Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Bus, The Moon, and The Kitchen Floor

Photo by Lorenzo Messina on Pexels.com

Monday: Kitchen floor chats with Jenny

I’ve been pondering the way it is to live with family, and the sorts of places you all find yourself inadvertently hanging out. When I was very young we all hung out in the corner where the furnace spat heat into the room. As teenagers, when the older siblings began to move away (temporarily, as it turns out), there was always an empty bedroom upstairs where we’d keep the VCR. We’d all seem to end up hanging out there. Not the parents; it was like a living room, but just for the kids. The way basements are, sometimes, in places where basements exist.

But when we all became adults, we started hanging out almost exclusively in the kitchen.

Sometimes this annoyed me, particularly in that Covid year when we all lived together again. I wanted to grab tea without talking to anyone. I hated it when we all were trying to make ourselves lunch at the same time, bumping elbows and getting annoyed when someone else was using the frying pan that we wanted.

But then, there was something nice about hanging out with my family in the kitchen: complaining about the dumb things people commented on Facebook, discussing Jenny’s grad school plans, and…I can’t think of any other specific examples, but I just asked Jenny and she said “everything under the sun.”

I’ve found that since we’ve moved, Jenny and I still hang out in the kitchen. She’ll come home from school and start cooking, and I’ll sit on the floor and hear about her day. This is not a particularly convenient setup, as our kitchen is “too tiny for your hiney,” as I like to say, since Jenny has to scoot sideways to fit between the stove and the fridge.

One day I sat on the floor and Jenny got annoyed because she had to step over me to get from the stove to the sink. “Well where can I sit in this tiny kitchen?” I asked.

She pointed to a spot in front of the door. It hadn’t occurred to me to take up that particular section of floor, since it blocked the door, but no one else was going to come in so it was fine.

That’s where I sat on Monday. Jenny talked about her day and I talked about my weekend. I was grateful.

Tuesday: The Bus

For a while I walked everywhere, but now that it’s colder I’ve started riding the bus a lot. We live right on main street and can dash out the door and catch the bus every fifteen minutes or so. And it’s free. You just hop on and go.

There are a number of things that I always find enchanting because I read about them in books as a kid but never experienced them. Like going to the movies, or riding a Ferris wheel, or having next-door neighbors. Riding the bus is one of those things. You just hop on with a bunch of strangers, zhoomp around the town, and then hop off.

When I was 24 I used to ride the bus around Junction City and Eugene, and I always met fascinating people on it. The people on the Blacksburg bus are not nearly as interesting. But I still enjoy my bus rides and I’m grateful that it’s so handy.

Wednesday: The New Diary

Every year or so I encounter the same conundrum: I need a new diary. I’m a little weird about diary-keeping, and I “write like I need it to survive,” so most diaries don’t work for me because they’re, frankly, tiny. And I don’t want to pick up a standard 5-subject notebook because, in my experience, they start to fall apart long before you’ve completely filled their pages.

Looking for a large notebook is a frustrating experience. Sometimes I’ll magically find the perfect notebook at Target or Ross, but that’s pretty rare. Ross used to constantly frustrate me with beautiful notebooks that turned out to be wide ruled. The horror! Walmart has typically been my best bet, but even that is no guarantee. I’ve wasted hours and hours trying to find a decent notebook online. (Just today I saw an Instagram ad for a perfect-looking notebook, but when I clicked, I realized it cost $80.)

Tuesday I discovered that I was on the last page of my diary, and since I was leaving for a trip Friday, I needed a new one ASAP. So I prayed for one, and I asked specifically that it would look cool. For the last few years I’ve just been using random notebooks people have given me–which, I mean it’s been super nice that people have gifted me large notebooks, but I had a hankering to pick out my own for once.

Now, here is my confession: part of the reason I prayed this was because I knew that when God answered my prayer I could use it as a “thing I was grateful for” and stick it in my blog. Which sounds super un-spiritual, I know. But on the other hand, I 100% believed that God would come through for me and give me a cool affordable notebook, so…at least I had faith, right?

Jenny thought I shouldn’t post this story because it made me sound un-spiritual, but I can’t help posting it because I didn’t even think about how weird it was until after I’d done it, and I was like, wait…I probably wouldn’t have even thought to pray about something so small if it wasn’t for this dumb blog series I’m doing. And then I thought it might inspire people to share all their wants and needs and feelings with their Heavenly Father, even if it felt small, and not be like me and wait until they’re doing a blog series. So I stuck it in after all.

Anyway. I got my notebook.

Tuesday I rode the bus to Goodwill, where there was no stationary whatsoever, and then walked to a downtown stationary shop, where the only large “notebooks” turned out to be sketchbooks or planners. Sigh.

So Wednesday I set out for Walmart. I wasn’t sure if they’d have anything, because last time I looked I’d found nothing, but it seemed my best hope. However I daydreamed and zoned out and got off at the wrong street, and since Ross was right there I went into Ross instead. And there I found a nice large notebook for four dollars.

