Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Old Tire Swing

A rope and an old tire can entertain children for hours
         My little granddaughters came over for a photo shoot the other evening. We took pictures of them sitting on my team of draft horses for the cover of my upcoming Amish novella. These two girls love my horses and it's obviously mutual, Karm and Coke love it when they visit. They know that the little girls feed them hay, carrots, and apples, as well as giving them many a gentle pat on the nose.

         It wasn't a big stretch to get these little girls to be willing to sit on my horses, they beg to sit on them every time they come to my house. Karm and Coke know the drill!

         After the photo shoot, my wife and daughters went into the house to get supper on the table, and I followed the little girls as they romped around the yard. It didn't take long before they had gravitated toward the tire swing. They climbed up there by themselves and I just took a few pics with my cell phone.

         I think they are absolutely adorable, but grandpa's are very bias. They are really cute though, aren't they?
They did really good about taking turns, as long as I told them to switch places often. As you can see below, the little one was sad when it was her older sister's turn. Big sister didn't mind as much when it was sissy's turn because she is old enough to push, which is also fun.
Patience is a virtue, but we all struggle with it at times.

Make sure and click "Follow" on the side menu... you will want to see the cover on this new book.
I will post it on here and on Amish Horses Facebook Page

There is nothing cuter than little girls sitting on a team of draft horses!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Walking the Pony

        Yes, that is a pony. I saw these little Amish girls walking this little pony-foal like a puppy dog.

        Both mornings, of the Horse Progress Days, I noticed there were a lot of Amish children driving pony carts toward the event. I wasn't too surprised because it is a rather common thing in Amish communities ... but it did seem like more pony carts than I would expect to see.

 When the event began I soon realized why all the pony carts. Both mornings started with local Amish children driving their ponies out into a field while us adults stood in a circle and watched. In the photo below, you can see them lining up with their little carts waiting for their turn. Some of the drivers were really young, (under five) but they usually had an older sibling along to help, (the older sibling may have been seven.)
         When the arena (us adults were the fence) had about 30 pony carts, the children drivers lined up in a big semi-circle. The announcer warned over his microphone, "Children, make sure you have a good hold on your ponies, we are going to have a little surprise!"
         An Amish boy came riding in on a mama pony with a pony-foal at her heals. The foal had a miniature rider on board, a doll dressed like a little Amish boy.  (It may have been the pony-foal in the top photo.) That little foal ran in circles around its mama with its miniature rider and all of us laughed until our bellies ached. An adult Amishman ran in circles after the pony-foal to try and catch it and we laughed even harder!
 The amazing part was that all of the young drivers kept their tiny steeds under control. They seemed to be expert handlers and no doubt they have a lot of experience.
        During this two-day event, hundreds of Amish families passed by my "book selling table" most of the children noticed my large toy horse. Many of those children wanted to look at it closer and some wanted to pet its mane and tail. One very pleasant family came by, and the daddy held a little boy about 16 months old. He pointed and said something in Dutch, Mama interpreted for me, "He said,'There's another horse!'" They were such friendly people I took the liberty to say, "I'm surprised at how much Amish children love horses. I thought everyday use would cause them to loose interest." The daddy told me, "Every time we hitch up a horse to go somewhere, he (the toddler) has to pet the horse before we go!"
        At first I worried that my toy horse may cause troubles for parents, if children began to throw a fit because they wanted the toy. Guess what ... that never happened. The Amish children stood right next to my table looking at the toy horse and the books. They all had their hands down at their sides unless they asked for permission to touch the horse. Many tiny little Amish girls stood looking at the toy with big eyes, until I asked, "Do you want to pet the horse?" They wouldn't speak, but nodded their heads politely. I set the horse closer so they could reach it.

        Many young Amish boys stopped by and looked at the covers of my books for a long time. I asked them if they wanted a bookmark but they usually didn't take one, until someone taught me how to ask in Pennsylvania Dutch, then almost every one smiled, took a bookmark and said, "Thank you" in English.

        It seemed fitting, that as I was leaving the event I saw these little girls walking their pony.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Hay-field Volleyball

        Some people really know how to live and enjoy life's simple pleasures! I drove by an Amish farm the other day and there was a hay-field volleyball game going on. I'm pretty sure it was actually an Amish wedding being held on this farm, which is an all day event. Amish weddings start out early with a full "church-type" service, followed by a meal, continuing in the evening with another meal and a special Singing. Volleyball nets are set up nearby so young people have something fun to do between the wedding and later events.

