Category Archives: Travel

A Slight Change of Plans

Well, it has been an interesting couple of days.

The plan was to leave for Kenya early Friday morning. Now, both Dad and Steven have fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants personality types. (I do too, frankly, but compared to them I seem like I don’t.) So a few things were left until the last minute, which made me a little nervous.

Steven apparently lost his passport at some point. His only recourse was to drive up to Seattle, where they offer “Urgent Travel” passport service, and get a new one–but this had to be done within three days of travel. So he made an appointment for Wednesday.

Meanwhile, we all applied for our visas, but only mine went through. Dad and Steven both got error messages, which it took them a while to figure out. Ultimately, Steven’s error was due to the fact that he’d put in his old passport number and then gotten a new passport the next day. So he corrected his passport number and re-submitted. Dad’s error was that his passport was expiring in just under six months, which is not cool under Kenya’s visa rules.

Both these problems didn’t get discovered until Thursday night. And we were supposed to fly out Friday morning.

Not gonna lie, I was a bit miffed. There was no chance of Dad being able to come on the trip, but I thought if Steven’s visa came through by the next morning the two of us could just go. But if it didn’t, then what? Should I just…go by myself?

The trip, you must understand, was going to be a multi-purpose trip. Dad started working for Open Hands, and was taking this trip to see some of their savings groups in action. I was invited along, partly just as a travel companion because Mom was tired of traveling, and partly to take some photos and videos for upcoming PR trips Dad will take. Then Steven came on board because he’s always wanted to go back to Kenya. Dad then arranged for us to arrive several days before the rest of the Open Hands people, giving us time to visit some of Steven’s old friends and do some sightseeing.

When our plans were abruptly halted Thursday night, Dad focused his energy on getting to Kenya by Tuesday. Even though the Seattle Passport Agency insists that you need to make an appointment, Steven said that some people had just showed up. So Dad decided to leave at 4:30 am the next morning and drive to Seattle to try to get a passport before the weekend.

Meanwhile, Steven decided to see if his visa would come through by the next morning, when we’d planned to leave for the airport.

And I contemplated going to Kenya by myself. It would make a good story at least, right?

But as I lay in bed, trying to fall asleep, my stomach began hurting. An odd sort of stabbing gassy pain that I get every once in a while. A pain that makes sleep impossible, and cannot be eased by painkillers. The only thing that helps is heat, and that only makes a vague difference. Given enough time it eases on its own, but the path there is sleepless.

So I just lay there, hour after hour, wide awake.

Still, sometimes in these moments where everything goes wrong, I get what I call an “eye of the hurricane” feeling. Where I suddenly feel completely resigned to all the pain and disappointment, and a feeling of absolute peace overwhelms me. This only seems to happen in the middle of the night, and only when I’m in terrible pain. Actually, usually in the moment when the pain begins to ease up just slightly. In any case, this “eye of the hurricane” feeling swept over me. I felt like my life was somehow going to be wonderful. It was very strange.

By about 1:30 am, the pain had eased enough that I found myself sleeping for short stretches before the pain jolted me awake again. At 5 am, Steven sent me a text saying his visa had not come through.

Unfortunately, by this point my “eye of the hurricane” feeling had ended and I was sleepless, grumpy, and disappointed. As much as I wished I were the sort of person who would just hop on the plane and go anyway, I just did not have it in me at that moment. I was already in pain and sleep deprived, and did not need a long and lonely travel experience on top of that.

So I stayed home too.

Dad was busy all day making everything right again. He managed to get a new passport, and also switch our tickets so we’d fly out on Tuesday and come home several days later than we’d initially planned. After I went back to bed and actually got a few hours of decent sleep, Steven and I went and got another round of Covid tests. I made some inquiries and figured out that my visa would still be valid even if I arrived in the country later than planned, and I also made a Covid testing appointment for dad.

Right now, I have a negative Covid test and am all prepped to go on Tuesday. Both Dad and Steven had to re-apply for their visas, Dad because he got a new passport, and Steven because we suddenly remembered that while he’d updated the passport number on his application, he never updated the photo of his passport. As of now, their visas are still awaiting approval.

But you know what? If they don’t come through, this time I think I’ll just go without them, lol.

I really am not upset at them anymore. They both were extremely apologetic to me and covered the financial costs of the ticket switches. But if you are considering traveling overseas, let this be a lesson to you to plan WAY in advance. Apply for everything ahead of time, so that if you run into issues you have time to fix them. Look up all the requirements for entering the country. Double-check everything. Make sure you know exactly where your passport is, and when it expires. In fact, if you don’t have a passport right now you should immediately go apply for one, just in case you ever need it. I updated mine last November even though I had no travel plans at the time, and I’m so thankful I did.

Anyway. Hopefully we will all fly to Kenya on Tuesday, and meanwhile I’m just over here sipping my grape tea, trying to be chill.

A Month of Gratefulness: My Final Thoughts

I’m in Oregon right now, and so far this has been kind-of a weird trip. First we were over the mountains attending Alison’s wedding, and then we came home but didn’t quite do the traditional Thanksgiving because we’re prepping for Kenya. Heading out tomorrow. Woo-hoo! So this will be the last post in my gratefulness series.

Monday: Oregon…and Blacksburg

Turns out that leaving to go overseas the day after Thanksgiving is a bit of a mess. On Monday we were preoccupied with getting our Covid tests, since we needed our results back before Thanksgiving break. At 2:30 Dad found a drive-in place in Albany that offered free tests, but they closed at 3:30, so we jumped into his car and took off.

On the way he called his doctor. “I know I had a 3:00 appointment, but I’m gonna be 15 minutes late because I need to go get a Covid test first.”

This, of course, meant that I had to tag along to his doctor’s appointment afterwards. It wasn’t a big deal because it went quickly and I just sat out in the car and read The Blue Castle for about the 25’th time. Meanwhile, I saw multiple people I knew, because apparently every Mennonite in the area goes to the same doctor.

I felt a certain gratefulness for this. I’ve felt for a while that I don’t “belong” in Oregon long term, and I don’t really have a friend group here anymore. But I do know lots of people, and there is something nice about bumping into people you know. I am grateful to be from someplace that I can go home to.

However. I must admit that this brief trip back to Oregon has made me tremendously grateful for a few things in Blacksburg.

First, the weather. I love the Oregon summers, and I love that you can have nice days at the beach all winter, but I absolutely do not miss the dismal dingy skies that stretch from autumn through spring. In Blacksburg we’ve mostly gotten either cold crisp sunny days or satisfying rainy ones. None of these endless gray skies.

Second, while I enjoy living in the country during the summer, I really don’t miss it at all. I love the way you can walk to all sorts of places in Blacksburg, and spy on your neighbors out the window. I get way more exercise by default because it’s just so easy to walk to, say, the library. And if you need to drive somewhere it takes, like, ten minutes, whereas here it takes half an hour (unless you’re headed to Dollar General.) (I do actually miss Dollar General, though. The Dollar General is kind-of like the Doctor’s office because I often see people I know, while the Dollar Generals back east are just kinda gross.)

Tuesday: The Job Interview

I got up super early on Tuesday to have a zoom interview for a remote writing job. They were all on Eastern time, and they asked me if Oregon was in Central or Mountain time, which I thought was really funny. East Coasters don’t tend to have a great sense of how large the USA actually is. (Once a friend told me that it takes “like 20 hours” to get to Oregon from PA. I replied, “yes, but only if you fly,” and then giggled over my own cleverness.)

Overall though, the interview went really well and I was grateful for the opportunity. And of course if the job works out the time zone thing won’t be a big deal, as I’ll be back on the east coast.

Tuesday was actually a really blessed day. Besides the interview in the morning I was able to meet up with multiple friends, although that was much more complicated than I’d anticipated because I don’t have my car here. I’m used to just zipping off whenever I feel like it.

Wednesday: The Ocean

The Oregon Coast is still my favorite place in the universe. Jenny, Mom and I spent Wednesday there.