College ruled and everything.

Now, it didn’t seem super special at first glance, but I wondered if I could spruce it up. It looked a bit like outer space. I remembered that Jenny had given me a painted rock of a jellyfish swimming through outer space, and I thought it was really cool. I love the idea of mixing up the sea and space, because they’re sort-of similar, all mystical and floaty and dark.

So I bought the notebook and then searched through my box of magazine pictures trying to find a jellyfish. There was no jellyfish. I glued a shark on instead.

However, if you happen to have a picture of a jellyfish you want to send me I’ll write you a letter in return. (Not like a picture printed off the computer, as that will bleed when I glue it on. I mean a proper magazine picture.)

Thursday: The Connection

I went to a Bible study on Thursday, hoping to make some connections in town, and I began to suspect that one woman there may be Kenyan. Her accent sounded familiar. She mentioned Swahili. Of course there are multiple countries that speak Swahili, but she wore a bracelet with the Kenyan flag colors. So afterwards I introduced myself and asked where she was from.

“Kenya,” she said.

I got really excited and told her about how I was going to Kenya in a week. “Can I buy you some tea or anything?” I asked. And then she got excited and said her favorite tea is Kericho Gold. Which is also my favorite tea. It was wonderful.

Friday: The Eclipse

My Uncle Fred sent me a text asking if I was going to watch the eclipse. I had no idea there was any sort of eclipse happening. But at 3:15 am the next morning, as Jenny and I drove to the Charlotte airport, I said, “Jenny what does the moon look like?”

“It’s a crescent,” said Jenny, “which is really weird because just the other day it was basically full.” Then she paused a bit. “Wait…is there an eclipse tonight?”

“I think so,” I said.

Since I was driving, I was only able to steal glances at the eclipsed moon. But I was still able to see the whole thing from start to finish and it was eerie and lovely. And what perfect timing that we just happened to get up at 2:37 am to drive to the airport on the exact night there was a lunar eclipse!

Saturday: The Wedding

Saturday was my cousin Alison’s wedding. In such a big event, it’s hard to pinpoint one specific thing to be grateful for. I was grateful, of course, that she seems to be marrying a good man. I was grateful that they served hot tea as well as coffee. I was grateful to be in a Mennonite service again, which surprised me a little, as I didn’t realize that was something I’d get nostalgic for.

I get overwhelmed by big Mennonite events but there’s something wonderful about them too. All the people, and trying to figure out where they fit in. Folks saying “hi” to you but you can’t quite remember how you know them. (I mentioned this to Ben, though, and he said he rarely experiences this. “I think I’m the forgotten Smucker sibling,” he said, and when my face fell in pity, he said, “oh no! I love it!”)

Sunday: The Family Dinner

Since Alison’s wedding was held over the mountains in Madras, we decided to get a vacation home and spend the whole weekend in the high desert. We even brought Thanksgiving Dinner and ate together on Sunday. Unfortunately neither Amy nor Steven could be there.

I know it’s cliché to say you’re thankful for your family but I’m thankful for my family. That’s all.

We’re not doing a traditional Thanksgiving-on-Thanksgiving because 1/3 of us will be prepping for our Kenya trip. Yay! But I’ll slip in one more gratefulness update before we go.

***

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Gratefulness, Clichés, and Mini Miracles

Every once in a while, when things in my life get extraordinarily bleak, I try really hard to fix the problem by “cultivating gratefulness.” Gratefulness is one of those things that I deeply believe in, yet I also roll my eyes at because it can become so cliché. Like we get it, everyone is grateful for family and friends and good food and a warm house to live in. Can we just start eating Thanksgiving dinner already.

I think I get annoyed at people who use a sort-of faux gratefulness to avoid having to deal with the real pain in their life. But then you have people like Mrs Harris in Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris who, through a mixture of gratefulness and ingenuity, take the hand that life dealt them and turn it into something charming and fun. That’s what I want.

For reasons I don’t want to get into (because #personal) the end of October was extremely rough for me, to the point that I was desperately praying for a word from the Lord just so I’d have…you know…something. As November approached I thought that I would write down, every day, something that I was grateful for. After all, November is the month of Thanksgiving.

And then I decided to blog about it, just to keep myself on track and accountable.

Nov 1

I woke up, looked at my phone, and I had a text from a friend. She said, “I don’t know if this is for you now, but I really feel God wants you to know that He loves you and hears you.”

I started crying, of course. I had my word from the Lord, and I was grateful.

Nov 2

I was quite surprised, on this second day of November, to discover that I had two things to be grateful for. I couldn’t decide which to add to my official list, so I added both.

First, I stuck a book in the mailbox, and knew that I’d soon receive one in return. It all came about because of a random Facebook conversation. I’d posted about gratefulness, hoping to get some advice from the wide Internet, and then this happened:

Elijah is an Internet friend who I’ve probably met when he was very small, but I don’t remember. In any case, this exchange is the sort of thing I love. It was random, books were involved, mail was involved, and Internet friendships in general have proved to be surprising and delightful additions to my life.

