Category Archives: Uncategorized

Never-Before Seen Smucker Sibling Footage

Today is siblings day (in 49 states) so I decided to dig back in the archives to find some forgotten footage of my siblings.


This is the current crop of Smucker siblings. Matt (with the cool shades) is 30, Amy (in the glasses and scarf, looking absolutely aghast) is 28, I (winding up to clobber my brother) am 26, Ben (preparing to be clobbered) is 23, Steven (in the mysterious wolf shirt) is 22, and Jenny (looking into Matt’s hair with disgust) is 17.

No introduction, no matter how weird, can prepare you for the videos you are about to see.

Exhibit A, staring Jenny, Steven, and Ben. (And also my mom.)


Exhibit B. Steven and I decided to prank Ben. Jenny sat on top of the refrigerator. She used to do that a lot.


And finally, exhibit C, featuring the voice of Amy, and Jenny being cute.


Matt, apparently, was much to cool to be in any of our goofy videos.

I could yammer about my siblings for a long time, but the essence of what I’d say would be this: I like them. They’re cool. They get my jokes.

This has been April Blogging Challenge Day 10. To read Day 9, written by Jenny, click here, and Day 8, by Mom, is here.

When Even a Mug is Too Much

My writing professor walked into the classroom, set his paper Allan Brothers coffee cup on his desk, and hung his leather messenger bag over the back of his chair. His eyes swept around the circle of our desks, and came to rest on me. Looking both bewildered and bemused, he said, “can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” I said.

“How does that work, you bringing a mug to class?”

I looked at the ceramic mug of tea on my desk. “Well,” I said, “instead of paying for a hot beverage I just bring a mug and some tea to school, and get hot water for free from the hot water dispensers.”

“And you just…carry it around in your backpack?” he asked, even more bewildered.

“Yeah…” I said. I mean, it was a mug, not a live manatee or a sewing machine. Mugs fit into backpacks.

He shook his head, laughing a bit, out of words.  My classmates looked equally confused. “doesn’t it, like, break?” one of them wanted to know.

“They’re pretty sturdy,” I said. “And besides, you can buy another mug for 25 cents at a thrift store.”

“I’d be afraid of breaking it,” my classmate muttered. And then my professor took a swig from his paper coffee cup and we got on with the lesson of the day.

Still, the incident buzzed around in my brain.

Most of my professors make an attempt to hide their political affiliation, but this particular professor was pretty bad at it. “I don’t know who you’re voting for,” he’d say, “but I really hope I know who you’re voting for, based on the options we have.” He’d begin class with a cynically amused dissection of the latest terrible thing Trump had said, and when Trump won he was visibly shaken.

He never mentioned climate change specifically, but it’s fairly reasonable to assume, based on his obvious partisanship, that he believed climate change to be a real, human caused, threat.

So why, I mean really, WHY would he bring a new disposable coffee cup to class every single day, and look with bewilderment at the girl who used a mug?

Democrats and Republicans, I’ve decided, are like two people who passionately argue about whether a bridge is structurally sound, and then both proceed to cross it anyway, because going downstream to the next bridge is too much bother.

My campus is full of people who embrace liberal ideas but refuse to live their life any differently if it’s the slightest bit inconvenient. Their virtue lies in KNOWING the right thing, not in DOING the right thing. Granted, some people live very consistently with their values, and I respect that a lot. But SO many share “I’m right you’re wrong” climate change infographics on Facebook, but find carrying a mug in their backpack to cut down on waste to be too much bother. They may hope that governments and corporations make climate-friendly policy changes, but governments and corporations are made up of people. If none of those people are willing to go to a little inconvenience to live a sustainable life, why on earth would the corporations and governments be interested in doing so?

Me, I refuse to participate in your politicized climate change debate. I will try to live as sustainably as I can because honestly, I think consumerism is a form of gluttony, and I don’t want to be part of that system.

But don’t tell me that the system is killing us and then refuse to change your behavior, as though the mere fact that you know and I don’t will absolve you of guilt.

April Blogging Challenge day 6, written by Jenny.

April Blogging Challenge day 5, written by Mom.

ABC day 4: The Token “Needy People Who We Can Help”

My sister Amy is an English tutor at North Chiang Mai University (NCU) in Thailand. Recently she emailed me about a trip she took with some NCU students, and I was absolutely fascinated by her account. With her permission, I’m re-posting her experience here. 
In January, my new group staff who study with me invited me to go with them for a “volunteer activity” back in the mountains. It was a very eventful trip.
I had assumed that for an official school activity like this we would take a couple of the university’s nice comfy vans. But no, instead, we took the rattly old truck. The seats along the sides were folded up to better accommodate the luggage and donations that filled about a third of the space, and there were at least 15 people crowded into the remaining space.

We took multiple long breaks as we went. Eventually, we got to the main city of the district where our destination village was located, and met up with a bunch of people from another school and ate breakfast of sticky rice and grilled pork. I hadn’t realized it before this, but this trip was not organized by NCU; instead, we were just sort of added onto a trip planned by another, larger university in Chiang Mai.

There were about 20 vehicles all together, and most of them were fairly capable looking. There were two of those rattly old trucks, though; ours, and one from the other university, which was completely packed full of donations for the people in the village. From the district office on, the road was dirt, and it hadn’t had a chance to completely dry out yet from the rain the last couple of days. The old trucks got stuck and just couldn’t make it. Our truck was able to get unstuck within a few minutes both times, but the other took a long time and a lot of pushing.

Thanks to the stuck trucks and the frequent rest stops, we were past the estimated 6-hour travel time, and the end was nowhere in sight. We drove on and on and on, on that narrow, one-lane road, around tight curves and through awful potholes and past lovely scenery that we didn’t even appreciate because we were so ready to be done. Our poor driver had never encountered roads like this before, and his nerves were about shot. Finally, at almost 3 p.m., nearly 12 hours after we left the university, we arrived in the little village that we were trying to get to.

So why did we end up in this village, anyway, out of all the hundreds of villages in Chiang Mai, most of which are much easier to reach? Well, first of all, you have to understand about the hill tribes. There are a lot of different tribal groups who have immigrated to Thailand in the last couple of hundred years. Most of them have come from China or Myanmar, and many of them have made homes in remote mountain villages. The Karen are probably the largest of the hill tribe groups, but there are about 5 other main groups, and more smaller ones.

While they learn Thai in school, they speak their tribal languages as their mother tongue, and many of them are not given Thai citizenship. They tend to be poor and less educated. Many of the manual labor jobs in the city are done by tribal people, who earn less than $10 per day. If you met one on the street you probably couldn’t tell the difference between them and an ethnically Thai person, but the Thai people can usually tell. These “hill tribe” people tend to be looked down on as lower class, yet simultaneously pitied. They have become the token “needy people who we can help” for the Thai people. What’s not to love about a project like this? After all, the pictures look great. Adorable children in their tribal outfits, with a backdrop of majestic mountains. And what better way to feel good about yourself than to give something to someone who’s worse off than you, and tell yourself that you’re improving their life? And if you can take a trip to an exotic location with your good friends at the same time, well, why not?

When I went to a similar village with the church youth group, at least we spent some time with the local people, visiting their homes and talking to them. This time, though, the visitors stayed in their own groups, hanging out with their friends from university. When the official activities were finished, our group built a fire outside the classroom where we were sleeping, and started pulling out the stash of beer that they’d brought along. Up the hill, students from the other university had been drinking for a while already, and they blared their music loud. It could have been a perfect night, with the fire and the stars, but all of the peace and quiet was ruined. I was tired anyway, so I put in my earplugs and rolled up in my sleeping bag and went off to sleep, but not without feeling sorry for any villagers who may have been attempting to sleep.

The next morning we did some games and stuff with the children, and then it was time to Give Them Stuff, the main point of the trip. The villagers sat in rows, and one row at a time, filed forward, and came back with their arms loaded with clothing and blankets and ramen noodles and unhealthy snacks.

The picture just seemed wrong to me, waltzing in and giving them what we thought they needed but never even getting to know them. On top of this, I knew that a different group had done the same thing in this village last year, and I wondered about whether we were helping to perpetuate a culture of relying on others for handouts instead of being self-sufficient. So I mentioned it to my Christian Thai friend, who was also along. “Do you really think it’s a good thing to just give them all of this stuff?” I asked her. She agreed that it probably wasn’t, and mentioned a guy at NCU who was from a small hill tribe village and grew up living in a children’s home and having people come give him stuff like this all of the time. “He always asks to borrow money, but he never pays it back,” she said. “It’s like he thinks people should just give him money because he’s poor. But he doesn’t try to get a job.” She told me that many of the men in this village are unemployed as well, and just sit around and drink and don’t do much else. And it seemed to be true—near our campfire, some village men had built a fire of their own, and in the morning the area near their fire was filled with beer bottles and trash.

The trip home was much shorter, only 7 hours instead of 12, thanks to a drier road and fewer frivolous rest stops. It was scary, though, going up and down and around tight curves on those mountain roads, slinging back and forth. If I didn’t hang on tight it felt like I would slide out the back when we were going up hills. But finally we made it home.

April Blogging Challenge day 2, written by my mom, can be found here. Day 3, written by Jenny, can be found here.

Random Life Update

-Finals are done. Now the nail-biting wait for grades begins. (My GPA this term will determine what level of honors I can graduate with, so I’m a bit on edge.)

-I wanted to go on another camping trip with Ben over spring break. He decided he was going to camp with his guy friends instead, and leave me out. Then the guy friends backed out. Woo hoo! Thanks guy friends.

-We’re leaving in an hour and a half so I should probably go pack or something but instead I’m writing a blog post. Solid plan.

-Mom, Jenny, and I are doing another Month of Posting (MOP) for April, only this year we’re calling it “The April Blogging Challenge” because mops are wet and dirty and I am sick of thinking about things that are wet and dirty. Like this winter’s weather. Ugh.

-Also, my sister Amy had a really fascinating story in her latest email update, and she gave me permission to post it here as a guest post. So stay tuned for that.

-I’m trying to be kind-of into sports. I follow Beaver Women’s Basketball. But they lost their sweet 16 game on Saturday so now I’m back to not caring as much.

-A good friend of mine plans to be a sports commentator someday, and she told me her grand plans to talk about all the players on the bench, not just the star players. I told her that when she’s a sports commentator, I’ll watch sports. She said she’d give me a TV shoutout. We pinky promised.

-I really need to go wash my hair, since hair-washing is the sort of thing you can’t really do on a camping trip. Ta ta!

The Flood

Note: Thanks to the fact that I’m now a writing minor, I have various bits of short fiction lying around my computer. My latest assignment was to write a “weird” story. Woo hoo! My favorite kind. See if you can guess what the inspiration for this one was. 

The Flood

At first I thought I could easily handle the flood. “Isn’t it raining a lot?” asked my little red-headed sister. I said, “yes, but this is normal. It always rains a lot.”

She walked to the pantry to get a snack, and her socks left sopping footprints across the floor. “Aren’t your shoes waterproof?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said.

Mom was at an Environmental Resources conference in Minneapolis that week, so when it came to solving footwear problems I was on my own. “We should buy you some waterproof shoes,” I said.

We drove in the Honda because it had new tires and didn’t hydroplane as badly. We did okay. We passed several cars that had slid sideways, into the ditch, but no one seemed hurt. Floating into a ditch is a low-impact way to crash.

Some of the puddles in the parking lot were deep, and some were shallow. My little red-headed sister’s shoes were already soaked through. I only walked in the shallow puddles, or else the water would have leaked into my shoes as well. The cashier said, “we have two pairs of rubber boots left,” and I said, “we’ll buy them.” We bought socks too.

“Do you need anything else?” I asked my little red-headed sister.

“Not really,” she said.

I bought her pencils, in case she needed pencils. I needed pencils too, so I bought a packet of four. The pencils were decorated with pictures of little shoes.

It rained all night. The roof leaked, but that was okay because I caught the drips in a teapot. “You’d better not go to school,” I told my little red-headed sister. “The water is too deep.”

