Category Archives: Travel

Reflections from The Road

Oof. September was a difficult and dizzying month.

I have so many THOUGHTS about LIFE: Some that are blog-worthy, many that are not.

Let me try to catch you up on the blog-worthy parts.

On September 16, a Sunday morning, Amy and I headed east. The first rains of Fall were splattering our windshield, smearing the dust and bugs, and then we crossed the mountains and, ka-bang! Sunshine.

Photo Credit: Amy Smucker

It took us over 8 hours to even get out of Oregon, and then we continued to drive on and on through the barren wilds of the West. Amy had downloaded an audio book version of Pride and Prejudice, so we listened in as Lizzie Bennet went to dances and house parties, met men of various sorts, and talked them over with her sisters.

Around 11 pm I decided to see if I could sleep. So Amy started driving and I managed to snooze a bit, but fitfully and badly. And then about 1:30 a.m., or probably 2:30 because surely we’d switched time zones by that point, Amy pulled into a rest area so that she could sleep too.

Rest areas, it turns out, are brilliantly lit. And now I didn’t even have the rumble of the engine to help me sleep. I tried, for a while, but finally I sat up and looked into Amy’s coffee cup. She had a good two inches of coffee left.

“I’ll drive if you’ll give me this coffee,” I said.

So we switched places and I drove, listening to music through one earbud. Driving through Wyoming in the middle of the night, you begin to feel as though the world goes on and on forever.

Well I mean, I guess it does, sort-of. Although there’s no road that reaches all the way around.

I was still a bit on the sleepy side, and though I was in no danger of falling asleep, I felt like my reaction times were slowing. The speed limit was 75 mph, but my car, laden down with my worldly belongings, had a lot of trouble making it up the mountains and hills at that speed. So I set my cruise at 60 mph and enjoyed a fantastic, relaxing drive. Hello thoughts, and ideas, and introvert time.

Amy woke up just as dawn was breaking in front of us, deeply purple and veined with thin clouds. Rejuvenated. Ready to drive again.

That was convenient timing.

We ate breakfast and now I slept. Oh, so soundly, with dreams and everything. Till noon-ish, though I forget which time zone. It was hot, here, and I changed clothes and brushed my teeth in a rest area bathroom.

I thought the hills would stop once we got to Kansas, but they didn’t. Isn’t Kansas supposed to be flat? Mr. Darcy proposed to Lizzy, and she rejected him. He wrote her a letter, and she read it in the woods, and started to notice her own biases. I love that turning point in the story.

There was no sign of Autumn in Kansas. It was hot, muggy, and oh so green. It looked like an Oregon spring and felt like a hot shower.

My 60 mph meanderings had cost us a good 3 to 4 hours. But finally we drove into Hutchinson, and pulled up in front of Heidi Mast’s apartment complex, at about 5 pm.

Stay tuned for Reflections from Kansas, coming soon to a blog near you. (And by that I mean this blog. And by soon I mean maybe tomorrow if I try really hard.)


Seattle, Part 2: Kindred Spirits


After exploring the city of Seattle alone for a while (read about that here), it was time to head to my friend Micaela’s house for dinner. Which meant taking the bus.

As a country girl, public transportation always makes me a little nervous. This is where google maps saved me. I figured out that if I plug a destination into google maps and click the “transit” icon, it will tell me exactly where to walk and exactly what bus to take. And the price. $2.75.

So I tried it, and it worked quite well. Once my phone didn’t update fast enough, but I could see from the street sign that I was at the right stop, so I hopped off. Whew! I made it to Micaela’s apartment just fine.

She opened the door. Smiled. Her curly hair spilled down over her shoulders. “Hi,” I said, nervously, because I was suddenly nervous. Why was I intruding into this stranger’s home? I’d meant to keep in touch after we’d met, two and a half years ago, but I hadn’t. Not really.

She led me upstairs to her cute little (blessedly air-conditioned) apartment. Her husband, Hai, was chopping veggies. Rice noodles bubbled on the stove. Were they cooking me Vietnamese food? Okay, maybe this was a good plan, after all.

We began making small talk. Hai went outside to grill.

“Okay Micaela,” I said. “The last time we were together you pointed out this guy named Hai, and you told me he was your ex-boyfriend…that you’d dated for a week but then you broke up with him and you didn’t know why you ever gave him a chance…that he was just too ‘cool’ and flirty and stuff…but now you’re married to him and pregnant with his baby. I’m so curious to know what happened.”

I was sure it was going to be a good story, and it was. Micaela told me about how she’d had an “ideal” man in her mind, a “serious” man that Hai didn’t live up to. But the journey of discovering who Hai really was, (and who she really was) and what God actually had in mind for her, was this beautiful journey. I just LOVE Anne-and-Gilbert stories like this.

The meal prepared, we sat down to eat. Hai prayed. “Thank you that Emily can be here in Seattle to…well, um, actually I’m not quite sure why she’s here…”

Right. Maybe I should explain that.

I gave them the whole “Elon Musk used to randomly call interesting people and invite them to lunch” and “I went to see Howl’s Moving Castle last December” and “I want to know how to be a playwright” backstory. And then I talked about they guy on the street who said that Mennonites are “basically Amish, except, you’re cool?” And Hai wanted to know what exactly a Mennonite was (Micaela was more familiar with Mennonites because she’d done Rod and Staff homeschooling curriculum) so I launched into that backstory.

“So what do you do, Hai?” I asked, then. As he told me about his crazy adventures as a security guard, I was finally able to eat my food. It was fantastic. So top-notch. I stuffed myself.

