Category Archives: Stories

The Weather is my Real Boss

In midsummer, the sun rises in the northeast, shining through my north bedroom window and straight into my eyes. In other words, if I don’t wake up at 5:45 AM, there is enough cloud cover that I might not have to go to work.

I used to read old books and wonder why everyone was so obsessed with the weather. Who cares? I certainly didn’t, unless it was hot enough to go swimming or snowy enough to cancel school or windy enough that the electricity went out. But now I get it. When your job is about growing things, the weather determines your schedule.

Typical Oregon weather is very wet and drizzly throughout the year, and then completely sunny and dry during the summer. Little known fact: this is the perfect weather for growing grass seed. Grow it while it’s wet, harvest when it’s dry. As a combine driver, I don’t start work until the hot sun has evaporated the last of the morning dew.

When a freak rainstorm hits in July, as was the case last week, the harvest frenzy draws to a halt. Instead of working dawn till dusk, my farming neighbors took a spontaneous family vacation to the coast. I sat on the porch and worked on the short story I’ve been totally procrastinating on.

It was a week before things had dried out enough for me to get back on the combine. And “dried out” goes in quotes here, because it was still wet enough for me to plug my combine up over. and over. and over. “My arms are going to get so strong,” I thought as I cranked straw out of the header with a giant wrench the length of my arm.

I consoled myself with the fact that Farm Boy, my co-worker, was plugging up more than I was.

I also consoled myself by looking around at the absolutely brilliant beauty around me. It was warm, but not hot. Gentle clouds blew across the sky. Sheep grazed in a meadow to the west, and the world smelled like wild mint. If I could ignore the dust and the grass seed filling my shoes, it was much nicer out here than in my cab anyway.

We quit for the day during the golden hour. There were long purple clouds in the sky, and so much wild mint, and the dust, when subtly scenting the air instead of flying in my face all at once, smelled like summer. What a beautiful, beautiful walk back to my car it would be.

I heard the old red pickup truck coming up behind me. It was Farm Boy, in his highlighter-green shirt. “Boss Man says I need to give you a ride,” he said. (He literally calls our boss Boss Man.)

“Okay. Thank you,” I said, halfheartedly, climbing into the pickup.

Farm Boy and I can never find much to say to each other.

“So, were you plugging up much?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, wondering why he was asking me this when we’d been in the same field all day. Surely he saw me plug up. “Were you?” I asked back, to be polite.

“Yeah,” he said with a chuckle, and I realized that he’d asked in a sarcastic way and I hadn’t gotten the joke.

“Did we plug up because of how wet it was?” I asked, just for something to say.

“Yeah. It was at 60%. It’s supposed to be at 20% or lower.”

What exactly was at 60%? Humidity? Is there a scale of wetness besides humidity? I didn’t know. I didn’t ask.

“Thanks for the ride.”

“Yeah.”

This morning I woke up at 7:30 because my Dad was loudly talking on his cell phone in the room below me. “Hmm,” I thought, “I didn’t wake up at 5:45…”

I looked out my window. No rain, but the cloud cover would keep the dew from drying up.

Boss Man texted me: “Let’s shoot for 12.”

I might start work at noon today, but we all know that the weather is my real boss here.

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Stop Being Spooky, LinkedIn

I have a very weird story about LinkedIn that has puzzled me for three years.

It actually began six years ago, when I started my very first term of college ever, at Bridgewater College in Virginia. Bridgewater required that every student take a class called “Personal Development Portfolio.” It was kind-of a weird class. We read Siddhartha, and the Sermon on the Mount, and a lot of random philosophers.

There were only about ten students in the class, and for some reason the other students really disliked me. One day we had to take a bus somewhere and do a service project, and no one let me sit by them, which was the kind of weird petty thing that happened in books but that I’d never actually seen in real life.

To be honest, it was the first time in my life that I’d ever felt disliked, and it was kinda tough because I didn’t know what I was doing wrong (though looking back I have a few guesses). Now, granted, I’m sure it wasn’t literally the first time anyone had ever disliked me, but it was the first time the dislike was obvious enough for an oblivious person like me to notice it.

I only went to Bridgewater College for one term, and then I moved back to Oregon and went to community college, which was, to be honest, a much less snobby and entitled environment.

Three years ago I took a journalism class. The teacher required us, as part of the class, to set up a LinkedIn profile.

