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Christy Catherine Marshall

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April 20, 2016

Simple Pleasures

I confess I don’t know much about the Amish way of life, and so when I heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to read it. I hoped it would enlighten me as to how and why the Amish live the way they do, without electricity or automobiles. To hear it all told from a mother’s point of view seemed irresistible for me.

I love the image on this book cover — it’s a work of art! There’s an expression of intense concentration and joy on this child’s face as she quietly creates a secret world with her pencil and paper. It’s how I feel most of the time when I can squirrel away a few minutes with my own journal. Thank you to whoever you are who took this photo, and thank you to Marianne Jantzi for being brave enough to share your private family stories with the loud outside world.

As a member of the Milverton Old Order Amish community, the oldest and largest of ten Amish settlements in Ontario, Canada, Marianne Jantzi’s days are filled with chores most of us can’t imagine. Her home is heated by wood stoves, which she must also use to cook her meals. Her husband leaves for work before dawn, transported by a horse and buggy driver. The Jantzis own a shoe business, attached to the front of their home, and all transactions are recorded by hand.

Jantzi’s writing reaches readers all over North America via her much-loved “Northern Reflections” column in The Connection, a favorite magazine among Amish and Mennonite communities. She doesn’t have a computer at home to type out her thoughts. They’re written by hand and driven to town for someone else to type and edit. As a mother of four young children, the oldest in kindergarten, Jantzi’s days are incredibly busy. Yet she takes the time to reflect on the quiet simple pleasures that fill a home with love.

Reading her stories brought back happy memories of my own early days of mothering. Young children can be both exhausting and endearing, and I love how she takes the time to listen and record their conversations. I especially enjoyed reading about her gardening experiences and how she provides healthy meals for her family from her own backyard.

Her book answered many questions I had about Amish life, and it’s an important work to be added to Amish book collections, preserving our North American history. I found myself double-checking the copyright date in the front several times: was this really published in 2016? Yes, it’s a brand new book, and there really are people in the world who choose to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House on the Prairie books. In fact, Jantzi enjoys reading that whole series out loud to her children.

Yet she doesn’t sugarcoat the frustrations of motherhood. Her children bicker at times and lose their shoes and socks. She worries about getting her home tidied up for a church meeting, which is no easy task with toddlers underfoot. But through her busy days, Jantzi finds strength in simple pleasures of family, fellowship, and quiet time with God.

I love her descriptions of the tight-knit Amish communal way of life. She is never lonely, being surrounded by people who have known and loved her family for generations. Here’s an example:

For my thirtieth birthday, my sisters put a quilt in a frame and invited…cousins in to quilt, visit, and eat. Since then, each glimpse of my lovely quilt reminds me of that wonderful day and the message it speaks to me. The quilt is filled with lovely blue flowered circles linking over a white background. Just like those flowery links, my friends joined around the quilt, blossoming from each other’s friendship and helping hands.

In the back of the book, she includes several of her family’s favorite kid-friendly recipes, and after reading her background stories, I can’t wait to try them out. She also has a section answering Frequently Asked Questions about Amish living, as well as “A Day in the Life of the Author.” I will treasure this book and add it to my collection of books written by mothers. She has helped me appreciate the “simple pleasures” in my own home and to savor my own gift of being surrounded by children.

I hope the Amish will continue being able to live the way they do, but at the end of the book, I began to feel a sense of tension. She describes how difficult it can be depending on others for internet transactions. For example, the Canadian government recently changed its methods of tax collection, and those who used to be able to send in paperwork by regular mail, now must make phone calls or submit electronically. Since Jantzi doesn’t have a phone in her home, she had a stressful day trying to handle this payment. I wonder what will happen in the future.

I also wondered about the children…what will they do about schooling once they graduate from the one-room Amish schools? Will the adolescents be allowed to learn to use technology? Will they be able to attend university? What kinds of careers will they be able to choose? I guess I finished the book with still more questions…but that’s what good literature is all about.

