Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Poem

T'was Twelve or Maybe I T'was Eight

T'was the twelfth of December or maybe t'was the eighth
T'is my best Christmas memory, to recite in full length
Mom, Dad, my sisters and me, climbed in our pickup to go get a tree

We headed as a family to the outskirts of town
T'ward a farm where people could cut a holiday tree down
Dad refused to ask for directions, tho Ma begged him to that night
She clinched her teeth and smiled, saying, "Christmas is no time to fight!"

Dad said, "Not to worry, I know right where we are
See the twinkling light up yonder, honey, why that's the north star!"
We rode 'round for hours, like pickles in a jar
'Till Dad woke us up, with a surprised, "HERE WE ARE!"

T'was twelve o'clock midnight or maybe t'was eight
When we finally found the place and headed in through the gate
We passed a trailer-house-office and Christmas lights that read
"CUT YOUR OWN TREE" light bulbs spelled out and said

My mom and my sisters knew what kind they wanted
A symmetrical tree, and not one that was stunted
There t'was a hill before us that looked just like a face
Two stumps were eyes, and tall trees in the mouths place
Those pines on yonder hill, looked just like a smile
And caught Mom's attention, she told Dad, "That's the style!"

We gathered 'round that grin upon that hill
Ignoring snow and cold winters chill
Chopping and hacking with an ax and saw
We gnawed and we cut but that tree wouldn't fall
My sisters and I grabbed its branches in the middle
And walked in a circle and twisted it out like a thistle

T'was twelve below zero or maybe t'was eight
With a starry nightlight we hauled our tree to that gate
Dad roused a man from the office with a couple of raps and a knock
Who came stumbling down the steps and said, "Ya'll crazy, it's past one o'clock!"
Dad replied politely, "We want to pay for our twenty-four dollar tree."
The man snarled and told us, "The kind that ya'll cut down is one-hundred and three!"

"Did ya'll cut it out from the face of that hill
Or from the grove by the barn or the woods by the mill?"
Dad looked at the hill with a tooth missing grin
And then at us kids whom he'd taught,"lying t'is a sin"
He took out his wallet and gave the man every last dollar
Though he normally pinched bills 'til we heard Washington holler

The man with a sweat-shirt that didn't quite cover his belly
Must 'of seen my sisters shivering in the night that was chilly
He gave us hot cocoa that stung my throat, tongue and nose
With a similar stinging, Jack Frost had done to my fingers and toes
However, I liked the stinging the cocoa did better
Except that sister punched me when I spit it out on her sweater

So, don't get upset if  holiday plans don't work out quite right
My family's worst Christmas t'is my best memory by far
As Mom told us through clinched teeth, while following yonder star
And shared her wisdom on that cold winter night
"Christmas, my children, is no time to fight!"

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas in Iowa

 It was a beautiful day to celebrate our family Christmas here in Iowa.

A snowstorm laid down the perfect background for our holiday festivities. We had a wonderful home-cooked meal (my wife grew up Mennonite and she can cook!) After we ate it was time to open the presents. My children all had some input into my novel "Under the Heavens" and they got their copies today.

After the gifts were opened we all headed into the barn for our annual reading of the Christmas story.

 My daughter read to us from Luke, Chapter 2

Karm and Coke ate hay, playing the part of animals in the nativity scene.
We have found this to be a meaningful tradition, something about being in a stable to read the story makes it seem so real.

Our grandchildren wanted to try out their new sleds and we all ended up having a great time watching and many of us took a turn at it too!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Amish Novel


       Under the Heavens, just released through Crosslink Publishing.

        What is it that makes people drawn to Amish novels? I was recently looking at a Facebook page of an Amish novelist, asking her "friends" to comment on what made them fascinated by books about the Amish.
       This was very interesting to me and got me thinking about a more personal question, what makes an author drawn to write an Amish novel?
       I'm sure that some writers choose this topic because they know there is a built in market. But, I'm thinking that most have the same motivation that I have.

