Category Archives: Travel

Blogmas 2019 Day 4: Take a Sad Song and Make it Better (repost)

Four years ago today, Ben and I went to Thailand to visit our sister Amy for Christmas. What happened next was one of the most dramatic Christmastime experiences of my life. Today, I decided to revisit that memory by reposting my blog post about the experience.

I knew that I’d figure things out eventually and everything would be fine, but sometimes my emotions don’t listen to my logic. I didn’t want to cry, but I felt the tears trickle down the side of my nose anyway. Blast.

What was wrong? Let me make a list:

  1. I had been traveling for a day and a half, with no end in sight, because…
  2. Our flight to Kunming, the second leg of our three-flight journey, was delayed for four hours due to a “mechanical issue…”
  3. Which we didn’t know any details about since we didn’t speak Chinese
  4. However, we knew we’d missed the third flight entirely
  5. And we couldn’t contact my sister Amy and tell her what was going on, because we weren’t able to connect to the internet at the airport
  6. And when the delay was over, and we got on the flight, they kept saying something about going to “Nanning”
  7. But we didn’t want to go to “Nanning,” we wanted to go to Kunming
  8. And then the flight attendant got on the intercom and explained in hard-to-understand English that if we wanted to head on to Kunming after Nanning we had to *garbled words* and collect a *garbled word.*
  9. And I was very confused.

Confusion+tiredness=tears, probably a very natural reaction, but I turned my head to hide them anyway. I looked out the window. And what I saw took my breath away.

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Source: Wikipedia (Not exactly the same as what I saw, but the closest I could find.)

What are those squiggly things glinting in the sun? Oddly-shaped ponds? I peered closer. Rice fields! Of course!

We flew down, down, over green forests and red, red dirt, and terraced rice fields all over the hills, making the landscape look like a topographic map. It was unbelievably beautiful.

Nanning turned out to be a tiny little airport with only one gate, and a crisp-but-pleasant breeze blew in our faces as we descended the steps of the airplane, a nice contrast to the freezing temperatures of Shanghai. We followed the crowd across the blacktop, hoping we were doing the right thing.

A lady in a long blue coat stood by a door, yelling something, waving a handful of what looked like blue laminated bookmarks. Her voice was lost in the swift breeze. We left the pack, and walked closer. “Kunming! Kunming!” she was shouting, and so we took some blue bookmarks and walked into the gate area through her door.

It was only a short wait. I had time to use the bathroom. The toilet was the  the squatting-kind, which made me feel happy inside, because I was in a place that actually felt Chinese, instead of the sterile generic airplanes and airports I normally find myself in.

And Ben was able to connect to the internet and send Amy an explanatory email.

In short, my spirits were refreshed.

Of course with all the hopping on and off of airplanes and shuttle buses, and with boxed dinners being thrust under my nose every time I began to doze, I was quite tired by the time we reached Kunming. Too tired to keep up with Ben’s rapid pace, I sat down to send Amy another email on Ben’s phone while Ben fetched the luggage.

I typed a message, and clicked “send.”

“Message held in queue,” it told me.

I looked up at the message Ben had sent earlier. That one was also “held in queue.” It had never sent. Amy had no idea why we didn’t show up at the airport.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t connect to the internet. The only way to get the password was to put in your phone number, and they’d text you the password. Which didn’t exactly work for foreigners without overseas cell service.

Ben fetched the suitcases, left me with them, and ran off to talk to the people at the China Eastern counter about the next flight to Chiang Mai. I was alone in a strange airport with two suitcases I could barely pull, and no way to contact my family. I spread my Tinkerbell blanket on top of the largest suitcase and lay my head on it. Unbidden, another tear trickled down my nose and dripped off the tip.

Suddenly, someone beside me began talking very excitedly in Chinese. I looked up. A lady with a yellow scarf was gesturing wildly to me. She pointed to her phone, handed it to her friend, and scooted up next to me.

I smiled, wide. The friend snapped a picture.

“I want one too!” I said, handing her my camera so she’d know what I meant.

Then everyone in the friend group wanted a picture with me. They all wore magnificent brightly-colored clothing, and they jammed a red hat on my head and took pictures of me in it.

It was so much fun. They knew two English words, “yes” and “hello,” and I knew no Chinese words at all. One lady tried very hard to communicate, pointing to her nose and tapping her hand and holding up two fingers, but I was completely lost.

Then Ben came back, and they wanted to take pictures of us together, though Ben wasn’t particularly enthusiastic.

They gave me a bottle of water, which was nice, since I’d lost mine along the way, and we looked through the pictures we’d taken and gave each other smiles and “thumb’s up” signs until they had to go.

“So what’s going on?” I asked Ben, my spirits once more revived.

“They only fly to Chiang Mai once a day, so we have to spend the night here,” he told me. “They put us up in a hotel.”

“Did you tell them we were brother and sister so they’d give us two beds?” I asked.

“I just hoped they’d figure it out.”

“WHAT? You just assumed they’d KNOW?”

“I told them we were brother and sister.”

“Oh.”

We waited for the shuttle, and I longed in my heart for some music to listen to.  I had nothing. Even Chinese music would have soothed my soul. Instead  I sang, so softly that no one could really hear me over the general airport buzz, and pretended that I was listening instead of singing.

“Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song, and make it bet-ter-er-er…”

“That’s what I’ll do,” I decided. “I’ll make this sad song better. I’m in China. I’ve never been to China before. I’ll have fun.”

We walked into the hotel room, and the first thing I saw was that, blessed relief, there were two beds. As I stood there admiring this fact, I heard Ben say, “wow, the shower’s not very private.”

Yes, that is a giant window between the bathroom and the rest of the room. Ben hung out in the hall while I used the bathroom, and then he got his chance to go when I went downstairs to ask how to connect to wifi.

“It’s easy,” said the receptionist. “No password.”

It wasn’t easy, though. Facebook wouldn’t open. Gmail wouldn’t open. Twitter wouldn’t open. Google wouldn’t open. “You can go down and talk to the receptionist this time,” I told Ben.

“It’s weird, though,” said Ben. “I can connect to ESPN just fine.”

“Really?” I tried opening Internet Explorer instead of Firefox. When I typed in “Facebook,” it re-directed me to a Bing search of headlines like “sites blocked in China.”

This was the one time in my life that Bing was more helpful than Google. Because apparently Google was blocked in China. Along with Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Thus began a frantic search for an alternate way to send a message. “Can you comment on Mom’s blog?” “I think I had a Yahoo account once.” “Do you remember the password to Mom’s old Juno account?” “Maybe I could post on my blog.” “I guess I can message my fantasy football league members through ESPN.”

It turned out that Blogger was blocked, but WordPress wasn’t, at least not entirely. A basic HTML version of my blog loaded, but it wouldn’t let me post. I tried posting using my phone.

“Success!” I shouted.

“Oh good,” said Ben. “I don’t know how long it would have been until my friends saw this fantasy football message.”

And then we collapsed in gales of laughter at the random and bizarre communication methods we were resorting to.

The next morning I woke up before Ben, and held a towel up while using the bathroom in the off chance that he groggily opened his eyes. I wondered around the hotel looking for breakfast, and found nothing. It was absolutely frigid, and the hotel doors stood wide open. Burr. I returned to our room.

Besides two pairs of crocks and a roll of toilet paper the size of a can of cream-of-mushroom soap, the hotel room didn’t have much. It did, however, have all the necessities in the way of tea-making.

 

That was quite nice. I wrapped myself in my bedspread and drank tea and ate crackers with peanut butter. Man, it was COLD.

Ben finally woke up. “It’s snowing,” he told me, looking out the window.

“What? Really?”

“Yep. See the snow on that car?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Did we forget to turn on the heater last night?”