For now, I’ll savor the beauty of Marianne Jantzi’s writing, as she describes the beginnings of a Canadian summer:

We are busy reaping the fruits of the gift we longed and sighed for. For weeks, it was kept from reach, wrapped in deep, white layers of cold. Next we wished to quickly tear away the layers of chilly, soggy days…Those last layers were gradually stripped away by warm breezes and sunshine. Daffodils and tulips bloomed. Toes bared and leaves unfurled. There are barbecues and picnics, scooters and Rollerblades. Happiness reigns as we sing praises to God for this gift we’ve so graciously been given. Summer.

I can relate to that!

Simple Pleasures is part of the Plainspoken series, published by Mennomedia. These real-life stories of Amish and Mennonites include:

Book 1 – Chasing the Amish Dream: My Life as a Young Amish Bachelor, by Loren Beachy

Book 2 – Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order, by Marlene Miller

Book 3 – Hutterite Diaries: Wisdom from My Prairie Community, by Linda Maendel

Book 4 – Simple Pleasures: Stories from My Life as an Amish Mother, by Marianne Jantzi

About the author:
Marianne Jantzi is an Amish writer and homemaker in Ontario, Canada. Formerly a teacher in an Amish school, Jantzi now educates and inspires through her “Northern Reflections” column for The Connection, a magazine directed mainly to Amish and plain communities across the U.S. and Canada. She and her husband have four young children and run a shoe store among the Milverton Amish settlement of Ontario.
Thank you to Litfuse for a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Books,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Gardening,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on An Amish Mother Who Writes to Record Life’s Simple Pleasures

April 20, 2010

It’s spring here in Georgia, and our gorgeous dogwoods and azaleas are sending me out into the yard with my clippers, snipping a frenzy of bouquets to spruce up our home. I’m not at all a gardener, but our house rests on property where generations before me still share their love of natural beauty.

If you’re like me and love flowers, then I must tell you about a new young adult book I recently read by Amy Brecount White. It’s called Forget-Her-Nots and shares the story of 14-year-old Laurel’s blossoming realization that she has a supernatural gift of being able to communicate through flowers.

As I read this book, I felt the author to be one of those few kindred spirits I have in this world. She has a fantastic love of literature and her depth of knowledge blew me away. After reading the book, I wanted to know more about her, and I was thrilled when she agreed to answer a few of my questions.

I hope you enjoy meeting Amy Brecount White and will visit her website to learn more about what she’s up to.

Welcome, Amy! How did you get the idea to write a book about the Victorian language of flowers?

It was a combination of factors. I was freelancing a lot of non-fiction articles and always on the lookout for new story ideas. I came across a beautiful coffee table book on tussie-mussies, which are symbolic Victorian bouquets. Although I tried to sell an article on this topic, I never did.

Later, I went to hear author Toni Morrison speak, and she advised aspiring writers to “write the story that only you can write.” That struck a chord with me, and I started to think about my loves and what I cared about most. Flowers, teenage girls (since I’d taught at an all-girls school), literature, and relationships.

I hope you can see all my loves in Forget-Her-Nots.

Oh, yes definitely! That was great advice from Toni Morrison, and I think it’s what makes your book so unique. Are you anything like your main character, Laurel?

Yes, although I don’t have the gift of flowers, I do have a very sensitive nose and adore flowers and gardening. I think all characters have something of their author in them too, even the mean ones. I also coach my daughter’s soccer team and used to play myself.

I’m not surprised to hear that you’re an experienced soccer player and coach! I really enjoyed jumping right into the game with Laurel since I’ve been a soccer mom for several years (though never a player!) Amy, Can you tell us more about how you became so interested in tussie-mussies, which play such an integral role in the plot of your novel?

It came from the book I mentioned earlier and a lot of research into the language of flowers and Shakespeare’s use of flowers. There isn’t a definitive language, but the list in the back of my book contains the most common meanings associated with flowers throughout Western culture. I would love to explore flower mythology and meanings from Eastern cultures — especially India, China, and Japan — in a future novel.