       In this modern electronic/computer age, we can feel that we have lost something valuable from our past. One only has to spend a few moments around Amish people to have this feeling validated. There is something about a simple, uncomplicated lifestyle that makes life more rich and fulfilling. This is why I have always loved historical books and movies. Yet, when I read about the old days, I feel sad because what I love about those days is gone.
       The beauty of reading (and writing) about the Amish is that we can slip into that simple, old-fashion world and know that it is still alive and well, somewhere just around the corner. A perfect combination of past and present.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Shire (what Hobbits and Amish have in common)

Is there a secret old-fashion world, hidden within our modern fast paced society?

Horses, harness, wooden-wheel wagons, buggies and carts, all items from days-gone-by.  That is unless your Amish, then these things are part of everyday life, and necessities.

Most Americans are high tech, living in the electronic age.  Yet, there are quiet Amish communities thriving in our own backyard.
       These Amish communities remind me of J.R.R. Tolkien's description of Hobbits in the Shire. Quiet people who enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Peace loving and rather shy. What I love the most about the Amish, is that they are not seeking attention but rather, avoiding it! Bilbo and Frodo are more pure than their contemporaries, because of their simple lifestyle. Amish, for the most part, have avoided much of what corrupts our society by staying away from worldly media. A lesson we all should receive from their simple, yet proven wisdom.
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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Amana Colonies

        The Amana Colonies are not far from Kalona, Iowa.  If you have never been there you are really missing something.  Right off of Interstate 80, this is one of my favorite places on earth.  You will find scenic vistas on every side, awesome food, baked goods, quaint gift shops, furniture stores, woolen mills, and the Amana's are famous for their wines.


The Amana Colonies are not connected to the Amish in anyway, except that they are both religious groups with German roots. They share an industrious, agricultural lifestyle, and quality craftsmanship in whatever they build.

However, I have had people stop at my place, ten miles from Kalona, looking for the Amana Colonies. When I ask if they are looking for Amish farms or the Amana Colonies they repeatedly say, "what's the difference?"  I tell them to go check out Kalona, while they are so close and I try to explain the difference.

The Amana people still hold church services. They were once a communal group, sharing ownership of all possessions. That ended in the mid-nineteen hundreds.  Amish, though dependent on community are not communal, in the same sense of the word.


Amana people live a very modern lifestyle for the most part; yet, visiting their villages takes you back in time.
It's my opinion that a person who enjoys time travel (as I call it) would enjoy visiting both communities.

The Amana people built a long canal within their seven villages.  They used this canal for transporting farm produce and other goods.  This train depot pictured above is located near the canal. All of this obviously designed for convenient transfer of goods from the fields, sent floating down the canal to the railway.

I hope you didn't mind me diverting from my usual Amish and horses topics!  I will get back to that in my next blog.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Clydesdale Horses

Clydesdale in show harness

       Clydesdale horses are beautiful! They were made famous by the Budweiser hitch, and for good reason, those Budweiser horses are amazing, unbelievable creatures. As with this horse pictured above, most Clydesdale horses are tri-colored, with lots of chrome (white markings.) This type of horse is bred up to pull a carriage or beer wagon and look fancy doing it.  I love that sight as much as anyone.  Because of all the recognition given to the Budweiser hitch, that is what comes to the average American's mind when someone speaks of draft horses.
Belgian horses

I have to say, this makes me feel a little irked on behalf of the horses that built America.
         This is a Percheron hitched with a Belgian
               a common sight on an Amish farm.       

      Percheron and Belgian horses are the faithful steeds that plowed our lands during the 17 and 1800s.  Even today, very few Clydesdale horses are used for farming in America. I know there are some but I personally have never seen a Clydesdale on an Amish farm. Yet, every time I tell someone in town, that I own draft horses, they always ask, "Clydesdales?"  When I tell them I have Percheron horses, most have never heard of them.
       Belgian horses are usually Chestnut or Sorrel in color. Ranging from what is called a blond to those that are almost dark red.

        Percheron horses are usually solid black or gray.  The grays start out black and slowly turn dapple, until they are almost white. This horse on the right shows off his dapple markings. This team of Amish horses below are almost white, yet, called grays.
My own Percheron horses, on the right, are the blacks. I like them the best, surprised?

