Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tour Kalona

If your looking for a relaxing weekend in a quiet Amish/Mennonite community, Kalona may be the perfect spot.

Kalona has a number of quaint shops to visit.  The Rug Cottage Country Store is between Iowa City and Kalona on Hwy 1.

 This store is beautiful inside and out! Our family has been long time friends with the proprietors and they are great people.  2014 has had a rough start with snow and cold; but the ice is slowly melting and here comes the sun.
Spring will be a perfect time to get out into the countryside and see Amish farmers working up their fields with horses.
 As you can see (pictured below) The Rug Cottage also carries, Under the Heavens.  This novel is about a fictitious place "Bull Town" but is based on the Kalona area.

On the counter, next to Under the Heavens, is a display of locally raised, un-pasteurized  honey.  Did you know that eating honey, bees have made from local pollen, builds immunity to those allergens. This is a good place to pick up some of that sweet medicine and get immunized before hay-fever replaces cabin-fever.  

This store "Barntiques" Antiques Mall, is located just behind the Rug Cottage, on the same acreage.  You will see a big American flag on Barntiques as your coming up the hill on hwy 1, toward The Rug Cottage.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Amish Quilts and Woodworking

 J & K Creative Wood and Gifts
This beautiful store is located a few miles from Kalona on a gravel road. Don't let gravel discourage you from making a visit, the drive is through scenic Amish country.
Once inside you will find a wide variety of items ranging from handcrafted clipboards and cutting-boards made on site, to amazing Amish made hardwood bedroom suits.
 Amish made quilts hang on the walls filling the place with color, they are all for sale.
You will also find artwork from local artists, framed and ready to display in your home.
The Brokaw family are terrific people and they all take part in running this business.

 Oh, and by the way, did I mention that Under the Heavens, my novel is available here too. A fitting location because it is written based on the Kalona area. I bought my first team of draft horses only a short way from this place, and the first time I drove them was to J & K Wood! The Amish man I bought my horses from was showing me how to drive a team, and we came here to pick up a load of wood shavings. He uses the wood shavings as livestock bedding on his farm.
Here is a link to J & K Wood and Gifts:

Monday, February 17, 2014

Harness Shop

 There is nothing like walking into an Amish harness shop.  As soon as you walk in, a rich smell of leather mixed with harness oils and a scent of horses greets you.

If you are a horse person I promise you will be in paradise.  Most shops, like the one pictured above, sell items from saddles to horse wormer, brushes, hoof picks, blankets, bits and a million other such things. Even if your not a horse person, I believe you will enjoy the experience.  Go in and ask if they would be willing to make a custom leather belt, most will.

There are at least three harness shops in the Kalona, Iowa area alone.  I make a point of going to all three even though I have my favorite. (I won't say which one) The shop east of Kalona a few miles and then south on a gravel road has mostly bio-harness.  A nylon covered with a very durable synthetic coating. They also specialize in show harness.

 The shop pictured above is in town, straight north of the Casey's General Store. That is a mostly leather harness shop and happens to be the first place I did business with, when I first bought a team of horses.

A third harness shop specializes in nylon harness, and is located north of the leather harness shop, several miles on a gravel road (the road jogs west a little at one point.)

My two favorite harness makers are now deceased. One of them had a shop a few miles from my home and was one of the kindest men I have ever met.  He was full of horse wisdom and told great stories, many of which appear in my novel, Under the Heavens.  
I am saving his best story for my sequel, about an amazing pony.

My other favorite harness maker told me that he went to grade school with my wife's grandfather.  He was a nylon harness man and also was a very kind, wise horseman, with great stories.  Both of these men I used as examples for my Grandpa character in my novel, so if you read my book, know that there really are men like him out there in Amish communities.
I took a single harness in to this last man mentioned one time, to be repaired.  He told me that it may take a while to fix it and wondered if I had any other errands to run while he worked on it.  I did, so after spending an hour and a half in Kalona, I came back to check on his progress.  He was just finishing up when I got there and then spent what seemed like 5 minutes figuring before he gave me my total bill.  I was getting nervous about the price!  He finally looked up at me and asked, "Does $1.75 sound alright?"  I told him that it sounded awful cheep.  He replied, "Well, I didn't use much material, it was mostly labor."  Don't let me lead you astray, I doubt it will be that cheep when you go in to get a leather belt these days.

Check out Amish Horses Facebook page:
Under the Heavens, on Amazon:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Amish Never Forget

 One day I was driving down a country road a few miles from home and saw a mare with a colt in a small pasture.  The Amish family, who lived on that farm, were all out in the pasture admiring their new addition.  I slowed down, wound down my truck window and called out, "Nice Colt!" They all waived, with big smiles. I didn't know this family at all, but drove by occasionally to look at their horses.

A few years later, I bought a team of horses from this family at the sale barn. They asked to use the horses they sold me, that next spring, for plowing.  I was more than happy to oblige.
They invited me to come plow for a day with a six-horse-hitch, that included my two horses.
Stonewall and Jackson
(the horses I bought from this family)
When I was on their farm, I thought I should ask if they remembered a guy stopping by, one day years ago and hollering, "Nice Colt."  I doubted they would know what I was talking about.  If they did remember, it would surprise them that it was me.  Oh no! That's not how it works with the Amish!  Not only did they already know it was me; they told me, "You know what we were doing that day? We were counting the starlings on the telephone lines."

Most of us Americans are more familiar with celebrities or sports stars than our neighbors.  As a letter carrier, I have found that many people have no idea of their neighbors names. The Amish, on the other hand, are completely community oriented.  Once they know your name, they never forget it!

That day plowing and other experiences I had on their farm are part of the stories I share in my novel, Under the Heavens,
Like us on Facebook: