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A guided tour

We stayed at home this morning so the girls could have one last long play on the swings, the bikes and teasing Laurel & Hardy, the goats, while we did some washing and tidying up. And later – for the first time since we arrived last Sunday – we had a meal outside at the picnic table in the garden.

After lunch we piled into the car for a 17min drive (according to TomTom) to the Mennonite Information Center.  In the end it took us almost 40 minutes due to very heavy traffic.  Never mind – we were still in time to pick up Carolyn Groff, our guide, whom we hired to show us around Amish country for two hours.  My only regret?  Wish we had done this at the beginning of the week – this was well worth the $44 we paid!

As Tim drove, following Carolyn’s instructions, she talked about Amish life.  Hannah had thought of some questions beforehand and Carolyn managed to answer them all.

1) What do Amish children learn at school?
All the Amish children in a particular area will attend the same one-room school.  All the different ages will be taught in the same classroom by the same teacher (grade 1 – grade 8).  They will mainly be taught reading, writing, Maths, German and a little Geography (but no History or Science).

2) What games do they play?
At school during breaktime, they would play games like hide and seek or tag.  They also like to play boardgames like Scrabble, or puzzles.  At home they would have wooden toys to play with.

3) What books do they read?
They are allowed to read books other than the Bible, but would mainly stick to nature books, Christian books or story books like “Little House on the Prairie”.  Often the schoolteacher would visit the library and take out as many as 60 (carefully selected) books for a month!

4) What jobs/chores do children do?
A 5-year old girl (like Ellen) would help set and clear the table, help with the dishes, the washing and feed the animals.
An 8-year old girl (like Hannah) might by this age have several younger siblings, so she would be responsible for them when playing outside.  She would also help “Mamm” with the “boppli” (baby).
Other chores include cooking, ironing and helping in the barn.

What else did we find out about school/children?  The school year starts late August and finishes late May to coincide with the farming calendar.  This means that the children are free to help on the farm at time of harvesting.  They don’t have any holidays during the school year, but they have one day off for Christmas and one day for Easter. 

Carolyn took us to an Amish one-room school.  We were able to walk through the gate and onto the playground.  There was a smaller block which housed the toilets/restrooms (usually there are two separate buildings for the girls and boys) and a larger block which was the actual school.  It was locked, but we were able to peer in underneath the shutters.  As you come in there is a small area with shelves for the children to put their lunchboxes on and hooks to hang their hats and bonnets on.  Then there was the main (and only) classroom which had in it a large green blackboard and lots of separate desks.  The room looked much bigger and much more modern than I anticipated.  I was expecting to see a small darkish room with very old-fashioned wooden desks – this room looked very clean and inviting.

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Oh yes, Carolyn also explained there were two important days during the school year. The first one is Christmas day where all the children play a part.  The older children re-enact the Christmas story, the younger children sing songs.  The second important day is the very last day of the school year when all the children and their parents are invited to come to school and have a picnic and play games.

One of the things I wondered about was whether Amish people ever go on holiday?  They used not to because up to the 1960s the majority of Amish people were farmers so they needed to be on the farm to look after their animals.  They needed at least 80 acres of farmland to make a decent living.  Nowadays only 30% are farmers as there is not enough farmland left.  This has meant that many Amish people have had to find other ways to earn a living.  They now have jobs in retail (e.g. selling books, flooring, homemade foods, handmade quilts, furniture and toys), manufacturing and mobile construction (e,g, homes, silos and barns).  This means that now they can    travel by train, bus or car – they are not allowed to drive themselves or travel on Sundays.

As we were driving along the country lanes Carolyn kept pointing out the Amish farms.  They actually do stand out, because often you would see a long white tank outside with propane gas, or buggies (other distinguishing features are green blinds in the windows and the long line of washing outside), or they would have a smaller house attached. This small house would be used either by the grandparents or by newly-wed children.