Thursday: The Kenya Trip

So far, today has been a fairly chill day. No big Thanksgiving meal for us, as we prep to go to Kenya and such. However, we’re all gonna hang out and eat fish tacos tonight, so fun times.

Today, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to go to Kenya. With the pandemic, I haven’t traveled in what seems like forever. I had to cancel a trip to India and a trip to Italy, so I’m just really grateful to get a chance to take this trip.

I don’t know how much I’ll have a chance to post when I’m in Kenya, but we’ll see.

Goodness though…I really had a spectacular November, all things considered. I’ve never liked November much. But blessings rained on me this month. I hope you all have a day full of gratefulness and a spectacular Christmas season. But goodbye for now, I’m off to Kenya!

***

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The Journey to Virginia, Part 3: Arrival

Yesterday I wrote part 2 of our trip, ending with the Bed and Breakfast in Huntington, West Virginia, on Friday night. We woke up early Saturday morning and left before our hosts even got up. Turns out, 6 AM in West Virginia is darker than 6 AM in Oregon and Colorado. We’d had many early starts, but this was the first time it was truly still night.

But we had a four hour drive ahead of us, and we were anxious to get there while it still felt like morning.

We’d set our Google Maps route to “avoid tolls,” which probably also contributed to our whole journey being extra-long. I’m very much a toll avoider, partly because I don’t like spending money, and partly because I’m just not used to them. Oregon doesn’t have toll roads. Or if it does, they’re not anywhere I’ve driven.

Although to be honest, I5 is getting so overcrowded these days I can kind-of see why toll roads are a thing.

The point is, we drove some random roads through West Virginia.

I never knew much about West Virginia until I lived in Virginia briefly ten or so years ago, and everyone told West Virginia jokes. “Isn’t West Virginia basically like Virginia?” I asked. I’d always thought of them as like, you know, North Dakota and South Dakota. Basically the same place.

“Oh no,” I was informed by the shocked youth group. Apparently there was a whole history here. Different sides of the Civil War and everything.

Based on what they told me and various things I’ve read since, I’ve learned that West Virginia is known as a strange place. But I’ve never really seen that strangeness. I’ve driven through corners of it, but never through the heart of it.

Never, that is, until this trip.

Jenny was driving and I was navigating. We were on US-60, but then had to cross a bridge and get on WV-61. That, I would say, is when the bulk of the weird started.

To begin with, there was that bridge.

As we approached it we saw road construction signs, orange cones, and a “one lane bridge ahead” sign. We turned right onto the bridge, and it was indeed one lane. The other lane was blocked off with orange cones and held random bridge-repairing equipment.

But there was no flagger of any kind.

That was weird, I thought. Did we approach the bridge from a weird angle? Well, surely the flagger at the other end will see us?

And then suddenly there was a line of cars coming right at us.

It was like a bad, bizarre dream.

But what can you do? Jenny just pulled onto the other side of the bridge. The blocked-off side. There was just enough room to slip between the cones, and thankfully there was no equipment right there. The line of cars passed us, and we continued on.

There was no flagger at the other end of the bridge either.

It was so bizarre. I have never ever in my life seen anything like it. Why would you have a one-lane bridge with no flagger?

I mean, with some bridges it wouldn’t be a big deal, because you could look across first and see if anyone was coming. But this bridge was not that way. Both 60 and 61 ran parallel to the river, and there were so many hills and weird corners there was no way to see if anyone was coming before you started across it.

I guess the road construction guys were just like, “oh well, we’ll just leave some space between the cones so that someone can pull over if they need to?”

Maybe that’s how they do it in West Virginia?

After all, once when the road got bad there was a yellow “rough road” sign with a suggested speed of 35 mph. So maybe the type of place that would put up a sign instead of fixing the road would also make a one-lane bridge without a flagger and expect folks to just figure it out?

Anyway. To be honest, WV-61 was probably the weirdest thing we saw on our whole trip. It wound up and down and back and forth through thick forest.

“You know, it’s actually quite pretty here,” I said.

“Yeah, pretty…sketchy,” said Jenny.

There was a double-wide trailer house with several feet of space between the two halves. Random structures made of pallets. Abandoned gas station pavilions, just there, like an umbrella for nothing. Sometimes covered in kudzu. Lots of old RVs. The sketchiest houses I’d ever seen. A sign commemorating someone who’d apparently founded grandparent’s day. I only saw one person–a man who stepped briefly onto his porch when we passed by. So often I didn’t know if the area was abandoned, or if people actually lived in these half-condemned houses.

Also. I didn’t see any Trump signs.

That seemed really weird to me, honestly. Even nine months after the election, Trump signs littered the Midwest as we drove through. But we got to West Virginia, and we didn’t see a single Trump sign in the whole state. Was it a random fluke? Or are West Virginians just not as into Trump as mid-westerners are? No clue.

Eventually we got back on a main highway again, and crossing the state line into Virginia. And then around 10 am we pulled into Blacksburg, and into the parking lot of our new home!

Now I must admit that when I stepped into the apartment I was a bit disappointed. The place, first of all, was dingier than I expected. For some reason I’d thought the floors were real hardwood, but they were the fake kind you get at Home Depot and click together. Everything looked like it had been painted over too many times.

However, the main thing that crushed my soul in those first few moments was the musty, moldy smell.

Now, Jenny barely noticed a smell and it didn’t bother her. So maybe it wasn’t a big deal, but I’ll admit that I’m a bit sensitive about smells. They don’t give me headaches or anything, but I can hardly stand to be in a room with a bad smell. The idea of living in a bad-smelling apartment for a year suddenly seemed overwhelming. And I have a secret fear of living someplace that makes me sick. (I have no evidence that mold makes me sick, just fear, LOL.)

We hauled all our stuff in and made piles in the middle of our respective bedrooms. Then I drove to Walmart for cleaning supplies, and Jenny started sorting through her stuff. The previous tenant had left us an armoire, a dresser, a tall lamp, and a small metal rack, but beyond that the house was unfurnished.

But then, just as we’d started cleaning with our new set of supplies, Aunt Margaret arrived to save the day.

My Aunt Margaret lives several hours south of Blacksburg, and she’d offered to help us move in. She is also, in true Yoder fashion, a Rescuer of Abandoned Things, and she somehow owns extras of just about anything you could ever possibly need. She showed up with a mattress and box spring, bedding, towels, washcloths, rags, kitchenware of all sorts and descriptions, blender, toaster, crock pot, curtains, décor, canned food, frozen food, tubs of butter because butter was on sale, shower curtains, shower mats, etc.

Also, a pot of chili, which was fantastic. We were so hungry. We sat on the floor and ate off an overturned box.

“You know, we’d better get going if we want to hit up some garage sales,” said Aunt Margaret.

So we hauled everything in from her minivan, which was probably at least three times the amount of stuff we’d brought ourselves. (I was especially grateful for the mattress…I could live without lots of things but had no desire to sleep on the hard floor if I could help it.) And then we went garage sailing.

We found a few things we needed, like a coffee maker for Jenny, some baskets, some hangers, a toothbrush holder, and a soap dish. But we were really angling for some furniture. We reasoned that today was our best chance to buy it, because we had a van to haul it in. But all the garage sale furniture had already been snatched up, in seemed.

So we went to Habitat for Humanity, and I have never in my life bought so many things at once. We purchased:

  1. A small dining room table
  2. Three chairs
  3. A microwave
  4. A desk for Jenny’s room
  5. A bedframe for my bed
  6. A twin mattress for Jenny
  7. A bedframe for Jenny’s bed
  8. An area rug
  9. A small couch

It was our lucky day, because everything except the rug was 20% off. All together the whole load cost us less than $400.

Then came the exciting task of getting everything into the minivan. There was a whole crew of employees trying to accomplish this feat.

And in the end they accomplished the deed! Just barely, but it all fit in.

We went back to our new home, and now we had another giant load of stuff to haul upstairs. This was tricky, as the stairs are narrow and cramped. We didn’t think we could possibly fit, say, a full-sized couch up them. But we managed with the smaller furniture we’d chosen.

