Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Local Newspaper Article

The Wellman Advance ran this article on the front page, February 19, 2015. I really thought that Bill Gatchel did an exceptional job writing, and I wanted to share it with all of you. (I asked for permission to photograph the article and post it online.) Yes, I know that I didn't take perfectly straight pics... but I think that adds to the effect that you are reading out of a newspaper from a rocking chair. You also may notice that the words get larger with each section. The article was done right, it's my photography that is lacking. I hope you enjoy it anyway!

I would like to explain a little more about the local farmers "non-comment." The Kalona / Wellman community is a very close-knit group with a large Mennonite and Amish population. They all know me and I knew that I would have to face them if they didn't like my book. Almost everyone here grew up on a farm or spent time on grandpa and grandma's farm. I was nervous about what the local's would think of my farming story, because they know the facts. Scores of local farmers have read Under the Heavens and their response has been, "When does the next book come out?" With big smiles on their faces.  I did have one older farmer catch a mistake about what I called a two-bottom plow. I called it a sulky-plow and it should be a gang-plow. A one-bottom plow, with a seat, is a sulky plow.  I fixed that issue in Book II, Catbird Singing.  

Here is a link for the article: Wellman Advance

Friday, April 24, 2015

Daddy Daughter Day

My daughter, Bethany, spent the day with me at the Kalona Draft Horse Sale. She was there on the day of the equipment sale. I took this picture of her in front of a couple of buggy horses. After I took this shot, I realized that an Amishman was eating his lunch in his buggy, hitched to the horse on the right. He didn't seem to notice us, until we walked past, and then gave us a friendly greeting. Bethany was the first person to read my novel, Under the Heavens. She read it while living in Italy, where her husband was stationed. (Funny that my book made its debut in Italy)
There are usually dozens of buggies all lined up. A lot of Amish come in from the Hazelton Amish community in northern Iowa and from Bloomfield in southern Iowa. They ride with English drivers, in semi-trucks that are hauling trailers with horses to sell, or ready to take home newly purchased stock and equipment.

I bought this Bobsled (pictured below) for a very reasonable price, maybe because it's springtime and it won't be much use for a long time. I will be really happy that I have it the next time it snows. I had a similar sled but it was really old and falling apart. This one is good and solid.

Bethany and I never seem to run out of things to talk about.  We enjoyed looking at all of the really old items and discussing what we thought they were, and how they were used. We noticed that some things we considered antiques were being purchased by local Amish folk, not as antiques.
My daughter pointed out how the light was making a nice shadow of this Percheron.
This dad and son are heading home from the Horse Sale with their newly purchased items... just like my daughter and her daddy. Yes, that is the Maple Avenue Greenhouse on the left. I blogged about the greenhouse a few weeks ago.
I sold books on the second day of the Horse Sale, and bought an amazing pecan sticky-bun from an Amish family that was selling baked goods. I took one bite and it was warm and delicious. So, I called over to the teenage girl that took my money, "Did you make these this morning?" She smiled and nodded.
I took this photo from where I was set up, selling books. I had a great view of the sale ring and was quite impressed with the quality of horses that sold that day. Good horses were bringing a handsome price.

There were a couple of young Amish families that came to the sale together... I passed them on the way home.
This young Amish fellow impressed us all with his skill and courage

Thank you Bethany, for being a sweet daughter and a great friend...
I loved spending the day with you!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

An Old Swing

My wife's Uncle Duane lives in the heart of Amish country. He always has great stories to share with me every time I talk to him. He and his sons baled and/or sold hay to every Amish family for miles around. I stopped over to visit him the other day and three of his grandsons were there putting up a swing. They had a very interesting story about this swing and I thought I should share it with all of you. Duane explained that this frame was designed to be a hoist. They would drive a team of horses through this frame and a pulley at the top would be used with a rope to hoist up the front end of a grain wagon, to unload it. After they quit using the frame as a hoist (a very long time ago) they decided to use it for a swing.
The old frame accidentally got bent a short time ago by a tractor. Duane's grandson's didn't want to see the old swing gone... so one of them welded an exact replica of the old hoist.(The guy you can see kneeling down near the frame.) His son is the little guy taking the first ride in the new swing. If you look really close, you can see the old hoist laying on the ground behind Uncle Duane. This is where the story gets really interesting, to me. When the three grandsons dug down to the old cement footing, to attach the new frame they made an fun discovery. There were names written in the cement.

