Sunday, January 8, 2017

Amish Women

Amish Women are an impressive lot.

On my Monday morning drive into work, I pass by a number of Amish farms. Quite often, I see a frozen clothesline hanging full by 7:00 am. Do you know what that means? They have been up washing clothes with a wringer washer, that is no easy job, and have already gone outside in freezing temperatures and pinned clothes on the line.

Meanwhile, they no doubt hurried back inside to set breakfast on the table before everyone comes back in from chores. I may mention that they very likely did all of this with a few toddlers around their feet and one on the way. Later in the day, clothes frozen stiff and looking like colored boards, come back in the house and thaw out enough to be folded and put away.

True, they do have help from older daughters, which is also a testament to their impressive nature. If you have raised any children of your own, you know how hard it is to keep adolescents and teenagers on task. The Amish women I know have well-ordered homes with polite children. One Amish family that I am good friends with have 9 children and the oldest is eleven-years-old. About 7 of them gather around my pickup truck whenever I pull into their drive and stand in a circle around me listening to what their dad and I have to say. If Dad isn't around, the oldest child present usually does the talking. If that older child goes to find Dad for me, the next oldest takes over telling me stories about interesting things that happened on the farm since I was last there. If Mom steps outside, she usually speaks something in dutch and one of the children runs to accomplish whatever mission she called on them to do. Probably running inside to bring out the produce she knows I'm there to pick up.

The other day I was driving home from Kalona and passed several buggies with women driving. I turned onto a gravel road and saw an Amish farmyard littered with buggies. Women of all ages were loading children into buggies and leaving a gathering of some kind. It would be safe to guess that it was a quilting. Nevermind the freezing temperatures and snow covered roads. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that these are some pretty tough mamas.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas 1967

Christmas 1967

        A small group of children walked slowly through a silent world of falling snow. Everything was hushed by huge snowflakes floating softly around them and accumulating in piles on ranch-style houses that lined the street. A few cars appeared without a sound, half covered in snow, they sloshed on past the children and disappeared into a curtain of white. Children have pulled sleds down roads for centuries but this particular time was Christmas 1967.

