Sunday, July 26, 2015

Amish Families

There was something unexpected, that happened to me at the recent Horse Progress Days

        I almost felt as if the Lord had set me down in this booth and said, "Sit here and observe." For two days I didn't have any choice but to sit in that red lawn-chair (right behind the horse) and watch Amish folks interact with each other. 
        I knew it would be enjoyable for me, as an Amish novelist and a draft horse enthusiast, to visit Horse Progress Days, but I had no idea that I was about to observe something powerful. There were Amish families at booths on all sides of mine, and for two days I watched how they interacted with each other. I came out of my booth with a new respect for my Amish friends.

        Many criticize the Amish for their strict rules. Some say they are legalistic and that many of their man-made laws are unnecessary and don't make sense. I challenge you to go sit where I sat for two days, and then come back and tell me that they don't have something wonderful going on.

This is the only photo I took from my two-day seat.
         A Pennsylvania Amish family had a booth displaying their horse-drawn farm equipment, right across from my table. It seemed to be an extended family that have a business together. There were two young couples with their toddlers, and both women had a baby in arms. For two days I watched them peacefully care for their children in a confined area, under sweltering, southern-Indiana heat and humidity. The women had smiles on their faces the entire time. They visited cheerfully with every Amish woman that passed by and often had a group of women around them all laughing and talking. Meanwhile, they dawdled their infants on their laps and gently herded their toddlers, a set of adorable little girls in their Amish dresses. The little girls were busy the whole time playing at the feet of their parents. They spent one block of time arranging and re-arranging everything their mother had stored in a picnic cooler. They looked like they were used to watching their mama work and were imitating her. The husbands were often busy showing potential customers their products, yet, often took time to help their wives quiet a crying baby. I watched one of the dads gently feed a dropper-full of medicine to his baby. (I'm guessing something to sooth the teething process.) 

        Both days ended with a show. All of us crowded around a ring where six and eight-horse hitches pranced. A group of Amish teens performed a synchronized, horseback "dance" for lack of a better term. They showed some impressive horse handling, while weaving their mounts in what resembled a square dance. The non-Amish man with a microphone kept suggesting that we applaud. A few did clap, but it is not the Amish way. That didn't mean they weren't enjoying the show, they stood perfectly still, all with smiles on their faces.

         After the main event, a procession of local Amish families left in their buggies, while visiting Amish folks, that were waiting for tour buses to come pick them up, watched. I stood with them and watched too. I really liked how mothers and daughters often wore dresses made from the same piece of cloth. Husbands and brothers sometimes had a shirt that matched.

        Somehow it seemed so peaceful to see young families crowd into their buggies. Mamas with baby in arms, a little boy standing between daddy's knees, holding onto the driving lines. Older sisters with younger siblings on their laps. Families that lived nearby waked home together.

        It hit me, that these families stay together. These children probably wont be caught in a custody battle and torn between their fighting parents, who use them as leverage to outdo each other.

 I have lived near an Amish community for about 35 years. I have eaten many meals in my Amish friend's homes and visited Amish Church, Singings, volley-ball games. I have had the opportunity on numerous occasions to help make hay with Amish families. Yet, this two days of observing hit me in a new way. I became convinced that the choice to stay within the guidelines of strict Amish rules has payed off for these families more than they might even be aware of themselves. I am so thankful that there are horse-drawn communities around us. The rest of us have a lot to learn from them.

Notice the little girls in the back with a balloon

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sweet Music to Sleep By

 If you've been following my blog, you know that I made several trips to Amish communities in Indiana this summer. Twice I went to Shipshewanna (northern Indiana) and most recently to Odon (southern Indiana) to do book signings. My goal: to make sure those Amish communities know about the Amish Horses Book Series. Mission accomplished.
My book series is about a non-Amish teenage guy that spends time with his Amish relatives. So, as you may well imagine, I'm very interested in knowing more about life as an Amish teen.

