Category Archives: Travel

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.

 

 

 

 

A Moldy House and a Dying Car

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I hate being overwhelmed. It’s why I pack like a minimalist, and why I don’t bother with face creams, and why I don’t make to-do lists longer than five items at a time.

Needless to say, the REACH week was full of overwhelming situations, from uncertainty about my living situation, to ill health, to the masses and masses of Mennonites at REACH. But through it all I managed to not panic, by focusing on one thing at a time.

Get my oil changed.

Clear out of the Myerstown house.

Text Bettina about moving into her Lancaster city house after Philly. Answer the phone when she calls back. Work out logistics.

And, not to sound like a special-snowflake-helicopter-parented-millennial, but having my parents around was very comforting. I felt like they’d get me out of any jam I happened to fall into.

But when I left REACH Friday evening and tried to drive my car to our new Airbnb, I was officially completely overwhelmed. Because this car was not acting normal, at all. I mashed on the accelerator as hard as I could, but going up hills I could barely do 35 mph.

“Just make it to the Airbnb,” I told myself. “Just make it there, and then Dad will know what to do.”

And I made it, albeit slowly. I made it to a rutted lane that ran past junky outbuildings until it ended beside dingy trailer house sitting in an unkempt yard.

Um, this is…interesting…I thought as I made my way up the sagging porch steps.

Mom opened the door for me, and I stepped inside. Mismatched, over-crowded furniture. Awkward family photos all over the walls. Dusty knick-knacks everywhere.

“Did you notice the smell?” Dad asked.

“I smelled mold as soon as I walked in,” Mom added. And when I sniffed, yes, there was a definite mold odor in the air.

“Is Phoebe going to be okay?” I asked. Phoebe, my brother Matt’s girlfriend, has sensitivities to some molds and perfumes. She and Matt were planning to come spend the weekend with us.

“I don’t know,” said Mom. “I’m worried about both of you. Maybe we should get a hotel room or something.”

We held off on that decision until Matt and Phoebe arrived, and instead the discussion turned to the matter of my car. I told Dad my acceleration issues, and he looked worried.

“You can’t drive to Philadelphia until you get it looked at,” he said.

Sigh. I had feared that would be the case.

Oh one hand, it was nice to have Dad around to help me solve my car troubles. But on the other hand, it was awfully inconvenient timing. Car troubles two days after I took it to the mechanic? Really? And with that oil change, I’d had to schedule it a week in advance. It was currently Friday evening. How the bunnsylipper was I supposed to get my car fixed by Sunday morning?

If I couldn’t get it in to a mechanic on Saturday, where was I supposed to spend Sunday night? Crash randomly on a friend’s couch, I guess? Would it be okay to drive to a friend’s house?

How much was this thing going to cost me, anyway?

It was just a big mess.

But Matt and Phoebe arrived, and I put it out of my mind for a while. First, because we switched back to the discussion of whether or not the house mold was a deal breaker. Then, after both Phoebe and I insisted that we’d probably be fine, we had to argue a bit about who got the room with the air purifier. “You take it!” “No, you take it!”

Then, finally, we put unpleasant topics behind us and drank tea and ate donuts and had good family time.

And good-naturedly mocked our poor sketchy Airbnb.

Saturday morning, Dad valiantly called around trying to find a place that would look at my car. With very little luck. Mechanics generally aren’t even open Saturdays, it turns out.

Finally, late in the morning, he found a quick oil change place that was willing to look at it. He got in my car and backed it down the lane, headed to the mechanic.

Then, a few minutes later, he called me.

“So Emily, when you were having trouble with your accelerator, did it feel like it was really hard to push in?”

“Yes!” I said. “I didn’t know how to explain it, but now you know what it feels like, since you’ve driven it.”

“And did you feel like it wouldn’t go into second gear when you were going uphill?”

“Um, I’m not sure,” I said. “It would hardly make it up the hills.”

“Well, I think I know what your problem is,” laughed Dad. “Your floor mat is shoved up under the accelerator, so you can’t really push it down.”

Simultaneously, I felt intense relief and also like an idiot.

