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It’s Christmas In My Thoughts

By Laura Bradford

I’ve always been one to savor the moment we’re in. In October, I want to enjoy the fall colors and smells. In November, I start imagining Thanksgiving and all of the wonderful foods my family will enjoy at a table together. And on and on for each holiday, each month, each season.

But this year, I find myself looking ahead to Christmas a little earlier than I normally do. I suspect some of that is my mind trying to make sense of this crazy year, and my heart worrying about how beloved traditions might be impacted as a result. Some of my early Christmas thoughts might also be due to our upcoming release for Amish Christmas Miracles. Writing my story for the collection had me thinking about the holiday season back when temperatures were still in the nineties during the day.

In my appropriately titled story, The Christmas Program, Leah Miller (my main character) is busy getting her new classroom ready for the annual tradition. She’s hanging homemade decorations, planning what treats to bring, and helping her students prepare for the poems and skits they will share with their families on the big day. Yes, the actual program, itself, is what she’s gearing up to, but preparing for it is fun, as well.

A tease for my story in the Christmas collection, The Christmas Program

That’s how I feel about the weeks leading up to Christmas. Yes, it’s all about Christ’s birth, but preparing for that celebration and the time with family is special in and of itself, as well.

My favorite part of the lead-up is decorating. There are so many special decorations that tug at my heart when I first unpack them from their container each year. The tree skirt I made 30 years ago… The ceramic caroler candle holder I made 25 years ago… The ceramic plate with the nativity scene that my youngest (now 22) painted when she was a little girl… The Fisher Price nativity set we still put up (in addition to our more grown-up one) each year… And let’s not get me started on the ornaments. So many precious keepsakes tied to the kids…

One of the many, many special-to-me ornaments on my tree

Next, comes the annual baking flurry.  I make my homemade fudge (my youngest daughter’s favorite), my white chocolate mousse pastry puffs (my husband’s favorite), my hot cocoa bar with all the best fixings (everyone enjoys this), and, of course, our iced sugar cookies (my oldest daughter’s favorite). And seeing everyone’s reaction to them? That’s my favorite part.

My White Chocolate Mousse Pastry Puffs

And then there’s the music. Silent Night, Little Drummer Boy, Mary Did You Know

I know. It’s only October. But that’s what our Amish Christmas Miracles Collection is doing to me this year. It’s jettisoning me into the Christmas season. And after the year we’ve all had, I’m glad. Because truly, this is going to be a wonderful collection of stories in which to escape starting November 10.

Blessings,
Laura

***

About Laura

Laura Bradford is the national bestselling author of more than 35 books and stories, including the just-released novel,Piece by Piece. Her first women’s fiction novel, Portrait of a Sister, was a July 2018 Book Club Pick for Delilah of Delilah Radio and a Summer Book Club pick for Southern Lady Magazine.

Laura also pens several mystery series including; An Amish Mystery series, the Emergency Dessert Squad Mysteries, the Tobi Tobias Mysteries, the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries (written as Elizabeth Lynn Casey), and the upcoming A Friend For Hire Mysteries. She is a former Agatha Award nominee, and the recipient of an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award in romance. Laura enjoys baking, spending time with her family, and being an advocate for those living with multiple sclerosis.  Learn more at: https://www.laurabradford.com/

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An Amish Christmas

An Amish Christmas

Christmas is only a short time away, and I’m already getting the pre-Christmas jitters.  Before long, I’ll be digging out our favorite decorations and deciding what I’ll bake to share with my family. Let alone the Amish Christmas Miracles Collection will be releasing in just two weeks!

I often get asked if the Amish celebrate the holidays and the answer is an astounding …yes! They may not rejoice in the degree as we English do, but they still engage in holiday celebrations just the same.

Just like us, Christmas is a big day in an Amish home. They believe that Christmas is a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Still, they don’t allow commercialization to overstep the real reason we celebrate Christmas. You’ll find no visions of Santa Claus or brightly decorated Christmas trees. What you will see is fresh pine boughs surrounded by a candle or two and strings of Christmas cards strung from one corner of the room to the other.

During the holiday’s Amish families across the country come together by sending letters and special Christmas cards to loved ones near and far.

The highlight of the Christmas season is the annual Christmas Eve school program. The children will read poems, sing songs and pass gifts out to the parents and teachers, all while enjoying Christmas snacks. It’s a long-treasured tradition celebrated through most Amish communities. Long winter breaks are not followed in Amish communities. School-aged children may get a half of a day off on Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day and second Christmas, but then it’s back to school as usual.

On Christmas morning, families will gather for devotionals and the exchange of small gifts. Children will most likely receive a toy, young girls will receive an item for their hope chests, and young boys will receive a tool or something special to help them with their chosen trade. In the afternoon they will come together as a family and enjoy a large meal.