        The youngest boy trailed behind the others, stepping on huge clumps of slush left packed by passing automobiles. He could feel the heavy chunks slowly smoosh under his snow-boots. To a small child, the world is a magical place, much like being awakened from a long dream; it's very hard to tell what is real. As a six-year-old boy, I was in that state of mind. I trudged along following the group of sled-pulling children; they were my brothers and sisters. To me, they all seemed like adults except for, Twila Lou, a tiny dark-eyed, raven-haired sister with a cute dimple. We teasingly called her, "Bird legs," due to her tiny, stick-like limbs. Twila Lou was closest to me in age and in friendship. We were the same height even though she was two grades ahead of me. Our older siblings referred to us both as the little kids, which annoyed her. Our family was quite large, but I never did the math to figure out how many of us there were. Later in life, I came to find out that there were seven of us at this point. My two younger brothers would arrive in the next few years.
        Living in Michigan, Midland to be exact, winter meant snow and cold, but we were young, and this was Christmas Eve day, and we were going sledding. I had heard about this grand place we were walking toward, a wonderland with huge hills perfectly matched for our purposes on that day. Secretly, I was afraid. Only my older brothers had been to this legendary sled-park, and their stories struck awe and fear in my imagination. My oldest brother, John, always the leader, told grand stories of how steep and high these sled-hills were. I knew my mother would not be there to scold the big boys if they pushed my sled down one of the mountains. Yet, wild horses couldn't have kept me from joining this expedition. 
        "Come on Tommy, hurry up!" They kept calling back at me. I couldn't pull my sled fast enough to keep up with the big kids, so John, grudgingly put my sled on his giving it a piggy-back ride. Without words, I followed. They were all talking about school, boys and girls, things I couldn't understand and didn't care about. I was huffing and puffing like a puppy following big dogs. I could see my breath in the cold December air. I watched it billow out and mix with delicate snowflakes. As a small child, I was easily distracted by little details older children didn't think about anymore. After all, they had lived through many winters, but this was the first one I had noticed. Possibly other winters I had been too young and Mother wouldn't let me go along on such outings, or maybe I was at the age where memories from previous years were still vanishing. At one point we all pretended our smoke-like breath was from cigarettes and puffed on our little imaginary stogies like we had seen "worldly" people doing in town. If our Mother had been around, we would have had a lecture. I stopped to watch big flakes falling downward, toward my face, but although I stuck my tongue out all the way I couldn't get many to land on it. "Come on Tommy, keep up with us, would you?" They yelled at me again.
        We walked past our Church, where we spent an eternity every Sunday morning and evening. Our churchhouse windows, golden with light, seemed to be watching us like big eyes on the face of a brick building. Up to this point in our sled journey, I had been very comfortable. We had walked to church often, however, as we passed that familiar place we were forging out into uncharted territory. Dark woods stood on either side of the road, full of bears, wolves, or maybe even abominable snowmen. My older brothers marched on, unafraid, so we followed them. My toes and fingers began to freeze and get stiff from the cold, and they were all I could think about for the next leg of our journey. "Hurry up, Tommy, we are almost there," they called. My face was too frozen to answer them. It felt like the stone statue that stood in front of our county courthouse and judging by the others, my cheeks were probably rosy as well. I was forced to continually lick my upper lip because my nose insisted on running, and out in the wild there are no Kleenex boxes anywhere. I was shivering and coming to the conclusion that I could go no further when the big kids began to run and shout. We had arrived at that fearful, dreaded place in the wilderness, a golf course. 
        My brother's sled hills lived up to the tales that had been told. Large and bold, these steep slopes stood not far from the roadway, daring young children to test their courage. My brothers plunged headfirst down into the depths of a gorge while we watched. My step-brother, Steve, tried to lure me into following him off the summit by insulting my pride. "Sissy," he jeered. Steve was between my age and John's. We shared a bedroom but that was all he ever shared with me, and he did that under orders of our parents. One of my big sisters shooed him away from me and offered to let me ride on a sled behind her. I'm not sure which sister but looking back, having known them all for many years, I'm guessing it was Joanna. Joanna was kind and gentle, she was my "other mom," looking out for me when Mother wasn't around. She always seemed to know what was good and right, correcting me and the others often. All of my sisters had deep brown eyes, but Joanna's were the kind ones.
        Joy, the sister just younger than Joanna, was a topic all her own. Her brown eyes were beautiful, yet flashed with sparks that could catch the eye of any boy and yet strike fear in his heart. Her long silky hair was exactly what every girl wanted back in the mid-nineteen-sixties. Many a girl with naturally curly hair sacrificed half of their lives straightening their locks and still couldn't compete with Joy's shiny waist long hair, accented by her cute figure. It turned out that Joy was the middle child, so, it stood to reason that she was always the center of attention. She was funny, cool, and could pick on us little kids as much as our brothers. She would have been the fun one to ride down a hill with, but I was too intimidated by her natural coolness to try to buddy up with her. This is why I would guess that safely behind Joanna, I took my first ride down the monster hill.
        Fluffy and creamy, the snow-covered hills were like marshmallows on hot cocoa. After falling from my sled into a soft blanket of snow, I soon realized I would not actually die, and my courage began to grow. Hours had passed before I started to listen to my fingers and toes that were screaming at me to get them into someplace warm. The older sisters, Joanna and Amy, were the only two sensible enough to make the decision, "We really should be heading home before it gets too dark." Although my big brothers were the leaders, they didn't think that far ahead and were having too much fun to use common sense.
        Amy, my new sister, acquired through my mother's second marriage along with Steve and my step-dad, was in my mind, a full grown woman. She was second in the sibling lineup and as tall as John. She was quiet unless she got started talking about her books that she was always reading. My parents said, "If Amy is reading one of her romance novels, she won't notice if the house is on fire!" I can still remember watching Amy's face as she read. Huge smiles gave away sweet moments in the story she was reading, totally oblivious to the real world around her. I worried that she would die in a house fire, but it never happened. Steve, her younger brother, joined our family feeling that his life's purpose was to make our lives miserable. It seemed fitting for a reddish-haired, freckled faced big brother. All big brother's picked on younger siblings in those days, anyway. I could write a whole book about my adventures of torture by John and Steve but this was Christmas time and even they were more good-natured during this short season.
        By the end of the day, I was no longer afraid of the hills, we had tamed this wild place. As we walked away, I stopped to look back at what I once feared and now had conquered. I could see our sled paths, snow angels, and footprints where we had tromped all over the face of the once terrible hill. We headed back toward our church, which stood firmly on the corner of our town. The town that I loved even though we had only moved there one year ago. We came from a far away place called Ohio and before that an even further away place named Iowa. Those places were so far beyond the sled hills I couldn't have any idea how to get there, partly because I had fallen asleep during the move from both places. This was where I had awakened, and it was a friendly clean place. Now, as a result of this adventure into the wilderness, even the sled hills were added to the realm of safe places that I knew as a child. We walked through our peaceful neighborhood. Some of the houses had big fat, red and green Christmas lights hanging on them, the only kind of Christmas lights that existed back in 1967. A happy-looking snowman stood in one yard and watched the group of children walking past. A cold wind blew against the snowman's red mitten, making it flap in a waving motion. Golden light streamed from our own kitchen window off in the distance, beckoning us to hurry home, with a promise of hot cocoa and a fireplace stoked with wood. Even Tommy kept up with the big boys as we rushed toward our yard and dropped our sleds into a pile. 
        The old moon seemed to be a large ornament, hanging over our home. That moon seemed wild and untamed like the sled hills had. A year later, we watched Neil Armstrong and some other guys on TV, taming the moon like we did the sled hills, running around in snow-like dust leaving tracks everywhere. Life was simple and sweet during Christmas, 1967.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Thomas Nye, the Amish Horses Guy

What are Amish Horses, you may ask? I'm Thomas Nye, the Amish Horses guy. I write novels about life on an Amish farm. The shortest description of my books is this, Amish Horses. So, it became my brand.

