1. Sitting in the Sunshine
The sunshine in Florida does not disappoint.
The locals tell me that its been unusually chilly since I’ve been here. The days have ranged in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Which is uncomfortable in the wind and shade, and I’ve broken out sweaters and jackets that I thought I wouldn’t need.
But sitting in the sun, it’s very comfortable.
2. Playing card games
When I’m not working I’m usually hanging out with Ivan and Erma, the older couple who own the house I’m staying at, and Erma’s sister Leona, who is a guest like me.
We like to play card games.
Mostly a game called 20,000, which Erma excels at, and Hand and Foot, which I’m getting the hang of.
One evening we invited another couple over, and we all played a board game which as far as I know has no name. It involves poker chips and rook cards.
In fact, all the games seem to be Mennonite inventions that have little to do with the original cardmaker’s intentions.
The first time I walked into the kitchen and saw a card game in process, I got really excited. I thought they were playing Phase 10, because they were holding Phase 10 cards. But no, it was a different game called 20,000. Hand and Foot was played with Skip-bo cards. The other game with no name uses rook cards, poker chips, and a homemade game board made from an actual literal board.
We have such fun times.
3. Going to Starbucks
Ivan and Erma don’t have WiFi, so I spend most afternoons working at Starbucks or the library.
One evening I was at Starbucks with my headphones in, because I was listening to clips of an interview I’d done.
A couple sat down next to me. Like, right at my elbow next to me. When the interview wasn’t playing, I literally couldn’t help overhearing their conversation.
It seemed to be a first date between a couple in their 50s. The woman spoke with an accent, and either she didn’t speak much English, or she just didn’t talk much because she was on a date with a mansplaner.
He explained all sorts of things to her. Mostly his theories on religion. I didn’t hear a single thought or opinion from her lips, just kind “uh-hmm”s.
At the end of the date they awkwardly arranged to meet up again. She seemed willing, which surprised me a little.
“If you ever figure out religion, let me know,” he said as they parted. That made me giggle at the irony, but perhaps I should give him the benefit of a doubt and assume that he did, actually, want to now hear her ideas.
The next day I was within earshot of a young couple who’d just met that day and were flinging around get-to-know you questions and giggling awkwardly. Hmm. I decided that listening in on awkward first dates could be my new hobby.
4. Hanging out at the library
When I’m not at Starbucks, I go to the library to write.
Now, Starbucks is designed for writers, which lots of natural light and plenty of outlets and endless free tea refills.
The library isn’t quite so accommodating. I have to bring my own tea, and food and drink are discouraged from libraries if not outright banned.
However, the library has a reading garden. And one of the outdoor tables is next to an electrical outlet. It’s in the shade, so it’s chilly on chillier days, but it’s absolutely delightful on warmer days.
Of course there’s also the magazines and newspapers and books.
One day when I got home I was telling Ivan about an article I’d read that day about Elon Musk. I explained that the library had copies of magazines and newspapers that could be read inside the library.
The next day was a Starbucks day. When I got home for supper, Ivan hadn’t arrived yet. Erma wasn’t sure where he was.
Turns out he’d gone to the library.
5. Getting snubbed by Mennonites
I knew that in Sarasota Florida, particularly in the village of Pinecraft, Amish and Mennonites congregate in droves during the winter.
I knew that “what happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft.”
And I assumed it would be a jolly time where Anabaptists of all stripes put aside their differences, stopped focusing on uptight rules, and just had fun hanging out with each other.
The house I’m staying at is about a mile from Pinecraft, and when I went looking for it I couldn’t find it. So besides hanging out with my hosts, my first interaction with other Mennonites happened at the beach. I was swimming along merrily when I saw a group of Mennonite girls standing by the shore.
So of course I went up and talked to them.
They were not particularly friendly, and I was puzzled. I thought surely that if you were in a far-flung place like Florida and happened to see another Mennonite, you’d immediately want to play the Mennonite game and have BBQ’s together and stuff.
I chalked it up to their age. They looked young, perhaps fourteen or fifteen. Maybe they’d grown up really sheltered, and had never learned to talk to people they didn’t know.
Later I connected with Katie Troyer on Facebook, and she invited me to come watch a pie baking contest. That was my first time in Pinecraft.
The contest was crowded, and naturally I tried to strike up a conversation with the woman next to me. To my surprise, she gave me the same treatment that the girls on the beach had. Discomfort written across her face. Polite but clipped answers to my small-talk questions. Slipping out of the conversation as quickly as possible.