Can you imagine having two Christmases? That is precisely what the Amish do, they celebrate Zwedde Grischtfaag, which means second Christmas. Since families are large, it may be difficult to see everyone on one day, so this is where the second Christmas comes in. On December 25, they fast, meditate, and on December 26, or “Second Christmas,” they celebrate with family and friends.

A more solemn celebration that begins with fasting, Old Christmas is celebrated on January 6. It symbolizes the day the Three Wise Men came to Bethlehem and found baby Jesus. This day is spent focusing on the reason for the holiday– Jesus’ birth.

No matter what traditions you hold dear, may you take the time to step back and remember this holiday in true Amish style …God, Family, and Community.

By Tracy Fredrychowski

A Christmas Excerpt

Deadly Amish Reunion

Good morning, friends! Are you getting excited for the release of Amish Christmas Miracles? I am! I can't wait for readers to get to know my characters, Louisa and Caleb. As you may know, I also write suspense for Love Inspired Suspense. I thought today I would share a brief excerpt from my December release, Deadly Amish Reunion.  I love reunion romances, where two characters get a second chance at love.

 

ONE

Where had he seen that face before?

Luke Beiler frowned at the face on the television news report behind the front counter. He knew that man. The scowling face with the angry eyes sent chills of foreboding down his spine. Whoever he was, he was dangerous.

Luke focused on the captioned words below the picture. Steve Curtis, aged forty-eight, in prison for rape, attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon, had escaped from prison.

“Police warn that Steve Curtis is dangerous and very likely armed,” the news anchor said into the camera. The camera shifted to a reporter standing outside the prison. “Janelle?”

“Marie, the prison isn’t commenting yet as to how he managed to escape. One theory spreading through the area is that Steve Curtis didn’t escape on his own. The police are asking citizens to call the number on the screen if they have any information on his whereabouts or about anyone connected with his escape. Back to you, Marie.”

Marie faced the camera again. “If you see Steve Curtis, police are warning you not to approach him but call them immediately.”

The news anchor began reporting on the next story, something about a series of home invasions and robberies occurring these past two weeks before Christmas. Luke tuned them out, frowning as he tried to force himself to recall anything about Steve Curtis.

“Luke, cumme!”

Luke pulled his mind back to the present and hefted the fifty-pound bag of animal feed over his shoulder, nearly knocking over a small Christmas tree on a stand. His free hand shot out to steady the tree, then he followed his brother Raymond out of the small country store located outside of New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, their boots crunching on the December snow.

Luke’s pace was slower today and his limp more pronounced. He’d been overdoing it lately. The doctor had warned him that his leg would never be as strong as it had been before he was injured.

Not that he could remember anything about that. Luke had woken up in a ditch one day, several hours away from his parents’ home near New Wilmington. He had no memory of how he had gotten there. He’d been wearing a flannel shirt that had seen much better days and jeans that had been ripped to pieces. His left leg had been in agony. The last thing he remembered was being on his rumspringa, so he’d not thought too much about his attire.

He’d been able to hitch a ride from a farmer to his parents’ haus. Nothing could prepare him for their shocked reaction. And he’d been even more astonished to learn that he was not seventeen, but twenty-two. His parents had informed him that he had had a fight with his father and had left in the middle of the night five years earlier. They hadn’t seen or heard from him since. They had the local doctor come and treat his leg. He’d had a partial fracture. The doctor had mused that he might have been hit by a car, but if he had been, they’d never found out who had struck him.

To this day, he had no idea what he had done in those five years.

“Luke, bist du gut?”

“Jah, Raymond. I’m gut. Just thinking.”

Ach. No wonder you’re so slow today.”

Luke grinned, but in his heart, he didn’t feel it. Something dark hovered in his mind. He attempted to shrug it off and followed Raymond out to the parking lot.

Several buggies were there. New Wilmington’s Amish buggies were unique, black on the bottom with burnt-orange tops. Usually, the Amish goal was not to stand out. In this one aspect, however, the nineteen districts of New Wilmington stood apart from the Amish communities in the rest of the country. Luke clambered up into the buggy beside his brother, grunting as his whole weight briefly settled on his bad leg. It was bitterly cold this morning. His breath misted in the air in front of his face, blurring his vision.

As he dropped onto the seat, an image briefly seared across his brain. And a name. “Jennie!”

 

(Christmas luxury decorated store front with garland lights in European city street at winter seasonal holidays.)

 

Danger In Amish Country

The weather has turned cooler here in Texas and I’m loving it. On a recent trip to the store, I noticed Christmas decorations are coming out. Soon, the holidays will be upon us? Are you ready?

November is a great month for Christmas book releases! Amish Christmas Miracles releases on November 10th at Barnes & Noble or Amazon for only 99 cents. You can preorder it now.

