Why You Think Pennsylvanians Are Stuck-Up (and Why You’re Wrong)

I love how you clicked on this link almost like, “What obnoxious thing is she going to say next?”

You know as well as I do that conservative Mennonites who are not from Lancaster (and even some who are) think that Lancaster Mennonites are snobby and stuck-up. I have finally figured out why this stereotype exists! (It is for unjustifiably unfair reasons, I might add.)

One of my favorite things is to talk about cultural differences, and since I’ve had the privilege of living in four distinct Mennonite communities across the United States as an adult, I consider myself a bit of an authority on the subject. In the past eleven months, I’ve had plenty of time to test this theory of “stuck-up” Mennonites.

I recently moved to Ephrata, Pennsylvania, quite leery of the Lancaster County location of my new home.

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However, you’ll be disappointed to know that on the “Culture Shock” timeline, I’ve moved past the Honeymoon stage (in which I gush about Amish produce stands, discount grocery stores, and modest clothing stores) and the Negotiation stage (in which the Transition shock behaviors of anger, homesickness, irritability, and withdrawal promote snarky posts about dating & marriage rituals, along with more serious critiques of the community-wide “saving face” phenomenon and its effects on spirituality). Currently, I’m in the Adaptation stage, where I’m developing positive attitudes about Lancaster culture and learning what to expect in social situations. But I’m a long way off from Adaptation. Because seriously, I’ve never even been to “the cabin.” For one thing, I have to write this post “awhile.” Haha.

So why do people think that Pennsylvanians are stuck-up? This is my theory—they don’t introduce themselves to newcomers.

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In fact, I was talking to a friend who just moved to Lancaster County, and this was her first impression: “Do you notice that people don’t introduce themselves to you here?”

“Yes!” I agreed. “It’s strange!”

We talked about experiences at weddings, work, and church.

Me: “Sometimes I get the odd sense that people here don’t like me! But I realize that (1) those people have never talked to me, and (2) they haven’t introduced themselves to me. And I ask myself, why not?”

 

Interestingly, I kept finding myself in new situations where I was surrounded by strangers, and no one introduced themselves! I visited a new church once, was ignored, introduced myself to a woman whose eyes were downcast, then scurried out the door in awkward shame. As I settled into the church visiting cycle, I grew weary of approaching strangers and explaining that I just moved to Lancaster County. At work, a friend struggled to connect with co-workers who seemed to care little about her “transplanting” story. (Another very common thread is people living in Lancaster their entire lives. Unimaginable to me, the hyperactive state-switcher. Similarly, the story of my endless moving, to communities where I know absolutely no one, is unimaginable to Lancaster locals, often met by blank stares.) On one occasion, I had to schedule a meeting with a woman I saw nearly every day, and I was convinced that she disliked me because she had never introduced herself to me.

After a while, it started to become a joke, where my friend and I delivered the next new story of failing to be introduced at a social function. Once I attended a banquet where I sat at a table with old and new acquaintances. I was the last one to arrive, and as I sat down with my appetizer, I waited to be introduced to the Lancaster residents who I hadn’t yet met. The introduction never came. In fact, no one acknowledged my presence at the table for a full fifteen minutes!

Now before you label this post as another dig at Lancaster County, let me be clear. I do not think that the people in each of these instances were snobby, stuck-up, rude, unkind, or unfeeling, nor do I think that you should judge my expectation to be introduced as unrealistic. In truth, I found the woman who had never introduced herself to be a sweet and gentle person the very day I met with her! And the time of being “ignored” at the banquet table ended up being a night where I received some very kind encouragement from new friends.

These experiences instead clarify that cultural differences exist among geographically diverse Mennonite communities, specifically in relation to initial socialization. The behavior from both cultures makes perfect sense, but viewed from the other culture is off-putting. Both I (the Midwesterner) and Lancaster Mennonites were acting according to our respective cultures, which obviously have vastly different expectations regarding the behavior toward strangers.

In the Midwest, it’s expected to introduce yourself to a newcomer. A “proper” way to do this might even be to play the Mennonite game.

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Blanket statement: I might suggest that Midwesterners may also be “used to” newcomers more than Lancaster County residents. That is, many Midwestern Mennonites live in smaller Anabaptist communities than the sprawling, teeming Mennonite metropolis of Lancaster County. Therefore, the arrival of newcomers is more clearly felt. In our small Midwestern towns (excluding Holmes County), we’re very aware of who belongs and who is new. And in my experience, people have gone out of their way to introduce themselves and tell me their name.

