Category Archives: Thoughts About Life

Snow

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There were flurries of snow in Ohio in November.

“This isn’t real snow,” said my roommate, Carita.

There was no snow in Delaware in December. There was no snow during the week-and-a-half I spent in Washington DC, or the week I spent with my aunt in southern PA, or my week in Oregon, or my weekend in South Carolina.

And there was absolutely no snow during my three weeks in Florida.

So when I came to Myerstown Pennsylvania this February, and it snowed, I was enchanted.

Enchanted, but terrified to drive in it. So I walked. I walked to McDonald’s and bought some terrible tea. I walked to the library, but it was closed.

I took pictures of cute houses.

I soon learned that my entire winter wardrobe was actually a fall/spring wardrobe in Pennsylvania. A light sweater isn’t enough. Bare legs are never, ever warm enough, even if you have above-the-knee leggings on under your skirt. So I went shopping, for boots and fleece-lined leggings and warm sweaters and skirts that aren’t too bulky over leggings.

I still pretty much wear the same giant wool sweater every day, though.

Yes, I was enchanted when the snows first came. When the fear of driving in it kept me home, and the sky stayed a stubborn gray, I grew a bit melancholy, in an unpleasant way.

It snowed the morning of Ian’s funeral, and Ian’s cousin Daniel called it “frozen tears.” Fitting. And since that day, one week ago, the snow has stayed. The world is covered in a blanket of white.

In Oregon, my family and friends experienced a giant snowstorm. My Facebook and Instagram feeds were full of relatives, church friends, and college friends, endlessly sharing pictures. What beauty! They made snowmen and snow forts. The kids, but the adults too. School was canceled for days.

Pennsylvanians don’t seem to do this.

By March, Pennsylvanians seem about as excited by snow as Oregonians are by rain.

When I was a child, I didn’t understand why adults talked so much about the weather. Who cares?

But when I became an adult, I noticed the way the weather affected me. How the endless rain of March made me ache for spring, and for everything to change. How a cool breeze on a hot day made me feel like extraordinary things were possible.

And when snow fell all night, and the cold sun glistened upon it all day, I felt like there was a blanket of grace over this ugly, muddy, dead brown world.

February/March Life Update

One of my writing goals for March is to focus more on my blog. The intensity of February stripped me of my desire to share my life online. But it’s March now, and the most horrible month of the year is behind me, and it’s time to jump back into it.

I left Florida on February 5 and spent the night in North Carolina with a blogger friend, Striped Pineapple, whom I’d never me IRL. She showed me all the small town sights…the secret garden, the secret Christmas tree disposal area, the lonely architect who was secretly in love with her roommate…there were lots of secrets, actually.

(Okay, the architect bit is a joke. No one sue me for defamation, please.)

The next day, Wednesday February 6, I drove up to Myerstown PA. My friend Rachelle and her roommate were waiting for me, a bed set up in their spare room/library. Yes, I get to sleep every night in a room full of books. Glorious. Although the books themselves are a bit depressing for my taste, haha.

My new roommates have both spent considerable time on the mission field and are up to date on current events and world news, so they’re fascinating to converse with.

Despite these perks, my time in Pennsylvania so far has not been particularly great. There’s nothing wrong with the state itself, as far as I know. But since I’ve arrived, it seems like so many awful tragic things have happened to people I love. Accidents, breakups, brain surgeries, etc.

The worst thing of all happened one week ago, when Ian Gingerich was killed suddenly in a car crash.

I didn’t really know Ian. I knew who he was because I was close to many of his extended family members, and upon moving to PA, he was #1 on my “people I want to get to know” list. Two weeks ago, a week before Ian’s death, I sat by him in church and was very excited at this chance to converse with him.

We had a good conversation, but I do recall thinking that it would take a bit of time to actually get to know Ian, as he was quite introverted.

Maybe this is irrelevant. While people are alive, we don’t fixate so much on how well we know people, because it feels fluid. We can always get to know them better, or drift apart, as we wish. But when they’re gone, it’s fixed in stone. Not only did I not know Ian, but I will never know Ian this side of Heaven.