It turned out that when Ben had borrowed my car Thursday afternoon to drive it back to the Airbnb we had at the time, the non-sketchy one, he decided not to bother putting the seat back. It was just a quick drive. But his long legs shoved the floor mat forward, wedging it so firmly under the accelerator that it was difficult to press. Going uphill, the accelerator wasn’t getting pushed far enough down to kick into a lower gear.

After my car issue was sufficiently resolved, I had a fantastic day. In the morning, with the brilliant sunlight flooding everything, the sketchy Airbnb didn’t look so terrible. I slept in and ate donuts and drank tea. I had good satisfying conversations with my family.

And now, I had plans that were a bit more stable. I would get up early Sunday morning and drive Ben to the Philadelphia airport, and then zip over to Rosalyn’s house. I’d stay in Philadelphia for a week, and then drive back to Lancaster and move in with Bettina.

Actually, interesting note, I was able to meet Bettina at REACH. Briefly. But it was nice, and again made my life feel a bit more stable, being able to chat a bit with my future roommate.

Furthermore, I was able to solidify plans to move to Kansas after Lancaster. Which will probably be the last stop on my year of travel, since I’ve always planned to go back to Oregon for the summer. Oregon has the nicest summers of anywhere I’ve ever been.

After that, everything went according to plan. At this very moment I’m at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, feeling the subway rumble beneath me. I’ve been LOVING the city so far. And goodness, I have so many Philly stories, I can’t possibly end this blog series yet.

So. Stay tuned for a city blog post.

In keeping with tradition, let me see if I can come up with a juicy teaser:

In my Philly post I will tell the story of how someone I was exploring the city with panicked, impulsively did something illegal, and set off an alarm. Shortly afterwards I found myself alone in the city late at night with no money and a dying cell phone.

The Great Health Crash

Living with uncertainty might be good for my faith, but it’s terrible for my health.

I’ve written before about my ill health on this long journey of mine. Generally I have about a week of dubious health whenever I move to a new location. But once I get into the swing of things my health usually improves.

With Pennsylvania it was the opposite. Except for a bit of fatigue when I first arrived, I had great health for the first four weeks. Then the last two weeks I was hit with something I couldn’t quite shake.

At first it didn’t matter so much. My work was flexible. But as the days passed and I couldn’t shake it, I began to fear that it would spoil my fun-and-family-filled final week.

See, when my brother Ben heard that I was going to the REACH conference, he looked at his schedule and decided that he’d be able to come as well. It would be a chance to see both me and his buddy Daniel who also lives in Lancaster. And he thought the conference looked interesting.

Then my sister Amy decided to come too. Her schedule wasn’t as flexible as Ben’s, since he’s in grad school and she’s an undergrad, but it was her winter term final’s week and all her finals were either at the beginning of the week or were take-home finals.

Then my parents decided to come too. They were going to be in Lancaster the weekend before REACH, because they were taking counselor training. So they decided to just stay an extra week in the area. Maybe Mom and I could do some book signings together!

With my brother Matt and his girlfriend Phoebe a quick hop skip and jump away in Washington DC, I was going to see the majority of my family.

Just so long as I could stay healthy.

My parents were super busy the weekend they arrived, but on Saturday we were supposed to get together and visit some of Dad’s Mom’s relatives. But when I woke up that morning I felt awful. Sore throat, headache, and I was so tired I could barely stay awake long enough to tell them I couldn’t make it. Then I went back to sleep and slept until 4 pm.

Yikes.

Sunday I felt better. I met my parents at church, and after the service we set off on the winding southern Pennsylvania roads, heading to Washington DC.

To be honest, this overnight stay in DC was really more about family than sightseeing. With REACH coming up, the last thing I wanted to do was overdo it and have my health crash again.

The only sightseeing thing I did was tour Phoebe’s boardinghouse, which she jokingly calls “The Baptist Convent.” The true name is Thomas Markward Hall, and it’s a female-only boardinghouse. Walking into it feels like walking into an old novel. Wide spaces. Fancy couches. Old pictures in gilded frames. A library full of old books. No men allowed above the ground floor.

Despite my valiant attempt to take it easy on our short jaunt to DC, my health crashed again on Tuesday. Mom and I were supposed to have a book signing at 2 pm, and she’d mailed a lot of books to my Myerstown address in advance. It was all I could do to make myself presentable, haul the books to the car, and drive them to my parent’s Airbnb. I had no strength to go to the book signing.