We’d agreed, near the beginning of the meal, to go to a lake after dinner and float on inner tubes for awhile. I was too tired after my long day to do anything fancy. But now that we’d uncorked the flow of conversation we couldn’t seem to stop it. Suddenly we were talking about how to learn another language, and how to talk to homeless people, and what enneagram we all are. (“You’re a 5, right?” Micaela said to me, and I was super impressed.) Then we looked at the clock and were like, “meh, we’re no longer young. Let’s just go to bed.”

So we did.

And I slept like a baby.

I slept in the next morning, and then ate banana muffins, drank lavender-infused tea, and had more great conversation. The strangers of yesterday felt like old friends, again. There were so many interesting things left to say, but suddenly it was 10:00 and I wanted to make sure I got to my 11:00 meeting on time.

And so, backpack freshly packed and pinned, I set out on the town again.

I correctly navigated all my stops and transfers until, at the edge of downtown, I got off at the wrong stop. Oh great. And I was already going to be a bit late. I tried to get google maps to re-route me. Surely that wouldn’t be so difficult? But something was glitching, and google maps was telling me that it would be over an hour until I reached my destination. Huh? That literally makes no sense, Google. I’m already downtown.

Looking up, I decided to go the old fashioned route. I was on 8’th street. All I had to do was walk down to 1’st street, and then up to Clay.

So I booked it.

I mean, as much as I could while still having to wait on “walk” signals and such.

I was ten minutes late. Could be worse. I walked into the coffee shop and there was Justin Huertas in the flesh, sitting at a little copper-topped table.

“Hi, Justin?” I said.

He looked up. Grinned widely. “Hi!” Gave me a hug.

Justin, it turns out, is one of those people who can instantly make you feel like an old friend. I apologized for my lateness, explained the bus mistake, and went to order some tea. Then I sat back down, and asked him to tell me all about how he came to be a playwright.

His path to writing plays was very interesting and non-linear, with lots of random setbacks and challenges. He didn’t set out to be a playwright, and actually ended up changing his career path several times. But what emerged from his story were several fascinating insights into the career of play writing.

First, according to Justin you can submit a play proposal to a theater company in much the same way you can submit a book proposal to a publisher. I was not aware of this.

“But it sounds like you have a better chance of getting a commission to write a play if you’re already in the system somewhat,” I said.

“Unfortunately, that’s true,” said Justin. “A lot of it is who you know.”

Secondly, play writing is a more collaborative process than book writing is. Justin talked about something called “workshopping,” where the playwright brings in a scene, the actors read it, and then everyone discusses what works and what doesn’t. He suggested that I could mimic this process by getting together with friends and having them read drafts of my plays out loud. Scary! But helpful, I’m sure.

The last insight was one which extends beyond the realm of play writing and into any sort of artistic endeavor. It was this:

People achieve artistic success because other people believe in them.

This was one of the strongest threads binding Justin’s story together. Someone higher-up in the theater business believed that he had a story to tell, and invested in him. That’s how he became a playwright.

I was really struck by this. It reminded me of the people who have believed in me over the years. Like when I took Creative Drama for Teachers at community college, and the teacher, Tinamarie, who was an honest-to-goodness actor and director of real plays, believed that I had what it took to act. Little Mennonite me!

Or last year, when I wrote a play of the life story of the Apostle Paul for our Vacation Bible School. Shannon Krabill told me that she wanted to affirm me in my play writing because she saw that God had given me a gift. That meant so much to me.

I think that any artistic Mennonite feels, first, that their gifting may not be a practical pursuit, and second, that they could never “make it” artistically in the non-Mennonite world. We’re farmers and homemakers. What do we know of art?

But beauty was created by God. Art, and music, and storytelling are these beautiful and powerful things, and when we see these talents in others, we need to affirm them. These things matter.

I talked with Justin about these things for a good bit of time. I told him about some of my ideas for plays, and he seemed to like them. “I want to be a resource for you,” he said.

I appreciated that a lot.

Eventually though, after a fantastic conversation, our tea cups were empty and we parted ways.

I began meandering my way back to the train station. In doing so I ran right into Pike Place Market again. A different end of it, with crowded vendors spilling into the streets. I was so confused by that market. I’m used to markets that are in empty lots, with booths/tents set up in straight rows. This was such a conglomeration of indoor, outdoor, permanent, and temporary shops, that seemed squeezed into the middle of town. I’d like to explore it further sometime when I’m actually at leisure to buy things.

I wanted some food for my lunch and supper, but had no time to sit in a cute restaurant to eat it. Also, I didn’t want to spend a lot of $$$. But there was a random 7-11 tucked into a street corner, so I bought two slices of pizza for $2.20.

Yes, I was proud of myself for spending a weekend in Seattle and only spending $2.20 on food (if you don’t count my cups of tea). I’m sure all you foodies out there are shaking your heads (I’m looking at you, Rachel). But I did get a home-cooked Vietnamese meal, so don’t be too hard on me, ‘k?

Back at the train station I was given a seat assignment, for some reason, but my outlet didn’t work. So I asked the conductor if I could move, and he was like, “sure, take any seat in this car.” Train people are so chill.

Across from me were two ladies in their 50s who got sillier and sillier as their beer bottles emptied. The one began to talk about dating a 26-year-old guy, and how her daughter, who’s also 26, was super weirded out. Ha. Yeah, I’d imagine so.

Ah, the adventures of riding the train. Nothing this interesting ever happens when you drive.