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It seems that in Lancaster, this is not a cultural expectation, and I’ve had some Lancaster locals help me on this one. For one thing, the sheer number of Mennonites is dizzying. There’s no way to tell who is “new to town,” or simply from the congregation down the street. There’s no need to wave hello to the Mennonite you saw in Walmart because of COURSE you don’t know them. Why would you smile and wave hello?

Another phenomenon unique to Lancaster that’s quite unlike most other Mennonite communities is that people here aren’t friends with people from their own churches. They’re friends with their “group.” Your “group” is whatever family and friends you’ve acquired over the years who have similar interests and/or worldviews as you. (I would contend that this is quite unlike other Mennonite communities. For many of us, our friendships are found inside our local congregations.) However, if you’re from Lancaster, and there’s a newcomer at your church, you may assume that they’re from the County, they’re simply church shopping, and they’re content with their own friends and family outside the church. You therefore feel no need to introduce yourself right away. This has been confirmed to me by more than several locals.

(Southerners, feel free to lend your perspective about what is expected for newcomers in your communities.)

To be sure, people in Lancaster are very busy and have a LOT of friends. One woman who moved here from a rural Midwestern community confided in me, “When I asked someone to go out for coffee, she said, ‘Well let me check my planner first.’ I laughed at her! Why would she need to check her planner just for coffee?! But I get it now. People are so busy. Some women are booked three months out. And so I have the planner now. I have all of it,” she sighed.

You can see, then, why the stereotype of “stuck-up” Lancaster Mennonites exist. The amount of friends and social engagements can get overwhelming, so people aren’t quick to “lend” themselves in this way. But for newcomers, this can feel like snobbery. I wonder, though, if newcomers are selling themselves short by not acknowledging the cultural differences of the realities of living in a large Mennonite community. The lady from the rural Midwest didn’t do this, but instead learned to adapt.

To put a stop to the stereotype, people on both sides need to understand that if you demand that people treat you according to your own cultural expectations, two things may occur:

(1) If you are a non-local, you may not only start agreeing with false stereotypes, but you may also become quite lonely. A few suggestions: stop being bitter about the need to explain that you are a new-comer. Be willing to introduce yourself again, and again, and again. It won’t be long before you’ll buy your own planner (probably at Target, where you’ll ignore a Mennonite woman one aisle over).

(2) If you are a Lancaster local, you may be bothered by the stereotype of snobbery. A suggestion: it may benefit you to visit a small Mennonite community sometime. It also might do you some good to go out of your way to introduce yourself to a Mennonite stranger the next time you see one in church, at Bible study, or even (gasp) at Walmart! You might just meet a new friend, the kind that doesn’t care about planners, and is refreshingly un-busy!

And to those of you who still think I hate Lancaster, I’ll say this: despite the lack of introductions in general in Lancaster County, I’d like to give a shout-out to my local congregation for the outpouring of support I’ve received since moving here, including but not limited to:

  1. Delivering and unloading FOR FREE a piece of furniture I bought
  2. Lending me the “nice” family vehicle, three times, FOR FREE when mine was in the shop
  3. Visiting me when I was sick (bringing me food, cleaning my apartment, and giving me a back rub!)
  4. Dinner invitations, and asking how I’m really doing
  5. A sweet gift and card on Valentine’s Day
  6. A plant on Mother’s Day.

You know who you are. Thank you.

Obviously, Pennsylvanians aren’t snobby. They’re warm and caring just like everybody else. The fact is that we just greet each other differently. So stop stereotyping. And go introduce yourself.

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Hi, It’s Nice to Meet You

Hello all! The calendar reading March 14th leaves me scratching my head for two reasons—how has winter steamed by so quickly, and how am I ever going to dig my little VW out of a FOOT of snow?! (Winter storm Stella’s been a doozy!)

Today I want to welcome the newcomers to Shasta’s Fog! A few of you are showing up for the first time, and today I’d like to discuss four types of posts you can expect from Shasta’s Fog in the future. (And for faithful readers, this post is for any of you who haven’t had a chance to read my recently updated About page!)

1. One type of post I usually write is literary in nature. (Last year 50% of my posts were in some way related to literature or poetry!) These posts are normally the brain-child of literature I’m currently teaching (I’m a high school AP lit teacher), books I’m currently reading, poems I’m pondering, or poems I’m writing.

