Pinch Me Places: Ponce de León Sites

One of the "Pinch me places" I've been thrilled and amazed to visit was earlier this year, when I got to see "Casa Blanca," the sprawling house built by Spanish explorer (and early governor of the region) Juan Ponce de León.
He built it in 1521--a date so close to the discovery of the Americas (and Ponce de León's own discovery of Florida) that it hardly seems possible--though he never lived in it. He died during an expedition to Florida while the structure was being built. It was, however, the residence of his descendants until the mid-eighteenth century. Today, Casa Blance  is a museum of sixteenth- and seventeenth century artifacts managed by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. It is one of the oldest buildings in Puerto Rico and is, of course, a cultural treasure.
Also on that trip was a quick visit to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on (appropriately enough) Calle del Cristo in the heart of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
It has been the final resting place of Juan Ponce de León since 1836, when his remains were transferred here from the nearby San Jose Church (which I also got to see, though only from the outside). The cathedral is considered one of the most important landmarks on the island of Puerto Rico. The original construction of straw and wood began in 1521, and (due to storms and fires) was repeatedly rebuilt over the years. The current structure dates to 1584.

Ponce de León has been a subject of study for me for some time, for various reasons. It was amazing to be able to see the home he built and his final resting place, 521 years after he sailed with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World, and 501 years after his discovery of (possibly) Florida.

The Mellow Mushroom

The lovely Robin and I met a couple good, old friends (yeah, you heard that right, Larry and Janet) at The Mellow Mushroom in West Chester last evening for dinner. 
We were greeted and seated immediately in the spacious and lively dining room. Our server was cheerful and attentive (but not intrusive), and the food was spectacular. Robin and I each had an "Enlightened Spinach Salad" (the Mellow Mushroom often pays tribute to its roots in hippie culture), and then Robin indulged in the "Mega Veggie" pizza: 
Having seen a couple folks at a nearby table sharing a Red Skin Potato Pie (I often spy on other diners' meals to see what looks good), I ordered one for myself:
It was inexpressibly delicious, and neither of us finished our pie, but that just means we had some to bring home to enjoy later.

It was a wonderful meal with great company, and an experience we won't hesitate to repeat...often.

The Mellow Mushroom is located at 9238 Floer Drive, just off Union Center Blvd. in West Chester, Ohio.

Pinch Me Places: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

I've been there four times, and each time it has been a "pinch me place." It is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which is in all likelihood the actual place of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection:
Though it is a sprawling church that doesn't quite preserve the "ambiance" of the hill we call Calvary, it has for many centuries marked and preserved the site of the crucifixion (where the bedrock at the top of Calvary has been left open to sight around the altar):
Another focal point in the church is the "stone of unction," where tradition says Jesus' body was laid to prepare for burial after coming down from the cross:
And, "close at hand" as the Gospel says in John 19:42, is the site of the most momentous event in human history, the tomb of Jesus, marked by "the edifice," a boxlike chapel within the church (it's a big place). There, in a Crusader chapel built on Byzantine foundations and revered from the earliest days of Christianity, is this altar commemorating the resurrection:
It is a place of staggering antiquity and of breathtaking historical, spiritual, and personal--for me--importance. It is impossible to take it all in. But it will always be for me the quintessential "pinch me place."

Mrs. Yoder's Kitchen

My recent trip to Holmes County, Ohio, with the lovely Robin wasn't ALL about eating. Okay, yes. Yes, it was. As proven by our Saturday evening journey to Mrs. Yoder's Kitchen in Mt. Hope, Ohio. 

“Mrs. Yoder's Kitchen” isn't just a name. It is actually Gloria Yoder's restaurant. She grew up in Mt. Hope, but she didn't grow up Amish. She was an “English” child in the area, but her restaurant features good Amish-style home cooking, nonetheless.

Robin opted for the buffet so she could have all of her favorites--noodles over mashed potatoes, tender pot roast, sugar beets, mmm mmm mmm.
I took a more responsible tack, and ordered from the menu, though I ordered the bread-and-salad bar as one of my sides. That yellow egg, below, is something called a "mustard egg." Good. 
And the grilled ham steak and green beans (below) didn't disappoint, either. 
Oh, and I did indulge in dessert. While Robin had coconut creme pie, I had their "Turtle Sundae Pie" (below). Ohhh yeahhh.
Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen is located in the small village of Mt. Hope, across from the Mt. Hope Livestock Auction.