I got off at the Albany station and drove home, feeling full. The asking had paid off, 100%. Not only had I had some fun adventures alone, but I’d had some extremely fulfilling conversations. Micaela, Hai, Justin…they all were such kindred spirits, after all.

“Look me up if you ever come back!” they’d all said.

And I think I will.




Seattle, Part 1: Just Ask


My new life philosophy is “just ask.”

When Elon Musk was a young man, he and his brother used to read the newspaper, looking for interesting people they wanted to meet. Then they’d call these people up and invite them to lunch. Surprisingly often, these people would agree. So Elon and his brother would ride the train to the city and have lunch with these interesting, successful people.

That impressed me, when I read about it. Who knows what people will agree to if you just ask them? As school secretary, I was amazed at the number of librarians, achievement test developers, zoo officials, etc who’d completely bend their rules and deadlines for me if I just gave them a phone call.

So I decided to try and meet the playwright Justin Huertas.

You see, last December the ladies in my family went to Seattle to see a musical adaptation of one of my favorite books, Howl’s Moving Castle. Afterwords I rooted around the internet looking for the soundtrack, but all I could find was the Facebook page of Justin Huertas, the composer. He’d posted a few songs from the musical, so I followed his page.

Now that I was following his page, I began to see updates about other plays he’d written. I was intrigued. I really love writing plays, but I’d never thought much about the fact that some people have a career of writing plays, and I could too. How does one become a playwright?

Justin would know, I thought. I set him a message asking if I could meet up with him and pick his brain. And he agreed!

So now I had to plan a trip to Seattle. Who else do I know in Seattle?

Well, two and a half years ago I met this girl named Micaela who was from Seattle. We only hung out for one weekend, but she seemed like a kindred spirit, and we followed each other on Instagram and such.

Again, I decided to just ask. “Can I crash on your couch for a night?”

She, too, agreed. Wonderful! I bought my Amtrak tickets.

This was my plan: I’d leave early in the morning on Friday, July 27, and get to Seattle around noon. I’d spend the whole afternoon exploring downtown Seattle on my own. Around dinner time, I’d take the bus to Micaela’s house. I’d hang out with her all evening, and spend the night there. The next day I’d take the bus back into downtown where I’d meet Justin at 11:00 am, and then maybe explore a wee bit more before catching the train home at 2:20 pm.

The rest of today’s blog post will be about exploring the city alone. Tomorrow, I will cover my time with Micaela and my meeting with Justin.

So. I got up early and caught the train in Albany. I settled into my seat, the conductor scanned my ticket, and then I trotted down to the cafe car, ordered some tea, and had a nice conversation with the guy behind the counter. Settling back into my comfy seat, I pulled out my laptop and got hours of writing done. The truly wealthy people take the train, I decided. The people who have both money and time.

Based on Google Maps, it seemed that if I headed north from the train station I’d hit downtown, the major tourist attractions, and the waterfront. I was so excited. Confession time: I love exploring alone. I get to go exactly where I want to go, nose into whatever corners I want to nose into, without any of this “what do you want to do next/are you done yet/no, you decide” frustrating time-wasting nonsense.

And oh! Here was a little bookstore, with stacks of books and sagging chairs and a rickety staircase.

And oh! Here was a little triangular park with a drinking fountain and tables. I was tremendously hungry, so I sat down and ate my chicken salad in the dappled sunlight under the trees, while a street musician sang like Frank Sinatra.

I went to the drinking fountain to fill my water bottle, and a couple men started talking to me. “That’s a nice smile!” said one. “You’re not just looking at your phone, like most people.”

“Maybe those people are just trying to figure out where they’re going,” I said. I mean, I’d been using google maps. No shame.

I started filling my water bottle. “Is that some sort of religious thing on your head?” the other man asked.

So I started doing the Mennonite explanation thing.

“So you’re basically Amish, except, you’re cool? I mean, you’re not so uptight?” he clarified.

“Um, sure.”

“I see you have a missing tooth. Now, I can’t remember how I lost my tooth. Do you remember how you lost your tooth?”

“Yes,” I said, and told the story. Both of them had missing teeth. We talked about teeth for a surprisingly long time.

“Well, I should get going!” I said. “It was nice to meet you!”

I walked north again. Growing tired in the sun, I sat down to rest on a giant staircase, with fountains, that suddenly appeared to my right. I thought it led to a museum or something, but it really just led to the next street.


And in the middle of the staircase was an alley with some cool street art along the top of the wall.


And then the alley became a covered alley, called “Post Alley”…


AKA the “gum wall.”

I don’t know why it’s called the “gum wall” instead of the “gum alley” or the “gum tunnel.” In any case, it was way awesomer than I’d expected. Who’d have guessed that a bunch of gum stuck to some walls could look so cool and artsy? People wrote words in gum. Gum dripped off of arched doorways and windows. People took Polaroids in front of the gum wall, and then stuck them to the gum wall with gum. The whole place smelled vaguely of Juicy Fruit, and a bunch of friendly bees, apparently attracted by the odor, buzzed about happily.

There was a lot of cool street art in Seattle. But this was the best.





At the end of the gum wall was a sign that said “restrooms.” I needed a restroom. So I went round the corner and realized that I was more indoors than outdoors, now. Odd.

I was wearing leggings under my skirt, because it was chilly on the train, and now that I was alone in a bathroom stall I took the opportunity to peel them off and shove them in my backpack. I guess I shoved too hard.


My faithful denim backpack that I take with me everywhere! Nooooooooooooo!