“You’d better not go to university, either,” she said.

“I have to go,” I said. “My teachers take attendance and if I miss a day it could severely impact my grades.” I put my new pencils in my backpack. “Stay safe. Don’t let strangers in the house. Call me if you need anything.”

“Okay,” said my little red-headed sister.

I was worried about her, but I had to leave. I hoped she really would call me if she needed anything, but I hoped it wouldn’t be during my Alternative Energy Sources midterm.

I drove part of the way to university and floated part of the way. Luckily, when I floated, I floated in pretty much the right direction. I parked in a no-parking zone, because that’s where my car floated to a stop. I chuckled to myself. The water was too deep for the parking enforcement people to get their little golf carts through and give me a ticket.

In my morning class, one third of my classmates were missing. “I can see who truly cares about this class,” said my history teacher. “Trust me, you’ll be glad you braved the elements.” Then he talked about Great Flood myths for the entire class session, his PowerPoints dense with an impossible volume of information. I scribbled frantically with my new pencils, avoiding the soggiest patches of my notebook.

I had an hour and ten minutes to get to my next class. It was my midterm, so I had to be there, but the water was higher than my rubber boots. I texted my friend Kai, who was on the rowing team, and asked if he could take me. “Sure,” he said. “I’m across town though, so it will take me awhile to get there.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “I have an hour and eight minutes to get to my next class.”

When Kai picked me up he told me that he’d raised $27 by rowing people places. I hoped he wasn’t hinting that I should pay him for rowing me across the quad. I had a bag of fruit gushers in my backpack, so I shared them with him.

Only three fourths of my Alternative Energy Sources class showed up. The teacher glared at us from his perch atop his desk. “I assume you know that failure to take the midterm will result in failing the class,” he said. “You can inform your friends of this later. They still have time to drop the course, you know, but they can’t get a refund at this point.”

We nodded and tried to look like hardworking intelligent students.

“I can’t leave this desk, because I didn’t bring my fishing waders to class this morning,” he said. “Therefore, I’ll have to distribute your midterms the old fashioned way.” He folded them into paper airplanes, one by one, and tossed them to us. Some of them fell on the floor but it didn’t matter because we were all sitting in the upper levels of the stadium-style classroom.

I hadn’t studied properly for the midterm, because I’d been too busy making sure my red-headed sister had all the supplies she needed for being flooded in. “Calculate the energy output of this oscillating wave surge converter.” My foggy memory failed me. Would he at least let me pass, since I’d bothered to show up?

When we tossed our midterms back, some of them landed on his desk but some splashed into the surrounding pool. David Jones dove in to retrieve his midterm, and then, since he was drenched anyway, he carried mine across for me. I gave him some of my fruit gushers.

I checked my phone as I climbed to the second story of Weniger Hall. My little red-headed sister had texted me a picture of the water surging in, under the door. “Go up to the attic,” I texted back, worried. “I’ll come home as soon as I can.” I wondered if I should text my mom too. Was this important enough to bother her with?

A man drove by in a motorboat. I leaned out of the second-story window, yelling and waving my arms. He pulled up alongside me. “Where do you want to go?” he asked.

“Harrisburg,” I said.

“Harrisburg. That’s pretty far. It’ll cost ya a hundred bucks one way.”

“Please, I need to make sure my little sister is okay,” I said. “But I only have twenty bucks and a third of a bag of fruit gushers. Do you take credit card?”

“Nope,” he said, unmoved. He revved up his engine as though he were going to speed away.

“Wait!” I said, frantically. “I’ll give you my French textbook! It cost me $300.”


I climbed into the boat and sat down on the damp seat. It was still pouring. We started south, passing cars, and then furniture, and then some small buildings, all floating north. I was scooping water out of the boat with my Hydro Flask when I saw the first floating house. Sometimes people forget to bolt their houses to their foundations, so things like this can happen. I wasn’t even sure if my house was bolted to the foundation. My mother tended to forget small maintenance tasks like that.

I squinted, trying to see through the storm. “Wait, stop!” I said, “There’s my house!” My little red-headed sister was on the roof. She wore her boots and held a Kermit the Frog umbrella over her head. I was never so happy to see anyone.