“There’s no heater. I checked. There’s no heat in the entire building.”

“Oh.”

Happiest of happys though, when I checked the comments of my blog post I saw that, not only were Mom and Amy vastly relieved to see that we were okay, but a girl that Amy and Ben knew was actually living in Kunming at the moment. Amy typed in her phone number, and I scribbled it down on a piece of paper and went down to the lobby to ask if I could use the phone.

Felicia, was the friend’s name, and she was as friendly as friends can be. “I live an hour away, but I’m not doing anything this morning,” she said. “I’ll take a taxi over right away.”

Ben took a walk while I showered. The water was hot, warming me through and through, and I sang “hey Jude” at the top of my lungs. I was making the sad song better.

I hadn’t packed for cold weather, I’d packed for Thailand, but I did the best I could. A skirt, under which was a pair of leggings, under which were my pajama pants, rolled up to the knees. My light jacket over my t-shirt over my long-sleeved shirt. Socks borrowed from Ben, and a light scarf wrapped around and around my neck. My Tinkerbell blanket wrapped around my shoulders. I was as ready as I’d ever be.

 

“Where do you want to go?” Felicia asked when she arrived, all friendly and smiles.

“Someplace where it’s warm,” I said.

She chatted a bit with the Taxi driver in Chinese. “Do you like hot pot?” she asked us.

“What’s hot pot?”

“It’s a Chinese dish…there’s a heated pan in the center of your table and you put in all sorts of meat and vegetables and make a stew.”

A warm soup in a warm place sounded heavenly. “Sure, let’s do that.”

We walked down the street and around the corner, as I tried to avoid getting water in my not-particularly-waterproof shoes. Flakes of snow nestled into the purple fuzz of my Tinkerbell blanket.

“You just had to be stuck here on the day it snows!” said Felicia.

“Does it not usually snow here?”

“Oh no! They call this the city of eternal spring. A couple years ago it snowed, and people were so excited because it was the first time it had snowed in seven years.”

We stepped into a tiny restaurant that, like the hotel, left its doors wide open. This made me dubious, but it did seem to be warmer in here. Someone gestured to the floor and there, in a square pan, was a pile of burning coals, keeping the customers toasty.

We gathered around the low table: me, Ben, Felicia, and the taxi driver. The waiter brought a pan of broth and set it on the burner in the middle of the table, and then brought us plates of meat and vegetables, and a large kettle full of tea.

 

This already seems like a core memory, forever powering travel island. Sitting there on that low stool, in a completely unexpected location, with two brand-new friends.

The taxi driver ladled meat and veggies into my bowl. “How do you say ‘thank you’ in Chinese?” I asked Felicia.

“Syea-syea,” she said.

“Syea-syea,” I told the taxi driver. I now knew a word in Chinese.

But what I remember most was the juxtaposition of cold and warmth. The snowy wind blew in the open door, nipping at my nose and freezing my toes. The coals warmed my legs, as I tried to get as close as possible without burning the edges of my Tinkerbell blanket. The soup warmed my insides, and the kindness of strangers warmed my soul.

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Photo credit: Ben

My logic was right. We figured things out, and everything was okay. We paid for the hot pot with the 400 Yuen we’d been given as compensation for our delayed flight, and gave the leftover money to Felicia hoping to cover a fraction of her taxi cost, even though she insisted it was okay and she was happy to come.

We went back to the airport, checked our bags, and got on the plane for Chiang Mai. We were delayed over an hour while they sprayed the snow off the plane and waited around for other unknown reasons, but at this point that seemed like pittance.

“How many hours have we been traveling?” I asked Ben when we finally reached Chiang Mai and were filling out immigration paperwork.

“Fifty hours,” he said. But I added it up later, and it was actually sixty-two hours. Over two and a half days.

But we fetched our suitcases and walked through the big glass doors, where Amy was waiting with her arms full of hugs.

We had finally arrived.

Alaska, Part 3: The Way it Invaded our Souls

I heard a rumor that one of the Kuhns babies looked at his mother, wide-eyed, and whispered, “are there dragons in Alaska?”

That may be the best description of how Alaska made me feel. Like there could be dragons here.

After Elaine’s wedding, I was so tired that I sat in the red chair and didn’t move. For three days I’d focused on wedding, wedding, wedding (you can read about that in Part 1 and Part 2). But now the wedding was over. 

I ought to just go home and sleep. Should I just go home and sleep?

It was bedtime, after all. But the sun was still up, in that curious Alaska way. And I felt like maybe there was yet another adventure awaiting, once I got my second wind.

“Let’s go to the river, or something,” said Karli.

So we drove down to the river, a strange, gray, churning thing full of glacial silt. We wandered over the bridge and along the riverbank.

The endless twilight. Everything seemed moody, and weighty, and powerful. The world was a vast expanse of wonders.

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I wanted to capture the way Sherri smiled as she squished her feet in the clay.

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Pic by Karli Kuhns

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Karli, Sherri and I made Wesley take a picture of us.

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Later we got a proper selfie with all four of us.

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Karli ate the moon.

We got back into the car, and then we took some wrong turns. Was it nearing midnight? Time seemed irrelevant. We hopped out and wandered around. Aimless. Drunk on the enchantment of tonight.

The next day we went to Hatcher pass. Everyone came: The Stoltzfus clan, the Kuhns clan, the randos…even Elaine and Brandon. Yes, the newlyweds themselves decided to show up.

“Our honeymoon doesn’t really start until tomorrow,” said Elaine.

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Elaine and Brandon

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Daisy and her baby beside a mountain stream.

Oh yes. I should tell this story. Remember that cute to-go mug I got at the coffee shop on Friday? Well, it was so adorable that I didn’t throw it away. I continued to brew tea in it throughout the weekend.

On Sunday, when I went to brew myself some tea, I noticed that someone had attempted to wash it. And it was a paper cup. But it still looked usable, so I poured boiling water into it, clicked the lid on, and carried it across the room.

The weakened paper walls of the cup began to collapse. Boiling water spilled out onto my arm. I dropped it in pain, and ran to the sink to run my arm under cold water. Even so, I had a pretty bad first-degree burn, and a mess to clean up.

I found a bag of frozen peas in the freezer, and I wrapped it in a towel and held it on my arm. That helped with the pain. But by the time I got to Hatcher Pass, the peas were melting. Besides, I didn’t want to hike around holding a bag of peas onto my arm. So if my arm started to hurt pretty badly, I’d just dip it into this cold mountain stream, and feel blessed relief.

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We ate a picnic on the mountain. Without plates. No one remembered to bring plates.

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Photo by Karli Kuhns

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Photo by Virginia Kuhns Petroski

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Photo by Virginia Kuhns Petroski

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Photo by Karli Kuhns

On Instagram, Karli wrote, “Words can’t quite express the way Alaska made me feel. Mixed emotions. Happiness, longing, joy, peace, turmoil…I wanted to sit on the top of a mountain and dream for days.”

And I don’t think I could say it any better than that.

Later that Sunday afternoon, Karli and Sherri took me to the airport in Elaine’s car. I waved goodbye to this majestic place that now held a snippet of my heart.

I’ll be back, Alaska.

I promise.

Alaska Part 2: The Wedding

Elaine and Brandon’s wedding was to take place in a pavilion on top of a hill. But the reception was to be held in the somewhat-boring-looking church sanctuary, so we made it beautiful using all things twinkly (candles, string lights, twinkle lights, etc).

Most of the transforming was done on Thursday (you can read about that in part 1 of my Alaska adventure). But in order for the sanctuary to be properly twinkly we had to solve the problem of sunlight streaming in the large front doors.

Friday morning, Mimi, Elaine’s mom, attempted to solve the problem. “I went to Fred Meyer, but I couldn’t find black paper anywhere!” she said. “So I bought black bed sheets.”

