Thursday, 29 April 2010

100 things about Central PA and Birthday Memories

On my birthday, I'm thinking about birthdays past, when I celebrated with my three children in Pennsylvania, sharing a picnic of PB & J and chips and carrots and fruit by the Susquehanna River. Those years went by quickly. And this year, my son is far away and I will celebrate with my two daughters and my new husband near different water in TY Park. I love birthday picnics. And I'm hoping the menu is the same -- but I'll miss the fun of playing on the playground at the end of City Island with the kids, and wading in the chilly spring water.

In honor of those memories, here's a taste of what life is like in Central PA. This list lives in a link on the side of this blog...but I'm adding it here in the main page today. If you've lived in PA., you may recognize some of these things. If you've visited, you may catch a few. But if you've never been there, trust me, this is ALL true!

1) The great diners of America are alive and well in almost every town here

2) Fire departments are staffed by volunteers and paid for through pancake breakfasts and chicken barbeques

3) About 70% of the people here have lived here their whole life. As did their parents. Possibly in the same house. Probably in the same neighborhood.

4) The Amish (pronounced om'-ish, not A'-mish) are leaving in droves because the population and building boom in the area has made the area too expensive for their simple lifestyle.

5) If you move here, you will pay more kinds of taxes than you ever imagined could exist...Federal taxes, State income taxes, county taxes, local (city) taxes, school taxes, property taxes (no, they are not the same!), occupation taxes and head taxes!

6) Local delicacies include scrapple, a patty made from a ground mixture of everything usually not eaten off a pig, dipped in flour and deep fried.

7) And stuffed pig description needed. Or wanted.

8) And fastnachts -- a delicious calorie laden potato donut, served especially just before Lent on Fastnacht Day

9) And fresh apple cider and schintzle (dried apple slices)

10) In many areas, there are still more cows than people

11) It is breath-takingly beautiful on a foggy spring or summer morning when you look out over the farmland and valleys.

12) The milk is fresh...really fresh. Like from the day before.

13) If your car breaks down along the road, 6 people will pull over to help you. No matter what the weather. And will not take a dime for helping.

14) Summers here make summers in South Florida look like a cold wave...count on upper 90's and not a breeze in sight for months. Even at night.

15) The snow makes great snowmen, snowforts and snowballs

16) Great scrapbook stores, especially Times to Remember in Hershey

17) The air really does smell like chocolate everyday in Hershey

18) Tuesday is Market Day, when you can buy fresh vegies, fruits, cheeses and almost everything else for your week at huge open air farmer's markets in the cities and in the rural areas. Some are open on Saturday too. A few on Wednesdays.

19) Don't plan on doing anything on Sunday after 4 pm. Almost everything will be closed. Except the diners. (See #1, above)

20) Front door locks are optional

21) You can live 15 miles from the nearest grocery store and locals will consider your home to be "in town"

22) It's the only place in the world where you can stand at the corner of Chocolate and Cocoa, and have them be real streets.

23) All of the Amish information centers and tourist attractions are run by Mennonites

24) Horses and buggies still share the road with cars

25) If someone asks if you're from Perry County (and you're not), you've just been insulted

26) If you are, sorry!

27) The words "leave" and "let" are interchangable. So you may "Let your daughter go to the mall" or "Leave her go to the mall." Same meaning.

28) Gardens grow almost by magic. The soil is amazing.

29) So do weeds

30) The most famous city in the area is pronounced "Lang'-ka-ster", not "Lan-ca-ster". The latter is a late actor. No relation.

31) Something is close by if it's less than 40 miles away. Really.

32) Except cities. They are far even if they're less than 20 miles away.

33) The nickname for this area of Pennsylvania is "Pennsyl-tucky."

34) Townships are the most important form of local goverment. Counties are seldom mentioned except at tax time. Townships are smaller than a country, and may cover several towns.

35) Villages are a legitimate government designation for a locale smaller than a town...I lived in one. Population 54. No kidding.

36) Birch Beer, a non-alcoholic soda is made locally -- and is very popular at all local fests and gatherings

37) Having a house that's over 150 years old is no biggie...most of them are

38) My house was 227 years old

39) The paved roads (except the highways) are mostly the old farm paths that led between the farms or from the farms to the market. So they are winding and quaint. And narrow.

40) In the early 1900's there used to be a trolley line from Elizabethtown to Hershey.

41) Now there is not even a bus. So much for progress.

42) You cannot tour the Hershey Factory anymore.

43) But you can ride a very Disney-esque simulation ride, complete with dancing cows and animatronic hershey kisses.

44) And get a free mini candy bar at the end of the ride

45) If someone says that they "Redded up their house", it means they cleaned it completely, not that they painted it crimson

46) Soft pretzels are HUGE and delicious

47) The oldest pretzel bakery in the US is here in Lititz, PA

48) You can actually try making a traditional twisted pretzel there

49) Your "ticket" for the tour is a pretzel! A real one

50) For a rural area, there is a suprising amount of religious diversity

51) Except in the schools, where major tests, competitions and field trips are often scheduled on the holiest of Jewish and Muslim holidays.

