Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday is Wash Day in Amish Country

Notice the deer hiding behind the bush ;)

It wasn’t long ago that every woman knew the saying:

Monday: Wash Day
Tuesday: Ironing Day
Wednesday: Sewing Day

Thursday: Market Day
Friday: Cleaning Day

Saturday: Baking Day

Sunday: Day of Rest

I’m not saying Laura Ingalls Wilder knew this; my mother and other ladies said it when I was a kid running around the neighborhood in the 1960’s. But when I go to Amish country, I do see more laundry hung on Mondays.

I asked my friend, Barb, mother of nine, how she washes her clothes. She said they use boiling water in a large pot and “swoosh” the clothes around. I immediately thought of my grandma who came from rural Italy. She washed clothes the same way, and when she got a ringer washer, it was her emancipation day.

Most Amish use ringer washer, powered by a generator. But as I sat in Barb’s house asking her about laundry day, she was very relaxed. Her teenage daughters were boiling water to wash dishes. They added to the conversation, since they did a lot of the washing. Once again, I’m taken back. They have such willingness and cheerfulness about work. I know women who are still washing their college age “kids” clothes.

So, when you go into Amish country and see the lines of laundry, don’t think there’s one tired Amish mom in there doing it all. It’s a group activity and by the responses of other Amish women, something they enjoy. They do admit they don’t like hanging clothes in the winter. Yes, they hang them year round. The clothes are literally ‘freeze-dried”.

Another thing that amazes me is how clean they keep their clothes. When Amish men worked on our house, I have to admit, I didn’t drive them home unless all the windows were down. The odor of “hard work” was upon them, and I couldn’t breathe. But these same clothes were worn again and they smelled zestfully clean. I give Amish women of all ages a lot of credit for taking care of the men’s work clothes.
Many Amish use their front porches to hang laundry.
Pulleys are attached to trees.

My friend's house has more than one pulley. Click picture for better view.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What do the Amish do without Television?

I’ll never forget my shopping trip with Susan years ago. She was in her mid 20’s and I wasn’t much older. Our trip consisted of a trip from Cherry Creek to a quaint, little town only seven miles away. Randolph had a variety store, full of cooking utensils, crafts, and just about everything imaginable.

Susan walked around in amazement, taking delight in everything from new pot holders to cross-stitch patterns. I looked around…bored and impatient. I kept thinking of how deprived Susan was. I mean, she acted like she was in a major store in the city. She slowly picked up things and just stared at them.

A long hour later, after she got the things on her list, we drove back to her place. The whole way, I held my tongue. But when the ten minute ride was up, I just looked at Susan and sighed. “What do you do for fun?” But I was thinking, Susan, you are so deprived! You need to get out more!

Susan looked at me confused. “I don’t know. Lots of things.”

I almost blurted out, Milk cows? Feed chickens?

“I love to watch birds. You know we raise white doves, right?” Susan asked.

“Yes, but….WHAT DO YOU DO WITHOUT TELEVISION?” There, I did it. I had the nerve to ask an Amish person this bottled up question.

Susan looked at the white doves that swooped around her barn. “Well, we like to visit. I have lots of girlfriends, and we get together at least once a week to make some kind of craft.”

My heart sunk. Friends? I’d seen large groups of Amish women on front porches, just sitting and talking. I, on the other hand, had four kids that I homeschooled and was out four nights a week to violin, piano, karate, and dance lessons. Yep, each child had their own talent and a night that took me away from doing things with friends. Actually, I only had a few close friends at church.

“Do you have lots of friends, Susan?” I asked.

“Jah, and so many cousins, I keep losing track of the number. Then there’s nieces and nephews…”

My family lived in the Greater Pittsburgh Area, and I longed to live near them. But my husband’s job was in NY and we made the best of it.

“So, Susan, what else besides friends?”

“I love to read. I read a lot.”

Another touchy spot. I love to read too, and took a book and read a few pages while waiting for one of my kids to finish a lesson.

“And we spend lots of time as a family…”

Okay, Susan was hitting a real nerve now. Being away so much at night, I rarely saw my husband. He worked seventy hours a week…but we caught up on the weekends, I kept telling myself. But it wasn’t true. Our marriage was wilting due to lack of water and sunshine, just like a plant.

Susan looked at me in pity. “I can show you lots of other things we do. Work frolics are fun.”

I told her I had to run….clock was ticking and the babysitter needed paid. She took her bags and told me to come back anytime to chat. She wasn’t busy.  