My most recent literary post included thoughts on C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, and if I were to write a literary post right now, I might include a poem I wrote sitting in a graveyard by the North Sea in England, after a 5 a.m. jaunt along the cliffs, past the bombed out Whitby Abbey, a strong monument to the history of monastic life, English poetry (Caedmon DID live there after all), and the church of England.

(I found this poem after digging through my 2014 U.K. photos and journals, which I was perusing in order to co-teach a mini-term called “Urban Exploration.” Every winter, my school cancels all classes for 7th-12th grades for one week and hosts a week of Mini-terms, where students can take career-oriented or personal interest classes.)

Whitby

Fair morning whispers to the child of light.
She rises early who farewells the night.
Pink sky, brown rooster—white, the gulls which cry,
salt wind, green cliff, stone monument nearby
wet grass, thick wheat, stone pathway for her feet
small bird, fat slugs, three snails—all these do meet
the sun above the cliffs at Whitby’s shore,
smooth North Sea, tugboats, church bells, gates, and more.
Light’s morning glimmers, puzzling beauty’s flash
amiss—“For safety, stay on this, the path.”

2. The second type of post I write is spiritual in nature, though many of these posts are literary posts in disguise. (For example, I discussed N. T. Wright’s book After You Believe, but it felt more like a personal spiritual credo than anything else.)

If I were to write a post relating to spirituality today, I would write about my foray into observing Lent, how I’m observing the Episcopalian kind this year (mainly because they get to cheat on Sundays), how I eagerly champion the virtues of Lenten fasts in all my literature classes, and how that basically flows from two agendas: (1) It is my personal agenda to increase all hype around the Easter holiday because it is excruciatingly under-celebrated in most Christian circles, which in no way relates to the God-created fasting and feasting tradition of Old Testament Judaism, nor to what I imagine God intends for healthy faith communities today, and (2) I basically just don’t want to be the only one walking around admitting that I actually am addicted to Netflix, Youtube, and snacking. You have vices too.

3. The third type of post I write is travel posts. I recently traveled to Central America and posted some photos and poetry related to Nicaragua.

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Upcoming travel posts will be in honor of my personal conviction to properly celebrate the Easter holy day, as I will be celebrating in community by traveling with friends to a new city—Québec City! Let the party begin! (Not that breaking my fast there will necessarily include Netflix or Youtube, but it may include some exquisitely divine food (poutine and macaroons!), architectural wonders, crisp river walks, and a cathedral Easter service.

4. Last but not least, I also write about cultural issues, including but not limited to:

(1) those issues relating to geography (Pennsylvania: a place to where all women wear maroon, guys still wear deck shoes even though everyone else stopped wearing Sperry’s in 2012, and where chip aisles do not exist and only pretzels are munched!)

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(2) issues relating to Anabaptism (including snarky posts about Mennonite culture), and

(3) those issues relating to singleness and marriage (you all seemed to really like [and really hate] this post).

If I were to write a cultural post today, I would write about some thoughts I’ve been thinking relating to single women in the church and this idea that all women ought to submit to all men in general, whether on a committee, whether at a job, whether at a hardware store, or on a co-ed soccer team. (Here it goes. Friends and family: keep your fire extinguishers nearby.)

Deep breath.

The cultural milieu in which I find myself has this unstated (and sometimes stated) belief that all women must submit to all men. Were I to write a post about this cultural topic, I would (1) take a close look at the Scriptures from which this application is normally derived, (2) I would note when those Scriptures are speaking to women in marriage relationships and when they are not, and then ask if there are any “submitting” passages left over, (3) and then I would ask my favorite current question: “Why are some people so intent on making sure that all women (single or married) know their place as “submitters” when, in my experience, single women in the church do not practically live under any especial authority that differs from that of married men in the church?” Because that would be a fun conversation (though one probably best had in person).

So there you have it, new readers! Feel free to use my blog’s category guide as well to find content most suited to you: Teach (education topics), Read (books and literary posts), and Travel (cultural posts).

I look forward to reading your feedback, and I welcome suggestions for new posts in the comments!

A Good Mennonite Poem

One new little blog feature that I’m happy to roll out this year is a Good Reads widget that gives you a peek at what I’m currently reading.

(Yes, I said books, plural. I’m famous for reading several at a time. This is actually good practice according to Douglas Wilson, author of the cunning little writing book Wordsmithy. In his chapter, “Read until Your Brain Creaks,” he encourages writers to read widely, and he announces that it’s perfectly acceptable to have to have, say, twenty books going at a time.

