Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pennsylvania: So Much to Love...

I am currently in the midst of a ten-day business trip in New England. Need I say I’m in Seventh Heaven? I started with a visit to our sister company’s office where I used to work in Connecticut and spent the night with friends in the area last night. Now I’m in Boston at a conference until Sunday, and I will then be heading to office headquarters for a couple of days before I wind my way back down to Pennsylvania via Connecticut again. Of course, it’s “spring” in New England, which means it’s still winter. (Around July 1, summer will make its three week appearance before fall sets in.) The thermometer on my car when I parked it at a commuter train station today said it was close to 50 degrees, but don’t let those thermometers fool you. The wind is blowing in Boston as though the city has heard she’s up for a lucrative job as a Chicago impersonator, and I am very grateful to have my long wool coat with me. Nonetheless, I’m happy as a (New England) clam (chowder). I even plan to go set foot on the shores of my beloved Maine on Sunday afternoon, since I will actually have some time to do that, which doesn’t usually happen when I’m visiting the office.

All this New England exposure is making me feel good, but oddly enough, it’s making me feel good about Pennsylvania. Last time I was in Connecticut, a couple of months ago, I didn’t seem to be able to stop crying. This time, I’ve had a much more laid-back reaction, and I didn’t shed a tear until I put in an Eddie from Ohio CD with a song that has nothing to do with Connecticut and that always makes me cry, no matter where I am.

I haven’t given too many details about life in Pennsylvania since we moved, which has been an indication that I’ve not exactly had the easiest time adjusting to my new hometown. I would love to be able to say that I moved right in, bought a straw hat and a hoe, felt right at home, and am currently in the market for a couple of dairy cows. In reality, I spent the first three months wondering what on earth Bob and I had done, but keeping it all to myself, because I didn’t want him to feel bad about dragging me away from Connecticut, nor did I want to admit that I might have made a mistake in choosing this place (after all, this was a joint decision that we made together, and we did not make it lightly). Turns out (funny the way marriage works, huh?) that I should not have been keeping my feelings to myself. When Bob and I finally started talking about it in depth, I discovered that he, too, when he had a moment to breathe between funerals and committee meetings and parishioners who “need to talk to you,” and Lent coming practically the day after New Year’s (oh yeah, and writing a sermon every week), would sometimes find himself wondering what on earth he and I had done.

But we’ve now been in our new home for six months, and I’m feeling settled (granted, sometimes I feel I’ve “settled” somewhere like Pluto, but I’m still feeling settled). One thing I have to say about Pennsylvanians is that they are very down-to-earth and ingenuous people. I’ve been told this isn’t the case, that they don’t tend to welcome newcomers to the area, but my experience has been nothing of the sort. We’ve been welcomed with open arms, and not only by our church members. Neighbors and others in the community seem to be eager to get to know us and have been making attempts to do so. We’ve been invited to “escape” to secluded farms where we can walk and sit on the front porch with our books when we feel the need to get away. We’ve also been invited to hang out at others’ swimming pools this summer, “especially during the day, because no one’s here all day long, you know.” I had to know people in Connecticut forever and practically make blood pacts with them, or at least sign legal documents, before I received similar sorts of invitations. Before, I was living in an area where people were always trying to be smarter and wittier than the next guy. Now I’m living in an area where everyone fears they’re too dumb to understand much (which just isn’t true. Many of them are actually much smarter and wiser than those “let-me-one-up-you-on-my-knowledge-of-inane-trivia" bores with whom I often had to interact in New York and Connecticut), and they have passion, which is always a wonderful quality. They’re eager to love and to learn and to share.

I love other things about Pennsylvania as well. I love the fact that I can walk to both the bank and the post office, impossibilities where I used to live. I love the fact that just about everything else I really need is within about five miles of my house. My main “grocery store” is an Amish market located on an Amish farm, where almost all the produce is organic and where most of it, come summer, will be locally grown. (One hazard for someone like me is buying their beef. If the cows happen to be grazing in the field next to the market when I arrive, the beef gets crossed off the grocery list. I have definitely learned, since moving here, that I could never farm meat.) As a matter of fact, I could hardly have picked a better spot for locally grown and produced food. The city of Lancaster has a famous farmer’s market. This is one of the few areas of the country where one can buy things like raw milk and cheese (the cheese is absolutely delicious). I can’t wait till this summer to experience it fully.

