Jessie Falls into the Arms of an Amishman

In a previous blog I told you that my husband and I have two, twenty thousand bird, pastured, certified humane, poultry laying houses.

My husband and I are the only “English” family in the producer group in our area. There used to be more of us but currently there are three Amish families and one Mennonite family and us.

We take turns every summer hosting a Producer Picnic. This past summer it was Mr. and Mrs. Glick’s turn.

Mr. Glick and I have a bit of history. Embarrassing on my part. Actually, embarrassing on his part, too, probably, even though it was my fault. He’s really nice, and kind of shy. (Mrs. Glick is outgoing, super-nice and can arrange flowers like you wouldn’t believe. Beautiful bouquets using zinnias, lilies, Pixie dust and a Mason jar. My husband takes her kids candy when he picks up their eggs, he hauls our skid loader over and cleans their barn when they flip their flock, and she gives us vegetables, baked goods and beautiful flower arrangements in season.)

When we flip our flocks, we all go to each other’s farms and help. We carry the birds out after dark (since chickens are kind of hard, although not impossible, to catch during the day, but they don’t really move in the dark). Makes it easier to catch them, but you can’t see that great. Anyway, everyone was at our barn, and I think we were loading about 10K birds. Which is a lot. : )

After a couple of hours, you just kind of put one foot in front of the other, try not to trip on anything in the pitch dark and think about how happy you’ll be when it’s over, right? (It took us about seven hours that night, starting around five and finishing after midnight. I saw one little Amish boy, out way past his bedtime, sleeping, sitting up with his back against the side of the barn.)

So, to get the birds on the trucks, the guys make steps out of the crates, and we walk up about five steps to hand the birds to the guys on the trucks. They put them in crates on the truck, while we step back down and go for more. Well, we were filling two trucks that night, and I think I had about the last five birds for the first truck. I handed them off, then turned around – did I mention I was tired, and it was dark?

They were moving things around so they could move the truck and had moved the crates that made the steps. So, I stepped down about two steps, then the steps disappeared. But I didn’t realize it until my foot didn’t hit anything and I started to fall forward.

Mr. Glick was standing right at the bottom. My hands were windmilling – you know how that goes; you just try to grab onto anything, right? Well, I grabbed Mr. Glick. Well, not actually grabbed. It was more like my hands and cheek knocked his hat off, ran through his beard, slapped into his chest and shoulders and then slid down his front until I was basically face-planted at his feet. Maybe he was trying to catch me, but, I think, if he could have reacted fast enough, he would have run away. Trust me, if I could have reacted fast enough, I would have run away too, and fallen down somewhere else. Actually, I mentioned it was dark, and I didn’t even know who it was at first, other than it wasn’t my husband. : ) Take my word for it when I tell you he didn’t smell right.

So, anyway, we’re at the Glick’s house this past July, with a whole pile of kids running around. (Between our five families we have over thirty kids.) It’s dusk, and Mr. Glick is being careful to keep Mrs. Glick between him and I and making sure he’s well away from me if I look like I’m going down any steps. Kidding.

When the Amish eat in a group, the men eat first. My husband loves that, and I’m okay with it, since the Bible says the last shall be first and I’d rather eat first in Heaven. My daughters on the other hand…lol. So, the ladies had our chairs in a circle and were eating together and the men were sitting around the fire.

Julia isn’t Amish, and I’m boring, so she was sitting with her dad in the men’s group.

By the time it was dark, my youngest daughter was running around with a whole pack of kids. Seriously, they’d run by us, bonnet strings and black skirts flying (except my daughter who wasn’t wearing a bonnet – and God help the person who tries to make her – and had a jean skirt on), up the walk, in the summer kitchen door, past that window, into the kitchen, past the kitchen window and into the living room (right there, they would pass the printer and scanner that were set on a stand – not kidding, I was in the kitchen helping before everyone got there, and I admit to doing a double take when I saw their electronics hooked up. These are a different sect of Amish, not the Sinking Valley Amish, and they ARE allowed batteries.) From the living room window they’d run to the front door.

About that time the pack of boys – none of these were mine, thank God, or I wouldn’t have been nearly so relaxed – would run up the walk and into the summer kitchen, taking the same path through the house, but bursting out of the front door with slightly more force and velocity, taking the front porch steps in one leap, the pack splitting into two lines as they ran around the men’s circle and off into the darkness after the girls.

Kinda funny that kids are pretty much the same regardless of their culture.