Weddings take place on Tuesdays or Thursdays in November or December (once the farming season is over).  Brides will often choose a blue-ish dress and white apron.  This apron will be taken off later in the day and put away.  The next time a woman wears that particular white apron again is at her own funeral.

All the weddings are the same, at the service the preacher will read the same sermons and sing the same hymns.  Even the wedding meals are identical; there is no competition so that no one is better than someone else.  One of the typical wedding dishes was creamed celery and people were able to tell a family was preparing for a wedding by the size of their celery patch in the vegetable garden!

Amish couples don’t exchange wedding rings; you can tell a man is married when he has a beard, but it’s harder to know whether a woman is married or not just by looking at her.

After the service the guests will sit down for the wedding meal.  The older people will eat first followed by the younger generation.  Younger children are usually not present at weddings as they would be at school, unless they are a sibling of the bride or groom.  Wedding presents are not given at the wedding, but bride & groom will each receive a present when they visit their guests during the weeks after the wedding. 

In the evening all the young folks get together for a ‘singing’ at which the bride plays matchmaker, she can sit a particular boy with a particular girl – later on they get to share an ice-cream (one bowl and two spoons).  During the singing she hands out the treats and sweets that her guests have brought along.

A few photo opportunities during our tour; here is a telephone shed outside the house itself, to be used for business calls only.
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A covered bridge; there are 14 of them in Lancaster County, and their purpose is to help stop ice forming on the bridge (plenty of warning signs to that effect on other, non-covered bridges). Most are fairly new as they tend to get washed away or else they burn down.
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The next two pictures show an ingenious scheme whereby water power is used to pump water. There is a water wheel behind the foreground post in the first photo; this drives a reciprocating beam that pulls an overhead cable linked to a well pump over the road (second photo). One water wheel can power many pumps, even up to a mile away.
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Just off the road through Intercourse, a big fair or auction was taking place. All the buggies were parked together with the horses in an adjacent field.
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People were starting to make their way home, some by buggy
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and some on foot (wheeling their newly-acquired suitcases).
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We stopped twice; once at an Amish ‘department store’ – where we were so hot and thirsty that we couldn’t think of anything beyond buying a cold juice drink – and then at a candle shop/ice cream stall/petting zoo (not the most obvious of combinations, I know…) where the girls ordered a wax goat with a flake (or was it a tapir taper in a tapering cone?)

There were a few surprises for our guide, too – she spotted an Amish man she knew using a mobile phone on his balcony, and another young man riding a bicycle (rather than a scooter). Apparently there is as yet no official line on the use of mobile phones, but the Powers That Be are due to reach a decision soon.

Carolyn was also surprised to hear that the Amish farm where we bought our quilt has a website; she had just explained that the Amish are only permitted to use ‘neutered’ computers on which all means of internet connection have been removed. However, it may well be that a third party (non-Amish) operates the web site for them.

This is a bit of a desperate rush to jot down just some of the information we gathered today, and many of the bits we missed are sure to evaporate in a few days’ time. We haven’t done justice to the full two-hour tour, but it’s getting late and we have two days of travelling coming up…

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Quilt quest

Yet another gentle start to the day. The weather was again cloudy, but warm.

Our mission for today:

  1. purchase a book called “The Amish in their own words”
  2. admire and maybe purchase a handmade Amish quilt
  3. have an Amish lunch at Hershey Farm
  4. visit the “Amish Village” near Strasburg
  5. return to Cherry Crest Farm since we all had such fun there yesterday, and it’s free with our Boomerang keyring and a copy of the photo taken yesterday

What did we achieve?

1: No success here. I have seen this book advertised in the Amish Country News magazine and looked really interesting, but can’t seem to find it anywhere. At least I know I can order it on Amazon when I get back home next year!

2: Away from the main roads and following the calm country roads we came across two Amish farms where we could look at/buy quilts. The first place we came to had a nice shop attached to the farm where they sold lots of handmade articles including quilts. There was one in particular I liked, it had a white background and the wedding ring pattern (several interlocking rings) in different blue/green/red colours. Not wanting to buy the very first quilt I liked, we headed of to the other farm just around the corner. But not before tasting a large warm soft pretzel – really delicious! At Riehl’s Farm we found a small building where they sold loads of handmade quilts. Tim came across a quilt with a “Round the World” pattern! We looked for one with shades of red, but unfortunately couldn’t find one, the first one was too pink, the second one too purple & green. But then we spotted the quilt for us. It had a white background and the wedding ring pattern in really beautiful shades of red. An Amish girl kindly offered to spread it out on a bed for us to admire and check. She told us it would have taken 3 women two months to finish it. We both really liked it, the price was good and they offered to ship it for us so that we didn’t have to pay the extra tax on it. And we know that our money went to the Amish community.

3: Off to Hershey’s for lunch. We all opted for the lunchtime Smorgasbord – eat as much as you like! Tim & I started with soup – I had chicken & sweetcorn and Tim chose slow-cooked beef broth but was slightly disappointed as the beef was quite chewy still. The girls had some bread & butter. After our starters Hannah & Ellen moved on to golden fried chicken and corn on the cob, while Tim & I between us tasted noodles, fish, ham balls, sauerkraut & slow cooked pork, corn fritters, green beans, dutch stuffing (some sort of warmed up crusts?) and candied sweet potato & marshmallow. Only Tim was brave (or foolish) enough to try the latter and was not at all impressed by it. He didn’t finish his plate, which is very unusual for him! For dessert Ellen chose jelly and vanilla ice cream, Hannah chose whoopie pie (sweet cream between two soft brown cookies) and a slice of chocolate fudge cake (to be shared with mummy & daddy), Tim chose blueberry crumb pie and I had the cherry crumb pie. No room for Shoofly pie – so we ended up buying a large one to take home instead!

4: We decided to give this a miss, we drove past it earlier in the day and it didn’t look all that interesting.

5: We arrived at Cherry Crest Farm in the middle of the afternoon and the heat was almost unbearable. The girls just love this place so much and spent ages in the Barnyard feeding the goats and cuddling the little chicks. I tried to encourage them going down the big slides in sacks, but Ellen wasn’t at all interested. Hannah gave it a go, but by the second time was literally shaking with fright and she walked back down the hill, so it was just Tim & I racing down the slides – it was really great fun!! If we have the slightest chance tomorrow we might go back a third time!

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All in all again a busy, but very happy day for the Prices, something for everyone… Ellen went to bed earlier as she was so tired. By the time Hannah went up, Ellen was already fast asleep!

One more full day left in Amish country, it will be hard for all of us to leave this place behind, but it will definitely stay in my heart forever!

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Trip Around The World

That’s what the tag on the quilt said: Trip Around The World. A series of nested diamond patterns made of small squares, in various shades of blue, something like this:
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Surely we simply had to buy this one… But – just like that Mystic Pizza – we shunned the obvious course and went for a Double Wedding Ring design in deep russet tones on an off-white background (a bit like this one):
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We found it at an Amish farm, Riehl’s, a few miles north of Bird-in-Hand. Big quilts like this don’t come cheap, but least our money will go directly to the Amish, with no middlemen (unlike many of the shops in the area). A pity we won’t see it for ten months, though – we paid for it to be shipped back to the UK (it would more than fill one of our large rucksacks, even if it would keep us wonderfully warm in the Andes).

Lunch was at Hershey’s Farm Restaurant. This time we chose the Grand Smorgasbord, an ‘all you can eat’ buffet. Now ‘all you can eat’ is ideal for us; we can put less on our plate than we would otherwise be given, and there is less wastage for the restaurant. We are probably alone in doing so, however; a quick glance at our fellow diners did not immediately bring the words ‘svelte’ or ‘willowy’ to mind.