Karli and I looked at them dubiously. But what do you know, folded in half they were the exact width of the door, and long enough to loop over the top. We secured them with bright blue painter’s tape, rolling pieces and tucking them under to hide the bright-blueness as much as possible.

The double layer was rather opaque. No more Halloween cobwebs. Karli and I gave each other a high-five.

Someone told me that Elaine wanted to talk to me about desserts, so I went over to where she was sitting. “Oh hey Emily,” she said. “So when you and Eileen are serving the desserts tomorrow…”

“Wait,” I said. “I’m serving desserts?”

“Oh, yeah, didn’t I ask you to?”

I laughed. “No, you didn’t. But of course I’m happy to help.”

Friday was a lot more relaxed in general, since we’d gotten most of the work done on Thursday. Now that Kim was here with her rental car, we took full advantage of the freedom and went out to get coffee at the cute coffee stand where Elaine works when she’s not, you know, prepping for her wedding.

Only of course I got hot tea, and it came in the most adorable to-go cup I’ve ever seen.

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After that we had just a bit of time before the rehearsal dinner, so Kim and I went over to the apartment where Elaine and Brandon would live after they married. Kim had the address, but when we went inside we just saw office space, not apartments.

“I think the apartments are on the second floor,” said Kim.

“Where’s the staircase?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

We peeked around corners. No staircases were to be found. “Let’s just open some of these doors,” I said. Kim looked a bit dubious, but what do you know, the first door I tried had a staircase behind it.

We went up the stairs. “Which apartment is hers?” I asked.

“I don’t know…all she gave me was the address.”

Kim tried calling Elaine, but Elaine didn’t answer. So we walked along the hall, and I carefully listened at each door. Then, oh! That was definitely Elaine’s laugh.

I knocked. She opened.

It was a small studio apartment. Nothing fancy, and a bit old-fashioned, but quite charming. Virginia, one of the Kuhns siblings, and Daisy, who was married to a Kuhns sibling, were relaxing on the floor because there were no couches or chairs yet. Kim and I sat down too.

“This is so great!” said Elaine. “Finally, a chance to just chill with my friends for a bit!”

The “chilling” didn’t last long, however, because soon it was time for the rehearsal dinner.

The rehearsal dinner was held at Brandon’s parent’s house. The kitchen was brimming with food, so many dishes I knew I wouldn’t have a chance to even try them all. Victoria, Brandon’s mother, told me what each of them were. There was lots of salmon of course, as well as seal soup, whale meat (both cooked and uncooked), and herring eggs, which were on some sort of seaweed…kelp maybe? And something called “Eskimo ice cream,” which was sort-of like a fruit salad.

“I also made chicken for the English people,” said Victoria. I thought it was so funny that she used the word “English” to refer to non-Native people, because it’s the same word Amish people use to refer to non-Anabaptist people.

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Elaine’s dad prayed in English, and Brandon’s grandpa prayed in Yupik, and then we got to eat. It was an amazing meal. I didn’t get to try nearly everything, but I ate all the most interesting-looking foods. Especially the seal and whale was a real treat, because in Alaska it’s illegal to hunt whale and seal unless you’re an Alaskan Native. It’s also illegal for an “English” person to buy whale and seal from an Alaskan Native, so our only hope of eating it is to have a Native friend.

However, if I’m gonna be honest, I couldn’t figure out how to eat the raw whale. I just couldn’t chew it. “You have to bite off the white part, and leave the gray part,” said Kim. But I could not for the life of me bite off the white part. Finally I realized that Kim had gotten cooked whale, which was much easier to chew. I’m still not sure how one eats the raw whale. Just stick it in your mouth and chew it like a piece of gum? Does it eventually break down?

The herring eggs on seaweed tasted exactly how the Newport Bayfront smells. I don’t know how else to describe it.

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Relaxing in the back yard, eating delicious food.

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Elaine and Brandon at the rehearsal dinner. Poor Elaine was exhausted!

Almost everyone was either in the bridal party or married to someone in the bridal party. Karli, seeing Elaine’s stress, appointed herself wedding coordinator. So from the end of the rehearsal dinner until the end of the reception the next day, Virginia, Wesley, Eileen, and I were the randos who had no specific job and so did all sorts of sporadic tasks.

That evening it was mostly running errands. The next morning we didn’t do much, because everyone else was in and out of wedding photos, but then we went to the church early and did all the bippy things that still needed to be done.

Eileen and I, of course, were doing desserts. There were cheesecake cupcakes that needed to be served on these artsy birch slabs. But then, we heard that the guy in charge of the meal was short-handed. So, maybe we’d have time to help him with food if we got all the cheesecakes onto their slabs early.

This was like, forty-five before the ceremony was to begin. We started clearing off surfaces in a back classroom, and filling them with frozen cheesecake cupcakes atop birch slabs. And then…

“Um, Eileen?” I said. “This birch slab has bugs on it.”

“What?” she looked closely. “Oh…yeah…it does…”

Another chance to be innovative. Thankfully there were many more birch slabs than we needed. Eileen began checking and sorting them, while I double-checked the good ones to make sure they were decidedly bug-free, and continued arranging the mini cheesecakes.

“I’m sure this is enough,” I said finally. “We don’t want to arrive at the same time as the bridal party and have to try to dodge out of pictures.”

Of course in the end I did a couple more random tasks, and what do you know. I ended up arriving at the pavilion at the same time as the bridal party, and had to try to dodge out of pictures. Haha.

It was an absolutely beautiful ceremony, though. There was hardly a dry eye in the place as they read their hand-written wedding vows to each other. Next thing you know, everyone was laughing when they tried to do a unity ceremony with salt, and the salt stuck to its container and wouldn’t pour out.

Laughter and tears. The perfect wedding.

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(I didn’t take photos during the ceremony, but I stole this one from Karli.)

Eileen and I skipped the receiving line because there were things to get done. Wesley and Karli had skipped ahead to light the candles and switch on the twinkle lights. “Hey Emily,” Elaine said as we zipped past the receiving line, “can you get drinks out?”

“Sure thing!”

That’s how Eileen and I found ourselves in the kitchen, mixing up batches and batches of lemonade, and handing them over to whatever strong-looking person happened to be in the kitchen right then. “Can you put this on the drink table? Thanks!”

Okay, lemonade levels were stable. What about water levels? What about coffee levels?

Oh! No one put creamer on the coffee table.

Oh! What are we supposed to put the creamer in? Surely we have something nicer than just the jug it came in? A chance to be innovative! Soon we were washing up some sugar dispensers we found in a cupboard in the church kitchen, and labeling them using scraps of paper, scotch tape, and a green marker. “It’ll look fine. It’s pretty dark out there,” said Eileen.

Then we set up the dessert table (using only bug-free birch slabs, of course), and then Virginia was like, “you do realize there’s another grocery bag full of lemonade concentrate, don’t you?” We hadn’t realized, but now we did, so we mixed up even more lemonade. And then finally, we had a chance to take a breather.

Oof!

Karli came by. “You can sit at that table up there, with the assorted bridesmaids and Wesley.”

We kept the dessert table filled. We ate our food. We admired the couple.

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We signed at the romantic-ness of their first dance.

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And then we looked around and realized that people were leaving, and the whole thing was almost over. We took out our tiny bubble wands and blew a cloud of bubbles over Elaine and Brandon as they dashed away, into their new married life.

From Friday morning until Saturday evening, I was so focused on the wedding that I didn’t have much time to stop and appreciate Alaska. But then, once we’d gotten Elaine and Brandon married, restored the twinkly reception hall back into a run-of-the-mill church sanctuary, and eaten a supper of wedding-food leftovers, things changed.

We had time for the wilderness.

