Kristina lives in California with her husband Antonio, with whom she's launched a new YouTube show, "Business, Publishing, and Life." When she's not dreaming up new stories, you can find Kristina hanging out at the beach, cooking exotic recipes, playing classical piano, journaling, swimming, doing yoga, drawing, shopping, and traveling.
From Amish Baker by Kristina Ludwig
It’s a muggy summer day, and the air in Stoltzfus Bakery feels practically as hot as the brick ovens lining its walls. I finish ringing up an exhausting family of Englischers who had been full of questions about the ingredients we use in our Amish baked goods, and place my sweaty forehead in my hands. Right now, I wish for nothing more than a long, cool dip in the brook.
“Mercy,” Hannah calls weakly from her spot in the corner, where she’s mixing up dough for a fresh batch of snickerdoodles. “Do you mind switching places with me?”
One glance at Hannah tells me she’s not looking to shirk her baking duties; the poor girl looks like she’s ready to pass out. Her face is blood-red, covered with beads of perspiration, and she wobbles unsteadily on her feet, reaching out to the counter for support.
“Sit down, Hannah.” Within seconds, I’ve pulled a stool over, helped her into it, and dashed to the back room.
“What’s going on?” Mrs. Stoltzfus asks when I fling open the door. She’s sitting there doing some bookkeeping, her head propped up on her hand. She glances up with a raised eyebrow, her dark eyes ringed with even darker circles. She looks scary, like the kind of woman that little children run away from. “You know lunch is not for another hour, Mercy.”
Mrs. Stoltzfus owns and runs the bakery, and she uses the back room as an office and break room. I’m jealous of the ever-so-slight breeze that ruffles the curtains on the narrow, high window. I fight the urge to roll my eyes. It figures that she’d be spending her time back here on a day like today, while Hannah and I swelter.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” I say, pouring Hannah a tall glass of water from the pitcher on Mrs. Stoltzfus’s desk. “Hannah and I just need a bit of water. I won’t bother you again.”
Mrs. Stoltzfus exhales in a loud hmmmph. “Yah, okay,” she says. “Just see that you don’t.”
I bite back an angry retort as Mrs. Stoltzfus returns to her books, waving me away like a bothersome fly. I race out of the office, muttering under my breath. You’d think that after four whole years of working here, she’d treat me with some respect.
Thankfully, the bakery is free of customers. I can only imagine how grumpy Sourpuss Stoltzfus would get if customers complained about waiting.
I thrust the glass into Hannah’s hands, and she gulps down every last drop of water gratefully.
“Are you okay?” I examine my good friend. She’s sitting a bit straighter, but she still has that wilted-flower look. Her face is no longer flushed; now her skin looks waxy and clammy, almost greenish. Her shiny blond hair, which had been neatly pulled back and covered with her bonnet earlier, falls down from its pins and straggles around her face. For a moment, I wonder if she’s suffering from more than overheating—perhaps she’s sick. There’s nothing worse than a summer fever.
“I think so,” Hannah replies, pressing the cold, empty glass to her forehead. “It was the weirdest thing. I felt like I was going to faint.” She stands up slowly. “I think I’m better now, though.”
“Are you able to stand at the counter, or do you need to sit in the back room for a few minutes? I can tell Mrs. Stoltzfus to come out, you know. She’s only looking at the numbers, and that can wait.”
“No, it’s okay,” Hannah says, her voice coming out fast and almost frantic. She pulls off her bonnet, tidying her hair before she puts it back on. “Please don’t tell Mrs. Stoltzfus. I’ll let you know if I feel weak again, but I’m okay to get the counter for now.”
I cock my head, studying Hannah again. I hadn’t expected this kind of reaction. Why is she so reluctant to tell Mrs. Stoltzfus that she isn’t feeling well?
“After all,” Hannah continues, “I’m going to have nearly eight more months of this. It’ll never do if Mrs. Stoltzfus thinks I can’t carry out my regular duties. Jakob and I need the money now more than ever.”
My eyes widen. Is Hannah saying what I think she’s saying?
“I’m pregnant,” Hannah interrupts, her face breaking into a radiant smile. “Jakob and I just found out. I haven’t had morning sickness, but I do feel a little more tired and weak than usual, especially in this heat.” She lowers her voice, her eyes darting toward Mrs. Stoltzfus’s office. “That’s why I don’t want Mrs. Stoltzfus to know I felt sick today. I don’t want her looking for replacements for me yet. I want to work until the baby is born.”
I stare at Hannah for a moment, speechless. Finally, I choke out, “Congratulations. That’s wunderbar.”
“It is, isn’t it?” Hannah says, her blue eyes sparkling. When she talks about her pregnancy, she literally lights up.
“Yah, it is.” I pat her on the shoulder, just as the bell above the front door tinkles and old Mrs. Yoder hobbles in for her usual loaf of bread.
Hannah hurries over to the counter, grabbing a fresh loaf of bread on the way. “Hiya, Mrs. Yoder.”
“Hello, Hannah,” Mrs. Yoder says. “Pardon me for saying, but you look like death warmed over, and I’m sure I don’t look much better. This heat is horrible on my old joints.”
I roll my eyes, molding the dough into snickerdoodles. Old Mrs. Yoder has too much to say, and usually, none of it is good.
I block out Mrs. Yoder and Hannah’s chatter, my hands and mind busy. I should’ve expected that Hannah would get pregnant. After all, she and Jakob have been married since last November, and they moved into a house of their own this spring. But a small part of me feels annoyed. We work together every day, and she never talked about wanting babies, or planning to have them any time soon.
