Stranger in a Familiar Land

It’s been 4 weeks since our plane from Lisbon touched down in Newark, NJ.  I had spent months of preparation to handle every teeny weeny detail, cuz that’s how I roll.  After 2 ¾ years of residing in Setúbal, Portugal, we were headed back “home” to the US.  It has changed and so have we.  I celebrated 3 birthdays while there and now am officially Medicare and Social Security eligible. 

When we headed east the first time, I was simply unemployed and uninsured.  We had left behind all property, including a car, winnowing our total possessions to the equivalent of 1 carryon and 2 checked bags each.  We had a blast, we explored, we learned Portuguese, we bought furniture for our apartment, we traveled. See previous posts if you want details.

With the decision to head west made, we needed to downsize again, including all the furniture in our apartment.  We had the good fortune to meet some nice Americans who had just made the eastward trek, and, they needed a furnished apartment.  We had bought 2 electric assist folding bicycles and were rudely awakened by the shipping costs – they had to be sold and they were. 

We had other stuff, too.  For people who don’t own very much, we do accumulate.  You see, we are dumpster divers – other peoples’ trash is our treasure.  The fault being that we see potential in anything.  It all returned to the dumpster to await the next diver.

Come flight day, we had netted one more checked bag than when we arrived.  I had netted @#$%&! more pounds than when we arrived. (That Portuguese bread is just divine!)  Our driver took us the 2 ½ hours to our VRBO in rural Lancaster County.  Why out there?  I grew up in central PA and never had a desire to tour where I could see corn fields or smell manure – I lived that.  Much to my surprise, Lancaster County is now a Tourist Destination.  Who knew?  Because of that, I could not find 3 months of accommodation any closer to my sister than Ephrata (30 min away).  Apparently, a lot of New Yorkers love to dip south and tour the Amish Country in the summer.

We needed a home base from which to re-immerse ourselves as residents of the US, namely acquiring things! We had financial and medical chores, too.  Since we are in the middle of East Jabip (look it up on a map), a car was a must.  As was US cellphone service, a phone for me (since I had none), a pool so we could swim regularly, and shopping for clothes, shoes, kitchenware.  There are soooo many thrift shops within 5 miles of us.  Another priority was setting up workspaces and tools for both of us – that included buying a printer.

It may be only a month, but I feel like we got a lot done and are now ready to go about living our lives.  Wayne found our car in a week.  Our last car was a 2001 Saturn, so, you can imagine our culture shock of features.  Owning a car is not new but a distant memory, starting to return as we recall that we should wash it, rotate the tires, etc. We got cell service and I a phone.  I found not one, but three pools for us – 2 of them are free memberships because we qualify for Silver Sneakers.  We decided to pay for the third because it’s outside and magnificently maintained.  We have yet to research the income tax ramifications of increased income – my SSB and Wayne’s RMD.  If you must get older, you might as well get a raise.

Amidst all these errands, we drive…if we want to get anywhere.  The corn and tobacco grow inches by the hour.  We are stunned by the beauty of the working equines- draft, tall and lithe, pony, mule. We have gotten lost because it all looks the same…acres and acres of crops gently interrupted by an occasional large farmhouse and smatterings of outbuildings, children and livestock. 

We share the road with buggies, carts, hay wagons, Amish on bicycles, hotrods and 2 story high tractors.  The road names can be a bit confusing.  As one example, there exists: Farmers Lane, Farmtown Rd., N. Farmersville Rd., S. Farmersville Rd., E. Farmersville Rd., and yes, W. Farmersville Rd.  The road signs only have the single letter of the direction, so pay attention.

Whether at home or on a short walk, there is much to see.  A dam and her young ún live 3 houses over and I have the gift of watching them graze every evening.  Next door, one of the dogs gave birth our second day here.  Because we are on the 2nd floor, we can peer into their yard and see the e.l.e.v.e.n puppies romping about in their cuteness.  Below us in the garage live two more puppies, Simba and Stella.  They are constant free entertainment a la Ladies’ Wrestling, relentless rough and tumble.  On a single walk, we met multitudes of babies.  A goat family with adorable twins, a duck mama with approximately 15 chicks, more young horses and 3 young sheep, one shorn, one not, and one with a kind of Mr. T. cut.

Here’s a few things that feel strange:

  • Newer cars have amazing features well beyond automatic windows.  A camera to back up, little warning light when a car’s in my blind spot and my phone speaks through the dashboard. 
  • I was in a Chinese store (in Lancaster!) and had an overwhelming desire to speak portugûes to him (I fought the urge).
  • We often hear rapid-fire Puerto Rican Spanish in the grocery stores and I want to turn around and speak portugûes to them.
  • The names of roads are no longer four to six words long, but they still don’t make sense because they have identical names with only a N, W, S or E prefix.  When there’s cloud cover, how do I know which direction I’m going?
  • Re-learning the layout of various grocery stores – and the brands.  It even feels strange to be able to read the labels in English.

Here are some of the differences in no particular order:

  • The money is so brown and unattractive, by comparison, euros are beautiful.
  • We both feel free to call anyone for information or even to complain because we know they will speak English.  That doesn’t mean we’ll get what we want, but it’s easier to try. 
  • Our rental apartment has double electrical outlets placed every 10 feet! and most excellent A/C!
  • Window screens – nonremoveable.  I admit I feel a little closed in with them there. No shaking out a tablecloth or blanket. I’m missing a lot of photo ops from our windows since the dang screen grid blocks the pic.
  • We are several hours’ drive from any ocean beach.  Thank goodness we found that outdoor pool.  We will be moving before we miss the ocean too much.
  • I have revived my love affair with Lebanon sweet bologna, blueberries, sweet corn and shoo fly pie.  I miss grilled fish, the bread, caracóis and (affordable) fresh plums. 
  • We are out in the country, so, no walking through or even to town.  Pleasant strolls along the roads are nice, but they won’t get you anywhere.
  • Thrift shops galore.  There seem to be at least three in every tiny town.  The best way to bolster a wardrobe or supply a kitchen.  (Electric hot water kettle? 40 cents!)
  • Pa State Stores.  “Huh?  I can’t buy my booze at the mini market anymore? And I have to pay what for a decent bottle of red wine?”
  • I’m reuniting with family and friends that I haven’t seen for at least 3 years because no one is more than 3 hours’ drive away.  We will have to fly to see our Denver peeps, but not 8 hours.

Here are some similarities in no particular order:

  • We live in a place of sublime winds.  It’s flat farmland, so the wind just sings.
  • Most days are sunny, albeit with puffy white clouds.  There’s rain a little more often, but not enough to spoil your day.  The landscape is lush, green and vibrant.
  • A place to hang out my wash.
  • People are just so gol darned nice.
  • We still live amongst a foreign culture – it’s just a different one.  The Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities live the old way with horse buggies, specific uniform-looking clothing, bowl haircuts for the men, white bonnets for the women and thick accents.
  • We still swim 3x/week.  It keeps us sane and from killing each other.

We have more items to tick off our list before we settle in to a home near Ocean Pines, MD, but we are so much closer than before.  We keep alive the feeling and imagery of visiting the ocean as often as we want, enjoying the woods in our backyard and frequent trips to see the ponies at Assateague Island.  While we are here in Ephrata, there’s much for us to explore – history, nature and fun.

Belated Happy Fourth of July.  We wandered historical Lititz with my sister and her husband and I’m glad to be here.

Beijinhos meus caros amigos,

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Posted in Leisure travel freedom, road trip, travel without stuff, writing

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