However, I’ll talk about all that in my next post, which will be the final post in my Alaska series.

Alaska! Part 1

My first introduction to Alaska came 45 minutes before my flight was supposed to land, when I finished my movie and lifted the window shade. As I peeked out upon the Alaskan landscape, still brightly lit at 9 pm, my jaw hit the floor.

Look. I thought Oregon had “real” mountains, and I’d snicker at what passed as a “mountain” on the east coast. But let me tell you. Oregon mountains are nothing, NOTHING compared to Alaska mountains.

A quick Google search would have told me this. The top 10 highest mountains in the USA are all in Alaska, while Mt. Hood doesn’t even make the top 200. And while I knew Alaska mountains are taller than Oregon mountains, I had NO IDEA the disparity would be this drastic.

Here’s where I ought to post a photo. And let me tell you, that was my first reaction when I saw the splendor of peaks and glaciers spread out before me. But the blurry through-the-window phone photo was completely inadequate to represent that sort of glory, and I quickly scrapped that idea and just stared.

Transfixed.

So mesmerized that I thought crashing into one wouldn’t be such a bad way to die, as modes of death go.

I was in Alaska because my friend Elaine was getting married. I’ve known Elaine since 2016, when she first messaged me on Facebook and we got into a long conversation about living in vans and then we decided to go camping together in the Redwoods.

For Elaine, the adventure never stops. She ended up moving to Alaska, where she met a swell guy named Brandon, and then the two of them decided to tie the knot and invite all their friends to come watch.

Thanks, Elaine and Brandon!

I was picked up at the airport by Elaine’s parents, as well as what I call “The Kuhns Clan…” three Kuhns siblings, one spouse, and three of their children. Also Wesley, who wasn’t related to but often hung out with the Kuhns siblings. They were all friends of Elaine, and they’d arrived an hour before me. We all were in a large white van. Elaine told me that I didn’t need to worry about renting a car. Apparently rentals are really expensive in Alaska.

I snapped this blurry photo out the car window, trying to capture the looming mountains as well as the endless twilight. It was too far south, and too late in the year, to see the midnight sun. But the golden hour stretched on and on, and when the sun finally set at 10 pm, the twilight seemed never-ending.

Pete, Elaine’s dad, had the sharpest eye for wild animals. “Moose!” He’d call out, and sure enough, there was a moose. “Fox!” He called. And there it was, bushy tail and everything.

After an hour of driving we reached Palmer, Alaska, and Pete dropped me off at Bob and Dianne’s house. Bob and Dianne were friends of Elaine who had some extra room. Several other people were planning to room there over the wedding, but since I’d come early, for now it was just me. Everyone else in the van was staying at this place called InterAct Ministries, which had a large guest house.

You’d think it would give me FOMO, but the introvert and needs-her-sleep in me was rather delighted.

The next morning I was picked up in a stretch Hummer limo.

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I opened the door to this thing and it was a PARTY CAR. Mirrors, neon lights, lava lamps, clear-plastic cup holders, glass bottles for booze. Only of course there was no booze.

There were, however, lots of car seats.

(Sorry for the terrible photo. My phone camera is iffy at the best of times, and downright terrible in low light. Also sometimes I just push the button and then forget to look at the picture and make sure it’s not blurry, LOL)

For some reason Elaine’s brother, who also lives in Alaska, has a friend who owns a stretch Hummer. “Oh, that can haul a lot of people,” Elaine’s brother thought. So he borrowed it for the wedding.

The Hummer was filled with Elaine’s parents, siblings, siblings-in-law, nieces, and nephews. Also her cousin Rose and her cousin Eileen. And Sherri, her friend/bridesmaid. We all went to the church where Elaine was going to get married, and we weeded, spread pea gravel, strung up lights, set tables, etc. The Kuhns clan arrived and also helped out. I’m not sure how they got there, because I overheard someone saying that the van we’d taken from the airport had broken down, and I never saw it again for the rest of the weekend.

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Trying to figure out table placement.

Elaine wanted the reception to be lit only by candles and string lights, so Karli and I took on the task of covering all the windows.

“I feel like at home we’d just run to Walmart and get what we needed,” said Karli, looking at the collection of tape, scissors, and Fred Meyer paper grocery bags she’d collected from the church kitchen. “But that’s not Elaine’s way.”

“Oh well, it’s a chance to be innovative,” I said.

The sanctuary, where we set up the tables, was surrounded by classroom doors that had little rectangular windows. We taped brown paper bags over them, from the inside of the classrooms, so that from the main room it looked rather nice. We were stumped by the big nursery window for a while, but I found a huge roll of paper in a back storage room of the church. I had to lie on my stomach atop some broken-down chairs to retrieve it, but we managed.

The big glass doors leading into the sanctuary were the last hurdle. The white paper had worked on the nursery window, because it was tinted so you couldn’t tell that the paper was white. But for the big main doors, we wanted black.

Garbage bags? No, too tacky. Table cloths? The only ones available were spandex. We stretched them over the doors. Hey, that kinda works!

But when we shut the doors, and the sun shone through, they looked strange and creepy. “Do they look like eyes, to you?” I asked. Because something about their placement rounded the edges of the doors, and the two posters already taped to the doors looked like pupils of two giant eyes.

“Yes!” Karli agreed.

Rose chimed in to say that to her, the stretched-out spandex with the sun shining through looked like black Halloween cobwebs.

She was right. It did.

Giant eyes? Halloween cobwebs? The spandex tablecloths had to go.

Karli and I made up our minds to just drive to Fred Meyer and buy black poster board. But what were we supposed to drive? The Hummer? In the end, we didn’t go after all, due to vehicle shortage. “I guess we’ll just get it tomorrow,” we decided.

After all, it was only Thursday. The wedding wasn’t until Saturday.

We all went over to the InterAct guesthouse for supper. Elaine and her immediate family, their spouses and children, her two cousins, and Sherri were all in the vast upstairs space. The Kuhns clan and Wesley were downstairs, in a smaller apartment. It began to feel like everyone was part of a clan, either the Stoltzfus Clan or the smaller Kuhns Clan. Sherri, Wesley, and I were the random wild cards who weren’t related to anybody.

The cool thing about Alaska is that you can just go on a hike after supper without having to worry that it will get dark.

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The dirt was soft, like powdered sugar, and many of us went barefoot.

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Elaine pointing.

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Rose, Elaine, Elaine’s niece, and Karli

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Elaine and I. And Elaine’s brother Mel’s thumb.

Kim, my roommate from Kansas, called me while I was on the trail. She was the wedding photographer, and she was going to stay at Bob and Dianne’s with me. “I’m coming in about 3 am,” she said.

“Okay, do you have an address for your GPS?”

“Yes.”

“Well, when you go in the driveway there will be a log cabin on your left, and then a new house on your right. I’m in the new house. You can go around back to the basement door. I’m the only one in the basement. Just open doors and poke your head in until you find our room. If you have any trouble, call me.”

“Okay.”

We all piled back in the Hummer, and they dropped me off on their way back. Hard to believe it was nighttime already, with the sky in its endless twilight, but it was. I went to bed.

BRRRIIIIIINGGGGGGGG

I woke up. Groggy. Picked up my phone. It was Kim. “Hello?”

“Hi, I don’t know what to do. All the doors of the house are locked.”

“Okay, I’ll let you in.” I stumbled out of bed and opened the basement door. No one was out there. “Are you sure you’re at the right house?”

“It’s a blue house, right?”

“Um…no…it’s a yellow house.”

“What? But I went in the driveway, and there was a log cabin, and a newer house…a blue house…”

“Oh yeah, sorry. You have to keep going down the driveway a bit. Sorry I forgot to tell you about the blue house.”