So I was grateful.

Second, I officially reviewed the proofs for THE SECOND PRINTING OF MY BOOK. Yes, you read that correctly. I am so close to sold out of the first printing that I need another. In less than a year. I am blessed.

(And if you are an eagle-eyed reader who was annoyed by the four typos in the first printing, rest assured that they are fixed now. I also deleted one “easy-peasy” because my dad thought it sounded silly.)

Nov 3

I drove down to visit my Aunt Margaret in South Carolina, and there were a lot of small things to be grateful for that all culminated in The Perfect Fall Day. The drive was long but breathtakingly beautiful, as I drove through forests of autumn leaves in their prime. Then I got to hang out with family (which is always wonderful) in their huge brick house with just the right amount of cats and books. And there was a fire in the pellet stove.

In the evening I went to a poetry night with their church, where everyone sat around an enormous bonfire and ate donuts. They were all extremely friendly. I had a great time.

Nov 4

I’ve had trouble sleeping lately. Maybe a better term is “trouble with sleep.” Trouble falling asleep, but also trouble waking up. You know how it is.

As I was talking to Mom on the phone one day she told me that she’d gotten a weighted blanket from somewhere, and she’d never slept better. That made me think that I should buy a weighted blanket. But I put it off because spending money is my least-favorite thing, and also there are so many types of weighted blankets online that I could comparison shop into eternity and never make an actual decision.

Then out of the blue I got a text from my Aunt Margaret: “Do you (or Jenny) want a weight blanket? Free to a good home.”

Um, yes please. I slept under it at her house that night, and took it home with me the next day. My sleep has improved. I am grateful. (The most interesting difference is I feel like I wake up less in the night.)

Nov 5

At this point I began to wonder if good things happen to those who are grateful in the same way that good stories happen to writers. Because a lot of the things that were happening to me felt, not like ordinary gratefulness, but like mini miracles. (And yes, I know that “mini miracle” sounds like you’re talking about children. I’m not talking about children. I just didn’t know what term to use. “Small miracles” sounds even more like children, haha.)

Potentially the biggest miracle of all happened that Friday, November 5: I finished a novel. Well, a novella. But still.

I think I’ve achieved the thing I’ve been trying to do my whole life.

When I was six years old, lying in bed unable to fall asleep, I started telling myself stories. And ever since then I’ve been trying and trying to turn those stories into novels. But I can’t.

Technically, there are two other times in my life when I sort-of write a novella. The first was a middle grade book called Leftover Princess. I wrote a couple chapters and then put it on a website for writers, and it was so popular that I was extremely motivated to keep working on it. So it was “finished” in that it had a beginning, middle, and end, and came to about 30,000 words. But I made it up as I went along and it didn’t really have a plot. The chapters were just characters doing things. I wanted to fix it–I wanted to make it work–but without a plot you can’t really do that. I tried very hard over the next few years and eventually gave up.

The second was a story I wrote for my friend Esther Mae. We did a trade–she made me a pillow with felt fairy-tale characters on it, and I wrote her a story about an alternate-universe version of herself. It ended up being a very long story, around 10,000 words, which is just on the cusp of being considered a “novella.” But it was just a bunch of goofy nonsense.

It’s interesting that both these sort-of-but-sort-of-not novellas happened because some external force was compelling me to finish. First the website, then Esther Mae’s lovely pillow sitting on my bed and making me feel guilty for not being done yet. Self-motivation has always been my undoing, although as with any character flaw, I’ve been able to improve it with consistent practice.

I had hoped that, after writing The Highway and Me and my Earl Grey Tea, my next book would be a novel. I thought that I would write a non-magical novel about Mennonites because I thought that’s what my audience would want to buy. Something lighthearted and funny, like a 21’st century Anne of Green Gables.

Not last spring but the spring before, I had an idea for a Mennonite novel and I worked diligently on it for an entire year. I re-started it three times, and the third time reached 38,777 words. That was the most I had ever written on a fiction project (including the novella I just finished, which was about 26,000 words). I was convinced I could do this if I tried hard enough. But it became so difficult, and I began to despair.

When writing is going well, you can see it inside your head like a movie. It’s like writing down your own dream. But I always hit a concrete wall, and then it’s like trying to write down someone else’s dream. And other people’s dreams never make much sense.

I had a mid-summer panic. What on earth was my next book going to be about?

***

To me, ideas are as common as sidewalk gum-splotches. It’s no wonder that I got another New Brilliant Idea last spring. For a while I resisted the urge to write it down, convinced I needed to be self-disciplined and finish my Mennonite novel. But then I started allowing myself to work on the New Brilliant Idea as a sort of prize, after I’d done some harder work. And thus, it flourished as a side-project.

