Category Archives: Stories

I Am Undone: My Second Week of Thankfulness

At the beginning of last week it was very hard to find things to be thankful for. At the end of last week I could have named 100 things. That’s how my life seems to go these days⁠—stretches of mundanity punctuated with vibrant beauty. But I’m trying to be thankful in the mundanity too, because mundanity is when my body rests.

Monday

On Monday I was thankful for tea on tap. I’m not sure if that’s the correct phrasing, but my latest favorite coffee shop has a hot brewed “tea of the day” that they keep in an insulated carafe. Instant tea! No waiting for it to brew! It reminds me of that feeling of coming downstairs and seeing that someone else has brewed a pot of tea to share, and all you have to do is pour.

Tuesday

Last week my health was pretty dubious. Tuesday was the worst day, and neither Jenny nor I did much of anything. I couldn’t stomach much besides brothy soup and saltines, but I didn’t have the energy to stand at the stove and cook up brothy soup. 

Then I remembered…crock pots exist!

I filled a crock pot with pork chops, broth, potatoes, and some random veggies from the fridge. Then I went back to bed. The soup cooked itself to a digestible mush and that’s what I ate for the rest of the week. 

So on Tuesday I was grateful for crock pots.

Wednesday

On Wednesday I couldn’t decide what to be thankful for. I have a pretty view out my bedroom window, I thought, but it was hard to be grateful because it just reminded me of how much of this gorgeous fall weather I’ve wasted by being indoors. 

However, later I changed my mind. If I had to be indoors and unwell, having a lovely bedroom-window view is nothing but a blessing. Orange leaves and quaint brick buildings. I am grateful. 

Thursday

Thursday I was grateful for a different sort of thing. I was grateful that I don’t have to carry my burdens alone.

Sometimes I get the idea that it’s just me and Jesus in this big world, but it’s not. God gave people other people for a reason. I felt a little convicted when Vanya Hooley wrote on Twitter, “I’ll tell my friends my thoughts. I’ll tell my friends my thoughts about my feelings. But I rarely tell even my best friends about my *actual* feelings, and it just occurred to me that that probably hurts both of us.”

Maybe it’s an Enneagram 5 thing. Nevertheless I decided to tell one of my best friends about my *actual* feelings, and her empathy lifted a burden from my soul.

Friday

On Friday I was grateful for old friends. The ones who understand everything about where you come from.

I drove to Pennsylvania this weekend because a group of new-ish friends invited me to go see Hamilton in Philadelphia with them. I was pretty apprehensive because my schedule is so booked up through early December that I was afraid any misstep could send my health tumbling into the abyss. I know so many people in PA that I always tend to overbook myself. So I tried to plan for as few people and as much sleep as possible.

Even though I’ve gone to PA several times since I’ve moved, I haven’t had a chance to catch up with Shanea yet, so I asked her if I could spend Friday night there. So Friday I was able to get up late and take my time cleaning up the house and leaving. I arrived at her house around dinner time, and we spent all evening chatting.

I don’t know if it’s fair to call Shanea an “old friend” because we weren’t friends growing up. She was quite a bit younger than me. But like, Shanea’s best friend’s brother, Trent, was my brother’s best friend, and Shanea’s sister Janane was my sister’s best friend, and Shanea’s brother was my other brother’s best friend. We were in the same very small circle of acquaintances.

I think we became real friends in the 2017/2018 school year when she taught grades 3-5 and I was the secretary. That was an…interesting year, and let’s just say we bonded. Shanea saw a side of Brownsville that I never did, and I really credit her for helping me understand so many of the dynamics of the church and school where I grew up. 

As we were talking, I got a text from someone I haven’t really talked to in years. “Trent just texted me,” I said. There was something wonderful in not having to explain who “Trent” was. 

“What? Why?” Shanea asked.

Turns out he was in Blacksburg and wanted to hang out with Jenny and I. He also relocated to VA from Oregon, and wanted to connect. Trent, of course, is in that same tiny group of people that Shanea is in. He once climbed in my bedroom window because he wanted to hang out with Steven and didn’t want to use the front door.

Anyway, of course I wasn’t in VA but Trent and his wife ended up hanging out with Jenny and I’m sure I’ll connect with them at some point. I was grateful, for Shanea and Trent and all the others who “get” what it was like in our tiny Brownsville universe. 

Saturday

At the end of 2019 I wrote down my top 10 moments of the 2010s. In 2029, if I write the top 20 moments of the 2020s, it is very likely that Saturday will be on that list.

Saturday, see, I was grateful for Hamilton. 

Usually when I talk about the things that deeply move me, they’re very uncool, semi-obscure things. It’s always either musicals or fantasy books. I have to explain why I like them while also understanding that most people won’t like them. And not in a cool way. 

But Hamilton is extremely popular. So maybe you’d love it too, who knows!

In 2016 a friend played me two songs from Hamilton and I really loved them. However, I didn’t allow myself to listen to the full soundtrack because I knew it was a sung-through musical and I didn’t want to “spoil” it. But tickets were hundreds of dollars and hard to get so I didn’t see much chance that I’d ever see it for real, at least not for a very long time.

Near the end of 2019, I was in Delaware and I saw that the library had a copy of “The Hamilton Mixtape.” This is an album of some of the songs from the musical and a few related songs or songs that were cut from the musical. I popped it into the CD player of my car and was blown away. Which is kinda funny because I had never remotely liked hip hop music before, but I guess it goes to show that I’ll like any “genre” of music as long as it’s a show tune.

Anyway. During the pandemic I learned that they were going to release a recorded Broadway performance of Hamilton and stream it on Disney+. I watched it with my sisters and didn’t think they were impressed enough, so after it was over I went wandering over the moonlit fields by myself, feeling my feelings like I was some sort of enneagram 4. 

Last summer, a friend reached out and wondered if I’d be interested in seeing Hamilton live in Philadelphia with her friend group. At first I was apprehensive about the cost⁠—aren’t tickets obscenely expensive? But if I was willing to sit in an “obstructed view” seat I could get a ticket for $47, which was doable. 

We were waaaay up in the theater, but it wasn’t super spread out so I could still see quite well. Although it did give me that weird feeling like if I leaned forward too far I might tumble onto the stage.

As you can see in the picture, the balcony post blocked part of my view, which is why the ticket was cheap. But lucky me, no one bought the seat next to me, so I scooted one seat to my left and had a perfect view.

Then I watched the show, and it was amazing. It made me feel like I understood everything.

It’s hard to explain why I’m so moved by the things that move me. I guess I never like my stories to be too “realistic,” because life is so much more than what we can see and hear. Most of what we experience we experience internally, so we invented metaphors and music to try and convey our internal world to others. In fantasy you can use giant fantastical metaphors that aren’t “allowed” in realistic fiction or nonfiction. And in musicals you can tell the story with music, and thus everyone can feel the emotions of the story as they watch. 