In my profile I said that I went to Bridgewater College in 2010, but that’s the only info I disclosed about my time there.

Imagine my surprise, then, when LinkedIn sent me an email suggesting I connect with, of all people, a girl that had been in that class. One of the one’s who’d disliked me. We didn’t have any connections in common. We hadn’t had any contact with each other since I’d left. Yet there she was.

This has continued to happen throughout the past three years. One by one, LinkedIn has sent me emails with the LinkedIn profiles of various members of that class, trying to get me to connect. I  just got another one this morning.

I don’t get it.

Besides the people in that one tiny class, no one else from Bridgewater College has ever been suggested to me as a connection.

No one from that class has mutual connections with me.

No one else has ever been suggested to me as a possible connection unless we already have some mutual connections.

After I left Bridgewater, I had no connection anywhere on the internet with anyone from that class.

I just don’t get it.

While I was attending that class I did, once, send an email to the whole class through my personal email. But surely LinkedIn doesn’t have access to my email records? And if they do, wouldn’t I get connection suggestions about the gazillions of other people I’ve emailed in the past six years?

I am completely baffled.

The Pain and the Peacefulness

I woke up with the worst sore throat I’ve ever had in my life. I felt like I was choking on a pine cone. Swallowing sent brutal pain through my throat, and yet I couldn’t seem to make my mouth stop swallowing. I lay in a cold sweat, my muscles aching. Too sick to get up, too sick to fall asleep, and desperately in need of some NyQuil.

There was no NyQuil in my bathroom due to the fact that I “moved out” a couple weeks ago. My friend Ashlie and I are living just up the road from my parents’ place, which is why I put “moved out” in quotation marks, since I still spend quite a bit of time with my family. Like, for instance, when I need NyQuil.

Finally gathering enough energy to get out of bed, I tossed a few things into my backpack and climbed into my car for the 1/2 mile drive to the land of NyQuil and a comforting mother.

I parked in the driveway, opened my car door, and then just sat there.

NPR was announcing the morning news. “We will be updating you regularly on the Egyptian Air flight that disappeared over the Mediterranean this morning.”

It was 5:00 am, and the sky was that eerie darkish blue of not-quite-morning.

Rain fell, suddenly, pattering on the roof of my car, the new-rain smell blowing in through my open door.

And somehow, in the middle of the weird eeriness, the intense pain in my throat, and the sadness of another plane disappearing, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I didn’t feel the crushing stress of the last couple weeks of term. I guess this is what they call a peace that passeth all understanding.

I’m on antibiotics now, and I woke up this morning with my throat barely hurting at all, thank God.

It’s very much coming down to crunch time, school wise, and I stress because I don’t know how to not stress. But for the past few days I’ve been clinging to the memory of that peace because I love to know that it exists.

 

MOP April 21: Little Sister

“Hey Emily, guess what?” My little sister stood in my doorway at 11:02 last night.

“What?”

“This may be the last time you’ll see me as a 16-year-old.”

Maybe not so little, after all.

“Not if we hang out for a while,” I said.

She sat on my bed and we started chatting. I don’t even know what about.

“Let’s take a selfie,” she said.

“But I still have that white stuff in my eye.” I’d been doing an odd experimental eye treatment.

“I’ll cover it up for you.”

We took a selfie.

Jenny is almost nine years younger than me, and when she was born, seventeen years ago today, I didn’t think that we’d end up being best friends. I thought that she would be the little sister, and I would be the big sister, and there would always be a large nine-year gulf between us.

I was wrong.

I never wanted to be the person who was still living at home at age 25. I really value my independence. I was on my own for a couple years, but I was too ill to support myself and my mental health was in shambles and I wanted to go to college so I came back.

As much as I love my family to pieces, I always thought I would move out again if it were at all financially possible. Because independence.

Something interesting happened though, and I truly believe it was God redeeming a situation that I found very difficult. I became best friends with my little sister. The nine year gap became nothing. We learned to work through all our weird sibling issues. We had piles of fun.