The big problem with the New Brilliant Idea is that it’s not super marketable. I soon realized it would be longer than a short story, but not quite a novel. A novella. Novellas are quite unpopular, unless they’re for children, and this was definitely not for children. I could maybe market a Mennonite novella to my audience, but this was not about being Mennonite. Not directly, anyway. There was magic in it. And fairies. And silliness. Three things that Mennonites aren’t too fond of.

I went through a whole crisis, scrapped my Mennonite novel, and started working on a non-fiction book about the lonely, romantic, spiritual, artistic, embarrassing, purpose-searching journey of being a post-college older single. It’s going fairly well, although some of it might be too “real” to actually publish–I’m not sure how brave I am.

But I kept working on the side project for fun. I found it incredibly cathartic. As silly and magical as it is, it’s really a book about loneliness and isolation, and I was able to work through a lot of my pandemic feelings. Without the stress of actually having to publish it one day, I just had fun with it. I named all the characters after people in the books I was currently reading or the movies I was currently watching. I stuck a few real people in as side characters, just for fun. But since it had a real plot, I felt like I was doing something important. Maybe no one would ever read this story, but it would teach me how to write a novel. I would learn how to finish something. I would learn about my process.

And when I did finish it, on Friday November 5, it really did feel like a miracle.

November 6

To be honest, Saturday was not a great day. I joked with Jenny that I had nothing to be grateful for except her. She said, “well what about the baked goods I made?”

“You made those on Friday,” I said.

I decided to be grateful for hot grape juice, my fall drink of choice. I was sad, this year, to be away from the homemade grape juice straight from the vine, but I found that Welch’s heated in the microwave is nice too. Hot apple cider messes with my digestion, but hot grape juice is perfect.

Then I reflected on how I got introduced to this delicious drink. How Mom, every fall, would put piles of grapes into the steamer, and then pinch the clamp on the little rubber hose to send a stream of hot grape juice into a jar, where it would be sealed away to be later consumed on Sunday evenings with a bowl of popcorn.

Once, Steven took a green plastic teacup and filled it with hot grape juice straight from the steamer. “Try it,” he said. “It’s good.”

That’s how I found my favorite fall drink. It was all because of Steven. Also, Saturday was Steven’s birthday. I thought choosing family members as my “thing I’m thankful for” would be too cliché, but I’ll make a birthday exception. I am extremely grateful for Steven. Funny, kind, not afraid to say “I love you,” always down to randomly go see movies with me–I am immensely blessed to have him in my life.

November 7

Sunday was also not the best of days, although it was better than Saturday. As I reflected over my life at the end of the day, I decided that I am grateful for writing. With writing you can take anything terrible that happens to you, whether it’s embarrassment or loneliness or even illness, and you can turn it into something beautiful. A good story. A story that someone else can relate to and feel “seen.” Or even just something for yourself, to process your feelings and turn it into art. That, to me, feels like a miracle.

Thus concluded my first seven days of gratefulness. Come back next week for seven more.

***

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

Come Meet Me! (Mini Book Tour)

As you may know, even though my book has been out for almost a year, I haven’t really been able to do book signings due to Covid. But next week my mom is flying east for a wedding, and she and I are doing a mini book tour in Lancaster PA and Harrisonburg VA.

Schedule:

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

10 am to noon

Goods Store, 1338 Main St, East Earl, PA


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

3-6 pm

Rotary Pavilion, East Lampeter Township Community Park

2330 Hobson Road, Lancaster, PA


Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021

10 am to noon

Shenandoah Heritage Market

121 Carpenter Lane, Harrisonburg, VA


Feel free to stop by, bring books you already own for me to sign, whatever! The PA events will be outside. If you’d like us to wear a mask for your sake, just ask!

Can’t wait to see you!

The Journey to Virginia, Part 1

I am a road trip person from a road trip family. When I was young we’d drive coast-to-coast for family vacations, stopping at the Grand Canyon, Washington DC, Mount Rushmore, etc. We’ve driven to Mexico and Canada multiple times. We’ve traveled for weddings, funerals, and BMA conventions.

Long intense road trips are our jam.

However, I don’t think I’ve ever done a road trip quite as long or quite as intense as the one Jenny and I just completed. Our dad and brothers like to drive along speedily for hours on end, while Jenny and I tend to be more passenger-types. But this time we had to do all the driving. Our car was too jam-packed to sleep well in, so we stopped every night, which added time.

Also my car isn’t the fastest thing ever, especially full of stuff and going over mountains.

So all-in-all it was a 52-hour trip, split up over five days. (We could have spit it into four days, but who wants to arrive late at night to an apartment with no beds?)

The journey began on Tuesday, August 3, but it really began on Monday as we attempted to pack our life into my little Toyota Corolla. Jenny packed her things neatly in boxes, put them in her half of the car, and then filled the extra spaces with garbage bags of clothes. She was done around 11 am.

In my half I put my record player, printer, serger, and a plastic bin of clothes, and then just kind of shoved everything else in around it. Night came, and I was still rushing around. But in the end we got it all in and could still see out or back window, so we counted it a success.