On the ride home, something snapped in me. Our lives were revolving around two things; our kids and television. My elderly neighbors tried to tell me my kids could all take piano or…maybe nothing. When they were kids, there was no such thing as a private lesson.

So, I talked to my husband, and he smiled so much, I thought he was going to scream “Touchdown!” Someone had finally gotten through to me that my kids wouldn’t die if they didn’t have lessons. Our kids wouldn’t die if we actually put our relationship first instead of them.

So we pulled the plug on the television and canceled lessons. The kids didn’t even mind, saying they’d have more free time. They weren’t as addicted to the television as I was, because I didn’t let them “waste their lives” watching it. I went cold turkey and it was hard. But I started to see my day was suddenly much longer. I had time to read and visit friends. I got more involved in our church, and volunteered to help with the teens. Tim and I got out our guitars and sang together again.

A year later, I saw a television on in a waiting room at the doctor’s office. I just gawked. It was so corny. So unrealistic. So hyped up. It didn’t portray real life at all. I knew that, because I actually now had one!  

My kids are now in their twenties and thank me for limiting television and not having any electronic games when they were young. They have so many good childhood memories that are real, not living their lives through someone else. That’s how the Amish view television. They wonder why people watch other people live, but don’t live themselves.

I’m so grateful for Susan and the wake-up call I got the day we went shopping. My husband and I are so happily married, since we “water” our relationship often because… we don’t watch television. We have a flat screen and a DVD library, but it’s hardly ever on. We’re too busy living.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Do the Amish have Non-Amish Friends? Are they friendly with people who aren’t Amish?

“The Amish are as varied as the flavors of ice cream,” someone once told me, and I believe it’s true. Some are very friendly to us “outsiders”, but some will avoid any contact, making you feel like you carry a contagion. I’ve received the right hand of fellowship and the cold shoulder. But to answer this often asked question, yes, the Amish do have English, sometimes called Yankee, Non-Amish friends. I’d like to share my story, and then give you some helpful ways to befriend an Amish person yourself.
When I lived in Upstate NY, I was immediately drawn to the Amish and a friend of mine took me around and introduced me to a few families. They were friendly to her, but looked at me with suspicion. I was quite turned off at first; no one wants to be treated like one of the lepers in the movie, Ben Hur. And that’s how I felt for a while, and that the Amish were just plain stuck up.

But they had huge families and good advice on how to live off the land. So, I went back to an Amish woman my friend introduced me to, and asked for a recipe for granola. I told her I had four young children and needed cheap, healthy recipes. The woman started to beam; Amish women  take great pride…oops….not a bad pride but a good one…in their culinary skills. So she gave me a few recipes. I wanted to learn to can and preserve, so she told me to go to Hershberger's Variety and ask Harry and Katie and further questions.   
So, I took my four little kids to visit Harry, and they loved the store, with the many coloring books, marbles, chalk, jacks, jump rope….I could go on. And Harry took a real shine to my kids. Actually, Harry and, Katie, his wife welcomed our soon to be weekly visits because Harry was a paraplegic. His story is told in Knit Together: An Amish Knitting Novel. It’s my first book, and it had to be about Harry. His buggy was hit as a young father and Amish built him a variety store so he’d have an income. He made quilts, saying “I can use my hands,” with a thankful heart. I became very close to this family, even being asked into the Amish co-op, by their sponsorship. (You can’t get in unless asked by an Amish person.)

Well, this relationship went on for a long while. I took Harry’s quilts to festivals and he even offered to teach my children German when they needed a second language, since they were homeschooled. But, we moved back home after fourteen years of being in New York. Back home to Western PA. And Harry and Katie’s bishop did not allow them to write to me. It was very upsetting, to say the least, since Amish are devoted writers.

But since there’s a settlement not far from my place in PA, I went off the beaten path in Smicksburg to meet some of the Amish. Going to their many stores where women sell baked goods to quilts, crafts, or have greenhouses, I found them extremely friendly. But, “Granny Weavers” (she’s a main character in Amish Knitting Circle and wishes to be anonymous) took me by surprise. Her warmth and openness was unique, and I loved her. (See post on “Inside Granny Weaver’s Quilt Shop) When I told her I was upset that Harry and Katie couldn’t write, she swatted at the air in disgust and said, “That’s ridiculous. I’ve had Englishers stay overnight in my house.” She went on to tell me she knew Harry and Katie through circle letters. And her granddaughter is married to one of Harry and Katie’s nephews. So she’s told me any news about my friends in New York over the past ten years. I’d tell her how my kids are doing and Harry and Katie I assume got word, through Granny.  
Back to this blog; taking a long trip down memory lane. Well, the more Amish I met in Smicksburg , like Lydia, (Katie Byler in Knit Together) it was like I was “in” since I was accepted as a trusted English friend by Harry and Katie and word got around. I can only compare it to being accepted into an Italian Club. If you’re born Italian, you’re in. If you’re recommended by an Italian and not Italian, you can still get in. So, the Amish in Smicksburg have opened up to me and befriended me because of a solid trusting relationship with Harry and Katie.