Whoever dreamed/nightmared up candied sweet potatoes with marshmallow… well, curiosity ain’t good for cats, and for me neither – I didn’t feel at all well after just a minimal taste of this side dish. My ‘slow-cooked’ beef soup was tough of meat and raw of veg, but otherwise I enjoyed the choice of food on offer. There was the slightly disconcerting moment when a single glass of Coke appeared on our table, quite unsolicited (we all had half-finished drinks at the time). Was it intended for another table? ‘Don’t worry, it’s all included in the price’ the waitress reassured us. Do we look too scrawny and thin, in need of fattening up?

Back at Cherry Crest Farm the girls had a fun time seeing the animals again. I was impressed when the mini-train driver, seeing that Ellen and I had spotted a large butterfly while we were queueing up, told us “that’s a Tiger Swallowtail”. Not the sort of thing you’d get in the UK (neither the Papilio glaucus nor the proffered information).

“Tyler! Don’t go nowhere!” – this admonition from a sedentary and corpulent dad probably won’t help his offspring’s chances…

We drove home the pretty way, following the 741 south of Lancaster to avoid the grim and grimy highways. We endured and ignored the monotonous repetition of “Turn right ahead” from the Sat Nav lady who was desperate to get us home quickly, efficiently and soullessly.

A gorgeously sunny evening back at Landis Farm; Evelyn driving the ride-on mower and Earl chatting about today’s tree-pruning. Tomorrow our last full day, and once again we shall be sorry to be moving on.

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Making new friends

A slightly slower start to the day.  We planned to visit Cherry Crest Adventure Farm which didn’t open until 10am, so plenty of time for the girls to go cycling and for me to get a picnic lunch ready.  The weather is a little cooler but less cloudy than yesterday.

Shortly after 10am we arrived at Cherry Crest, which is situated near Paradise and Strasburg away from the busy main road.  We parked the car in a field and my first reaction was that it was totally different to what I expected, in the positive sense.  For a start it looked smaller than I expected, but that was only so because most of the Farm was situated beyond the railway line halfway up the hill.

We decided to visit the “Make-a-Friend Workshop” first to beat the rush and the girls were the only two customers.  I think they were slightly taken aback by the young girl showing us around and explaining what to do (she can’t have been older than 11-12), but was fairly knowledgeable about the Amish.

Step 1 : choose a doll (boy/girl; blond/brown hair; blue/green eyes), the young girl showed the girls how to tie the dolls’ hair back into a typical Amish bun

Step 2 : choose an Amish name (both girls obviously chose girls and were told that there were only 35 Amish girls names to chose from as most Amish children are named after parents/grandparents or other family members).  Hannah’s doll is called “Mary” and Ellen’s doll is called “Rachel” after the character in her Amish book.

Step 3 : choose handmade outfit for your doll; all dresses, trousers, shirts, headcoverings, hats and quilts are made by Amish women, so are the genuine article.  Hannah chose a purple dress and Ellen’s doll is wearing pink.
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Step 4 : visit the Amish school in the corner of the workshop and write your name using the old German alphabet.  Hannah did really well in this, but some of the letters were a bit tricky for Ellen, she had a really good try, though.

Step 5 : develop your quilting skills; actually the girls were only allowed to do one cross stitch; slightly disappointing.
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Step 6 : the girls were then shown a “shunk” (Amish word for wardrobe) full of colourful headcoverings (a doll size bonnet takes 3 hours to make!), black aprons (for weekdays), white headcoverings & aprons (for Sundays), quilts and jackets & hats for the boy dolls.  And here comes the catch – you had to pay extra for all these items and understandably the girls wanted their Amish dolls to look as Amish as possible so each chose a white headcovering and a black apron for Mary, a white apron for Rachel (the girls were quite happy to pay for these extras with their pocket money – thank you very much grandparents!)

Alright, we had to pay more than expected, but the girls had a great time and learned more about the Amish culture.  Later on in the car the girls were chatting to their Amish dolls and talking about the differences between Amish and non-Amish cultures, both Tim & I were pleased they understood … For years to come they will know about Amish dress and hairstyle (all girls & women have their hair tied back in a bun) and buggies, etc.