We left at 6am the next morning. As we passed through Brownsville, Jenny said, “I wonder what’s the weirdest thing we’ll see on this trip.”

“Good question,” I said.

“Well I know what’s the weirdest thing I’ve seen so far,” she said. “There was a dead deer in Brownsville.”

“In town??” I asked.

“Yeah.”

I’m not sure how I didn’t see it, but I didn’t.

After that we started counting all the weird things we saw. We also counted all the dead deer we saw. We made bets on how many dead deer we’d see before the trip was over. I bet three. Jenny bet seven.

I drove over the Cascades and then we switched and Jenny drove most of the rest of the way through Oregon. We saw a random guy from our parents’ church jogging beside the road, so we thought that counted as a weird thing, since he was the last familiar face we saw before leaving. In Central Oregon we saw some very strange rock formations that I don’t even know how to describe. Then in Eastern Oregon, past the vast wilderness and into the farming country that boarders Idaho, we saw a field where someone had haphazardly driven a disk around a few hay bales that were still on the field. Weird!

But then we saw multiple fields where they’d left the bales on the field and disked around the edge. Why? We couldn’t figure it out. Any smart farmers want to let us in on why someone would do that?

I drove through the last part of Oregon and all the way through the corner of Idaho. “Hey look, an Alaska license plate!” Jenny said.

“Oh wow, Alaska is rare,” I said. “Since we’ve seen Alaska, we should start keeping track of how many states we see.”

So we did, but to be honest it was mostly Jenny. I don’t tend to notice license plates much, and sometimes it’s hard to read the tiny state names. I guess Jenny has better eyes than I do.

Later, in Utah, Jenny suddenly exclaimed, “look, another Alaska plate!”

“Oh wow,” I said.

“And it’s getting off at the Snowville exit!”

We thought that was hilarious. It went on our list of weird things.

My cousin Keith and his wife Taylor live in Salt Lake City. We found their place fairly easily, but something under my car scraped ominously as we tried to drive in the steep driveway. Oh well. We’ll live if we don’t die, we thought.

Between the time change and the 14 hours of driving, it was 9 pm when we got there, but they had tacos and good conversation waiting for us. We considered getting up at 5:30 am and seeing them before they left for work, but it wasn’t absolutely necessary, as our next leg was a bit shorter and we were planning to stay with people we didn’t really know.

Jenny actually got up at 5:30 though. I woke briefly but fell asleep again.

Then I woke suddenly at 6:51. “What time is rush hour in Salt Lake City?” I asked.

Jenny googled. “It’s usually between 7:30 and 9:00 am.”

“Would you be ready to go in, like, ten minutes?” I asked.

“How about 15,” said Jenny.

It ended up being more like 20, and then we got all turned around while trying to find a gas station, but whatever. The traffic out of the city wasn’t too terrible.

We went Southeast, through Provo and into the Utah wilderness. You don’t realize quite how much wilderness is in the West until you drive through it. Jenny needed to stop to use the bathroom, and we finally saw a sign for a rest area coming up. But before we quite got to it, suddenly we heard a scraping sound.

“Pull over pull over pull over!” I mildly yelled.

Jenny pulled over.

We got out and examined the car. Oh dear. The muffler had half-fallen off and was scraping along the road.

“Do you think we jarred it loose when we went up the steep driveway last night?” I asked.

“Probably,” Jenny said.

It was hard to examine it too closely, because of course it was quite hot. But we did notice that a bolt had apparently fallen out. Was it something we could temporally fix, or should I call roadside assistance? I tried calling Dad, but he didn’t answer. So I tried calling Mom, but she didn’t answer. So I tried calling Matt, and he answered, but then Dad kept trying to call back while I was on the phone with Matt, and then sent a text saying he was worried. What a mess.

Just as Matt was telling me I needed to call roadside assistance, a pickup truck pulled up and out hopped two guys. “Looks like you’ve got a bit of a problem,” They said.

Yes. Yes we do.

They spent some time examining my problem and going to their pickup truck to get supplies. First a bolt, then a long metal pole to help lever the muffler back into place, and then some wire. “We don’t have the right size of bolt,” they told us, wiring the muffler back into place.

Then of course we enthusiastically thanked them, and climbed back into my car.

“I think they were Mormans,” I whispered to Jenny. “Did you notice how their shirts didn’t gap when they were working under our car? Because they had those white undershirts!”

“Oh, you’re right!” said Jenny. “We are in Utah after all.”

We drove off, our muffler no longer scraping. Just up the road was the rest area, but Jenny didn’t want to stop there anymore. “What if they see me pulling off and think something is still wrong with the car, and follow us to investigate?” she asked.

So we kept going.

Soon we came to an area that wasn’t quite so isolated, although the billboards were a bit odd. One was for “igotpoop.com,” and another claimed to have the “cleanest bathrooms of all time” or something of that sort. “It’s like everyone around here is obsessed with poop,” I said.

Then, up the road even further, we saw a little grocery store and pulled off. “They have Starbucks inside this grocery store!” I exclaimed. So while Jenny bolted to the bathroom, I headed for the Starbucks.

