Last night, I returned from another visit with my New Order Amish friends in Northern Ohio. As usual, I left with gifts. There was a box of mint rootings for my garden, dug up by my good friend, 81 year-old Martha. I had been so impressed with the “Garden Tea” her daughter served us, Martha wanted to make sure I could make my own someday.  Her daughter, Joanna, gave me a loaf of fresh, home-made bread as I left their home. They are a giving people.

The best gift, though, was being allowed to visit on their front porch late into the night, sipping Joanna’s tea, laughing, swapping stories, and sharing our lives and our faith. It is no small thing to be accepted into the heart of an Amish family, and I am always humbled that they allow me to experience their warmth and hospitality.

I try to reciprocate, but no matter what I do, it never feels like enough considering the hours of patient tutorials I receive as my Amish friends try to help me accurately represent their culture.

A couple weeks ago, I posted something on Facebook about my visit to a New Order Amish school. Several people asked for me to explain the difference between New Order and Old Order.  

It is far from a complete list, I am definitely not an expert, but these are a few things I’ve observed and learned from conversations with my New Order friends.  

  1. One of the original reasons for the split between the New Order and Older Order Amish is rooted in a desire for what the New Order people considered a more responsible oversight of Amish youth. For instance, some Amish homes still allow “bed courtship” which is an ancient practice of young, unmarried couples spending the night together in bed. Hopefully chaste and not touching, but still–with no supervision. The purpose is for them to talk and get to know one another. Mothers will even help their daughters sew new, pretty, nightgowns for the event. Supposedly it began back when homes were so cold at night, the only place to stay warm for any length of time was in bed.New Order parents also see themselves as keeping a tighter rein on youth parties—and feel that many Old Order parents are too lax during their teenager’s Rumspringa, or “running around” time. 
  2. Old Order Amish are rarely allowed by their bishops to use an airplane. New Order Amish fly all over the world—frequently engaged in various mission efforts. One New Order Amish carpenter told me he had made several trips to various European countries to help rebuild after various disasters.
  3. New Order Amish are allowed to have telephones in their homes, unlike Old Order Amish who keep their telephones in shanties outside their home, usually at the end of their driveway.
  4. New Order Amish men have more Englisch-looking haircuts than Old Order.
  5. New Order have a sort of sliding door built onto the side of their buggies, while Older Order Amish have doors that roll up and secure with a strap. Why that is an issue, I have no idea.
  6. Old Order churches meet every two weeks. The “off” Sunday is one in which they simply rest or visit relatives. New Order Amish have formal church services every other Sunday, but on the “off” Sunday, they have Sunday School—where the ages and genders divide into classes. I just recently found out that this is when the children are taught formal German, instead of their mother-tongue of Pennsylvania Deutch. When I attended their Sunday School service a couple weeks ago, they were kind enough to speak in English for my benefit and one other non-Amish visitor.
  7. In general, I think New Order Amish consider themselves a bit more spiritual than Old Order. More involved in Bible study, more observant of moral teachings. I’m sure many Old Order Amish families would contest that.
  8. First names of the New Order Amish, in general, seem to be a lot more modern and less dependent on Biblical names. Especially among the children now.
  9. Not all New Order Amish families refuse to accept or contribute to Social Security. Some do, but it is a personal choice.
  10. New Order families seem to be much less camera shy. In fact, here is a video I took yesterday of my friend, Martha, reading a few verses aloud from her German Bible. I asked if I could show it to my friends, and she gave permission. Then I warned her that I had a LOT of friends, and she laughed and said that was fine—that it wasn’t as though she was going to get famous from reading a few scriptures in German.


As my husband always said. “God is good. All the time.”


My kids, grandkids, and sister will be coming tomorrow around noon. Thirteen of us. The entertainment this year will be taking turns snuggling little five-week-old Adeline Ruth.

I’m also deeply thankful that my oldest granddaughter, Hannah, is here safe and sound. She is a voice student at Pepperdine University out in California. Her school was right in the middle of that terrible forest fire in Malibu.

Here’s an aerial photo of the campus and surrounding area right after the fire. The circle is where my Hannah was living. Firefighters managed to save the school. The students are all okay and home with their families now, but it was very frightening.

Something else I’m extremely thankful for is my readers! I think I might just have the best readers in the world. Sometimes they astonish me with the depth of the emails they send.

This one from a reader in Australia left me in tears. I think it is too inspiring to keep to myself. It came after a reader finished one of my historical romances, The Measure of Katie Calloway, a novel which deals with a wife escaping an abusive husband. I am printing it here with the author’s permission. I hope it will inspire you as much as it inspires me.


The Year of the Spud

Dear Serena,

Katie reminded me of my younger self.

I came from an abusive background. Life was a struggle at every stage and yet amongst that struggle came faith and joy and eventually love. I learned that HOME is people. Community is a blessing when as a group we share experiences. I learned that finding ways to survive and the ability to do so is of greater value than money alone. Your lumber felling community brought this to mind again.

I was reminded of a similar situation in my own life: The Year Of Spuds and The Year Of Apocolympic Rissoles.