We bought tickets for the rest of the Farm and started off on the “jumping cushions” (a trampoline to you and me); followed by the “Singing chickens” – don’t ask me, I went to get our picnic lunch from the car.  As we were enjoying our crisps a group of youngsters and their leaders came to sit at the long tables behind us.  I couldn’t help being slightly shocked at the way the children were spoken to, or should I say shouted at!

Our next activity was the “Amazing maize maze”.  It was done in a pretty clever way.  Each group was given their own “Pennsylvania gameboard” on which to stick 14 puzzle pieces to be found in mailboxes within the maze.  The maze was divided into 7 smaller mazes representing 7 regions in Pennsylvania, each had their own colour.  Within each maze you collected two puzzle pieces which showed you part of the map of the maze.  At the start we chose our flag (2 horses) in case we got lost and needed help (we could then stick up the flag and wave it, someone would then give us directions over a tannoy! We managed to complete the maze in 1.5 hours, not bad with two small girls in hot weather.  We certainly deserved that icecream afterwards.
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After a rest we visited the barnyard where we saw chickens, pigs, ducks, bunnies, goats and one lama.  But what we all enjoyed the most was picking up little soft chicks – it was hard to get the girls away from there (and mummy!).

We all had yet another great day out, certainly worth the money.  The Farm was set out very well, and although there were quite a few cars in the parking lot, it didn’t seem crowded at all once on the Farm.  When we paid for our second tickets (to see the whole farm) we were given a green boomerang keyring which meant you could have your photo taken (and emailed to you) and return to Cherry Crest Farm on another day.  If we’re lost for things to do, we might visit the Farm again before moving on to Vermont.
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PS : talking about making new friends – the girls absolutely adore their new four-legged friend Molly!
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What do we do all day?

I must concede that I had slight misgivings before we set off on our trip about how we would fill our time with no work and no school for months on end; all that planning of where in the world to go, but precious little about what to do once we got there.

Well, it isn’t a problem (so far). It’s a pretty full-time existence; we aren’t often to be found sitting doing nothing, and the girls seldom complain that they are bored. Alongside exploring the neighbourhood and days out visiting local attractions, all the usual home routines are transposed to our new setting – shopping, cooking, eating, washing up, washing clothes – plus the additional happy burden of the daily blog. This latter task fills most of our evenings, even when we are typing in parallel (on separate keyboards) as we are doing right now. (Selecting and uploading the day’s photos also takes quite a long time on our slow internet connection.)

The blog serves the two obvious purposes of keeping our dear readers up to date with what we have been doing and providing us with a detailed written and photographic record of our trip. But I hadn’t expected it to be so valuable in the way it guarantees us a daily period of calm reflection throughout our travels (and for this reason it is hard to write much before the girls have gone to bed, unless one retreats to a far corner of the house). The unexamined life, and all that…

In fact, we have had so little time to spare that the girls have had only one or two formal school sessions per week so far. And yet, listening to them chat in the car with their new Amish dolls this afternoon, they are learning so much simply by being here – every day is a field trip. I overheard not just their expositions of Amish customs, but also references to the Mayflower and the Pilgrims from last week’s stay – with no confusion between the two weeks. It’s all going in.

If they are learning so much while in a relatively familiar Western cultural setting, with no major changes in food, language, music, flora or fauna, I wonder how they will respond once we hit South America (or South-East Asia)? It’s probably a good thing that we are staying put in Cusco for a full month; this will give us all time to adjust.

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Farm Feast

Had a fairly good night, apart from being woken up by thunder and rain, again that didn’t last very long and by the time I went outside after breakfast the air felt pretty humid again.  At least it wasn’t too sunny which made it much more bearable.    

Because of the drop in temperature we felt able to go out and about and start enjoying this area much more. 

We headed off to Plain and Fancy where we could enjoy a buggy ride, Amish house (the only Amish Heritage Site) and a theatre where we could watch a film titled “Jacob’s Choice”. 