The counter was blocked by a guy kneeling on the floor with a mysterious machine. He was wearing a green-and-yellow polo shirt, and for an instant I thought it was an Oregon Ducks shirt. But no, it was an igotpoop.com shirt.

Oh! igotpoop.com, just like the billboard. This was weird. Um. Was he…pumping poop? In the middle of Starbucks?

It was very awkward because I couldn’t really stand in front of the counter. Poop guy blocked my way. So I stood off to the side and tried to order. I have a Starbucks account, you know, so I can get points and stuff when I order, but the account was almost out of money and I needed to add some $$$. So they tried to do it but then couldn’t after all and had to void my order, all while the smell of raw sewage filled my nostrils.

The guy in the igotpoop.com shirt was just there, and there was a hole in the floor, and his machine was poking into it.

Why would you pump sewage out of the floor in the middle of Starbucks? Surely that has to be some sort of health code violation?

Anyway. I got my tea, we checked the oil, and we took off again.

“That place kind-of creeped me out,” said Jenny.

“How so?” I asked.

“Everyone in there knew each other,” said Jenny. “Literally every single person. They were all greeting each other. It was bizarre.”

“You know, now that I think about it it was also very weird that someone was pumping poop in the middle of Starbucks,” I said.

So we put it on our list of weird things.

Then we got to Colorado and I started driving. Generally I’ve been doing the mountain passes on this trip, and now we had three of them. My poor little car, stuffed with stuff, was struggling. But the engine didn’t overheat and my brakes didn’t give out, so we were good.

We got to Canon City Colorado about 6:30 pm. It was a shorter day for us…just 11 hours, and no time change this time. But even with the extra evening hours, we ended up just eating some Wendy’s and going to bed. There were a number of people we could have hung out with that evening, since I used to live in Canon City and still know some folks, but after the muffler and the mountains we were exhausted.

“And we’re not even halfway done!” I moaned to Jenny.

Neither, it seems, am I even halfway done with the tale of this trip. Tune in tomorrow for part 2!

Launching My E-Book!

I am happy to announce that I’ve made a Kindle version of The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea, which you can order here. Of course in my heart of hearts I love print versions of books best, but the Kindle version offers a few advantages you may be interested in:

  1. It is $5 cheaper than the print version.
  2. It is part of the Kindle Unlimited program, so if you have Kindle Unlimited you can read my book for free.
  3. I enabled the lending feature, so if you know someone who bought the e-book version, you can borrow it from them even if you live in completely different areas.
  4. Best of all, you can now access my book even if you live outside of the USA!

My goal throughout this process has been to make my book feel accessible to as many people as possible, especially those who don’t have a lot of extra money. I’ve been there, and I know how it is. Making an e-book version of The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea is another step in that direction, and I’m so excited!

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Order my book:
Print Version
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I Think February Is The Worst Month Of The Year

I like to think that I’m in the final stretch of The Bad Times. Coronavirus cases are falling, and my county just moved from “extreme” risk to “high” risk, loosening restrictions. My brother, aunt, and a few friends were able to get vaccinated. Spring is coming, eventually, and we’ll be able to do things outdoors again. By summer, perhaps I too will be able to get my vaccination. And in the fall, I’ll probably move away from Oregon, and start having real adventures again (I don’t know yet where).

Thankfully, the past couple months have been relatively disaster-free for me and those near me. Unlike in 2020, no one I know has tragically died, none of my family members have been critically injured, and the state has not caught on fire.

Nevertheless, I’m finding February almost unbearably difficult this year.

When actual tragedies were happening, I gave myself a lot of grace to be unproductive. But now it’s different. Now I desperately want to be productive, but it feels like all the little frustrating things are working against me. I got sick—some weird nasty thing that doesn’t seem to be Covid, but I can’t quite shake it. One day I feel better, and the next morning I wake up with a sore throat again. Then we started a never-ending remodeling project, which means that I can’t just stumble downstairs for toast and tea without running into strange men. Also, it’s noisy. And smelly. I know it will all be worth it when we have a lovely new bathroom and office, but I just wish it could all happen when I wasn’t sick.

Winter was actually pretty mild this year, and both the camellias and the daffodils bloomed before February even began. I’d even begun doing some yard work. But then we hit a stretch of truly the most terrible weather possible: cold rain. Like, 34° and raining. Day after day. Just be snow already! But nope. The creek flooded enough to cut off power to Mom’s writing cabin, aka, the only place you could go to escape construction noises.

Anyway. I keep telling myself, SOON. Soon I’ll feel healthy, the remodeling will be over, and I’ll be able to go to Starbucks again. Soon soon soon.

I have little else to say, so I suppose I’ll end this blog post here. Here’s to brighter days and cheerier topics!

You can order my book here.