Later, Mom said I didn’t miss much. Barely anyone showed up.

Meanwhile, back in Oregon, Amy wasn’t doing so well.

Her temperature had skyrocketed, and she felt awful. She went to class and finished her finals, wearing a face mask so she wouldn’t infect anyone, and slept the rest of the time. Finally, she went to the doctor, where she was told she had influenza and would be contagious until Friday.

What!

So at the last minute, she decided not to come after all.

My dreams of a perfect REACH were beginning to dim. For four years, I had hoped and dreamed of coming. And then, for a while, everything was working out perfectly. My parents, and Ben, and Amy, all able to come too! Book signings! Trips to DC!

But illness always has a way of reminding me that in the end, I cannot control my life. And I have to be okay with that.

Thankfully, I was feeling better by Wednesday morning. I drove back up to Myerstown, took my car to the mechanic for an oil change, and then went back to my Myerstown house and officially moved out. I packed everything up once again and shoved it into my car.

Ben arrived, sans Amy. We all hung out with my cousin Annette that evening, because it was March 20, which would have been her brother Lenny’s 36’th birthday. We released balloons in his memory. All of us except for Annette’s daughter Liberty, who clung to her pretty purple balloon. I mean, why would you get rid of something pretty when you could keep it instead?

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Balloons for Lenny. Pic by my cousin Annette Stoltzfus (@3littlearrows)

I went to bed super early that night.

Maybe my health wouldn’t crash again. Maybe I’d find the strength to get my money’s worth out of the REACH conference. Since I’m no longer a student, I didn’t buy student tickets, and it felt like a lot of money to me.

And the next two days, the REACH conference days, were…well…eventful. In both good and bad and overwhelming ways.

But for that story, you’ll have to return for my next blog post.

P.S. I’m not intentionally trying to make everyone mad with curiosity, it’s just WAY too much story for one blog post. LOL.

Living With Uncertainty

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Photo by Airam Vargas on Pexels.com

When I came to Pennsylvania, I knew I wanted to stay for six weeks instead of my usual four. The REACH conference was happening near the end of March, and I really really wanted to go.

REACH is a Mennonite conference where missions of all types gather and network. Which means lots of sessions talking about cross cultural communication, aka the topic on which I am the geekiest.

Until I came to Pennsylvania, I always knew where I was going next. There was no particular rhyme or reason to my choosing method. Either the location was convenient, or I missed the Ocean, or I was cold, or I wanted to go to REACH…there was always something that made it very clear where the next destination should be.

I wasn’t in Pennsylvania long before people started asking, “Where are you going next?” Oops. Guess I should figure something out. So I’d reply, “I haven’t decided yet. Do you have any good ideas?”

I wasn’t too worried at first. I had six weeks to figure it out, after all. But time went on, and no place stood out as the obvious place to go next, and then Ian was killed and I forgot all about finding a new place until suddenly I only had two weeks left in PA.

That was the day I drove down to my cousin Annette’s house for the first time in the entire four weeks I’d been in PA. How did this happen? Where did the time go? Good grief!

I don’t remember if it was Annette who suggested that maybe I should stay in PA longer, or if I came up with the notion myself while conversing with her. In any case, there it was, sudden and obvious. I wasn’t ready to leave Pennsylvania yet.

But where would I stay?

I didn’t really want to stay at my place in Myerstown for another month. Most of my close friends, as well as the church I attended and the best coffee shops, were down in Lancaster, and sometimes the drive took me an hour. Also my roommates, Leah and Rochelle, were best friends with each other. With Leah planning to get married soon, I thought it would be nice if they could have their last bit of roommate time together without me interfering.

I started putting out feelers for people in Lancaster city who might have a room to rent me. And meanwhile, to extend my window of time a bit, I texted my friend Rosalyn and asked if I could spend a week in Philadelphia with her. (There is more to this story, but that will come in a later blog post, all about Philadelphia.)