I hope my Clydesdale owning friends are not offended by what I am saying here, Clydesdale horses are doing all of us draft horse people a favor, by keeping heavy horses in the media.
Karm and Coke
My team of Percheron mares

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Amish Woodworking Store

       This past summer I took my family to the Wisconsin Dells area for some family togetherness time.  They know that "their old dad" stops at any nearby Amish community to look around and this trip was no exception.

       We came upon this, County Line Woodworking, near Loganville, Wisconsin. We loved the place and bought several items that fit in our budget and our Impala.

       My son and daughter sat with me on County Line's front porch while we waited for their mother to finish shopping inside. We loved these handmade chairs! They were super comfortable gliders, I hope to own a set someday. You can see that the family farm is set just beyond the business, in this absolutely beautiful, hilly, Wisconsin landscape. I would love to live in this community (I love my Kalona community too!)

       While we were shopping, we told the girl working at the register, that we were from the Kalona area; she told us that she was going to Kalona in a few days. Turned out that she was friends with a family we knew. Her friend was from Kalona but was teaching Amish school near Loganville for a year. Small world? 
Well, that is the Amish world. Every time we have mentioned Kalona in another Amish community, there seems to be some connection, usually a close one too.
I added a few more Loganville area photos so you can see what a scenic place it is.

I left the pictures small to save space, click on them to see them better!

 If your in the area, stop at Carr Valley Cheese Factory, Awesome cheese!

My wife and I.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Work Harness

        This is a drawing that was made for, Under the Heavens, but didn't get used so I thought I would share it on Amish Horses Blog.  It is a diagram about work harness and shows the names of harness parts. If you notice, the driving lines are crossed between horses. In this way the driver has a line to the right side of each horse in his right hand, and a line to the left side of the horse's bits in his left hand.

These horses have a strap under their tails called "butt breeching" by draft horsemen in Iowa. This strap is used when the horses are backing a load, or going downhill. The weight of the wagon pushes on this strap.

My own horses, here on the right, have on what we call "hip breeching." That strap is just above the tail and works just the same as the butt breeching.

Most Amish, in the Kalona area, use the hip breeching style on their work horses. The Amishmen that sold me horses and showed me how to work with a team all used this style. One of them said, "Horses like hip breeching better, they can get under a load and really push on it."  I am impressed at how much these guys notice with their horses. On many occasions I've heard comments about what horses "like" and I believe they know what their talking about. The man I bought Karma from told me that she loved her collar.

       Above, you can see the wagon tongue up between my horses. The piece crossing the tongue is a "double-tree" or "evener" (single tree for one horse.) You can see straps coming from the collar area, down toward the double-tree, these are called "tugs" or "traces." At the end of the tugs are heel chains, these are hooked to the double-tree. This is the mechanism for pulling a load with horses so they can share the work.

See the red pole between my horses? That is called a "neck yoke" and ties the front end of two horses together at the collar. My wagon tongue can be seen below the neck yoke, it slips into a ring on the neck yoke and is the connection between the breeching and the load, to hold it back, or to back it up.

In this picture you can see the front end of the tugs coming from the thickest part of the collar. The tug is attached to metal bars, called "hames" these hames lay in a grove in the collar. The collar is a comfortable leather oval that horses push against.

       Horses actually push loads by leaning into their collars.  We call it "pulling a wagon" because they are in front of the wagon, but they really are pushing.
       Harness in other regions of America are constructed slight differently, and in Europe work harness looks very different. This is typical Iowa work harness.

       I hope you enjoyed learning a little about harness and hitching horses. If you did, check out Amish Horses Facebook page:

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hog Farm

        In the good old days Iowa was covered with scenes like this one. Hog sheds were everywhere and big sows could be seen rooting in fields with a litter of baby pigs nearby. Now, this type of view is about non-existent.
I was born in Iowa but we moved to Michigan in 1965. I moved back to Iowa in 1980 and clearly remember seeing hogs in fields all over. From 83 to 88, I worked in a hog confinement operation with close to a thousand sows in house.  That type of operation has taken over the industry and today very few small farmers can compete with those mega farms.
 I miss the old style hog farm!

Whenever I pass by this farm I slow down and look in, remembering how things used to be.  We can't go back in time or even make time stand still, but we can take time to look around and appreciate what is around us.  We never know what changes will take place.

I have to remind myself that the present is tomorrow's good old days.