Do you ever send anyone these little bouquets of flowers?

Yes. Before the idea of Forget-Her-Nots was born, a friend and neighbor of mine had ovarian cancer, so I made her a bouquet with flower messages for her health, hope, and strength. I wished so much that it would come true, and that was one of the seeds that led me to write my novel.

I’ve also created a tussie-mussie out of photos of flowers for a niece who lives too far away to send fresh ones.

That’s a great idea, sending a digital bouquet to someone you love. What is your favorite flower?

I love all flowers, but I adore gardenias for their sweet scent and loveliness. Bleeding hearts, lilacs, and dogwoods are other favorites, as they are all blooming in my yard right now.

Oh, I’m sure your yard must be beautiful! As we’re approaching Mother’s Day next month, what flowers would you recommend for a pretty Mother’s Day “tussie mussie?”

I recommend any combination of these flowers and herbs that would smell lovely, and don’t forget to include a card deciphering the meaning of the flowers.

Rosemary – I’ll remember you always.

Sage – I esteem you and all you do for me.

Gardenia – To “transport” you to a place where you’ll be ecstatic.

Fennel – You are worthy of all praise.

White bellflowers – I’m so grateful for all you do.

Irises – To send my message to you.

These are all so lovely, and most should be blooming or available easily around Mother’s Day.

You’ve inspired me to really give careful thought to the meaning of flowers! Back to your novel, was this story based on actual people or places?

I tried to stay true to the countryside and architecture around Charlottesville, Virginia, but there’s no Avondale school there, and I’ve never attended boarding school. I also used historical details about orchid hunters, Charlotte de Latour, and Mt. Kinabalu. Everything else is a product of my over-active imagination!!

Did you ever sneak around like Laurel reading really old books about the secret language of flowers?

Oh! Fun question. I wish. When I was her age, I did stay awake long after I was supposed to be, reading a good book under the covers. In fact, I still stay up too late reading, but I don’t have to hide it anymore. I just have to drink more coffee or green tea the next day. 😉

Are there really people known as “Flower Speakers?”

You never know…. Truly, I think anyone who gives flowers to another person in a spirit of love and good will speak the language. You can lift another person’s mood for days by giving her or him flowers. (This was proven in a study at Rutgers University.)

What do you hope readers will gain from reading Forget-Her-Nots?

My Publisher’s Weekly review said I had “a reverence for the natural world,” which thrilled me. I definitely hope that all my readers young to older will look at flowers differently and see how truly amazing they are. Also, most of my stories are intergenerational and emphasize our connectedness through the generations. I hope young readers see that especially.

Do you have any advice for moms who are trying to take care of their families while also squeezing in a little time to write?

Yes. I freelanced for newspapers (The Washington Post) and magazines (FamilyFun, Washingtonian, Notre Dame Magazine) when my three kids were younger. It was very satisfying to do the research, write the piece, and see it published in a relatively short time. So much we do as moms is repetitive and never-ending. So I would advise budding writers to take on some short projects first. Try your local newspaper or parenting magazine.

I’d also advise you to go easy on yourself and be happy if you write a little bit every day. Definitely always carry a notebook. Some of my best inspiration came on playgrounds!

This is very thoughtful advice, Amy! I’m sure many moms out there can relate to jotting down story ideas on the playground. How do you manage to spend time with your kids and still be a productive writer?

If I’m on a tough deadline, I wake up at 5 or 5:30 and write for a while before I have to get the kids out the door. Then the rest of the day seems to go more smoothly. If you want to do both, you can’t ever have writers’ block. No time!

So I’d always write notes to myself at the end of my writing time about where to start next. I’d give myself a concrete problem to solve or scene to write, so I could start immediately. I often wrote in snatches, meaning an hour here and there. Some writers think they need hours, but writing during nap time or quiet time works well, if you’ve given yourself a specific and doable task.

Also, you have to be able to walk by the pile of smelly laundry and crumby counter and focus on writing. I throw laundry in when I need a break, but try to do most of the housework after my working hours. Now my kids are in school all day, so that helps.