So Jenny, on your 17th birthday, here are 17 things I love about you:

  1. I love your love of learning.
  2. I love your artistic side and fantastic sense of style.
  3. I love your wacky sarcastic humor.
  4. I love all our inside jokes.
  5. I love that you are unafraid to bash stereotypes. That you simultaneously embrace being geeky and girly and sporty, reading romance novels and solving math problems and doing cardio in your spare time.
  6. I love that you like to have spontaneous adventures.
  7. And sleepovers.
  8. And that we still play truth or dare.
  9. I love that you give me your honest opinion when I ask you what you think of my outfit.
  10. Or when I ask what you think of anything, really. Even guys. Especially guys.
  11. I love that you like to discuss the interesting oddities of life with me.
  12. I love all the interesting YouTube videos you find and share with me.
  13. I love the way you like what you like, whether or not it’s “cool.”
  14. I love that you’re not afraid to tell me when I’ve hurt your feelings.
  15. And that we can talk about everything.
  16. I love your unique perspective on life.
  17. I love that you are my sister and my friend.

Check out Jenny’s last MOP post here, and Mom’s latest here.

 

MOP April 19: Things in Unexpected Places

Today my friends and I hung out because it was Ashlie’s birthday, and we had a conversation that went something like this:

Ashlie: It’s cold in here. Why is it so cold in here?

Anna: I’ve heard that restaurants keep things cold so that you’ll eat more to burn more calories to keep you warm.

Ashlie: Did you know that fast food places purposefully make the music loud so that customers will leave and they can usher people through faster?

Mandy: If you want to go to a place that’s nice and quiet you should go to Coldstone Creamery.

Me: I want to go to Coldstone sometime. I have lots of gift cards.

And by “lots” I meant two. One that someone gave me , and one that I found long ago while cleaning the school at the end of the year.

Mandy: Why don’t you use them?

Me: I just don’t get to Coldstone since the one in Albany shut down.

Anna: (Wistfully) I had a Coldstone gift card once. It was for, like, $20. But then I lost it.

Me: (Offhandedly) Oh, did you lose it at school?

Anna: Yeah.

Me: Really? I have it right here.

I reached into my wallet and pulled out the gift card.

Anna: What? But I lost it, like, four or five years ago.

Me: Yeah, I think it was about four or five years ago that I found it.

Anna: But you don’t understand. I looked and looked for it. I prayed and prayed about it. Even Chaz knows about it.

Chaz being her husband of less than a year.

Me: Well, here it is.

Anna: No, I can’t take it!

Me: What? Of course you can. It’s yours.

Anna: You have to blog about this.

So I took her advice.

 

MOP April 13: Vindication

I was pretty bad at academic writing when I started college, which was hard on my ego. I mean, I’d published a book and stuff, how dare my teachers make notes in the margins of my papers telling me to take a writing class?

Humph.

Still, being of a practical frame of mind, I signed up for an entry-level writing class the next term.

Our first paper was supposed to be an essay about “the worst job I’ve ever had.” I wrote something clever and funny, and brought the rough draft to class to get critiqued. I think the idea was to get into small groups and critique each others’ papers, but as the teacher wandered from group to group giving helpful hints he decided to grab my paper and read the first paragraph out loud.

Oh no. My paper was not funny and interesting as I had previously thought. It was, instead, vague and confusing. At least, the first paragraph was. That’s all he read before flippantly dismissing it, and I went home with my writer ego a squashed mess.

I ranted to my mom about it over a cup of tea.

“I once had a writing teacher who absolutely tore my work to shreds in front of the whole class,” she said. “Then when I became a successful writer I saw him again, and he praised my work up and down, and I felt vindicated.”

After I got over the sting of criticism, I re-wrote the first paragraph to be less vague and confusing. The next class session, my teacher immediately came up to me. “Emily! I’m so sorry last class ended before I had a chance to critique your paper!”

“Um, yeah, well I guess the beginning was kinda confusing so I changed it,” I said, tentatively handing my paper to him.

He began reading it. “Yeah, this is great. This makes so much more sense.”

My writer ego scabbed over nicely.

Today, five years and several colleges later, I was finished with class and walking back to my car when someone yelled at me from across the street. “Hey, it’s the girl in the red rubber boots!”

I laughed as my former writing teacher crossed the street and came up to me, shaking my hands as if I were the celebrity and he was a fan. “I love your blog!” he said.

Mwa ha ha ha ha, vindication at last.

 

What We Do for Extra Credit

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I gotta say, dressing up and lip-syncing to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done for extra credit.

I posted this picture on Facebook and multiple people asked me for the full story. Goodness. How do I even begin to explain that class?

