Welcome to the online home of Audra Jennings, a book publicist and crafter. Here I share about both. I hope you'll find books you'll want to read and crafts you will want to order. I live a rather boring, single life. At times I would like to think I am humorous.
the pages of Homespun: Amish and
Mennonite Women in Their Own Words(Herald Press), Amish and Plain Mennonite women
swap stories and spin yarns while the reader sits in. The book’s editor, Lorilee
Craker, bestselling author of Money
Secrets of the Amish, collected these personal writings and authentic
perspectives on life, hospitality, home, grief, joy, and walks with God from
Anabaptist women’s periodicals. Among the stories shared are essays penned by
well-loved Amish and Mennonite writers such as Sherry Gore, Linda Byler, Lovina
Eicher, Dorcas Smucker, and Sheila Petre.
she shares more of her own background and experience of growing up Mennonite
and how HomeSpun came together.
describe yourself as a simple Mennonite girl from the prairies. Can you share a
little bit about your childhood?
My childhood was deeply rooted in the Mennonite
culture. Growing up, I witnessed my two grandmothers with their hair in a bun
and always wearing dresses or skirts. I thought this was normal! None of my
grandparents spoke English—all four of them spoke German or Low German. At
family gatherings we would eat Mennonite food such as borscht, varaneki
(pierogies), platz (fruit strudel), and pluma moos (cold plum soup). We also
ate those things in my home, so again, this was all very normal. We were also
bound by similar values of faith and peace, and by stories of where we had come
family’s roots in Mennonite communities run deep, but your family history is an
example of the many different stories people have. Can you tell about both your
mother and father’s background?
My mother’s family came over from Ukraine in the
1870’s. They were pioneers who homesteaded on the prairies, but they never lost
their culture or assimilated too much into the broader community. The ties of language, food, and culture that bind them to
their pioneer great-great-grandparents are startlingly durable.
My dad’s family had a completely different story.
They came in the third wave of immigration from Ukraine, after World War II.
They fled Stalin as refugees and experienced his holocaust. My dad lost his
twin sister to starvation, so those stories were imprinted painfully on his
I knew from early on that there were lots of
different kinds of Mennonite stories.
up in Manitoba where there was a large Mennonite population, you didn’t realize
most people didn’t live the same way you did. What was the biggest adjustment
for you when you moved to Chicago for college?
The biggest adjustment was that no one seemed to
know what a Mennonite was, or they assumed that I should be wearing a bonnet
and driving a buggy like the Amish! Everyone seemed to think that being Amish
or Old Order Mennonite and being my kind of Mennonite were one and the same. This
assumption led to lots of explanations on my part about the difference between
my modern Mennonite upbringing (“like Baptist, with a German accent and special
foods”) and those other related subcultures.
People were surprised that I wore makeup and nail
polish, etc. In Winnipeg, people knew that Mennonite women were modern because
they knew so many of them. That wasn’t the case in Chicago.
Explaining how you were Mennonite, not Amish, eventually led to you writing
your previous book, Money Secrets of the
Amish. What did you learn in that process that made you feel more connected
to what your roots?
As I visited Amish homes and barns in Michigan and
Pennsylvania for my 2011 book, I recognized bits of their dialect, Deitsch (Pennsylvania German), from my
spotty grasp of Low German. Their baby naming customs were also similar. The
Amish women’s hair buns and long skirts, not to mention the tantalizing aromas
of fruit strudels (Platz, to me)
baking in their ovens, reminded me of my beloved grandma Loewen. I recalled my
little dynamo of an Oma (grandmother)
tsk-tsk-ing me about the length of my skirt. She always had a twinkle in her
eye as she chided me, but I still made sure to go for full coverage as I
interviewed the Amish.
The peace and gentleness I felt when visiting the
Amish reminded me so much of visiting my Grandma’s farm. I felt oddly at home
among my spiritual and cultural cousins. It was amazing to me that over 300
years had passed since our break up and we still had things in common! I came to realize were more closely tied to me and my
upbringing than I had ever dreamed.
Q: What are
some of the differences between Mennonite and Amish beliefs? What are the
While there is a great variety of Mennonite
culture, practices and lifestyles, from very old-fashioned to very modern and
even progressive, the Amish are much more the same across their communities.
They are extremely dedicated to living much like they did in 1693, when they
split off from the Mennonites over the matter of buttons. Mennonites were okay
with buttons, but tailor Jacob Amman’s followers, the Amish, thought they were
worldly. To this day Amish fasten their clothes without buttons.
The similarities lie in spiritual roots of being
peace-loving, set apart people with a radical faith. The most modern Mennonite
in downtown Winnipeg might name their children Isaiah, Ezra, and Naomi, and the
most conservative Amish will have children with those same Bible names. They
have both kept some remnant of their dialect—Amish speak Pennsylvania Dutch
which is really Deutsch—German. I was startled to recognize bits of the Amish
dialect as being similar to my own Platt Deutsch—low German. Foods are similar
sometimes, too. And food customs, like Faspa, which is a cold meal served on
Sunday late afternoon so the ladies wouldn’t have to cook on Sunday.
Herald Press approached me about being the
general editor of a collection of writings from Amish and Mennonite women. I collected
the stories from mainly two sources, Daughters
of Promise magazine, a beautiful and beautifully written literary journal
done by conservative Mennonite women, and Ladies
Journal, a much more spare periodical by Amish women.
It was thrilling for me to discover new
writers and incredible writing from mostly unknown writers! These women have a
lot to say and I was fascinated by their take on modern life. To hear from
women specifically appealed to me, as a feminist. Sometimes in conservative
subcultures, their voices are silenced or muted. This book gives them space and
grace to speak.
Q: What themes did you notice emerging as
started compiling the stories? How is Homespun
read stories for the book, a number of themes arose, so I arranged the stories
by those topics and wrote a brief introduction tying them together.
Welcome. A deep sense of hospitality is fundamental to these women. Yet it’s not
hospitality in the HGTV, your-house-needs-to-be-perfect kind of way. As one of
the writers shares, it is easy to overthink hosting, but Jesus made it look
quite simple, and his hosting style can be described in one word: love.
Abide. Hospitality is sacred and spiritual, but it doesn’t mean these writers
don’t want to have an appealing home space in which to dwell. They want to
abide in an abode, if you will, that nurtures them and feeds their spirit. The
writers here expound beautifully on what home means to them.
Testimony. Story makes the world go round. When we hear the stories—the
testimonies—of others, we are better able to understand our own story and our
place in the world. These narratives stirred different emotions in me.
Wonder. The blazing faith of early Anabaptists is evident in the openness of
these writers to all things wondrous. These are true stories of miracles,
phenomenal happenings that don’t make sense from a human perspective. They
light the possibility of the miraculous happening all around us, in big
ways and small.
Kindred. A core value of both Mennonites and Amish is the preeminence of
family—kinfolk, whether they be kindred or not. Our kin shape us in ways both
known and unknown, good and bad. These essays and stories speak to the
tremendous influence of family.
Beloved. These essays enthused my soul, and I came away feeling as if I had just
been to church. My cup had been filled. There is something wonderfully
elemental and childlike about the devotion expressed here, devotion even in
doubt. These pieces drew me closer to the One who calls all his daughters
they will find a pocket of peace and gentle witness in their hectic, modern
lives. These women have a countercultural, singular mindset that is
refreshingly different. I hope our readers will see their own stories in a new,