My daughter told me later they were playing “Cowboys and Indians.” Which, I believe, is a politically incorrect way of saying they were playing “The Boys are Chasing the Girls.” : )

So, things quieted down for a little bit. (I found out later they were out behind the barn trying to ride an unbroken colt.)

The ladies were talking about the little five-year-old boy in their community who had drowned in the pond two months earlier. He was the nephew of our good friends who were at the picnic. He and his brothers had been fishing in the morning, then they’d gone to do some work. Before lunch sometime, he’d told his dad he was going to check his rod, see if he caught anything. When they sat down to eat lunch, his place was empty.

The police shut the road down for the funeral and we didn’t pick up eggs that day. But the ladies were saying the mother was expecting and with those hormones and everything was having a really hard time doing anything except sitting in her chair and rocking.

Death can happen at any time, of course. Maybe because we live on the farm, but I feel like we’re closer to it than most Americans. It’s a part of life. I suppose those of you who have read Boone’s book know how I feel about it. But again, as I sat there in the dark listening, it struck me how a mother’s heart for her children is the same in any culture.

Contemplating those more somber thoughts, I looked beyond the circle of ladies. The light from the half moon was strong enough for me to see the outline of two bodies, one that looked suspiciously like my daughter, crawling along the ridgepole of the two-story greenhouse between the shed and the house.

Thankfully my daughter was in the back, which made me believe that she was not the leader, but following someone who surely knew whether or not they were allowed to do whatever it was they were doing. (I found out later they were really NOT allowed to do any of the things they’d done that night. I also found out later that they were playing hide-and-seek and they were “hiding” on the ridgepole. That game has gotten a little more sophisticated since I was a kid.)

I also found out later that, among other things, the men were talking about making wine. (My husband came back with all these ideas about how to make good wine, and I’m kinda like, but we don’t drink wine – and I didn’t think the Amish did, either.  I have a few stories about that conversation the Amishmen had that night with my husband, but this is already longer than I was expecting it to be.)

I’m not sure if it was before the wine conversation or after it, but it was one of the times after the pack of kids flew by and things were quiet for about thirty seconds when I heard my oldest daughter scream from where the men were. Then laughter.

The oldest son of our good friends is about nineteen. He’s a great kid. He’s taken us for buggy rides and when we’re cleaning the barns out, no one works harder than he does. Apparently, he found a frog. And, the male chromosome does not allow a boy to hold a frog in his hand when there is a girl he can throw it on, right?

Julia is a girly-girl. Yeah, she does everything we ask her to, but she hates dirt, bugs, spiders, reptiles, amphibians, you get the picture, and would never go outside if she didn’t have to. Her reaction was even better than expected, I think. Later, we teased her that it was probably an Amish dating ritual:  throwing the frog on the lap is basically like saying, would you like to get married? Picking it carefully up and shaking your head as you set it down, would be a “no.” Jumping up, screaming and waving your hands around looks like a pretty excited “yes.”

So, maybe our daughter is engaged; we’re not sure. : )

Kidding. That boy is a great guy, but Julia is a little high-maintenance (her words) and she’s not the slightest bit interested in living without electricity. Or any modern convenience, to be honest.

Thanks so much for spending time with me today!

A Tradition from the Stable

Hey, everyone! I’m so happy to get to blog about a Christmas tradition we have.

Except…our family doesn’t really have many Christmas traditions.

So many of the ladies on this blog have such a great talent for making things look beautiful and I just can’t wait to hear what they’re going to talk about. Some really neat, old-fashioned heirloom Christmas ornament or possibly a family keepsake that gets taken out and admired at Christmas. I feel warm and happy just thinking about all the wonderful blogs that are going to be posted the rest of this year.

Unfortunately, I pretty much lose everything I touch. And, if I don’t, our house is so crazy and busy, it would probably get broken anyway.

So, I figured I’d talk a little about something that I’m good at – being crazy. It’s kind of a Christmas tradition that we do things differently. After all, we’ve always been self-employed and we’ve almost always worked on Christmas Eve and often on Christmas Day as well. As farmers, the animals need milked and fed, the eggs gathered, the stalls cleaned.

In fact, one Christmas, we had goats in my house.

That sounds fun, until you remember that goats, while cute when they’re babies (SO adorable) also bring with them a smell that is…quite potent, let’s say. And in a house, in winter with all the windows tightly closed, it gets strong. Not even greenery can overpower the scent of goats. At least, not in my experience.

But you know, maybe it’s fitting because Jesus was born in a stable.