When we arrived we walked over to the start of the buggy rides, put our name on the list and were given a sticker.  All six buggies and two wagons were already out on the road.  I know, it sounds very touristy, but actually it wasn’t.  We waited for about 20 minutes and then got on a wagon with 7 other people.

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Our driver was called John and was an Amish grandfather.  He took us off the main road and down along some country lanes where we could sample the quietness and calmness of the Amish countryside.

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He rode up to his farm where one of his young grandsons was waiting for us with painted horseshoes (used ones), homemade cookies and bracelets.  Everybody on the wagon bought something; we bought a bag of chocolate chip cookies – the softest I have ever tasted, the girls loved them too.  I thought it would have been heaving with Amish people working the land or driving their buggies to market but I found it remarkably quiet.  At the same time I felt that by going on this buggy ride I got a better idea of how the Amish spend their normal day. 

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Once back at Plain & Fancy we went to the theatre to buy our combination tickets (for the house and the movie).  We had a half hour wait until the next performance, so decided to have a rest outside with some homemade lemonade and punch (fruity still drink) and chatted to an older Amish man.  He explained to me that the wagon usually gets used for shifting hay, but they make the wagons in such a way that they can fix some benches on so that larger families can use it for going to church or schoolchildren can use it to go on a picnic.  When I told him we were going to watch the performance he said to look out for him.  I thought he might appear in the background somewhere, but actually had one of the main parts as Jacob’s grandfather!

The performance itself was amazing.  It was shown on 3 screens representing a barnyard setting, plus a 3 dimensional screen (called “Pepper’s Ghost”) showing people from the past (Jacob’s grandmother, William Penn, etc).  Hannah very much enjoyed it but Ellen found parts of it quite scary.  For example William Penn was chased by a soldier who fell through the ice, he decided to follow his faith and therefore help the soldier, only to be captured and burnt!  When they showed how the anabaptists fled Holland in little boats, one of the wooden gates opened, the fan to our right was turned on and we got slightly sprayed with water – just to give us some idea of how tough it must have been for them to cross the rough seas!
 
The film itself explained the most important choice for an Amish youngster.  When Amish children are 16 they can enjoy the rumschpringe, which means that they can have a taste of the englisher (outside) world before deciding whether or not to be baptised and become a full member of the Amish church.  It means that they can drive cars, wear western clothes, etc.  Rumschpringe can last several years, and it is a difficult and trying time for many Amish parents as they would like their children to remain Amish but need to leave that decision to them.  Once they have become a member of the church they are not allowed these things and need to stick to the Amish rules.  In the end Jacob decided to get baptised and remain Amish.  In reality 95% of Amish youngsters remain Amish!

The tour around the house was very informative.  The Amish will have some home conveniences like a proper bathroom, fridge, washing machine, … but no electricity, telephone, computer, television.  The rooms had hardly any decorations.  Downstairs were the bathroom, kitchen, sitting room and parents’ bedroom.  Upstairs the boys’ bedroom and the girls’ bedroom.  In each bedroom you could find a bed, dresser, hope chest (girls’ room) and typical Amish clothing hung up at the wall.

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By the end of the tour we were all pretty hungry, we deliberately only had a small breakfast and no morning snack as we wanted to experience a typical Amish meal.  So off to Plain & Fancy restaurant where we opted for the “Amish Farm Feast”.  We were seated at a long table and shortly afterwards joined by a young family from Canada.  Almost immediately our server Laura started bringing out several starter dishes; iced raisin bread, little soft warm rolls, chow chow (pickled vegetables) and apple sauce.  The raisin bread was my favourite, it was still warm and the icing runny.  We all chose homemade lemonade which wasn’t too sweet or too sour – just perfect on a hot & humid day.  Then we were served the main course, or rather main courses!  These included round-eye beef, golden fried chicken (Hannah’s favourite by far), sausages (nicely seasoned), chicken hot pie (soft chicken pieces with noodles in a creamy sauce), butterfly pasta, creamy mashed potatoes, green beans and corn on the cob (Ellen’s favourite).  Hannah had her soft roll + butter, corn on the cob and lots of chicken, Ellen tasted some raisin bread, half a soft roll, a little bit of chicken, sausage and corn on the cob.  Tim & I had a bit of everything.  All four of us were pleasantly surprised and impressed with the delicious food and once again the girls have proved to us that homemade food is what they prefer and will eat – no McDonalds or Burger King for them!