These young men found their grandmother Marilyn's name written in the concrete along with three of her other siblings names. The baby of their family didn't write her name... so we have an idea of how long ago this footing was set. Aunt Marilyn passed away a few years ago, and this was the farm she grew up on. I think it is cute to see her child-like signature (which she happened to misspell, there is an extra i in there.) Someone drew lines between the names, Rodney, Howard, Marilyn, and Linda.
Uncle Duane's great-grandson will be the Fourth generation to play on this swing, that is set on an old grain-wagon hoist. You can see the footing with the names in this picture. Uncle Duane has a great family. I'm very impressed that his grandson went to all the effort to make an exact replica of the old hoist. And, that his grandsons took the time to come set it in place and keep the family traditions going. They were rewarded for their efforts, with a connection to their grandma. A set of autographs that lay hidden under the soil for around 75 years!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Amish Greenhouse

Maple Avenue Greenhouse is owned and operated by an Amish family. Open to the public, just north of Kalona, Iowa. Every spring my wife and I go pick up plants for the garden here. Things like tomato plants, pepper plants, annual or perennial flowers, rhubarb, or even garden tea; whatever you want to grow in your garden or flowerbeds.

There really is nothing quite like the smell of a greenhouse! My wife is more of a gardener than I am but I always enjoy going along to Maple Ave. and walk around looking at all the growing things and taking in the awesome aroma. Not to mention, there are usually little Amish children playing in the house-yard nearby, which ads to the ambiance.

The place looks empty here but there are usually Amish girls working to keep everything tidy.
 Make sure to see their private Covered Bridge! Ask them about it at the greenhouse. It is over a creek leading to their tree nursery. Go look at baby trees, even if you don't want any... just to take the drive over the covered bridge! I talked to the Amishman that owns this place last summer, I think he said that it was an existing building that he converted into a covered bridge, but I'm not sure I remember that right. Ask him about it, he would be glad to tell you. I told him that people will get a big kick out of his bridge and he got a huge grin and asked, "Really?" Be sure to compliment him on it, he is hoping you will like it! You can also see the covered bridge in the photo below, and the tree nursery.
 If you're in Kalona, find the "Casey's General Store" and go straight north from there, past Kalona Mennonite Church. You will also pass by the Kalona Harness Shop (another great place to stop.) It's on a gravel road but only about 1/2 mile off pavement.  If you are up for more adventure, keep going north from here about another mile, you will come to a T intersection. Turn right and head another 1/2 mile and you will find the Golden Delight Amish Bakery and the best doughnuts in the world! Golden Delight also has a nice gift shop.
I took this photo right next to the greenhouse (it's their pony)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Heart of an Amish Farm

Horses are the heart of an Amish farm.

No matter how little you know about the Amish, one thing is obvious, horses are a big part of daily life in their world. It would be very difficult for most modern people to step into that lifestyle, mostly because of working with horses. I was driving home from work the other day and passed an Amish girl driving a buggy. I noticed her horse was galloping, which is not common for a buggy horse, and usually a sign that there is trouble. Not far down the road was an Amish farm, so I turned into their lane and watched to see if she was going to need help. Her horse was galloping so near the ditch, at one point the wheels on one side had slipped down a foot into the ditch, I was sure her buggy was going to overturn. Somehow she got her horse back under control. By the time she passed me her horse was trotting along fine.

I took this picture from my dinning room window

My novel, Under the Heavens, is all about a teenage boy from town that goes to spend a summer on an Amish farm. His greatest challenge is learning to work with horses. Throughout the story it becomes quite clear, that if you're Amish, working with horses is just part of everyday life, whether you like them or not.

Here is a short clip from a letter I received from an elderly Amishman that read Under the Heavens.
Every letter I've ever gotten from an Amish person began with a scripture verse.
I liked how he used this verse to lead into his statement of thankfulness for "... the useful horse."

In the old days, hoof-beats were the heartbeat of America; those days are gone. Today, we can get a glimpse of what that life was like, by visiting an Amish community. If you step onto an Amish farm, you will soon figure out that horses are at the core of that lifestyle. The heart of an Amish farm.