The boatman stopped the boat, and I climbed onto the moist shingles and sat beside my sister. “You only took me part of the way, after all,” I said to the boatman. “Is there any way I could get some of my money back? I know it’s hard to give change for a textbook, but maybe you have something of lesser value on you. An outdated history textbook perhaps?”

“Sorry, ma’am,” said the boatman. “I looked up your French textbook on the way here, and the re-sale value is only, like, sixty bucks.” He sped off before I could argue.

The house continued to float north. “I took all our food up to the attic while the water was still below the level of my rubber boots,” said my red-headed sister.

She was so smart. I hugged her close. “What about my school things?” I asked.

“I grabbed those too.”

“Thank you so much,” I said. I was crying, but she couldn’t tell because of the rain and the general damp atmosphere. “I lost my French textbook, but I think I’ll be okay. I have access to the online version until the end of the term.”

We floated along, through Peoria and across what must have been the Willamette River when the water was lower. We drifted ever-so-slightly to the west, until finally we lodged into a small hill and stopped.

“Oh thank you, Jesus!” I exclaimed, waking up my little red-headed sister, who was sleeping in my lap.

“Are we going to be okay?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I said, holding her close. “We’re close enough to university that I can swim to class tomorrow.”


Winter feels like a dripping faucet when you’re trying to fall asleep.

Winter feels like an itchy tag that you can’t remove without ripping a hole in your shirt.

Winter feels like being a child at a dinner party, waiting and waiting for the boring adult conversation to stop so that you can go play, and getting the distinct feeling that it won’t stop. Ever. You will spend the rest of your life perched on the Martyrs Mirror at this table in this house that smells weird.

At the beginning it’s manageable. At the end it’s absolutely tear-out-your-hair unbearable. But there’s nothing you can do about it, really.

Happy rainy Thursday, everybody. 

Belknap Hot Springs

Ashlie and I may no longer be roommates, but we still make time to get together for adventures.


This time, Ashlie found a hot springs in the Cascades for us to go to. I’ve wanted to visit a hot springs for years, but unfortunately they’re reputed to be crowded and clothing-optional places. Belknap hot springs, however, is owned by a hotel. It’s much less rustic but bathing suits are required.

I don’t have pictures of the actual hot springs because my phone ran out of storage. Basically, the hot water is pumped into a swimming pool, so it’s rather like being in a giant hot tub. It felt rather glorious. I had some really sore muscles that week, so bad I was taking the handicap entrances to avoid stairs, and it was nice to have a good soak.

Also, it was a pretty location, out in the woodsy mountains. The Mckenzie river, swelled with the winter rains, rushed past, though when I was down in the pool I saw more ugly fence than actual river.

It cost $8 for an hour, and $15 for all day. Ashlie could probably have soaked for hours, but we only stayed for an hour since I tend to get overheated easily. It began to rain softly, and the rain made little glitters all over the water. It was beautiful. I recommend going when it’s cold and rainy.

We saw a bridge over the river, so after we were properly dried and dressed we crossed it and went wandering around the paths on the other side. I was still too sore for a proper hike, so that was a nice alternative.

The paths wound through the woods, at times crossing small streams and skirting around ponds. There was still snow on the ground at places. There was some bamboo and other non-native plants, as well as the usual wild things. And then around the corner was a secret garden, all abandoned-looking.




It was a nice adventure.



A Stupid Failure Who’s Wrong About Things

“What didja get?” I asked Nick, who sits beside me in French class, when he got his quiz back.

“I got a B,” he said. He gave a short, mirthful laugh. “I didn’t even study!”

“Émilie,” said the teacher, handing back my quiz. I’d gotten an A. But I’d also studied pretty hard. And somehow I, who had studied and gotten an A, felt like I was stupider than Nick, who hadn’t studied and had gotten a B.


I pondered this.

I had the opposite problem in  my fiction writing class. I dashed off a charming short story, preparing myself to be praised and affirmed by my teacher for my original concept and specific details, only to receive a B+. I was startled and hurt, and then I tried to logic my way out of those feelings.

