Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Amish Cart

 I purchased this old two-wheeled cart at an Amish farm auction. It was old when I bought it in 1992 and that was over twenty years ago now. Believe it or not, it went for $10. I had to take it to another Amishman to have a new tongue put on, which cost me another $15. I have used this little two-wheeled "hitch cart" hundreds, if not thousands of times and it is as good as the day I bought it. (never had a flat tire yet!)

This steel-wheeled cart made it onto the cover of my 1st book, Under the Heavens. I like how simple and authentic it is. It's too bad I don't know how old it really is. It's fun to imagine all the many adventures my cart had on the Amish farm it came from. More than likely, it pulled many a loaded hay-wagon, and barge-box full of grain. It is also quite possible it pulled out numerous vehicles stuck in mud or snow. Carts like this one have been used to pull a dead sow or cow out of the lot, not to mention logs and shrubs.





The wheels make an squeaking sound as they turn, but Karma and Coke don't seem to notice.

Karma spent the first 7 years of her life on an Amish farm and Coke was 4 when I bought her. I know they had a lot of adventures before they came to live with me.

I like to tease them about how easy they have it on my place. I do a lot of the same types of work on my acreage but only a fraction of what work is being done on an Amish farm.

Of course, they had about six other big horses helping when they were on the Amish farm.

Karma is Coke's aunt. Coke's mom was a full sister to Karm. That may be why they work so well together, and look so much alike.




Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Mennonite Carpenters

My old "horse barn" needed some help soon, or the roof was gonna fall in. I had been telling my brother-in-law that I wanted his crew to come do the work as soon as I could scrounge up the money.

My wife's granddad put up this corn-crib some 80 years ago and my dad-in-law plastered three sides after they stopped using it to store grain. That made it into a wind-tight and useful horse barn. This wooden side (pictured below) was starting to get really weathered. It didn't show from the road, so looks weren't the issue. However, I love this old building and wanted to save it.


You can see in the picture above, that the rafters were getting soft in places. These Mennonite-raised carpenters knew what they were doing and got us all fixed up. I think this barn will outlast me now!

You can see Karm and Coke were displaced for a few weeks, till the carpenters were done. There is a strand of electric fence keeping them out. They seemed to enjoy all the company they had while the crew was working (normally things are pretty quiet.)  I spent about a week with a magnet picking up nails before I let them back in this area. Sure hope I got them all!
My brother-in-law is way up top fixing the peak.
Dan put in a clear piece of siding, for a window to let in light.

Randy and Henry put in the final touches on my doors.

The whole place looks a lot better now, huh? (Rear view: above. From the road: below)


A special thank you to Randy, Dan and Henry.
You guys did a great job... and it was really fun having you around the home place!
(...by the way, this farm was Randy's home place when he was growing up.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My Favorite Picture


 I was sitting in the parking lot of an Amish bakery shop eating an amazing doughnut while my wife picked up a few more items. This little Amish boy climbed out of the buggy parked beside our car and stood next to his family horse. He called to his brother who had walked over to the wash-line yonder.


Later when I looked at my phone to see the picture... the young guy seemed to disappear right before my eyes. At first I was really disappointed, because I was sure there was a boy in the picture, then all at once he appeared again. That is when I realized I had two pictures, one with a boy, one without.
If you are ever in the Kalona area, make sure to stop at the Golden Delight Bakery. I'm convinced they make the best doughnuts in the whole wide world! The bakery is located about a mile north of Kalona on a gravel road. Watch for the sign along highway 1 north of town.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Quilting Day

 My wife grew up in a quilting community. When a good friend told us about a quilting frame his great-grandfather had made by hand, we couldn't wait to see it. Johannes Jonasson, a Swedish carpenter, migrated to Burlington, Iowa from Sweden in 1882. He crafted this quilting frame around the turn of the last century. My good friend Jim, and his sister Susan, decided to gift this family heirloom to us, because they wanted it to be in a home where it would be used to make quilts.

As you can see, this frame came to us in pieces and I had to assemble it. Everything is handmade, even the wooden pegs that hold the parts together, and the sprockets that are used to keep a quilt tight. We took a quilt that my wife's great-aunt Merle owned, and placed it in the quilt rack to try it out.

While I was putting this together, my wife reminisced about "quiltings" she has been a part of over the years. She remembered that when her mother "put in" a quilt, she would invite ladies from her Mennonite church to come help. They made a social event out of it. They used a slightly different style of frame, that would hold the entire quilt wide open in a large square. The first day 10 to 15 women would sit around it on all sides quilting. When the edges were all finished, fewer quilters would have a place at the quilt. On a second day, maybe only 6 ladies would be invited to come help. When the quilt was nearly all finished it would look like this picture below, and a woman may finish quilting it herself. Or, she may have a daughter or two help.

