Category Archives: Travel

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.

Stranded in Nowhere, Florida

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Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

I was hoping to blog about all my adventures during the week-and-a-half I spent in Washington DC over Christmas.

I’d hoped to recount spending New Years Eve on the Pennsylvania/Maryland border with my Aunt Barb and her Biker Gang, and the few days I spent with her in her mansion and sanctuary for rescue pigs.

I’d planned to tell the tale of driving to North Carolina, spending the night in my car at the airport, flying to Oregon, and spending a week desperately trying to catch up with everyone. (Spoiler alert: I failed miserably, but at least I had ample time with my family.)

And finally, I meant to chat about the weekend I spent with my Aunt Margaret, Uncle Chad, and cousins Austin, Emma, and Nolan, in South Carolina.

But alas, I suppose I’ll have to save all that for my book. Stories are like iPhones. No matter how good the last one was, there’s always a newer and better one. Keeping up feels impossible.

So instead, I’ll tell the story that began roughly 24 hours ago. After spending the weekend with my Aunt Margaret, I prepared to drive south to Florida. Florida! I’d never been to Florida in my life.

Throughout my stays in Tennessee and Ohio, I had asked everyone I could think of if they had Florida connections. I’d heard so many stories of Pinecraft, the Amish Las Vegas, that I wanted to see it for myself. Finally, my friend Rani told me that her husband’s grandmother had a house in Florida, and was willing to let me stay with her!

I’d had a bit of communication with Rani’s grandmother, Erma, but not a whole lot. So that whole 9 hour drive, I had a niggling fear that things wouldn’t work out.

What if I showed up, and she’d forgotten that I was coming?

What if no one answered the doorbell?

What if everyone was already in bed when I got there?

Erma is from Holmes County Ohio, where people get up at insane hours of the morning. I think 5 am is typical. Early to rise means early to bed, right?

I called her, but she didn’t answer. So I left a message. I told her that I’d get in around 9 pm, and if there was anything I should know about getting into the house, she could call me back.

She never called.

So I drove along, and day turned to night, and my phone battery began to dwindle. I figured I ought to buy one of those chargers that plugs into the cigarette lighter. I almost never run out of battery, which is why I’ve never bothered to purchase one, but I am aware that routinely spending hours on the road, going to strange places, and not owning a car charger, is a pretty bad idea.

So I pulled into a gas station in nowhere, Florida, and went inside. Bought a car charger. I was starvingly hungry, so I used their microwave to heat up some food that my Aunt Margaret had sent with me.

But when I settled back into my car and prepared to resume my travels, I realized that the charger didn’t work. So I impulsively dashed back in to exchange it.

And when I returned to my car, and looked in the window, my heart froze.

There were my keys. My phone. My food. Just sitting there, neatly, inside my car that was most certainly locked.

“Cry now, find a solution later,” is my body’s natural response to situations such as these. So I dutifully burst into tears.

“Are you okay?”

“No,” I said to the kind female stranger who was watching me, concerned. “I just locked my keys in my car.”

“Oh man. Well, let’s see. Normally I have my tools with me, but…”

The kind stranger, who I later learned was named Annette, scanned the gas station for a solution. Her eyes rested on a truck full of tools, and she made a beeline for it. It was owned by a skinny guy with floppy hair. I never caught his name, but Annette talked to him, and he followed her back to me, carrying an antenna and a couple screwdrivers.

The two of them, along with a steady stream of strangers who passed by and offered their ideas, and the gas station cashier who gave us duct tape when we needed it, tried a number of strategies. With the screwdrivers, they pried the car door open a quarter inch, before switching to a crowbar and getting it open a bit more. The antenna, with duct tape on the end to keep it from slipping, pushed the door release button.

Nothing.

Annette looped the antenna through the inside handle. Some car doors unlock when you open the door from the inside, but not this one, apparently.

Finally, the male stranger with the floppy hair said he had a grabber tool, but it was at his house, a few minutes away. So he left his crowbar and screwdrivers with us so that we knew he’d come back, and drove off.

Annette and I chatted while we waited. She’s an electrician, which I thought was really cool. Both she and the stranger with the floppy hair have the life philosophy that if you drive everywhere in a truck full of tools, you can fix any problem you might run into. I was really enchanted by this. I’ve never really understood why you’d drive a gas-guzzling truck when you could, instead, drive a car with good gas mileage, but after this experience I could definitely see the appeal of constant access to tools.

Floppy hair returned with a pole that had a little grabber on the end. He used his crowbar to pry open the door a bit, stuck his grabber tool through, grabbed onto the lock tab, and pulled it up.