The real awfulness of this week was watching the grief and pain of Ian’s immediate and extended family, who were all very close to each other. If you’ve read my blog for a while you’ve heard me frequently mention Esta, and Janessa. I’ve also talked some about my friend Kayla Kuepfer, both when we were friends at SMBI back in the day, and when she came to Oregon for a year. Esta, Janessa, and Kayla are all cousins or cousins-in-law to Ian, and it was hard to watch their intense pain.

I don’t even know how to talk about this week. It was just so awful. But then, strangely, I feel like I know what love looks like…what connection looks like…what closeness looks like…in a way I never quite did before. Ian loved his family, and his family loved him, in a way that was truly breathtaking.

I still have a few more weeks left in Pennsylvania. I don’t know how I’ll be filling those days.

But for today, I’ll watch the snow, and rest.

Giveaway Winner/Life Update

And the winner of my extra copy of I Capture the Castle is…Rachelle Zook.

Congrats, Rachelle! I sent you a Facebook message with the details.

As far as a life update, I have less than a week left in Ohio. I’m planning to drive over to Lancaster PA on Monday, where I’ll spend Thanksgiving week before heading on to Delaware.

I just hope the roads will be safe when I need to drive them. Yesterday we had a bit of an ice storm that left a glassy coating on the trees. Carita got the day off, and we carefully drove to a local coffee shop where we shared a pot of tea and watched giant chunks of snow fall. I worked on a writing project. She graded papers.

“This is perfect,” I said wistfully. “I’ll get a good month of winter and snow, and then just when I’m getting tired of it I’ll go to Florida and experience sunshine.”

“We don’t usually get snow until January though,” said Carita.

“Um, it’s snowing right now. And we already had snow, last week,” I said.

“That’s not real snow,” said Carita.

I could see her point. Outside, the flakes melted when they hit the ground. And last week it had just been the smallest dusting on the concrete, with both road and grass looking untouched.

But then last night, we got a REAL real snow. Everything is coated, though the grass still pokes through like it needs a good shave. But mostly it looks like a magical wonderland, and at 2 pm, it still hasn’t melted away.

As long as the roads are clear by Monday, I’m loving it.

The Real Holmes County

It rained so much it almost felt like Oregon, only with prettier trees. I took to driving the wending, back roads, because they told me that’s where the “real Holmes County” was. Sometimes I was lost on purpose, and sometimes on accident.

After my long road trip east, after Texas and Tennessee, it seemed to me that Oregon has slower-than-usual speed limits. But they’re even slower in Ohio. I wonder if it’s because of the curves, or because of the buggies and bikes, or because of the potholes. And I wonder why there are so many potholes. Even on the Interstate. I always tense up when one looms unexpectedly, imagining my tire popping like a balloon.

And I’m never prepared for the school zones. In the wandering nowhere, suddenly a wee little schoolhouse appears and I’m supposed to go 25 mph. But only “during restricted hours.” What are restricted hours? Regular school hours? I slam on my brakes, but I’m already 2/3ds of the way through the zone before I hit 25 mph.

I suppose they’re Amish schools.

On these roads, it feels like no one exists except Amish. I’m passing a version of the same house, over and over. It’s huge, and white, and squarish, with a simple gabled roof. And the first story sticks out farther than the second story. Or maybe it’s just a lean-to.

I wondered, then, if I’d gotten things mixed up in my head. If Holmes County was actually the Amish capital of the world, not Lancaster County PA, as I’d always thought.

Wikipedia told me that while Lancaster County has a bigger Amish population than Holmes county, Amish make up 41.7% of Holmes County’s population, vs. only 7% of Lancaster County’s population. Although the 41.7% number is from 2010, so it must be closer to 50% now. Wikipedia projects that it will become the first majority Amish county by 2025.

I imagine Amish taking over Holmes County, then Wayne County, then Ohio, then America. I imagine Apple creating an Amish friendly phone that can’t connect to the internet. I imagine more train companies forming, offering competitive rates, and courting Amish clientele that won’t fly. I imagine Forever 21 offering ready-made Amish dresses, stitched by exploited communities overseas.

When my grandpa was four years old, only 5,000 Amish existed. Now, at latest count, there are 330,465.

I found a tiny Amish town, and pulled up to the general store to check my directions. Then, a sign outside caught my attention. “Fabric Store, Lower Level.”