I gathered everything up in my arms, exited the stall, washed my hands, and then tried to mend my backpack. Thankfully I had some safety pins along, and a kind lady waiting in line gave me another. Tip for other minimalists: there are some things that are so tiny and so useful that they are worth carrying with you at all times. One of these things is safety pins.

Exiting the bathroom, I realized that I was in Pike Place Market. I thought the market was outdoors, but apparently part of it was in this odd indoor space that you could wander into thinking it was still outdoors. I browsed this creepy second hand store and eavesdropped on the owner, who apparently had just become some bigwig in the governance of the whole Pike Place Market. And wandered through another bookstore.

But when you’re carrying your home on your back, you’re not exactly looking to buy more stuff.

I followed signs down to the water, and oh! It was a fun pier, with a Ferris Wheel and a Carosol and goofy expensive looking restaurants. But the smell! And the breeze blowing off the water! Glory be, it was beautiful. I sat down and soaked it all in for a while.

Presently, though, I wanted to keep exploring. My plan all along was to find a waterfront and jump in. As I couldn’t exactly leap off the pier, I headed even further north, where there seemed to be a proper park along the water.

Along the way I stopped by the sculpture garden, which is actually a really creative pedestrian walkway above the railroad tracks and highway.



By this time, the temperature was reaching mid 80’s, and there wasn’t much shade in the garden. So I didn’t explore all that much, and instead went down to the water. And yes! There was a nice pebbly beach!

Of course, duh! This was the Puget Sound, not a calm lake. Which meant it was freezing. But I dipped my toes in anyway.

And then, my energy finally deserting me, I fell asleep under the trees, while a cool breeze blew off the Sound, and a man on a park bench softly sang Jamaican music.


When I woke up, I had just enough time to do the last thing I wanted to do: find a coffee shop and get some more writing done. The shop I found was a little disappointing, to be honest. Ratty couches, and just not as sunny and arty as I’d like. but they made delicious peach blossom iced tea, which was very refreshing.

I wrote steady for half an hour, and then it was time to take the bus to Micaela’s house for dinner.

That, my friends, is the end of Part 1. Come back tomorrow for Part 2, when I reconnect with Micaela and her husband Hai, and meet Justin Huertas, the playwright.

Amanda and Bryce’s Wedding

I went to Amanda and Bryce’s wedding last weekend. It was wonderful until it turned terrible. This is my story


Part 1: Alone

I came to the wedding alone. I knew the bride. That was it. Our short list of mutual friends, for several semi-complicated reasons, were not going to make it to the wedding. However, when I had communicated with Amanda about possible rides from the airport and places to stay, she had mentioned several wedding attendees whom I happened to know from my SMBI days nearly nine years ago.

So at least I had that.

Part 2: Traveling

My plan was to take a red eye flight Thursday night, arrive in Indianapolis Friday morning, and then get shuttled to Illinois by a load of wedding attendees driving in from back east. Luckily I got a decent about of sleep on the plane, and as my ride wasn’t scheduled to pick me up for several hours yet, I got another good nap in the Indianapolis airport before freshening up and grabbing some breakfast and tea.

Thus fortified, I stood on the curb in the muggy Indiana heat until a brown minivan pulled up. This was it. I climbed inside.

There were three others in the van, presenting a healthy mix of strangers and semi-strangers. We drove off. Introductions were made all around.

Part 3: New Friends

Rachel was next to me, in one of the middle seats. We tried to remember when we’d seen each other last. Was it nine years ago? Or just five? A long time, in any case. Nice to see you again.

At the wheel of the minivan was Troy, a groomsman. I knew who he was, vaguely, as we’d communicated briefly with texts such as “I’m supposed to pick you up from the airport,” and, “okay, awesome.”

Seth, sitting shotgun, was Bryce’s best friend from High School. He was another groomsman and, like me, was coming pretty much alone, not really knowing anyone besides the groom. He wore a shirt that said “I talk to strangers.” And he’d brought his bike with him, which necessitated the minivan.

“I’m biking to southern Indiana after the wedding,” he said.

It sounded exciting except for the promise of a muggy midwestern heat wave.

The four of us drove through Indiana and into Illinois, discussing random topics such as buried treasure, and whether it’s possible to drive a car through a cornfield. Rachel had to be at the church at 3 pm to practice singing. We made it in the nick of time, only to discover that we’d crossed a time zone line, and it was actually 2 pm.


Oh well. We’re all friends now, I guess. We can hang out.

But eventually I got bored of hanging out. “Did you say there was a lake nearby?” I asked Seth.

“Yeah,” he said. “You wanna go?”


“Let’s see if anyone else wants to come,” he said.

Rachel was practicing her songs at this point, and Troy wasn’t feelin’ it. I saw three girls sitting on one of the back pews. “Do you want to go to the lake?” I asked them.

“Sure!” they said.

“Do you have a car?”


“How many people does it seat?”



I grabbed my backpack, fully intending to slip on my swim trunks and jump in the lake. But on the way there Seth said, “oh, I thought my phone hadn’t adjusted to the time change, but it actually did. So we only have fifteen minutes.”

We stayed a little longer than fifteen minutes, but I didn’t swim. Instead we stuck our feet in the water and chatted.

Part 4: The Great Wedding Calamity

Back at the church for the rehearsal dinner, the person blessing the food made some vague reference to an illness going around. And later, during rehearsal, I noticed that the maid of honor was clutching her head, looking disoriented, while her husband rubbed her back.

I asked Amanda about it, later, when I ran into her in the bathroom.

“Oh, Emily! It’s been awful!” she said. Then she listed the various family and bridal party members who had succumbed to the illness, a miserable affair that involved a great deal of puking.

