Thursday, October 30, 2014

Amish School

 I took a drive through our local Amish countryside the other day and passed by two one-room school houses, both having recess.  This scene is almost identical to what my grandparents would have experienced one-hundred years ago, yet it is alive today.  That is what I love about the Amish, they take us back to our own past. This is also why I choose to write novels about the Amish; my stories end up with an old-fashioned feel, and yet, are contemporary at the same time!

 It is hard to see but there is a Native American style TP right behind that buggy.  I'm not sure, but my guess is they are studying Native Americans and this is a teaching tool.  Looks like they have fun, eh?
 This group of Amish children are playing a game of softball.  Doesn't their world look so peaceful, clean and wholesome?  Somehow, it makes me sad when I see this and think of what our modern children are missing, growing up too fast, weighed down by images modern media exposes them to. Just standing in line behind Amish families, checking out at a grocery store, I've felt ashamed of magazine covers near the register.
 As you can see pictured above, several students and the teacher drove buggies to school, being to far from home to walk.  I snapped a closeup shot of a pony, wearing harness, grazing the ditch while waiting for his young owners to finish school.

If you enjoy the sentiments I shared in this blog, you might want to read the Amish Horses Book Series.  Here is an Amazon link: Under the Heavens, Amish Horses Series

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cowboys and Amishmen

Cowboys and Amishmen have something in common, they both grow up working with horses everyday.  By the way, the same thing is true of Cowgirls and Amish women.


Here is a picture of me on the black horse (I was about 14 yrs old) That's my step-dad Dwain Chapman on the sorrel horse.  This picture was taken on Uncle Truman's ranch in Idaho, Truman was Dwain's oldest brother, and a real cowboy.

I watched this Amishman working with these horses and he was good with them.

When we learn to speak, our language becomes so much a part of us that we don't have to think about the words. When you learn a foreign language, you have to think in your native tongue and then translate into the second language. Even then, you will always have an accent.  You may wonder where I am going with all of this.  I'm comparing people who grow up working with horses daily, with those of us that come into it later in life.  We usually don't speak "horse" as a first language but we can get pretty good at it, over time.
Amish Girl with a Big Team

Just as Amish speak Dutch as a first language, many also speak "horse" fluently, we call people like that, "horse whisperers."  I have known a few in my lifetime.  The rest of us speak "horse" with a "human" accent.  
There are exceptions to this rule.  Some people just have a "way with animals" others of us love our horses so much we find a way to communicate.  None-the-less, I am usually impressed with the way Cowboys and Amishmen handle horses.  I'm gonna be honest with you, I'm not a Cowboy or an Amishman; but horses are as much a part of me as anyone else.
My Son in the black hat and his buddy Nolan
This is an old picture too
Me
This is an old picture

Amish Girls Riding 


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

150 Year Old Apple Tree






Apple season is one of my favorite times!  A few days ago, our good "family friends" stopped by with a jug of their home-pressed apple cider. The Miller's have a family gathering each fall, working hard and having fun at the same time, making cider.  I stopped in once while they were pressing the apples and was amazed at the process... and the results!


Our Amish neighbors a couple of miles up the road sell apples, garden produce, eggs and a whole bunch of other things.  My wife and I stopped in a while back to buy some garden produce.  We spent about a half an hour there because the elderly matron of the farm was, in my wife's words, an excellent sales person. My wife's mother bought produce from this lady for years and now my wife stops in and gets even more than she went to buy.  It's all worth every penny!

I stood outside while the ladies were haggling prices and watched a group of little Amish children playing near the barn.  I wanted to take pictures, but thought maybe I shouldn't.