The year we had goats in our cellar, I couldn’t really walk through the house without remembering the stable in which Jesus was born and how much harder it must have been for Mary and Joseph than the picture we get from the Biblical account. We have a tendency to picture everyone smiling and happy and serene and cozy.

Maybe that’s the way it really was.

Or maybe the reality was that it was more like our lives. Messy. Smelly. Hard and heartbreaking.

Holidays can be the best time of the year. But they can also bring back memories that make us want to cry. Even get depressed. Maybe the heirloom bulb we’ve loved for years got broken. Maybe someone accidentally threw out the box of decorations that used to be our great-grandmother’s. Maybe a loved one went home to be with the Lord and their spot is empty.

Life is hard and it doesn’t always turn out the way we want it to. Expect it to. Feel like we deserve.

You know, it’s tempting to complain. Tempting to ask God, “Why?”

But isn’t the Christmas story proof that God can use what’s left and even turn it into something beautiful?

I think of the ride to Bethlehem. What was that like?

Maybe Mary says to Joseph, You know, dear, if we’d have left when I told you to, there would have been room in the inn.

And Joseph says to Mary, If you’d hadn’t had to change your outfit three times (and she interrupts him and says, But I couldn’t find anything that fit me and matched my hair covering, too!) and Joseph continues: then we wouldn’t have gotten behind the folks with the geriatric camel. Plus, there are only two passing zones between Nazareth and Bethlehem and both times you had to stop and find a bush, and everyone we had passed, passed us while I was waiting on you.

Mary: If you didn’t make our donkey walk so fast, it wouldn’t have been so bouncy and I wouldn’t have had to stop as much.

Joseph: I could have beaten the GPS by ten minutes if you could have held it a little longer.

Mary:  If you’d have stopped and asked for directions when we got lost, we wouldn’t have spent an entire afternoon wondering around Samaria, then we would have beaten the GPS AND gotten a room at the inn.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful. Maybe they were arguing on the way to Bethlehem, maybe they weren’t, but that’s not really what I was thinking.

My point is, Mary and Joseph might not have accepted things quite as easily as we sometimes think. I doubt I would have. But, for them, if things had gone perfectly and they had gotten a room at the inn, if Jesus had been born in comfort and cleanliness, it wouldn’t have been God’s perfect plan.

I know sometimes I fight and fuss about stuff, (like goats in my house) and I don’t realize that it’s not God’s plan for me to have what I want, even if it’s something good, like a room at the inn. Or a house that doesn’t smell like barn animals.

Maybe our family’s Christmas tradition could be that nothing in my house is perfect. The tree is crooked and looks like my kids and I decorated it (because we did!). There is mud in the hall because we walked in with our barn boots on to grab a drink from the fridge to give to the guy who drove two hours to drop parts off. There’s a lot of noise and chaos because we have two extra girls staying with us and my kids aren’t getting as many gifts because we’re buying gifts for them, too.

Nothing is perfect. Not the decorations, not the cleanliness, not the gifts and sometimes not even the smell.

But that’s what the stable means:  perfection isn’t the standard.

Love is.

Love is our Christmas tradition. Whether you belong to our family or are just visiting. Whether you’re dirty or clean, animal or human. You’ll find rest and comfort, laughter and joy in our home. Year after year, that’s my goal for Christmas and for my life – love like Jesus loved. Give like Jesus gave. Don’t worry about perfection or the smell of the stable or the rejection of some (like the innkeeper). Just do the best with what’s left, with what God has given you, and love as hard and deep and strong as you can.

That’s the Christmas tradition that started in a stable. Let’s keep it going.

My Favorite Things

Hello! I’m Jessie Gussman and I’m so excited and honored to have been asked to join the amazing fillies at Petticoats and Pistols! I have to say, I’ve been watching things behind the scenes for a few weeks now, and these ladies are the absolute best. It’s a true joy for me to get to hang out in the P&P corral. I’ve been learning so much.

For my first blog, I wanted to share a bit about myself.

My kids have been listening to the soundtrack of The Sound of Music lately in the car. You know, A Few of My Favorite Things? Rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens? It was written to soothe the Von Trapp children during a thunderstorm. I suppose that might work for girls.

But I had boys. First, anyway.

My boys would never notice anything like raindrops on roses. Maybe if it were pee drops on roses–or pee on anything, for that matter. Pee always makes a boy laugh.