I don’t quite have that many, but I DO try to follow his advice by reading a lot, dabbling in different genres, and bouncing between several different covers.)

Currently, I’m still digesting The Brothers Karamasov… then there’s Vera Brittain’s autobiography, Testament of Youth (a movie by the same name was released in 2014) about a young British scholar, who, after fiiiiinally convincing her Papa to let her go to college (and Oxford at that!), she abandons her studies to enlist as a nurse in the armed forces during World War I, after which, she becomes a staunch pacifist, due to her experiences on the front and the war-time death of her brother, her lover, and another friend.

A reader once pointed me to the biography of Lilias Trotter (after having blogged about the writings of John Ruskin), and let me tell you, Lilias Trotter’s testimony is phenomel (though much of the literature around her life is a bit lacking). A documentary of her life was made in 2015 (a little disappointing cinematically, but I made my parents watch it on Christmas with me, and we enjoyed her testimony, despite some of the movie’s slow pacing). Basically, John Ruskin, leading art critic of the Victorian era finds 20-year-old Lilias to be England’s next rising artist. Convinced of her artistic genius, he offers to tutor her, and they enjoy the kind of friendship that only the arts provides, until Lilias announces that she cannot continue to paint, but that she has another love–that of Jesus Christ, and as a young women, heads off to Algeria as a missionary. Despite her poor health, her inability to speak Arabic, and the fact that all missionary societies refuse to support her, she and a few friends leave on their own, determined to make North Africa home. Her slow, steady work and her approach to missions was uncommon for the time as she tried to reach the Arab world through the written word and the arts. Go google Lilias Trotter! Or better yet, read her biography A Passion for the Impossible!

I’m also reading The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost Their Sense of Evil by Andrew Delbanco. (That’s pretty self-explanatory.)

And finally, I continue to page through one of my new favorite books, an anthology of poems (published by the University of Iowa Press and edited by Ann Hostetler, professor of English at Goshen College) called A Capella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry.

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I picked up my copy at my favorite used book store in Goshen, Indiana for $9, only to go to the Goshen Library sale a few weeks later and find a copy for $1. (Lucky me. I gifted one to my roommate). And. We have been devouring Mennonite poems for days!

Who even knew that writing like this existed?!

Good Mennonite poems!

Good poems. The kind I read at university and dearly loved but never stumbled across ones that were about me.

I read the poetry of white British mothers, African American artists, Native American activists, political poetry from Guam, plays from Hawaii, Lakota cries, Cherokee voices, Argentine verse… but where was the story of me?

In Mennonite Voices, these poems are our story.

Probably the strangest poem in the anthology is this poem about cookies. It is my favorite poem of the anthology. If you read it here, and you don’t understand it, that’s fine. It’s probably not meant to be totally understood at the first reading.

The Cookie Poem
by Jeff Gundy

“Here are my sad cookies”

The sad cookies. The once and future cookies.
The broken sweet cookies. The cookies
of heartbreaking beauty. The stony cookies
of Palestine. The gummy and delicious
olive and honey cookie. The pasty
damp cookie trapped in the child’s hand.

Sad cookies, weird cookies, slippery
and dangerous cookies. Brilliant helpless
soiled and torn cookies, feverish and sweaty
cookies. Sullen cookies, sassy cookies,
the cookies of tantrum and the cookie of joy
and the sweet dark cookie of peace.

The faithful cookie of Rotterdam. The wild-eyed
cookie of Muenster. The salty Atlantic cookie.
Cookies in black coats, in coveralls,
in business suits, cookies in bonnets
and coverings and heels, cookies scratching
their heads and their bellies, cookies utterly
and shamelessly naked before the beloved.