And also in November, I have a new Amish Love Inspired Suspense book out entitled, Covert Amish Christmas. I thought I would share a sneak peek of the book with you today. I hope you enjoy a little danger in Amish country!   

ONE

She never could sleep. No more than a few hours, anyway. Not since the

attack.

Too many uninvited guests roamed around in her head, reminding her of

the bad things she’d done in the name of justice…and the distance she’d

traveled from her innocent upbringing because of them.

On the kitchen counter, a battery-powered radio played Christmas music.

Victoria Kauffman stared out the window at the predawn darkness

surrounding her rented cabin. Even though she couldn’t see it now, the

snow-covered landscape beyond the black brought back childhood memories

of Christmases past. Good memories. Simple ones.

At one time, she’d lived an almost idyllic childhood among the St.

Ignatius Amish…until that fateful year soon after her fifth birthday, when

she’d lost the woman who meant the whole world to Victoria. Her mother.

One sweet memory in particular snaked out past the garbage in her head.

All she could think about was that final Christmas before her mother’s

passing. Lately, she found herself longing for that simple way of life more

and more. Back before she became a stone-cold killer.

Outside, the darkness moved. In an instant, her deadly past had her firmly

in its clutches. She ducked low, her heart peppering out a frantic rhythm.

There was no doubt in her mind. The men she’d been hiding from were out

there.

A heavy object slammed against the front door, forcing Victoria into

action. She grabbed her cell phone and tucked the Glock that once belonged

to her partner, David, behind her back. The weapon had been her constant

companion this past year. Partly because it reminded her of him, but mostly

because it was one of the most accurate weapons she’d ever shot and

practically indestructible.

There would be no time to retrieve the metal box containing the precious

little evidence she’d hidden underneath the floorboards in the living room.

Someone rattled the back doorknob close to where she stood. Victoria

ducked low and skirted past the door. They were moving in for the kill. Her

survival was now measured in minutes…

So, as the holidays approach and before the hectic pace begins, I hope you take time for yourself to enjoy a little Christmas reading along the way.

All the best…

Mary Alford

www.maryalford.net

Amish Christmas Twins

Are you in the mood to start reading Christmas stories? If so, I hope you’ve preordered your copy of Amish Christmas Miracles from Barnes & Noble or Amazon for only 99 cents. It’ll be out on November 10.

While you’re waiting, why not try this anthology that includes two of the authors from Amish Christmas Miracles, Loree Lough and Rachel Good, along with Shelley Shepard Gray? Enjoy three Christmas stories about Christmas blessings involving twins.

Here’s a sneak peek at my story, “New Beginnings,” in Amish Christmas Twins to get you into the holiday spirit:

Chapter One

“Jingle bells, jingle bells,” the shop owner sang at the top of her lungs as Elizabeth Yoder leaned against the door of Yolanda’s Christmas Year ’Round Shop to push it open.

Speakers around her blasted, “Jingle all the way,” and the string of sleigh bells on the knob jangled along. Cinnamon potpourri simmered in a pot near the register, and the aroma of pine garlands perfumed the air.

“Wait, let me get that for you.” Yolanda dashed over. She yanked the second glass door wide enough so Elizabeth could maneuver through the opening with a large box.

“This was outside the door.” Swirling snow flurries trailed Elizabeth into the store.

“Merry Christmas,” Yolanda trilled. With her Santa hat tilted at a rakish angle and her round face and red cheeks, she resembled the Santa figurines scattered around the store.

Fake Christmas trees adorned every corner, their lights blinking. They pulsed off and on the way Elizabeth’s head did from the loud Christmas carols. A tight band inside her temples tightened and throbbed, and her eyes stung. The closer the calendar inched to December 25, the harder it became to feign Christmas cheer.

“I’m so glad you’re here early.” Yolanda bounced back to the cash register. “In addition to that box, we have several new shipments and more coming later. You’re going to love our new manger sets.”

Yolanda’s enthusiasm should have been contagious. Elizabeth did prefer the nativity scenes to all the Santa kitsch, but anything Christmas-related reminded her of all she’d lost.

“Can you unpack that box and the others in the stockroom? You’ll need to price the items. I have all the costs listed on the clipboard,” Yolanda called. “I’ll let you know if I get too busy out here.”

Elizabeth set the box in the back room, hung her coat on a peg, and smoothed her black dress and apron. Then she grabbed the box-cutters and slit open the carton she’d carried in. Pure white tree ornaments sparkling with glitter nestled in layers of cardboard dividers. She carried the box and a price gun to one of the undecorated fake evergreens.

After each methodical click of the gun, she dangled another ornament from an empty branch. She stood back, searching for bare spots, and squinted to be sure she’d dotted them artistically around the tree. Then she lifted the packing cardboard, exposing the final layer of ornaments.

A tiny house, a reindeer, a sleigh, an angel. She reached into the box for one of the last three ornaments and pulled out . . . a sleeping baby.