You can find me on

Instagram: @emilytheduchess

Twitter: @emilysmucker

Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog

YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker

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

A Tribute to Annette from the Gas Station

Photo by sergio souza on Pexels.com

Last Sunday I found out that Annette from the gas station had passed away. I just keep thinking and thinking about her, and about how strangers can make meaningful impacts on your life.

In early January 2019, I was at a random gas station in rural Florida when I locked my keys and my cell phone in my car. It was dark. I was hours away from anyone I knew. I started crying.

“Are you okay?” said a kind stranger named Annette.

You can read the full story on my blog here, or in my book, but essentially, Annette took the situation in hand. By hook or by crook, she was going to help me get back into my car. Even if it meant asking the stranger at the other end of the gas station if he’d lend us his tools. Even if it meant borrowing duct tape from the lady who worked behind the cash register.

Before long, a small group of people, all strangers to each other, were working together to solve the problem of How To Break Into Emily’s Car. And in the end, when we succeeded, we cheered like it was New Year’s Day or a hometown football victory.

Annette gave me her phone number. “If you ever need anything, you can call me,” she said. We texted a little bit…not much…but we did become friends on Facebook. I always thought that if I happened to be driving through her area again maybe we’d grab coffee or something. And when my book became available for pre-order, she promoted it on Facebook.

But last Sunday I got a Facebook message from Annette’s mom. “Have you heard about her death?” she asked.

I hadn’t.

Annette was murdered by a man she barely knew. She was so young, only 24, and had two small children. Cruel beyond words. It makes me think that the world is a terrible place, except that when I was alone and vulnerable it was a safe, kind place, because of Annette. And that seems so unfair.

My interaction with Annette was very brief, but I know two things about her: she was kind, and she knew how to solve problems. And those are two traits that I deeply admire.

Rest in peace, Annette, and thank you for making the world a kinder place.

The Story of Dad’s Accident

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

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

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

“1 pm. You?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then he fell.

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

We’re not sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All alone.

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

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

The grounds were lovely, though.

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Finally the CAT scan results came back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money and Blogging

When I opened my blog today, the first thing I saw was a bright pink Planned Parenthood banner ad.

I did some frantic googling. Is there any way to choose what ads go on your WordPress blog? No, it turns out, there really isn’t. So I spontaneously pulled all ads off my blog.

I’ve never really had problems with WordPress ads before. I never saw any half-naked women, or any “a mom in Arizona cured cancer with this one weird trick,” or anything that led to spammy websites. The ads were few enough that they didn’t make my website run slowly. A week or so ago I did have a problem with a video advertisement playing automatically, with sound, which I found really annoying, but that has not been a consistent problem. (At least for me. If you’ve had bad experiences with ads on my blog I’d like to hear about them.)

But I don’t want to promote Planned Parenthood. No way. That is where I draw the line.

To be clear, I only ever earned about $100 a year or so from advertising. I mostly did the advertising thing so that my blog would be self-sufficient–so that it would earn enough money to pay for its own domain name and fund things like an occasional giveaway, or a new point-and-shoot camera if I needed one.

I’ve always felt torn when it comes to earning money from blogging. I want people who read my blog to feel like they’re getting a gift, not like I’m trying to sell them something.

…at the same time…

As I discussed in my blog post How To Write an Opinion That People Will Listen To, posting on my blog takes effort and revision. Blogging isn’t the fun casual social media platform it was back in Xanga days. I usually enjoy blogging, but if I’m not earning anything from it I have little motivation to post consistent quality content.

…at the same time…

Would people rather get free, sporadic rough drafts or see some advertising, suffer through a few sponsored posts, and/or pay a little to get thoughtful polished blog posts on a regular basis?

I realize that this is not a unique struggle. All creatives face a tension between art for art’s sake and art for money.

Anyway. At this point I am fine with freely writing this blog as I always have. However, my hasty decision to pull advertising this afternoon just got me thinking about such matters. And I REALLY WANT YOUR OPINION on the topic, whether you’re a blogger yourself who has struggled with this question, or whether you’re a blog reader who cringes through sponsored posts.

 

10 Interesting Aspects of Singleness That No One Talks About

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I always click on articles that have “singleness” in the headline. Maybe because I’m single. Maybe because I secretly hope I’ll get some never-before-seen insight into my own psyche. Or learn how to catch a man, once and for all.

Instead, what I usually get is a very feelings-oriented person informing me that “singleness is hard.”

“You know, because your heart has deep longings and stuff.”

“But just trust in Jesus.”

“The right one will come along. Maybe. We hope.”

Okay, fine, but what about all the other interesting aspects of singleness? The things that are sometimes a struggle, and sometimes nice, and sometimes just things you have to deal with?

Here is my list of ten aspects of singleness that I find interesting, and wish people would talk about more.

(Disclaimer: These are coming from a very Mennonite, very female, very 26-year-old frame of reference.)

1. Being single at 26 is an entirely different ballgame than being single at 20.

…and, I’m assuming, being single at 32 and 47 and 63 are all distinctly different stages.

