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!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Winter on the Farm

Wild horses thrive out west, even in the worst conditions. Yet, people worry about horses on a farm getting cold. Horses are as tough as deer or buffalo. They have it made on a farm where people are providing food and shelter.

Up until around 1920 almost everyone depended on the horse for transportation year around. The Amish help us "Englishers" get an idea of what our great-grandparents lives were like. It wasn't quite like... getting in a warm car, in a heated garage, and jumping out to run into the mall.  Someone has to harness up a horse and hitch it to the buggy before going anywhere. Those buggies don't have a heater in them either.

When you get home, no matter how late, someone has to un-harness, brush and feed the horse. Wintertime is get-by mode on a farm. Amish are hardworking people, who are rarely caught unprepared for cold weather. Barn full of hay, crib full of corn, pantry loaded with canned goods, woodpile heaped up, they are ready for whatever winter brings. When the weather is really bad, chores can take all day. 

You might have to use an Ax to chop open the water tank. Spend extra time bedding down livestock with a fresh layer of straw. Plow snow or shovel the walk. Imagine how nice it is, to finally get inside after fighting the cold for hours, and then sit close to a wood burning stove with the smell of homemade bread circling around you like a wreath. 

 In the picture below, you can see that we have a few Amish homes in Kalona. The city is accommodating for Amish, even providing a shelter for tying horses while shopping.

James (pictured below) is using a team of draft horses to plow snow out of a drive. He is 16 and not sitting on a couch, playing video games, or texting his buds. It was -4 when this picture was taken and this young man is getting a job done. Molly and Mary (his team of Belgians) are more-than-likely happy to have something interesting to do, rather than standing around looking over a fence.
Photo courtesy of Laurie Erwin Gabbert
Interested in reading about Draft Horses and Amish? Read my novel...
Under the Heavens

Friday, January 2, 2015

Horse Barn

My wife's grandparents moved to this farm in 1918, when they got married and left the Amish. They became Mennonites, which was not a very big jump back in 1918.

This building is actually a corn-crib. We are not sure when her grandpa built it but it seems by the type of structure, that it must have been in the 30's or 40's.

My wife's parents moved into a small house out back when they got married in 1948 and farmed as partners with their parents for a number of years.

My dad-in-law tells stories of the two couples working together, milking a dozen cows by hand. I can just imagine that scene. He said that he would sit on one side of the cow and his new wife would milk from the opposite side.

Like most farms in 1948 they had 12 cows and 12 sows.

When my wife and I moved here in 2000, I converted this corn-crib into a horse barn. My dad-in-law was also a plasterer for a living. He stuccoed the outside of the crib making it very tight and useful as a horse barn.

I store hay in one of the cribs and made a hallway out of the other. You can see my horses reaching their heads into the feed bunks in the hallway.

My sweet little granddaughters love our draft horses and beg to sit on their backs. Karm and Coke don't seem to mind at all. In fact, I believe they love all the attention my five grandchildren give them.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Christmas Pony

