Saturday, April 23, 2011

An Amish Primer

One of the fun and interesting things about where we live in Maryland is that we have a community of Amish who live nearby. A few summers ago, I took the time to read several books about the Amish to try to educate myself about their chosen lifestyle. I’d like to share a few things about that here.

First, the Amish do not pronounce the name of their faith as you do. You probably say Ah-mish. They say A-mish as in the letter A and then mish. (I don’t know if this is specific to Southern Maryland or if it’s more widespread.)

Though they are well known for shunning the public electric grid, the Amish do use electricity. They tend to generate it themselves either with a wind generator or diesel, but they don’t believe that electricity use is bad. Being on the public grid is bad.

You also probably know that the Amish don’t have phones in their homes. They do, however, have them by the side of the street. They also have them in their offices. When we visited an Amish furniture builder in Indiana after Loring’s wedding in 1999, we asked him about his fax machine. He said he can’t compete without using such tools. Most local churches have agreed that their members may use such worldly goods in order to maintain businesses that are dependent upon the non-Amish world.

Amish teenagers are every bit as rebellious as “English” teens. (The Amish refer to the non-Amish as English or Plain.) I read a book called Rumspringa (It’s in Maryland if you want to read it.) which describes the life of an Amish teen. Basically, they are allowed the freedom to do what they want between the time that they complete 8th grade and the time that they confirm their membership in the church. That time frame is known as rumspringa. Confirmation usually occurs by age 21.

During rumspringa, teens often become very much like English teens. They may smoke, drink, do drugs, drive, have sex, dress fashionably, hold jobs in the English community, or otherwise behave the way many other American teens behave. They do not, however, attend school. Though many mothers agonize over all the heathen activities that their children may be participating in, some parents seem to welcome it. They prefer that those kids sow their wild oats, reflect on their poor choices, and then opt to formally join the church and adhere to all its rules. As in any society, there are those who choose not to join. The Amish community is never happy about those who make that choice, but they accept it.

The Amish do not accept any person who has committed to the church and then reneges on their commitment. Those people are shunned and forbidden from any communication with any member of the church. I read about people who refused to even sell goods to a shunned person. They look right through them and act as if they do not exist. They return letters to the sender and won’t take phone calls from their own shunned children or siblings.

The Amish community also doesn’t permit education beyond 8th grade. Anything more than that is considered worldly and one who requests it is considered pretentious. I have read about people who have left the community to become doctors, lawyers, and other college educated professionals. Though they aren’t exactly shunned, they are not welcomed, either. They don’t mind the existence of such people, but they mind when those people come from their own blood lines.

In Charlotte Hall, the Amish have a market where they sell their goods on a daily to weekly basis. It’s just down the street from our house at the library. Wednesdays and Saturdays are the big days. If you want fresh butter, you’d better arrive early. They also sell baked goods, fresh produce (not necessarily organic), jams, and a few carpentry and textile items. I have not seen a quilt for sale there, but they do sell them at a yearly auction in November. Hope and I visited the auction a couple of years ago. Maybe I’ll write a separate essay about that.

In some communities, the Amish are known for not being particularly friendly to their English neighbors. I have not found this to be the case in Charlotte Hall. They smile and speak to us easily at the market. Family members have hired them for various types of work and found them to be highly skilled and friendly.

The Amish in Southern Maryland have been there since 1940 and came from Lancaster. They are fluent in both English and Pennsylvania Dutch (a Swiss German dialect).

Though not all Amish use buggies, ours do! They are gray and have headlights and turn signals which may be mandated by the state to help improve safety. Some of the roads are extra wide in order to accommodate buggies on the shoulder. Sometimes, you just have to trust your luck to get around them. It’s fun to lie in bed at night and listen to the clip clop of the horses hooves as they go by on the road.

There is a lot more to share, but it will have to wait. This is enough to whet your appetites about one of the fun aspects of living in Charlotte Hall.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It Really Bugs Me

Growing up in Virginia, I have many memories of bugs. I’m pretty sure I single handedly sustained the local mosquito population. The summers were full of lightning bugs, gnats, and flies. Dad’s house had plenty of crickets and Mom’s had these weird little creatures that I have never identified. Driving down the highway, we regularly provided insect population controls with our windshields.

When we moved to the Northwest, we were astonished that our first apartment didn’t even have screens on the windows. Think of all the bugs that would come in! Actually, there really aren’t many bugs out here. You can drive from Canada to the California line and never have to clean your windshield – or even have it cross your mind. Mosquitos exist, but they don’t seem as blood thirsty here as they are in other locations. Sadly, we have no lightning bugs at all, and I don’t recall hearing any crickets. We must have something, though, because we still have plenty of spiders. It’s a quandary.

Let’s return to the East Coast now, this time in Southern Maryland. Our home is a safe haven for any creepy crawly that desires it. If they wander outside, they risk being eaten by birds, bats, frogs, snakes, or probably a variety of other animals. Inside is another story. While our window screens keep out all the predators, they have holes large enough to welcome the prey. We have extended families of bees, wasps, those weird bugs that Mom used to have, centipedes, silver fish, and spiders.