When one gets tired of being too much of an environmental goody-two-shoes, just a half-hour drive away is Wegman’s, a store that puts the “super” in supermarket (and where I finally discovered I could get the Greek yogurt I’ve been hooked on ever since reading French Women Don’t Get Fat -- a book, I am convinced, that single-handedly created a successful market for Greek yogurt in this country -- which has saved me from having to break down and make my own). If you’re going to have to move away from NYC’s Fairway market, try to make sure there is a Wegman’s somewhere nearby. Apparently the chain is developing its own organic farms, and they make the news quite often for being a place that treats both its customers and its employees well (ever seen any other supermarket chains that actually provides seats for its cashiers?).

Oh, and speaking of food: you know, those Amish can certainly bake. I guess they do it all the time, have an abundance, and don’t want to waste it, so they offer it up to us English who don’t mind at all paying for their sumptuous cherry or chocolate pecan pies, as well as their soft, doughy breads. Sometimes they just stick tables right out in front of their homes with things like gooey cinnamon buns for sale. I’m not sure the Amish invented whoopee pies, but they are tasty little treats as well. (I guess there’s a reason I’ve gained five pounds since moving here, despite all my walking.)

Here’s another terrific thing about Pennsylvania. For the first time in my voting life, I’m living somewhere where all eyes are on us. And I am heartened and excited by the fact that we seem to know quite a few people in this extremely Republican area of ours who are switching party affiliations this year in order to be able to vote in the primaries (they are people who tend to vote Democratic on the national level but have always been registered Republicans, because they need to be for local elections if they want to have any say). I’m hoping this is happening in other small Republican towns across the country. I’m still very worried that the Democrats are doing everything they possibly can to hand this election over to John McCain, but living where I do is giving me a little hope. Oh, and talking about the Democrats’ fumbling and bumbling of the election reminds me of yet another good thing about where I now live. The paper carries Donald Kaul, a columnist I have not gotten to read since moving away from North Carolina, because The New York Times does not carry him. It’s nice to know he’s as good as he ever was twenty years ago.

So, you see, it’s growing on me more and more every day. Just wait till the day we finally move to Maine. You just might hear me bemoaning the fact that I can no longer get a good whoopee pie and wondering why no one invites us to come ice skating on their swimming pools when they’re away at work all day.


Susan said...

It sounds like you are finding your way. It takes a long time to move from one place to another, even if you picked it to do. My mother lives outside Mennonite community near Kitchener, and we see the buggys go by often (when I visit, I mean). Her neighbors are Mennonite, and she has learned alot about their customs over the years. I like how you describe the food for sale outside their homes! Are you getting used to having your husband be the pastor? I actually rather envy how your life sounds - you're where I'd like to be, in the country (I prefer a slower way of life), with a husband who has work he loves (even if he wasn't prepared for the move/change either!) My husband has been on contract work since moving from England 7 years ago, and it is starting to wear on him (and us to be honest) now.

How much do you walk every day? when it's not icy (I've fallen twice this winter so far) I try for 3 miles a day.
And i love, love, love your description of summer coming for three weeks in July! Sure feels like it this year!!! Still 3 feet of snow everywhere!

Rebecca H. said...

Wegmans! That place is a tourist destination. I swear my brother and sister-in-law go there just to hang out every time we're in Rochester. I can't think of another grocery store that has a cult following ... I'm glad you're settling in and getting used to the place. I've been thinking about how the change hasn't been easy for you. But it sounds like you have so many wonderful things where you are. I'd join you there if I could!

IM said...

This post makes me want to visit even more. We should do a bake-goods tour.

ZoesMom said...

You make Pennsylvania sound really, really good! I'm glad you're starting to feel settled and I hope I do get to visit and check out the farmer's market. 6 months isn't bad. It took me a lot longer than that when I moved out of NYC almost 9 years ago. I think it was last week.

I hope the rest of your trip is good. It was good to see you!

Emily Barton said...