Most of the time I exist in the expanse of my own ignorance*, longing to know everything. But in these moments I feel like I understand everything about myself, the universe, even Spirituality. Before seeing Hamilton I felt weak. After seeing Hamilton I felt like God’s strength would be made perfect in my weakness.

So afterwards everyone kept asking, “how was Hamilton?” And I’d say, “amazing,” and hope that if they saw it they wouldn’t be disappointed. After all, it is quite popular. But I do think that most people don’t feel that same sort of transcendence after seeing a spectacular musical. Or maybe they do and no one talks about it.

Sunday

Dana, one of the girls I went to see Hamilton with, was staying at her parent’s house that weekend while they were out of town. So four of us ended up spending the night there, and in the morning we sat around sipping tea and coffee. Then they went to church and I began the long drive home.

I decided that I was grateful for those slow, tea-sipping mornings with friends. I experienced a number of them that weekend. First on Saturday morning with Shanea, then late Saturday morning when I spent an hour at Esta’s house, and then Sunday morning.

The Week in General

I was super dooper grateful because my plan worked. I specifically scheduled my trip to include lots of sleep and fewer people, and I had good health the whole time with no crash upon return. Hallelujah! 

The Rest of November

Originally I wanted to keep up this grateful-for-one-thing-every-day plan through the rest of November. However, the day after Thanksgiving I’m taking a trip to Kenya, and if I have time to post I just want to post about Kenya. 

So what I’m thinking is, next Monday I’ll write another gratefulness post, and then I’ll do a gratefulness post on Thanksgiving as well which will end the series.

Take care, and stay grateful!

*I must credit Darren Sensenig, who was part of the Hamilton group, for this turn of phrase. I asked him why he went to college and he said, “I think the expanse of my ignorance was a motivating factor.” I thought that was a really cool way to say it. 

***

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Notes On Free Stuff and Bad Health

Free Stuff

Janessa and I were driving around, looking for camp chairs at thrift stores. I was telling her about my life philosophy, and why I’m always reluctant to purchase things that I want but don’t desperately need. “I just feel like if I wait long enough, things suddenly appear, for free,” I said.

Two seconds later I yelled, “stop! stop!” Because there was a free chair beside the road.

Unfortunately it ripped that weekend on my camping trip, but I think I can fix it? Anyway.

I just love free stuff. There’s something so thrilling about rescuing a discarded item, and something so fun about figuring out how to make it work for you. When I was a child, I’d take a purple paper bag to garage sales and paw through the free boxes, so if you wonder why I’m like this, blame my mother I guess.

Soon after we moved here I joined a Buy Nothing Blacksburg Facebook page. The first thing I acquired was a pair of lampshades that, unfortunately, didn’t fit the shadeless lamps we had.

I balanced it in place, though, and it’s been sort-of working.

I found Jenny a desk chair out by the dumpster, which was probably the best free find of all.

I was mostly looking for a desk, because we brought our sewing supplies but had nothing to put them on. I wanted something small enough to haul in my car, of course. When someone posted a small-looking desk to the buy nothing group, I commented and asked for it, just sort-of assuming it would either fit in my car or I’d figure something else out.

Well, they messaged me saying it was mine. Realizing I wouldn’t be able to haul it around myself, I convinced Jenny to come get it with me. So we hopped in my car and drove over.

The address led me to a second floor apartment. The man who opened the door was confused. “Oh, I guess my wife must have posted it to the group,” he said. So Jenny and I stood around and smiled at his cute child while waiting for him to clear off the desk and wipe it down.

He offered to help us carry it down the stairs, but Jenny and I insisted that we had it. Personally, I was scared it wouldn’t fit in my car, and I didn’t want to deal with solution-finding while this strange man stood around judging us. And sure enough, when we got it out to the parking lot, it didn’t fit.

“How about this,” I said. “I’ll start wheeling it home, and you drive home and get a screwdriver.”

So that’s what we did. We met up in the CVS parking lot, dismantled the desk, and it fit easily into the car. Always bring a screwdriver with you, folks. Although wheeling a desk around town was kind of fun, I have to admit.

Lately I’ve been looking for a portable cassette tape player with a headphone jack. I figured out that I sleep a lot better if I put my phone and computer somewhere not in my bedroom when bedtime rolls around. Staring at a screen is bad for insomnia, and I’m always tempted to go down midnight Wikipedia rabbit holes.

But sometimes I still want to write as I wind down for the night. I have notebooks and my AlphaSmart, so that part is fine, but I didn’t have a good way to listen to music.

Then in the Buy Nothing group one day I saw a cassette player with a headphone jack. It was bigger than I imagined, and when I finally picked it up it was…well, a rather large boom box. But! It also has a CD player and a radio, so lots of musical options. Also, ever since the CD player in my car randomly quit I’ve had no way to play my CDs. So win win, except I had to buy a large quantity of enormous batteries for it.

Also, it faintly smells like the tiny planes we used to fly around in in Canada. I think that smell must be my earliest smell memory. I used to feel sick whenever I smelled it, or whenever I saw the awful shade of green that the pilot’s headphones used to be. I guess as a three-year-old you don’t understand the difference between smell, color, and air sickness, and they all are the same thing in your brain.

Health

In general my mini book tour was amazing. Thanks to Covid this was the first time I was really able to have good chats with people who enjoy reading my work. But unfortunately I way overdid it and had a health crash.

Some of it was beyond my control and some of it was just poor planning. I had two-and-a-half long intense days, one extremely late night and one extremely early morning, and a very sketchy undercooked burger I was too tired to bother sending back to the kitchen. But I crashed so mightily upon returning to Blacksburg that I had to miss my cousin’s wedding that weekend.

Honestly I was surprised that my health was so great for the first two months in Blacksburg, because moving is kind-of hard on my body. But I guess it all caught up with me, because I’ve struggled through these past two weeks. Just really, really tired all the time. I don’t exactly know what’s up but I hate it.

Other Stuff

Everything in life pauses when I’m struggling with bad health, so I don’t have a lot of other interesting stories to share. I’m slowly feeling more connected in general, although again, I’m not exactly socializing a lot these days, just surviving.

I am making good progress on two more books, a fiction I’m writing just for me (probably) and a nonfiction I plan to publish, maybe in a year?

I have a large fun exciting trip planned for later this fall, and am just praying I have the health for it. I think I just need to make sure I eat enough, sleep enough, and get enough alone time.

***

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Teaching Myself some Cooking Skills

Frankly, I’ve never really enjoyed cooking. I’ve always secretly hoped that I’d marry someone who loved to cook and never have to bother.