Word got out that we were insect-friendly, so now we also have our own stink bug hostel. They’re everywhere, but they seem to especially appreciate the family room in the late afternoon. That’s the one room that most consistently has warmth and light. Personally, I have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing the best a stink bug has to offer, but I hear it’s a real treat! They don’t bite or sting or do any unfriendly activities that creep out many people, but they do tend to land in freshly picked grapes. Word on the street is that you don’t want to drink wine made with crushed stink bugs.

And have you heard the hype about bed bugs? Some people are terribly allergic to them. Some of those people spend a lot of time in our house. That’s when we had to draw the line. After working one summer in the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pesticides, Hazard Evaluation Division, Toxicology Branch, I decided that pesticide use was tenuous at best. I don’t trust a single safety claim that any company asserts about its products. I’ve seen the raw data and also seen how it can be twisted to appear safe. (That was probably when I started morphing into a liberal.) So you can imagine my dismay when I was faced with the idea of spraying lots of pesticides into the air in our house. While it may be effective at killing the beasts, it also coats everything else and intentionally leaves a toxic residue. No, thank you.

Have you heard we own a pool? Did you know that pools use a lot of diatomaceous earth (DE)? Did you know that DE is a physical pesticide that insects don’t tend to become resistant to and humans can safely live around (if they don’t inhale it)? It turns out that DE is a bed bug’s worst enemy. It creates microscopic tears in the bug’s exoskeleton (or your lungs) causing the bug to dry out from the inside. Yuck. But yippee! We believe that we have largely (entirely?) eliminated the bed bug issue in our house by raiding our pool supply of DE and generously sprinkling it on all carpets, crevices, window sills, and anywhere else we could think of.

If only someone would go back through the house and vacuum up all the dead bugs.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Petherbridge is Falling Down

I made a brief visit to Maryland about a week ago. During that time, Peter and I walked through the house together. He was trying to point out to me many of the major areas that need work even before we can afford a remodel. It seems that the ceiling plaster is falling in places and many of the walls don’t seem to have adequate support in the foundation. And the foundation itself is a study in styles. We know that part of the house is built on a slab, part is over a simple lumber framework that used to be a breezeway, part is over a foundation of rock, and part is over a foundation of timber. We also have sections of the crawl space that we haven’t yet been able to access. All this is to say that the house is settling at different rates in different places. As such, the floors and the walls are struggling to stick together.

If you’ve been following the verbal saga over the years, then you are aware that we replaced the roof in 2007 because we found areas that contained up to five layers of roofing. No homes are built to hold that kind of weight, and a 130 year old house is no exception! The walls have already shown signs of caving in under the pressure. We believe the new roof has alleviated that concern, but we have been unable to straighten out those walls.

Peter explained the different ways he intends to shore up the walls and ceilings so that the house will be able to hold the additional furniture that we will be moving from Bellevue. Our first container will be arriving in Maryland in June. It will have the large table saw and all the other power tools to allow Peter to add support. The other items only include furniture that will be used on the first floor.

I haven’t even mentioned how we have little insulation in the house. We may pull down some inside walls to add insulation before next winter. The living room would be easy to do since the walls are made of paneling. And then there’s the old electric system and the old plumbing and the old furnace and heating and ….

A part of me prefers that we “do it right” the first time, but that isn’t practical for us. With Erin going to college and Allison close on her heels, we simply can’t do it that way right now. Instead, our focus is to prevent any further deterioration until we can afford to actually improve what’s there.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Background and Introduction

My husband and I grew up in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. About the time our first child was born, we moved to the suburbs of Seattle. Now our three children are nearly out of the house, and we are embarking on a slow move to rural Maryland. The move involves a change from a 1/3 acre home with shopping, parks, schools, and public transportation all within an easy walk to a nearly 2 acre home within an easy drive of grocery stores but a half hour drive from any other shopping or activities.

Nearby is my in-law’s 240 acre farm where they now have an 8 acre vineyard. No one actually lives on the farm, so most weekends, our 6000 sq. ft. house welcomes members of the extended family who have driven down from Virginia to work on the vineyard. My husband is also there about 1/3 of his time. He is a regular coast-to-coast commuter. (He does his paying job by working remotely when he is in Maryland.)

The challenge for us is going to be a mental and physical adjustment from living in an urban environment to a rural one. We currently have grandiose plans to extensively remodel the 1880 farmhouse, raise backyard chickens, brew our own beer, and grow a large garden. This is all going to be done as we adjust to being empty nesters, we work the vineyard (while maintaining my husband’s demanding day job), and we actively work to help grow our local winery cooperative.

We bought the Maryland house in 2005 and have been slowly acclimating ourselves to the new digs. We expect to call that address “home” by fall of 2012.

Reader be forewarned: some journal entries will likely be more like articles, but some might be boring statements of issues that we have encountered or need to tackle. I’m not always able to write interesting passages, but I do want to record the adjustments. I do hope to backfill with some of the more colorful adventures we have had since we purchased the house in 2005.