Maybe I’m just oblivious to the real world, but I’ve never run into such unfriendly Mennonites. And what chiefly struck me was that they weren’t so much rude as uncomfortable. They acted like they’d never before had a “get to know you” conversation with a stranger.
Perhaps understandable for a 14-year-old girl. But a grown woman?
In any case I eventually found kindness in Erma and Ivan’s friends. Also, whenever I’ve run into Mennonites that actually live here for extended amounts of time (instead of coming for a short winter vacation) I’ve found them extremely kind and welcoming.
Nevertheless, my dreams of a society of friendly, laid-back Mennonites from all over the USA partying together in the summer sun have all been dashed.
6. Attending events in Pinecraft
After the pie backing contest, I went to one other event in Pinecraft: To hear the Glick Family sing.
From what I can tell, events such as this happen all the time down here. The Glick Family is your typical Mennonite gospel singing family–the type that perform in prisons. But it’s just a little edgy, because most of the Pinecraft folks are plain enough that they’re not supposed to listen to instrumental music.
Perhaps that’s what is meant by “what happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft.” I was hoping for something a little more scandalous, but oh well.
I thought I’d attend more such events, and really peep into the culture down here, but when it comes down to walking to the park in the cold evening air to hang out with a bunch of unfriendly people, vs. staying at home and playing cards with Erma, Ivan, and Leona, somehow the cards always win out.
One of these days I’ll win a game of 20,000.
7. Getting honked at
Cars in Sarasota honk at you. All the time. For the dumbest things. Like, I was going to turn into Starbucks but there was a cyclist on the sidewalk that I wanted to be sure I didn’t hit. And the car behind me honked in impatience.
One Sunday as we were driving home from church, I mentioned this annoyance to Ivan, Erma, and Leona. “It’s because we have out-of-state licence plates,” said Ivan. “They know we’re snowbirds, and they don’t like snowbirds around here.”
Just a block or two later, Ivan wanted to make a right turn, but the light was red. He stopped and cautiously waited. He could perhaps have made the turn, but fence on the other side of the road limited visibility.
HONK!!!! Went the impatient car behind him.
HONK!!!! Went Ivan’s horn, back.
I couldn’t stop laughing at the normally calm and collected Ivan honking his horn.
The light turned green. We both turned the corner. The other car swerved into the middle lane, pulled up flush with us, and honked his horn several times in succession.
Ivan, again, honked back.
I don’t understand Florida. It’s not chill and laid back, like you’d expect a warmer-climate place to be. Maybe it’s full of people from other places who are retired or on vacation, but then, why on earth would you be so uptight if you’re retired or on vacation?
8. Eating breakfast every day
Leona delights in taking care of her older sister Erma. One of the ways she does this is by cooking breakfast every morning. Every morning! It’s delightful.
It’s a big breakfast, because we don’t usually eat lunch. And here’s the most interesting part, to me. After eating our “main course” of oatmeal or eggs or cereal, we have “dessert.” Usually donuts or cinnamon rolls.
I’ve never heard of having breakfast desert, but it makes sense, given how sweet some breakfast foods are. Might as well eat something healthy first.
I was amazed by the beach. It was just like in pictures. So much white sand and turquoise water.
That water, though! Sparse, teeny tiny waves, and almost warm, and so shallow you could wade in further and further and further and only be wet up to your belly button.
I was the only one who went into the water. Maybe due to the chillier weather we’ve been having? This made me feel strange, like I was about to drown at any moment. For sure, I can’t wrap my mind around being that far from shore and not in danger of drowning.
I can’t help but compare oceans. Even though there’s no “roar” to the ocean here either, it look so much bigger than the Delaware ocean, because of the vast, Oregon-sized beaches.
However, here’s the funny part. The sand is all packed down by footprints and tire tracks, as though it’s a sandy park and not a beach at all. Does the wind not shift the sand? Do the waves never cover it? I wonder why footprints disappear overnight on Oregon beaches but seem to remain for eternity in Florida.
But it’s phenomenal, it really is. And not crowded like I thought it would be. About the same amount of people I’d expect to see on an Oregon beach in similar weather.
Judging from the giant empty parking lot though, I think it must get fuller on really hot days. 70 degrees and sunny is the most perfect Oregon beach weather you could ask for, but in Florida that’s much too chilly.
10. Counting my blessings
Slipping down to Florida after a December in the north is like suddenly getting over a nasty flu, or eating a spectacular meal after a couple weeks of living off of bologna sandwiches.
When the sunshine hits my face, I can’t get over how blessed I am to be here.