Well, we all know how that worked out for me.

Here are some things I’ve noticed about people who love cooking, as well as some theories about why I’ve never taken to it:

  1. People who love cooking often also love eating. I enjoy good food but mostly see eating as kind-of a bother that takes a lot of time and often doesn’t agree with me.
  2. People who love cooking often take one recipe and make it multiple times until they can make it just so. I get bored of this and always try to tackle fancy new recipes.
  3. People who love cooking understand the craft so well they don’t get lost if the recipe leaves out a step. I always get lost. I also have a hard time holding numbers in my head, so I’m constantly checking and re-checking to see if it’s two or three tsp. Or was it Tbsp?
  4. People who love cooking can whip things up, things like stir-fry or pasta sauce, without a recipe. I’m too scared to try. What if everyone hates what I made for them?

So you see, there are plenty of perfectly good reasons why I’m not great at cooking. But cooking is kinda like, I don’t know, driving. An essential skill, which you pretty much have to learn unless you have lots of money or a Very Devoted Spouse.

Neither of which I currently possess.

For a while I’ve been wanting to have a growth mindset about cooking. Even before I left Oregon I was learning how to solicit feedback from my family without feeling insecure, improvise based on what we had on hand, and ask people-who-love-cooking for their advice.

However, moving really provided the ideal scenario for some good old-fashioned cooking practice.

First of all, being alone in the kitchen is everything. Sorry, family whom I dearly love. I enjoy an occasional Sunday morning you-make-the-salad-and-I’ll-make-the-pie situation, but. Trying to get food on the table by 6pm while someone is talking loudly on the phone in the next room, someone else is walking through with their laundry, someone is leaving before supper so they’re just gonna make themselves a quick sandwich sorry if I’m in your way, and someone else wants to ask you about your day while you’re trying to remember if it’s 3 tsp or 4 Tbsp, is nightmarish and I hate it and I’m sorry but that’s the facts.

Besides mostly being alone in the kitchen, I’m also cooking mostly for myself, on mostly limited ingredients. So I’ve very quickly been picking up on the dump-things-into-a-pan-and-call-it-cooking method that’s seemed so magical and elusive when other cooks do it. It’s easier to innovate when you don’t have a lot in the fridge to begin with, and so much less pressure when no one is eating it but you.

I should add, though, that I do cook for Jenny sometimes. Particularly on Monday and Tuesday nights when she works until 9pm and is starvingly hungry by the time she gets home. And I must say that there is great satisfaction in feeding a Very Hungry Person.

Anyway. Since I don’t have much of a social life in Blacksburg yet, I’ve been using my extra time to read books. I live so close to the library I feel like I won the jackpot. So besides silly books and fun books I’m learning all the ins and outs of self-publishing, starting a small business, and now, cooking.

I really just checked out one book on cooking, and you’ve probably already heard of it because it’s rather famous. It’s called Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, by Samin Nosrat. I became fascinated by the idea of this book several years ago when I heard Nosrat on NPR talking about how she randomly learned to cook by begging to bus tables at a fancy restaurant and then begging the cooks to teach her, and about how there are all these women around the world who have spent countless hours cooking, becoming these unrecognized experts. She was super interesting.

I don’t have Netflix though, so I haven’t seen her cooking show. And I couldn’t really afford the book. But now here I am, with a library next door, so here I go! I’m gonna learn.

The basic premise of Salt Fat Acid Heat is that, instead of just blindly following recipes, you can teach yourself the basic chemistry of what makes food taste good. So if you have a pork chop, some potatoes, and a few random veggies on hand, you don’t have to try and find a recipe that tells you exactly how to cook them. If you know the correct ways to apply salt, fat, acid, and heat to those types of food, you can come up with several delicious ways to cook them, no recipes needed.

Or if you find a recipe, you can adjust it to fit your exact ingredients, and you can use your own skills and taste buds to ensure it comes out delicious even if it means deviating from the recipe.

I haven’t finished the book yet. I’m still in the “fat” section. But did I use the book to make my own mayo the other day, so that was cool. Much more delicious than store-bought mayo, I would say.

Then on Wednesday I was at the farmer’s market when I saw a strange vegetable that looked like a snozzcumber from The BFG. “What is this?” I asked the lady behind the counter.

“It’s a bitter melon,” she said.

“How do you cook it?” I asked.

So she started explaining the various ways you can cook it, including the Chinese way (she was Chinese), and I whipped out a notebook and started writing down her directions.

I mean, look. The problem with me is that I still get bored with cooking and if someone is selling snozzcumbers and telling me the authentic Chinese way to cook them, you better believe I’m gonna try it.

So today I cooked the bitter melon the Chinese way, and then I realized that I had to taste the food before serving it because Salt Fat Acid Heat told me too. Over and over again.

I took one bite and started laughing. “You’re not gonna like this, Jenny.”

“Really?” said Jenny.

“Yep. It’s bitter.”

Jenny took a bite and made a face. “Yeah, I think I’m just gonna have the pork.”

I’ll confess though, I ate the bitter melon. Because first of all, food is food. And second of all, I get kind-of fascinated sometimes by weird food even if it’s kinda gross. Part of me wonders if I just cooked it wrong, but part of me is like, I mean, it’s literally called “bitter melon.” So, like, no one should be surprised that it’s…bitter.

Now I just need to learn how to make frobscottle I guess.

Anyway, if you enjoy cooking, please tell me your advice. Especially if you’re someone who used to not enjoy it, but learned how.

***

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Follow me on:
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Patreon: patreon.com/emilysmucker (This is where I post bonus blog posts, about more personal/controversial subjects, for a subscription fee of $1 a month [or more if you’re feeling generous]. I try to post twice a month.)

My Moving Journey: On Abundance and Fitting In

When I got the notice that my library books were due in three days, I started reading them extra-ardently. Then I ran out of books to read. I was going to walk down to the library, but then Jenny’s friend Tatiane came over and we walked to Gucci Kroger instead.

I’ll just go tomorrow, I said to myself. The library is extremely close.

Not quite as close, though, as the church I went to the next day. Jenny went to Sunday School at the little nearby church she’d decided to check out the previous week, and I debated about whether or not I wanted to go to church at all. (Finding a church has been an ongoing struggle for me, which I wrote in detail about over on Patreon.)

But then I decided to just go, whatever. I walked over and everyone was extremely friendly.

One of the weirdest things about Blacksburg is that it feels like the town only exists to be a college town. At least from my vantage point, living so near campus and constantly surrounded by students.

No one seems to realize that I’m 31. Everyone here mistakes me for a student. Sometimes I wish I were a student, just so I could say, “I’m a student,” and not have to explain what I’m doing here.