Let me explain:

I’d had to escape a ten year marriage of every abuse my husband could think up. Fortunately for me, he was so promiscuous my young conscience freed me, biblically, to run and hide from him after ten years of abuses and having lost multiple pregnancies. I was still only 29.

Two abandoned children came into my life soon after. Their parents left them with me for a week or so which turned into ten years. Their excuse? “we need to find ourselves”. Apparently they had to abandon their young children in order to do that. The children had come to trust me, with their big eyes and one thumb firmly plumped in one mouth to self soothe…there was no way I could leave them to Social Welfare. Yet I had nothing at all to offer, except my love. For I’d escaped literally with only the clothes I had on my back and two mismatched shoes!

Having so little, I made a game of everything. Even eating potatoes creatively for a year! 

I could dig potatoes locally. And so by day, I ran after tractors filling huge baskets with potatoes. Each basket was tallied to give me cash and then by night, with the children, we’d grate potatoes, or cook potatoes in milk and onion, or fry potatoes with an egg drizzled over, a potato chowder, or potato mornay and so on. It was indeed THE YEAR OF THE SPUD.

The Olympic Games was a highlight the year after the spuds. Also a religious cult was on the TV, declaring the same year as being The Apocolypse. 

The lad I was bringing up cleverly called it The Year Of The Apocolympics. They were both frightened by what this cult predicted and so to make light of it, we made a game of it.

A slight increase in finances that year meant we could afford one kilogram of minced meat each week. Lamb was economical but I varied it to include beef, fish or cheese. And so at night we’d grate whatever vegetables we could find, with wild herbs, the meat and an egg or two, mixed it with stale bread by hand into burgers. And so it became The Year Of The Apocolympic Rissoles. The children never complained about eating vegetables because they were involved in growing them and preparing meals.

I remember that even though we were poorer than most families, I felt powerful for the first time in my life. And the children thrived under my care as we learned together how to stretch a tiny income. The Social Welfare paid us a visit right in the middle of one of our food preparations and they were noticeably impressed. I remember the social worker asking the children if they always helped. It gave me joy when they answered by saying it was fun living with me because they were allowed to help. 

And I felt closer to God as I was clearly able to see His hand at work in my basic, uncluttered life.

Thank you for reminding me of what truly brings joy into a home Serena.

— Posted with permission by Mandy QKS —

The Year of the Spud © 2018 Mandy QKS | First Published Nov 21 2018 


I spent a large chunk of this past rainy Friday in a hospice room at the Veteran’s Hospital. Visiting with my cousin, Neil, and his sister Eva, reliving our childhood memories was time well spent.

Neil and Eva are my first cousins, part of a family of six siblings. Their home was only a short hike through the fields. There was always something interesting going on there and I always wanted to be in the middle of it. Their mother never seemed to mind an extra kid or two running around her house.    

When one grows up like that, first cousins start to feel a whole lot like brothers and sisters.

The reason Eva is staying with him is because sometimes Veteran’s hospitals are not all they should be. To make certain Neil is well cared for, Eva drove across several states and moved into her brother’s room. She is sleeping in a cot in his room, monitoring everything from his meds to his meals. She has always had a gift for turning everything into a party. She has decorated his room with family photos and other mementoes of his life. She offered me tea from her new Keurig machine as we talked.

In addition to childhood memories, we also discussed the war. Neil was a soldier in Vietnam—part of a fighting group that went on near-impossible assignments. He told me that his officers frequently gave the impression that they did not expect them to return. It was on one of those missions, deep in the jungle, while low-crawling toward the enemy, that Neil saw a grenade arching through the air and heard it thud into the ground beside him.

With no time to think, he did the unthinkable. He deliberately rolled onto his back, directly over the grenade, mashing it into the dirt with the heavy radio equipment he carried on his back, and absorbed the blast with his own body.

He had not expected to survive, but he did survive—in spite of extensive injuries. His quick action saved not only his own life, but the lives of all the other soldiers around him.

Later, recuperating from his wounds in the hospital, he received an unexpected visit. General Westmoreland came to personally present him with his Purple Heart. Neil said Westmoreland stayed a few minutes to talk, thanking him for his heroism. Those few minutes alone with the commander of U.S. troops in Vietnam are among the most cherished of his life.

The Purple Heart medallion I hold in my hand in the picture, is a replica of the real one he has at home. He carries this one in his pocket.

Neil is battling cancer. The reason behind the cancer is not a mystery. He and his fellow soldiers spent a large part of their time in Vietnam covered with Agent Orange. As we were talking about Agent Orange, he made a face as he brushed at his sleeve, as though still trying to brush the chemical off.

“It was nasty stuff,” he said. “We rarely had the opportunity to wash it off. Usually we had to just let it wear off over time.”    

He also described his bewilderment when, as he made his way home, there were strangers who tried to kick, hit, and even spit on him because of his uniform and participation in the war.  

My cousin, for most of his life, did not talk about his war experiences. He tried to forget and move on with his life, but there are some things that are impossible to forget. Like so many returning soldiers, he struggled with relationships and work. Like most of us, he has not led a perfect life.

But now, as he faces the cancer that, barring a miracle, will eventually consume him—it is encouraging to see the soldier coming out in him once again as he faces his future with an impressive dignity, faith, and courage.