Living in Holmes County, site of the world’s largest Amish community has its advantages. There are always plenty of delicious carbs on the menu no matter where you choose to eat. There are limitless resources available if you need skilled craftsmen. The landscape, dotted with beautiful farms, is nostalgic and spectacular. And there is always a festival going on somewhere.

June 21st will be the fifth annual Benton Days, an event Paul and I enjoy every year. With mouthwatering BBQ chicken, home-made ice-cream, and live music, it’s a great atmosphere to catch up with the neighbors and make new friends. Local talent on the music menu includes Roy D’s Granddaughters, Abe Yoder, Daughters of Grace and John Schmid.

In the past the legendary Amish volleyball tournaments boasted some serious talent. While this year’s event will not have volleyball (due to scheduling conflicts) the fierce corn hole competitions will be worth watching.  The proceeds from these events usually benefit someone in need in the community. It’s great to see the many young people that turn out for the fun and the cause. And it’s better than watching the pro teams for entertainment value.

Cities have a lot to offer but I’m thinking so do small towns. I can almost taste that chicken already!  It all starts at 4:30 pm.  See you there!                                                                                                                                                                        Photos courtesy of JD Schrock

I have never managed to memorize the names of all the faithful perennials scattered about in my flowerbeds but I had to snap a photo of these when I was at the Cherry Blossom cabin yesterday. My methodology in horticulture is to buy plants I find at garage sales in the spring, most of them stuck in a used grocery sack and without identifying monikers.

Since I did not inherit the green thumb my brother Tobe was born with, there is no rhyme or reason in my planting. I just stick whatever I have purchased on a given day into the barest spot in the bed and see what happens. For the first year or so, my perennials often look more like random weeds than intentional growth.  When I planted some ground cover several years ago I also popped in a few mysterious varieties of flowering greenery that struck my fancy. The ones that are doing the best? These beauties that I have no memory of planting. I’m thinking they were tag-alongs, attached to something else that caught my eye and received the stick-it-in-the-dirt treatment.

However they got there and whatever their name, they are a feast for the eyes.

Every year my daughter Jaimee’ and I hit the Sugarcreek yard sales. I’m not sure of the exact number of garages filled with treasures but it seems like a hundred. After shopping at only a small fraction of them last Friday morning my vehicle was loaded and I headed home.

Sugarcreek Yard Sale Weekend has become famous in the area and is usually the second weekend in May. It seems that’s the same weekend it usually rains as well but never enough to dampen the spirits of the bargain hunters. This year we lucked out. It rained heavily during the night, stayed overcast but dry throughout the day, and rained heavily again in the evening. Saturday was pretty much a repeat of Friday. Even the weatherman, it seems, is getting into the spirit of things.

I found a bonanza of decorative items, a brand-new radio system I had tried to buy on Black Friday without success, and a box-full of toys and books for the grandbabies. These days, especially if you find the right places, yard sale finds are not old, beat-up, heavily used items. All the toys and books I found looked like new; a quick cleaning with bleach wipes and the loot had the kids reliving Christmas.

I’m already looking forward to next year.

Wild gobblers are frequent visitors at Ferngully Creek. This photo was taken from inside the cabin by Jaimee’ when she was getting things ready for soon-to-arrive guests. Deer are also spotted regularly, as are racoons, squirrels and a large variety of songbirds.

When I was shivering in the freezing wind during the Berlin Christmas Parade, watching the camels strolling down main street between the hundreds of spectators lining both sides of the road, I knew there was no better place to kick off the holidays than Holmes County.  The street lamps illuminated the idyllic setting as carolers were pulled through on a beautifully decorated gazebo and the local high-school band serenaded everyone with songs of the season.  Through all the political conflicts bombarding us these days, this place is like a blast from the past with the basics of life still a priority.  What a refreshing and peaceful scene!  And the snowflakes started to fall as if on cue.

In the following weeks more celebrations took place.  The Journey to Bethlehem in Walnut Creek is such a fun time, I’m already thinking ahead to next Christmas and which out-of-town relatives could be induced to come visit and enjoy it with us.  Then there was the Holiday Cookie Tour with local inns and B & Bs.  Delicious fun!  The Christmas Concert at The Amish Country Theater was sold-out and well worth it.