“You’ve gotten far worse grades,” I reminded myself. “You can still get an A in the class. Besides, you kinda deserved that B. This is a 400 level class. You have to put in some effort.”

 I couldn’t entirely logic my way out of my feelings, however.

It’s one thing to get a B on a physics project or something, but this is writing. This is something I’m supposed to be good at.

No, scratch that. This is something I’m supposed to be good at with very little effort.

There’s a difference.

The catch to the story is this: My teacher allows us to re-write our stories for a better grade. My B+ was not set in stone. But I’d have to set up an appointment to talk to her about it. I’d have to face up to my failure.

A guy I know (let’s call him Bill) ceaselessly whines about his terrible life. I mean, nothing goes right for poor Bill. He’s had the worst luck imaginable, and the people in his life treat him terribly, disappointing him again, and again, and again.

Except, what Bill doesn’t know is that his life is fixable. Maybe not everything, but some parts are. Everyone in Bill’s life can see it except Bill, because Bill cannot entertain the notion that he might be wrong.

“Sometimes you have to be wrong to fix your life,” I ranted at Bill in my head. But then I felt like a hypocrite. Because similarly, sometimes you have to be a failure to fix your grade.

I swallowed my pride and went to my teacher’s office hours to ask about how I could re-work my story.

Owning up to that feeling of failure was about much more than a better grade. In re-writing my story, I became a better writer, one step closer to becoming the writer I want to be.

The times I learned the most interesting things were the times I allowed myself to be stupid, like when I joined a robotics club while knowing nothing about robotics. The key to repairing and maintaining my relationships with my family members has been pinpointing the areas where I’m wrong and owning up to them. (Or, sometimes, pretending they’re right while still secretly thinking they’re wrong.) And things like sewing, that I’m good at, came at the price of failure after failure after broken-needles and seam-puckering failure.

Sometimes, to become the person I want to be, I have to be a stupid failure who is wrong about things.


(This blog post was partly inspired by this article, which is a fascinating read if you have the time.)

Reflections on 2016 (Part 4 of 4)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The Christian Grad Fellowship

As September rolled into October, Ben started grad school and I started my senior year of college. We compared schedules. Mondays and Fridays we could carpool, we decided.

But then he added a caveat. “I’ll be staying at school a little later this Monday,” he said. “I’m going to a Christian Grad Fellowship meeting from five to six.”

He also mentioned that there would be free pizza. I don’t remember when in the conversation this occurred. “I’ll just come too,” I said. “No one will know I’m not a grad student. Besides, I’m older than you.”

My class ran past 5 so I was late, but there was still plenty of pizza by the time I arrived. I got a couple slices and sat down by Ben. Across the table I saw one of my teachers from the year before. He must be the faculty adviser.

I tried to remember if I’d cried in his office.

I tried to remember if I’d corrected him in class, and if so, how rude I’d been about it.

“Let’s go around the room,” he was saying. “say what your name is, and what your field of study is, and a random fact about yourself.”

Oh great. Now everyone was going to know that I didn’t actually belong.

Ben introduced himself, and then it was my turn. “Sorry, but I’m just an undergrad who’s here stealing your pizza,” I confessed. “But my brother Ben came and I figured that since I’m older than him, surely I could come too.”

People laughed, and I realized that no one cared that I was an undergrad, or if they did they were too nice to say so.

I went to all the meetings after that.

The Election

What a terrible, terrible election season.

I watched the internet slowly divide like an amoeba into two echo chambers where everybody yelled and nobody listened. If you yelled into the wrong echo chamber there was an explosion and a rapid unfriending and the internet divided a little bit more.

I made the decision to do the right thing in real life and refuse to yell online. If God tells me to blog about a particular issue, I will, but I’m committed, for now, to listen.

I think the division bothered me more than the president, though, because I felt like the president was a direct result of the division. And any terrible things he might do could never be solved if everyone yelled and yelled and yelled as though that was the mark of true morality.

The Beach

I go to the beach when I need to calm my soul, and the weekend after the election was no exception.