I slipped in near the back of church and saw Jenny up front with the other college students. Afterwards I joined her and she introduced me to her pals. “So, how are you liking Blacksburg?” one of them asked.

I didn’t know how to answer. “Well…not as much as Jenny is,” I said.

“It grows on you,” she said. “Like a fungus. I hated my first year here but now I love it.”

Everyone gathered outside to eat, and I sat with Jenny at the college student table. I felt a bit out of place as they discussed dorms, teachers, and welcome week, but they were nice. Everyone at that church was friendly, old and young alike, and several expressed interest in my book so I guess I have to go back at least one more time.

Later, at home with the hot afternoon wind filling the apartment with humid air, I put my almost-due books into my backpack and headed for the library.

It looked pretty closed. Were they closed on Sundays? I looked at the times: open 1pm-5pm Sunday. It was 2pm. So what…

“The library is closed on Sunday,” said a man sitting on a bench to my left.

“Really?” I asked. And then I saw it… “closed on Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.”

I headed to the book drop slot, and as I returned my books I made a little dejected comment about having no more books to read.

The man on the bench, whose name ended up being “Bruce,” told me that I should just borrow some e-books. “I have the Libby app,” he said. “I’m legally blind, so I can’t read normal books anyway. With an e-book I can read it on my phone and make the words bigger.”

That’s how I ended up in a conversation with Bruce. He’d come to Blacksburg two years previously, he said, because the Holy Spirit told him to come here.

“Where do you go to church?” I asked.

He listed several he went to, and when I explained to him that I was still figuring out where I wanted to go, he recommended one to me. But I’m pretty sure he, too, assumed I was a college student, because when I looked it up later I saw that the service he’d recommended was the collegiate service. He also told me I should get involved with Cru.

Anyway. I told him I was jealous that the Holy Spirit told him exactly where to live. And he said, “just pray about it!” which I guess is good advice.

But it does feel, sometimes, like the Holy Spirit doesn’t always give super-specific directions. Or He’ll give super-specific directions in one area, but not others. Like, I’m very confident that I’m supposed to be a writer, and that I’m not supposed to be a traditional missionary like I intended when I first started college. At least, not right now.

But as to where I’m supposed to live? That remains unclear. Obviously I’m living in Blacksburg for at least a year, but I currently don’t feel any sort of perminance or sense of belonging.

I like to think I can fit in anywhere, but this first month in Blacksburg has been a struggle. I’ve never lived in a place where I was so expected to be something I am clearly not. And it’s hard to know, in that context, where I fit in.

I just realized I intended to focus this post on abundance, and instead went off about fitting in. Oops. Let’s get back to abundance.

So, I didn’t have a book to read that night. And not having a book to read is a very weird feeling. At home in Oregon I always have unread books on my bookshelf. If I don’t feel like reading any of them, I mine the bookshelves in the upstairs hallway, or Mom’s bookshelf in the office, or Amy’s bookshelf, or Jenny’s, or the piles of books on the coffee table in the living room.

Having an abundance of books is something I never thought about much until I didn’t have it anymore.

Right now our home is sparsly furnished. In my room I have an armoire that the previous tenants left behind, and a bed. That’s all.

I don’t mind the lack of a desk as much as you’d think. In college my desk was a little rolltop and my open laptop didn’t quite fit inside, so I did almost everything from my bed. A bad habit, probably, that’s supposed to make insomnia even worse, but nevertheless I’ve gone back to it.

But in college I had two tools I don’t have now: a nightstand, and a tray.

Now, every day my bed becomes littered with multiple books, notebooks, pens, my planner, and my laptop. Then I grab some tea and, where am I supposed to set it? If you set a mug on your bed it will tip over. So I put it on a notebook which is still precarious and will potentially leave rings or tip over and ruin it. Or I grab the lid from the big plastic bin where I store my skirts since I don’t have skirt hangers yet. (The bin also doubles as a laundry basket. We are very innovative over here.)

Come bedtime, it’s all just kind-of a mess.

What in the house can I use to solve my problems? I think over the options. We only have one little tray, and it’s mesh, so spilled tea would go straight through. Also we’re using it as a dish drainer.

And we really have nothing that can be used as a nightstand. My plastic tote already serves three functions and needs to be constantly moved around, opened, and closed. We have one metal rack in the kitchen, but if we move it we’ll have nowhere to put the microwave, not to mention the blender, crock pot, and toaster. And if we did have an extra metal rack it would go in the hall closet, which is a mess.

So I’m left with the options of shopping, keeping an eye on the dumpster, or doing without. Which is not what I’m used to. I’m used to abundance. In Oregon, if I needed a nightstand I would have so many options. I could fashion one from a crate I found on the porch, or go out to the playhouse and rescue the little set of shelves that used to hold towels above the toilet. I could dig into Mom’s abundant stash of trays. With enough creativity, I can find everything I need lying around the house somewhere. No need to make purchases.

I find it so interesting how the way one grows up affects how one views “stuff.” Mom and Aunt Margaret grew up in a family that was poor but super creative, and they both learned how to get everything one needed either free or cheap. This trait was also passed along to me. If I find a suit jacket lying in the middle of the street, I will rescue it and make something useful out of it. No shame.

However, they also grew up in a home where their needs were not always met. In consequence, they gather stuff around them, hanging on to things they may need in the future. In this way they have enough to not only meet their own needs, but meet other people’s needs as well.

I, on the other hand, grew up in a home where my needs were always met. Too much stuff stresses me out, so I try to keep as few things around as possible. I like to travel with only a backpack, and move across the country with only my little Toyota, leaving enough space to still see out the back window.

It works for me, because I always assume that the world is full of abundance. Someone will leave what I need in the dumpster, or I’ll find it cheap at a garage sale, and I can survive without a nightstand until I find one for free on the Facebook buy nothing page. But I only think this way because my needs have always been met.

Even moving here, we didn’t have much, and it was Aunt Margaret’s abundance that saved the day.

Spending money has always been a struggle for me, although I have gotten better in this area. I work hard to avoid being stingy if anyone besides myself is affected, but when it’s just me, figuring out how to do without is a fun adventure. But sometimes it leads to slightly ridiculous situations.

For instance: Last September, I was camping with my siblings in southern Oregon, and as I camped I began to wish that I could work in beautiful places like this. But I wasn’t about to drag a heavy fragile laptop up a mountain with me. Besides, my laptop battery only lasts a few hours. And it’s extremely hard to see the screen in bright daylight. You have to turn your brightness up 100% and squint, and that drains your battery even faster.