52) Lots of the women here are named Rachel, Sarah and Rebecca

53) The autumn colors are amazing. Who needs New England?

54) You can meet an amazing number of adults who have lived there their entire life, and have never been to Baltimore (about 45 minutes away) or Washington D.C. (about 1.25 hours away.) And they are ok with that.

55) The same people who loved the area for its rural charm have moved there and are now demanding Targets and Best Buys and all the other strip mall clutter they left behind in NJ, NY and MA.

56) Unfortunately, they are getting it

57) Central PA has some of the most fertile farmland in the country

58) In another 10 years, almost all of it will be under houses, strip malls and roads.

59) You can buy produce, hay and homemade preserves from roadside honesty stands where they put out a box for you to pay for your selection.

60) And people actually pay

61) And don't steal the box

62) Lots of the men here are named Jacob, Issac, Abraham, and Samuel

63) Local elementary schools frequently have less than 200 students total

64) High schools have about 800 students.

65) You cannot go for a drive without seeing a pick-up truck.

66) Herbal medicine, accupuncture and holistic healing are very popular in the area

67) Being a vegetarian is not

68) If your family ever lived here, chances are they have a genealogy record for them in one of the historical societies

69) Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania -- not Philadelphia

70) Harrisburg has a growing art community and two really cool annual waterfront art festivals

71) And a gay pride festival

72) And a film festival

73) But no good art museums

74) It's always freezing for the Harrisburg St. Patrick's Day parade...even if it was 70 degrees the day before

75) There are still weekly local newspapers

76) With headlines like "Parking too close to corner annoys local residents"

77) I know because I wrote that story

78) It was the biggest thing at the town meeting that month

79) People wrote in comments about the issue

80) For two weeks

81) Cats are a way of life if you don't want rodents in your house or barn

82) Almost every town has a really nice community pool.

83) HersheyPark has an awesome concert season

84) Locals will tell you they "moved away" for awhile...they mean to other side of the river 15 miles from where they started. But they came back.

85) Garden clubs are a major social gathering

86) For most non-locals, it's difficult to stay for more than two or three months without a trip "outside" to New York, Washington, D.C., or Philly or someplace further.

87) Local fairs are another major Central PA social gathering.

88) Pretty much everyone in the community enters something in the fair -- a pie, a quilt, a model airplane, a drawing, a pianting, a vegetable...

89) People who live there refer to their area as "Central P.A."

90) There are lots of really cool old cemeteries to explore

91) Every festival, show or public event will have a stand selling fresh hot kettlecorn.

92) It's addictive

93) Most people seem to have a dog...a big dog. Not many maltese or yorkies around

94) Blackberries grow wild every summer

95) Every school has an annual craft fair

96) They all sell the exact same crafts

97) The Amish make the most beautiful quilts ever

98) Only the tourists buy them

99) It is only sunny about 34-40 days a year. The rest of the time it's gray.

100) Outlet shopping rules in Central P. A.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Mary Chapin Carpenter - This Shirt

In the song, "This Shirt", Mary Chapin Carpenter talks about an ordinary looking shirt that to the casual eye, might just look worn out. But to her, it carries all the memories of where it's been, and how her life was at the time.

Does any one else have one of those things that carries so many memories, all in something that looks so ordinary? I would love to hear your stories, for a book idea I am working on. Thanks, all! Please pass the link to this post on, so anyone who might have a story to share can get in touch with me. (Facebook users, the link is:

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Learning from the rest...

I've always believed that each religion on earth contains a bit of the truth of G-d's plan...and that no religion has it all. We are all on our paths, selected, I believe, by G-d, to meet our needs this time around. I am Jewish, so that is my path. I've explored other faiths, but I know I'm where I belong.

But because I see the value in all the paths, I've always been open to the lessons I find in other religions. I thought it might be nice to express my gratitude for some of the gifts I've gathered from other religions, other paths to the top of the mountain.

From my Muslim friends, I've learned that there is indeed enough to be grateful for in life to pray five times each and every day. And I've learned that it is possible to move through life gracefully and with focus and beauty doing the right things and helping those in need, even when half of the country is ignorant enough to label your religion a religion of terror.

From my Christian friends, I've learned the concept of faith in action. They've demonstrated to me that words don't count and showing up at a religious service doesn't count unless you're out doing something good for G-d's people the rest of the time. Through their service projects and outreach to the hungry and abused, I learned how to really BE a child of G-d, instead of just say I am.

From my Mormon friends, I've learned the way a family can be, can feel, can interact. The countless examples they've shown me of how to build a forever-family has profoundly influenced every aspect of my parenting. What I did not learn from my family of origin, I was given instead by the LDS families I came to know.

