Every good rule is eventually broken

Readers and writers of Amish fiction have discovered certain “rules” about the Amish–lifestyle choices that almost never vary from one Old Order district to the next, from one state to another. But the more I research this fascinating culture, the more I arrive at the conclusion every good rule is eventually…broken. During last summer’s trip to central Maine in preparation to write Living in Harmony, I found Unity, Maine challenged 3 of my long-held beliefs…two regarding the Amish, one involving my brief, past history as a 6th grade science teacher. First of all, unlike most Old Order districts, Unity Amish had built a meeting house to use for worship and social events, instead of holding services in each other’s homes. Secondly, unlike most Amish who avoid government paperwork, these farmers are gaining organic certification for their produce. And my science lesson? I’d learned every lake has a fresh-water intake flowing into it. Here’s a couple photos of Lake Unity, which has no freshwater source, other than rainwater. Glacially-formed, it only has an outtake for periods of heavy rain to prevent flooding of nearby homes. I hope you’ll look for Living in Harmony about the Amish of central Maine.

Anybody hear of the grain spelt?

During one of my first trips to Amish Country, I discovered an old-fashioned grain that’s growing in popularity, especially in organic and whole-food markets–Spelt. Some of my Old Order friends use spelt for horse feed, but have recently started baking with it, too. Here’s a recipe from Rosanna Coblentz of Winesburg, Ohio.

Old Fashioned Spelt-Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Cream Together:
3 Cups Brown Sugar
1 ½ Cups butter
Beat in 4 eggs until creamy.
Blend in: 1 cup raisins
In a measuring cup: mix ½ cup boiling water and 3 tsp. Baking soda
Mix dry ingredients together:
1 ¾ cup All-purpose flour
2 cups whole Speltz flour
4 cups oatmeal (quick oats)
2 tsp. Cinnamon
2 tsp. Baking powder

Mix well together the dry ingredients to the creamed ingredients.
Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls on a cookie sheet about 2-3” apart and bake at 325 degrees for approximately 10 to 12 minutes.

Rosie’s hint….these make great Amish Whoopie Pies. Just make a frosting of:
2 Beaten egg whites
2 Cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Beat these ingredients together, then add 11/2 cups of Crisco shortening.
Spread on the bottom of one cookie then put another cookie on top. Kids love them!!

Something lemony to welcome Spring

Spring is here, readers of Amish fiction, although I don’t believe any of us had much of a winter. When the weather turns warmer, my tastes run to lemons–lemonade, lemon poppyseed muffins, and lemon cake. Here’s a recipe invented by my Old Order Amish friend, Rosanna Coblentz. Hope you enjoy!
Fresh Lemon Sheet Cake

Cream together:
1 ½ Cups white sugar
½ cup butter (1 stick )

Mix Dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
2 Cups Cake Flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

Add dry ingredients to creamed ingredients alternate with 1 cup milk. Next add in the juice of ½ lemon and about 2 tsp lemon zest. (Optional: a few drops of lemon food coloring) Fold in 2 well beaten eggs last.

Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees – your oven temp may vary)
For approximately 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Rosie’s Hint: This cake is great with lemon sherbet for a cool summertime treat or you can frost with a Lemon Butter Icing…Recipe below:

Cream 3 tbsp room temperature butter
Blend in 2 egg yolks
Stir in 2 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 tsp grated lemon rind (zest)
2 tbsp lemon juice

Single sons of farmers

Until I spent time interviewing and studying the lives of farmer, both Amish and English, it hadn’t occurred to me the responsibility of being the only son in the family. Most men who own family businesses hope their sons enjoy the vocation and will one day step into their shoes. But in an agricultural family, the stakes are much higher. Most small farms cannot afford to pay someone to run the operation when Dad wants to retire. If a man has no sons (or sons-in-law or daughters, in the case of Englischers) who wish to farm, he usually must sell the ancestral land. In An Amish Family Reunion I loved exploring this theme with my hero, Eli Riehl. Eli is a natural-born storyteller and wishes to write books for a living—an odd career for someone Plain. But while studying the Amish, I learned they are loyal, trustworthy and honor their duties, no matter what the price to their personal dreams.

Where Amish women go to give birth

Misinformation abounds regarding where Old Order Amish women can give birth. In Holmes and Wayne Counties in Ohio, where most of my stories are set, Amish women decide for themselves where to deliver their babies. Some choose the local hospital and will be attended by physicians and nurses. (Always recommended wherever a difficult delivery is anticipated) Some women choose to have their children at home, attended by an Amish midwife. Many women select one of the modern birthing centers springing up in areas of high Amish population. At these birthing centers, expectant moms are attended by licensed midwives/registered nurses (usually either English or Mennonite) and Amish midwives working together. These are family-friendly establishments in terms of husbands and older children. Women paid a flat fee, usually stay three days, and can opt for the underwater birthing tub. I will post some photos of the Birthing Center near Baltic, Ohio—an impressive, state-of-the-art facility. In An Amish Family Reunion, my fictional mom-to-be, Leah, chooses this center where she can relax and enjoy the best of both worlds.

