, like we have for so many Christmases and assorted family gatherings.

It’s sad to know that this is The End of the Road. Not only with Grandpa’s life, but also with having a sense of connection to Minnesota as the gathering-place for assorted Yoders. The only relative left here is Uncle Marcus, and his wife Anna. None of my other Aunts and Uncles stayed. None of Marcus’s children stayed.

If my relatives seem to wander the earth, it’s in our blood. Grandpa and Grandma came here from Ohio, and before that, Iowa, even though Grandpa was born in Oklahoma and Grandma in a different part of Ohio.

I don’t have Yoder roots in any particular place, anymore.

But here we are now. In Minnesota together, one last time. Mourning the death of this man who was unlike anyone else we’ve ever met. This man who has shaped our lives in so many ways. This man who wanted to know everything, discover everything, see everything. That’s the legacy he left for all of us.
It must be said that our relationships with him were complicated.
But we loved him.
And we miss him.

There’s No Map for This Journey

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You know that week between Christmas and New Years, when everyone is off work but all the Christmas parties are over, and you just kind-of sit around and feel disoriented and pig out on leftovers and forget what day of the week it is?

That’s what this week in Minnesota has been like.

Well, not exactly. I can’t think of anything that describes what it’s been like exactly. Maybe if New Years were a sad holiday instead of a happy one, and maybe if you didn’t quite know when New Years would come, but no one could go home or go back to work until after New Years had happened.

Yeah, okay, that analogy doesn’t quite hold up.

In any case, it has been a strange week. I came here feeling sad that Grandpa was dying, but I’ve come to regard death as a beautiful, blessed mercy.

If only Grandpa would die, he could go to heaven and hang out with Grandma, and Lenny, and his parents and siblings. He wouldn’t have to endure the terrible pain he feels in his right arm. He wouldn’t have to feel the shame of his children and granddaughter changing his diaper. No longer would he feel the awfulness of having thoughts but being unable to communicate them.

Please, God. Please just take him.

What do we do? What do we do with our lives back home? We can’t just leave Marcus and Anna to care for him alone. Do we put him in a nursing home? Are there even openings in nearby nursing homes? But poor Grandpa, in a nursing home!

“We were not given a map for this journey,” Mom said on Facebook.

So true. So true.

How long will we remain in Minnesota?

Honestly, I have no clue.

But I should say, before I go, that I’ve been incredibly blessed by the amazing comments on my blog, and on Facebook. And by my friends who have reached out, asking how I am, and saying they’ll pray for me. I know I haven’t responded to nearly everyone, and I’m sorry. I keep forgetting that the Internet exists, and that online communication exists, which is weird since it’s not like I’m doing much here in Minnesota.

Dad called the other day and said, “Did hurricane Dorian hit you?”

“No,” I said. I thought that was a weird thing to say. I didn’t realize he was making a joke.

“Next thing you know, Trump will be saying that the hurricane is going to hit Minnesota,” Dad chuckled.

“Huh?” I was quite confused.

“You didn’t hear about Trump saying the hurricane would hit Alabama?” Dad asked.

“No, sorry. I guess I haven’t really kept up with the news and stuff since I’ve been here.”

“You didn’t miss much,” said Dad.

We’ve also been tremendously blessed by the people at Grandpa’s church that keep bringing us food. We’ve started calling them “the magic fairies.”

“Who re-stocked the fridge with eggs? And where did all this banana bread come from?”

“I guess the magic fairies brought them.”

My Aunt Anna is responsible for some of these blessings, but when we thank her, she deflects and says that it’s church people giving us these things. She just places them downstairs for us.

“If there were magic fairies like that at my church, I think I’d leave my car doors unlocked all the time,” Uncle Rod said.

“Well you still have to lock your doors in late summer, or else your car will fill up with zucchini squash,” said Anna.

We all laughed.

It is good to be with family, it really is.

But it’s a hard journey, and we have no map.

Oh, Grandpa!

Mom and I got to Minnesota on Sunday evening. We were picked up by my Uncle Rod and Aunt Rebecca, and taken to my Uncle Marcus and Aunt Anna’s house. Marcus is Mom’s brother, and Grandpa lives in his basement. Rebecca, Mom’s sister who lives in Chicago, is the next-closest, location wise, so she and Rod drove over on Friday as soon as they heard about Grandpa’s stroke.

That first day-and-a-half was extremely meaningful.

Grandpa was sleeping when we arrived, but he woke up, and seemed to recognize us. He could move the right half of his body somewhat, but not the left. Every once in a while he’d manage to say a word, but he couldn’t really talk.