Soon I heard a soft rumble, and Kim’s car came purring up. She’d opted for a rental, despite the expense. She was mortified. “I can’t believe I went to the wrong house!”

“I can’t believe I wasn’t clearer in my instructions! And I told you to peek into all the rooms! What if you’d actually gotten inside and went peeking into stranger’s rooms!”

We heard footsteps on the stairs. Bob came down, in his bathrobe. “Is everything all right?”

“I accidentally went to the blue house instead of this house!” said Kim.

Bob laughed. “Heh heh heh. Yeah, that’s my uncle’s place.”

He trotted back upstairs, and we all went to bed.

This has been part 1 of my Alaska adventure. Part 2 is coming…soon. In the next day or two hopefully. I have many projects to work on this week, including a play that I need to have done for VBS next week, so we’ll see.

Endings and Beginnings

Well, there you have it. My year-long adventure is over, and I am back in Oregon.

I anticipated having a few weeks to relax, get some writing done, and enjoy the Oregon summer before harvest starts. But life just bellows full steam ahead, doesn’t it? So many friends to catch up with. So many events to attend.

Amy graduated from Linn Benton Community College on Thursday. Exactly six years, to the day, after I graduated from LBCC.

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“It’s a funny thing, having my big sister follow in my footsteps,” I joked.

Jenny is also finished at Linn Benton, but chose not to walk. Both of them are going on to Oregon State University. Amy will have her Bachelor’s in another year, and Jenny will have her Bachelor’s in two years. With Ben finishing up his PHD around the same time, and Steven completing his second Associate’s degree this fall, hopefully my geeky family will be finished with schooling and ready to settle down and start families already, heehee.

Well, not Jenny, I guess. She’s planning to get her Mastor’s yet. But she has plenty of time.

Anyway, I don’t know where Ben was, but the rest of us went to Amy’s graduation. Of course it was rather long and boring, as graduations are in general. Someone’s name would be announced, and a small group of their friends and family would cheer from one corner of the room, and then another name would be announced, and another cheer would erupt from another corner of the room.

I cheered for Amy, and also our friend Rachel Nissen. But Steven cheered for some random person I didn’t know.

“Do you know her?” I asked.

“No, but nobody else was cheering for her,” said Steven.

I thought that was the sweetest thing.

As the line got shorter and shorter, Steven started cheering for more and more people. I wasn’t listening too closely most of the time, but my ears perked up when I heard the announcer lady say “Waldo French.” I’d seen Waldo’s name in the program, and it had stood out to me as being very odd. People, I was sure, must constantly make jokes about it.

So, “Waldo French!” said the announcer.

Steven, only half-listening at this point, cheered. “Woo hoo! Yeah Rhonda.”

“It’s Waldo,” I corrected him.

“Heh heh. Oops.”

“Where’s Waldo?” Dad asked, looking around.

Steven and I lost it. I mean, such a Dad joke, but funny.

I’m sure Waldo wouldn’t find it funny, though. I’m sure he hears this joke approximately twice a day, 730 times a year.

We all went to Dairy Queen for ice cream afterwords.

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This has been a weird week for me, as I’m sure it’s been a weird week for every Mennonite everywhere. I’d sit down to write and get so distracted reading every new article about Jeriah Mast’s sexual abuse of Hatian boys and the CAM cover-up. And then reading all the comments. And then getting angry. I mean, this shouldn’t be news to you…I’m sure that’s how at least 80% of my readers spent this week.

I finally got to the place where I didn’t let myself read any updates, comments, anything for 24 hours. I was just so worked up and not in a good head space.

I did write a draft of a blog post for my Patreon blog, all about how to grapple with your Mennonite identity when you come face-to-face with evil in your culture. But I didn’t post it because I was so worked up and needed to get some distance from the topic for a bit.

I do plan to return and finish it, though. Hopefully this week. At least by the end of the month.

Also, I will add that the first Patreon post I wrote Is actually rather applicable to the Jeriah Mast case. In it I explored the term “toxic masculinity,” a term that is thrown around in greater American culture today. I argued that Mennonites are actually a feminine culture, more likely to suffer from what could be called “toxic femininity.” Which people tend to be skeptical of, because we’re also a patriarchal culture. But I think people see it a little clearer now. People from greater American culture would want to punch the living daylights out of a pedophile. People from Mennonite culture want forgiveness, compassion, remember-that-we’re-all-sinners. It’s a feminine cultural trait that seems so good at first, but was absolutely toxic in the case of Jeriah Mast.

So yes, that’s where my brain was at this week, as I caught up with friends, and tried to get some writing done, and unpacked my belongings.

Of course, now you’re probably wondering what my life plan is now. Have I moved moved back to Oregon? Wasn’t the whole point of this year of travel to try to find a place where I could move permanently?

Well, that was one of my points, though not the whole point necessarily.

The biggest roadblocks I ran into this year were health issues and financial issues. With my health, I’ve decided that moving around every month is not something I should really ever do again, as fun as it was. Moving anywhere seems beyond me at this point. So I’m planning to stay in Oregon now at least through the summer and most likely through the fall as well.

I had fun in every place I went this whole year. Besides Oregon, Lancaster was the best place as far as people go, since I was near my cousin Annette and some of my close friends, including Esta and Janessa.

I really really loved Philadelphia. I was only there for a week in March and another week in May, but I would love to move there if something opened up. It would also have the advantage of being close to Lancaster, and also close to DC, where Matt lives.

I might have recency bias with Kansas, but I could also seem myself moving there. It has the advantage of cheap rent, and I love the way the community is involved in outreach right there in the town of Hutchinson. It’s also somewhat close to my Uncle Fred, and it’s the only place on the whole trip where I felt healthy the entire time I was there.

As far as money goes, I find myself in an odd financial situation. This year I lived off of freelance writing and editing jobs and some of my own savings. But I found that, while freelance writing and editing pays the bills, my heart is in writing books and plays. It’s also financially smarter, especially for someone with dubious health, to write things I can continue selling. That way if I’m, say, too sick for a month to do any freelance jobs, I can still earn money by selling books and plays that I’ve already finished.

Still, it’s tough to make that transition. Freelance writing pays right away, whereas these longer projects require a lot of work with no immediate payout. But since I am trying to slowly make that transition, it means that I have a hard time predicting what my monthly income will be six months or a year from now. Which makes it hard to plan a move.

Right now I’m planning to stay in Oregon until I get my book about this year finished and self-published, hopefully this fall.

Beyond that, I’m not sure. I do dearly love Oregon. Maybe I’ll live here part of the year, and jaunt over to other places for random three-month trips now and then? Just to keep life interesting? I don’t know. I honestly don’t feel very settled anywhere. Someday I really do want to buy a house and settle down. But I’m not financially there yet.

So for now, I guess I’ll live like I’m 19 instead of almost 29, just bipping hither and yon like I’m young and carefree. And then I’ll sleep on a hard mattress somewhere and get back pain and remember my age again, LOL.

Anyway, whatever the future holds for me, I’ll be sure to keep you all updated here on the blog.

 

Driving from Kansas to Oregon to Surprise my Family

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I hatched a wild plan to drive to Oregon with my brother Ben, hide in the cupboard while my family was at church, and surprise them all. Would I succeed? Watch to find out!

So yes, this means that just like that, my year of travel is over! Hopefully in the next few blog posts I’ll process how the trip as a whole went for me and meant to me.

 

Notes on Kansas

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Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

It was 1:30 am, and I was eating donuts and pretending I was still a teenager. It was a funny little donut shop. With its outdated wallpaper, random mugs hanging on the wall, and old paneling, it reminded me of somebody’s basement, mostly finished back in the ’70s, and then forgotten.

Apparently the place doesn’t even open until 11 pm.