Neh. Squeezing her eyes shut, she traced the indented lines of the miniature toes and fingers, the rounded bottom sticking up in the air, the soft curve of the back, the curls on the baby’s head. Elizabeth stopped before she stroked the tiny eyelashes spread on the cheek.

Why did this time of year have to be so cruel?

*~*~*

Luke Bontrager whistled as he tied his buggy outside the Christmas Year ’Round Shop. He’d promised Yolanda he’d drop off these nativity sets before she opened today. He’d hoped to get here sooner, but patches of black ice made the roads treacherous. Grateful for his horse’s steadiness, he’d skirted two fender-benders, whose owners chattered on—or screamed into—their cell phones.

Grateful he’d made it safely, he secured his horse to the hitching post. He lifted the first box from the front seat and strode toward the door. His boots slid in the light dusting of snow on the sidewalk. He caught himself before he and the nativity set ended up on the pavement. Yolanda needed to clear that icy spot before they opened. Maybe he could do it for her before he headed down the street to his woodworking shop.

He tapped at the door with a corner of the heavy box. Yolanda stood at the cash register, singing her heart out.

The words penetrated the glass. “Hark, the herald angels sing . . .”

Nice to see someone so joyous on this overcast day. She caught sight of him through the glass and hurried over to open the door. He stomped his boots on the large green mat before stepping onto the polished wooden floors.

“I brought the nativity sets you requested. Where would you like me to put them?”

“If you take them back to the stockroom”—Yolanda waved vaguely toward the back of the store—“Elizabeth can price them.”

Elizabeth. Luke’s pulse picked up its pace. He’d hoped she’d be working. In fact, during his whole trip to town, he’d daydreamed about seeing her.

Despite his eagerness to spend time with her, his steps slowed when he reached the stockroom entrance. The door had been propped open with a box. He edged around it, but Elizabeth’s bowed head arrested his attention. His heart went out to her. The Christmas season had to be painful.

Her eyes were closed as her fingers smoothed over all the curves and crevices of a small ornament.

Luke didn’t want to startle her, but he needed to get to work. He stepped back from the doorway as silently as he could and retreated partway down the hall. Then he clomped toward the stockroom door, making sure each footfall resounded.

This time, when he got to the threshold, Elizabeth was staring in his direction. Her eyes sparkled with tears. She reminded him of an angel, one who had borne a heavy weight of sorrow.

“Luke?”

Her voice, soft and breathy, grabbed him in the gut and twisted his insides hard. All the old pain of desiring her from afar, but watching her marry someone else, came flooding back.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’ve brought the nativity sets Yolanda ordered.” He carried the carton over to the work bench. “Where do you want me to put them? I have five more sets in the buggy.”

His heart thundered as she moved closer. She stopped a moment, and sadness shuttered her eyes. Luke wished he could comfort her.

She gazed down at the glittering ornament she’d clutched so tightly in her hand that it left red ridges. The one she’d been caressing when he’d peeked in the door. Something about it must have touched her.

“Let me just move this box.” Elizabeth motioned to the carton beside her with one hand. “Then you can put your nativity set here.”

She nestled the ornament back in the box with such tenderness, Luke’s heart ached. Curious to see what she’d lavished so much care on, he leaned over. A tiny glittery baby.

She lifted the almost-empty cardboard box to make room for his carton.

Luke cast about for something to say. Something to distract his mind from thoughts of holding her. “That tree looks nice.”

Danke,” she said without much enthusiasm. “Once all the ornaments are on, I’ll have to carry it out to the store. I’m not sure where we’ll find room for one more tree. We have so many already.”

“Maybe you won’t have room for another nativity set either.”

Neh, that’s not a problem. Yolanda told me to clear a space for it.” She attempted a smile. “Besides, it’ll be great to move some Santa stuff to make a place for the real meaning of Christmas.”

“True. I’m guessing many of your customers don’t even know or care that we’re celebrating the Savior’s birth.”

Elizabeth didn’t answer. Instead, she stared into the box, her eyes open with wonder. She reached in and pulled out Mary.

Luke loved how her face glowed as she studied the carving.

She set the figure down and pulled out a camel and a wise man. “These are beautiful. I love the roughness of the wood.”

She ran her hands over what Yolanda had assured Luke was a primitive style sure to attract the eye of some of their upscale customers. It seemed they also appealed to Elizabeth.

“They’re rugged, yet each one captures real emotion. Did someone in your shop carve them?” She glanced up at him expectantly.

Luke shuffled his feet. “Jah. I did.”

He didn’t like taking credit for this work. He sold cabinets and furniture in his shop, but he’d always kept this other talent hidden.

He’d started carving to alleviate his sorrow when his best friend, Owen, started courting Elizabeth. The roughness, the primitiveness of each figure he’d chiseled revealed his raw emotions.