We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning. First we scrubbed our bedrooms from top to bottom and set up the beds. Then we took a break, heading to Wendy’s for supper, before coming home and scrubbing the bathroom and kitchen.

That was enough for one day. Aunt Margaret rolled out an air mattress she’d brought, and we all went to bed.

The next morning we mostly just went through everything she’d brought, deciding what we needed and what we didn’t need. I cleaned out the hall closet so I could store the extra bedding, toolbox, and ironing board in there. Aunt Margaret also went around putting pretty little homey touches here and there. She bought a quilted tablecloth at a garage sale, and she put it on the table with fresh flowers in a blue canning jar she’d saved from Grandma’s house.

That’s when it started to look like an actual home.

Best of all, the smell was slowly dissipating. Opening the windows, keeping the air flowing, and giving everything a good scrub seemed to have mostly fixed the issue.

Then it was time for Aunt Margaret to go. We thanked her and hugged her and out the door she went, taking her furniture-hauling minivan with her.

And here we were, in our new home.

In the end, we saw 6 dead deer, so Jenny’s guess of 7 was closer than my guess of 3. We also saw 2 dead watermelons and 3 dead raccoons. We found most of the states too–all but six: Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, North Dakota, and Massachusetts all eluded us.

Our list of weird things was long, but we still rank the poop-pumping Starbucks in the grocery store where everyone knew each other as the weirdest. Although if the whole state of West Virginia counts as a singular weird thing it was by far the weirdest.

That is the end of our story of moving from Oregon to Virginia. Next week I’ll plan to write a follow-up post, all about settling in to a new place.

Until then, take care!

***

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The Journey to Virginia, Part 2

At the end of Part 1 of our journey for Oregon to Virginia, Jenny and I had just arrived in Canon City, Colorado. I used to live in Canon City, if you can remember back that far. I lived next door to the Knepp family, distant relatives and old family friends, and of course that’s who we originally intended to stay with when we arrived.

However, the Knepps then had to deal with an unexpected life complication, so I told them I’d find other lodging. I then reached out to my friend Sherri, who I’d met in Alaska exactly two years ago and who is also from Canon City. “Can we stay with you?” Only, she wasn’t going to be in town that night, but she said we could stay with her parents. I barely knew Sherri’s parents, but Jenny and I went to bed so early and got up so early there was no time to socialize anyway.

Thursday morning, our first stop was the mechanic shop. Dallas Knepp had agreed to screw the muffler back on for us, so I guess we did see one familiar face before we left. Then we pulled out of town around 6:30 AM, determined that today we were going to make good time.

This yellow camper bus was so adorable I had to take a pic.

With no more mountains to cross, we did make slightly better time. Mileage wise it was our longest day yet, but we managed to do it in thirteen hours. That was an hour longer than the Google maps estimate, but hey, previously we’d been adding two hours every day. So it felt like improvement.

This time, Jenny planned out exactly which gas stations we’d stop at. When we started getting hungry, She noticed a Subway next to the gas station she’d added to our route, and we ordered ahead so we could just pick it up.

Now, I should mention that my car does have a small oil leak, so we’d periodically check the oil and make sure it was doing okay. This time when we checked, it was much lower than we expected it to be. We had to run inside and buy more oil, and after that I was super paranoid about the oil, checking it almost every time we stopped. So that did add some time. But it never really became an issue. I think it just used more oil going through the Colorado mountain passes?

Anyway.

We continued to add to our list of weird things. At one rest area, all the trash cans had legs, making them look rather like R2D2. We saw a house that looked like it belonged in a Candy Land game, painted like neapolitan ice cream, with gables and fancy candy-like trim.

We were well into Kansas by now. “You know what I didn’t anticipate about Kansas?” Jenny asked.

“What?” I said.

“I didn’t realize there was so much, ‘woohoo, Jesus!!! No abortions!!'”

Indeed, there were a great deal of pro-Jesus and anti-abortion signs and billboards. There was a popular “Jesus I trust in you!” poster we saw over and over bopped in various fields. The weirdest of all was this bizarre painting of a very white Jesus standing with some wheat. Later I googled it and found out it’s the most famous billboard in Kansas.

Our second gas stop of the day was in town, which is not my favorite. Google maps does great on Interstates and highways, but in town it always seems a bit behind, and I often get turned around and mixed up. You know. Too many times when you can accidentally turn right instead of veering right.

Jenny was driving and I was navigating, although the Voice of Google Maps was also talking to us through the speakers. He re-routed us around the block after we turned right instead of veering right.

“By the way, I farted, sorry,” said Jenny.

“Oh, I can smell it,” I said, hastily rolling down the window.

“AT THE NEXT STOP LIGHT, TURN LEFT ONTO 6TH AVENUE,” yelled Google.

“I’m going to close the window cause I don’t want everyone to know that we don’t know where we’re going…very loudly,” said Jenny.

Thankfully the gas station was just around the corner. I started filling the tank while Jenny went in to use the bathroom, and then she checked the oil. We finished up about the same time, and as she came back around the car, suddenly her face went white with horror. “Emily!” she said, “you just put diesel in the car!”

“What?” I said.

“The green one is diesel!” Jenny said.

I looked at the buttons in front of me, trying to see which one was green. “I’m pretty sure I pushed the correct button,” I said.

“No, the handle,” said Jenny. “You used the green handle! The green handle is always diesel!”

Now I need to point out that being from Oregon, where it is illegal to pump your own gas, I always have some sort of weird issue at the gas pumps in other states. I know pumping gas is not difficult, but it’s like the Oregon curse or something. But putting diesel in my car instead of gas…that was a whole ‘nother level. I mean. What the bunnyslipper.

Because while it looked like I’d pushed the correct button, I had most definitely used the green handle.

“What do I do?” I moaned.

“I guess we’ll have to go ask the people inside,” Jenny said.

Jenny maintains that she meant, “let’s ask them which handle pumps gas and which handle pumps diesel.” But I took it to mean, “let’s admit to them that I just ruined my car like an idiot and ask them to call a tow truck.” This was not a very pleasing prospect, and I ran my eyes over the gas pump once again, trying to make sense of it. I had pushed the right button. I was sure of it. It was lit up with a price, while the other buttons showed only dashes.

“Wait, Jenny…” I said. Because just then I noticed that the green handle had “10% ethanol” written above it. They don’t put ethanol in diesel, right? Then I peered closer at the black handle. “It says diesel!” I said. “See? The black handle says diesel. So the green handle was correct!”

Befuddled, Jenny googled it. Apparently at BP gas stations they switch things up, putting a green-handled pump on the regular gasoline and a black-handled pump on the diesel.

I had not put any diesel in my car after all!

Praise Jesus!

All was well!

We laughed about that one for a while.

In Missouri, we stopped for the night at the home of Darlene Miller. We were friends with Darlene’s sons when they did VS work in Oregon, and then Mom became friends with Darlene, and then I stayed at Darlene’s house when her son Travis got married, so it seemed a logical place to stop. Despite our better-than-usual time, we were still dealing with a time change, so it was 8:30 PM when we arrived. Still, she had an amazing home-cooked meal waiting for us.

Oh and she had not one, but two guest rooms. I love Jenny dearly but I’m also deeply introverted and that room-to-myself was everything.

Thus ended the third day of our trip. Originally we’d planned to go straight to Blacksburg from Darlene’s house, but the idea of arriving late at night to an empty apartment with no beds was daunting. So I got an Airbnb in Huntington West Virginia, where we’d spend Friday night before getting to Blacksburg on Saturday.

This meant that Friday morning, we actually had some time to relax before starting off on the day’s drive. I made myself a mug of Earl Grey tea and sat on the porch with Darlene’s curious pets and my own thoughts.