        Buggy horses are usually tied on a long rope stretched tightly between two tractors. Hundreds of horses and buggies are at an event like this and there needs to be a good parking plan. I took these pictures in the late afternoon, by that time of day many of the older folks have left. Sorry I couldn't give you a better picture of how many buggies would have been there at an earlier time of day.

        I like this photo above. A young man is jumping up to spike the ball and a guy on the other side is prepared to return it, if it doesn't get blocked by those near the net. Volleyball is a very common recreational activity for Amish teens. I had a chance to play volleyball with my Amish friends (when I was a teen.) I found that they were actually pretty good at it, yet kept the game fun for everyone. You have to be smart enough to keep the girls involved, that's an Amish guy's chance to mingle with females.
The white objects behind these horses are plastic-wrapped hay bales.

        Under the Heavens and Catbird Singing both have volleyball games described within their pages. If you really want to know what it is like to spend time on an Amish farm, you need to read these books. I took my own experiences and made every effort to share the details that make you feel like you are right there. I like to tell people, "I made the story much more interesting than my own life, or nobody would want to read it." LOL  However, most of the stories are from my own experiences, or those my friends have shared with me. Book III is on the way, but I haven't released the title yet. Check out my Amazon, Thomas Nye author page.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Carjacked by an Amishman

        Imagine, you're a young mother, on your way home from work. As you drive down the quiet streets of a small town in Iowa, you are looking forward to a peaceful evening with your four children. There seems to be some kind of commotion on the street ahead. Cars are pulling over as an Amish buggy swerves out of control. You pull your mini-van over to the side of the road until things calm down.

        An Amishman pulls open your passenger door and jumps in. "Quick, go after that buggy!"

        My wife works in Iowa City. One of her co-workers lives in Kalona, a small town in Iowa with a large Amish population living nearby.

        Her co-worker told her this story of how she was carjacked by an Amishman. After he jumped into her car, he ordered her, "Go after that buggy!" She started after it without knowing what was happening. He encouraged her, "Go, Go, Go ... that's my horse, that's my buggy and nobody is in it!"

        My wife's co-worker asked, "What are we going to do?"
        "Pull your van around in front of my horse and he will stop!" She said that she argued with him. "Maybe your horse will crash into my van and not stop." There wasn't enough time to debate the subject. He insisted, "Pull over right now!" She complied with his demands and pulled in front of his runaway buggy-horse, and in fact, the horse did come to a stop, just as he had expected. He jumped out and quickly grabbed his horse. She headed on home to her family and the quite evening she had planned.

(I may have a few of the details wrong in this story... but it was pretty close.)

        If you have read my novels, you know that my writing is about the clashing of two worlds. Have you ever eaten a candy bar and intermittently sipped from a glass of sour lemonade? Well, I enjoy that contrast. Sour lemonade makes chocolate taste sweeter.

        I have had many experiences where two worlds clash; modern life contrasting the old-fashioned Amish world. I work in a college town (Iowa City, Iowa) I drive through those busy streets filled with scantily dressed students, every hand holds a cell-phone, earbuds pouring private music selections into each ear. One moment I'm at a busy intersection. (always one person with road-rage nearby) Fifteen minutes later, I'm driving down a quiet country road. Two little Amish boys wave at me as they pull a wagon with a container of milk they are delivering to a neighbor family. Teenage girls hoe between rows of garden produce singing hymns together. Sometimes I would rather just enjoy the chocolate and skip the lemonade. However, after a sip of lemonade, chocolate sure does taste sweet!

Life is interesting... you never know when you will get carjacked by an Amishman!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Amish Families

There was something unexpected, that happened to me at the recent Horse Progress Days

        I almost felt as if the Lord had set me down in this booth and said, "Sit here and observe." For two days I didn't have any choice but to sit in that red lawn-chair (right behind the horse) and watch Amish folks interact with each other. 
        I knew it would be enjoyable for me, as an Amish novelist and a draft horse enthusiast, to visit Horse Progress Days, but I had no idea that I was about to observe something powerful. There were Amish families at booths on all sides of mine, and for two days I watched how they interacted with each other. I came out of my booth with a new respect for my Amish friends.