Susan, yes, I'm getting used to my husband being the pastor. And it is absolutely wonderful that he has work he loves. I've been down the "husband-is-miserable-at-work" road, and I don't ever want to go down it again. One thing I've learned, though, is that being in the country does not guarantee a slower way of life. If you're someone who leans towards "busyness," you will find plenty of ways to meet your needs even in the country. Oh, and I walk six days a week 3-6 miles a day.

Dorr, I knew you'd know all about Wegmans. I have to say, I didn't really believe it until I saw it. My very snobby thought when everyone raved about it to me was, "Oh, everything is so weird here. It probably isn't much different from a Super Stop 'n' Shop." I was wrong! I would LOVE it if you joined us down here (and, as I've said before, you'd love the biking here. I think of you and Hobs every time an obvious racer passes me when I'm out walking).

IM, ooooh, a baked-tours good sounds like a terrific idea. You wouldn't believe how many bakeries we have around here.

ZM, why do people ever move out of NYC? It's one of those things that sounds like a good idea until you actually do it, isn't it?

Eva said...

My dad's family is from Pennsylvania, and I always loved how gorgeous it was when we visited! But I haven't spent more than a week there, lol. I'm glad you're enjoying it more now. :)

Patricia said...

I totally understand the ups and downs with a move. I moved back to New Brunswick after a 10 year absence. Alberta was about as far away from the Maritimes as say, the moon from the sun. I lived near here many years ago but it seems like a world away. We lived by Edmonton and that is a large city with approximately 1 million people. Here....the whole area is about the 1/10 of that. There are so many trees and hills here. And wet snow.

I didn't realize how much a part of Alberta I became in those 10 years, or how much a part of the community I was in. I loved where I lived and I knew so many people. Here it is different. In the 10 months we have been here I have recognized maybe 3 people when I go out. You don't realize the effect that can have on you... seeing NO ONE you recognize for month after month. I do appreciate things about NB, such as all the water and the gorgeous fall foliage....but I miss many things about my old home too.

I have always said it takes 6 months to a year before you can honestly judge if you will like your new place. I say that, having moved many times in my life. Oddly enough the move that I felt the most acutely and was homesick the most about, was moving from New Brunswick to Germany. It was beautiful....but I just wanted to go home (Canada). I'm a home girl at heart, I guess. My sister, who posted the first comment here (Susan) I think would move back to England if she could. I'd go and visit of course, but would probably still want to come back to Canada.

Anonymous said...

I love to think of you and Bob finally confessing to each other that you have your doubts - what a liberating marital moment that must have been. And you can tell us, too, you don't have to hide it all, because you can bet we've all been there, one way or another. Moving such a long way from where you were is really hard, and it does take time to adjust, and it sounds to me like you've undertaken a really difficult process with a lot of grace.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you are settling in. It seems like it takes more time than we would expect when we made big moves like you did. We are contemplating the possibility of moving once my library degree is complete and the thought both thrills and terrifies me. Another six months in your new home and newcomers will think you are a native you'll fit in so well

Emily Barton said...

Eva, it's truly a fantastic place to visit, and I'm sure it will eventually be a fantastic place to live as well.

Lady P, I think what's been most suprising to me is to discover, like you seem to have done with Alberta, how attached I was to Connecticut, a place I always just thought of as a sort of "rest stop" or something in my life until I woke up and realized I'd been living there for twenty years and that it was so much a part of me.

Litlove, yes it was very liberating, and you have no idea what a relief it was. Things were almost much brighter from the very moment we both started talking about it. And you're right: I should share more, because the only way to feel better about something is to know you aren't alone.

Stef, there are lots of libraries in Lancaster County (hint, hint).

Anonymous said...

I love how lightly and naturally you write about New England because, being unfamiliar with this part of the world, I wouldn't be able to tell more than a superficial difference if I moved slightly southward.

You're right about Boston. The wind has been doing crazy things over the past two months (40-55 mph gusts in the city). I am a sound sleeper, but there are times when the sound of the wind howling outside my apartment keeps me awake with bad thoughts.

Glad to see that you are settling into and enjoying the patterns of your new life in Pennsylvania. I moved six months ago from California for work, and while work is good, it has been a struggle to adapt to the differences between the coasts.

Emily Barton said...

Polaris, I promise you'd be able to tell the difference between Boston and Lancaster County. However, you really HAVE made a big move! I must stop complaining.