Poor Amanda. Of all the unexpected wrenches that could be thrown into wedding plans, that has to be about the worst.

Part 5: The Wedding Day

Abby, my SMBI roommate from nine years ago, was staying at the same place I was, along with Rachel and a girl named Jackie that I’d never met. Jackie wasn’t around as much because she had friends in the area, but Rachel, Abby, and I had a fantastic time reconnecting. Friday night and all Saturday morning we just hung out and chatted.

The wedding went off smoothly, despite a few members of the bridal party still looking a little green. The church was decorated with white garden flowers and foraged branches that smelled lovely, and Amanda wore a dress of Dotted Swiss that had been made from a Sears curtain. I didn’t get any photos of the ceremony, but I did snap a few at the reception.




As I pondered what stories to tell at the open mic, I realized something: Amanda is one of the bravest people I know. To look at her, you wouldn’t necessarily guess it. But there it is.

I told about the time we were in New York City, trying to have fun without spending any money, when Amanda showed up with some pizza.

“Where did you get the pizza?” we wanted to know.

“A stranger on the subway gave it to me.”

But it’s not just strange pizza. She’s unafraid to talk to anybody. She can ask them any question. She’s unafraid to get married and move to the house across the street from the drug dealers. She’s unconcerned by the lack of proper toilets in her new home. What does it matter? We’ll figure something out.

There was no official sendoff, and Bryce and Amanda were still milling around chatting with their guests as tables were cleared and most folks had left.

“Let’s talk, Emily!” she said, multiple times. But how much chatty chatty time is there at a wedding? We all wanted a slice of Amanda, that day, but the whole point was that we don’t get her. Bryce does.

Lucky guy.

Part 6: The Fireworks

Arthur IL, Amanda’s little hometown, is famous for its epic fireworks display on the Saturday before Independence Day. Which was also the day of Amanda’s wedding. So that evening, most of the wedding crowd migrated into Arthur to see what all the hype was about.

Amazing stuff. Not just fireworks, but also these massive explosions that sent waves of heat at us. And some sort of burning wire setup that sent down torrents of ethereal fire rain.

And then it was over, and we walked away through the hot, wet evening air, lit up by the occasional lightening bug or rogue firecracker. “Goodbye, goodbye,” I told my new friends. “Come to Oregon someday.”

Part 7: Leaving

Abby, Rachel, Jackie, and I stayed up well past 1 am. “Why is it so much harder for some people to be single than others?” And “how close of friendships should you have with guys you’re not dating?” We discussed so many things. I don’t often hang out with others in the same life stage as me.

I didn’t get much sleep, since I had to be up at 6 am in order to make it to Indianapolis in time for my flight. It was just Troy and Rachel and I this time, driving through cornfield country. Seth was biking to southern Indiana.

Due to my budget airline, I had a 6+ hour layover. Oh well. By the time I arrived in Denver I was hungry, cold, and had a headache, presumably from my lack of sleep, but I made do. Ate a chicken sandwich. Drank some tea. Took a couple ibuprofen tablets.

But as I lay in a sunny patch on the floor, waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in, I realized that something was wrong. I wasn’t feeling better. In fact, I was beginning to feel worse.

Part 8: Everything goes terribly, horribly, absolutely, 100% wrong

If you are triggered by horrifying situations and/or discussions of vomit, the rest of this blog post is not for you. Click the little “x” in the top right-hand corner of this page, make yourself a cup of tea, and spend a few moments contemplating how nice and healthy you are feeling.

For those of you with a morbid curiosity into my pain, keep reading.

Lying on the floor of the Denver airport, I began to feel an overwhelming nausea and disorientation. I needed to throw up.

So, okay. I guess I’ll pack all my stuff back into my backpack and haul myself to a giant crowded restroom where everyone can hear me. This sounds like fun times.

I knelt by the toilet. And then it came. Hello tea. Hello chicken sandwich. Hello hasty breakfast I grabbed as I ran out the door this morning.

Jesus, have mercy.

I have it. I have the bridal party sickness. I have four more hours of layover and two-and-a-half more hours of flying and two hours of driving home and I have the bridal party sickness.

I called my mom. “Sip Sprite,” she said. “You are dehydrated, and a have a low blood sugar. Maybe some of your siblings can come pick you up at the airport.”

I sipped Sprite, and found a more remote bathroom on the upper level. It was coming, again. All the Sprite, all of everything that was inside me, and then the dry heaving that was hard to stop. “Jesus have Mercy,” I moaned, and then started quoting Isaiah 40 to myself. Out loud. My sense of normal and abnormal behavior was all screwed up.

The pattern was thus set: Sip something. Feel absolutely awful, lie on floor, don’t move, even listing to a podcast is too, too much. Then puke. Trying to stop the dry heaving that follows is like trying to stop a runaway car in a dream. But feel better, once I manage it. Momentarily. Sip something again.

No one seemed to notice my illness until once, suddenly, I had to GO. I took off for the nearest bathroom. A janitor passed, wheeling a yellow cart. Should I puke in the cart?

I didn’t. Maybe should have. Instead I puked on the floor. “Good thing there’s a janitor nearby,” I briefly noted before I dissolved into tears of misery and humiliation.

But now, people noticed me and felt sorry for me. They bought me Gatorade and Pepto-Bismol and Rolaids, none of which were particularly helpful, but it did make me feel less alone. Someone nabbed me a garbage bag from the poor janitor, which prevented further floor-vomit humiliations.