If Yolanda hadn’t surprised him in the back of his shop last spring, none of his carvings would ever have been public. She’d begged him to make nativity sets for her store. Luke had demurred, but she’d insisted. To be honest, the only reason he’d agreed was because he might see Elizabeth when he delivered them.

She pulled out an angel and drew in a long, slow breath. “I never knew you did this. How long have you been carving?”

Since I lost you. Luke stopped himself from blurting out that answer, the first one that sprang to his lips. He waved a hand, trying to be vague. “Since we were teenagers.”

Her eyes widened. “And you kept it a secret?”

He shrugged. He certainly couldn’t tell her the truth. “They were so rough I didn’t think they were good enough to sell.” Even if he had believed they were, he’d never have wanted to put his deepest feelings on display.

“Did Owen know?”

Luke tried not to wince when she said his best friend’s name. Owen would have been the last person Luke could have shown his work to. Owen had been the cause of Luke’s carving frenzy.

Elizabeth was staring at him, waiting for an answer.

Neh, Owen never knew.” Not about the carving. And definitely not about the love—and jealousy—in Luke’s heart.

“Oh.” She breathed out the word reverently as she pulled a shepherd. “You should have been selling these all along.” Her fingers traced the contours of the tiny lamb in the man’s arms.

“This—this baby is so precious. And the shepherd looks so tender, so protective.”

Exactly what Luke wished he could do for Elizabeth. Protect her from grief, from loss. “I, um, originally carved that to represent Jesus and the lost sheep, but Yolanda wanted me to include it in the nativity.”

“It’s perfect.” Elizabeth sounded as if she were holding back tears.

He hadn’t meant to increase her sadness, especially not so close to Christmas.

In silence, she unpacked every figure, exclaiming over each one. In the shop, the bells jangled and jangled. Business must be brisk this morning. Luke should be opening his own shop soon.

“Elizabeth,” Yolanda called. “I need help.”

That was Luke’s cue to leave. “I need to go, but where should I put the other boxes?”

“We’ll put out only one sample set, so could you put them over there?” She indicated a set of empty shelves in the back corner.

“Sure.” He let her precede him out of the stockroom and followed her into the shop. “I’ll bring in the rest,” he told Yolanda. “But first, do you have any salt? I could sprinkle some on the ice out there.”

Yolanda, who was ringing up the first customer in a long line, glanced up at him with gratitude in her eyes. “I meant to do that earlier, but I forgot. You’d be a godsend.”

She gestured toward the back hallway. “Just before you reach the stockroom door, there’s a small broom closet. Salt’s in there next to the cleaning supplies.”

Taking care of Yolanda’s front walk would make Luke late opening his woodworking shop, but he couldn’t leave the ice. If someone slipped when he could have prevented it, he’d never forgive himself.

He found the salt and a shovel, and headed out the door. After scraping the newly fallen layer of snow from the front sidewalk, he chopped the ice and tossed salt to prevent the dampness from freezing.

Once he finished, he carried in his other cartons, his heart lightening each time he went by Elizabeth at the cash register. As he passed the glittery ornaments in the stockroom, he couldn’t resist picking up the tiny baby. He cupped it in his palm, envisioning Elizabeth’s fingers stroking it, her reluctance to release it. What had drawn her to this sleeping child?

She’d shown a similar delight in his carvings. Something had touched her about this baby and about his nativity figures.

Luke shook his head and replaced the tiny tree decoration in its box. He had to hurry in case he had customers waiting. After one quick glance at Elizabeth, who was too busy working to notice his exit, he strode down the street to his store. But all morning, his thoughts stayed behind in Yolanda’s shop. He pictured Elizabeth’s fingers running over his figures whose every line had been gouged out to assuage his loss of her. Had she sensed the emotions he’d carved into each one—his longing and his heartbreak?

Pool Forge Covered Bridge with snow on a bright winter day in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA.
Preorder now

Things we Can Learn from the Amish

What we can learn from the Amish

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be Amish?

If you find yourself in a season where you are looking for ways to slow down and simplify your life, I encourage you to look to the Amish for inspiration. The way they live is no secret. We “English” have everything they have at our fingertips; all we have to do is look for it.

If you find their way of life appealing, there are many things you can do to bring some Amish values into your life.

Practice Gratitude. Being humble is a big step to living a quieter simple life. In today’s world, many of us want to be the center of attention; we want to stand out in the crowd and be heard. Finding peace, and serenity starts with being silent. Listen to those around you, avoid gossip, stay clear of bragging, and avoid being too showy.

Establish Peace. It may be hard for many of us to find peace in a world full of news, electronics, and the constant connection to the outside world. But finding ways to add periods of calm to your life should be the ultimate goal every day. Turn off the TV, practice yoga, learn meditation, read a book, and reject all forms of noise.