Between the ages of 18 and 23, my feelings of singleness were lumped in with a whole host of dubious feelings about life, identity, figuring out my future, etc. And though I felt single, I was young enough that the rest of the world didn’t necessarily label me as such.

23 on, I’ve felt more settled and sure of myself in general. At the same time, my “singleness” has become more of a core part of who I am in the eyes of the people around me. 

Most of this post will be focused on 23+ singleness, but before I get there, I have one thing to say about the 18-23 stage.

2. The hardest thing about being a 20-year-old single Mennonite female is deciding what to do with your future.

Okay, maybe not the hardest thing, but definitely a hard thing that people don’t talk about much.

Good jobs for females within the Mennonite community are scarce. Going outside the community is intimidating and requires a large time and money commitment, and, let’s face it, a decreased chance of finding a nice Mennonite boy to marry.

I like to talk to Mennonite girls about the possibility of going to college, and I see this struggle written all over their faces. Sure, if they’re going to be single, they want to have a job they love which pays decently. But if they’d happen to fall in love and get married, they don’t want to slave away to pay off student debt, they want to stay at home and raise babies.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked to a Mennonite girl who hasn’t had this struggle to one degree or another.

Now, on to the interesting and varied aspects of 23+ singleness. Such as…

3. Who’s pretty and who’s not pretty changes a lot between 20 and 26.

Honesty time: have you ever Facebook stalked that gorgeous girl whom all the boys liked when you went to Bible School together, only to discover that she’s had a few babies, wears an unflattering hairstyle, and, while not ugly or anything, looks, well, like a normal mom?

My pet theory is that the effortlessly beautiful girls got by on looks alone for so long that they never had to learn to present themselves to the best effect, and it came back to bite them as they aged. Other girls really blossomed in the latter half of their 20s. Obviously this isn’t true in every case, but my point is, the fact that the boys didn’t think you were cute when you were 20 doesn’t really mean anything when you’re 26, and I find that really interesting.

4. The older you get, the easier it is to figure out which guys are worth your interest and which guys aren’t.

I am convinced that people change as much between the ages of 18 and 23 as they do between the ages of 13 and 18. I look back on my pre-23 crushes and feel a palpable sense of relief that I never married them. But how could I have known at the time that we’d eventually disagree on so many key values?

When you’re 26, people have figured themselves out. The intellectual guys have gone to college, and the nice guys are helping out their community, and the lazy guys are living in their parent’s house and hopping from job to job. You can peg people easier. You don’t have to do as much guesswork about what they’ll eventually become.

5. Making big life decisions alone feels overwhelming.

This has been my most recent struggle with singleness.

Preparing to graduate college, a whole world of possibilities is open to me. I am overwhelmed. How will I ever decide?

“You know, these decisions become so much easier once you get married,” my mom says.

6. Always getting crushes is exhausting.

Staying single until I’m, say, 35, doesn’t seem like that big of a deal until I think about the crushes.

I can just imagine myself, 34 years old and crushing on the latest nice cute guy I met. “I’m too old for this,” I’ll think. “Crushes are for 16-year-olds. People were not meant to have crushes for eighteen straight years of their life. This is exhausting.

But the only other alternative is to not have feelings at all.

7. No one really knows what you’ve gone through, romantically.

If you’ve made it to 26 without getting married, chances are that something romantic has happened to you which you’ve felt deeply. The guy who you thought was interested, but never actually bothered to ask you out. The wonderful friend that DID ask you out, but you didn’t have feelings for him.

Some single girls have spent YEARS silently pining for guys who never noticed them. Some girls have had a far bigger heartbreak over the “unofficial” boyfriend than they ever did over the “official” boyfriend.

Yet few people really know about any of that, which is so interesting to me.

8. Everyone will try to figure out why you’re still single.

…as though there’s some mathematical formula that explains it. How come no one comes up with mathematical formulas to determine how certain people ever managed to get married at all?

This isn’t just a community thing, it’s something we do to ourselves. “Why am I not married?” I ask myself. I have multiple answers.

Answer 1: The guys I liked didn’t like me back, and vice versa.

Answer 2: Mennonite guys think I’m weird and college-y, and college guys think I’m weird and Mennonite-y.

Answer 3: I never wanted to get married as badly as I wanted to get my college degree.

Take your pick.

9. It’s hard for a single Mennonite to properly belong anywhere.

Life encircles some people like a protective womb. They are surrounded by people like them. I have to carve out a place for myself wherever I go.

This is fine. I like that I can hang out with 15-year-olds in the youth group even though I’m more than 10 years older, or with the married ladies even though I’m not married, or with grad students or international students or homeschoolers that host Pride and Prejudice-inspired dances because really, hanging out with people who aren’t like you is one of the great joys of life.

But sometimes it’s lonely, and exhausting, and I just want to belong somewhere once and for all.

10. You will probably eventually get married, statistically speaking.

But knowing for sure would make being single a lot easier.

This has been my last post of the April Blogging Challenge! Jenny posted on day 27 here, and Mom posted on day 26 here.