After that, things got worse. However, at a certain point I need to pull the curtain of charity over the event, and I think that moment is here. But I will note that my flight got delayed for an hour. And I was freezing cold. I don’t know how high my fever was, but I had all the chills and muscle aches, and the next day, feeling much better, it was 100.3.

The flight attendants were much savvier at picking up on the fact that I was sick than the average flying populace had been. Of course, the fact that I dashed for the bathroom as soon as I set foot on the plane probably gave me away.

“Can we get you anything?” they asked as soon as I emerged.

“Do you have a face mask so I don’t get anyone else sick?” I asked.

They didn’t have that. They did have a better barf bag, which was sturdier and, for the sake of those around me, opaque. They didn’t have blankets, but they turned up the heat for me. They wanted to give me a seat in the very back, near the bathrooms, but as I was only five or so rows up, on an aisle seat, we decided not to bother.

“Are you okay to fly?” they asked.

To be honest, I was a little afraid they wouldn’t let me fly because I was sick. “I just want to go home!” I moaned.

“I know, honey, I know.”

The flight was so, so miserable and awful, but I remember that moment when the flight attendant told me there was just an hour left to go. I made up a song and started singing it. “I can hold on for an hour, I can make it for an hour, I can hold on for an hour, I can make it, for that long.”

I mean, I was already puking girl, might as well be singing girl as well.

And I did. I made it for an hour, because I had no choice. The flight attendants contacted the Portland airport and ordered a wheelchair for me. It was waiting for me when we landed, and the nice wheelchair man took my backpack and wheeled me out to the curb, where Ben and Amy were waiting with the family car. They’d brought a blanket and a memory foam pillow! And a barf bucket!

I gave Ben my keys and my instructions on where to find my car, and he ran off to go drive my car home. I settled into the back of the family car. Pure. Heaven. A real blanket to wrap up in, that keeps me warm all the way. A soft place to lie down.

“Do you mind if I listen to an audio book?” Amy asked.

“Could we…could we listen to classical music?” I asked. I am not usually a classical music person, but for some reason I’d longed for classical music the whole flight.

“Sure,” said Amy. She found a CD of classical music and stuck it in the player.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so loved or content in my life.

That was Sunday, July 1. I heaved my guts out once more on the way home, but that was pretty much the last of the puking portion. However, It’s been a long week. By Wednesday I was eating a few solid foods, like toast.

Thursday evening I was supposed to leave on a road trip to Arizona. My friends Zach and Ally were getting married on Saturday July 7, and a group of my friends were going to drive down together. I was in such a dither all Thursday. I had pretty much kicked the illness, but I was still so weak.

I decided not to go.

So yes. Plans change, but that’s just how the world works when you’re me. I’m feeling fine now, and I had a low-key but nice birthday. But I will say, my trip to Bryce and Amanda’s wedding was one I will never forget.


Travis and Christina’s Wedding

When Travis was in town, things were different.

Before he arrived in Oregon to sing for Gospel Echoes, our local prison ministry group, my brother Ben and I were pretty much the only single people in our 20s at church. But after Travis came, we hung out with him, as well as his roommate Javen who also sang for Gospel Echoes. And since Javen was younger, he sort-of bridged the gap between us and the people in the 17-20 crowd who were out of high school.

Just like that, a bit of an older youth group appeared where there hadn’t been one before. Sometimes Travis’ girlfriend Christina flew out to Oregon and joined us for Thanksgiving Dinner or a good hike up Horse Rock. We had some good times.

Now, both Travis and Javen have returned to their respective homes. But Travis married Christina on Friday, and of course Ben and I wanted to witness this momentous occasion.

As soon as I stepped outside of the St Louis airport, I knew it was going to be a great trip. It was over 70° and sunny. It felt like I’d stepped into a portal that instantly transported me through the worst of sprwinter and straight into summer.

It took us a while to locate Javen, who had flown in to a different terminal. Then there was a long, hot wait at the rental car place. I’d never gotten a rental car before and was a bit nervous. As the only one in the group over 25, I had to drive it. Which was fine–I mean, I know how to drive and have never gotten in a wreck or anything. But I still get driver anxiety. And that car took a bit of getting used to.

Like the way the cruise control always seemed to quit working. It took me a while to figure out that it automatically slowed down while going uphill and sped up while going downhill. And even longer to figure out that if the car in front of me was going slower, my car automatically slowed down too.

Then there was the time I was backing out of a tight parking space, trying to see out of my rear windows, which were up pretty high.

“Um, you might want to stop,” said Javen from the back seat.

So I stopped, maneuvered out of the space, and only then saw that there was a fence behind me that I couldn’t see through my high back windows. Yeeks. Well, I didn’t hit anything, and after that I tried to make use of the backup camera, despite it’s grainy image and weird distortion that confused me.

The three of us went straight to the rehearsal dinner. Ben and I weren’t in the wedding party, but Javen was. Besides that, we were all staying at Travis’ parent’s house, and all of his family was at the rehearsal dinner.

Truth be told, half the fun of the trip was due to the fact that Travis’ parents let us be one of the family for the weekend. Both Travis and Christina had extended family in the area, so any out-of-town relatives had other relatives to stay with. David, an older single guy from our church whom Travis and Javen lived with when they were in Oregon, stayed there too, and together we all had some jolly times.

Mostly due to the fact that the Millers are excellent storytellers and have mountains of stories to tell. I laughed so hard it hurt. Unfortunately I didn’t ask permission to repeat the stories on my blog, so you’ll just have to find a Miller and ask them yourself. (Use the key words “band-aid,” “lightening bolt,” and “dimples” for the best ones.)