The whole CGF crowd went. We did all the things…splashing in the waves, browsing a used bookstore, eating clam chowder, watching for whales, roasting hot dogs on the beach, finding critters in the tide pools…and no one mentioned the election. Not even once.

Amos Turns 100

“Who’s doing the most interesting thing over Thanksgiving weekend?” My teacher asked the way teachers do, as though we have a life an no homework. But for once I had the best answer.

“I’m going to my grandpa’s 100’th birthday party.”

“Really! What’s your grandpa’s name?”


“Amos. What a great old-man name.”

We flew in Friday, and drove to the rental house where the various Yoder relations were staying for the weekend. It was right on a lake, obviously, being Minnesota. There was snow and a sunset and it was really quite breathtaking.

Saturday was Grandpa’s 100th birthday.

My cousin Jason chatted with Grandpa and Great-Uncle Johnny

It was a great weekend. I love my family.


Mom and Aunt Margaret stole my phone and took selfies. 

Of course I had to write a term paper. I tried to simultaneously write a term paper and have a good old chat with the Yoders. It didn’t work out so well.

But I survived.

The Mice

The mice got worse and worse, in that old farmhouse.

I got home from my Thanksgiving trip and worked on my term paper at the kitchen table. Mice scuttled under the stove. One dashed across the floor and under the sink.

“It’s okay,” I thought. “At least they’re not upstairs.”

Darrel and Simone, my landlords, wanted to move into the farmhouse when my term ended. Ashlie, my roommate, had already moved out. I was going to move back in with my parents, but wanted to savor my last few nights of going to sleep and waking up exactly when I wished, without being bothered by noisy family members.

That evening, in my room, I saw a mouse run under my bedroom door, look at me with round black eyes, and dart out again.

I shoved a rug under my door.

I went to sleep but kept being woken by a rustling in my trash can. I sat up and turned on the light. I’d spilled a bunch of peanuts a few weeks prior, and I’d swept up all the ones I could reach and dumped them in my trash can. Now, there was a hole chewed in the trash bag, and mouse turds inside.

I set the trash can outside my bedroom door, and tried to go back to sleep.

Rustle rustle. Something was running around under my bed, grabbing the peanuts I hadn’t been able to reach with my broom.

“That’s it,” I decided, and I put on my bathrobe and got in my car and moved home a week early.


My school vacation was a month and two days. So that was a nice and slightly boring break.

An ice storm hit, turning the world into magical fairyland


A Kenyan gotcha-day meal: Our Christmas Eve tradition. 


Steven and Matt came home for the holidays. Everyone was here except Amy. We went to the coast for a few days to have family fun time. 

I didn’t do anything fancy New Year’s Eve, just hung out with my friend Elaine and drank sparkling cider and argued about who the best guy in Lord of the Rings is.

I also caught a bad cold at the end of the year that stretched on and on for three weeks, but at that point I’d been healthy for half a year so I couldn’t complain too heavily.

Now, at the end of my recap, I feel as though I should give some philosophical insight into what I learned in 2016. Hmm. What did I learn in 2016?

I learned that nonfiction how-to type books are just like textbooks, in that there is no reason to read the whole thing. Just read the first paragraph of every chapter and/or the first line of every paragraph, and everything that’s titled “conclusion,” and you will have read the entire gist of the book.

You’re welcome, for that insight. Now go have a fantastic 2017.

Reflections on 2016 (Part 3 of 4)

Read Part 1
Read Part 2


Every year, the beauty of being outdoors all day in an Oregon summer overwhelms me.

The smell of the twilight dust. The wild mint growing in a lavender haze at the edge of the fields. The brilliant sunshine that makes the grain look like gold and the sky an impossibly deep blue. The chilly gray mornings when it’s too wet to work, so I curl up with a book and sip my earl gray.

Growing Old

I turned 26 on July 6, unsure of how to feel about my age. In general, I have loved growing older. I don’t buy the cultural myth that younger people somehow live a better life. The older I get the less I care about my image, the more I learn to listen instead of talk, and the more courage and freedom I have to live my life the way I wish to.