Before we left, I asked the kind, older lady, "Do you still have that old apple tree that leans on boards to keep it off the ground?"  She was obviously pleased that I asked about her special tree and encouraged me to walk around her produce shop and go see it.  I didn't know she was following me so, I snapped this picture.
"The last time I visited this farm, this tree was propped up on boards," I said.  She grinned and didn't say anything right away.  I've found that if you stand quietly for a few moments, a person is often rewarded for having patience.  She began to tell me more about her tree.  "We think this tree is about 150 years old." And then she proceeded to tell me that her husband put props under the tree in the 1970's and then her son re-propped it in the 1990's and just a few years ago they abandoned the props and let the old tree lay on its side.  She smiled and looked at her tree affectionately, saying, "We still get apples from this tree every year."  You can see apples in its boughs in this picture.

I couldn't help but feel that I was witnessing something extraordinary!  There has to be some type of moral lesson or fable connected with this tree. (Don't be surprised if it makes an appearance in one of the Amish Horses Series books)  In the meantime, you all need to see this picture, it is too wonderful to keep to myself. 

My picture isn't very clear but because the Amish woman was standing there I didn't want to take any more shots.



I included this picture because it was taken in front of the farm with the 150 year old apple tree.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dogs Love Bluegrass

Dogs who live in Bluegrass homes are happier than those who live in Rock-n-Roll houses.

Our Dachshund, Lucille
(she prefers to go by the name Lucy)

Okay, this is just a theory but I'm sticking with it!  I'm also gonna guess that cats prefer Classical music, though some may love Country. There have actually been studies done that prove plants grow better in an environment of Classical music -vs- Rock-n-Roll.  Don't get me wrong, I myself listen to all kinds of music, but I was listening to some Bluegrass this morning, while writing, and my little Dachshund seemed especially happy. That's when my theory about dogs and Bluegrass was born.

One time, a few years back, I took my team of draft horses back to the Amish farm where they were born.  The Amishman that sold me the horses had asked if he could use them to do his spring plowing.  I used my brother-in-law's horse trailer and took Stonewall and Jackson to the Amish farm before heading to work at the Post Office.  I arrived at daybreak and didn't see anyone around.  A generator was running so I knew that milking was underway.  I headed into the milk-house and heard singing, but went unnoticed.  Several teenage girls were milking cows and singing hymns in German.  I stood and listened, afraid to be noticed, knowing that the beautiful moment would end as soon as they saw me.  It did.  I'm quite sure that hymn-listening cows produce much more milk than cows who are forced to listen to staticky radio. Especially a radio talk-show with some guy yelling about his views on politics.  What do you think?

I will admit that I've known some real rock-n-roll dogs, but most seem to be born for bluegrass.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

King and Kong


  This couple (pictured on left) live between my place and my hay-supply.  I noticed a team of Belgians while driving past and stopped in to chat.  He told me that he bought this pair, King and Kong, but had never hitched a team before.  I gave him my cell-phone number and told him to call me if he wanted my help when he got ready to hitch them.  I got that call a few days back and this is a blog about our adventure.
Barney is a horseman, but he is usually riding cutting horses, not driving a team of Belgians.



We spent a considerable amount of time adjusting the harness Barney had bought at an auction.  It's a nice harness but we had to adjust almost every snap and buckle.  King and Kong were obviously experienced because they waited patiently for us to figure it all out.  I told my friend, Barney, "These horses know what it means to get hitched up, but they're probably doubting that we know what we're doing."

When we finally decided the harness was fitting pretty good, we led them over to my stone-boat, a wooden sled that has enough drag they wouldn't run far, if they did take off.  We didn't know what to expect, except that his horses seemed really comfortable.  Everything went great and we concluded that the Amish guy that broke this team did a great job.

I drove them through this cattle pasture for a bit, enjoying myself thoroughly.  The herd of cows and calves watched us curiously. We came out into a clearing, beyond the timber and I handed the lines over to Barney.  He took over with a grin and I could tell that he's caught the draft-horse-bug!  I told him that he probably won't want to ride anymore, now that he sees how much fun it is to drive a team.