When does a daughter become an adult?

I love to delve into the many themes that arise from a complex mother/daughter relationship. In An Amish Family Reunion I deal with the evolving power struggle beteen Julia (the mom) and her adult daughter, Emma. We met Emma in Never Far from Home as a rebellious teenager. Now she’s grown up with a happy marriage and two sons. But both her mother and her mother-in-law insist on making choices for her, much to her dismay. I think back to the relationship I had with my own mom. Here I was…married, teaching school, and handling the resposbilities of my first home, yet my mom would still call to ask: did you lock your doors, remember to take your vitamins, set the alarm clock for work?? Much of that is simple protective love, but she also tried hard to talk us out of vacationing abroad (could catch a dreaded disease) buying a house in the country (too far from the nearest hospital) and adopting a dog from the pound (could have fleas). I never became an adult in my mom’s eyes. Readers–drop me a line! Have any of you reached “adult status” with your mothers?

A Mother’s Love

One of the themes I enjoyed delving into was the mother/daughter relationship. What constitutes a mother? In this day and age, we have stretched the definition to include step-mothers, grandmothers serving as parents, foster-moms, adoptive mothers, and any other woman who places her child’s needs above her own. In An Amish Family Reunion we meet Phoebe Miller who has grown to love Hannah after suffering a tragic loss of her birth mother as a young child. Hannah’s love for Phoebe is unconditional, equal in every way to what she feels for her natural-born son. As an adopted daughter, I speak from experience. I couldn’t imagine loving my mother any more than I had. The extent of a mother’s love defies conventional rules, defining who we are and the women we will become.

Another lovely Romantic Times book review

This must be the week for good reviews for Harvest House authors at RT. Here’s what they said about An Amish Family Reunion: “A sweet contemporary romance with amazing characters who are beginning to figure out who they are and what they want out of life. The Amish are interesting to read about, as they live their lives according to the Bible, simpler and free of distractions. The details of Amish living reflect Ellis’ meticulous research.”
4-stars-RT BookReviews. Thanks, Rt, and congratulations, Murray, on the February top pick for The Wings of Morning! Also, fans of Amish fiction, please check out my new website www.maryellis.net It was a labor of love!

My favorite Christmas memory

When I think back to the Christmases of my childhood, I always smile at one particular memory. Our family would gather at one of my aunt’s homes on Christmas Eve. We would enjoy a lavish potluck dinner with the host providing the main course while everyone else brought side dishes and desserts. Afterward, we would mingle to catch up on family news—coming babies, recent graduations or promotions and other milestones, small or grand. At some point during the evening, the families would separate to attend church services at their own particular denomination. But beforehand, the children would anxiously await the arrival of one special secular guest—Santa Claus. My uncle would dress up in full costume and arrive with great fanfare down the staircase. (His sleigh and reindeer stayed on the roof.) Over his shoulder he carried a velvet sack filled with wrapped gifts for all the good girls and boys from infants through college-aged. Surprisingly, the sack contained even a present for me.
Apparently, I was the last child to still believe in Santa Claus after my cousins had abandoned the notion and discovered the truth about the man-in-red.
But my mother and aunts didn’t want anyone to spoil my fun, so they instructed everyone to keep quiet about who really wore that silken beard of white. Since I was the youngest of my generation my cousins played along, and yours-truly continued to believe the myth longer than average. However, someone at school or perhaps a neighborhood kid finally burst my bubble. Once I overcame my initial shock I thought about how happy people were that I still believed. And so I played along, becoming wide-eyed and anticipatory when that jolly man arrived every Christmas Eve. People watched my reaction from the corner of their eyes, pleased that the deception continued for another year. Finally (perhaps the year before I started college…) when Santa arrived and presented this little girl with her treasure, I had so say “Hi, Uncle Louie. Thanks for the gift.”
Everyone moaned, and my mother looked broken-hearted, but all good things must come to an end. Now that my mom and uncle are gone, I will remember the joy they preserved for me because of their love. And because of the unending love of the Father and the gift of His son…once again I have something to believe in. Merry Christmas. May God’s blessings rain down on you and your families.

Amish generalities are hard to make

Another title for this posting could be “What I learned during my summer vacation.” Remember when we returned to school in September and had to explain what we learned during our vacation? While researching the Amish of Maine, preparing to write Living in Harmony, I found out generalties about members of Old Order Amish are difficult, if not impossible, to make. Although their “classification” is the same as those I’ve research here in Ohio, their habits, customs and the rules governing their lives couldn’t be more different. Last week I touched on the “no celebration of Thanksgiving in Maine.” Today, I’ll break another “maxim” regarding the Amish. We’ve all learned they don’t build churches or meeting houses like Menonnites or other Christian sects, right? They choose to meet and worship in each other’s homes, taking turns. However, the industrious Maine Amish have built a meeting house in their community and use it weekly for services and Sunday school classes. See what I mean about blanket generalities? Blessings on your Advent season.