So anyway, throughout this process I was feeling uncertainty like I’ve never before felt on this trip. There’s a certain anxiety in not knowing where you’ll be living in two weeks. Logically I knew it didn’t matter so much…if all else failed I could get an Airbnb, or get in my car and drive back to Oregon. But the anxiety of uncertainty was still there.

With one thing and another, it was two weeks from the time I first got the idea to stay longer in PA to when I got a confirmation on a place I could live. Rochelle had suggested that Esther Swartzentruber might know of a place, and Esther directed me to her pal Bettina, and hey! Bettina was willing to let me move in on short notice.

By the time this confirmation occurred, I had moved out of Rochelle and Leah’s place and was staying in an Airbnb with my parents and brother Ben. Because they all came to PA for the REACH conference.

(There’s more to that story too. Again, for a later blog post.)

So then, things had worked out as they usually do. I had a place to stay. I was surrounded by my family. Things should be going well, right?

But there was a little more drama in store for my life, believe it or not.

To be continued…

10 Things I’ve Been Doing in Florida

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1. Sitting in the Sunshine

The sunshine in Florida does not disappoint.

The locals tell me that its been unusually chilly since I’ve been here. The days have ranged in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Which is uncomfortable in the wind and shade, and I’ve broken out sweaters and jackets that I thought I wouldn’t need.

But sitting in the sun, it’s very comfortable.

2. Playing card games

When I’m not working I’m usually hanging out with Ivan and Erma, the older couple who own the house I’m staying at, and Erma’s sister Leona, who is a guest like me.

We like to play card games.

Mostly a game called 20,000, which Erma excels at, and Hand and Foot, which I’m getting the hang of.

One evening we invited another couple over, and we all played a board game which as far as I know has no name. It involves poker chips and rook cards.

In fact, all the games seem to be Mennonite inventions that have little to do with the original cardmaker’s intentions.

The first time I walked into the kitchen and saw a card game in process, I got really excited. I thought they were playing Phase 10, because they were holding Phase 10 cards. But no, it was a different game called 20,000. Hand and Foot was played with Skip-bo cards. The other game with no name uses rook cards, poker chips, and a homemade game board made from an actual literal board.

We have such fun times.

3. Going to Starbucks

Ivan and Erma don’t have WiFi, so I spend most afternoons working at Starbucks or the library.

One evening I was at Starbucks with my headphones in, because I was listening to clips of an interview I’d done.

A couple sat down next to me. Like, right at my elbow next to me. When the interview wasn’t playing, I literally couldn’t help overhearing their conversation.

It seemed to be a first date between a couple in their 50s. The woman spoke with an accent, and either she didn’t speak much English, or she just didn’t talk much because she was on a date with a mansplaner.

He explained all sorts of things to her. Mostly his theories on religion. I didn’t hear a single thought or opinion from her lips, just kind “uh-hmm”s.

At the end of the date they awkwardly arranged to meet up again. She seemed willing, which surprised me a little.

“If you ever figure out religion, let me know,” he said as they parted. That made me giggle at the irony, but perhaps I should give him the benefit of a doubt and assume that he did, actually, want to now hear her ideas.

The next day I was within earshot of a young couple who’d just met that day and were flinging around get-to-know you questions and giggling awkwardly. Hmm. I decided that listening in on awkward first dates could be my new hobby.

4. Hanging out at the library

When I’m not at Starbucks, I go to the library to write.

Now, Starbucks is designed for writers, which lots of natural light and plenty of outlets and endless free tea refills.

The library isn’t quite so accommodating. I have to bring my own tea, and food and drink are discouraged from libraries if not outright banned.

However, the library has a reading garden. And one of the outdoor tables is next to an electrical outlet. It’s in the shade, so it’s chilly on chillier days, but it’s absolutely delightful on warmer days.

Of course there’s also the magazines and newspapers and books.

One day when I got home I was telling Ivan about an article I’d read that day about Elon Musk. I explained that the library had copies of magazines and newspapers that could be read inside the library.

The next day was a Starbucks day. When I got home for supper, Ivan hadn’t arrived yet. Erma wasn’t sure where he was.

Turns out he’d gone to the library.

5. Getting snubbed by Mennonites

I knew that in Sarasota Florida, particularly in the village of Pinecraft, Amish and Mennonites congregate in droves during the winter.