The Christmas Pony

              Viola skipped toward the barn. She held her hands up as though holding the reins of a pony while moving in a loping motion. Her brother Aaron called, “Viola, get off of your pony and do your chores.”
Viola dismounted her imaginary pony and tied it to the hitching-rack next to a real buggy horse. Snow fell quietly, covering her family’s Amish farm with a fresh, white blanket. Chores needed to be done on Christmas Eve morning just like any other day. Viola got to work mixing up powdered milk for calves that bawled loudly for breakfast. Two younger sisters came to help. Mary was eight, two years younger than Viola, and Katherine was one year younger than Mary. Katherine asked her oldest sister, “Viola, why don’t we have a real pony?”
“Because they cost a lot of money. Dad says that he has been watching for a cheep one at the horse sale, but he doesn't want to buy a mean one, just because it’s cheep.” Her answer seemed to satisfy her little sister. Her own heart still ached, wishing for real pony.
When the baby cows were finally all fed and quiet, Viola untied and climbed aboard her pretend pony and clucked. She skipped off between the barn and chicken house dashing through newly fallen snow. Her rubber boots sloshed with a rhythm similar to that of a pony. She rode her imaginary horse out to a field entrance, her little chore-dress flapping in time with her apron. The little Amish girl pulled open a large metal gate, letting a waiting herd of cows out to graze on cornstalks. Huge black-and-white Holsteins lumbered through falling snow, nibbling on brown corn-stubble that stuck up through drifts.
Viola tightened her black head-scarf which matched her heavy coat. She lifted her arms, feigning the motion of turning a pony and loped back to where her little sisters were. Mary and Katherine were gathering firewood from a massive stack that leaned against the buggy shed. Viola dismounted her pretend pony and tied it beside the real buggy horse again. She didn't notice a huge milk-truck had pulled into their lane and backed near the milk-house. Falling snow had muffled all sounds, including those of the milk-house generator and a large white truck.
Milkman Tom called through the falling snow, “Viola, come here.” The little Amish girl walked from the hitching-rack toward Tom. The milkman came to haul away milk every third day, year around. Viola always enjoyed talking to him while he drained the milk tank. He spoke with a smile, “I suppose you want a pony for Christmas?” Viola gave him a blank stare for a moment, and then explained, “We don’t have that kind of Christmas.” She looked at Tom and saw that he was puzzled. She tried to explain better, “We usually exchange a few small gifts at Christmas, not things like ponies.”
“Oh, I see. I've noticed that you have been riding an imaginary pony lately.” Viola blushed. Tom asked, “Don’t you children have a pony?”
“No, but my dad has been watching at every horse sale. He knows that I want one really bad. He said that he’s not willing to buy just any pony, because some of them are mean.” Tom smiled and Viola thought that she saw a tear in the corner of his eye. He finished his work and climbed into his big truck. Viola helped her little sisters, who were loading firewood onto a sled. Viola pulled and her little sisters pushed their load toward the house.  Milkman Tom waived to them as he drove out of their lane. All three little Amish girls waived and began to unload their sled. They pushed firewood through a chute that dumped into their basement. The girls went inside and took off their chore coats and boots, heading downstairs into the warm basement to stack firewood. This was all part of what they did for chores twice everyday.

The scent of cinnamon rolls filled their kitchen as the family gathered for breakfast. Their home was warmed by firewood the girls had brought inside and that their older brother Aaron had loaded in the wood-burning furnace. They were all in a cheerful mood because it was Christmas Eve day. Tomorrow, between morning and evening chores, they would spend a relaxing afternoon together as a family. During breakfast, Mother made a statement, “Girls, I believe we will make cookies today.” Viola and her sisters smiled at each other. Aaron and Dad made plans to clean out the horse stalls. The little boys were too young to help, but when breakfast was over they pretended to clean out horse stalls in one corner of the living room.
Viola, Mary and Katherine helped their mother mix up cookie dough. They enjoyed rolling out large slabs of dough on the table, and using a round cookie-cutter to make dozens of Christmas cookies. Viola gathered some of the left over pieces of dough and made a horse shaped cookie. Her mother smiled and said, “Let’s put your little horse on the cookie sheet, too. Tomorrow, it will be your Christmas pony.”

* * *

It was easy for little girls to jump out of bed on Christmas morning, even though their bedroom was cold. The girls ran downstairs to finish dressing near the warm stove. The whole family put on heavy coats, gloves and boots. They stepped out into the crisp morning air to hurry through chores. Viola headed to the hitching-rack to untie her imaginary pony but stopped in her tracks. There stood a real live pony. The whole family exclaimed their surprise, jabbering with each other about where the mystery pony may have come from. Viola didn't speak. She stood perfectly still, as though one wrong move might make the vision disappear. “Daddy, did you get us a pony?” Viola finally got the courage to ask.
“No, I don’t know anything more about this pony than the rest of you.” The small, light-brown pony had big, dark eyes. Viola and the pony stood looking at each other until Aaron said, “Look, there is a note tied to the pony’s halter.” He read the note, slowly, because it was still dark out.

        Merry Christmas,

My name is Ginger. Last Christmas I was a gift to a little girl who was very sick. She loved me a lot and I gave her rides, even though she was not feeling well. The little girl kept getting more weak all the time. She always wanted to touch my soft muzzle, even when she couldn't ride me anymore. My little girl is no longer suffering. I have been very lonely, standing in my pasture with no one to play with. Please take me for rides and pet my muzzle.

Viola reached out her hand and touched Ginger’s soft nose. The pony’s dark eyes glistened. Viola said, “If the little girl isn't sick anymore, why doesn't she play with her pony?”
Mother answered softly, “I believe the little girl is in heaven now.”

This story is written as fiction. Any comparison to actual names, places, or events is purely coincidental.