Live on Less. How many “things” in your life do you have that add no value? Many of our homes are filled with consumer-driven products that just clutter our spaces. If you start ridding your home of all those things that just take up space, and don’t add any meaning, you’ll find a true freedom from owning less.

Provide for Yourself. Have you ever stopped and thought about what would happen if you couldn’t go to the store? Finding ways to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle is a big part of living a simpler life. Being able to raise vegetables, sew your own clothes, conserve energy, and bake bread are just a few ways to learn to take care of yourself.

Work Hard. Don’t be afraid of hard work or to take pride in it. Discover the feeling of satisfaction from putting in a hard day’s work. Whether you sit at a desk or get your hands dirty, do your best and commend others who do a good job around you.

Be Modest. We all like to look nice and feel good about ourselves but being obsessed with the latest fashion or spending hundreds of dollars on beauty products will only leave you dissatisfied with your true appearance. When choosing your clothing, look for flattering styles that are not too tight, too revealing or too flashy. Wear comfortable clothes, while still stylish and presentable. Keep accessories to a minimum and be as true to your natural appearance as possible.

Appreciate the Outdoors. Add some form of outdoor activity to your life every day. A walk or a stroll through the park, a few minutes pulling weeds, or a game of catch are just a few ways to restore your mental health and gain an appreciation of the outside world.

Seek Community. Do you know your neighbors? Build relationships with those around you. Gladly lend tools, trade babysitting, and go out of your way to help them in times of need. Many of our neighbors may be lonely and feel isolated. Take the time to introduce yourself, and be friendly.

Build Family Ties. In today’s modern world, broken families are normal. Take a stand, and stop the cycle. Spend time working on your family! Make a point to sit down to meals together, reach out to elderly family members, and build simple family traditions.

Rely on God. The most important value we can learn from the Amish is to put our faith in the Lord and remember we are not God’s children only on Sundays. As we make an effort to slow down, we can hear God’s message more clearly. Whether you are at home, in the car or out shopping, act with compassion, be loving and kind, and put others before yourself.

Changing the way you live starts with YOU!

By making a few of these small changes, you will find yourself slowing down and living a more sustainable life, just like the Amish do.

by Tracy Fredrychowski

Adina Senft’s new release!

It's release day! I'm delighted to announce that Keys of Heaven, book 5 in the Whinburg Township Amish series is out today. Let me tell you a little bit about it.

Each book in this trilogy features a certain herb or plant that my heroine, Sarah Yoder, uses as a healer, and is a metaphor for the cure that God will work in the novel. In this book, Sarah learns that red valerian, sometimes called “keys of heaven” or “Jupiter’s beard,” often grows in rocky places where other plants don’t flourish, such as in stone walls or against fences. But adverse conditions can produce a beautiful plant, brightening hard places with its sprays of red flowers.

There are people like this, too. They grow in hard places where others wouldn’t flourish—staying where God has put them, even if they might not have chosen to grow there. But they stay because they’re needed, because their spirit transforms the hard place and makes it beautiful.

Keys of Heaven by Adina SenftWhile a young Dokterfraa learns to heal the body, the Great Physician heals the heart …

Sarah Yoder is learning to serve her Old Order Amish community as a Dokterfraa, creating teas and tinctures from the herbs in her garden and fields. But her latest patient isn’t responding to anything she concocts—a woman who, in Sarah’s mind, would be better off in any place but the one she has.

Meanwhile, Sarah’s relatives can’t resist doing some matchmaking between her and a prosperous visitor to their community. She should be willing for God to show her His choice of partner … and not allow her friendship with her neighbor, Henry Byler, to grow into anything more. Henry has seen some success as a potter since a major department-store chain commissioned his work. The trouble is that they’re telling the world he’s Amish. Though he was raised in the faith and now lives in Amish country, he never joined church—and doesn’t plan to. Which also means that, despite the attraction between them, he must keep his distance from Sarah.

The plant Sarah calls keys of heaven may grow in impossible places, but it’s not that easy for people to find the place where they really belong. So it’s quite a temptation to take matters into her own hands …

Find your copy here! Denki!

An Amish Wedding

Amish Christmas Miracles is coming, and you are going to love it! Amish Christmas Miracles is a collection of 14 Amish Christmas romances from 14 Amish authors, and it is available on preorder for only 99 cents!

Most of my Amish romances are set in beautiful Wisconsin Amish country. I met Joyce Natzke the first time I went to Wisconsin for research. Joyce and her husband Ken have several Amish friends, and Ken conducts tours of the Amish sites in the area. This is Joyce’s account of the wedding of Leora, her Amish neighbor. It comes complete with fireworks.

The wedding took place in the haymow of Leora’s family’s barn. It had been cleaned, and all the hay had been stacked to one side. The chickens were corralled behind the hay bales so they wouldn’t disrupt the wedding.