So I googled for a solution, and that’s how I found out about the AlphaSmart. It was perfect–basically a keyboard with the sort of screen you typically find on calculators. It was lightweight, sturdy, had batteries that lasted for months and maybe years, and you could use it in bright daylight.

I knew that I wanted to buy it. I wrote “buy an AlphaSmart” on my to-do list for October. But it was August before I bought one. Yep–I waited almost a year. I don’t know why. It’s silly. If I feel like I can do without something I have a really hard time actually buying it, even if I want it.

The AlphaSmart showed up just in time, though, because my computer cord finally gave up the ghost. It had been sketchy for a while, but I’d always been able to make it work. But last Thursday I thought, “you know, I really should get a new cord before I end up in a sticky situation.” So I bought one, and then the old cord promptly died for good.

Amazon takes forever to ship to Blacksburg for some reason. (I just think of the poor overworked Amazon drivers pooping in plastic bags and try not to mind the delays.) But in the meantime I’ve been writing on the AlphaSmart. Friday I wrote a Patreon post (the one about church), and then Jenny let me borrow her laptop to transfer and post it. I also at times used the library computers to transfer stuff to my Google Drive.

There’s an area near campus where the street is closed off, and they’ve set up picnic tables and tents. It’s quite nice, kind-of like a town square. I went there to write on Monday, and as I was composing this blog post, pontificating about abundance, a guy stopped and looked at me with delighted recognition.

Do I know him? I thought. Maybe he’s friends with Jenny?

Then he said, “Is that an AlphaSmart?!”

“Yes!” I said.

He’d had an AlphaSmart when he was a kid, he said, and hadn’t thought about it in years. So I told him that they’re becoming popular with writers. He asked what I was writing. I said, a blog post about moving to Blacksburg. “No way!” he said. “I also just moved here!”

I asked his name, and he said something that sounded like “Zhan Flip.” I repeated, questioning, feeling like I’d missed something. “It’s French, I’m from Quebec,” he said.

“Oh cool, I’m also Canadian,” I said. “But I don’t know French.” (As if that wasn’t obvious.)(His name, for the record, was actually Jean-Philippe.)

I asked if he’s a student, and he tried to explain his situation. He’d graduated a while back and now worked remotely. But his brother was going to Virginia Tech. So he thought he might as well come live with his brother in Blacksburg.

I. Kid. You. Not. “No way!” I said. “Me too! My sister’s a student and I work as a writer so I moved here too!”

Of course after that series of remarkable similarities we were instantly friends. He set his laptop down and we just sat there and worked for a while. Like we were co-workers. It was very nice.

I think, after all, that the mushroom girl was right. Blacksburg is growing on me, like a fungus.

***

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Blacksburg Virginia: Settling In

As I recounted last week, Jenny and I arrived in Blacksburg on Saturday, August 7, and our Aunt Margaret was here to help us settle in. We were caught in a flurry of activity–buying furniture, cleaning, putting things in the correct cupboards, and trying to figure out why the hot water wouldn’t work. When Margaret left late Sunday morning, Jenny and I were too worn out to do much of anything, frankly.

Still, the “to do” list was growing. There was a leak under the sink. The check engine light came on in my car. The laundry was piling up. And we were basically out of food, subsisting on pepperoni, Oreos, grapes, and corn.

Because of this I barely had any breakfast Monday morning before heading to Walmart for groceries. And you know how miserable shopping for groceries while hungry is. I found most of the things on the list, but there were a few things, like vinegar, that I couldn’t find anywhere. We wanted vinegar, not just for cooking, but also for pre-soaking laundry. Our couch cushions smelled a little funny, so I planned to soak the covers in vinegar and wash them.

But I couldn’t find vinegar, and I was hungry and grumpy and couldn’t find anyone helpful. So I just said “whatever” and checked out.

I put all the groceries in the trunk, then returned my cart, and then…I was going to get in my car, but where were my keys?

Okay, listen.

I have a long and terrible history of locking my keys in my car. After one particularly unfortunate incident I tried making copies of my keys, but none of them worked. I found my spare key when I got home, and very intentionally brought it along to Virginia, as well as very intentionally making sure I was signed up for roadside assistance.

I also am extremely paranoid now, and triple check my keys before I lock my car.

My trunk, though, is another story. I guess I wasn’t paranoid enough yet. Because after scrutinizing my purse, my cart, and the keyhole on my trunk, I concluded that my keys were locked inside, with the groceries.

I called Jenny. “Um, I am so sorry, but I need you to get my spare key and figure out the bus system.”

Poor Jenny had never ridden the bus before. Also it would be about an hour before she’d get here, because I was actually in the next town over. Meanwhile, I was so hungry it wasn’t funny. I went inside again and bought some obscenely sweet dairy-free cherry turnovers, and scarfed down half of them.

Also bought a book for Jenny. Because I felt bad.

And then after a while I was thirsty, so I went through the line a third time to buy a case of sparkling water. Also a large jug of vinegar, because I finally found it when I was looking for sparkling water.

So my arms were quite full when Jenny showed up. She’d navigated the bus system beautifully, but was quite hungry, and maybe annoyed at me. But I gave her the rest of the cherry turnovers and the book, and she forgave me.

When I got home I wanted nothing more than a nap, but I had a mechanic appointment.

That, not gonna lie, was a bit of a bummer. My car needed a not-cheap repair. I’d had to replace the battery before I left Oregon, and was starting to feel like my car was crumbling beneath me.

That wasn’t going to be done until 5:30 or so, so I had the bright idea to walk to Starbucks while I wanted. Um. Maybe not the brightest idea when you’re in an area of town that has no sidewalks. Oh well. Walked through the yards of a bunch of random business. I hope they don’t mind.

Anyway. When I finally got home it had already been Quite. The. Day. But then I had a brilliant idea. I’d had to tell the mechanics my address, and it was printed on my bill. Could I use that to get a library card?

I walked down to the library, and guess what! It did work!

And not only did I check out a large stack of books, but I also checked out a hotspot. Yes, the Blacksburg library has hotspots that you can borrow for two weeks at a time. Which has proved fantastic, because our WiFi is still not set up.

Over the next few days Jenny and I had a few domestic issues to deal with: The last of the cleaning, the maintenance man showing up to fix the leak under the sink, learning to deal with the fact that it takes FOREVER for the hot water to show up and we might as well just wash our dishes with cold, and finally, dealing with the laundry. And our couch.

There are some coin-operated washers and dryers in the basement of the next building, as well as a clothesline out back. Of course I wanted to make use of the clothesline and save money, but that was a bit tricky, as there have been random rain showers nearly every day.

The summer rain has been kinda hard to get used to, actually, but it keeps things green in August, as well as decreasing fire danger and keeping the air smoke-free.

Wouldn’t want to get married here, though.