So Friday was the last full day of driving. It was our shortest day so far, and it felt even shorter because the states started flying by. Driving east feels like playing that little dinosaur game that pops up whenever a website isn’t loading. It starts off so slow…for the first 8 hours of our journey to Virginia we were still in Oregon. Then it gets faster and faster and faster, until at the end you’re flying through five states in one day.

“We could hit six states if we take a tiny detour,” I said. “Ohio is just across the river from Huntington.”

But in the end we didn’t bother. Five states in one day was enough for us.

We continued to collect state license plate sightings, and by “we” I mean mostly Jenny.

“Mayor,” said Jenny, reading a vanity license plate out loud. “I wonder if that guy is the mayor. Wait. He’s passing me on the right. Did I just get passed on the right by the mayor?!?”

We put that on our list of weird things.

Also on the list: a small forest where someone had nailed a “Trump” poster on about every third tree.

And, later, a sign that said “Flea Amish Markets.” Which seemed to us to be the wrong adjective order. And of course I imagined someone wildly running away from an Amish market.

Our Airbnb wasn’t like most Airbnb’s…it was an actual factual bed and breakfast. A fancy house with fancy floral wallpaper. And breakfast in the morning. Well, breakfast bars and coffee, if that counts.

Our hosts were very sweet. “Are you doing anything this evening?” they asked.

“We’ll probably go get something to eat,” we said.

“Oh, well we could give you some recommendations!” They said. “Here, we have some information on the sideboard about good restaurants in the area.”

Later, while we were on our way to Taco Bell, I turned to Jenny and said, “what will we say if they ask us where we went to eat? Are we gonna admit that we just went to Taco Bell?”

“I don’t know,” Jenny said.

“We could say we got tacos,” I said, “but then maybe they’d want to know where we got tacos.”

We came up with a whole plan for what we were going to say if they asked us where we went to eat, but they never asked, so we never had to use it.

We went back to the fancy house, climbed into the fancy bed, and went to sleep. One more night and four more hours of driving, and we’d arrive at our new home. But for that story, you’ll have to come back tomorrow for Part 3.

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.

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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.

Blogmas 2019 Day 4: Take a Sad Song and Make it Better (repost)

Four years ago today, Ben and I went to Thailand to visit our sister Amy for Christmas. What happened next was one of the most dramatic Christmastime experiences of my life. Today, I decided to revisit that memory by reposting my blog post about the experience.

I knew that I’d figure things out eventually and everything would be fine, but sometimes my emotions don’t listen to my logic. I didn’t want to cry, but I felt the tears trickle down the side of my nose anyway. Blast.

What was wrong? Let me make a list:

  1. I had been traveling for a day and a half, with no end in sight, because…
  2. Our flight to Kunming, the second leg of our three-flight journey, was delayed for four hours due to a “mechanical issue…”
  3. Which we didn’t know any details about since we didn’t speak Chinese
  4. However, we knew we’d missed the third flight entirely
  5. And we couldn’t contact my sister Amy and tell her what was going on, because we weren’t able to connect to the internet at the airport
  6. And when the delay was over, and we got on the flight, they kept saying something about going to “Nanning”
  7. But we didn’t want to go to “Nanning,” we wanted to go to Kunming
  8. And then the flight attendant got on the intercom and explained in hard-to-understand English that if we wanted to head on to Kunming after Nanning we had to *garbled words* and collect a *garbled word.*
  9. And I was very confused.

Confusion+tiredness=tears, probably a very natural reaction, but I turned my head to hide them anyway. I looked out the window. And what I saw took my breath away.

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Source: Wikipedia (Not exactly the same as what I saw, but the closest I could find.)

What are those squiggly things glinting in the sun? Oddly-shaped ponds? I peered closer. Rice fields! Of course!

We flew down, down, over green forests and red, red dirt, and terraced rice fields all over the hills, making the landscape look like a topographic map. It was unbelievably beautiful.

Nanning turned out to be a tiny little airport with only one gate, and a crisp-but-pleasant breeze blew in our faces as we descended the steps of the airplane, a nice contrast to the freezing temperatures of Shanghai. We followed the crowd across the blacktop, hoping we were doing the right thing.

A lady in a long blue coat stood by a door, yelling something, waving a handful of what looked like blue laminated bookmarks. Her voice was lost in the swift breeze. We left the pack, and walked closer. “Kunming! Kunming!” she was shouting, and so we took some blue bookmarks and walked into the gate area through her door.

It was only a short wait. I had time to use the bathroom. The toilet was the  the squatting-kind, which made me feel happy inside, because I was in a place that actually felt Chinese, instead of the sterile generic airplanes and airports I normally find myself in.

And Ben was able to connect to the internet and send Amy an explanatory email.

In short, my spirits were refreshed.

Of course with all the hopping on and off of airplanes and shuttle buses, and with boxed dinners being thrust under my nose every time I began to doze, I was quite tired by the time we reached Kunming. Too tired to keep up with Ben’s rapid pace, I sat down to send Amy another email on Ben’s phone while Ben fetched the luggage.

I typed a message, and clicked “send.”

“Message held in queue,” it told me.

I looked up at the message Ben had sent earlier. That one was also “held in queue.” It had never sent. Amy had no idea why we didn’t show up at the airport.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t connect to the internet. The only way to get the password was to put in your phone number, and they’d text you the password. Which didn’t exactly work for foreigners without overseas cell service.

Ben fetched the suitcases, left me with them, and ran off to talk to the people at the China Eastern counter about the next flight to Chiang Mai. I was alone in a strange airport with two suitcases I could barely pull, and no way to contact my family. I spread my Tinkerbell blanket on top of the largest suitcase and lay my head on it. Unbidden, another tear trickled down my nose and dripped off the tip.

Suddenly, someone beside me began talking very excitedly in Chinese. I looked up. A lady with a yellow scarf was gesturing wildly to me. She pointed to her phone, handed it to her friend, and scooted up next to me.

I smiled, wide. The friend snapped a picture.

“I want one too!” I said, handing her my camera so she’d know what I meant.

Then everyone in the friend group wanted a picture with me. They all wore magnificent brightly-colored clothing, and they jammed a red hat on my head and took pictures of me in it.

It was so much fun. They knew two English words, “yes” and “hello,” and I knew no Chinese words at all. One lady tried very hard to communicate, pointing to her nose and tapping her hand and holding up two fingers, but I was completely lost.

Then Ben came back, and they wanted to take pictures of us together, though Ben wasn’t particularly enthusiastic.

They gave me a bottle of water, which was nice, since I’d lost mine along the way, and we looked through the pictures we’d taken and gave each other smiles and “thumb’s up” signs until they had to go.

“So what’s going on?” I asked Ben, my spirits once more revived.

“They only fly to Chiang Mai once a day, so we have to spend the night here,” he told me. “They put us up in a hotel.”

“Did you tell them we were brother and sister so they’d give us two beds?” I asked.

“I just hoped they’d figure it out.”

“WHAT? You just assumed they’d KNOW?”

“I told them we were brother and sister.”

“Oh.”

We waited for the shuttle, and I longed in my heart for some music to listen to.  I had nothing. Even Chinese music would have soothed my soul. Instead  I sang, so softly that no one could really hear me over the general airport buzz, and pretended that I was listening instead of singing.

“Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song, and make it bet-ter-er-er…”

“That’s what I’ll do,” I decided. “I’ll make this sad song better. I’m in China. I’ve never been to China before. I’ll have fun.”

We walked into the hotel room, and the first thing I saw was that, blessed relief, there were two beds. As I stood there admiring this fact, I heard Ben say, “wow, the shower’s not very private.”

Yes, that is a giant window between the bathroom and the rest of the room. Ben hung out in the hall while I used the bathroom, and then he got his chance to go when I went downstairs to ask how to connect to wifi.

“It’s easy,” said the receptionist. “No password.”

It wasn’t easy, though. Facebook wouldn’t open. Gmail wouldn’t open. Twitter wouldn’t open. Google wouldn’t open. “You can go down and talk to the receptionist this time,” I told Ben.

“It’s weird, though,” said Ben. “I can connect to ESPN just fine.”