Men and women sat on benches facing each other. The women dressed in Sunday best with white organdy aprons, various colored dresses, and white prayer kapps. The men wore white shirts and black pants.

Two hymns were sung, then the bride’s uncle spoke for forty-five minutes. After another song, the bishop spoke for more than an hour. The messages were delivered in German with an occasional English word thrown in for the benefit of the Englischers.

After the sermons, the mothers and grandmothers of the bride and groom took their places on the empty chairs at the center of the room. Then the bride and groom and their attendants sat in front with the girls facing the boys. The bride wore a black head covering, a white organdy apron, and an orchid-colored dress. Brides in Bonduel can choose the color of their wedding dress.

Eight couples—table waiters—attended the bride and groom. It is a great honor to be chosen as a table waiter. The girls each wore a dress the same color as the bride. Each table waiter carried a tatted white hanky as a present from the bride.

The couple faced the bishop to be married and didn’t make eye contact during the entire ceremony. After the ceremony, men moved the benches into the shed for the wedding meal. The tables were covered with white paper tablecloths and set with white stoneware. Amish brides rent the dishes for their wedding dinner.

Round layer cakes served as decorations for the tables. Each cake was topped with white frosting and purple glaze. Flowers and another cake sat at the bride and groom’s table.

The bride’s family does all the food preparation. At Leora’s wedding, they served chicken, stuffing with carrots, mashed potatoes, cooked vegetables, and two kinds of pie in addition to the cake at the table. Bowls were passed down both sides of the table, family style. After dinner, they cleared tables in preparation for the evening meal.

Often between meals, the young people play volleyball or other games. The adults visit. The wedding day is like a family reunion. Relatives come from all over the country. There’s lots of catching-up to be done.

After supper and pie, the bride’s family passed around candy bars and pens with the couple’s names on them—purple pens for the bride and green pens for the groom.

To top off a wonderful-gute day, the bride’s father lit fireworks after supper. What a celebration!

Thank you, Joyce. I love this account of an Amish wedding. I include a triple Amish wedding in the third book of my Honeybee Sisters series, Like a Bee to Honey. (There are fireworks!)

And there are three brides in Amish Brides, the collection I wrote with Molly Jebber and Amy Lillard. The Amish have so many traditions that surround food and family. You’ll find plenty of both in Amish Christmas Miracles.

 

My Writing Journey

Hello everyone! I am so excited to be part of the Amish Christmas Miracles Collection with thirteen awesome authors. I thought I would tell you just a little about my writing journey.

Is there something that you do but you don’t remember learning how to do it?
I am pretty sure that my writing journey began at birth or shortly thereafter. I have always been fascinated with words and how they can be strung together into sentences and stories.

I wrote a poem about my cat in the second grade, and I don’t remember ever learning what poetry was. That little poem earned me a red ribbon at the county fair. From there, my writing “career” was off and running. I had a special blue notebook that I outlined a novel, complete with chapter titles, about a little girl who loved ballet. My cousin joined forces with me one summer to plot out a “twin cousin” mystery series a la Nancy Drew.

As time marched on, I wrote stories for school, turned assigned journal entries into fiction, and penned poetry for the literary magazine. I didn’t even mind writing research papers! I wrote whole novels while sitting up nights with a sick baby. Of course, those stories never saw the light of day, but they were good practice.

Now, with a full-time job, I write anywhere and everywhere that I can. I don’t have a set place where the muse visits me. I write in my car while waiting for appointments, at my kitchen counter at night, at my desk during breaks at work, even in bed when some persistent idea won’t let me sleep. I write my first drafts in long hand so that I can take my manuscripts with me wherever I go. The down side of this method is that I then have to find time to type all those pages, and typing is not my favorite thing to do. I believe I will soon have to join the modern world and learn to create directly on the computer.

However it works out, it is all good. I am thankful for every scrap of time I can squeeze in to work on a story, and I am thankful for every idea God gives me. I am truly blessed to have such wonderful readers with whom to share my creations.

So, what is it that you do second nature?

Some writers have an office, special desk or another writing nook. These are a few places where I write!!


My Kitchen Counter


My Car

My first published book was Ginger and the Bully, a middle-grade novel about a fourth-grade girl who deals with a classroom bully.

My most recently published book is Lizzie’s Heart, an Amish romance.

About Me

Susan Lantz Simpson has been writing stories and poetry ever since she penned her first poem at the age of six. She has always loved the magic of words and how they can entertain and enlighten others. Her love of words and books led her to earn a degree in English/Education. She has taught students from Prekindergarten to high school and has also worked as an editor for the federal government. She also holds a degree in nursing and has worked in hospitals and in community health. She writes inspirational stories of love and faith and has published a middle-grade novel (Ginger and the Bully) in addition to her inspirational romances (Plainly Maryland Series and Southern Maryland Amish Romances Series). She was a finalist in the OCW Cascade fiction contest. She is a member of ACFW. She lives in Maryland and is the mother of two wonderful daughters. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys reading, walking, and doing needlework.