We’d done it! Well, not “we.” They’d done it. But we all got really excited, and floppy hair shook my hand vigorously and said, “Thank you!!”

Then, perhaps realizing that I should be the one doing the thanking, clarified: “Thanks for letting me help! That felt great!”

Annette gave me her phone number, in case I should ever be in the area again. After once more expressing my deep gratitude, I got in my car and drove away, the wind whistling through my slightly-bent car door.

The roads were wide and empty. I ate my now-cold plate of food, and prayed that Erma would still be up, despite my delay. She had never called me back.

A few hours later, the GPS led me to a dark, deserted-looking house.

I parked, and walked to the front door. Then pulled out my phone and called Erma again.

She answered. “Oh! You’re here! I didn’t expect you until tomorrow!”

She let me in, and we tried to figure out where our communication had broken down. My private opinion is that I told her the wrong day, because despite her age, I still seem like the most likely candidate to make a mistake like that.

She hadn’t gotten the message I’d left earlier that day. “But I don’t always check my messages,” she said.

Thankfully, it turns out that Holmes County people let loose in Florida, staying up later, and sleeping in until 7 am! So I hadn’t woken anyone out of slumber.

So yes, I’m in Sarasota Florida now. If you happen to be here also, or will be in the next three weeks, hit me up!

 

From Ohio to Delaware

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I came to Delaware because I missed the ocean.

The morning I left Ohio, I woke up to find another layer of snow on the ground, and wistful flakes drifting from the sky. It was beautiful, but I was terrified to drive in it. So I lazily packed up the rest of my things, drinking tea in front of the fireplace at intervals, and just waited.

The snow stopped, but my driveway was still slippery with slush. My landlord, who lived upstairs while Carita and I lived downstairs, pushed some of the slush off with his little lawnmower-sized snow plow, and then drove my car up the steep driveway for me. “You know,” he said, as I prepared to leave, “our boy’s camp needs a secretary.”

I thought this was the sweetest thing to say. Even though, at this point in my life, I don’t want to be a secretary, I understood the statement as “we wouldn’t mind if you stuck around longer.”

The roads weren’t slippery but there was snow beside the road. When I stopped to get gas, the snow began in earnest again. I bought donuts and a cheeseburger and terrible gas station tea. And then I just stood in the snow with my head tilted back and looked. It was the most magical event. The huge flakes floated down but I didn’t feel cold, or like it would get in my eyes. Space and time felt warped. Like how it feels when a train goes by and suddenly you feel like you’re the one who’s moving, zooming along at an impossible speed.

It was a lovely drive. Snowy, but it never stuck enough to get slick. I was tense and nervous, though.

Over the mountains. The snow made a haze which caused each individual mountain to stand out from the one behind it, stretching away from me in pale and paler lavender. It was twilight, so the whole world was purple, with black tree skeletons silhouetted against the sky.

My cousin Annette lives in Lancaster PA, and I decided to spend Thanksgiving week with her and her family. Justice, her oldest, became friends with me as soon as I went down to the basement and played basketball with him, but her younger daughters were a bit shy of me at first.

That evening, Liberty, the 4-year-old, stuck a cloth basket upside down on her head.

“What a beautiful hat!” I said. “May I try it on?”

She let me.

“Oh, I’m so fancy, in this beautiful hat!” I said in my own interpretation of a fancy accent.

Liberty was delighted. “The queen! The queen!” she said.

So for the rest of the week I was The Queen. “Where’s my queen?” Liberty would ask her mom, when she wanted to play with me.

Matt came up from DC on Wednesday evening, so that was nice, seeing him again.

The drive from Lancaster Pennsylvania to Dover Delaware only takes a few hours, so I spent Saturday morning with my relations, before zipping down the Delmarva Peninsula. It began to rain. The hills of Pennsylvania flattened out. It almost felt like Oregon.

Arriving in Dover, I stopped at a coffee shop, where I planned to meet my new roommate Angie and our mutual friend Janessa. They hadn’t arrived yet, so I went ahead and ordered my tea.

“That’ll be 2:50,” said the cashier.

“Oh!” I exclaimed, happily handing over a $5 bill and two quarters and getting three neat bills of change. “Do you guys not have sales tax here?”

“No, we don’t,” said the cashier.

“It feels just like Oregon! We don’t have sales tax either!”

She smiled politely.

Angie and Janessa arrived, and I had a fun afternoon of meeting my new roommate and hanging out with an old friend.

I’ve been in Delaware less than a week, but it oddly reminds me of home. The weather has been more mild and Oregon-like, and I’ve already driven to the ocean twice. And the Mennonite community is just much smaller, more Oregon-sized.