Cookies of the Amish division, cookies
of the Wahlerhof, cookies of Zurich and
Stassburg and Volhynia and Chortitza,
Nairobi Djakarta Winnipeg Goshen.
Cookies who hand their children off
to strangers, who admonish their sons
to remember the Lord’s Prayer, cookies
who say all right, baptize my children
and then sneak back to the hidden church anyway.
Cookies who cave in utterly. Cookies
who die with their boots on. Cookies
with fists, and with contusions.
The black hearted cookie. The cookie with issues.
Hard cookies, hot cookies, compassionate
conservative cookies, cookies we loathe
and love, cookies lost, fallen, stolen,
crushed, abandoned, shunned. Weary
and heroic cookies, scathingly noted cookies,
flawed cookies who did their best.
Single cookies, queer cookies, cookies of color,
homeless cookie families sleeping the car,
obsolete cookies broken down on the information
highway. Sad cookies, silent cookies,
loud cookies, loved cookies, your cookies,
my cookies our cookies, all cookies
God’s cookies, strange sweet hapless cookies
marked each one by the Imago Dei,
oh the Father the Son the Mother The Daughter
and the Holy Ghost all love cookies,
love all cookies, God’s mouth is full
of cookies, God chews and swallows and flings
hands wide in joy, the crumbs fly
everywhere, oh God loves us all.

How to Avoid Cooking

I made this, and I didn’t throw it away.

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My apologies, readers. You know I do my best to avoid cooking! And I’ll be doing so for the rest of time…‘til the cows come home… or Jesus comes back.

We might as well say, “That’ll never happen til Esther cooks.” It’s the same thing.

Some people always feel sorry for me that I can’t cook. When they find out, there’s this moment of death that comes over their faces. “But don’t you live by yourself?” they say. Then a look of unquestionable pity. Me over here? I’m like:

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It doesn’t bother me. But it bothers you.

I guess I feel the same way when I find out people don’t like running or reading books. I feel sorry for them.

Why don’t I cook?

  1. Because: time. Just like you, I’m really busy. And I fill my life with things that intrigue me a whole lot more than cooking does. Like fitness. And reading. Or sleeping. Add to that my (more than) full-time job, and when I get home from a 12 hour work day, cooking is the last activity in the world that I could ever be prevailed upon to… er, start.
  1. Because: money. I just moved into my own apartment, and my cupboards are still a little bare. Instead of spending money on like 17 organic spices, Le Creuset cookware, and shallots, I saved up and bought a microwave! Bacon, anyone? …And even then, you can live without a microwave. I did for two months. I’m amazed at the things I haven’t managed to buy yet. I’ve lived without flour or oil since I moved. Four months ago. #nonbaker
  1. Because: single. Cooking for one person is the worst. I mean, it’s great that it’s low-stakes (if I mess up, peanut butter and jelly is my favorite) but if something actually succeeds, meaning it’s not inedibly raw, it’s going to last for at least four meals. And I. Hate. Leftovers. Eating the same thing four days in a row makes me sad. Especially because I can guarantee you that it was pretty bland in the first place. Also, it’s sometimes hard to buy ingredients for just one person. Ingredients don’t stay fresh, and I end up having to throw away much more food than I intended. Therefore, I don’t “cook” in that traditional sense because it’s hard to keep everything fresh.
  1. Because: food allergies. Like some of the rest of you over-25ers, in the past couple of years, my digestive system went on strike, and I’m still in the aftermath of trying to figure out what my body will tolerate. Most of the time when I eat, I’m anxious to see that my body accepts it (instead of violently reacting, sending me to the floor in agony), rather than being anxious to see if it tastes good or not. So I find it hard to get excited about food-related activities.

Another cooking problem I have is that as a runner, I think of food as fuel, which doesn’t necessarily relate to fine dining experiences. I recognize that my main thought during the week is, “Did I eat enough protein today?” rather than, “Did I sit down and enjoy a good meal today?” Right now I’m content just knowing that I ingested a decent blend of lean proteins and carbs for the week, rather than figuring out how to plate them with any sort of culinary intelligence. When I fix my cooking problem (right before pigs fly and right after the fat lady sings), I’ll have to address the issue of food as fuel. Because sucking an energy gel on mile 10 while wiping your runny nose and mopping sweat is not the road to fine dining. No, it’s more the road to: how many pieces of pizza should I eat during carb-loading? Food as fuel is spoonfuls of peanut butter, forkfuls of beef, and handfuls of guilt-less bread indulgence. Two hours spent running on Saturday mornings is two hours not spent planning meals, organizing ingredients, and making a dish that tastes mediocre instead of terrible.

But this week I ran out of excuses of not cooking. Namely, I had nary food in the house. So I decided to go buy a bunch of meat and some general ingredients for cooking it in. One of my roommates in Indiana is famous for cooking chicken in red wine, so I decided to try this.