As you can see, there are different “orders” of Amish. The ones in New York are Troyer Amish, and not as friendly to outsiders, even though they have non-Amish friends. There are some groups like the Swartzentruber Amish, who my Amish friends feel are just “plain strange”. They’re as standoffish as they come. I wouldn’t get along with them either, since they don’t even plant flowers or keep their houses looking nice since it shows “vanity”. They also ignore PA health laws, letting their outhouses flow freely into PA State Lands or even sources of public drinking water.
If you want to meet an Amish person, and possibly be their friend, here’s what I suggest. Erik Wesner was here on the blog, (see former posts) and I became more familiar with his website He has a state-by-state list of Amish settlements that he keeps updated. Here’s the link. You’ll be surprised how many states the Amish live in now. Go to one of the settlements and don’t go toa tourist store, but travel the back roads. You’ll see many signs to all kinds of craft stores, bakeries etc. Be a customer and give them your business. Visit a few times, maybe ask for a recipe at first since this is non-threatening. Then ask if they’d like to be pen pals or if they know of someone who would. The Amish love to write letters and have English pen pals. If you live close by, offer to drive them to Wal-Mart. Oh, how they love Wal-Mart. They also need rides to doctor’s appointments and are always so thankful.

If you have an Amish friend and can add to this post, please feel free. And if you become a trusted English friend by reading this post, I’d love to hear your story, and possibly post it. Please contact me through my main website at

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Extreme Home Makeover....With the Help of Amish Friends

We bought our century old farmhouse fifteen years ago, and with the help of the Amish, the exterior got a facelift. I don't have all the pictures, as the Amish didn't want many taken, but the ones they allowed me to take tell a story.

 First the team of four had to take off the ugly tan siding and front porch. The porch was very large and I wanted more of a cottage-style look. Wanted something Jane Austen would feel at home in, and my daughter and friends who like to watch Pride & Prejudice or Emma over and over again...

So, Noah, on the left, came up with a plan. He said he always admired those "little peaked porches" the English were allowed to have. I wasn't sure if it would look right, but he assured me it would. So here he is with brother-in-law, Joe, framing my "Pemberly" porch, all the while biting my nails that it's not going to look right. But Noah told me he could "see it" already. Glad he did......

Here's Noah deep in thought...not sure if we're doing the right thing......nails almost gone. In the background is a small greenhouse they built a few years ago, that's attached to our two car garage.

Believe it or not, Noah and I went to Lowes and he picked "fancy" railings for the porch. Again, I'm thinking we made a mistake, until her put them up. So, I had him look at the door I picked before purchasing. "Not fancy enough," he said. "Go for the etched glass." I thought it wouldn't match, wanting a cottage door, but a real cottage door started at $2,000.00...I settled for the one in stock Noah assured me would look as good...(only $450.00)

Okay, we're making some progress. They built an addition on the side. Now I planned on a tiny one to match the little sunroom off to the left. Noah scratched his head and said, "Why would you do that for? Why not have a big addition? Doesn't cost that much more." He was right....but I wasn't sure if it would look right. I like small houses, and was confused. Well, hubby wanted a bigger addition with a fireplace. The Amish built this 15x25 addition at a quarter the cost a contracter would have charged. It took all summer, as we built it as we had the cash (Dave Ramsey freaks). Instead of  being put off  by this, the Amish pat us on the back for our frugality.

The house today. Noah moved to New York for cheaper land. He sold us his 15 acres for what he paid for it, since he could never make profit off of a friend. Actually, he sold it cheaper to us than another Amish family. It took two years to complete "This Old House" but I miss hearing the Amish singing in German outside. They also came to work with a "joke for the day". Need to build something else. ;)

The porch Noah could visually see even before it was built. He confided in me that he wished he could have gone to college to be an architect, but being Amish was more important to him.

I think Noah and Joe had the most fun putting up the chimney.

They put a new porch on the back of the house. We've had many wunderbar gut talks with the Amish, because before we remodeled the outside of our house, they built us a barn.....

But that's another story......