Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Amish and birding...one of their favorite hobbies

I see many folks comment on how Amish are selling birdhouses in their front yards. Well, some might, but most likely they’re enjoying one of their favorite past times: birding. Feeders of all types abound on Amish farms, from the cylinder finch feeders, wooden feeders, and purple martin houses. They’re active in the Audubon bird count, really caring about their feathered friends. Some Amish raise pigeon too, just for enjoyment.

In Amish Knitting Circle, Jeb makes his wife, “Granny”, a white gourd birdfeeder. Here’s an excerpt from the Christmas Cookies edition. Before this scene, they were stringing cranberries as a Christmas present to their birds:

They both sat in silence, listening to the tick-tock of the pendulum clock. The wind beat against the windows at a steady pace, and Granny thought of all the shawls they’d made so far for the tornado victims, and the thought warmed her heart.              
            She was startled when Jeb sprang up and ran from the kitchen and out the door. What on earth? Is he so upset about Luke and Ruth he needs to take one of his walks? She got up and looked outside but saw nothing, it being pitch black. You’ll kill yourself on that ice….Old Man. Granny went to her white cookie jar, needing a sugar cookie. They were gone? The grandkids had raided her jar again? She huffed and put her hands on her hips, but then chuckled. They didn’t realize just how many cookies she had hidden in containers all over the house.

Granny heard the door open and felt a blast of cold air. She turned to see Jeb, riddled with snowflakes all over his black clothes, and saw that he held a large box.

            “I just couldn’t wait.” Jeb walked over and gave her a kiss. “Here’s your Christmas present.”

            She hugged him, even if his coat was freezing cold. “Danki, Love.” Jeb placed the large box, wrapped in brown paper, on the table. Granny sure loved presents and ripped it open in no time. “Ach, Jeb, I love it.”

            “When we were stringing cranberries for the birds, it got harder and harder not to give it to you. Made it myself.”

            Granny’s eyes misted as she saw the all-white gourd birdhouse. Jeb had grown extra gourds this year and she always wondered why.

            “It’s a purple martin feeder,” Jeb said. “They can get in on all four sides.” He picked up the large feeder and pointed to the opening on all four gourds that were attached to make a circle.

            Granny looked at Jeb and wondered what she did to get such a loving husband. He hung on her every word. She’d mentioned last summer she’d always wanted a gourd feeder. She loved the feeder, but the fact that Jeb remembered what she’d said in the summer …She squeezed Jeb again. “I love you…Old Man.”

 In the story, Jeb has a fishing hole, and if you dig a pond, the mosquitos will come. Granny wanted a purple martin house since they eat bugs in mid-air, and love mosquitos.

Here are some pictures of gourd feeders I took in Smicksburg, PA….where Granny and Jeb live ;)
Combo gourd and purple martin hotel ;)

I slowed down to see if the Amish man on the left, peaking out from the barn, was selling feeder. He wasn't.

Notice how high the martin houses are place. Must be better for the birds to catch bugs.

I don't think the Amish living here will have one mosquito to pester them.

A lone purple martin house in a field, but always close to the family home.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bestselling author, Jerry Eicher, shares about his Amish heritage and works in progress.



I’m so pleased to have Jerry Eicher on Amish Crossings to help celebrate my new book, The Amish Doll, set in the same location of his Little Valley Series. Cattaraugus County, New York, is an hour south of Buffalo, in the heart of the Snowbelt. I used to live in this area and know he portrayed it very well. It’s my hope that Amish enthusiast will visit lesser known settlements, even finding them in their neck of the woods, so to speak.

Jerry was raised Amish, so his fiction, based on his heritage, are correct.  After a traditional Amish childhood, Jerry taught for two terms in Amish and Mennonite schools in Ohio and Illinois. Since then he’s been involved in church renewal, preaching, and teaching Bible studies. Jerry lives with his wife, Tina, and their four children in Virginia. His. bestselling Amish fiction includes The Adams County Trilogy, the Hannah’s Heart books, the Little Valley Series, and The Fields of Home.