It was a surprise for me to find no alcohol at Walmart. Apparently Wal-marts in Pennsylvania don’t sell alchohol. But they do sell one kind of cooking wine. (I later found out that one NEVER EVER cooks with cooking wine. You should only cook with wine you would drink. Sigh. Nobody told ME.) I snatched up a cheap bottle. Returning home with my salmon, lemon juice, and spices, I turned to the chicken and red wine.

I lightly browned two chicken breasts in… blast, I had no oil. Butter would have to do. Removing the chicken, I sautéed mushrooms, then poured in about a cup of red wine, waiting patiently for it to “reduce,” whatever that meant. Basically, I just got bored watching the wine cook, so I just moved on to the next step. (The wine, cooking, had by now made my apartment smell like a back-country Kentucky still.) Next I added the chicken back into the wine and then scoured my cupboards for something besides salt and pepper to flavor it. I came up with garlic. And a bit of parmesan.

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(I would have added brown sugar, but again, I’m staple-less.) After a very long time, my chicken came out looking decent.

 

It had a nice flavor when paired with the mushrooms (ridiculously rich from the butter and wine), but the meat was dry and my mushrooms a little burnt.

I also had cooked some sweet potatoes and topped them with a special sweet sauce (otherwise known as pancake syrup).

Successes: Two meals—one fresh, and one for the fridge. The perfect amount for one person!
Failures: Dry chicken, no brown sugar, lame sweet potatoes.

But lest you think that I’m about to announce my resolve to learn to cook, here is a week’s worth of meal-planning options with NO COOKING INVOLVED!

Here are some ways that may help you get out of cooking:

  1. Eat out.
  2. Eat leftovers from eating out.
  3. Eat breakfast for dinner.
  4. Eat sandwiches for dinner.
  5. Eat salad.
  6. Eat a German bread dinner.
  7. Repeat #5, but add croutons.

Okay, I think I’m done. Now I look forward to reading all the comments about how “this would NEVER work in my family with my husband/kids.. blah blah.” Yeah, well, guess what? There are a ton of cooking blogs out there for people like you, serves six. But not a ton for single people. Get it?
#minority

 

My Ancestors, Singing, and Oasis Chorale

So the last three weeks have been FANTABULOUS.

I spent a weekend at a family reunion in southern Virginia. In case you don’t know, a Good family reunion consists of:

  1. Exquisite four-part hymn singing.
    How am I blessed with this heritage?

  1. Obligatory “Good” puns.
    “It’s ‘Good’ you made it.”
    “It’s a ‘Good’ reunion this year.”
    “These are my ‘Good’ relatives.”
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  1. Meticulous research and history prepared by our family historian, Evelyn Bear, who traced our family tree as far back as the 1500s to our Swiss roots THROUGH FOUR LINES (the Resslers, Goods, Brennemans, and Hubers). The Brennemans and Goods were Swiss Anabaptists who emigrated to America through Germany due to religious persecution, settling in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (of all places!), Melchior Brenneman in 1709, and 20-year-old Jacob Good on the ship Samuel in 1732. (Surprise, surprise, I now live in the land of my ancestors! Except both families moved to the Shenandoah Valley several years later.)
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Clockwise: My great-grandparents’ wedding photo (1904), their 50th wedding anniversary, my mother’s baby picture, my mother’s family in 1951, my grandparents’ 40th wedding anniversary.
  1. Fabulous coffee prepared on the spot by my coffee connoisseur cousin Paul Yates.
    Vanilla rosemary latte, anyone? (He creates his own rosemary syrup.)
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With my mama.
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There was also lots of niece-squishing.

I then drove north to the Shenandoah Valley to meet my favorite people, the Oasis Chorale, for our annual summer tour. This year we toured Virginia and the Carolinas and additionally recorded a second hymns project in conjunction with John D. Martin’s new Hymns of the Church. (Recordings will be available in October! Click here or here for up-to-date information regarding new musical releases.)

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Photo by Erin Martin.

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It’s no point trying to put into words what the experience of Oasis Chorale means to me, but I will try.

First, it is community. The more I sing with this choir, the more I come to love its individual members, the camaraderie that ensues, the spontaneous philosophical and theological discussions that we inevitably find ourselves in, and the way that we care for each other. People who aren’t conservative Mennonite may not be able to tell, but Oasis Chorale is actually extremely diverse. Our members come from a wide variety of Anabaptist, educational, and musical backgrounds, each with our individual experiences of Anabaptist communities and unique musical experiences within those communities. There is such strength in this diversity. For one, I think we are better equipped to minister to wider varieties of congregations. Second, it enables us to learn from and to support each other in our varying church, musical, and educational contexts.