Wow. You make running a home seem compatible with carving out a writing life. These are such great ideas! Are you working on another book now?

Yes, it’s called String Theories. It’s about a 14-year-old girl who gets in over her head, the physics of relationships, a stream, and getting even. It’s a little edgier than the first one, so I’d recommend for ages 14 and up.

I’m sure it will be fantastic. Thanks so much for visiting us here at Mom 2 Mom Connection, Amy! We wish you the best with your writing endeavors and look forward to seeing your next book!

Thanks so much and thanks for hosting me!

You’re welcome!

Note: Special thanks to Susan Salzman Raab and the other fine folks at Raab Associates in NYC for introducing me and everybody here to Amy Brecount White and her books.

May 17, 2007

This summer, I have high hopes of attacking some organizing projects that I just haven’t made time for this year.

For one, my kids’ school papers need to be pared down and filed away. I’m bad about wanting to keep everything — but really, we can’t! My plans are to let them do this themselves, saving only their best papers into a three-ring binder. I try to remember it’s the “process” not the “product” that matters, especially when we’re going through hundreds of fill-in-the-blank worksheets.

Artwork and creative writing are special reminders of this school year, though, and I do want to keep some of it. These years seem to be flying by when I take them as a whole.

An author of a new series of organizing books recently contacted me about her mini-books for parents who’d like to get more organized. Her name is Beverly Coggins, and she’s a professional organizer with a special desire to help artistic, creative people — who may also struggle with being naturally organized.

Check out her site if you need some organizing inspiration!

Another project I’d really like to get done is to organize my photos — both digital and print — and Tasra Dawson has some great ideas for that.

I’m also hoping to be more involved this year in our summer garden. This is a task I usually leave up to my husband because I didn’t grow up learning how to plant a vegetable garden.

Yet I’ve learned that nothing tastes quite as good as a warm, ripe tomato from your very own vine. It’s really the best way to get your kids to eat vegetables!

When we start harvesting our summer vegetables, I want to be more organized about what we do with the extra produce. This year, I’d like to at least try blanching and freezing our extra tomatoes to use for soups and sauces. I don’t know that I’m ready for canning — yet — but freezing seems simple enough, if I’ll take the time to do it!

How about you? Do you have any organizing goals for this summer?

April 9, 2007

Our guest this week is Christine Lynxwiler, a mom and writer who lives with her husband and two daughters in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.

She’s author of several novels, including her most recent, Promise Me Always, which I reviewed for this month’s CWO Book Buzz.

Welcome, Christine! Your book has inspired me to get outside and do some gardening!

Can you tell us a little about your main character, Allie Richards, and what she’s gotten herself into in this novel?

Ever since she worked for a lawn service/landscaping company in high school, Allie has dreamed of having her own. When she marries, she puts her dreams on hold to support her husband through med school, but he gets hit by a car and killed when he’s still an intern.

Left with a mountain of debt and two young daughters, Allie forgets her dream. But when she’s fired from her secretarial job, her Pinky Promise friends convince her to go out on a limb and enter a landscaping contest.

As a young widow, raising two daughters on her own, what kind of struggles does Allie encounter?

Allie has to deal with the same problems most moms do — children who love each other, but don’t always like each other. She definitely wishes that she could turn them over to the other parent sometimes, but that’s not an option for her. She’s on call 24/7 and has to worry about being solely responsible for putting food on the table.

Can you give us some details about the Pinky Promise Sisterhood? What role do these friends play in Allie’s life?

The Pinky Promise Sisterhood formed out of necessity. Sometimes you have to have someone who will keep your secrets.

From the time in second grade when Lark and Allie found out they had matching Dukes of Hazzard lunchboxes, they knew they’d each found a friend. But when Lark told Allie that she’d never had a daddy and showed her how to pinky promise not to tell, the sisterhood was born.