I wanted some yellow knit for a sewing project, so I peeked around the corner of the general store, but found no handy entrance to the lower level. Perhaps I had to go through the general store?

The general store was empty except for a couple Amish employees. I made my way to the back. There was a small wooden door that looked like the entrance to a closet. But it was open, and there was a staircase behind it.

It reminded me of an entrance to a speakeasy.

Like a speakeasy, there was much more activity below than upstairs. As I passed the long row of suspenders on the stair wall and entered the hidden fabric store, I saw people everywhere. All Amish. All chattering happily in Pennsylvania Dutch. I wished Mom was there to translate. I wished she’d taught me.

It was more than a fabric store. It looked to me like an anything-an-Amish-person-might-want store. Sweaters and jackets in black, gray, and navy blue. Long dark socks. And earmuffs! I’ve had a hankering for earmuffs lately, so I nabbed a pair.

I was about to ask the Amish cashier to cut a half yard of yellow knit for me, when I looked at the long bookshelf behind her. “Oh! You have my mom’s books here!” I said.

“Which ones? Who is your mom?”

“Those ones. Fragrant Whiffs of Joy and Sunlight through Dusty Windows. My mom is Dorcas Smucker.”

She gave an excited exclamation. “I love your mom’s books! She always makes me laugh!”

In this way, I suddenly had an Amish friend. Susan. We talked about all sorts of things, and then her husband jumped into the conversation, wanting to know what crops we grew in Oregon.

I told them about getting off the 39, away from Berlin, and seeing the real Holmes County instead of the tourist version. They told me that tourists never come into their store. “We get Amish from other areas sometimes,” said Susan’s husband. “Like, Pennsylvania Amish. But see, we don’t advertise anywhere that non-Amish might see it.”

I got a delicious feeling then, like I’d discovered a magnificent secret.

It was a tiny town, hardly significant. But Carita told me it was one of the most Amish towns in existence. And my mom told me, later, that my ancestors came from there. Including my great-great grandpa, who fathered three sons and then took his own life. My family still battles the mental illness that he passed on.

The fanciful side of me likes to say that perhaps I wasn’t lost. Perhaps I was drawn to this little town where some of my family’s most painful roots are buried.

Ladies: We Need to Stop Calling Awkward Guys “Creepy”

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Photo by Eugene Capon on Pexels.com

I’ve heard it from so many Mennonite girls, including, unfortunately, myself. We gather into groups, giggling about boys. “Ugh, Bill just creeps me out,” we say, and then regale our listeners with hilarious tales of poor, uncool Bill and his attempts to flirt.

Let me list the reasons why I think this is destructive behavior that needs to stop.

1. We do it for selfish reasons

We call him creepy, not from an honest intention to warn our friends, but from an insecurity about ourselves and our own attractiveness.

“Creepy” serves two functions. It shows our girl friends that we, too, are desirable enough to have a guy pursue us. But it also clearly indicates that we would never stoop to liking him back.

And it puts the blame of our rejection on his shoulders. We rejected him because he was “creepy.” That’s his fault, not ours.

2. Labeling a guy as “creepy” ruins his chances with every female in the group

Whether it’s a youth group, voluntary service group, or Bible School term, once a guy is labeled as “creepy,” no girl wants to admit that she likes him.

Several times in my youth, I remember thinking a guy was perfectly normal. Maybe I didn’t have a crush on him, but I didn’t think of him as a non-option either.

And then he became “the creepy one” in our girly gossip group. And after that, he was a non-option.

That is just sad and unfair for the guy.

3. If a guy is actually creepy, it’s nothing worth giggling about

In your lifetime, you may encounter guys who are legitimately creepy, touching you or saying things in inappropriate ways.

We HAVE to make a clear distinction between the discomfort we feel because someone is behaving inappropriately, and the discomfort we feel because someone is awkward. The former needs to be dealt with by the appropriate authority figure for the setting it happens in. Depending on the situation, other women should be warned.

With the latter, we just need to give the guy some grace.

Conflating the two is a bad idea all around.

4. It’s okay to not have feelings for a guy, just because

I feel like we are tempted to use the term “creepy” when we don’t like a guy because, as I mentioned earlier, subconsciously we know that it puts the blame of our rejection on his shoulders, not ours.