However, in a weird way I feel stuck in a perpetual young adulthood I can’t escape. In Mennonite circles I am often lumped in with the youth, since I’m unmarried, and at college I hang out with the 18-21 crowd. And my face has weirdly not aged in the past ten years. If I slick my hair back and stick a round veil on the top of my head I look almost exactly as I did when I was 16. My college friends are often quite surprised when they find out how old I am.

So I’m kind of in an odd middle place, age wise. But I don’t mind so much. I’ve just had to learn to befriend people of different ages and life stages than myself.


I worked sporadically through July and August, driving a combine or tractor when the weather was nice and the equipment was working, and taking little vacations when they weren’t.

Some days my combine clogged up ten times or so in one day, and I had to find the wrench that was as long as my arm and crank the header mechanism backwards so it would regurgitate the grain.

Other days my air conditioner would quit while both spare combines were broken down, so I’d just have to deal with the oppressive heat. I learned that the trick is to drink water. Lots of it. Guzzle it down and take a bathroom break every hour. You can survive more heat than you thought you could.


My roommate Ashlie was always up for adventures on my days off. Here are a few Instagram shots of us exploring the beaches and woods.




Think Positive


One day I fell asleep in the woods

I also spent one glorious weekend with a group of friends, camping by a small lake with a tiny island.


Getting up early


Making breakfast and tea


Cuddling the babies


Writing for hours on the tiny island

Also, the swimming was perfect. Warm-ish, not too deep nor too shallow, rocky bottom. It was glorious.

Note to self: swim more.


I blogged about the first half of my September trip pretty consistently.

First I visited my cousin Stephy and got introduced to geocaching.

Then I went to Pennsylvania to hang out with my friend Janessa. We day-tripped to the Delaware beaches and I got knocked over by a giant wave.

Then I visited my brother Matt in DC and got trapped in the world’s second largest library.

Some adventures, though, are delightful to experience but don’t make very interesting stories. Such was the case with my weekend in Pennsylvania, after I returned from DC.

I had planned this trip because I wanted to hang out with my friends Amanda and Jewel. Seeing them again was beautiful. But looking back on it, all we really did that weekend was talk. And eat ice cream. And talk. And drink smoothies. And talk.


Jewel and Amanda


Let’s take a selfie even though the lighting is terrible!

I also visited my cousin Annette that weekend. I had wanted to spend more time with her but she’d just had a baby and it was a little chaotic at her place.

(I’d insert a photo here but I can’t seem to find it. Close your eyes and picture a beautiful mother holding a lovely baby in flowered baby pajamas.)

Endings and Beginnings

After our weekend in PA, Amanda and I took a road trip to Chicago. You know. Just because.


Photo Credit: Amanda Gingerich

I mean, she lives in Illinois, and I found a cheap flight from Chicago to Portland, so it was really the only logical thing to do.

We stopped by Lake Michigan for a while.

I’ve always viewed large lakes as inferior oceans and never had much desire to set foot in one. However, the whole place was vast but tranquil in a way that my ocean never is, and I appreciated it.

It was a pleasant day, but not hot, so I left my swimming clothes in my backpack and padded barefoot over the warm dune to the beach. I let the water lap over my feet, and it was an oddly pleasant half-warm temperature. I waded in further, and further. The ground sloped so gradually that I was only up to my knees.

“I’m gonna swim in my clothes!” I told Amanda, who was beside me, holding her long skirt out of the water.

She smiled. “Go ahead.”

I had never swum in my clothes before, for the simple reason that I always wear skirts. But here in the wide deserted lake, no one would see if my skirt floated up in a tube around my waist. So I just plunged in, deeper and deeper. As it turns out, swimming in a skirt is easier than one would expect.


Photo Credit: Amanda Gingerich

Later, I found a dry and mostly-clean outfit in my backpack, and rolled up my wet sandy clothes in a plastic bag so they wouldn’t dampen my other things. We stopped for some deep dish pizza, and then she dropped me off at the airport and we said our goodbyes. I flew home with sand still between my toes.

And then college started, my very last year, and then I’ll have to decide what I want to do with my life.

It was a great summer, overall. Nearly perfect. I didn’t fall in love, but one can’t have everything you know.

Read Part 4