Anyway. Everything went well with the laundry until it came time to wash the couch cushion covers.

I may have said this before but I’ll say it again–the covers were a bit pilly, and the whole thing smelled faintly, but I thought we could just run it through the wash, maybe give the pilly parts a shave, and we’d be good to go. And we always had the option of re-covering the whole thing in the future.

To get rid of the smell, I soaked the covers in vinegar water overnight, along with the smelly rags from our apartment cleaning venture.

Now, as soon as I took the covers off the cushions, I knew where the smell had come from. The previous owners had a dog. A dog with an abundance of thick black hairs. A dog who had apparently loved this couch.

The foam beneath the covers was coated with this hair.

At first I didn’t think it was a big deal. We’d just buy some lint rollers. Maybe run the vacuum cleaner over it. It would be fine.

So I washed the covers, and it made a terrible mess. Dog hair coated the washer. Dog hair coated the rags I’d washed with the covers. Lint from the rags, meanwhile, now coated the emerald green couch cushion covers. And the pilling was twice as bad as before.

I dealt with this issue the best I could, wiping out the washer with a paper towel and giving everything a good shake before and after I hung it on the line. Then I went upstairs and tried to tackle the cushions themselves. But when I ran the vacuum cleaner over them, it barely made a dent.

We went to dollar tree that evening to buy lint rollers, but they were all sold out. The whole town is alive with College Students Moving In right now, and sometimes it’s hard to get what you need. So we went home and used masking tape and one lint roller that Jenny happened to have.

But honestly, it didn’t help much. Because the hairs weren’t on the foam, they were in the foam. Sprouting out like it was skin. So we grabbed our tweezers, and we plucked.

I mean, it was a process: Pick a section of cushion to work on. Stick masking tape on it to get the loosest hairs. Wrap some tape around your finger and pick out the more firmly-lodged hairs. Then grab your tweezers for the most egregiously embedded.

Our lives were rather lonely that first week, but Sunday we were going to see actual people. First we were off to church where we met some of our cousin Keith’s friends, from when he used to live in Blacksburg. In the late afternoon I was going to go meet a friend in Roanoke, and then some of Mom’s friends texted us, wanting to swing by early Sunday evening. Well, I wasn’t going to be here, at least for a bit. But Jenny thought she was up for some hosting.

Hosting, however, meant that we need a usable couch.

So as soon as we got home from church we went into overdrive. Pick the hairs. Shave the pills off the cushion covers. Pick more hairs. Shave more cushion covers. Shove the cushions back into the covers. Sniff them.

Well, the dog smell disappeared at least, though we both knew good and well there were more hairs lurking deep within. It felt impossible to get everything. We’d settled for a decent 80%.

This week felt a bit like settling into a new normal. With most of the disasters taken care of, I’ve been able to focus more on my writing. For a while I just went to Starbucks as usual, because hello free refills. Also the familiarity of the space is comforting to me. But on Monday I discovered a random coffee shop with truly excellent and remarkably inexpensive tea. Today I discovered that they also give a free refill if you order your tea in a house mug. So win-win-win.

I mean, it does have its quirks. Today I sat down at a table, and there was a bit of water on it but oh well, I just grabbed a napkin and wiped it up.

Then, “plop!” a large raindrop plunked down in front of me, splattering across the table. Only I was indoors. Huh?

I looked up, squinting at the pipes in the exposed ceiling above me. “Is the pipe leaking again?” asked the tired-sounding barista.

That seemed the only explanation, so I moved to a different table.

It’s an odd place, but full of interesting people. The first day I came to this coffee shop a man walked up and gave the barista a plant. Not flowers, a whole plant. Which I know sounds like a flirtatious gesture, and perhaps he intended it to be, but his voice was so matter-of-fact you’d have thought he was passing on an informational brochure.

It’s also near campus, so one day I decided to go to the campus bookstore and shop for notebooks. The Oregon State University bookstore seriously has the best notebook selection I’ve ever found, so I figured the Virginia Tech bookstore would be the same way.

As I was crossing a parking lot I thought, “wait, is that a camel-colored skirt I see?” I came closer. There was Jenny, wearing the skirt she made out of Austin’s pants, walking toward me with a friend.

“Oh, hey!” “Wow!” “Didn’t expect to see you here!” “Where are you headed?” “The bookstore.” “Oh, you don’t want to go there. We just came from there. It’s a madhouse.”

The friend was Tatiane who I’d heard about, as she’s another first-year math grad student who lives near us. Jenny and Tatiane have been doing orientation meetings all this week and often walk to campus together.

So we all headed home together. On main street, as we waited for the red hand to turn into a white little man, a blonde woman behind me said “excuse me, have we met?”

“I don’t think so,” I said, because I feel like I haven’t met anyone. Then I remembered her. “Oh, yes! I showed you where the laundry room was!”

It was Mave. She lives below us. And she’s apparently a first-year grad student too, studying philosophy.

So we all walked home together, chattering about our lives and where we were from. It was nice. Probably the first time I felt like I sort-of fit in here. It’s really weird, though, being in the midst of this back-to-university flurry but not going back to university.

In other news, we found the farmer’s market and Aldi, so we probably won’t be going back to Walmart for groceries. Also, there’s a Kroger just down the street. “This one is called the Gucci Kroger, and there’s another Kroger in town called the Ghetto Kroger,” Jenny informed me.

Jenny has a math cohort that tells her how things are in Blacksburg.

Anyway, that’s our settling-in life so far.

And after the ordeal we just went through, I don’t think we’ll be getting a dog any time soon, maybe ever.

***

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Fun Times in the Countryside

I find, as the weather warms up, that the country becomes a less-boring place to live. For instance, one day as I was painting primer on the boards that would become the steps of our new barn, I watched Mom, Dad, and Ben all trying to chase the chickens back into their enclosure. “They’re eating the slug poison I put on the dahlia bed!” Mom explained.

Later, when we had our garage sale, one woman laughed at us for how high our chicken fence was. Well listen, lady. For months our chickens wandered about the yard eating cat food and pooping on the porch, and no amount of wing-trimming made them stay put. We put up with it until the slug-poison incident, and then extra-high fencing it was, even if it does look a bit ridiculous.

Not gonna lie, though, the Last Great Chicken Chase was entertaining to watch.

A lot of the drama in our life is due to the barn-building project. For some reason this involves a lot of ditches being dug in the yard, and one of the ditches accidentally cut through the geothermal line that supplies our heating and cooling. We subsequently had a very cold miserable week. But then the warm weather showed up again, and we were fine except for one Very Hot Day last week.

There was much drama and excitement surrounding our garage sale the other weekend, including me trying to make a Japanese cheesecake with a pink rose agar layer, and then recruiting a bunch of my friends to try it out.