“Really?” I tried opening Internet Explorer instead of Firefox. When I typed in “Facebook,” it re-directed me to a Bing search of headlines like “sites blocked in China.”

This was the one time in my life that Bing was more helpful than Google. Because apparently Google was blocked in China. Along with Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Thus began a frantic search for an alternate way to send a message. “Can you comment on Mom’s blog?” “I think I had a Yahoo account once.” “Do you remember the password to Mom’s old Juno account?” “Maybe I could post on my blog.” “I guess I can message my fantasy football league members through ESPN.”

It turned out that Blogger was blocked, but WordPress wasn’t, at least not entirely. A basic HTML version of my blog loaded, but it wouldn’t let me post. I tried posting using my phone.

“Success!” I shouted.

“Oh good,” said Ben. “I don’t know how long it would have been until my friends saw this fantasy football message.”

And then we collapsed in gales of laughter at the random and bizarre communication methods we were resorting to.

The next morning I woke up before Ben, and held a towel up while using the bathroom in the off chance that he groggily opened his eyes. I wondered around the hotel looking for breakfast, and found nothing. It was absolutely frigid, and the hotel doors stood wide open. Burr. I returned to our room.

Besides two pairs of crocks and a roll of toilet paper the size of a can of cream-of-mushroom soap, the hotel room didn’t have much. It did, however, have all the necessities in the way of tea-making.

 

That was quite nice. I wrapped myself in my bedspread and drank tea and ate crackers with peanut butter. Man, it was COLD.

Ben finally woke up. “It’s snowing,” he told me, looking out the window.

“What? Really?”

“Yep. See the snow on that car?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Did we forget to turn on the heater last night?”

“There’s no heater. I checked. There’s no heat in the entire building.”

“Oh.”

Happiest of happys though, when I checked the comments of my blog post I saw that, not only were Mom and Amy vastly relieved to see that we were okay, but a girl that Amy and Ben knew was actually living in Kunming at the moment. Amy typed in her phone number, and I scribbled it down on a piece of paper and went down to the lobby to ask if I could use the phone.

Felicia, was the friend’s name, and she was as friendly as friends can be. “I live an hour away, but I’m not doing anything this morning,” she said. “I’ll take a taxi over right away.”

Ben took a walk while I showered. The water was hot, warming me through and through, and I sang “hey Jude” at the top of my lungs. I was making the sad song better.

I hadn’t packed for cold weather, I’d packed for Thailand, but I did the best I could. A skirt, under which was a pair of leggings, under which were my pajama pants, rolled up to the knees. My light jacket over my t-shirt over my long-sleeved shirt. Socks borrowed from Ben, and a light scarf wrapped around and around my neck. My Tinkerbell blanket wrapped around my shoulders. I was as ready as I’d ever be.

 

“Where do you want to go?” Felicia asked when she arrived, all friendly and smiles.

“Someplace where it’s warm,” I said.

She chatted a bit with the Taxi driver in Chinese. “Do you like hot pot?” she asked us.

“What’s hot pot?”

“It’s a Chinese dish…there’s a heated pan in the center of your table and you put in all sorts of meat and vegetables and make a stew.”

A warm soup in a warm place sounded heavenly. “Sure, let’s do that.”

We walked down the street and around the corner, as I tried to avoid getting water in my not-particularly-waterproof shoes. Flakes of snow nestled into the purple fuzz of my Tinkerbell blanket.

“You just had to be stuck here on the day it snows!” said Felicia.

“Does it not usually snow here?”

“Oh no! They call this the city of eternal spring. A couple years ago it snowed, and people were so excited because it was the first time it had snowed in seven years.”

We stepped into a tiny restaurant that, like the hotel, left its doors wide open. This made me dubious, but it did seem to be warmer in here. Someone gestured to the floor and there, in a square pan, was a pile of burning coals, keeping the customers toasty.

We gathered around the low table: me, Ben, Felicia, and the taxi driver. The waiter brought a pan of broth and set it on the burner in the middle of the table, and then brought us plates of meat and vegetables, and a large kettle full of tea.

 

This already seems like a core memory, forever powering travel island. Sitting there on that low stool, in a completely unexpected location, with two brand-new friends.

The taxi driver ladled meat and veggies into my bowl. “How do you say ‘thank you’ in Chinese?” I asked Felicia.

“Syea-syea,” she said.

“Syea-syea,” I told the taxi driver. I now knew a word in Chinese.

But what I remember most was the juxtaposition of cold and warmth. The snowy wind blew in the open door, nipping at my nose and freezing my toes. The coals warmed my legs, as I tried to get as close as possible without burning the edges of my Tinkerbell blanket. The soup warmed my insides, and the kindness of strangers warmed my soul.

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Photo credit: Ben

My logic was right. We figured things out, and everything was okay. We paid for the hot pot with the 400 Yuen we’d been given as compensation for our delayed flight, and gave the leftover money to Felicia hoping to cover a fraction of her taxi cost, even though she insisted it was okay and she was happy to come.

We went back to the airport, checked our bags, and got on the plane for Chiang Mai. We were delayed over an hour while they sprayed the snow off the plane and waited around for other unknown reasons, but at this point that seemed like pittance.

“How many hours have we been traveling?” I asked Ben when we finally reached Chiang Mai and were filling out immigration paperwork.

“Fifty hours,” he said. But I added it up later, and it was actually sixty-two hours. Over two and a half days.

But we fetched our suitcases and walked through the big glass doors, where Amy was waiting with her arms full of hugs.

We had finally arrived.

Alaska, Part 3: The Way it Invaded our Souls

I heard a rumor that one of the Kuhns babies looked at his mother, wide-eyed, and whispered, “are there dragons in Alaska?”

That may be the best description of how Alaska made me feel. Like there could be dragons here.

After Elaine’s wedding, I was so tired that I sat in the red chair and didn’t move. For three days I’d focused on wedding, wedding, wedding (you can read about that in Part 1 and Part 2). But now the wedding was over. 

I ought to just go home and sleep. Should I just go home and sleep?

It was bedtime, after all. But the sun was still up, in that curious Alaska way. And I felt like maybe there was yet another adventure awaiting, once I got my second wind.

“Let’s go to the river, or something,” said Karli.

So we drove down to the river, a strange, gray, churning thing full of glacial silt. We wandered over the bridge and along the riverbank.

The endless twilight. Everything seemed moody, and weighty, and powerful. The world was a vast expanse of wonders.

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I wanted to capture the way Sherri smiled as she squished her feet in the clay.

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Pic by Karli Kuhns

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Karli, Sherri and I made Wesley take a picture of us.

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Later we got a proper selfie with all four of us.

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Karli ate the moon.

We got back into the car, and then we took some wrong turns. Was it nearing midnight? Time seemed irrelevant. We hopped out and wandered around. Aimless. Drunk on the enchantment of tonight.

The next day we went to Hatcher pass. Everyone came: The Stoltzfus clan, the Kuhns clan, the randos…even Elaine and Brandon. Yes, the newlyweds themselves decided to show up.

“Our honeymoon doesn’t really start until tomorrow,” said Elaine.

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Elaine and Brandon

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Daisy and her baby beside a mountain stream.

Oh yes. I should tell this story. Remember that cute to-go mug I got at the coffee shop on Friday? Well, it was so adorable that I didn’t throw it away. I continued to brew tea in it throughout the weekend.

On Sunday, when I went to brew myself some tea, I noticed that someone had attempted to wash it. And it was a paper cup. But it still looked usable, so I poured boiling water into it, clicked the lid on, and carried it across the room.

The weakened paper walls of the cup began to collapse. Boiling water spilled out onto my arm. I dropped it in pain, and ran to the sink to run my arm under cold water. Even so, I had a pretty bad first-degree burn, and a mess to clean up.

I found a bag of frozen peas in the freezer, and I wrapped it in a towel and held it on my arm. That helped with the pain. But by the time I got to Hatcher Pass, the peas were melting. Besides, I didn’t want to hike around holding a bag of peas onto my arm. So if my arm started to hurt pretty badly, I’d just dip it into this cold mountain stream, and feel blessed relief.