I was hanging out with my roommate Kim’s youth group, and when they suggested a donut run, I couldn’t resist the enchanting allure of midnight donuts. But then, after those midnight donuts were ingested, there were storm warnings and we all got worried and scuttled off towards home.

Thankfully I wasn’t driving, because there were warnings of hail and severe winds and all sorts of frightening things. We drove straight into the storm, and I sat in the back seat, mesmerized by the purple. It was everywhere, in bursts of lighting that lit the entire sky.

I’m remembering, now. If you want to be awed by mountains or oceans you go to Oregon, but if you want to be awed by the weather, you to to the Midwest.

One Oregon night a few years ago there was intense, sky-splitting lightening, and no one in my family could sleep. We all ended up on the front porch in the middle of the night, watching it together. And yet that lightning was perhaps only half as intense as this stuff.

For some reason I ended up in either the East or the South this entire year, so I’m glad I decided to get a small taste of the Midwest before heading home.

Wait…what all states are considered to be “Midwest?” I just googled. Ohio is part of the Midwest? How?

In my brain, the Midwest ends with Illinois. In my brain, the Midwest is where land is flat and roads are straight and everyone waves at everyone and you say “hi” to every Mennonite you see and folks are chill and the weather in the spring is absolutely crazy. Where Mennonite communities are not so isolated as they are in the West, but they’re not piled up on top of each other either.

If you are from Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, etc, do you think of Ohio as part of your Midwestern culture? I’m just an ignorant Oregonian who knows nothing about this.

I’ve been here for two weeks, and it’s been absolutely magical. Not because of the weather or the people or the midnight donuts, but because I’ve felt so healthy. 

Health is such a funny thing. All of the things I dislike about life–all my feelings of incompetence, or loneliness, or the burden of having a to-do list that I can never possibly finish–seem to quietly become not-big-deals if I’m feeling healthy.

Maybe Kansas has a magical climate that is perfectly suited to my health.

Although, after experimenting with so many climates and houses this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that my health woes are probably not related to climates and mold and things external to me.

I think–sad as this sounds–I think that my body is just not suited to the nomadic life I crave.

Stress makes me sick. It has, ever since my West Nile days.

My last week in Lancaster I got horribly sick–the worst of this whole trip–but I felt a strong conviction that after I recovered I was going to have a time of wellness.

That’s what I’ve had, so far, in Kansas. The sort of wellness that allows me to eat donuts with teenagers at 1:30 am.

Why Do So Many People Hate Lancaster? My Top Three Ideas

 

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Meme credit: @memesbymennos

I’ve been in Pennsylvania for a long time now. There was that month-and-a-half in Myerstown, a week in Philadelphia, a month in Lancaster City, and now another week in Philadelphia. This Friday I’ll bip back to Lancaster for the weekend before driving to Kansas.

There’s a large difference, I’ve noticed, between being in the middle of an Anabaptist culture and being on the edge of an Anabaptist culture.

I first noticed this in Florida. I didn’t think living a short distance from Pinecraft would be much different than living in Pinecraft, but it was. I always felt on the outskirts. I’d heard all these stories. “What happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft!”

And then I’d go to a pie-baking contest or whatever, and look around trying to find someone doing something scandalous, but it was just a bunch of ordinary Anabaptists who liked pie.

Pennsylvania has been the same way. It turns out that living in Myerstown isn’t considered living in “Lancaster County,” and Lancaster City honestly isn’t really either. In much the same way that I never saw anything scandalous in Pinecraft, I never was able to see what was so terrible about Lancaster County.

I mean, I’ve heard so many people say they would never live in Lancaster County, and honestly I still don’t feel like I’ve exactly figured out why it has such a negative reputation.

However, I do have some ideas. These are the top three contenders.

Idea #1: The “Uncool Mennonite” Hypothesis

I feel like in a lot of Mennonite circles, embracing your heritage is considered “uncool.” It feels very on-trend right now (among Mennonites) to try to distance yourself from the “Mennonite” label, even if you are essentially still Mennonite.

Lancaster County, as the epicenter of Mennoniteness, is thus “uncool” simply because it’s so Mennonite.

(The irony of course is that in the secular world, being Mennonite is what makes you unique and interesting.)

Idea # 2: The “Unfriendly Mennonites” Hypothesis

This is a critique of Lancaster County that I’ve heard often. Personally, I never felt like anyone here snubbed me or was unfriendly to me. But I think I’ve figured out where this stereotype comes from.

To unpack this, though, I’m going to take a memory-lane trip back to Florida for a bit.

In Florida, I wrote that people were unfriendly to me. I received some backlash for this. First, because I insinuated that everyone was unfriendly, which wasn’t true. Some people were extremely kind. 

But the second reason for the backlash was something I’ve heard over and over again: In big Mennonite communities, you don’t just say “hi” to every Mennonite you see in the grocery store. There are just way too many.

And I get that. I really do. I promise I didn’t come to Pennsylvania thinking that every Mennonite would say “hi” to me. But my expectations in Florida were a little different. I thought that since everyone was on vacation, everyone would be strangers to everyone, and thus eager to make friends with the other Mennonites who happened to be on the beach. Clearly, I was wrong.

So after that little lesson, I was fine with not being acknowledged by, say, the random Mennonites who passed in and out of Starbucks as I sat writing.

But I still firmly stand by my statement that the Florida Mennonites were not as friendly as they should have been, and I’m basing this on the two times that I actually went to Pinecraft for an event. First it was a pie baking contest, and second it was a concert in the park. At both events, I sat or stood completely alone, and no one around me talked to me. When I tried to talk to them, they looked extremely uncomfortable.

Two people were friendly to me: A woman who was friends with my mom that I sought out and talked to, and a woman who knew who I was from my mom’s writings and sought me to talk to me. I’m sure that Florida contains more gems like them.

But the truth still stands. If someone is next to you at an event, standing alone, you should be friendly to them. This has nothing to do with the “I literally have no time to talk to every Mennonite in the grocery store” excuse. This isn’t a grocery store, and this isn’t an endless list of people. This is one lonely person.

Now as I said before, I really was not on the cusp of Lancaster County culture, so I can neither accuse nor acquit them of this charge. Personally, I only ever encountered friendliness here. But after hearing that Lancaster County is accused of unfriendliness, and experiencing Florida, I can’t help but wonder if the same thing happens here.

Idea #3: The “Clique-ish Mennonites” Hypothesis

The most unique phenomenon I’ve discovered in Lancaster County is that most people have a “group” that has nothing to do with what church they go to. It’s more about who is exactly like you. Like, if you’re a single school teacher in your upper-20s, you hang out with other single school teachers in their upper-20s.

It’s really fascinating, and I feel like I just barely understand it. However, my hypothesis is that if you have a group disconnected from a particular church, someone is going to feel left out.

If a group is based on a church, that provides natural boundaries. A lady who attends Riverside won’t be offended if she doesn’t get invited to the Brownsville ladies retreat. But if the group is just a group of single Mennonites in their upper 20s, there are still so many single Mennonites in their upper 20s in Lancaster County that you can’t possibly invite them all.

So some people feel left out.

Conversely, some people might have a group but wish they were part of an even cooler group, and, out of envy, dub the cooler group “clique-ish.”

Or maybe the cooler group is “clique-ish.”

This is, of course, just a hypothesis, as I still don’t remotely understand the social hierarchy of Lancaster County. I know that some people are cooler than other people, but I’m just not on the social pulse at all, and have no clue which ones are cool and what makes them cool.

Part of me wishes I could spend another month here, in…I don’t know, like Ephrata or something. Some place that’s much more central to the culture.

But no. It’s time for me to move on, it really is.

But please, if you have opinions on Lancaster County, let me know what you think of my hypotheses.