But it’s like the teeny tiny quaint version. The entire state is smaller than my county back home. And Dover feels like a small town even though it’s the capital of Delaware.

Even the ocean seems little to me. Which is a bit weird. Obviously I can’t see with my naked eye that Japan is further away than Europe. But maybe it’s because the beach isn’t as extensive, or because there aren’t as many waves. Or maybe because it’s so much quieter.

A few ending notes:

  1. If you’ve noticed something different about my blog, I did turn ads back on. But I’d like feedback from you…so if you see sketchy ads, or if it makes your page run slow or weird, please let me know. My email is Jemilys@gmail.com. (Also, remember that you can always install an ad blocker. If I didn’t mention this, someone would be sure to point it out in the comments, haha.)
  2. I have a fun holiday-related blog series coming up. I’d like to blog every other day from December 12 to January 9. So if you have any fun holiday related blog post ideas, let me know! My ideas so far include:
    1. Gift guide for single brothers (or uncles, nephews, etc)
    2. Guide to prepping a guest room for holiday guests
    3. Maybe some fun fiction
    4. Cozy winter/Christmas themed books/stories
    5. My own holiday adventures

Let me know if there are any winter/Christmas/New Years/Holiday posts you’d love to see!

The Real Holmes County

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

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

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

I suppose they’re Amish schools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It reminded me of an entrance to a speakeasy.

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

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

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

“Which ones? Who is your mom?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on Amish/Mennonites and Education

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

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

Now I was staring too.

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

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

“What about the Mennonite kids?” I asked.

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

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

I found this so fascinating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

From Paris to Berlin

This weekend I packed all my belongings back into my little car, and drove north to Berlin Ohio. Yep. First it was Paris, and now Berlin. What’s next? London, Kentucky? Rome, Iowa? Ooh, I hear there’s a Mennonite community in Athens, Tennessee, although I was just in Tennessee.

As I was returning my library books for the last time, I ran to the corner thrift store to snap a picture of what I thought was the funniest thing I saw the whole month.

This was printed on the store window:

And this huge sign was right inside the front door:

“YOU STOLE A 10¢ BLOUSE? THE POLICE ARE COMING FOR YOU, YOUNG LADY! Have a great day, Jesus loves you!”

Oh, and I forgot to take a picture of the ironic “In God We Trust” sign posted right next to the sign about security cameras.

I found, though, that it was pretty typical for places in that area to have lots of security cameras, no matter how cheap the merchandise or how Christian the establishment. People were big into locking doors and putting huge outdoor lights above their houses to deter thieves.

According to Jenni, there really is a lot of crime in the area. But it was hard for me to wrap my head around because everyone was so friendly, saying “hi” to strangers, taking hours to get my oil changed because they were busy chatting with the neighbors, etc. Why would you be friendly to people you’re suspicious of?

Anyway. On Saturday I packed up the last of my stuff and drove north. It was raining and dark by the time I reached Ohio, and after I got off the Interstate there were ELEVEN little roads I still had to take, all assigned numbers instead of names, often looking more like driveways than roads, winding curbless over hills. I peered at road signs and tried to avoid horses and buggies.

Random question: Do you prefer numbered roads or named roads? I find that I can memorize a list of named roads and navigate fine, but numbers fly out of my head. Although when there’s a system to the numbers, like the perfect grid of roads in Illinois, it can be nice.

If there is a system to the numbered roads in Ohio, I haven’t figured it out yet.

Anyway, I eventually found my way to the basement apartment of a medium-sized brick house. I met my roommate Carita. We hit it off, and I admired her fireplace and her books and the lovely view of the countryside out her back patio door.

The next morning, when I drove to church, I realized that Berlin Ohio isn’t quite the calm countryside I’d seen out the back patio doors. It turns out that I am living in the heart of a giant tourist attraction. All up and down my street are theaters doing “Amish Variety Shows,” and large hotels, and touristy stores selling overpriced souvenirs. It reminds me of the bayfront in Newport Oregon, only instead of a vague ocean-and-seashell theme, there is a vague buggies-and-bonnets theme.

So that was an interesting transition. Paris was the real countryside, with fields and hills and woods. Berlin is such a weird, almost fake-feeling countryside. Like, there are two very real cows in the pasture behind my house, but just up the street is what seems to be (from my glimpse as I drove past) an “Amish” barn for tourists, right next to a hotel. Or maybe it’s just a store built to look like a barn?

Anyway. Those are just my first impressions of the transition, but I already feel like Ohio is a strange world of its own.