I guess I should have known what I was getting into. After all, I did go online and register for a class called “Small Group Communication.” But see, by the time I got around to registering, classes had mostly filled up, and I was blindly clicking on anything that fulfilled my graduation requirements.

It didn’t really occur to me until the first day of class that I had just signed up for lots and lots of group work. (Which, if you have ever been to college, you know can be ab-so-lute-lee brutal.)

This class though. About 1/3 of it is lecture, and the other 2/3 is group activity. One day your team is stacking oddly-shaped blocks. One day you’re trying to come up with a solution to the feral cat problem, while trying to ignore the team behind you telling each other wild stories about their aunt’s friend’s cat who mated with a bobcat and had a half-bobcat kitten. One day you’re crawling on the floor trying to get through a desk-and-string maze.

Let’s just say, I’ve gotten to know these classmates better than I usually get to know my classmates.

On Friday, my teacher pulled out the ULTIMATE class activity. Unlike other class activities, this was actually worth something. If your team got 1800 points, you would get 10 points of extra credit.

There were five rounds. Three were played Friday, and the last two were played today.

Now, I should probably add that for nearly all of the games, tests, assignments, etc, our class is divided into three teams. There is my team, “The Emilys,” which consists of me, two other girls named “Emily,” a guy named Marcus (who interestingly enough is married to a girl named Emily), and a girl named Grace. The remaining 7 girls in the class have a team, and the remaining 4 boys in the class have a team.

Round 1, each team randomly drew a card. The cards were worth an arbitrary number of points. My team got negative points. Lucky us. The boys got the most points, so they got to choose a team to humiliate. They choose us. We had to hum “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Rounds 2 and 3 were also mostly based on chance, and involved drawing cards. My team wasn’t particularly lucky. The girls got “humiliated” and had to do the bunny hop. The boys got “humiliated” and had to crow like a rooster for a minute and a half.

Just another day in a small group communication class.

Anyway, just before class was out, my teacher pulled up a song on youtube:

“On Monday,” she said, “your team will lip-sync to this song. Teams that do well in this exercise often bring props and costumes. Goodbye, have a good weekend.”

“How badly do you want to win this thing?” Marcus asked us.

“Really bad! I can make a lion mane! Can I be the lead singer? I have an African shirt!” I said.

I love this kind of thing. Not gonna lie. And furthermore, it seemed like we were finally going to get a chance to gain points based on effort, not luck.

So, I made a lion mane that weekend. I listened to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” over and over until I had all the lyrics memorized. I dug in the attic this morning until I found an African shirt. I tried it on, and it fit, but I couldn’t get it off so I wore it all day.

Unfortunately, the girls all showed up with jungle-animal costumes and choreographed dance moves. They were awarded 750 points, while my team got 500. The boys completely winged it, using the chalkboard eraser as their “microphone” and slapping it periodically to release a dramatic cloud of white fog. They got 25o points.

We went into the last round with the girls sitting pretty, and the boys and us duking it out for the remaining points. This also involved a complicated system of drawing playing cards, in which we were, once again, quite unlucky.

The story ends sadly: Everyone got their 1800 points, with the 10 points of extra credit, except my team.

Yep. That spectacular lion mane was all for nothing.

Now, throughout all of this none of us could figure out what the point was. All our games and activities are supposed to teach valuable truths about small groups, but what do playing cards and lip-syncing have to do with anything we’ve been studying?

“Now,” said my teacher, as my team slumped dejectedly in our chairs at the end of the game, a discarded lion mane on the desk. “That exercise was about power.”

Class was over.

“We’ll talk about it more on Wednesday,” she said.

So. I memorized a song, made a lion mane, and wore an African shirt all day until my Mom helped me wiggle out of it when I got home. And I got no extra credit. However, not to worry! I learned all about power! At least, I will on Wednesday.

ETA: My mom read this and said it comes across like a very juvenile exercise, and will make people question why on EARTH I am paying good money to take classes like this.

Fair enough. It was a juvenile exercise. However, I have to say, as strange as this class is it is oddly effective. I’m guessing, as far as retention goes, I’ll remember what I learned in this class much longer than in my lecture classes, because I’ll have these unique activities to tie the concepts to. (And also, this is by far the silliest thing we’ve done so far. So there’s that.)