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!

Giveaway Winner/Life Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s not real snow,” said Carita.

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

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

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

I Capture the Castle (Musings/Giveaway)

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The week before I left Oregon, I was at a thrift store in Roseburg when I found a first edition hardcover copy of I Capture the Castle. 

I Capture the Castle is one of those comforting books I feel I must always have with me. My softcover version was packed and ready to go, but I replaced it with the hardcover version, thinking vaguely that since I now had two copies, I should do a giveaway.

Then, I took to re-reading I Capture the Castle in-between returning my Paris library books and obtaining my Berlin/Millersburg library card. The more I read it, the more I find to love about it, and the more I want to talk about it on my blog. I find I’ve already mentioned the book four times since I first picked it up in 2012 (here, here, here, and here). But today I plan to dedicate an entire blog post to the subject.

The main reason this book appeals to me is because it is simultaneously larger-than-life and yet eerily real.

I Capture the Castle focuses on 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, who lives in an old house built onto the side of some castle ruins. So Cassandra can, for instance, lean out the drawing room window to feed the swans in the moat, or walk along the castle walls, descend the tower staircase, and end up in her bedroom.

Cassandra’s father is an eccentric writer who had one successful book and then quit writing. Her stepmother, Topaz, is an artist’s model who likes to do artsy things like play a lute and commune with nature, but also cooks and cleans and takes care of everyone. And her older sister Rose is at times very fun loving and playful, and at times quite melodramatic (Probably an ESFP, lol).

At the beginning of the book, the Mortmains are lamenting their boring, poverty-stricken lives. They live way out in the country and have few friends, and as Mr. Mortmain hasn’t actually published a book in ages, they have no money. It’s been years since they’ve even paid the rent on their castle home, but their landlord, who at the beginning of the novel had recently died, always just let it go.

Then one day, two handsome young men, Simon and Neil Cotton, show up at their door. It turns out that through a series of deaths in the family, Simon now owns their house.

That, I suppose, is what one would call the “inciting event” that sets the novel in motion.

But inside this fanciful, larger-than-life setup of setting and character, comes a book that feels so real mostly because of how it explores unrequited love.

I feel like the classic setup for a romantic book is to have the Mr. Darcy character in love with the Lizzie Bennett character for most of the book, so that when Lizzie finally comes to her senses and realizes that he’s the one for her, he’s just there for the taking. Meanwhile, other women who may have loved Mr. Darcy are either villainized so much we don’t care about their feelings (Miss Bingley), or so shadowy and under-developed that it doesn’t occur to us to wonder if they’re brokenhearted (Anne de Bourgh).

Maybe Cassandra Mortmain is more observant than a 17-year-old would realistically be, but I think she lived vicariously through other people’s romances. In any case, somehow I Capture the Castle captured romance and unrequited love from a variety of angles.

Here are a few more reasons why I love the book:

1. It’s funny and clever.

2. The characters are fascinating.
Especially with Rose and Topaz, Cassandra gets annoyed at their silliness and sees right through their airs, but also deeply appreciates and likes them. In this way they feel like real people.

3. I randomly love house books.
I adore any book that prominently features an interesting house. This book is especially delightful because there is just enough description, and a couple of illustrations, that make me able to visualize the entire house in my head. Every single room and tower.

4. I also randomly love books where people economize.

5. It is ultimately a happy, hopeful book, despite dealing with unrequited love.

I think I’ve rambled on about the book enough, but I’d love to have a hearty discussion with someone about the classism in it. Did any of you who’ve read the book notice how the Mortmains say they think of Stephen as a part of the family, but he didn’t get invited to the dinner party at Scoatney Hall? Or the way Cassandra is so bored, but it never occurs to her to be friends with Ivy Stebbins?

Anyway. I am giving away a paperback copy of I Capture the Castle. To enter, leave a comment on this blog post or on my Facebook post saying that you’d like to be entered.

Giveway will close at 11:59 pm EST on Thursday, November 15.

ETA: The giveaway is only open to USA addresses. I shipped to Canada once and the postage was more than the books would be new. Yikes! Sorry to international readers. Someday I’ll be a wealthy writer with $$$ for all the shipping, haha.

Another ETA: Do be aware, if you read this review and want to go watch the movie, that there is nudity in it. I don’t know what the producers were trying to prove, because it’s completely unnecessary to the plot, but whatever. That’s Hollywood for you, I guess.

The Real Holmes County

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

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

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

I suppose they’re Amish schools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It reminded me of an entrance to a speakeasy.

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

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

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

“Which ones? Who is your mom?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Eugene Capon on Pexels.com

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

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

1. We do it for selfish reasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is just sad and unfair for the guy.

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

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

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

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

Conflating the two is a bad idea all around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. He might not even like you

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End.

Thoughts on Amish/Mennonites and Education

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

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

Now I was staring too.

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

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

“What about the Mennonite kids?” I asked.

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

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

I found this so fascinating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.