Ginger House Coffee

On our whirlwind visit to Amish Country last weekend, the lovely Robin and I spent an afternoon at Ginger House Coffee on Main Street in downtown Berlin, Ohio.
Ginger House opened just over a year ago, in a location that had previously been Java Jo Coffee Bar. I ordered coffee, Robin ordered tea, and both were excellent. 
I couldn't resist taking a picture of the quartet of Amish girls who were absorbed in their electronic tablets. I think they were sharing and listening to music. 
We were there to spend time with our niece, Amber Love LeMaster, and her husband Dustin, who is a youth pastor in neighboring Millersburg, Ohio. We talked for almost six hours, and then before leaving Robin insisted I take a photo of the two of them together. Sorry, Dustin, if I can't be in the picture, neither can you. 

Anyway, we had a marvelous time in utterly hospitable environs, to which we will return often when we make future trips to Berlin and Holmes County. 

Boyd & Wurthmann

If you plan to eat lunch at Boyd and Wurthmann Restaurant on a Saturday in Berlin, Ohio, you should probably plan on a little bit of a wait. It's a very popular eating place. With good reason. 
The lovely Robin and I didn't plan ahead. And we only had a little bit of time, so we grabbed the first available table and sat down before the young woman could finish bussing the thing. Bad form, I know, but when my belly is involved, things are serious.

The restaurant began in 1938 as a grocery store, known as Hummel's Market. Seven years later, the Hummels sold it to Herman Wurthmann and Dale Boyd, and the name soon changed to Boyd and Wurthmann. In the 1940s, Boyd and Wurthmann put in a counter and began serving sandwiches as well as groceries. The original, green counter (pictured above, with seating for 9) is still a favorite of the locals. In the 1950s, the demand for restaurant services increased, so they separated the market from the restaurant and began to serve breakfast and lunch. By the 1980s, the place became a favorite of tourists, and the seating was expanded. Today, in addition to the counter, the restaurant has 23 tables and 5 booths. It has been owned by the Dennis Mullet Family since 2004.
The lovely Robin was delighted to discover that noodles over mashed potatoes--about her favorite dish in the world--was a "lite meal" (see menu above). She needed no other persuading. Don't let the photo below fool you: those noodles and taters are virtually fat- and calorie-free.
I took a different approach, and ordered the "cold plate" of fresh bologna and swiss cheese, cottage cheese and peaches, and fruit Jell-O. Go ahead and laugh (it's pretty far from my usual fare, I admit); I LOVED it. 
If you plan to eat lunch at Boyd and Wurthmann Restaurant on a Saturday in Berlin, Ohio, you should probably plan on a little bit of a wait. It's a very popular eating place. With good reason. It is located right in downtown Berlin on Main Street.

Northkill Book Signing in Berlin

Last Saturday morning, I joined my coauthor J. M. Hochstetler for a book signing at Gospel Bookstore in Berlin, Ohio. That's me on the left in the photo above. Joan (J. M. Hochstetler) is on the right, and that's the store's owners, Vesta and Eli "Small" Hochstetler, in the middle.

Small and Vesta run an absolutely wonderful bookstore, one of the few I've seen in recent years that is actually a BOOKstore. I mean, they have a LOT of books! They also have art and gift items, etc., but it is a bookstore, first and foremost, which of course thrilled me. 
We were there from 9-12, signing books and meeting new friends and many, many relatives. One of those friends and relatives was Marvin Miller (below), who is not only a relative of me and Joan, but is also a descendant of Hannes Mueller, who was injured by the war party who was carrying our ancestor Jacob Hochstetler and two of his sons into captivity (an account that is related in Northkill).  

Joan and I are already making plans to return later this year to Berlin and Gospel Bookstore. You should make plans to visit, too. You won't be sorry. 

The Gospel Bookstore is located in German Village on Oak Street in Berlin. 

