“The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an every-flowing spring.” Isaiah 58:11 NIV
I have been experiencing weather whiplash in central PA. A week ago, it was warm and breezy. The smell of spring was wafting through the open windows of our home, while the birds were tweeting their spring prelude. Monday morning, I came out of the gym finding my car covered with snow, bitter cold nipping my nose and forced to navigate ice-covered roads. Punxsutawney Phil, our legendary groundhog, did predict six more weeks of winter, but the warm breezes of a few days lulled me into false sense that spring had arrived. And with spring approaching, I get the urge to wake from hibernation and explore.
Tsh Oxenreider, a writer and co-host of one of my favorite podcasts, is challenging herself for six months to only shop and consume products from within a hundred-mile radius from her home. It’s forcing her to be intentional in supporting local businesses. Instead of buying items from big box stores, she is choosing to find a local farmer for beef, support local coffee roasters, and discover local boutiques for clothing. In listening to her articulate about what she’s learning, I am compelled to pay more attention to my local community and find ways to explore it.
Within the last few years, my little town has been in the process of revitalizing its downtown. When I first moved to Chambersburg, I found the fountain on the square beautiful and quaint but the only business that I frequented on a regular basis was the downtown bookstore. In the last few years, our main street has exploded. Denim, a coffee shop, and Falafel Shack, a restaurant, have opened on the main square, receiving a lot of love on Instagram. Our library, after a revitalization project, reopened a few years ago, embracing the historical character of the building. Black & Blush, a clothing boutique, opened two years ago right before the pandemic, along with Remix, a plant and décor store. In the last three months, a few more businesses have opened, including Milk Bath, a woman making her own goat milk bath products. She also features products from local woman artisans in her store. This weekend, Terry and I had a Valentine smoothie bowl at Lotus Bowls, a former Farmer’s market favorite vendor who also decided to open a brick and mortar. We then took a stroll down the street to visit another new business, Bonfield Collective, a home décor store. I can’t forget to mention Brussel’s Café which makes the richest hot chocolate I have ever had, and Veroni Café, the freshest Mexican food in Chambersburg.
But what is happening in Chambersburg is happening all over the country. The malls of the 1980’s are ghost towns, and big box stores’ shelves are sparse due to supply chain breakdowns. Meanwhile, local entrepreneurs are dipping their feet into the business world with a dream and products they are passionate about bringing into their communities. They too might be facing some of the same supply issues that bigger businesses are facing but are finding innovative ways to meet the needs of their customers. With prices rising everywhere, I am finding that the local business prices are competitive with chains but with the bonus of better quality. My raspberry oatmilk latte at Denim is even cheaper than some of the more well-known chains.
Beyond shopping and eating, our local communities also offer value in the way of the arts, history, and nature. Many local communities have small theater performances that might not win a Tony award but still offer a great night of entertainment. Art galleries and even small art museums have proliferated, often displaying local artists’ works that might be statement pieces on your living room wall. Every community has some type of historical society which is often worth checking out. You can even find lesser-known nature preserves by doing a little research. One of my favorite places to hike is Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve, about forty-five minutes away from my home. It has wooded areas to hike, along with a swampy area and a beautiful meadow.
Like most parents, I had to deal with boredom when my children were little. On a few occasions, my children would whine that there was nothing to do. I would kindly point out the shelf of puzzles and games, or the drawer of art supplies, and suggest that they investigate those items. They would reluctantly go that direction and find something to do. But on a few occasions, they would come back and complain again that there was nothing to do. This time I would remind them of their dress-up clothes or their box of Legos. They would then move in that direction and once in a great while they would come back again with the same complaint. It is then when I gave them the option: either you find something to do, or I have plenty of baseboards that need to be scrubbed. I think they only scrubbed baseboards once and, in the future, found creative ways to deal with their boredom.
Even as adults, we might complain of boredom and get stuck thinking that our only opportunity for a vacation is the once-a-year exotic location far away from home. There is merit in leaving your home for a change of scenery. But I find it restorative do mini staycations by taking a few hours on a Saturday and explore my local community. It helps me to see the special in the ordinary, and sparks creativity in me. Maybe, I taste a new ethnic food, and discover a spice that I want to incorporate in my menu. Maybe I talk to a store owner and hear her enthusiasm for home décor which motivates me to clean out the clutter that might pile up on my cabinet so that the pieces I have carefully curated will shine. Maybe it’s exploring a new art museum and finding some appreciation for modern art. Whatever I take away helps me to cultivate beauty in my own life and makes me a better person.
I have a few more weeks of cold, but I am taking notes on different places I want to explore in my community. I would love to hear about places you are exploring where you live. Feel free to drop a few comments.