When he saw me, he said “Jenny!” which I thought was kind of funny. “No, I’m Emily! Jenny’s sister!” I yelled into his good ear. But I think he actually knew it was me, just the wrong name had popped out. That happens to a lot of people.

He held my hand very tightly and cried and cried.

Grandpa wasn’t eating, but he could drink water from this nifty little sponge on the end of a stick.

(I’m planning to buy some of these, when I get home, and use them to clean out window tracks.)

I gave Grandpa some water, on Monday, and he said, “Emily!” That was special.

He was still peeing, so his kidneys hadn’t shut down yet, but his pee was a bit more reddish, and Aunt Rebecca thought this meant he was nearing the end.

Fred arrived late Monday afternoon. He’d thought Grandpa was beyond the point of recognizing him, but when he learned that Grandpa could still recognize people, he got in his car and drove north. When he walked in, Grandpa said, “Fred!”

Mom, Aunt Rebecca, and I were taking a walk when Fred came. We could feel that the wind was shifting. A midwest thunderstorm was coming! That evening, I could hear low, soft rumblings of thunder.

I stepped outside and stared at the sky in awe. The whole thing, flickering on and off with such brilliance, like God was a small child playing with a light switch. I ran inside. “Mom! You have to come look at the sky!”

We ran out, together. “Don’t go out in the middle of the lawn!” said Mom. “If you go into an open area, you might get hit!”

“Can’t we go over by the barn and get a better view?”

So we dashed over to the barn, and watched the purple and flickering sky, and then the giant drops of rain started hitting us. I had a blanket over my head, so I didn’t feel the wetness, but they were so large I felt the impact as they hit me.

Giggling, we dashed back inside.

Still breathless and giggly, I walked into Grandpa’s room and saw everyone sitting soberly around his bedside. Aunt Rebecca, close to his ear. “It’s okay to go, Pop.”

Hail rattled against the windows. Grandpa seemed to be seeing something beyond this world. “My parents,” he said in Pennsylvania Dutch. “My sister!”

His breathing had changed. There was an odd sound when he drew in breath, like a distant gunshot. Then his breathing would pause for a bit before he’d breath again. Was it my imagination, or did the pauses get a bit longer each time?

So we sat there, in silence, as he raised his good hand and gestured at the air in front of him, at something we couldn’t see.

And we all thought, this is it. He could go any second now.

The moment was oddly suspenseful, like when you’re watching a movie, and someone is walking down some abandoned corridor, and you’re sure something will jump out at them.

And then, everything went black.

The electricity was out!

Uncle Rod and I went rummaging through the kitchen, looking for candles and matches. Meanwhile, in the darkness of Grandpa’s bedroom, Aunt Rebecca asked Mom to pray. So they bowed their heads, and just as Mom was praying, people’s phones began to blare. “Tornado warning!”

Well, we were already in the basement. What can you do?

Uncle Marcus looked out the window, and saw a funnel cloud come down from the clouds, but it didn’t touch the earth. The danger passed. But in the meantime we’d lit a lot of candles, and I couldn’t help but think, what if the house catches on fire and we have to drag poor dying Grandpa out of here in the middle of the night???

Thankfully that didn’t happen. Instead, we all calmly gathered around Grandpa again, and he continued to gesture at the sky. His breathing continued to pause.

This is it. He could go any second.

But then, it grew later and later, and Grandpa didn’t go. I was so tired. Can I go to bed? What if I missed Grandpa’s death?

This situation, I realized, had grown truly bizarre. Here we were, all sitting around waiting for Grandpa to die.

Earlier I’d felt this deep, transcendent thankfulness that I could be here for Grandpa’s final days. It seemed like the most special thing ever. And now, here I was, wondering when Grandpa would die so I could go to bed.

I mean, it sounds so bizarre to say I wanted Grandpa to just die. But he was bedridden, could barely communicate, and couldn’t move one half of his body. But his mind was still there…I mean…he knew that we were changing his diaper. How embarrassing must that be for him? If only he could just slip off peacefully to heaven, to be with Grandma and Lenny.

But he didn’t.

I finally dragged myself to bed. My alarm woke me at 3:30, and Mom and I got up and changed his diaper. I sat in the chair by his bed for the next two hours, awake enough to hear that he was still breathing.

And he was still breathing. In fact, the next morning the long pauses in his breath were gone. He was breathing normally again.

Wait wait wait. Is Grandpa dying or isn’t he?

And then, there was today. “Are you hungry?” Aunt Rebecca asked Grandpa.

He nodded.

“Do you want some oatmeal?”

He nodded again.

So we fed him oatmeal, and he was able to eat it! The first thing he’s eaten since his stroke on Friday.

Suddenly, we’re all confused. Might he live for a while yet? What do we do?