I didn't get into draft horses to help with my writing. In fact, I was born a horse nut and when I moved into an Amish community (36 years ago) I felt an instant connection with my Amish neighbors. We had saddle horses for years before my Old-Order neighbor suggested that I try hitching up our family pony to a cart. He gave us a set of harness and off we went. About a year later, I bought a team of draft horses from another Amish farmer and he taught me more about working with horses in harness.
Mailman (me), daughter Bethany and  my first draft horse. 1995?

After 36 years of close friendships with Amish folks and 25 years of trial-and-error (many errors) with Amish Horses, I write about those experiences.

Hundreds if not thousands of Amish have read my books and all seem to think they are authentic. They do feel my books are a little "edgy." Which, if you read them it may make you laugh, as they would all get a "G" rating as movies. That is just how protective the Amish are of their children. For example, Amish in our community would prefer to not use words like, "Expecting" or "Pregnant." It would not be mentioned to a child (or to anyone in public) that a woman is going to have a baby, even when she is 9 months along. I truly respect my Amish friends and neighbors and try hard to write books they can read and enjoy.

So, now you know a little more about who this Amish Horses guy is.

Amish Horses, is my brand and a short description of my writing style. Here are a few words that may communicate more of what you will find in my books: Christian, family, farm, romance, humor, and horses in an authentic Amish setting.

Check out Thomas Nye on Amazon

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Karm and Coke's Big Adventure

 Karm and Coke are about to embark on a big winter adventure. The Amish farmer that raised them asked if I’d be willing to let them come spend the next few months at his place. He still has Karm’s full sister and another mare that is a cousin to both of my horses. My Amish friend is planning to get our horses re-acquainted and hitch them together to do farm work. He has a super nice barn and is better able to winter horses than I am. Not to mention, I deliver mail for a living and winter gets long for my horses when I often don’t get home until after dark.

The downside of all of this: I won’t have my horses here for the next few months. Karm and Coke are the centerpieces of my Amish Horses Blog and Facebook page, so, I won’t have as many new pics of my horses. The upside is that Karm and Coke will be having some big adventures that could turn into fun stories for my books and blog.

When I took Karm and Coke back to their old home, I thought they seemed super comfortable as though they remembered the barn. I stopped in to visit them once already. I whistled and they came right up, expecting me to feed them or let them out to pasture. It feels super lonely at our place without them and I’m already looking forward to the day they come back home.
My little grandson (Isaac, who is 2 and adores Karm and Coke) came to our house a few days ago and asked, “Can we go out and see the horses?”

I told him, “Karm and Coke aren’t here, they’re at my Amish friend’s farm.”

“I know,” Isaac said. He is struggling to understand the whole thing. I told him that I would take him to the Amish farm with me sometime to see the horses. Isaac looked at me with his big brown eyes and said, “Okay.”

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Rhythm of Life

        Stepping outside on a cool fall morning, you draw in a breath of soft farm air. Horses and cattle are stirring, waiting for someone to open the pasture gate or toss them a flake of hay. By this part of November, most birds have headed south for warmer nesting grounds. Those left behind are clamoring together in empty cornfields, pecking at kernels of corn missed by combines as they roared through the area. A gentle breeze and those remaining flocks take wing.
         The rhythms of life are ever present on an Amish farm. Autumn is the final stage of gathering in summer's produce before winter blows snowdrifts against barn doors and feed bunks. Grandpa still lives in a little house next door, even though Grandma passed away a few months ago. He rides along in the family buggy when everyone goes to a fall wedding. He smiles as the newly married couple stand for their vows, it only seems a few days ago he and Grandma had made that promise. Next spring life will blossom anew. Sheep will lay down in soft grasses next to baby lambs. Plowed fields will mellow and dirt clods break up as horses pull disc and harrow over the face of the earth. Tiny shoots of green will peek out to feel warm rays of sun after a refreshing drink of rain. Life goes on.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Amish Tour of Wisconsin

 The last several years, my wife and I have taken a fall trip to Wisconsin. We have a secret, inexpensive hideaway up there and it's only a few hours from home.

