Friday, April 23, 2010
The novel I am finishing now, SARAH'S GIFT, is about an Amish midwife, so I've been deep into research on that topic. Fortunately I have a friend who is a midwife, and through her I've been able to meet others, so it's been a fascinating trip.
In contrast to much of mainstream America, a high percentage of Amish women prefer to have their babies at home, and cite a variety of reasons for doing so. For one thing, having a baby at home can be much less expensive! But more importantly, most Amish regard childbirth as the natural process of a healthy body, not as a medical procedure. After all, they say, women have been having babies with a midwife in attendance for centuries. To them, unless a woman has risk factors that make a hospital birth preferable, having a baby at home is both comforting and comfortable.
Amish midwives typically come to the woman's home to assist in delivery, but there are a growing number of birthing centers in rural areas as well. One midwife I spoke with said that she would much rather go to the mother's home, but that it had become too difficult to do that, especially if two of her mothers decided to have babies at the same time fifty miles apart.
Mary, this particular midwife, now has a birthing center in a typical Pennsylvania farmhouse, which looks so much like a home that women are sometimes surprised to learn that she doesn't actually live there. The only concession she has made in the way of furnishings is to use hospital beds, which allow for greater ease is adjusting position.
Mary, also sometimes called Grandma Mary, has been delivering babies for 36 years. For her, this is the most rewarding thing she could do, and she remains close to the couples and the children, sometimes going on to deliver the babies of women whom she delivered. When I asked what her greatest disappointment is, she replied that it was when things went wrong and the patient required hospitalization. That happens rarely, but when it does, she has the patient quickly transferred to a local hospital.
Amish women typically become midwives--"catching babies"-- through their longing to help other women have the kind of birth they want. Though they may receive formal training, much of their education comes in apprenticing to an established midwife.
SARAH'S GIFT, the fourth book in my Pleasant Valley Amish series from Berkley, will come out in March, 2011.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
I've received several requests recently for the Snickerdoodle cookie recipe, maybe because the Amish women in my books LEAH'S CHOICE and RACHEL'S GARDEN always seem to be baking them. One person who wrote asked if there really were such cookies, or was that a made-up thing!
Yes, indeed, Snickerdoodles really do exist, and the recipe is a favorite one among Pennsylvania Dutch cooks. And the sweet sugar cookies with their cinnamon topping are definitely a favorite among children. My grandkids love them. Why are they called Snickerdoodles, you ask? I have no idea!
Pennsylvania Dutch country is a place where cooks take their recipes seriously, and every little variation of a recipe is carefully saved. I have three or four versions of the Snickerdoodles, but here is my favorite:
½ cup soft butter or margarine ¾ cup sugar
1 egg 1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder 1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp ground nutmeg ¼ tsp salt
2 T sugar 2 tsp cinnamon
Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and beat until fluffy. Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt. Blend into creamed mixture to make a stiff dough.
Mix the 2 T sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Shape the dough into balls the size of walnuts. Roll cookie balls in the cinnamon sugar. Place on greased cookie sheet and flatten with a fork. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until very lightly browned. The cookies will have their characteristic crinkled appearance on top. Remove to cooling rack, cool, and enjoy!
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
What is it about the first warm days and the appearance of daffodils in the yard that makes my mind turn to housecleaning, of all things?! A young man's fancy may turn to love at this time of year, but for me, it's the urge to have my house clean, inside and out. It must be something in the Pennsylvania Dutch genes--that's all I can think. When I was a child, my mother treated spring cleaning as seriously as a spiritual ritual. Everyone had to help, and everyone got to share in the satisfaction. And in those days, with a coal furnace, the house got really dirty over the course of a long, cold winter!
Just now, with a book due May 1st and another due August 1st, I have plenty of excuses not to dive into spring cleaning. After all, houses don't get nearly as dirty now as they used to. But the urge wouldn't go away. As a sort of compromise, I started with my office. After all, a clean office will make my work go better, won't it?
I began with sorting out my storage closet. Oh, dear, oh, dear. There were things in there which hadn't seen the light of day in years. I became slightly side-tracked, reading through old magazine stories and wondering whether this or that old manuscript might be re-cycled into a new story. I discovered connection cords for printers long gone and several hundred feet of telephone cable. Wonder what I was saving that for?
Finally, buried in with office supply receipts from 1990 (Tip: you don't have to save records for the IRS for more than seven years, it seems.) I discovered a list I'd made sometime in my first few years of writing. Turns out that my first year of actually selling what I wrote was 19**, and in that year I wrote twelve short stories and sold six for the magnificent total of $185! Somehow, that hand-written sheet brought back all those feelings I had when I sold my very first story. Someone liked my writing enough to pay me for it! Real people would read and perhaps enjoy the story I had created! I was a writer!
Over the years, that excitement sometimes gets buried under deadlines and publicity opportunities and galleys to read and talks to give. But you know what? It's still there. It's just as exciting to sell a book now as it was when I sold that first little story to a children's Sunday School paper. I just need to be reminded of that once in awhile.
So now not only do I have a clean office, I have a renewed sense of purpose about my writing. That was certainly worth a few hours of hard labor, wasn't it? I'm diving into the last few chapters of the current work with energy to spare.
I wonder what I'll find when I start on the kitchen?
Have a great spring, everyone.