This begs the question: Why do we feel the need to deflect blame in this scenario?

Do we feel like it’s wrong to tell a guy “no?”

Here is my strongly-held opinion on the subject: Just because a guy is a nice guy who may be a perfect match for someone else, doesn’t mean you have any obligation to date him if he asks. “I don’t have feelings for him” is a legitimate reason to not date him.

The same way that “I don’t have feelings for her” is a legitimate reason for a guy to not ask a girl out.

Don’t deflect the blame, because there should be no blame to deflect. Don’t say you rejected him because he’s “creepy.” Say you rejected him because you weren’t interested.

5. He might not even like you

Often the “he’s so creepy” speech comes when the guy has never even asked the girl out.

“I think he likes me, and it creeps me out!” girls will say.

Listen. Sometimes he’s just trying to be friendly, and he doesn’t know how to talk to girls.

Sometimes he’s just trying to be friendly, and he does know how to talk to girls, but he just happens to be weird.

Or you just happen to not have feelings for him, but you still want to be desirable, so you interpret his friendliness as flirtation and call it “creepy.”

Whatever the reasons, whether he actually likes you or not, this business of calling awkward guys “creepy” is stupid and it should stop.

The End.

Thoughts on Amish/Mennonites and Education

I walked into town. It was a perfect, crisp fall day. Everywhere I looked there were either Amish people, or people staring at the Amish.

A big yellow school bus roared up the street. It was full of adorable Amish children, with their bonnets and bowl cuts, peeking out the windows.

Now I was staring too.

“Do the Amish schools hire school buses?” I asked my landlady that evening. “Or do Amish children go to public school?”

“Oh, some Amish school children go to public school, and some go to Amish schools,” she said.

“What about the Mennonite kids?” I asked.

“It’s the same way. Some go to public school, and some go to Mennonite schools.”

I must have looked amazed, because she qualified her statement. “The public schools here aren’t like other public schools, you know,” she said. And then, I don’t know how she worded it, but she made it sound like the area has enough Amish and Mennonites that they have a good say in what happens at the public schools.

I found this so fascinating.

I know that both my parents went to public school when they were young. But now, I don’t know of any Mennonites in Oregon who send their children to public school. Paris, TN was the same way. Public school was not an option.

I wonder how this switch happened. From what I know about Oregon, it happened because the small country public school consolidated into a much larger school in town, so local Mennonites had much less influence over what and how their children were taught.

I’d be so curious to know how it was in other places. And why the attitude is different in different areas. Does it come down to how much influence the parents have at the school? Or is there more going on than that?

In general, I am fascinated by people’s attitudes towards education in different places. In Oregon, it would never have occurred to me to drop out of high school, and my parents would never have allowed me to anyway. Still, some Mennonite schools in our area do stop at 10th grade. I’m not sure why. But both here in Ohio and in Paris TN, “normal” was going up to 8th grade.

Still, in Paris TN, as far as I know I didn’t meet a single Mennonite who’d been educated past eighth grade (although to be fair, not every single person told me how far they’d gone in school)(and many of them did get their GED). But here in Ohio, I’ve already met a number of college educated people. Maybe it’s just because there are SO MANY Mennonites in Ohio, that your chances of finding another college educated person is that much higher?

One quick note before I end this musing: I was emphatically told, after my last blog post, that I absolutely cannot judge all of Holmes County by this little stretch of Hwy 39 between Sugarcreek and Berlin. That the bizarre tourism here is not the “real” Holmes County at all.

I am sure this is correct, but I do have two things to say regarding this.

First, I didn’t for a moment connect the Amish tourism with the actual Amish, or even the Mennonites. I assumed that it was caused by non-Amish coming to stare at the Amish, and other non-Amish deciding to capitalize on the this tourism by opening gift shops and “Amish” variety shows.

I would be very curious to know to what extent the actual Amish people benefit from the tourism. I’m sure that it happens, because people are eager to buy Amish made products. But I still feel like actual Amish have nothing to do with the weird showy touristy stuff.

Second, I don’t want to ever pretend that I understand an area just by living in it for a month and making a few observations. I welcome any and all insights from locals, and will always assume that you know what’s up, and I don’t.