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We ate a picnic on the mountain. Without plates. No one remembered to bring plates.

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Photo by Karli Kuhns

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Photo by Virginia Kuhns Petroski

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Photo by Virginia Kuhns Petroski

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Photo by Karli Kuhns

On Instagram, Karli wrote, “Words can’t quite express the way Alaska made me feel. Mixed emotions. Happiness, longing, joy, peace, turmoil…I wanted to sit on the top of a mountain and dream for days.”

And I don’t think I could say it any better than that.

Later that Sunday afternoon, Karli and Sherri took me to the airport in Elaine’s car. I waved goodbye to this majestic place that now held a snippet of my heart.

I’ll be back, Alaska.

I promise.

Alaska Part 2: The Wedding

Elaine and Brandon’s wedding was to take place in a pavilion on top of a hill. But the reception was to be held in the somewhat-boring-looking church sanctuary, so we made it beautiful using all things twinkly (candles, string lights, twinkle lights, etc).

Most of the transforming was done on Thursday (you can read about that in part 1 of my Alaska adventure). But in order for the sanctuary to be properly twinkly we had to solve the problem of sunlight streaming in the large front doors.

Friday morning, Mimi, Elaine’s mom, attempted to solve the problem. “I went to Fred Meyer, but I couldn’t find black paper anywhere!” she said. “So I bought black bed sheets.”

Karli and I looked at them dubiously. But what do you know, folded in half they were the exact width of the door, and long enough to loop over the top. We secured them with bright blue painter’s tape, rolling pieces and tucking them under to hide the bright-blueness as much as possible.

The double layer was rather opaque. No more Halloween cobwebs. Karli and I gave each other a high-five.

Someone told me that Elaine wanted to talk to me about desserts, so I went over to where she was sitting. “Oh hey Emily,” she said. “So when you and Eileen are serving the desserts tomorrow…”

“Wait,” I said. “I’m serving desserts?”

“Oh, yeah, didn’t I ask you to?”

I laughed. “No, you didn’t. But of course I’m happy to help.”

Friday was a lot more relaxed in general, since we’d gotten most of the work done on Thursday. Now that Kim was here with her rental car, we took full advantage of the freedom and went out to get coffee at the cute coffee stand where Elaine works when she’s not, you know, prepping for her wedding.

Only of course I got hot tea, and it came in the most adorable to-go cup I’ve ever seen.

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After that we had just a bit of time before the rehearsal dinner, so Kim and I went over to the apartment where Elaine and Brandon would live after they married. Kim had the address, but when we went inside we just saw office space, not apartments.

“I think the apartments are on the second floor,” said Kim.

“Where’s the staircase?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

We peeked around corners. No staircases were to be found. “Let’s just open some of these doors,” I said. Kim looked a bit dubious, but what do you know, the first door I tried had a staircase behind it.

We went up the stairs. “Which apartment is hers?” I asked.

“I don’t know…all she gave me was the address.”

Kim tried calling Elaine, but Elaine didn’t answer. So we walked along the hall, and I carefully listened at each door. Then, oh! That was definitely Elaine’s laugh.

I knocked. She opened.

It was a small studio apartment. Nothing fancy, and a bit old-fashioned, but quite charming. Virginia, one of the Kuhns siblings, and Daisy, who was married to a Kuhns sibling, were relaxing on the floor because there were no couches or chairs yet. Kim and I sat down too.

“This is so great!” said Elaine. “Finally, a chance to just chill with my friends for a bit!”

The “chilling” didn’t last long, however, because soon it was time for the rehearsal dinner.

The rehearsal dinner was held at Brandon’s parent’s house. The kitchen was brimming with food, so many dishes I knew I wouldn’t have a chance to even try them all. Victoria, Brandon’s mother, told me what each of them were. There was lots of salmon of course, as well as seal soup, whale meat (both cooked and uncooked), and herring eggs, which were on some sort of seaweed…kelp maybe? And something called “Eskimo ice cream,” which was sort-of like a fruit salad.

“I also made chicken for the English people,” said Victoria. I thought it was so funny that she used the word “English” to refer to non-Native people, because it’s the same word Amish people use to refer to non-Anabaptist people.

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Elaine’s dad prayed in English, and Brandon’s grandpa prayed in Yupik, and then we got to eat. It was an amazing meal. I didn’t get to try nearly everything, but I ate all the most interesting-looking foods. Especially the seal and whale was a real treat, because in Alaska it’s illegal to hunt whale and seal unless you’re an Alaskan Native. It’s also illegal for an “English” person to buy whale and seal from an Alaskan Native, so our only hope of eating it is to have a Native friend.

However, if I’m gonna be honest, I couldn’t figure out how to eat the raw whale. I just couldn’t chew it. “You have to bite off the white part, and leave the gray part,” said Kim. But I could not for the life of me bite off the white part. Finally I realized that Kim had gotten cooked whale, which was much easier to chew. I’m still not sure how one eats the raw whale. Just stick it in your mouth and chew it like a piece of gum? Does it eventually break down?

The herring eggs on seaweed tasted exactly how the Newport Bayfront smells. I don’t know how else to describe it.

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Relaxing in the back yard, eating delicious food.

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Elaine and Brandon at the rehearsal dinner. Poor Elaine was exhausted!

Almost everyone was either in the bridal party or married to someone in the bridal party. Karli, seeing Elaine’s stress, appointed herself wedding coordinator. So from the end of the rehearsal dinner until the end of the reception the next day, Virginia, Wesley, Eileen, and I were the randos who had no specific job and so did all sorts of sporadic tasks.

That evening it was mostly running errands. The next morning we didn’t do much, because everyone else was in and out of wedding photos, but then we went to the church early and did all the bippy things that still needed to be done.

Eileen and I, of course, were doing desserts. There were cheesecake cupcakes that needed to be served on these artsy birch slabs. But then, we heard that the guy in charge of the meal was short-handed. So, maybe we’d have time to help him with food if we got all the cheesecakes onto their slabs early.

This was like, forty-five before the ceremony was to begin. We started clearing off surfaces in a back classroom, and filling them with frozen cheesecake cupcakes atop birch slabs. And then…

“Um, Eileen?” I said. “This birch slab has bugs on it.”

“What?” she looked closely. “Oh…yeah…it does…”

Another chance to be innovative. Thankfully there were many more birch slabs than we needed. Eileen began checking and sorting them, while I double-checked the good ones to make sure they were decidedly bug-free, and continued arranging the mini cheesecakes.

“I’m sure this is enough,” I said finally. “We don’t want to arrive at the same time as the bridal party and have to try to dodge out of pictures.”

Of course in the end I did a couple more random tasks, and what do you know. I ended up arriving at the pavilion at the same time as the bridal party, and had to try to dodge out of pictures. Haha.

It was an absolutely beautiful ceremony, though. There was hardly a dry eye in the place as they read their hand-written wedding vows to each other. Next thing you know, everyone was laughing when they tried to do a unity ceremony with salt, and the salt stuck to its container and wouldn’t pour out.

Laughter and tears. The perfect wedding.

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(I didn’t take photos during the ceremony, but I stole this one from Karli.)

Eileen and I skipped the receiving line because there were things to get done. Wesley and Karli had skipped ahead to light the candles and switch on the twinkle lights. “Hey Emily,” Elaine said as we zipped past the receiving line, “can you get drinks out?”

“Sure thing!”

That’s how Eileen and I found ourselves in the kitchen, mixing up batches and batches of lemonade, and handing them over to whatever strong-looking person happened to be in the kitchen right then. “Can you put this on the drink table? Thanks!”

Okay, lemonade levels were stable. What about water levels? What about coffee levels?

Oh! No one put creamer on the coffee table.