I knew that “what happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft.”

And I assumed it would be a jolly time where Anabaptists of all stripes put aside their differences, stopped focusing on uptight rules, and just had fun hanging out with each other.

The house I’m staying at is about a mile from Pinecraft, and when I went looking for it I couldn’t find it. So besides hanging out with my hosts, my first interaction with other Mennonites happened at the beach. I was swimming along merrily when I saw a group of Mennonite girls standing by the shore.

So of course I went up and talked to them.

They were not particularly friendly, and I was puzzled. I thought surely that if you were in a far-flung place like Florida and happened to see another Mennonite, you’d immediately want to play the Mennonite game and have BBQ’s together and stuff.

I chalked it up to their age. They looked young, perhaps fourteen or fifteen. Maybe they’d grown up really sheltered, and had never learned to talk to people they didn’t know.

Later I connected with Katie Troyer on Facebook, and she invited me to come watch a pie baking contest. That was my first time in Pinecraft.

The contest was crowded, and naturally I tried to strike up a conversation with the woman next to me. To my surprise, she gave me the same treatment that the girls on the beach had. Discomfort written across her face. Polite but clipped answers to my small-talk questions. Slipping out of the conversation as quickly as possible.

Maybe I’m just oblivious to the real world, but I’ve never run into such unfriendly Mennonites. And what chiefly struck me was that they weren’t so much rude as uncomfortable. They acted like they’d never before had a “get to know you” conversation with a stranger.

Perhaps understandable for a 14-year-old girl. But a grown woman?

In any case I eventually found kindness in Erma and Ivan’s friends. Also, whenever I’ve run into Mennonites that actually live here for extended amounts of time (instead of coming for a short winter vacation) I’ve found them extremely kind and welcoming.

Nevertheless, my dreams of a society of friendly, laid-back Mennonites from all over the USA partying together in the summer sun have all been dashed.

6. Attending events in Pinecraft

After the pie backing contest, I went to one other event in Pinecraft: To hear the Glick Family sing.

From what I can tell, events such as this happen all the time down here. The Glick Family is your typical Mennonite gospel singing family–the type that perform in prisons. But it’s just a little edgy, because most of the Pinecraft folks are plain enough that they’re not supposed to listen to instrumental music.

Perhaps that’s what is meant by “what happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft.” I was hoping for something a little more scandalous, but oh well.

I thought I’d attend more such events, and really peep into the culture down here, but when it comes down to walking to the park in the cold evening air to hang out with a bunch of unfriendly people, vs. staying at home and playing cards with Erma, Ivan, and Leona, somehow the cards always win out.

One of these days I’ll win a game of 20,000.

7. Getting honked at

Cars in Sarasota honk at you. All the time. For the dumbest things. Like, I was going to turn into Starbucks but there was a cyclist on the sidewalk that I wanted to be sure I didn’t hit. And the car behind me honked in impatience.

One Sunday as we were driving home from church, I mentioned this annoyance to Ivan, Erma, and Leona. “It’s because we have out-of-state licence plates,” said Ivan. “They know we’re snowbirds, and they don’t like snowbirds around here.”

Just a block or two later, Ivan wanted to make a right turn, but the light was red. He stopped and cautiously waited. He could perhaps have made the turn, but fence on the other side of the road limited visibility.

HONK!!!! Went the impatient car behind him.

HONK!!!! Went Ivan’s horn, back.

I couldn’t stop laughing at the normally calm and collected Ivan honking his horn.

The light turned green. We both turned the corner. The other car swerved into the middle lane, pulled up flush with us, and honked his horn several times in succession.

Ivan, again, honked back.

I don’t understand Florida. It’s not chill and laid back, like you’d expect a warmer-climate place to be. Maybe it’s full of people from other places who are retired or on vacation, but then, why on earth would you be so uptight if you’re retired or on vacation?

8. Eating breakfast every day

Leona delights in taking care of her older sister Erma. One of the ways she does this is by cooking breakfast every morning. Every morning! It’s delightful.

It’s a big breakfast, because we don’t usually eat lunch. And here’s the most interesting part, to me. After eating our “main course” of oatmeal or eggs or cereal, we have “dessert.” Usually donuts or cinnamon rolls.