Let’s get right into the interview.
  • Jerry, can you tell us how you started writing Amish fiction?
Many authors begin autobiographically, and I was no different. Writing in fiction form, I traced my growing up years in an Amish home. Most of which was spent in Honduras, Central America. The result was, a book called A Time to Live, but no publisher was interested. I self-published and the distributor of Choice Books test marketed for me. They came back with a positive report and said they would carry the title if I made changes to the cover and the price. 

I did, and Choice sold around 6000 copies.  Afterwards, my contact at Choice, Mr. John Gerber, said he wanted Amish romance stories. I said I didn’t write romance, that I wrote suspense. But he wouldn’t back down. So to please Mr. Gerber, I wrote, Sarah, which ended up selling over 30,000 copies.  Harvest House then took me on in 2009 with The Adams County Trilogy.
  •  Can you share a special memory of your Amish upbringing?
“My Grandfather on the Eicher side of the family lived in a long white house with large windows in the front. Towards the back the house had a wing attached, with the mud room and woodshed giving easy access for the coming and goings from the barn. A portion of the house had an upstairs, the roof line leaving the welcoming sweep of the front windows unaffected.

            “Here I remember the prayers around mealtimes, the long table used to seat everyone. Grandfather Eicher would lead out in his sing song chant that charmed and fascinated me. It was as if he knew a secret he wasn’t telling us. Some hidden pleasure he had found that we could not yet see.

“I always remember him laughing. That was how he approached us grandchildren, his

 white beard flowing down his chest, his face glowing with happiness. And it didn’t take a special occasion to put him in such a mood. It was as if we were the occasion.”

(This is an unedited excerpt from My Amish Childhood due out in Jan. 2013 by Harvest House}

  •  On your blog, it states, “Amish are people with a pertinent message to give, and Eicher       seeks to be true to that message.”  What message do you believe the Amish give modern day USA?
They believe that the modern life has little to offer the believer when it comes to spiritual growth. That success as the world measures it is usually empty. Rather they believe what satisfies a man or a woman; are family, community, peace in his own heart and with those living around him. They believe that God’s will is in everything, and that accepting that will brings true and lasting spiritual happiness. 
  •       Are you thankful for your Amish heritage?
My heritage was never an issue with me. I see it as everyone having to be something. What mattered to me was the love of my parents, and the spiritual health of the community I grew up in. For those things I am thankful, but they are not necessarily related to being Amish. 
  •  Why did you choose Cattaraugus County to write your Little Valley Series?
I discovered the community while driving to my Grandmother Stoll’s funeral in Aylmer, Ontario. Later I stopped in, and loved the countryside. It’s just beautiful up there. And the character, Ella was born. I discovered after the books were written that Ella is modeled after my Grandmother’s spiritual nerve. But I didn’t set out to make that connection in the beginning.
  •   There are many books out now about leaving the Amish. What do you think of this and do you agree?
The best known story, and the one I’m familiar with is Ira Wagler’s Growing up Amish. I loved the book, both for its style and honesty. Wagler’s story is genuine and tenderly told. Granted, it doesn’t make the Amish look good, but much worse could be said than what Wagler included in his book. 
The assumptions being drawn is what I have a problem with. At its heart, Growing up Amish is more than a story about being, or not being Amish. Wagler tells a human story. That of a very successful man, i.e. his father, David Wagler. Who by Wagler’s own definition was the most famous Amish man of his day and a man who either does not, or cannot properly relate to his sons.  Yet, this could just as well have happened anywhere.
The point is that the Amish are not immune to the human sin problem. They think their culture is a better context in which to deal with sin. But most of them are not blind to the fact that it takes the same Christian redemptive process in their lives as in any other believer.
Of course I am aware of those Amish communities—and even families within communities—who have lost sight of this truth. And they are primarily the ones from where the horror stories come.  Any culture, who thinks itself immune from the human sin problem, is in for a rude awakening. What usually follows, is that, having made the culture an issue, the conclusion is naturally drawn by the victim that the culture is the problem. In this case, the Amish culture.
  •  Have you ever been to an Amish wedding?  Can you tell us a little about it?
I grew up Amish, but since then, we don’t get invitations to weddings. Although my parents—who are also Mennonites—received one for this June.  And we’re driving, so we might get to take that one in.
I frequently go through Amish weddings in my fiction. The service starts at nine in the morning, and goes until after twelve. A big meal follows the vows, and things break up for the afternoon. In the evening it’s the young people’s time, with supper at six. Everyone has to pair up, even if you’re not dating. Singing starts at 7:30 and goes to 9:00. The young folks split the scene, but the older folks hang around talking, sometimes until midnight. 
And the young married couple can’t leave until the last guest does. Midnight or no midnight.
  •  What is your contact with the Amish today?  What do they think about you writing about them?
My side of the family has their headquarters in Aylmer, Ontario. Basically, running the community of four districts, I believe.  So far they’ve tolerated us coming back for funerals. The same goes for Tina’s home community in northern Indiana.
We left the Amish from Belle Center, Ohio. That’s been over twenty years now, and hostile feelings have settled down. I wouldn’t get invitations to weddings yet, but we do attend the funerals to a warm welcome. 
At the last funeral we attended, I was accosted afterwards by several men about my Amish fiction. They had strong objections. Words like, lucrative and opportunistic were tossed about. I smiled and pointed out that I wasn’t doing anything that the Amish at Pathway Publication hadn’t done for years. I grew up reading the Simon & Susie stories. And other than being more culturally accurate and having a more pointed message, current romance stories published in The Young Companion are not that distinguishable from mainline “Amish Fiction”.
  • What books are you working on now? 
We still have to finish The Fields of Home series in 2012, with Where Love Grows. Then we have two standalone books. My Dearest Emma, a series of love letters written between an engaged Amish couple, and Susanna’s Christmas Wish, finishes out the year with one of the sweetest love stories I’ve written. It’s all listed at www.eicherjerry.com  

