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 recently discovered this old photo of my dad and me and I treasure it. The date on the back says December 15, 1952. I was one month shy of turning two-years-old. That’s my mom on the couch beside us wearing her bobby socks and Keds. Dad is dressed in his work clothes, so he had probably just come home from work. He was a sawyer and nearly always smelled of wind and sun and freshly sawn timber.

Sitting on my dad’s lap while being read to was my absolute favorite thing as a little girl. I remember staring hard at the words—which he always pointed out to me one by one–and wishing I could make those magic letters talk to me so I wouldn’t have to wait for a big person to interpret them. I marveled at the fact that people could make those squiggles tell stories.

I hungered so much for stories that I started making them up–sometimes in strange circumstances. I learned to count by attributing a personality and character trait to match each of the first ten numbers.( I remember the number six being a rascal and constantly in trouble. Five was a sweet little girl who was always obedient.) When my mother taught me how to set a table, I learned by creating a private story that I still rely on. The fork on the left is in love with the spoon and the spoon is in love with the fork, but the knife is an evil guard keeping them apart.

When I found this photo, I got out a magnifying glass to see the book title. Dad’s choice of reading material for a two-year-old made me laugh. It was General Douglas MacArthur’s “Revitalizing A Nation.” So typical of him. Even with only an eighth grade education, Lyle Bonzo was not into light reading.

If you notice, there is a desk right beside of us. We lived in a tiny house that had once been a railroad shanty for workers when the railroad was being built through Scioto County. There wasn’t a lot of furniture because there wasn’t much room. We didn’t have television, so on rainy days, that desk became a great source of childhood entertainment. I was allowed to store crayons and paste and scissors and other treasures in its drawers and spent hours playing there.

Peering into this long-lost frozen moment of my childhood, it occurs to me for the first time the reason behind the fact that there is not one room in my house—including bedrooms—that does not have at least one small desk in it. My family has long teased me about my fascination with little drawers to store things in—I can’t seem to have enough of them—and this is probably why.

A lot of people ask me why I became a writer. I never know how to answer that, but I suspect some of that desire began right here—on my daddy’s lap—as I leaned against the rumble of his chest as he read to me, surrounded by the scent of fresh sawdust, and knowing that I was safe within the strongest, most protective arms, in the world.