A few years later, rich but unhappy Victoria was allowed in, and then when the trio were young adults, they befriended Rachel, seventeen, unwed and pregnant. Secrets bound them together to start with, but now love keeps them from ever forsaking each other.

You introduce a romantic hero in this novel, Daniel Montgomery. What do you think holds Allie back in trusting him?

When you’re writing first person, from the heroine’s point of view, I think your hero has to be larger than life. Daniel Montgomery fits this bill. He’s a risk-taker on a Harley.

But at the same time, he’s compassionate, solid, and safe. Allie can’t see past the first part. And she’s afraid. Afraid to trust anyone who can’t promise her always. And we know there’s only One who can do that.

As a writer, do you see yourself in Daniel?

Maybe, but to be honest, I saw myself in Allie too. Even though their dreams were very different, hers — to start her own landscaping company, and his — to write the Great American Novel, they both took a chance on achieving their goals. Following any dream is a scary, albeit rewarding, journey.

Yes, that’s true. There’s a strong theme of gardening throughout Promise Me Always. Are you also a gardener?

I’m not a gardener anymore. But I still think about it a lot. My deadlines have been so back-to-back for a while now that I don’t get my hands off the keyboard long enough to get them dirty.

For three years when we lived in Powder Springs, Georgia, I worked for a landscaping company. When I first started, it was a lawn service, but even then I liked the satisfaction that came from mowing a lawn, weedeating, edging it, and standing back to admire my work.

Then my boss expanded into landscaping and I LOVED it. I worked until I was seven months pregnant with my first daughter, then quit. But I’d always rather be outside.

I’ve been on a pressing deadline lately and Saturday, I took my laptop outside and wrote while my husband planted in the garden.

Sounds like fun! How does Allie grow spiritually as a Christian woman during this novel?

When the story starts, Allie has fallen into the trap of thinking she’s in control of her life. She doesn’t like things that mess with her perfect plan.

By the end of the book, she has to admit that God is the only One in control. I can’t speak for all Christian women, but I know that as I wrote the parts where Allie was literally forced to put things in God’s hands, I squirmed. I am a bit of a control freak, so this book was cheap therapy for me.

What’s next in the Pinky Promise Sisterhood series?

Right now I’m working on Rachel’s story. She’s a chiropractor who is happy living alone with her two dogs. But when she ends up taking care of a rebellious teenage girl for the summer whose only love is horses, it’s hard to handle it without some help. Along Came A Cowboy will hit the shelves in the spring of 2008.

Wow — you’re definitely staying busy with deadlines! In your Novel Journey interview, you detailed your journey to publication. What has surprised you most about being a published novelist?

I thought my life would change considerably when I got published. But it hasn’t. I still have fears and insecurities, bills and dirty dishes, good days and bad days.

Before I was published it seemed like publication was the goal, the end of the journey. Now each story is just a signpost along the way toward growing as a writer and as a person.

Do you have any advice for moms who try to squeeze in a little writing time while they’re also busy raising a family?

My only advice for moms is kids grow up fast. My little one was tiny when I started writing. Now she’s ten. I’ve missed too many chances to read a story to her because I was writing one. That’s my new goal. Be more responsible about my word count so that my house doesn’t have to become a one-parent household around deadline time.

On the other hand, don’t use your kids as a cop-out, a reason not to write. Carve out some time each day. A fulfilled mom is a great mom!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I have to put in a plug for the book I just turned in titled Forever Christmas. This is written in a voice similar to the Pinky Promise books.

Forever Christmas is set in Jingle Bells, Arkansas, a little town where, according to the welcome sign, “The Spirit of Christmas Lives In Our Hearts All Year Long.” Former runaway bride, Kristianna Harrington, has to fight to save the town she loves without losing her heart in the process.

I’ll be posting the cover or at least a link to the amazon page for the book on my website in a few days.

We’ll have to check that out — thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Christine!

Thanks for having me, Heather. It’s been fun!

You can keep up with Christine Lynxwiler’s writing and family life via her website, which she updates regularly with an awesome blog!