        Many criticize the Amish for their strict rules. Some say they are legalistic and that many of their man-made laws are unnecessary and don't make sense. I challenge you to go sit where I sat for two days, and then come back and tell me that they don't have something wonderful going on.

This is the only photo I took from my two-day seat.
         A Pennsylvania Amish family had a booth displaying their horse-drawn farm equipment, right across from my table. It seemed to be an extended family that have a business together. There were two young couples with their toddlers, and both women had a baby in arms. For two days I watched them peacefully care for their children in a confined area, under sweltering, southern-Indiana heat and humidity. The women had smiles on their faces the entire time. They visited cheerfully with every Amish woman that passed by and often had a group of women around them all laughing and talking. Meanwhile, they dawdled their infants on their laps and gently herded their toddlers, a set of adorable little girls in their Amish dresses. The little girls were busy the whole time playing at the feet of their parents. They spent one block of time arranging and re-arranging everything their mother had stored in a picnic cooler. They looked like they were used to watching their mama work and were imitating her. The husbands were often busy showing potential customers their products, yet, often took time to help their wives quiet a crying baby. I watched one of the dads gently feed a dropper-full of medicine to his baby. (I'm guessing something to sooth the teething process.) 

        Both days ended with a show. All of us crowded around a ring where six and eight-horse hitches pranced. A group of Amish teens performed a synchronized, horseback "dance" for lack of a better term. They showed some impressive horse handling, while weaving their mounts in what resembled a square dance. The non-Amish man with a microphone kept suggesting that we applaud. A few did clap, but it is not the Amish way. That didn't mean they weren't enjoying the show, they stood perfectly still, all with smiles on their faces.

         After the main event, a procession of local Amish families left in their buggies, while visiting Amish folks, that were waiting for tour buses to come pick them up, watched. I stood with them and watched too. I really liked how mothers and daughters often wore dresses made from the same piece of cloth. Husbands and brothers sometimes had a shirt that matched.

        Somehow it seemed so peaceful to see young families crowd into their buggies. Mamas with baby in arms, a little boy standing between daddy's knees, holding onto the driving lines. Older sisters with younger siblings on their laps. Families that lived nearby waked home together.

        It hit me, that these families stay together. These children probably wont be caught in a custody battle and torn between their fighting parents, who use them as leverage to outdo each other.

 I have lived near an Amish community for about 35 years. I have eaten many meals in my Amish friend's homes and visited Amish Church, Singings, volley-ball games. I have had the opportunity on numerous occasions to help make hay with Amish families. Yet, this two days of observing hit me in a new way. I became convinced that the choice to stay within the guidelines of strict Amish rules has payed off for these families more than they might even be aware of themselves. I am so thankful that there are horse-drawn communities around us. The rest of us have a lot to learn from them.

Notice the little girls in the back with a balloon

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sweet Music to Sleep By

 If you've been following my blog, you know that I made several trips to Amish communities in Indiana this summer. Twice I went to Shipshewanna (northern Indiana) and most recently to Odon (southern Indiana) to do book signings. My goal: to make sure those Amish communities know about the Amish Horses Book Series. Mission accomplished.
My book series is about a non-Amish teenage guy that spends time with his Amish relatives. So, as you may well imagine, I'm very interested in knowing more about life as an Amish teen.

My original ideas come from my own experience, moving to the Kalona, Iowa area as a teenager, and spending a summer hanging out with a certain group of Amish young folks (as they like to call themselves)

On my most recent trip to Odon, Indiana for the Horse Progress Days, I spent two nights camping in this parking lot. You can see campers in the background behind the buggies. The buggies are parked outside of a Recreation Center. I spent about an hour on both evenings inside of the Rec. center re-charging my phone. The drivers of the buggies were Amish young people, who were inside playing basketball and volleyball. I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out listening to them laugh and play. When they passed by my perch, near an outlet charging my phone, they all spoke friendly words to me. When I retired to my pickup-topper to sleep for the night, I dozed off to the sound of horses clip-clopping on a road nearby. I woke to the sound of Amish young people talking as they rode horseback directing traffic in the parking lot. It was 6 am and a group of Amish young people (male and female) sat on their horses in the fog, showing incoming vans and cars where to park.