Oh! What are we supposed to put the creamer in? Surely we have something nicer than just the jug it came in? A chance to be innovative! Soon we were washing up some sugar dispensers we found in a cupboard in the church kitchen, and labeling them using scraps of paper, scotch tape, and a green marker. “It’ll look fine. It’s pretty dark out there,” said Eileen.

Then we set up the dessert table (using only bug-free birch slabs, of course), and then Virginia was like, “you do realize there’s another grocery bag full of lemonade concentrate, don’t you?” We hadn’t realized, but now we did, so we mixed up even more lemonade. And then finally, we had a chance to take a breather.

Oof!

Karli came by. “You can sit at that table up there, with the assorted bridesmaids and Wesley.”

We kept the dessert table filled. We ate our food. We admired the couple.

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We signed at the romantic-ness of their first dance.

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And then we looked around and realized that people were leaving, and the whole thing was almost over. We took out our tiny bubble wands and blew a cloud of bubbles over Elaine and Brandon as they dashed away, into their new married life.

From Friday morning until Saturday evening, I was so focused on the wedding that I didn’t have much time to stop and appreciate Alaska. But then, once we’d gotten Elaine and Brandon married, restored the twinkly reception hall back into a run-of-the-mill church sanctuary, and eaten a supper of wedding-food leftovers, things changed.

We had time for the wilderness.

However, I’ll talk about all that in my next post, which will be the final post in my Alaska series.

Alaska! Part 1

My first introduction to Alaska came 45 minutes before my flight was supposed to land, when I finished my movie and lifted the window shade. As I peeked out upon the Alaskan landscape, still brightly lit at 9 pm, my jaw hit the floor.

Look. I thought Oregon had “real” mountains, and I’d snicker at what passed as a “mountain” on the east coast. But let me tell you. Oregon mountains are nothing, NOTHING compared to Alaska mountains.

A quick Google search would have told me this. The top 10 highest mountains in the USA are all in Alaska, while Mt. Hood doesn’t even make the top 200. And while I knew Alaska mountains are taller than Oregon mountains, I had NO IDEA the disparity would be this drastic.

Here’s where I ought to post a photo. And let me tell you, that was my first reaction when I saw the splendor of peaks and glaciers spread out before me. But the blurry through-the-window phone photo was completely inadequate to represent that sort of glory, and I quickly scrapped that idea and just stared.

Transfixed.

So mesmerized that I thought crashing into one wouldn’t be such a bad way to die, as modes of death go.

I was in Alaska because my friend Elaine was getting married. I’ve known Elaine since 2016, when she first messaged me on Facebook and we got into a long conversation about living in vans and then we decided to go camping together in the Redwoods.

For Elaine, the adventure never stops. She ended up moving to Alaska, where she met a swell guy named Brandon, and then the two of them decided to tie the knot and invite all their friends to come watch.

Thanks, Elaine and Brandon!

I was picked up at the airport by Elaine’s parents, as well as what I call “The Kuhns Clan…” three Kuhns siblings, one spouse, and three of their children. Also Wesley, who wasn’t related to but often hung out with the Kuhns siblings. They were all friends of Elaine, and they’d arrived an hour before me. We all were in a large white van. Elaine told me that I didn’t need to worry about renting a car. Apparently rentals are really expensive in Alaska.

I snapped this blurry photo out the car window, trying to capture the looming mountains as well as the endless twilight. It was too far south, and too late in the year, to see the midnight sun. But the golden hour stretched on and on, and when the sun finally set at 10 pm, the twilight seemed never-ending.

Pete, Elaine’s dad, had the sharpest eye for wild animals. “Moose!” He’d call out, and sure enough, there was a moose. “Fox!” He called. And there it was, bushy tail and everything.

After an hour of driving we reached Palmer, Alaska, and Pete dropped me off at Bob and Dianne’s house. Bob and Dianne were friends of Elaine who had some extra room. Several other people were planning to room there over the wedding, but since I’d come early, for now it was just me. Everyone else in the van was staying at this place called InterAct Ministries, which had a large guest house.

You’d think it would give me FOMO, but the introvert and needs-her-sleep in me was rather delighted.

The next morning I was picked up in a stretch Hummer limo.

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I opened the door to this thing and it was a PARTY CAR. Mirrors, neon lights, lava lamps, clear-plastic cup holders, glass bottles for booze. Only of course there was no booze.

There were, however, lots of car seats.

(Sorry for the terrible photo. My phone camera is iffy at the best of times, and downright terrible in low light. Also sometimes I just push the button and then forget to look at the picture and make sure it’s not blurry, LOL)

For some reason Elaine’s brother, who also lives in Alaska, has a friend who owns a stretch Hummer. “Oh, that can haul a lot of people,” Elaine’s brother thought. So he borrowed it for the wedding.

The Hummer was filled with Elaine’s parents, siblings, siblings-in-law, nieces, and nephews. Also her cousin Rose and her cousin Eileen. And Sherri, her friend/bridesmaid. We all went to the church where Elaine was going to get married, and we weeded, spread pea gravel, strung up lights, set tables, etc. The Kuhns clan arrived and also helped out. I’m not sure how they got there, because I overheard someone saying that the van we’d taken from the airport had broken down, and I never saw it again for the rest of the weekend.

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Trying to figure out table placement.

Elaine wanted the reception to be lit only by candles and string lights, so Karli and I took on the task of covering all the windows.

“I feel like at home we’d just run to Walmart and get what we needed,” said Karli, looking at the collection of tape, scissors, and Fred Meyer paper grocery bags she’d collected from the church kitchen. “But that’s not Elaine’s way.”

“Oh well, it’s a chance to be innovative,” I said.

The sanctuary, where we set up the tables, was surrounded by classroom doors that had little rectangular windows. We taped brown paper bags over them, from the inside of the classrooms, so that from the main room it looked rather nice. We were stumped by the big nursery window for a while, but I found a huge roll of paper in a back storage room of the church. I had to lie on my stomach atop some broken-down chairs to retrieve it, but we managed.

The big glass doors leading into the sanctuary were the last hurdle. The white paper had worked on the nursery window, because it was tinted so you couldn’t tell that the paper was white. But for the big main doors, we wanted black.

Garbage bags? No, too tacky. Table cloths? The only ones available were spandex. We stretched them over the doors. Hey, that kinda works!

But when we shut the doors, and the sun shone through, they looked strange and creepy. “Do they look like eyes, to you?” I asked. Because something about their placement rounded the edges of the doors, and the two posters already taped to the doors looked like pupils of two giant eyes.

“Yes!” Karli agreed.

Rose chimed in to say that to her, the stretched-out spandex with the sun shining through looked like black Halloween cobwebs.

She was right. It did.

Giant eyes? Halloween cobwebs? The spandex tablecloths had to go.

Karli and I made up our minds to just drive to Fred Meyer and buy black poster board. But what were we supposed to drive? The Hummer? In the end, we didn’t go after all, due to vehicle shortage. “I guess we’ll just get it tomorrow,” we decided.

After all, it was only Thursday. The wedding wasn’t until Saturday.

We all went over to the InterAct guesthouse for supper. Elaine and her immediate family, their spouses and children, her two cousins, and Sherri were all in the vast upstairs space. The Kuhns clan and Wesley were downstairs, in a smaller apartment. It began to feel like everyone was part of a clan, either the Stoltzfus Clan or the smaller Kuhns Clan. Sherri, Wesley, and I were the random wild cards who weren’t related to anybody.

The cool thing about Alaska is that you can just go on a hike after supper without having to worry that it will get dark.

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The dirt was soft, like powdered sugar, and many of us went barefoot.

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Elaine pointing.

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Rose, Elaine, Elaine’s niece, and Karli

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Elaine and I. And Elaine’s brother Mel’s thumb.

Kim, my roommate from Kansas, called me while I was on the trail. She was the wedding photographer, and she was going to stay at Bob and Dianne’s with me. “I’m coming in about 3 am,” she said.

“Okay, do you have an address for your GPS?”

“Yes.”