But one strange added layer to the day was the fact that our neighbors lost a goat. So in the middle of the general hustle and bustle of the sale, we were running off to the woods every time we heard a goat bleating, and trying to discern its general location.

Thankfully the goat was eventually found across the creek from Mom’s writing cabin.

The garage sale happened not only because Jenny, Amy and I are all moving this summer, but also because Ben and all his roommates are moving out of their house in Corvallis.

Ben’s house is a bit like the ship of Theseus. For years, 3-4 male Christian college students have resided there, being replaced one at a time until none of the original members remained at all. What did remain was abandoned stuff, like a frog clock, an artsy lamp held together with beige hair ties, and a tank top that said “Evan’s Bach Party” in large pink letters. Ben hauled piles of this abandoned stuff to our garage sale.

This included two stuffed chairs, one blue and one green, which never sold. Probably because several of us were usually sitting in them. They were comfy! And there’s something fun about sitting outdoors in an easy chair.

Anyway, they’ve remained in our carport ever since. The other day I was sitting in one, enjoying my morning tea, when I heard, “one, two, three, HEAVE! One, two, three, HEAVE!”

I walked across the yard to see what was going on. There were Amy and Jenny, pulling on a rope that was tied around a branch of the flowering pear tree.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“This branch is broken, and it’s resting on the porch roof,” said Jenny. “Mom wants us to pull it off because she’s afraid that it will fall on someone’s head during our graduation party.”

But the heaving didn’t seem to be doing much good, and Amy went up on the porch roof to see if she could shove it off from up there without falling from the roof. We still didn’t have much luck. “The branches are stuck in the gutter,” said Amy.

Jenny went inside to ask Mom where her chainsaw was, and meanwhile Matt, hearing the commotion, came out of the Airstream to ask what was going on. “I have something that might work,” said Matt. “How do I get up there?”

“You have to go up to my room and climb out the window,” said Amy.

Matt had a handheld circular saw, and as he disappeared inside again Jenny showed up. “I couldn’t find Mom,” said Jenny. “I think she’s out in the cabin. I looked in the carport but I couldn’t find her chainsaw.”

“Matt is helping out,” I said.

Just then Matt came around the corner of the porch roof. He sawed off the branches one by one, but I guess the circular saw wasn’t made for branches, or else it was just malfunctioning. We needed the chainsaw after all. So I went out in the cabin to get Mom.

By this time Phoebe had showed up too, so it really was a family affair. At least, a female family affair with Matt thrown in the mix. Mom found her chainsaw but the battery was dead, so we postponed the project for half an hour.

Once it was charged, Amy sawed branches, and, CRASH! Down came the limb. She sawed the main limb in half and we hauled it to the burn pile. (Well, the burn pile has been decimated by the ditches, but we hauled it to that general area.)

The final story of note happened the next morning. I was in my room, minding my own business, when I heard singing. “Huh,” I thought, “the barn builders must be playing their music loudly again.”

Then I heard a knock on our door. Going downstairs, I saw our neighbors and their friends, with roses in their hair and buttonholes, singing Christmas carols.

Yep, that’s right…Christmas carols in June.

It was highly entertaining, not gonna lie. When they were done I passed grapes around and asked what the bunnyslipper was going on. Apparently they were talking about family traditions, and someone mentioned Christmas caroling. So on a whim they decided to go Christmas caroling. (The roses, it seems, were from a different whim altogether that had nothing to do with the Christmas caroling.)

Anyway, they went to the Airstream first, which is when I initially heard the music. And then they came to our door.

Every time I visit cities, I’m amazed at how many interesting things always seem to be happening. But days like this remind me that interesting things happen in the country too, particularly in summertime.

***

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The Green Sock Prank

I’ve had an epic April Fools prank idea festering in my mind for years.

The idea stemmed from the mysterious way in which clothing items suddenly disappear or randomly show up again every time you do laundry. Sometimes you find things you’ve never seen before in your life.

One day⁠—I believe it was three years ago, just after April Fools had passed⁠—I noticed how easily one could hide a sock in the drier, on one of those little shelves that spin round. And I thought, wouldn’t it be funny to buy a bunch of outlandish green socks, hide them in the drier one by one, and drive my family slowly bonkers?

Well, when the next April Fools Day rolled around I was living far from home. Then last year, the pandemic suddenly descended upon us and I wasn’t sure where to acquire green socks in the middle of lockdown. For some reason I was convinced that they had to be green. Green, to me, seemed the perfect balance of very odd, but not a gendered color, or overly cartoonish.

(I should note, however, that on my podcast with Jenny I mentioned that I had a prank I’d been saving up for some time. This is the prank I was referring to.)

This year I was determined to finally pull it off, and so I planned ahead. I found a non-Amazon clothing website (we all share a Prime account) that sold green socks, and I bought five pairs, plus a few clothing items for myself and a birthday gift for Jenny. (Yep, I was aiming for that free shipping.) I ordered everything way in advance in case shipping took forever. And I didn’t let anyone watch me open the package because “some of it is gifts.”

Five pairs. Ten green socks in total, hidden away behind the bookshelf in my closet.

Then my plans began to unravel slightly. The joke is funnier when many people are using the same laundry facilities, but Matt and Phoebe left in March for an extended trip. Then Mom took a trip to California that extended over April Fools day.

Furthermore, I realized that there was no way to securely tie the joke to April 1. What if no one did laundry that day? And even if they did, I had ten socks to distribute. How could I possibly distribute ten socks in one day?

In this way, my vision for the prank morphed from being an April First Prank to being a Month Of April Prank. I waited until Mom got back, and I considered waiting until Matt and Phoebe got back too until I realized they weren’t coming back until May.

I planted my first sock on Monday, April 19. My idea was to stick a new sock in the drier every Monday and Friday. I’d chosen a good day to start, because we’d had guests over the weekend, further expanding the pool of who a random green sock might belong to.

But then, the anticipation started. My palms started to sweat whenever I saw someone folding laundry. Would they find the green sock? How would they react?

I should add that I had a whole plan for how to pull this prank without lying. I decided that when I put the sock in the drier, I was officially gifting it to whoever happened to find it. So when asked “is this your sock?” I could confidently say “no.”

But day after day passed, and no one seemed to find it. On Thursday, I was in my room completely lost in my own thoughts, when Amy knocked on my bedroom door. “Come in,” I said, and she opened the door and held up the sock.

“Do you have green socks?” she asked.

I was caught off guard. I’d so carefully crafted my response to “is this your sock,” but I was absolutely unprepared for “do you have green socks.” Because I did have green socks. Nine of them, in fact, behind the bookshelf in my closet.