After two peaceful days among the Amish, it was time to head home. I didn't think I could make it all the way back to Iowa without falling asleep at the wheel and it happened to be the 4th of July. I started out my trip and passed by several large crowds of English people setting off fireworks, with loud music and partying. I decided to head for Arthur, Illinois, where there is a large Amish community I hadn't visited, yet. I prayed for a peaceful campground where I might wake up to the sound of horses trotting past in the morning. Prayers answered.
My cell-phone doesn't take clear pics when it's dark, but I wanted to show you some of the Amish teens at the park
 Once in Arthur, I inquired from local businesses about where there may be a campground. They directed me to the city park. I pulled in and noticed a softball game going on, near where a few other campers were parked. I walked around looking for a place to charge my cell-phone and realized I was in the midst of a huge crowd of Amish young folks. One of the young guys suggested I charge my phone in the 4-H building you see on the right. I watched some of their softball game as my phone charged and then headed to my pickup to get some sleep.

view from my pickup bed. it's too dark to see the buggies or small groups of Amish teens here and there

same view in the morning, notice, not one piece of trash
 I didn't realize that just beyond my pickup were two long rows of horses (and buggies.)

My pickup topper has two small screen windows for ventilation. I drifted off to sleep to the sound of Amish teens laughing and visiting quietly. Every now and then, I would wake to the sound of a horse whinnying to their teenage owner, "Don't forget me... I'm still here!" One by one, horses trotted off into the dark night. You can see my camper below. I use a bob-sled for my book-selling table. My horse collars and hay-bales for decor. I not only had the sound of hoof-beats as music, but the smell of hay and harness leather for effect.
 In the morning I surveyed the spot where all the horses were tied. There was not one piece of litter, except a for a few piles of road apples (manure.) You can see my pick-up truck in the background, through the fence.
 The sign says "No hitching to fences" I believe the horses were tied to the steel bar and not the fence. In either case, these young folks caused no harm. The only "wild" actions I witnessed, were two boys riding around on the top of their buggy.

I truly had a peaceful night's rest, with the sweet music of buggy-horses clip-clopping off into the darkness. In the morning, I drove around the Arthur, Illinois Amish community and took a few beautiful pics before heading back to Iowa.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The 10 Most Beautiful Horses (I've ever seen)

Everyone has an ideal horse in their heart, mine happens to be a coal-black Percheron. On the weekend of July 4th, I attended Horse Progress Days in southern Indiana. This eight-horse hitch came prancing out and my heart about stopped. As you can see from the photo... that little Amish boy on the other side of the road had the same reaction I did!
Before they came prancing out I saw them being groomed and harnessed, so I knew already that I loved them.
I was taking a few pictures, when these girls came out and climbed aboard and started braiding their manes and tails. The girl's mother is just out of view. I asked her, "Are you okay with me taking some pictures of this?" She said, "Sure go ahead."

I was happy because I thought this was a perfect moment.
As you can see, these girls know how to braid manes and tails, Unfortunately I was making sure to get a photo of the girls on horseback and missed the one working on the tail... but you can see her hand. In the photos below you can see their finished work. The girl at the head and the girls at the tail also rode along in the wagon into the arena. I said to an Amish guy beside me, "I'm surprised that he has his daughters beside him and not a big strong guy, in case of trouble." He smiled and replied, "I saw those girls working with their horses earlier, they know what they are doing!" These girls look really petite, but I also noticed that they had no fear.

After the horses left the arena, I hurried over near the barn where I saw the girls braiding their manes and tails. I knew I would get to see them up close and hopefully get a good pic to show ya. There is nothing quite like standing on the road as an eight-horse hitch of gorgeous Percheron horses fly by! I could feel each hoof-beat and hear them breathing. Shivers went up my spine!
When they left the arena and headed down the road, a big guy did get on the front seat and the girl climbed into the back as you see below. If something scares eight horses, you need at least two strong people pulling on those eight lines.
You may have wondered why I said, "The 10 most beautiful horses I've ever seen." The eight horses in the hitch were about as pretty as any horses I've ever seen. But when I got home, my own two horses looked almost a beautiful! Maybe just because I'm so happy that they are mine! Karm always greets me with a whinny and warms my heart.