Note: I now have a Patreon, where you can get bonus blog posts by subscribing for $1 or more a month. My latest post is about the concept of “toxic masculinity.” Later this week I’ll be posting about how I think Mennonites set women up to eventually reject the head covering. 

Lancaster Pennsylvania

For the month of April I am in Lancaster Pennsylvania, in a little house behind a hot dog factory. Sometimes I get a good whiff of hot dogs as I walk up the street on a warm day, or when I open the bathroom window to get some air circulation while I shower.

The windows at the front of the house are so close to the street that it feels like if you don’t pull your blinds down, anyone on the street can watch your every move. But the side windows face the brick wall of the house next door, and especially on the second floor, it feels like no one could look into them unless they squeezed between the houses and set up a periscope.

I’ve felt quite busy ever since I arrived here on Monday, with errands and friends and keeping up with writing projects.

When I left Philadelphia on Monday, Rosalyn sent me off with a bag of donuts. I arrived to find that Bettina, my new roommate, had furnished my shelf of the fridge with some yogurt, eggs, and fruit, anticipating that I might need to eat before I had time to grocery shop.

Indeed, I lived off of donuts, eggs, and yogurt for half the week before I finally found time to go grocery shopping yesterday.

I went to Aldi. I had heard that Aldi is a good place to shop, though I’d only visited once, with a friend in Ohio. We don’t have Aldi in Oregon, and lets just say my ignorance showed.

Mostly with the grocery cart setup.

I wasn’t completely ignorant. I knew that you had to have a quarter to get a grocery cart, and that when you returned your cart you’d get your quarter back. Now, I didn’t have a quarter but I didn’t let that stress me out. I only needed a few things. I’d just use a basket.

I couldn’t find a basket. I walked around the store trying to find one, and presently realized that the store was set up to funnel people through in one direction, and I was walking the opposite direction and bumping into people.

Sigh.

I thought about putting everything in my backpack, but didn’t want to look like I was stealing. So I got produce bags and used those to carry my stuff.

It didn’t take long for my hands to get full, and my produce bags to get uncomfortable to hold, and my cell phone (which had my grocery list) to get dropped from my full hands multiple times. Fine. This would be enough. I could buy more groceries another day.

When I went to check out, I realized that there was a very specific system to the checking out process, and it required everyone to have a grocery cart. Here I was, messing up the system and holding up the line while I shoved all my now-purchased groceries into my backpack, since I didn’t have a cart to wheel them to the self-bagging station.

Oh well. You live and learn, I guess. Bettina said that most people who shop at Aldi just keep a quarter in their car.

Today I walked to Central Market to buy some bread and jam. It was very nice. I went to Central Market once, years ago, and I remember it being crowded and overwhelming. But today it wasn’t. Maybe because it was raining? Or maybe because I went in the afternoon? Not sure.

The reason for the bread and jam purchase is that I was invited to “The Cabin” for the weekend, and was asked to bring the bread for one of the meals.

When I was in Philadelphia I overheard Theresa, Rosalyn’s roommate, and Ted, a friend from their church, talking about their love of hoagies. They both agreed that the corner store had the best hoagies, and they’d often buy hoagies for lunch from the corner store.

Well I knew that Theresa had worked at a school, and I knew that Ted worked at a school, so this conversation made me assume that they’d worked at the same school. But when I told Rosalyn this she quickly corrected me. No, they’d worked at different schools.

“But are their schools close to each other?” I asked. “I mean, if they both go to the same corner store for lunch?”

Rosalyn laughed. “They go to different corner stores. It’s just a Pennsylvania thing to refer to all corner stores as ‘the corner store.'”

Then, “It’s the same with ‘the cabin,'” she said. “All these Mennonites in Pennsylvania talk about going to ‘the cabin,’ and for a long time I couldn’t figure out what cabin all these people were going to. I though they were all going to the same cabin. But no, they all have their own cabins, but no one says ‘I’m going to my cabin,’ or ‘my family’s cabin,’ they just say ‘the cabin.'”

I thought this was really funny.

All of Rosalyn’s friends were going to go on a trip to “the cabin,” and I got invited along, which was really cool. That’s where I’m going this weekend, which is why I bought bread.

Like I mentioned earlier, I returned from Philly and moved into my Lancaster City house this last Monday, April 1. On Tuesday I drove back up to Myerstown to return some sheets I’d accidentally stolen, and was able to chat a bit with my Myerstown roommate, Rochelle.

“I needed these sheets back because I’m going to the cabin this weekend,” Rochelle told me.

For a few seconds I forgot Rosalyn’s teachings on PA vernacular, and I thought Rochelle was going to THE SAME cabin that I was. “Me too!” I said.

But of course she was going to an entirely different cabin, with an entirely different set of people.

Since Rochelle, unlike Rosalyn and I, is a PA native, I asked her for more clarification on “the cabin.” She told me that PA people use it the same way you’d say you were going to “the beach,” even though it’s not all the same beach.

In fact, according to Rochelle, lots of Mennonites built cabins in the woodsy/rural parts of PA in order to try to keep their young people from going to the beach for vacations. So now they go to “the cabin” instead, where there’s almost zero chance of seeing a stranger in a bikini.

For some reason I found that really funny. I guess that’s one advantage of Oregon beaches–or “the coast,” as we’re more likely to call it–it’s too cold to show much skin, even in summer.

In closing this blog post, let me make a few remarks about spring:

Is spring in Pennsylvania always like this? Is spring in places that are not Oregon like this? If so, then I have been woefully ignorant my whole life on what spring is actually like.

The first week of March was decidedly still winter. There was snow on the ground and everything.

The last week of March was decidedly spring. With things blooming, and sunshine on over half of the days.

That means there were only two weeks of dubious between-winter-and-spring days.

TWO WEEKS.

In Oregon, it feels like there are at least two MONTHS where it feels like spring is just around the corner, but it never quite arrives.

It begins in the middle of February, when the daffodils and camellias bloom. From then on, there’s always something new blooming. Trees blossom and sprinkle the sidewalks with pink petals. Enormous walls of rhododendrons burst into bloom at once.

So you think you’re on the edge of spring. You get one sunny day, and you think, yes! The long winter is over! And then you get two more weeks where the sun doesn’t peep out once.

Ever since that first morning in Philadelphia where the world dripped with sunlight, I’ve been waiting for it to disappear in a week and a half of solid rain. But so far, it hasn’t happened. Rainy days come, but never more than one or two days of solid rain in a row.

Pennsylvania spring feels like suddenly getting a surprise gift, while Oregon spring feels like sitting in a room full of presents but not being allowed to open them yet.

Adventures in Philadelphia

Rosalyn is an old friend from SMBI days. We got along swimmingly 9 1/2 years ago, but 9 1/2 years is a long time, and we hadn’t really kept up. But when she heard about my travels she invited me to come stay with her in Philadelphia. I decided to visit her for a week.

I showed up on her doorstep at 6:45 am on a Sunday morning because I’d gotten up early to take Ben to the Philly airport. She met me at the door, groggy, in pajamas. We had a groggy pajama-clad greeting and then she helped me haul my stuff inside and we went back to bed.

When I woke up it was late morning. Sunshine was pouring in the windows and pooling on the floor. I made a mug of tea and sat on the window seat and read Jane of Lantern Hill.

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Something about the quiet morning sunshine filled my soul. Subsequently I’ve spent every morning in Philly this way, just chilling at home before venturing out around noon.

I’d usually visit a coffee shop or tea house and get some writing done. While I have a thing for Starbucks, I also really loved a little place I found called The Random Tea Room.

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The tea is expensive, with a pot of it costing between $7 and $9. The pot, though, was huge. It filled my bladder twice, with enough left over to fill my insulated mug to the brim.