The Farmstead

Just a hop, skip, and a jump from our lodgings last weekend in Berlin, Ohio, was the Berlin Farmstead Restaurant, where we had our first meal upon arriving and checking in to our digs for our short stay. The Farmstead is a relatively new addition to Berlin, having been built in 2003 on John and Rita Yoder's family farm.
According to the restaurant's website, Amanda Yoder is responsible for the cooking at the Farmstead. She learned the art of homestyle cooking in her Amish home, and uses time-honored recipes for dishes such as Amish noodles (which Robin enjoyed) and broasted chicken (which I devoured).
The most casual glance around the dining room shows a friendly mix of Amish and "English," and the service, taste, and atmosphere lends itself to a memorable experience.
I availed myself of the salad bar (yes, I eat salads, now, don't look so shocked!), and had the chicken and a baked sweet potato. The lovely Robin and I both exercised extreme discipline in not ordering dessert; of course, our tummies were quite full by the end of the meal, which made the decision a tad easier. 

The Farmstead restaurant is located just off busy State Highway 62 at 4757 Township Rd 366 in Berlin.

The Oaks Inn, Berlin, Ohio

Last weekend, the lovely Robin and I spent a few days in quaint and scenic Holmes County, Ohio, which boasts more of my Amish cousins than anywhere else on earth. Our accommodations for our three-day and two-night stay were in the Lofted Suite at The Oaks Inn, just off Main Street in the center of Berlin.
We couldn't have asked for a more convenient location and a more comfortable place to stay. I was able to leave the car for Robin and walk to my book signing on Saturday morning (at Gospel Bookstore in the German Village, right in the center of the merchant district). 
We had a screened-in porch to ourselves, as well as a glider and porch swing in the garden. 
The living room was equipped with a small breakfast service area (microwave, refrigerator, cabinet, etc.--with real china!) and a television. Free wireless was also available throughout the unit. 
The "loft" was roomy and comfy, with a large walk-in closet for our use, and a commodious bathroom (get it?) with both a shower stall and a tub. 

We loved every minute of our stay at The Oaks, and could have stuck around much longer. 

Amish Country

The lovely Robin and I spent last weekend in beautiful Holmes County, Ohio. I had a book signing in Berlin on Saturday, so we drove up Friday for the weekend. My pictures won't do the place justice, but let me just say, if you've never experienced the epicenter of Amish life and culture that is Holmes County, Ohio, you really need to. 

Berlin's "downtown" is a thriving and quaint conglomeration of shops, restaurants, lodging, and other businesses frequented by tourists and locals alike. The oldest building in Berlin (above) dates to 1817...but much of the scenery and ambiance of the place dates back much earlier than that. 
Much of the joy and beauty in a visit to Holmes County, though, is OUT of town, as you drive the countryside and see the "neat-as-a-pin" Amish farms, the buggies, the bicycles, and the children playing in yards. 

I will share much more of our visit over the next few days on this blog, as of course there is too much to include in one post. 

Pinch Me Places: The Abbey of Gethsemani

Sometime in 1999 or 2000, I made my first journey to the crossroads of Trappist, Kentucky, for a four-day silent prayer retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a real, live, honest-to-goodness monastery. That was strange and surreal enough, but what made this a "pinch me place" was the fact that it is the monastery where Thomas Merton, author of The Seven Storey Mountain and many classics of contemplative literature, lived and served God as Father Louis (his monastic name). He is buried in a humble grave alongside his brothers in the monastic cemetery. 
The abbey has since become an annual place of prayer and pilgrimage for me. But fifteen or so years ago, it was definitely a "pinch me place." 

Hoss Magazine at Barnes & Noble, Union Center

No one got my permission to name a home renovation magazine after me. The nerve!

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Bob's Sticks

Yes, I noticed that "Bob's Sticks" are both cheap...AND "Olde Timey." Just like Bob.

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Pinch Me Places: The Teaching Steps of the Temple

Of all the "pinch me" places the lovely Robin and I have visited over the years, the "teaching steps" of the Temple in Jerusalem, excavated in 1967, are at the top of the list.

These are the steps on which Jesus sat to teach his disciples and other listeners in the crowds who followed him and hung on his words (Luke 19:47-48, for example). It is one of those "pinch me places" in the Holy Land where pilgrims can say, literally, "I walked today where Jesus walked."