I also can’t deny that a sick pang of jealousy ripples through my stomach like a rock thrown into a pond. It seems like everyone is moving on in life except me. I’ve worked at the bakery ever since I graduated eighth grade. My twin sister Rebekah worked here for years, until she decided to go to college and study pre-veterinary medicine with her Englischer boyfriend, Braeden. Hannah took Rebekah’s place, and now she’ll be leaving soon, to start a life with her new family. Only I am stuck here, with Sourpuss Stoltzfus.
I grind the little dough balls into the cinnamon-sugar mixture, slapping them onto the cookie sheet. Usually, I take pleasure in baking, making something beautiful and sweet from scratch. But today, nothing here holds any joy for me.
It’s odd that I’m jealous of Rebekah and Hannah, since I don’t want to live their lives—I just want to feel like I’m moving somewhere in my own. I don’t want to go to college, and I don’t want babies yet, either—which is a gut thing. Samuel and I have talked about getting married, but we certainly haven’t set a wedding date.
Mrs. Yoder finishes paying for her bread, counting out the pennies one at a time, and the way the change jingles as Hannah tosses it into the cash register reminds me of something. I’m not stuck here forever. I have been saving money to open my own bakery for over a year now, and last winter Samuel and I talked about starting a combination bakery/general store. He plans to sell produce from his family’s farm, while I can sell my homemade candy and baked goods. The farm has been doing much better with the new marketing techniques Samuel learned in college, and he’s been putting away some money to make this dream come true. I know that both of us have healthy little accounts at the local bank.
Now, all we have to do is use them, the sooner the better.
That night, Samuel picks me up for a buggy ride. It’s a perfect summer evening; the sultry August day has cooled off, and Samuel has opened the top of the buggy. The sky above is clear and star-studded, while fireflies flicker their golden bellies right in front of us. It’s as if Herr Gott has used nature to light up the night just for us.
I notice the tentative way that Samuel reaches for my hand as he tightens the reins and urges the horses to a trot. He’s been trying hard lately to prove his love to me. This spring, he was so preoccupied with his schoolwork and farm duties that he forgot my birthday. I broke up with him the next day. I was not about to stand for a boy forgetting my birthday—especially not one who claimed he loved me.
But Samuel is a determined man. Last week, he showed up at my house with a beautiful bouquet of fresh-picked wildflowers. They’ve long since wilted, but I did pick a few of the prettiest ones, pressing them between the pages of a book to preserve them forever. Samuel apologized that day, and told me he would make things right if I would just give him another chance. And I love him so much that I agreed.
Now, I squeeze his large, callused hand reassuringly, and he smiles over at me.
“How was your day?” he asks.
“Gut.” I hesitate for a moment, wondering whether I should tell him about Hannah’s news. He is a fairly close friend of Jakob’s, after all, and I’m sure he’ll find out soon enough.
So, I lean closer to Samuel and say, “I found out something new today.”
Samuel laughs. “More gossip, isn’t it?”
“It is,” I reply with a giggle. “But I think this might be the gossip of the year. Guess what?”
“I couldn’t possibly guess. At least give me a hint.”
“It’s about Hannah.”
Samuel shrugs. “That’s not a lot to go on.” He glances over at me, his brown eyes bright with amusement. “Come on, tell me.”
“Hannah is pregnant,” I say, relishing the way Samuel’s mouth drops open in surprise. I love watching people’s reactions to a good piece of gossip. “She almost passed out from the heat today, and then she swore me to secrecy.”
Samuel chuckles. “I can tell you’re doing a gut job of that so far. Swearing you to secrecy was her first mistake.”
I cross my arms over my chest. “Hey, you’re the first person I’ve told—and the only person, by the way. It just wouldn’t be right otherwise.”
“Don’t be angry, Mercy. I was only joking. I’m excited for Hannah and Jakob. They’ll be wunderlich parents, don’t you think?”
“Of course,” I say, releasing my arms back to my sides. “I’m excited for them, but at the same time I’m sad. I like working with Hannah, and now she’ll be leaving, just like Rebekah did. I realized that I’ve been working there for so long—too long. I almost can’t stand it any more.”
Samuel winks at me. “Luckily, you won’t have to. Crops have been selling well this summer, and John and I, and even Vadder, have talked about opening the store soon. So you won’t have to work at the bakery much longer—you’ll have one of your own. The Englischers will love it, and since it’ll be part of the store, Mrs. Stoltzfus won’t be able to say you’re stealing her business.”
I grin at him. This news truly is the best I’ve heard all day.
Q & A with Kristina Ludwig
I became interested in the Amish while growing up in Pennsylvania. When I took my SATs, an Amish girl took the test right across the room from me. I was struck by the fact that she was taking this test and probably planning for college despite only having a formal eighth grade education! This inspired me years later to create the character Rebekah, who attends college to study veterinary medicine.
How long have you been writing? How did you start?
I've enjoyed a lifelong love of creative writing, and wrote my first story about a zoo in kindergarten. I started writing professionally last year, when I retired from my career as a pharmacist and focused 100 % on my passion.
What do you do to improve your writing skills?
I attend writing conferences and am an avid reader of blogs, writing books, magazines like Writers' Digest, and fiction. Before I took the plunge into writing professionally, I took several advanced online novel-writing courses through the Institute of Children's Literature to hone my skills, and one of my teachers is still my editor today.