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It was too expensive for me to go more than once, but the tea was marvelous. They didn’t leave the grounds in the pot and expect the customer to know when to remove them, but rather made me wait five minutes until they’d brewed it to perfection.

I’d like to go again sometime, though, with a group I could split the pot with. Maybe 3 or 4 people. I’m pretty sure even people who dislike tea would have no problem drinking that stuff straight with no sugar. It was that good. Although I would perhaps have wished it a bit stronger.

After spending my afternoons writing, I’d usually meet up with Rosalyn and we’d hang out with friends or go sightseeing. Or both. I saw all sorts of places. Like the Fairmount Water Works.

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We didn’t go inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but there was cool stuff outside as well. Some lovely cherry trees had just burst into bloom. Hello, Spring!

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We walked around Old City one afternoon, which is just bursting with colonial/revolutionary history. Everywhere you looked there was Benjamin Franklin’s grave, or Independence Hall, or the spot where George Washington’s house/later John Adam’s house stood, or the church that was attended by fifteen of the Declaration of Independence signers.

Then there was the Betsy Ross house. Now, the tale of Betsy Ross sewing the first flag cannot be proved by any written documents, but she was a real person who made flags and probably lived in that house. If not there, then right next to it in a house of the same era.

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Rosalyn and I both fully appreciate charming old houses and charming old stories. We were utterly enchanted. As we walked through, I was imagining just how I would set up the house if it were my house, and Rosalyn was imagining being magically pulled back in time and meeting Betsy Ross on the stairs.

But as much fun as Rosalyn and I had wandering around the city, seeing the sights, and having good conversations with old and new friends, we also had our share of strange and stressful moments.

The first Dramatic Incident happened on Thursday. We’d just spent the latter half of the afternoon in Old City, and I turned off my data and my wifi because my phone was running out of battery. Then we got on the subway to go visit our old friend Eugene and go to a hole-in-the-wall Indonesian restaurant near his house.

We had a great time with Eugene, and the food was delicious. We discussed all sorts of interesting ideas. But it was getting late and Rosalyn had to get up early, so we cut the party short and Eugene walked us back to the subway station. Rosalyn carried my backpack because I was having some back pain.

As I was headed through the turnstile, there was a rumble beneath us. “That’s our train!” exclaimed Rosalyn. So I hurried towards the stairs, but she was not beside me. There was a bit of a frustrated commotion behind me, and I turned around just in time to see Rosalyn vault over the turnstile.

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!!!!!!!

An alarm went off. We ran down the stairs. The train doors had just closed, and it was pulling away from the station.

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!!!!!!!

The alarm was still alarming.

“Why did you jump over the turnstile?” I asked, glancing up the stairs to see if someone was marching down to arrest us.

“I swiped my card and it took my money but the turnstile didn’t turn!” she said.

So we just stood there calmly waiting for the next train, and after awhile the alarm shut off. We got on the next train, and that was that.

Our calm didn’t last for long. After a bit our train made another stop at a station, but something seemed off. No one seemed to be getting on. Then engine shut off.

“Oh, I think we got an express train. It stops here, and we have to get off and get onto a different train,” she said.

So we got off, and then, oh! The train rumbled to life again! Rosalyn leaped back onto the train, and the doors began closing. Oh no! I panicked. I have bad dreams about getting caught in subway doors. Rosalyn grabbed the doors and frantically tried to pry them back open, but it didn’t work. They stubbornly shut anyway, and the train began to pull out of the station, leaving me behind. Rosalyn pressed her face up against the window.

“I’ll come back for you!” she mouthed.

My backpack, with all my money and stuff, was on the train with Rosalyn. But I glanced down at my hand and saw that I was holding my cell phone. At least I had this, even if it was dying.

I figured there would be no signal in the subway. My data never works in the DC tunnels. But maybe the Philly subway isn’t as far underground, because when I turned on my data I had a bunch of messages from Rosalyn.

“Hey i got off at city hall. Catch the next train and i will get on with u. Eitjer train on either side of the track ur on. Local to fern rock or to city hall.”

She told me later she was typing this frantically, wanting to relay the message before my phone died.

Everything was fine, though. I got on the next train, and messaged her that I was in the front car, and when we got to city hall Rosalyn got on with me.

Although it had been a bit startling at first, being left along with no money and a dying phone, and the dramatic “I’ll come back for you!” as the train pulled away without me, I wasn’t too worried. Even if my phone had died completely, she would have come back for me, right? And it’s not like I’d never ridden a subway before.

But Rosalyn was pretty shaken up, having managed to lose the one person she was trying to shepherd safely around the city.

We had many good laughs about it, though. And we had more good laughs Saturday night, when we decided to walk to Chinatown late in the evening and get bubble tea. It was too nice of a night to stay indoors. Weirdly warm still, despite the darkness.

I didn’t pay any attention to where we were going. I just followed Rosalyn. But after we’d gotten turned around a few times, I pulled out my own phone.

I had my data turned off again, because after the subway incident I forgot to turn my wifi back on and went home and watched a few youtube videos. Oops. There goes my allotment of data for the month, LOL.

But despite not being able to look up the place we were going, I was able to see the little blue dot on the map that indicated where we were.

“Isn’t Chinatown south of us?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Then why are we heading north?”

“We’re not heading north, we’re heading south.”

“Really?” I watched the blue dot intently. As we walked forward, it inched up the map. “No, I’m pretty sure we’re heading north. See? We were just at Spring Garden, and now we’re at Green St.”

“What?” She looked up at the street sign. “How did I get this turned around? I hate Ridge Avenue! It always confuses me!”

We turned around and headed the other direction.

A couple of Rosalyn’s friends met us at the bubble tea shop, and they were endlessly amused by the “going north and thinking it’s south” story.

“South. You know, towards the skyscrapers,” joked Ted.

“We couldn’t see the skyscrapers,” said Rosalyn indignantly. And to be fair, we really couldn’t.

All Rosalyn’s friends left eventually, and it was just her and I, talking about how the music and atmosphere made us feel like we were living in a Korean drama. Presently we left too, and as we were walking towards the door we saw that the tall windows at the front of the building were wide open, welcoming the warm night. There weren’t even screens in them.

“We could jump out the windows!” said Rosalyn.

Somehow I was very enchanted by the idea of exiting via window instead of door, so without really thinking it through I climbed up on the bench and jumped out the window.

“Plop!” I landed right in front of a startled Chinese grandmother.

“Ta da!” I said.

I mean, what do you say under such circumstances?

Rosalyn sensibly exited through the door and we walked away together very fast.

The Chinese woman called after us. I don’t know what she said, but I was too embarrassed to fully inquire so we just waved politely and walked on.

Several blocks later, we realized that Rosalyn had left her cell phone at the bubble tea place. Oh dear. We hurried back. Thankfully, someone had turned it in. Rosalyn had left it right there on the bench in front of the window.

“I’ll bet that’s what the lady was telling us,” said Rosalyn.

Poor lady. First she has a strange girl leaping out a window in front of her, and then when she tries to let us know we’ve left a cell phone behind, we wave her off and hurry on.

That was the end of the very dramatic incidents in Philadelphia, but there were loads of fun times I didn’t have time to mention. I feel very much like a week was too short, and I need to return someday.

I’ll see if I can figure out how to put that in my schedule.

That is the end of this little serious about these very eventful last few weeks. If you would like to catch up, here are all of them, in order.

Part 1: Living with Uncertainty

Part 2: The Great Health Crash

Part 3: REACH 2019

Part 4: A Moldy House and a Dying Car

And then this one, Adventures in Philadelphia, is Part 5. The final.

I should also add, since today is April 1, that I guess my sisters and mom and I are not doing the April Blogging Challenge this year. It’s a bit sad, I guess. We’ve done it for so many years. But oh well. I do feel like I could use a bit of a blogging break after this series.