Simply driving through Winesburg, Walnut Creek, Berlin, and Millersburg to see all the luminaries, candles in the windows, and holiday cheer in the shops  is sufficient to inspire even Scrooge to have a good time.  I am always thrilled that the birth of a savior all those years ago in a tiny stable in a town thousands of miles away was the inspiration for all this celebration centuries after the fact.  No amount of commercialization can make that null and void.

So now that the holidays are over we have an Ohio winter to face.  Being one of those creatures that loves the snow I enjoy hunkering down and finding something fun to do in whatever the weather throws at me.  Fortunately for me, I live in a place where sleigh rides are available, fireplaces abound, and an outdoor bonfire is always possible.  I think I’ll fix myself a steaming mug of hot chocolate, grab a book, head for an easy chair and let the wind howl in the trees outside.

Ferngully Creek is beautiful no matter what the season and we’d love to share it with you!

Amish volleyball tournaments are not the demonstration of amateur sports you might expect. They are well-organized, well-attended, and well-played. With girls teams, guys teams, and co-ed teams, all competing for the prize (which is usually donated to a local family in need), these tournaments are great fun to watch.

Last weekend the Berlin Lions hosted an all-day event at the park. Beginning at 8 am, under cloudy grey skies and a misting drizzle the kids started congregating at the seven nets that were stretched end-to-end across the grassy areas of the park. With a skill that could have earned a few scholarships, had any of them been college-bound, the players pounded the ball back and forth, undetered by the chilly weather. With the final eliminations finished the winners were named around 3:00pm. After playing all day, a dozen or so kids started yet another game. . .just for fun.

Music performed by favorite local artists was planned from 5:00 to 8:00, along with the Lions BBQ’d chicken and Lion Doug’s most amazing beans. He had been working on them for hours, stirring a large cast iron pot over an open fire and adding a little of this and a little of that until he was satisfied with the taste.

The clouds continued to threaten rain so the stage was moved from the outdoor flatbed to the picnic pavilion. It turned out to be a perfect evening. No hot sun and almost no rain. The crowds brought their own lawn chairs and blankets. Some sat at picnic tables scattered about. Kids played on the nearby swings. And everyone got a chance, once again, to experience what it is about living in Holmes County that makes it one of a kind.

This past weekend was a typical weekend in Holmes County. The biggest problem was deciding which event to attend.

Friday evening we went to the annual Benton Days. With delicious BBQ chicken and baked beans followed by home-made ice-cream, no one had any excuse to leave hungry. Visiting with friends and neighbors while listening to the local bluegrass band, Salt Creek Inc, was most enjoyable. This was followed by John Schmid, always a favorite in these parts; he sang a few well-known Johnny Cash tribute numbers, mingled with some songs written by locals.

The weather was made-to-order for the volley ball tournaments with net after net stretching across the vacant grassy lot. It looked to me like there were more than a hundred Amish kids waiting their turn to play. Beside the big tent covering the main side-street were corn hole competitions, the thunk, thunk of the bean bags keeping time to the music playing under the canvas.

I looked around at people I had come to know in the past thirty-five years of living here, and at those I still hadn’t met. It occured to me that, although enjoyable in the extreme, no majestic symphony at Carnegie Hall, no gourmet meal in the finest setting of crystal and linens, could top a warm summer evening in Benton, enjoying all that is the best of small-town living.

Recently my husband and I were able to spend two weeks in the Phoenix area for a family reunion. We took advantage of our time there by visiting the Grand Canyon, Sedona, the Hoover Dam, Sunset Crater, the Superstition Mountains, Canyon Lake and more. The respite from the cold and rainy Ohio weather was wonderful and the scenery was spectacular. The arid climate and stark beauty of the desert lay in sharp contrast to the pines and green vegetation in the higher elevations around Flagstaff.

We absorbed some of the rich history of the state with visits to Tombstone and Jerome. Abandoned silver, gold, and copper mines are now tourist attractions but the dedication and brute determination of the pioneers who forged their way west a century ago remain evident in spite of the commercialization of the towns that surround them.

Our winter-deprived souls soaked up as much sun as possible and we reveled in the blue skies that stretched from horizon to horizon. Returning back to Ohio in the middle of April, we faced much cooler temperatures but the transition was made easier with the sight of pale leaves beginning to show on the branches of trees that had been empty for months. The bright colors of spring flowers bursting forth reassured us that winter is indeed almost gone. The forecaster’s snow did not materialize in Holmes County and I’m hopeful it will not be back until at least November.