I remember stopping in to pick up my wife and seeing the ladies all working hard. I also remember them laughing, telling fun stories, and having plenty of good food around, also.

My wife also has had the privilege of being invited to several Amish quiltings. She told me that it seemed somewhat more business-like at those gatherings. She remembered that they were making quilts for "a cause" but she doesn't remember what. Maybe it was the Mennonite Benefit Sale, where everything is auctioned off and the proceeds go to Pleasantview, the Mennonite retirement home in Kalona. She said that they wanted women who could quilt at the same "quick" pace to sit on the end, so they didn't have to wait for a slower worker to finish before rolling the quilt. She remembered that our Amish friend, Alma, had to help her finish her section to keep the others from waiting.

A very special "thank you" to the Olson family for entrusting this beautiful artifact to us.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Store

If you're ever in Iowa City, look for Prairie Lights book store, you will not be disappointed. Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop the first creative writing degree program in the United States. Authors come from all over the world to "hone in" their writing skills. Many have left their mark, and their book, here at Prairie Lights.
Knowing that, you will understand my excitement when Prairie Lights placed my novel on their shelf. Now, Under the Heavens and Catbird Singing are both available at this wonderful book store.
Check out this dog under the table.

If you do stop by, tell them Thomas Nye (the local mailman who did not go to the Writer's Workshop) sent you. By the way, they also have an amazing in-house coffee shop, tempting you to buy a good book and start reading right there!


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Old Amish Games

Dutch Blitz
This card game is in every Amish and Mennonite home. 


I passed by an Amish school a few days ago and saw a big crowd of children out in a nearby field. You can see in the picture above, the school is on one side of the road and the children are playing in a field on the other side. They were playing a game of Red Rover, at least that is what we called it when I was a little boy. The children up on the hill were all holding hands in a line. They would call a name of one of those below and that child would run up the hill and try to break through the chain. If they break through, they get to stay up on the hill and those whose hands didn't hold the chain, had to go to the bottom.

This is another Amish school only a couple miles from the top picture. You can see a few "scholars" (that is what Amish call school children) out behind the school. I don't take pictures close up because I know they don't like it. When I passed by both groups, the children looked at me and waived. I didn't want them to see me snapping pictures, some of them know who I am and recognize my pickup truck. A group of young girls were standing right behind this school house. They were in a clump visiting (couldn't help wondering what they were talking about) , and a few boys were chasing each other in circles. I believe they were playing an old game named, "Fox and Geese"  In this game a pattern is stomped out in the snow, like a plus sign with a circle around it. The Fox (the one who is "it") has to try to tag the Geese. They can only move about on the tromped out paths in the snow making it more complicated and fun than "tag."
When I married my Mennonite wife 34 years ago, I found out that Dutch Blitz would be a permanent part of my new life. Amish (as far as I know) won't use "Face Cards" that the English use, but they love this game! Each of 4 players pick one stack of cards, (Plow, Bucket, Pump, or Buggy) I always choose the "Buggy" stack. Then, you lay out 3 single cards in front of you, face up, and a pile of ten with only the top card's face showing. That is your Blitz pile. The rest of your stack is held in your hand. At the signal "Go!" everyone is free to lay any #1 card that is face up in front of them, and then proceed to going through your stack by 3's searching for a #1 card to lay out or a #2 of a matching color to lay on a #1 already laid out, and so forth until you use up your Blitz pile. The first person to empty their Blitz pile and yell "Blitz!" wins.

My wife is a master at this game and I've only beat her at it a handful of times. A couple of my daughters take right after her, with quick hands and a sharp eye. We have played this game with many of our Amish friends and my wife has some real competition when we do! Our Amish friends have large families so we sometimes play in teams of two. That way eight people can play at once. It is a fast game and everyone is laughing before it is all over.
This game (Dutch Blitz) appears in my first novel,
This is a game board for "marbles" my wife's grandpa made, it is
played like the "store bought game" Aggravation.
Of course, the best game of all, for Amish children, is riding ponies out in the pasture!
A couple of makeshift jumps and let the games begin!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Working with horses on an Amish farm



Under the Heavens, is all about that!

This was one of our cover options for Under the Heavens 

Have you ever looked through the pages of a Draft Horse Journal? If not, you are really missing something wonderful. The Draft Horse Journal is a beautiful magazine that is published quarterly. It is full of well written stories, articles and best of all pictures! Yes, even the advertisements are full color pictures of the most amazing draft horses you've ever seen.

Here are the links to their Facebook page and main website
DHJ Facebook page                    Draft Horse Journal

They also review books!

I took a snapshot out of my copy of The Draft Horse Journal so you could read this review. (with permission from the nice folks at The Draft Horse Journal)

Amazon Link for Under the Heavens

If you are interested in reading about life on an Amish farm, or working with draft horses... this book was written just for you!