Our last two children were girls; they are so different than boys. My youngest is sweetly naïve and believes almost anything. When she was eight, she heard my husband joking, joking, with a friend about how we needed to go up to the barn after the lights went out and rotate the tail feathers on our 15,000 laying hens so they’d lay eggs in the morning.

The next day, after my daughter’s dental appointment, the dentist came out to me in the waiting room. After giving me the low-down on how I’d be paying for her oldest child’s college education with the dental work my daughter needed, the dentist said, “I can’t believe how

articulate your daughter is! It must be because you homeschool. She was telling us all about how you rotate the tail feathers on your chickens at night after the lights go out.” The doctor’s gaze was admiring. She shook her head in wonder. “I never knew you had to do that to get the chickens to lay eggs! That’s fascinating!”



Back in my own naïve young adulthood, I was two years into my degree when my husband, who had grown up around trucks, started a trucking company. I told everyone I quit school to keep his books, but it was actually because starting your own business means working 24/7, and I had started to believe in alien abduction, since I never saw my husband anymore.

Twenty-seven years later, I’ve almost adjusted.

Not long ago my husband and I were heading eastbound on the interstate, hauling eggs back from Ohio, going about 75 mph. My door jiggled open. At that speed some people might wonder if their door will actually open. I can’t say about a car, but in a 379 long-nose Pete? Yes.

Yes it will.

It was kind of interesting, watching the pavement fly by from a new and rather distressing perspective, as I leaned out, grabbing for the latch. I got the door shut and sat in my seat, panting. I hadn’t quite made it to the euphoria-from-having-cheated-death stage, when my husband, who never left off the throttle, because, you know, he’s a man, and we have to GET THERE FAST, looked over at me. “Wow. Wasn’t expecting that,” he said. With one hand on the wheel, he dug under his seat and handed me a wrench and screwdriver. “You mind checking the latch? I’d hate to lose that door.”

My husband was always interested in trucks—I should have seen the trucking company coming—but I really didn’t anticipate having five children. It took a little while for us to get with the program, but by the time they hit elementary school, in the midst of the chaos, we looked around at all those kids and said to each other, “What are we going to do with them?”

Hubby blames me, but I know it was his idea. We bought the 70 acres of woods beside us, put the kids to work clearing it, picking rocks, digging holes, lying irrigation.

We bought a big, old track hoe and rented a bulldozer and our early-teen boys learned how to use the stuff. I was banned from running heavy equipment after I ran over the lawnmower.

The best way to get a new lawnmower is to bulldoze the old one. (My next book is going to be titled, Getting What You Want; How to Run a Bulldozer.) Eventually we planted the 10,000 blueberry bushes we trucked back from Michigan.

Today, as I write this, blueberry season is over, but those little balls of nutrition sell before we’ve even gotten them picked.

Almost two years ago, just before Christmas, my husband looked at me and said, “I want to buy a farm in Virginia.”

I was completely happy in Pennsylvania. Our ancestors have lived there for hundreds of years. But three months after he said that, I drove my car, packed with my collection of hymnbooks and plants, and followed my husband and girls and our horses to our new home nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Central Virginia.

I grew up around dairy cattle, so these more aggressive beef mamas have been a learning curve for me.

I’ve been attacked, stepped on, smashed against the fence and bull-dozed into the ground.

I’ve saved lives, delivered calves, hauled dead cows through the pasture field in the dead of night, lived without electricity, been up to my armpits in…well, it’s a farm, so you can fill in that blank, lived through floods, and touched a cow’s cervix for the first time in my life (that baby lived). I even delivered a foal.

If you stick around you’ll probably be hearing about some of the crazy things that happen here. : )

Trucks. Chickens. Blueberries. Beef.

They represent some of my favorite things—now. Certainly when I was a young woman, thinking of majoring in pre-med and becoming a doctor, I never dreamed they would. Life sometimes has a way of not working out quite the way we think it will.

But, really, my most favorite things aren’t things at all. It’s the husband who’s held my hand through this crazy life. It’s the laughter I’ve shared with my family. It’s the music we’ve made together while our backs ached from work made lighter by willing hands and cheerful hearts.

I love showing that pulling-together spirit in my books. The irony. The fun. The values people have and the hard choices they make.

Titanium love. Steadfast devotion. Sacrifice.

Basically, real life. That’s the kind of life I want to live, and those are the kind of stories I want to write.

Life. Wrapped in love.

I look forward to settling in here and getting to know everyone. I’d love for everyone to tell me a little about yourself in the comments.