To Connect With Me

Website:
https://susanlantzsimpson.wordpress.com/

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/Susan-Lantz-Simpson-372578556286726/?fref=ts

Pinterest:
https://www.pinterest.com/susanlantzsimps/

Different, But the Same

Different, But the Same
By Laura Bradford

While I’ve always been drawn to the Amish way of life—one rooted in faith, family, and tradition—I never knew just how fully it would speak to me until I began writing my popular An Amish Mystery series with Penguin/Random House. From the first words of that first book, I loved every moment I spent researching, and writing about, the Amish. It was important to me to debunk myths about the Amish—myths that, too often, are born on ignorance or simply a displeasure for anything different than what is seen as “normal.”

In that cozy mystery series, I created a cast of characters—both Amish and English—my readers came to love every bit as much as I did. They were people they came to care about. Because in those books, in addition to learning about the Amish ways in Lancaster County, readers came to see these people as…people. Just like you. Just like me.

They may dress differently…

They may live differently…

They may work differently…

But beneath all of those surface differences, they smile, and they cry, and they hurt, and they love. Just like us.

The main male character in my mystery series is former Amish. He left after baptism to become a cop. When the series opens, he’s just returned to Lancaster County after nearly seventeen years away. He’s come back because he wants to at least see his family, to know that they’re safe and well.  As the series progresses, we see the pain he feels over the loss of those relationships—a pain that brought an added depth to these books and strengthened the reader/character relationship.

Still, as it is a mystery first, I can only delve so deeply.

Which is why, in 2018, I took my love of writing Amish into the world of women’s fiction.  In women’s fiction, unlike in romance and mystery, the primary focus of the story is on the main character’s life journey. It may be a journey of reflection, or forgiveness, or understanding, or choices, but it’s all about that character (or characters).

In my 2018 release, Portrait of a Sister, I examined choices and being true to one’s self via a set of identical twins—one who was baptized, one who opted to live an English life.

In my 2019 release, A Daughter’s Truth, I looked at forgiveness via a 22 year old Amish girl who stumbles across a truth she wasn’t supposed to know. It’s a story as much about learning to forgive, as it is about belonging.

In my just released 2020 novel, Piece by Piece, I look at grief and healing, and finding light amid the darkness. In this story, Danielle Parker has suffered unimaginable loss—the kind of loss that can bring a person to their knees and leave them feeling utterly hopeless.  But God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t he? And it is through a childhood friend turned pen-pal, Lydia Schlabach that Danielle begins to find hope amid the darkness. It is a story about those angels-on-earth God puts in our path and how, through them—and HIM—we can keep living.

I love telling stories about people we can all identify with in some way (be it a shared journey, or our ability to feel empathy for others) and feeling as if I’ve made people think. About their own heart… Their own priorities…

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Up Next For Me

In advance of the release of our Amish Christmas Miracles Collection in November, I thought I’d share a little peek into my short story, The Christmas Program with all of you…

Visit Amish country for one of the most beloved traditions of the holiday season with national bestselling author, Laura Bradford

In the blink of an eye, Leah Miller has gone from assistant teaching in her own district, to being the sole teacher in an unfamiliar classroom, just days before the students’ annual Christmas program. Now, in addition to learning names and preparing lessons, Leah must also make sure the schoolhouse is decorated and the children have learned the many songs, poems, and skits that are such a treasured part of the Christmas season in Amish country. It’s an exciting time for Leah and all of her students…except one.

With the help of Wes Hostetler, a kind and handsome stranger who well remembers the Christmas programs of his own youth, Leah tries everything she can to help soothe little Emily Mast’s fears. But will it be enough to make a difference, or will yet another unexpected wrinkle make it so Leah is the first teacher in the district’s history forced to cancel the beloved tradition?

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About Laura

Laura Bradford is the national bestselling author of more than 35 books and stories, including the just-released novel,Piece by Piece. Her first women’s fiction novel, Portrait of a Sister, was a July 2018 Book Club Pick for Delilah of Delilah Radio and a Summer Book Club pick for Southern Lady Magazine.​

Laura also pens several mystery series including; An Amish Mystery series, the Emergency Dessert Squad Mysteries, the Tobi Tobias Mysteries, the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries (written as Elizabeth Lynn Casey), and the upcoming A Friend For Hire Mysteries. She is a former Agatha Award nominee, and the recipient of an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award in romance. Laura enjoys baking, spending time with her family, and being an advocate for those living with multiple sclerosis.  Learn more at: https://www.laurabradford.com/

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If you’d like to receive a bookmark like the one below, send a SASE business-sized envelope to:
Laura Bradford
PO Box 1451
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598