“Well, when you go in the driveway there will be a log cabin on your left, and then a new house on your right. I’m in the new house. You can go around back to the basement door. I’m the only one in the basement. Just open doors and poke your head in until you find our room. If you have any trouble, call me.”

“Okay.”

We all piled back in the Hummer, and they dropped me off on their way back. Hard to believe it was nighttime already, with the sky in its endless twilight, but it was. I went to bed.

BRRRIIIIIINGGGGGGGG

I woke up. Groggy. Picked up my phone. It was Kim. “Hello?”

“Hi, I don’t know what to do. All the doors of the house are locked.”

“Okay, I’ll let you in.” I stumbled out of bed and opened the basement door. No one was out there. “Are you sure you’re at the right house?”

“It’s a blue house, right?”

“Um…no…it’s a yellow house.”

“What? But I went in the driveway, and there was a log cabin, and a newer house…a blue house…”

“Oh yeah, sorry. You have to keep going down the driveway a bit. Sorry I forgot to tell you about the blue house.”

Soon I heard a soft rumble, and Kim’s car came purring up. She’d opted for a rental, despite the expense. She was mortified. “I can’t believe I went to the wrong house!”

“I can’t believe I wasn’t clearer in my instructions! And I told you to peek into all the rooms! What if you’d actually gotten inside and went peeking into stranger’s rooms!”

We heard footsteps on the stairs. Bob came down, in his bathrobe. “Is everything all right?”

“I accidentally went to the blue house instead of this house!” said Kim.

Bob laughed. “Heh heh heh. Yeah, that’s my uncle’s place.”

He trotted back upstairs, and we all went to bed.

This has been part 1 of my Alaska adventure. Part 2 is coming…soon. In the next day or two hopefully. I have many projects to work on this week, including a play that I need to have done for VBS next week, so we’ll see.

Endings and Beginnings

Well, there you have it. My year-long adventure is over, and I am back in Oregon.

I anticipated having a few weeks to relax, get some writing done, and enjoy the Oregon summer before harvest starts. But life just bellows full steam ahead, doesn’t it? So many friends to catch up with. So many events to attend.

Amy graduated from Linn Benton Community College on Thursday. Exactly six years, to the day, after I graduated from LBCC.

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“It’s a funny thing, having my big sister follow in my footsteps,” I joked.

Jenny is also finished at Linn Benton, but chose not to walk. Both of them are going on to Oregon State University. Amy will have her Bachelor’s in another year, and Jenny will have her Bachelor’s in two years. With Ben finishing up his PHD around the same time, and Steven completing his second Associate’s degree this fall, hopefully my geeky family will be finished with schooling and ready to settle down and start families already, heehee.

Well, not Jenny, I guess. She’s planning to get her Mastor’s yet. But she has plenty of time.

Anyway, I don’t know where Ben was, but the rest of us went to Amy’s graduation. Of course it was rather long and boring, as graduations are in general. Someone’s name would be announced, and a small group of their friends and family would cheer from one corner of the room, and then another name would be announced, and another cheer would erupt from another corner of the room.

I cheered for Amy, and also our friend Rachel Nissen. But Steven cheered for some random person I didn’t know.

“Do you know her?” I asked.

“No, but nobody else was cheering for her,” said Steven.

I thought that was the sweetest thing.

As the line got shorter and shorter, Steven started cheering for more and more people. I wasn’t listening too closely most of the time, but my ears perked up when I heard the announcer lady say “Waldo French.” I’d seen Waldo’s name in the program, and it had stood out to me as being very odd. People, I was sure, must constantly make jokes about it.

So, “Waldo French!” said the announcer.

Steven, only half-listening at this point, cheered. “Woo hoo! Yeah Rhonda.”

“It’s Waldo,” I corrected him.

“Heh heh. Oops.”

“Where’s Waldo?” Dad asked, looking around.

Steven and I lost it. I mean, such a Dad joke, but funny.

I’m sure Waldo wouldn’t find it funny, though. I’m sure he hears this joke approximately twice a day, 730 times a year.

We all went to Dairy Queen for ice cream afterwords.

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This has been a weird week for me, as I’m sure it’s been a weird week for every Mennonite everywhere. I’d sit down to write and get so distracted reading every new article about Jeriah Mast’s sexual abuse of Hatian boys and the CAM cover-up. And then reading all the comments. And then getting angry. I mean, this shouldn’t be news to you…I’m sure that’s how at least 80% of my readers spent this week.

I finally got to the place where I didn’t let myself read any updates, comments, anything for 24 hours. I was just so worked up and not in a good head space.

I did write a draft of a blog post for my Patreon blog, all about how to grapple with your Mennonite identity when you come face-to-face with evil in your culture. But I didn’t post it because I was so worked up and needed to get some distance from the topic for a bit.

I do plan to return and finish it, though. Hopefully this week. At least by the end of the month.

Also, I will add that the first Patreon post I wrote Is actually rather applicable to the Jeriah Mast case. In it I explored the term “toxic masculinity,” a term that is thrown around in greater American culture today. I argued that Mennonites are actually a feminine culture, more likely to suffer from what could be called “toxic femininity.” Which people tend to be skeptical of, because we’re also a patriarchal culture. But I think people see it a little clearer now. People from greater American culture would want to punch the living daylights out of a pedophile. People from Mennonite culture want forgiveness, compassion, remember-that-we’re-all-sinners. It’s a feminine cultural trait that seems so good at first, but was absolutely toxic in the case of Jeriah Mast.

So yes, that’s where my brain was at this week, as I caught up with friends, and tried to get some writing done, and unpacked my belongings.

Of course, now you’re probably wondering what my life plan is now. Have I moved moved back to Oregon? Wasn’t the whole point of this year of travel to try to find a place where I could move permanently?

Well, that was one of my points, though not the whole point necessarily.

The biggest roadblocks I ran into this year were health issues and financial issues. With my health, I’ve decided that moving around every month is not something I should really ever do again, as fun as it was. Moving anywhere seems beyond me at this point. So I’m planning to stay in Oregon now at least through the summer and most likely through the fall as well.

I had fun in every place I went this whole year. Besides Oregon, Lancaster was the best place as far as people go, since I was near my cousin Annette and some of my close friends, including Esta and Janessa.

I really really loved Philadelphia. I was only there for a week in March and another week in May, but I would love to move there if something opened up. It would also have the advantage of being close to Lancaster, and also close to DC, where Matt lives.

I might have recency bias with Kansas, but I could also seem myself moving there. It has the advantage of cheap rent, and I love the way the community is involved in outreach right there in the town of Hutchinson. It’s also somewhat close to my Uncle Fred, and it’s the only place on the whole trip where I felt healthy the entire time I was there.

As far as money goes, I find myself in an odd financial situation. This year I lived off of freelance writing and editing jobs and some of my own savings. But I found that, while freelance writing and editing pays the bills, my heart is in writing books and plays. It’s also financially smarter, especially for someone with dubious health, to write things I can continue selling. That way if I’m, say, too sick for a month to do any freelance jobs, I can still earn money by selling books and plays that I’ve already finished.

Still, it’s tough to make that transition. Freelance writing pays right away, whereas these longer projects require a lot of work with no immediate payout. But since I am trying to slowly make that transition, it means that I have a hard time predicting what my monthly income will be six months or a year from now. Which makes it hard to plan a move.

Right now I’m planning to stay in Oregon until I get my book about this year finished and self-published, hopefully this fall.

Beyond that, I’m not sure. I do dearly love Oregon. Maybe I’ll live here part of the year, and jaunt over to other places for random three-month trips now and then? Just to keep life interesting? I don’t know. I honestly don’t feel very settled anywhere. Someday I really do want to buy a house and settle down. But I’m not financially there yet.

So for now, I guess I’ll live like I’m 19 instead of almost 29, just bipping hither and yon like I’m young and carefree. And then I’ll sleep on a hard mattress somewhere and get back pain and remember my age again, LOL.

Anyway, whatever the future holds for me, I’ll be sure to keep you all updated here on the blog.