From my Buddhist friends, I've learned how to be quiet, how to be mindful, and how to experience the moment. I've discovered the profound value in sitting still and being alone with myself, free from distraction and sound and doing.

From my Hindu friends, I've been given the knowledge that G-d can take different forms for different people, different places and different times, and yet remain in unity and wholeness.

From my Quaker friends, I've been given the gift of centering down. Of finding that quiet space amid the noise, and of being free from the need to speak just for the sake of filling the silence. I've also learned that it is possible to be completely against war, and not defend that belief from those who would call it irrational or unrealistic. It just is.

For all of these, and for the countless times that a word, an idea, an image from your faith has touched me, and inspired my growth on my own path, I say now...thank you.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Playing with my friends

On Saturday night, a group of us...about 50 or so...went to Miami MetroZoo for an after-dark experience where we got to get up close and personal with tigers, lions, a rhino and some other zoo residents.

It was like being a kid again, full of wonder as we stood FAR closer than we ever expected to these beautiful beings, and experienced the awe of sharing a space with those who are usually far, far beyond a barrier. We spoke to the animals by name, and they responded! When I called one of the camels by name, he came running back! That was so cool!

Afterwards, 11 of us went to Ruby Tuesday's for a late supper and conversation. We joked around, as we waited for our table, everyone laughing and talking about which animals they liked best and which group got to see the most animals.

As supper came to a close, a battle started at the table. I'm not sure whether it was a grape or a sugar packet that was launched first, but in seconds, lemon wedges, grapes, packets of sweetener and chips were flying. Then one person went and got a bunch of paper coasters, which became impromptu Frisbees, as they were sent flying around the table, too. The restaurant was nearly empty, so we didn't disturb any other diners. And we kept our ammunition within the confines of our table. But otherwise, it was a no-holds barred kidfest, where the only "official" kid was my daughter, age 12.

And I loved every second of it! It was wonderful to play with my friends -- even more so, to have friends who are willing to play, unconcerned about whether it makes them look silly or childish. In this world full of people afraid to smile or take a chance, it's a blessing to find people who remember G-d put us here to be happy. And that sometimes, that might involved some flying grapes.

PS...We cleaned up most of our mess, and left the waitress a VERY nice tip! Just in case you were wondering!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Good advice for a Friday...

My kids grew up in Central PA. Okay, so two of them were born in Utah, but they grew up amid corn fields and farms and cows in PA.. And another part of being a kid (or a parent of little kids) in South Central PA was going to Steven Courtney concerts.

At the schools, in the park, at FamilyFest -- there was always a Steven Courtney concert. But unlike parents in other areas who have to deal with bad music in the name of kids' concerts, Steven was and is a very talented performer.

I haven't seen one of his performances since we moved, but I recently stumbled across this video on YouTube. So I wanted to share...the perfect message for all of us, every day...enjoy.

And if you're every in Central PA, check out a Steven Courtney won't be disappointed. (If you're reading this on Facebook, click through to the original post to see the video...Facebook Notes lose the videos!)

Monday, 5 April 2010

The days of Firsts

This weekend, my new husband and I bought our first pieces of furniture together. We also bought the power tool we needed to put it together. And we celebrated our first Shabbat as guests as a married couple. A few days ago, Lance first introduced me to someone new as his wife. And at the bank on Friday, I first signed my new name on an official document.

These are the days of firsts. For the next few months, there will be many firsts. And I am happy to be both experiencing them, and paying attention to them. They represent a new beginning for both of us. As time goes on, the number of "firsts" each week will decrease. But I want to bring this kind of awareness to our lives even when the second or third or twenty-eight time comes around.

No, I don't mean I plan to count each and every time we buy a household item or attend an event together. But I do want to maintain that awareness that every day with my husband is something new and special. Everyday presents a new opportunity for us to grow together, to experience our lives together, to move deeper into lasting and forever love.

G-d brought us together -- our story makes that clear. So in return for that miracle, I want to bring to my marriage the kind of mindfulness that such a divine act deserves.

So even when the kind of firsts you write in a wedding book have long since past, I will be looking for, and celebrating, the details and experiences of my life with my forever new husband.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

11 days into married life...

I am mostly exhausted. Happy, blessed, joyful, but also wiped out...

Still waiting for some down days have been starting at 6:30 or 7 and I am out and doing and running around until 10 or 11 at night...

Why? The rush of the move and all of the wedding planning gave way to the rush of Pesach preparations and the rush of preparing my daughter for her trip to see her grandmother, which has been coupled with the rush of super-tight deadlines at work, on-going attempts to organize our home and the stuff of daily living.

I need a day to sit at Starbucks or under a tree like the girl in the picture and read, maybe go for a long, long, long walk, then take a nap in the sunshine, and just get my bearings back!

Unfortunately, I can't schedule a day like that until ...maybe May? June?

Can anyone loan me a day?