I’ve never heard of having breakfast desert, but it makes sense, given how sweet some breakfast foods are. Might as well eat something healthy first.

9. Swimming

I was amazed by the beach. It was just like in pictures. So much white sand and turquoise water.

That water, though! Sparse, teeny tiny waves, and almost warm, and so shallow you could wade in further and further and further and only be wet up to your belly button.

I was the only one who went into the water. Maybe due to the chillier weather we’ve been having? This made me feel strange, like I was about to drown at any moment. For sure, I can’t wrap my mind around being that far from shore and not in danger of drowning.

I can’t help but compare oceans. Even though there’s no “roar” to the ocean here either, it look so much bigger than the Delaware ocean, because of the vast, Oregon-sized beaches.

However, here’s the funny part. The sand is all packed down by footprints and tire tracks, as though it’s a sandy park and not a beach at all. Does the wind not shift the sand? Do the waves never cover it? I wonder why footprints disappear overnight on Oregon beaches but seem to remain for eternity in Florida.

But it’s phenomenal, it really is. And not crowded like I thought it would be. About the same amount of people I’d expect to see on an Oregon beach in similar weather.

Judging from the giant empty parking lot though, I think it must get fuller on really hot days. 70 degrees and sunny is the most perfect Oregon beach weather you could ask for, but in Florida that’s much too chilly.

10. Counting my blessings

Slipping down to Florida after a December in the north is like suddenly getting over a nasty flu, or eating a spectacular meal after a couple weeks of living off of bologna sandwiches.

When the sunshine hits my face, I can’t get over how blessed I am to be here.

The Hardest Part of Moving Every Month

Some people, upon hearing that I move to a different area every month, tell me that it sounds amazing. Some people tell me that it sounds hard. The truth, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that I find it amazing but also hard.

It’s not hard because of the constant change of scenery, or the constant meeting of new people. That keeps life interesting. Neither is it hard because of the occasional loneliness, because it never lasts long, and I like being alone.

The hardest part of living in a different area every month has been…my health.

My health is one thing I usually keep pretty private. That may seem odd, as the one book I published is literally about my health. But here are all my very good reasons for not talking about it.

  1. People ask about your health, but they don’t really care about your health.
    I don’t mean this as a rebuke. There are just certain topics that are “small talk” topics, only interesting when kept to one sentence or so. Like your dreams, your health, “how you’re doing,” how you slept last night, and what you studied in college. If your explanations stretch past a sentence or two, people’s eyes glaze over.
  2. I’m not enormously worried about my health.
    Maybe I should be. But the thing about poor health is, you just learn to adapt. You find a thousand tiny ways to simplify your daily routines. You get trained to do a desk job. You just deal.
  3. I get overwhelmed by cures.
    When I talk about health, people have cures for me.

    I am an Enneagram 5, which means I am easily overwhelmed and quite skeptical. I’m not going to try a thousand miracle cures because they “might” work. If you’re a doctor or nurse I will happily listen to your ideas, but I’m not just going to try everything willy-nilly. Anything that’s potent enough to drastically cure is also potent enough to potentially do harm.

  4. My health is very hard to explain.
    I often feel unwell, but I have vague symptoms. And my symptoms aren’t always the same. Trying to explain my health to someone feels like trying to explain a very complicated card game.

This year has been particularly hard on my health. I don’t know why. Maybe it takes my body a while to adjust to a new area? But it feels like every time I move I find myself exhausted, sleeping excessively, and trying to re-assure whoever I’m living with that I’ll be okay, while also trying to avoid talking about my health too much.

I worry that they’ll worry. They’re always so kind, letting me come live with them. The last thing I’d want to cause is worry.

Anyway. The Florida sunshine has been fantastic, but since I’ve been here I’ve felt like I’m constantly on the edge of a cold, and I’ve been sleeping an alarming amount.

After Florida I’m going to Pennsylvania, where I’m planning to stay six weeks instead of the usual four. Slowing down a bit. And I’ll be staying with a friend who is familiar with my health issues, instead of a stranger who isn’t.

But if you think of any places that are particularly good for the health, please let me know. Maybe I’ll move there next.