Part of me feels like I should be thankful to have my grandpa around for longer. But it’s like I said before…he’s lived a good life for 102 years. It seems to be his time. And yet he could be with us for a while yet.

But death, as we know, does not run on anyone’s schedule.

July Life Update

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Today I’m writing from the train. I decided to take a short trip to Seattle. My actual reason for doing so is a wee bit complicated, so I’ll save it for a later post. But in the meantime I thought I’d pop on here and write a bit of a life update.

Topic 1: My Crazy Idea

I had a pretty fantastic response to my crazy idea. A nice healthy mix of strangers, family, and old friends welcomed me to their home areas.

I came away from the experience with a new hypothesis: I think southerners tend to be more hospitable/chill with inviting strangers into their homes. Of course I had a small sample size. Do you think this is accurate, based on your own experiences?

I had more offers than I needed, but some of the places offered were pretty close to each other, so I think I should be able to at least spend a little time in most of the places. A few days ago I sat down and made a pretty solid plan for where I’d like to go when. So yeah, if you invited me to your area, I’ll try to get back to you soon about what I’m thinking.

Topic 2: The Problem With Interesting Blog Posts

I promised, a month or so ago, that some interesting blog posts were coming. That was because…

  • I was planning a bunch of interesting trips
  • I was planning to post about my crazy idea
  • I filmed a fun video with Jenny

Some of those interesting blog posts materialized. Some of them didn’t. I missed one of my trips due to illness, and the next one was fun but not that interesting for a blog post. I haven’t found the time to edit the video with Jenny.

Here’s the problem with interesting blog posts: they take so much time.

I used to be extremely careless with blogging. I’d just type up whatever I was thinking, “post!” and done. But ever since my year-long hiatus, I’ve been much more careful.

I just had such a blogging panic that year. I don’t think I ever actually admitted this on my blog, but I actually got into legal trouble for something I posted online. (Everything turned out fine, it was just traumatic.)

Then, later that year, I went to Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute (SMBI). I’d gone to SMBI four years previously and loved it, which made me kind-of hype it up in my head. I thought that after all these years of college, I was finally going to a place where people understood me. And then I had a bit of a culture shock because I’d forgotten how Mennonite Mennonites can be, LOL.

But roughly 10% of the students admitted that they knew who I was from my blog. And that made me panic a little. Here I was, missing all these random Mennonite nuances and doing the wrong thing, and people here know who I was. I wasn’t just getting things wrong, I was disappointing people by not being the kind of person they thought I was.

(To be fair, it was my own panic/culture shock that made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, not them.)

After these two experiences, I wasn’t sure I’d ever blog again. I only did because I began to feel that God really wanted me to do it.

But it just completely changed my attitude about blogging. I used to just really like the feeling of people reading my stuff and thinking I was interesting or whatever. After the hiatus it became much more about blessing people. So I put a lot more effort into my posts.

Also, I was just way more aware of how I was coming across. I had this new fear of people misunderstanding me, of being too vulnerable, etc. I know that sounds bad. I know all the whoevers that know things about things say you need to be vulnerable. But for me, I had to learn the opposite lesson. I had to learn that I don’t owe the online crowd anything, and I don’t have to share more than I want to share.

The consequence of this is that blog posts take a really long time. I write and re-write them because I want them to be the best they can be, so that they’ll be a blessing, but at the same time I only want to say the things I want to say.

I thought that once I quit my job to become a “real writer,” I’d post more on my blog, because I’d have so much more time to write. And I do have much more time to write. But I’ve run into a new problem, which is that writing is my job, and blogging doesn’t earn any money. So it’s hard to allocate enough time for it.

Topic 3: Writing

I’ve been far more disciplined with writing, and gotten far more writing done, than I thought possible for someone as naturally undisciplined as myself. Because this: If I don’t make it work, I will have no money.

Right now, my biggest issue is precisely what I assumed it would be: Staying at home all day puts me in a weird head space. I mean I do my fair share of social activities, but I miss that feeling of getting up every morning and going to school or work.

Any and all ideas to alleviate this problem are welcome.

Topic 4: Summer

Summer is such a strange time in Oregon, and I wonder if it’s this way in other places too: Our boring little community suddenly gets this huge influx of new people to drive combine or work on the “hay crews” (actually straw crews) or sack seed or whatever. But you never meet these people because no one has a social life. Everyone is working 24/6.

If you’re not traveling over the weekend you might see someone new in church on Sunday, and say “hi,” and play a bit of Mennonite game. And then never see them again because harvest is so short and intense.

Topic 5: Writing On Trains

I am a huge fan of writing on trains.

I realize this turned more into a “random thoughts” than a “life update.”

Oh well.