THIS IS NOT TO SAY that Oasis Chorale is not first and foremost concerned about performing choral music well. It most certainly is.


You better have your pitches and rhythms learned. Along with your consonants, vowels, body alignment, proper breathing technique, appropriate tone, lifted soft palate, sense of line, inflection, suitable syllable stress, bright eyes, all performed with a sense of wonder.

But to me, Oasis is more than just a choir that sings beautiful music well. It’s a choir that strengthens its members for service beyond just a two-week summer tour. It encourages and refreshes singers, musicians, song leaders, artists (also a huffing lot of teachers) to pursue beauty and truth the REST of the year. This happens due to having a visionary conductor who expects discipline and personal musical growth (which is possible both within and without the choir) and who regularly invites us to contemplate the poetry of musical texts and the truth expressed therein. This emphasis on discipline and thoughtfulness is a haven for me.

Getting to be immersed in this convivial, contemplative, Christian community is something for which I thank God.
Every.
Year.

As a choir, we visited colonial Williamsburg this year and performed a candlelit concert in the historic Bruton Parish church. Definitely a highlight!

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Performing by candlelight in the historic Bruton Parish Church in colonial Williamsburg. Photo by Erin Martin.

One line from a hymn we recorded this year captured my attention and expresses a very particular worldview which I personally think aligns with the mission of Oasis Chorale:

“Crown Him the Lord of peace;
Whose pow’r a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease,
Absorbed in prayer and praise.”

For these things, we sing.

Amen.

This Is Awkward, Lancaster

Just at Starbucks lowkey chillin’ with my friend Bob, who drives a bright blue Porsche. Jk we’re totally not friends, but is he here like every day or what? Because I’ve seriously been. BEEN HERE. At Starbucks. Every day. Because: no internet. I mean, who even lives without internet? (Apparently me, until Thursday.)

My dear readers: I’ve moved to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. If you don’t already know how I feel about this place, read my archives.

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Besides going to Starbucks every day, I’ve also gone to Walmart every day. Guys, there seriously must be some kind of convention in town because I went to Walmart and only ALL THE MENNONITES OF ALL CREATION WERE THERE. And then I realized: …oh wait, no convention… just… L a n c a s t e r.

“Mom, I can’t do this. I can’t live here.”

“Well, we’re not packing up all your stuff and taking it back home!” she huffs.

Moving has been a cheerful combination of the following:

  1. Weeklong flu-bug from hell
  2. My laptop (only my WHOLE LIFE) going kaput
  3. Finding out my bank doesn’t exist in this state
  4. Finding out all my money is frozen for several days at my new bank (welcome to Pennsylvania!)
  5. Finding out my health insurance isn’t accepted in this state
  6. Worst of all, finding out Pennsylvania libraries don’t have educator cards (Seriously? Who has only a REGULAR library card?)

A bit of an emotional rollercoaster, it’s been. Basically, my only wish is: can I eat food again? I’m feeling rapturous! (Er, I mean, ravenous.)

We here at Shastas’s Fog also like to look on the bright side:

  1. My brother-in-law’s parents and a church family DONATED the use of a nice truck and trailer to move me.
  2. While my laptop is being fixed, my sister lent me her laptop for three weeks because let’s face it: she’s pretty selfless.
  3. While moving, I found $$$ in an old Bible as I was putting it on its new shelf. (Let this be a lesson: first, you should always read books. Second, because no one else reads books, it is a safe place to stuff your cash. #threeyearslater)
  4. I now live next to a cupcake shop.
  5. Let’s have a moment of silence for #4.

More posts and updates coming this summer! Thanks for reading!

Pardon Me, Lancaster

Have you ever wondered what happens when your most average Mennonite visits Lancaster, the hippest “Mennonite” city on the planet? THIS. A series of apologies for showing up in public. And some pretty lame Instagrams.

I offer my apologies to all the truly trendy Lancaster city-dwellers. You must know that I’m not actually trying to fit in. (I’m one beanie and one pair of ankle booties short.)

Also, I showed up in public at one of your meeting houses with, of all things, Fyodor Dostoevsky.

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In this case, I should actually apologize to Russia.
Dostoevsky: Lancaster can’t even take you seriously. In fact, Lancaster, I have a question for you:

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Anyway, City of Lancaster! I visited! Apparently, it was kind of a big deal for you.