But I needed a quick response, and I blurted out, “No, do you have green socks?”

“No,” said Amy, and she moved on without an ounce of suspicion.

I couldn’t believe I’d just straight-up lied. I never lie. I can only remember one other time in my life that I’ve told a bald-faced lie like that, when I was four years old. (Incidentally, that lie was also about socks.)

The next day I was cleaning my room, and I returned some books I’d borrowed from Amy. “That’s so weird about the green sock,” she said, as I stuck The Return of the King back on her bookshelf. “I called Alyssa, and she said it wasn’t hers either.”

“Weird!” I said, trying hard not to giggle. (Alyssa was her weekend guest.)

I was headed out on a quick overnight trip, and as I grabbed some snacks for the drive I saw that the green sock had been placed in the enamel bowl on the kitchen desk where we put mail and eggs.

I was just about ready to leave, but since it was Friday I wanted to quickly put another sock in the drier before I left. Unfortunately, the drier was full of Amy’s laundry. I wanted someone else to find a sock this time, so I buried it in a basket full of gray sheets that I was pretty sure belonged to Mom. And then I dashed out the door and zoomed away.

When I returned the next day, I peeped into the enamel bowl. There was a second sock now, this one stained slightly gray.

On Monday I put a third sock in the drier. I had a vague intention of doing my own laundry that day. I thought if the sock ended up in my laundry, that would make me seem less suspicious. But then I was busy doing other things, and after a while I heard the drier whirring. And the next day, when I looked in the enamel bowl, there was a third sock, stark and green.

Later, I was making tea when Mom walked into the kitchen. “did you hear that I found a third sock!?” she asked.

“What?” I exclaimed, trying to sound surprised.

“Yes! I washed a load of sheets, and fluffed them in the drier, and hung them out to dry, and brought them in again, and as I was bringing them inside a green sock fell out!!”

I tried to act appropriately weirded out, but I wasn’t sure what to say, so I asked if they could possibly be Dad’s socks. Mom held one up, small and neon green, and gave me the weirdest look. “Okay, never mind,” I said.

Then I took my tea upstairs and died with silent laughter. The most hilarious thing to me was that even though Mom was completely weirded out, she still didn’t seem remotely suspicious of me.

However, I started to realize that three socks was pushing the limit of the prank. Furthermore, April was almost over. I wanted to make it very obvious that the green socks were a prank, and I wanted Mom, Amy, and Jenny to figure it out at the same time.

So this was my plan: I’d stay up later than everyone else on Wednesday, and hide the socks in random weird places where hopefully, they’d be found before I got up in the morning. I had seven socks left, and this was my initial list of hiding places:

  1. In the dishwasher
  2. In Amy’s lunch box
  3. In Jenny’s mug
  4. In Mom’s laptop
  5. In the fridge with the limes
  6. In the chicken coop under a chicken
  7. I can’t quite think of a 7’th place

I was dubious about the limes, because I kind-of wanted them all to be discovered before I woke up, and who would reach for limes in the morning? So finally I decided to skip that idea. Instead, I’d wander downstairs in the morning wearing the last two green socks.

So Wednesday night I stayed up late and sneaked around planting socks in weird places. I couldn’t find Mom’s laptop, so I put a sock in her planner. I went out to the chicken shed and put a sock in a chicken nest. I stuck a sock in the dishwasher, and another inside Amy’s lunch box.

My most devious trick was with Jenny’s mug. We have a mug cupboard in the kitchen, but in the pantry by the coffee maker is a mug rack where Jenny likes to keep her favorite mugs. I swiped all of them but one and re-homed them in the mug cupboard. Then I rolled up the sock and placed it in the one mug left on the rack. Hopefully, that would induce Jenny to pick up this specific mug for her morning coffee.

Then I went to bed.

The next morning around 8:30 I got up, put on the last pair of green socks, and went into the kitchen. At first I was alone, but I guess Mom heard me get up because she came in very shortly. “It was YOU!!!!” she said the moment she saw me.

I laughed and gestured to my green-clad feet. “April fools!” I said.

Later, I could tell exactly when Jenny’s class let out because I heard her feet approaching my door. I made sure my stocking feet were very visible. She opened the door, all wound up to make an accusation, and then she saw my feet and burst out laughing.

Amy had already left for work, but from Mom and Jenny I was able to piece together how the morning had gone.

Jenny had come downstairs to get coffee and, seeing that there was only one mug in the rack thought, “welp, I guess I’ll have to use this mug that doesn’t microwave well.” So she picked it up and…what the bunnyslipper is this sock doing here?

Jenny’s immediate assumption was that Mom had taken one of the green socks from the enamel bowl and stuck it in her mug as a prank. But when Mom came along and Jenny showed her the sock, Mom was completely baffled. She whipped out her phone and sent a message to the group chat.

Amy came along then, and Mom accused her of pulling the prank. Of course Amy declared up and down that it wasn’t her, but Mom thought she was acting weird, and didn’t fully believe her.

Then Amy started to pack her lunch and…here was a green sock in her lunch box!

Then, just as they were collectively concluding that I was the culprit, Amy opened the dishwasher and there was another sock! Gales of laughter all around.

In that way the prank went exactly as I’d hoped it would. The added bonus, of course, was the way they all accused each other. That was completely unplanned by me, LOL.

My only regret is that Mom didn’t find the ones I’d hidden specifically for her. I spoiled the planner one by asking if she’d found it, assuming she had, when she actually hadn’t. That one was whatever, but my true disappointment was the chicken shed one. I’d taken great delight in the thought of Mom reaching under a chicken, feeling around for a warm egg, and finding a green sock. I was unaware that Dad has taken over the morning chicken duties. He found the sock of course, but was unfazed. “My girls must have put it there for some reason,” he thought.

Overall though, I’d say my sock prank was a success. The funniest part to me was the way Amy and Mom talked to me about finding these socks. Even though the socks were a completely outlandish green, something none of us would ever wear, neither of them remotely suspected that this was a prank until I started putting socks in mugs and such. So I had lots of delightful moments giggling to myself and my diary.

You may feel free to steal this prank and perform it on your own family. Or you can take it to the next level and sneak into someone else’s house to leave socks in their drier. Tee hee.

***

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Going to the Ocean with my Sisters

Photo by Amy

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.

Note the mask dangling from my ear, LOL
This is my favorite picture. We were trying to do silly poses, but it just looks like Jenny has three legs.
Jenny on the beach at sunset
We went to look at this cool swampy place across the dunes from the ocean.

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.

Looks like the beach disappeared into the ocean

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.

Sending My Book Into the Wide Wide World

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.

You can order my book here.

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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.

20200713_182845

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.

20200714_121546

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.

20200715_153656

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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.