To learn more about the Amish of Cattaraugus and Chautauqua Counties in New York, read Jerry’s Little Valley Series, and The Amish Doll by yours truly ;) Get some hot cocoa, because you’ll be cold!




Friday, May 4, 2012

Inside “Katie Bylers” Amish Greenhouses in Smicksburg, PA

Many of you have read my book, Knit Together: An Amish Knitting Novel. One of the main characters in Katie Byler, and readers are very taken with her. Well, Katie's real name is Lydia, and she's as sweet and true to her Amish ways as her fictional character, Katie. And, she has two greenhouses, just like in the book. In May they're bursting with colors and customers. Take your shoes off, like the Amish who walk barefoot all summer, and walk inside “Katie’s” greenhouse. (To actually go there, it’s on Wilson Road in Smicksburg, PA.)
One greenhouse is for vegetables, although hanging baskets of flowers are everywhere. Right now, May 2, vegetables aren't ready to be put in gardens in Western PA. There's still a chance of frost. Most gardeners plant on Memorial Day Weekend.

Notice the green hose on the gravel pathway off to the right. 
Water in ponds dug on higher ground is gravity fed into the greenhouses.

 Lydia's heater makes this greenhouse snug and warm in February
when she starts all her plants from seeds.

 Lydia uses anything for a planter. English customers like old Amish workboots or old tea kettles. Amish folk drop off all kinds of things for her to use.

 Lydia is quite the business woman. I've seen her supply catelogy and she deals with "English" distributors, but if she sees it cheaper at the same quality, she makes changes. These white hanging baskets she purchases by the truckload ;)

 Here's my little dog, Beatrix, on a gravel path down cold frames,
used to protect plants from cold weather.

A cold frame up-close.
I didn't buy anything today from Lydia because I only had my debit card. If you plan to visit Lydia, you'll need cash or a check...a gut check Lydia always says with a smile. If you feel sorry for Lydia after reading this, thinking she is one exhausted woman, well, she has lots of help from her 60+ nieces and nephews....last count.