So pardon me.
*disgruntled huff
*situates skirt

One thing: it’s really not fair dropping me off and leaving me to figure you out for myself because I can’t tell your fake “English” from your real ones. I can’t tell who’s a “J.O.” (that’s northern Indiana dialect for “Jumped Over,” meaning those Amish who have “jumped over” the fence to the other side: being non-Amish.)

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You see, Lancaster, I’m an expert at picking out the “J.O’s” in Indiana. When my family (who does not live among the Amish) comes to visit me, they are surprised when I point at modern-looking teens walking around town and point out that they’re actually Amish youths, dressed up in their rumspringa clothes. My family sees a hipster, a prep, and a jock, but I see “Sadie Miller,” “Ida Hoffstettder,” and “Ray’s Johnny.” …Also, I can pick out  Mennonite and Amish J.O.’s on social media.

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No really, I’m pretty good. In this line, you see two people: an Amish lady plus a schlepped-up high school kid. But I know for a fact: it’s mother and daughter.

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#fact
#J.O.
#rumspringa

But in Lancaster, I can’t tell! Is that tattooed barista a closet Mennonite? Is that homeless guy actually an Amish hipster? Is the immaculately tailored businessman actually a wealthy Mennonite in disguise? How does one tell? It’s very unfair not to let me in on all your secrets.

I’ll tell you, Lancaster, that I started exploring at the Main Street Exchange, that Mennonite mecca of modest clothing goods. Off of 322 in Blue Ball, PA, Main Street Exchange is every Mennonite girl’s dream. Racks and racks of gorgeous, modest skirts. A-line, denim, maxi, and pencil. Tube, pleated, and midi. It’s all there. And artfully arranged, differentiated by style, texture, and material.

And so Lancaster, to try to fit in, I Instagrammed. (Don’t laugh.)

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Next, I headed off to Rachel’s Crepery, where I’ve made pilgrimages in the past.

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I was seated next to a light-colored brick fireplace and a curiously large palm. I hugged my mug of coffee, anticipating my Greek Omelette crepe. The blue skies and sunshine streaming in the window, my crepe, and my cheerful waitress did not disappoint. (You know, some businesses know how to hire workers who are unequivocally delighted to serve everyone who enters, no matter how dour and dawdy they are. Rachel’s Crepery in Lancaster and Jeni’s Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio are two companies who do this.) My waitress smiled at me,  even though I was wearing a shirt from last season! Good job, Lancaster.

I would have photographed my crepe, but:

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Next, I scouted out a runing shoe store to look for new trainers. (NEW BALANCE FRIENDZ: HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEW 1080s?!!!) The shoes are turning out to be rather elusive, however, and I didn’t even find them.) Soon, I had the abrupt realization that I was shopping for athletic wear in LANCASTER.

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I’m pretty sure no one in Lancaster even wears athletic shoes.That, for you, would be so… basic. So much for trying. (See, even when I try to be Lancaster-y, I can’t even.)

Wow. Also. Sorry, Lancaster! You guys have a LOT of rules about using credit cards! Several times people gave me the evil eye for whipping out my plastic. I’m sorry. In the rest of the world, we use credit cards for the tiniest of purchases, and no one charges our businesses exorbitant fees for processing. I mean, I can deal with your policies, but I’ll have to get used to it?

By this time, I was ready for more caffeine. Now, there were like a hundred hip coffee shops to choose from in Lancaster city.

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Obviously, I chose Prince Street Café because it’s so… central. Even though it’s kind of… basic. So I paid $3 to in Prince Street Café next to three “Chinese” men, a chemistry “student,” and a “guy” with a meticulously groomed mustache. (Not buying it. They were probably all just Amish.) I spent the rest of my afternoon in Lancaster reading Dostoevsky, but, in an attempt to fit in with the locals, I religiously kept checking Instagram. I didn’t TAKE that many Instagrams because I mean, I know that my photography isn’t that well composed, I know that it’s not white enough, and I know that you, Lancaster, would be embarrassed if I tagged you in pictures of my embarrassingly Midwestern self.

So, you’re welcome.

Soon, I left the city, heading south on 81, excited for my next stop, several states away. Later, I ended up stranded for over an hour in a traffic jam behind a car in which a man was stuck in the trunk and was trying to get out. I decided that it was highly metaphorical of my day in Lancaster city.

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Just kidding. (But thanks for reading.)
Peace, love, and authenticity to all.