Friday morning there was a scurry of activity as the groom and three of his groomsmen woke up, pressed their khakis, and snapped on their suspenders. Then, “whoosh!” they were off to get their pictures taken. A bit of a lull followed, and then the remaining family members were rushing around, primping, and zooming off for their turn in front of the camera.

Ben, David, and I remained. The weather that morning was beautiful, so we just wandered around and relaxed, and then primped and got ready in plenty of time for the wedding at 3pm.

The ceremony went off without a hitch. Now, for some reason I don’t understand, there were giant arrows on the curtain behind the platform. In pictures, it looks like they’ve been photo-shopped in to point out “here’s the groomsman, here’s the bridesmaid, here’s the projector screen.” But no, let me assure you, they were already there.

Photo by Sheryl Graber

By the time the ceremony was over, the sky was beginning to darken and the rain was beginning to fall, but it was still quite warm. Midwest weather is fascinating. The sky grew darker and darker as the evening wore on, but the sun hadn’t set yet. It glowed orange through the clouds. And then the rain fell in torrents, and a fantastic display of purple lightening lit the sky. Beautiful.

At the reception, we found the other Oregon people who had made it to the wedding. Ben and I sat down with Sheryl and Mikala, and we had a jolly time eating, listening to the fantastic music performed by Travis’ brothers and friends, and listening to the funny open mic stories. Like I said, those Millers have stories.

Sheryl, Mikala, Javen, me, and Ben. Photo from Mikala’s phone, taken (I think) by Bethany Clugston.

The next morning, summer and crazy thunderstorms were gone, and the weather was a very Oregon-like 50° and drizzling. We ate a huge breakfast, hauled gifts to Travis and Christina’s new house, wrote a thank-you note to Travis’ family, and just hung out. Then, around noon, Ben and I drove back to the airport. (Javen stayed behind, as he had a different ride home.)

In general, it was a fantastic trip, mostly due to the hospitality of Travis’ family. Especially his mother, Darlene.

Congrats, Travis and Christina. I hope you have a long and happy life together.

Note: I am sorry I am a day late here. I’ve been sick and traveling and working and in general not putting as much time and energy into the April Blogging Challenge as I usually do. In order to catch up on other ABC posts, you can go to Mom’s blog, Amy’s blog, and Jenny’s blog.

The Homeward Journey

Sunday, the day after the wedding, folks began to drift homeward. My brother Matt and my Uncle Philip left early in the morning before I even woke up. Then, at a more-reasonable-but-still-morning-hour, the rest of my siblings piled into Ben’s rig and left.

Saturday, with its crisp air and clear blue skies, had warmed to a balmy 70°. Sunday, however, was cloudy and cold, and for a few minutes we even got snow. So we stayed snug in our rental all morning and afternoon, drinking hot beverages and catching up with the relatives.

All while this old friend watched us from above.


I took a walk with my uncle. Played monopoly with my cousins. Maybe not the most exciting day, but I was reminded of just how important it is to me to spend time with my relatives. They understand my jokes, tell the stories that I find interesting, and when I’m with them I will always belong.

Then, Monday morning, Mom, Dad and I got in the minivan and drove home. We drove through central Oregon instead of through the gorge, because it was daylight so we didn’t have to worry about running out of gas and all the little rural gas stations being closed. So I still didn’t get to see what effects the fire had on the gorge. Oh well.

The trip was relatively uneventful, until about 20 miles outside of Burns, when we heard a terrible “whap whap whap whap whap” noise. “Stop! Stop!” Mom yelled, and we pulled over.

A flap of rubber had pulled loose from one of the tires and was repeatedly hitting the wheel well as it spun around.

Mom thought we should put the spare on. Dad thought that, as the tire was not flat yet, it was in just as good of a condition as the spare would be. “Maybe we could cut the flap off, so it wouldn’t make that noise,” he said.

“I was thinking about bringing a scissors with me on this trip, but I didn’t,” I said.

“Oh! I have a scissors in my computer bag,” said Dad.

I never found out just why Dad had a pair of scissors in his computer bag, but it certainly came in handy. Dad cut the strip of tire off, and we turned around and headed back to Burns.

We bought some new tires at Les Schwab, ate some free popcorn, and were on the road again.

And, wouldn’t you know it.

The van no longer vibrated.

Amy, after we told her this, felt very vindicated.

We watched the sun set behind the three sisters, and drove over the mountains, and were home again at last.

Keith and Taylor’s Wedding

In the days following the wedding, my family had some conversations and disagreements about what exactly Tifie Ranch was. I thought it was just a regular campground and event center, until I remembered the “No Trespassing, Enter by Invitation Only” sign at the entrance. My Uncle Chad thought that some rich man had created it as a playground for himself and his friends, and Keith and Taylor had only managed to snag it as a wedding venue because they knew somebody.

There were no disagreements around the fact that it was beautiful.

We drove down the lane and into the ranch that Saturday afternoon, past the “Keith and Taylor –>” sign, and up to the young men who were pointing us toward the parking lot. Dad rolled down his window. “I have my father-in-law with me,” said Dad. “I was told I’m supposed to take him straight up to the amphitheater so that he doesn’t have to walk so far.”

After a conversation with a bearded guy in a red shirt, Dad drove off in the opposite direction of the parking lot. The road we were on seemed to peter out, so we turned right and drove up the hill on a road that ended…in a garage.

“This can’t be right,” we said to each other, as a garage generally indicates “this is a private residence” and “you shouldn’t be here.”