With this in mind, I would LOVE to hear about the Mennonite/Amish relationship with education in your area, whether you’re from Oregon, Tennessee, Ohio, or anywhere else.

 

Tennessee, and Me

This is my last week in Paris, Tennessee, and I haven’t done a single blog post on my time spent here.

This is partially because I’ve been prioritizing other writing projects, and partially because I realized, once I started trying to write about this place, that I don’t quite know the tone to strike when documenting this sort of month-by-month travel.

My travel writing is usually very event-based. I’m going out, breaking away from the everyday, doing fun things, and seeing cool stuff. But this new type of travel is such an odd mixture of eventful things and ordinary things. Like yes, I’m in a new location, around new people. But I still have to work, and they still have to work. It’s not quite as exciting.

So what has it really been like to relocate to Tennessee?

Let me see if I can sum it up for you.

The first person I met upon arrival that rainy Saturday night was Jenni Yoder, my new roommate and friend. She gave me a tour of her little house, showing me my room, and where I could make hot water for tea. There was a welcome basket on my dresser with insect repellent and water and snacks and maps of things to see in Paris TN.

Jenni explained to me that her parents were gone on a trip, and so she’d periodically go across the street to her parents’ house and cook for her three younger brothers. Her whole family went to a small church in a log cabin, and I was welcome to come along, she said.

So that’s what I did the next morning. I ate breakfast, met her brothers, and went to her cozy little church.

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Her church was tiny. Maybe 20 adults, total. And lots of small children. The service was cozy, informal, and discussion based. People were kind and welcoming.

But there was something about it that made me feel completely out of place.

The discussion seemed to be in some sort of coded language. At first I just thought people were just being vague, and I was about to ask for clarification, when I realized that I was the only one in the room who didn’t understand.

Eventually I pieced together what was going on. Let me see if I can concisely explain it to you. There’s another church in the area, a much more conservative church, that Jenni and her family used to go to. There was a lot of pain and dysfunction in that church, and eventually, a group of people split off and formed their own church. The log cabin church.

That means that every single member of the log cabin church has the same pain memories. They were hurt by the same people and the same institutions. So when they talk with each other about it, they don’t have to go into long explanations. All it takes is a few vague words about pain, and everyone knows what they’re talking about.

Actually, one of the most interesting things I’ve noticed about the Mennonite culture in Tennessee is that it’s very much a church split culture. I should ask Jenni about the exact details, but the way she talks about it, it makes it sound like every Mennonite church in the area was formed by a split with a different church, with the original church not even around anymore.

I know that Mennonites in general are way too split-happy. But I realized, after comparing Oregon with Tennessee, that in Oregon we’re much more of a migration culture than a split culture.

I mean, before my time I think there were a few splits. And maybe Riverside was technically a split from Brownsville? I’m not sure. But for the most part, when Harrisburg had issues people migrated to Halsey in droves. And when Brownsville had issues, people migrated to Fairview. And people leaving Harrisburg and Halsey used to migrate to Brownsville, but now Riverside is a much more popular destination.

Anyone know the science about what causes splits vs. migration?

Anyway, I’m not going to claim that either is a particularly healthy option. But being in Tennessee makes me think that a split creates an even more insular environment, because not only did this group grow up in the exact same community, but they have all the same pain reference points now too.

I went to the log cabin church again the next Sunday, because Jenni’s brother was speaking. The next weekend I was in Nashville with my cousin Jason, and I went to an Anglican church. That was really cool. I’d never been in a liturgical service before. It felt extremely reverent. And then this week I caught a little virus and stayed home and drank tea.

So from the church community standpoint, I didn’t really get very far in Tennessee. A month sounds like a long time until you realize that it means only four Sundays.

Most of my connection actually has been with Jenni’s family. They live across the road, and I eat meals with them several times a week. They’ve all been incredibly kind and thoughtful and generous. And Jenni also introduced me to some of her friends from her previous church, who are coming over for tea this afternoon. So I’ve made friends, but not really community, if that makes sense.

I’ve also spent time on my own exploring the town. The coffee shop, the library, the park. And I’ve noticed a few fascinating things about Tennessee culture in general. But I think I’ll save that for the next blog post.