 We go as a weekend retreat, not to tour Amish farms. However, when you are married to an author who writes about the Amish, guess what happens.
 My wife and I were driving along enjoying a nice conversation about our children and grandchildren until my keen eye spotted horse manure on the road. Like a scout in the old west, my eye is trained to notice tiny details that clue me in about my surroundings.

We came around a bend in the road and I blurted out, "There's an Amish farm!"
There are certain tell-tale signs that are a dead-giveaway. Of course, horse manure lying along the shoulder of the road is one. White boxy looking houses with white tin out-buildings, another. Windmills that are still functioning. And then, of course, buggies or other slow-moving horse-drawn equipment.
Sure enough, buggies began to come into view along our scenic route. We passed a long line of buggies that seem to have all just left a function of some kind. They all gave us a friendly wave. My wife said, "That would've been a great picture."

"I know, but I can't make myself take pictures of Amish folks."
 Most Amish groups have strong rules about pictures. They are considered to be a form of idols. As the Bible teaches, "Thou shalt make no graven images." I reminded myself and my wife, "Oh well, I'm not a photographer, I'm an author. If I were a photographer I couldn't pass up a pic like that."
 We came up on these buggies traveling together. Very often, large Amish families crowd into two buggies, because they can't all fit into just one. Maybe this family had been invited to another Amish home for an evening meal? Something that is quite common among the Amish.
We passed these buggies and continued on our way. More Amish farms and buggies came into sight. As you may have guessed, your's truly was on cloud nine. My wife patiently put up with her husband's fascination with Amish culture.
 After all, the views were breathtaking, even if you are not totally infatuated with the Amish.

We enjoyed the fall weather, a quiet drive along a beautiful road, good company, and I took all of these great photos to share with my Amish Horses friends, like you.

I noticed some Amish men working on that large barn beyond the cattle. I snapped a photo of them. It may seem like a contradiction to what I said earlier. It's not, I know the Amish well enough to know that they don't mind photos that are taken from a distance. It is important to them that the faces are not visible, or are indistinguishable because of distance. Most Amish groups don't mind photos being taken of children. That doesn't mean that they appreciate people treating them like circus monkeys. Please, if you take pictures of the Amish, be respectable and kind about it.

 After we finally passed by the last Amish farm, we came upon a beautiful park. I saw a sign along the road that read, Country Park. That caught my attention and we pulled in. We were not disappointed. We took a long walk around a lake and sat in the shade on a park bench.

We took a couple of "Selfies" and some other nice photos of the area. I will share a short video of me, pumping water.

(footnote) If you click on the photos they will appear larger and you can enjoy the details a little better.

The park is in the Amish area and I'm quite sure Amish families have reunions at this spot regularly. The little drinking fountain is powered by a hand pump. Hand pumps are fun to operate. They are a thing from days-gone-by unless you are Amish, then it is just another part of daily life.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Amish Autumn

       During the next number of days, even birds seemed to be restless; change was happening everywhere. Small birds crowded into branches overhead, fluttering, chirping, and then took flight, bursting out through leaves in small groups. After the little flocks circled around, they came clamoring back into the same boughs they had just left. A full blown argument ensued in tree limbs above Lenny’s head. Part of the troubles seemed to be that whole flocks had moved in from more northern lands, crowding out those that had lived on Noey’s farm all summer. Lenny’s horses noticed the bird troubles too, shaking their manes at all the commotion.
 Around the same time birds began to be disturbed, soybean fields began to show yellow patches. Those lighter colored areas spread out further and further until everything turned a brilliant gold. Every breath of air drew crisp. Canada Geese flew back and forth across the sky in partially formed V’s, not always south, but in every direction. It was clear that it wasn’t time for them to leave, yet change was coming.
       Lenny sat behind a team of horses, with an unsettled feeling in his heart, watching the whole thing unfold before him. He told his horses, “Living the Amish lifestyle in autumn is a new experience for me, and winter sounds like a nightmare. Grandpa already told me how brisk weather affects horses, making you all flighty and frisky. Maybe Amish young men look forward to their horses being more lively and willing to move quickly without being coaxed, but for a guy like me it’s downright scary.”
       Lenny wondered out loud, “Why couldn’t summer last forever?”  Misty nodded her head up and down, possibly in an effort to stretch out driving lines that held her bit too tight. Lenny chose to see her head shaking as an agreement with his comment. “I was dreading fall. Now that I told Noey I would help with harvest and give him an answer before winter, I hope autumn lasts forever.” He clucked and his horses stepped off quickly. Lenny and his team finished feeding cattle. He tossed off hay as the horses circled through the herd.

You have been reading an excerpt from English River, Amish Horses Series book III

English River is an Autumn story. Let Lenny and his horses take you away... out into Amish farm fields during the harvest season.