The bearded guy in the red shirt came walking up the hill. “I think this is right,” he said. “I think this is what they told me.”

Mom got out of the car, and she and the bearded guy walked up a set of stone steps to the left of the garage, and disappeared into the woods. We waited a few minutes, and then they came back.

“Was that it?”


Back to square one. We turned around, which was a bit difficult in the small space we were afforded, and drove back down the hill. There, a pickup met us. Mom and Grandpa climbed in, and the pickup shuttled them up another road, a steep gravel number that disappeared up into the woods. I was a bit confused about what was going on, because I was in the back of the van and couldn’t hear people’s conversations very well. But my siblings and I got out and followed some wedding guests up a footpath, and there was a pretty little amphitheater, and there were Mom and Grandpa, safe and sound.

Now, let me pause at this junction to tell you a little bit about my cousin Keith.

Keith’s two primary characteristics are first, that’s he’s always doing something, and second, that he makes his life as uncomplicated as possible. When I lived with him and his family in 2010 he was doing wrestling, and then he went to college and poured his energy into Ultimate Frisbee, and then after college he moved to Utah and took up rock climbing. He even went rock climbing the morning of his wedding, hurting his knee a bit.

Our mothers are sisters and best friends. When their mother, our grandmother, died a few years ago, all the Yoders gathered at my grandparents’ house that summer to go through their things, because Grandpa was moving in with my Uncle Marcus.

Yoders are notorious for rescuing things. My grandparents’ house had banana boxes of rescued peanut butter jars in the basement, and Velveeta cheese boxes of rescued ballpoint pens under Grandpa’s bed. Those of us who’s Yoder genes were diluted a bit made plenty of jokes about this, and Keith, who has barely any Yoder genes to speak of, mocked the most.

Faced with a houseful of stuff I could just take if I wished to, I ended up salvaging two skirts, a pretty tin, two purses, some decorative buttons, and a navy blue faux fur coat. “Did you get anything?” I asked Keith.

“Yes! I got a pizza cutter, because I lost mine. And I got a rolling pin. I’ve been using a wine bottle for two years.”

The story goes that in January, Keith met a girl named Taylor who, like him, was always doing something, and made her life as uncomplicated as possible. Nine months later they got married.

Their wedding, then, was like nothing I’d ever experienced.

First, it was small. There were maybe 75 people in that little amphitheater in the woods.

That arch was designed and built by a couple of Taylor’s friends, and decorated with wildflowers they’d picked from the woods that morning. All the flowers were picked from the woods, including Taylor’s bouquet.

Keith’s mom, my lovely Aunt Rebecca.

My Dad showed off his handsome new beard.

There were no bridesmaids. No groomsmen. Just Keith and Taylor and the preacher.

Keith’s friend Abe sat in a corner and strummed his guitar as people assembled, and then when the ceremony started, Keith’s brother Derek attached a cell phone to some portable speakers, and voilà! Music!

Taylor appeared on her Father’s arm, looking like a woodland fairy.


She and Keith stood on the platform and gazed at each other, while the preacher performed the ceremony.

“For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife,” said the preacher, and Keith turned and winked at his parents.

Everybody laughed.

That’s what I remember most about the wedding: the laughter. Unlike the last time one of my cousins got married, the guests at this wedding laughed. A lot. Taylor laughed. Keith laughed. It wasn’t a stiff formal affair, it was a fun happy time in the woods with relatives and friends and love.

Then the ceremony was over, and we wandered down the paths and across the little bridges to the reception venue.

Instead of a cake, or fancy catered desert, there was a large stack of delicious little pies from Walmart, in their tiny square boxes. There was tea, and beverage-unsuitable-for-Mennonites, and some ginger ale that quickly ran out because there were so many Mennonites.

We took family photos, which of course were missing the bride and groom, as they were off getting their own pictures taken.

big family

The Yoder Relatives

little family

My Family

And then the taco truck arrived, and that was our dinner. Tacos from a taco truck. Which was delicious and all, but it did make me wonder about how tacos because such a trendy thing to eat. Is there a trick to eating them without bending your head at an odd angle, taking too large of bites, salsa juice running down your chin, and taco filling splooshing out the other end onto your hand? Can one eat a taco elegantly?

In any case, it was yummy, and I suppose we all looked inelegant together.

Here’s a secret: When I got to wedding receptions, I usually feel like I should be having more fun than I am. I sit at a table with people I’ve known all my life, and gaze across the crowded noisy reception venue at people who are cooler than me and having much more interesting conversations than I’m having, wishing there was a way to join in.

This wedding receptions was different. I made more of an effort to move around and talk to different people, and I had a lot of relatives I hadn’t seen in a long time that I wanted to catch up with. Somehow this was made much easier by the fact that the crowd was so much smaller than I’m used to. I suppose there’s no real real way to achieve smallness at a Mennonite wedding unless you only invite your immediate family or have a destination wedding in a cold remote location, but it was nice all the same.

The sun set. Six of Keith and Taylor’s relatives and best friends gave toasts, and I raised my glass of sparkling cider.

Then Derek announced that the father daughter dance was happening soon, and I went outside to watch Taylor and her father dance in a little pavilion decorated with strings of lights. When I went back inside, the crowd was thinning, and most of my family had left.

“We should really go,” said Matt. “I need to go. My flight leaves early tomorrow morning.”

So we said goodbye and took our leave.

Drove back to our rental house, almost hitting a porcupine on the way.

And went to bed.

And that is the story of the lovely wedding in the Utah woods. Tomorrow I will write the last branch of the story, about the journey home.