Yes, it does look like we may need to tweak our harness fit just a little more.
It was a really warm fall day, perfect for hitching up a team that hasn't had harness on in a while.  We stopped the horses in some shade and let them cool down a bit before heading back.  We wanted this outing to be fun for the horses, so they wouldn't dread getting hitched.
Barney has a lot of horse sense and I think he will make out just fine with King and Kong.  They are geldings about 7 years old, with great dispositions and apparently a fine handler got them started.
Barney, King, Kong and I enjoyed some great views! Of course, every view is better with a team of horses in it.

In this picture you can see my old, rickety, stone-boat. I made it about 20 years ago and hitched a lot of horses to it over those two decades.
It's a perfect tool for teaching horses and drivers, easy to get on and off. (that can be really important if there would happen to be trouble)
That's me, King and Kong
I was pretty relaxed after everything was over and it all turned out fine.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Kalona Fall Festival


Fall in the Kalona Iowa area
(notice the dragon fly in the clouds) 



Fields are turning golden, nights are cool, mornings brisk and apples are perfectly crisp.  The Kalona Fall Festival is set in this perfect time of year.  My daughter and I were having a conversation about all of our great Fall Festival memories, most of them include food.

Natalie, my daughter, told me that she can't wait to have some of that home-made apple-butter.  That got us started talking about Apple Fritters, those perfectly fried, cinnamon-sugary doughnut  hole type things.
Then we remembered the Hand Made Soft Pretzels! What could be better on a chilly fall evening than biting into a warm, salty pretzel dipped in melted cheese.  You wont find any of our local Amish at an event like this but as you can see from the picture of the Pretzel booth, there are plenty of Mennonites.

I haven't even started talking about all the wonderful music and entertainment, ranging from our local school bands and choirs to Bluegrass bands with a flare for humor.

All of us locals have a great time visiting but there is plenty of room and food for anyone that wants to join the fun!




Pictured above, faculty and staff from Iowa Mennonite school are having fun making Apple Fritters.  My son graduated from there last year, so it will be my first Fall Festival in a while that I'm not working in that booth.  I'm still buying and eating my share though!

Stop in the Mennonite Historical building and be amazed at all the artifacts and history in there.

Be sure to look inside of the little village buildings while your there.  An old train depot, a cute little Amish grandpa-house, store, log cabin, and country church (the place where my wife's grandparents used to go.) And plenty more, including a building and tents overflowing with arts and crafts for sale.  I will also be there selling and signing copies of my Amish novel, Under the Heavens.  Stop by and see me in the main office.
My Amish Horses Book Series takes place in a fictional town but if you stop by Kalona you'll see that I didn't have to dream up a lot, I had a perfect pattern right in front of me.




Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Amish Girls at a Horse Show

Amish girls at a Horse Show
(this was not in Iowa)

It turns out that you will occasionally find Amish at a Horse Show.  The reality is that there are a wide variety of Amish groups, each with their own set of standards.  And within each of those groups there are individual families that are more, or less strict.  I have also found that when an Amish family is on a vacation they may go to a Theme Park, or visit a Shopping Mall, or even spend a day at the beach.  When Amish go to Sarasota, Florida for the winter they will ride bikes, even if that is banned in their home community.

I think these girls found a pretty good way to stay modest while riding horses in a dress... spandex!

These girls are sisters.  I talked to the older sister, Annie, and found out that she has a Facebook group where she sells Horse-shoe Dream Catchers.
Here is the link to her Facebook Group "Horse Shoes For Sale."  Please join the group even if you don't buy one it still may help.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/475856485884295/


 At this show in June, Annie got 1st place in Western Walk and Trot. I think she said 3rd in the Egg Race, and 5th in a "Boot Race"  I'm not sure what a Boot Race is but I've seen Egg Races before.  You balance an raw egg on a spoon and ride your horses at a walk, then trot, canter and whoever is the last one with an egg still in tact on the spoon wins. It's a challenge and there are broken eggs everywhere.
 Boot Race
 Egg Race
(notice the egg Annie is holding)

These girls, like most Amish young people, are very comfortable around horses.  Not all Amish people love horses, some only tolerate them because they have to. I can see plain-as-day that these are real Horse-girls!