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Although we tasted every dish brought to us, we made sure we had room left for dessert.  There was a choice between Shoofly pie or Apple crumble, unfortunately we couldn’t have both, sniff sniff.  The girls opted for vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and sprinkles, but both Tim & I had a big helping of Shoofly pie and a dollop of sweet cream, washed down with a mug of freshly brewed coffee.  All this only came to just over $50, including a $3 off coupon/adult!
I liked the idea of sitting at a long table as it gives you the opportunity to meet other visitors and share this experience.

Feeling rather full and satisfied we wandered back to our car and drove away from the main road and explored the Amish countryside on our own.  It’s just so peaceful.  We saw several Amish farms with their typical clothing hanging out to dry, cornfield after cornfield, and even two young boys (probably about 10 years old) riding really little buggies pulled by ponies.
On our way home we stopped at the Farmers’ Market in Bird in Hand to pick up a loaf of bread and got back home well after 4pm.
For me this has been the best day so far, I wanted to experience the Amish without being too much of a tourist and thanks to their openness that was possible.

Tomorrow we’re hoping to visit Cherry Crest where the girls could choose & dress their own Amish doll and visit an Amish village in Strassburg.

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Amish reflections

We toured a mock-up of a present-day Amish house today, and I was struck by the nature of the children’s toys. Obviously, they eschew electronic gadgets and fashion fripperies, but wooden marble rollers predominated. You place the ball at the top, then watch it run down a series of inclines, possibly spinning some cog wheels on the way, until the marble emerges predictably at the base.

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This is a deterministic toy. There are no dice, no spinners, no games of choice or chance in an Amish house; rather, these hands-on practical demonstrations and reminders of God’s plan for us all. We should run as marbles in the immutable grooves of God’s will, changing direction and encountering obstacles along the way, but sure of our journey’s end. (I gather that the Amish reject the Calvinists’ doctrine of predestination, but ‘God’s plan’ does feature in their lives.)

Other thoughts: the Amish people’s ‘differentness’ is a relatively recent phenomenon in their three centuries of existence; less than 100 years ago, their manner of living would not have been much removed from that of their neighbours, religious differences aside. And it is not that they have blindly resisted progress; it is that we have blindly embraced it. 97% of the Amish use motorised washing machines, 75% chain saws, 70% indoor flush toilets. But if an innovation does not enhance family life, they see no case for its adoption. Computers, televisions, cars serve to break up family togetherness; with a horse and buggy, you can never get too far away from home.

One of my favourite souvenirs in the craft shops round here is the cross-stitch panel saying ‘Simplify’ (cf. my birthday wish for simplicity). I concur with many of the Amish values: the total irrelevance of  fame, fashion, vanity and the acquisition of possessions; the importance of the family; the ‘will it enhance our lives?’ criterion for any new gadget. However, the ‘no school education past the age of 14’ I find it harder to get my head around; where do the Amish expect their healthcare to come from?

Before a 30-minute film about Amish life, the assembled throng was asked to guess what percentage of young Amish accept or reject their way of life when the time comes to choose baptism or life in the outside world. Another UK family went for 20%/80% while a US woman chose 80%/20%, probably reflecting the respective national importance attached to religion. We were later informed that only 5% of Amish youth turn their back on this traditional way of life; perhaps simply reflecting the average proportion of all young people who would totally reject their family and their family’s values, whatever those values might be.

For this trip we too have had to simplify, and we are already comfortable with the knowledge of how very little we need. (Tonight the girls were happy playing with nothing more than a scarf and a box of crayons – and not even using the crayons.) But the irony is that in our case, modern technology indubitably serves to bring us closer to family and friends.

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