My original ideas come from my own experience, moving to the Kalona, Iowa area as a teenager, and spending a summer hanging out with a certain group of Amish young folks (as they like to call themselves)

On my most recent trip to Odon, Indiana for the Horse Progress Days, I spent two nights camping in this parking lot. You can see campers in the background behind the buggies. The buggies are parked outside of a Recreation Center. I spent about an hour on both evenings inside of the Rec. center re-charging my phone. The drivers of the buggies were Amish young people, who were inside playing basketball and volleyball. I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out listening to them laugh and play. When they passed by my perch, near an outlet charging my phone, they all spoke friendly words to me. When I retired to my pickup-topper to sleep for the night, I dozed off to the sound of horses clip-clopping on a road nearby. I woke to the sound of Amish young people talking as they rode horseback directing traffic in the parking lot. It was 6 am and a group of Amish young people (male and female) sat on their horses in the fog, showing incoming vans and cars where to park.

After two peaceful days among the Amish, it was time to head home. I didn't think I could make it all the way back to Iowa without falling asleep at the wheel and it happened to be the 4th of July. I started out my trip and passed by several large crowds of English people setting off fireworks, with loud music and partying. I decided to head for Arthur, Illinois, where there is a large Amish community I hadn't visited, yet. I prayed for a peaceful campground where I might wake up to the sound of horses trotting past in the morning. Prayers answered.
My cell-phone doesn't take clear pics when it's dark, but I wanted to show you some of the Amish teens at the park
 Once in Arthur, I inquired from local businesses about where there may be a campground. They directed me to the city park. I pulled in and noticed a softball game going on, near where a few other campers were parked. I walked around looking for a place to charge my cell-phone and realized I was in the midst of a huge crowd of Amish young folks. One of the young guys suggested I charge my phone in the 4-H building you see on the right. I watched some of their softball game as my phone charged and then headed to my pickup to get some sleep.

view from my pickup bed. it's too dark to see the buggies or small groups of Amish teens here and there

same view in the morning, notice, not one piece of trash
 I didn't realize that just beyond my pickup were two long rows of horses (and buggies.)

My pickup topper has two small screen windows for ventilation. I drifted off to sleep to the sound of Amish teens laughing and visiting quietly. Every now and then, I would wake to the sound of a horse whinnying to their teenage owner, "Don't forget me... I'm still here!" One by one, horses trotted off into the dark night. You can see my camper below. I use a bob-sled for my book-selling table. My horse collars and hay-bales for decor. I not only had the sound of hoof-beats as music, but the smell of hay and harness leather for effect.
 In the morning I surveyed the spot where all the horses were tied. There was not one piece of litter, except a for a few piles of road apples (manure.) You can see my pick-up truck in the background, through the fence.
 The sign says "No hitching to fences" I believe the horses were tied to the steel bar and not the fence. In either case, these young folks caused no harm. The only "wild" actions I witnessed, were two boys riding around on the top of their buggy.

I truly had a peaceful night's rest, with the sweet music of buggy-horses clip-clopping off into the darkness. In the morning, I drove around the Arthur, Illinois Amish community and took a few beautiful pics before heading back to Iowa.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The 10 Most Beautiful Horses (I've ever seen)

Everyone has an ideal horse in their heart, mine happens to be a coal-black Percheron. On the weekend of July 4th, I attended Horse Progress Days in southern Indiana. This eight-horse hitch came prancing out and my heart about stopped. As you can see from the photo... that little Amish boy on the other side of the road had the same reaction I did!
Before they came prancing out I saw them being groomed and harnessed, so I knew already that I loved them.
I was taking a few pictures, when these girls came out and climbed aboard and started braiding their manes and tails. The girl's mother is just out of view. I asked her, "Are you okay with me taking some pictures of this?" She said, "Sure go ahead."

I was happy because I thought this was a perfect moment.
As you can see, these girls know how to braid manes and tails, Unfortunately I was making sure to get a photo of the girls on horseback and missed the one working on the tail... but you can see her hand. In the photos below you can see their finished work. The girl at the head and the girls at the tail also rode along in the wagon into the arena. I said to an Amish guy beside me, "I'm surprised that he has his daughters beside him and not a big strong guy, in case of trouble." He smiled and replied, "I saw those girls working with their horses earlier, they know what they are doing!" These girls look really petite, but I also noticed that they had no fear.

After the horses left the arena, I hurried over near the barn where I saw the girls braiding their manes and tails. I knew I would get to see them up close and hopefully get a good pic to show ya. There is nothing quite like standing on the road as an eight-horse hitch of gorgeous Percheron horses fly by! I could feel each hoof-beat and hear them breathing. Shivers went up my spine!
When they left the arena and headed down the road, a big guy did get on the front seat and the girl climbed into the back as you see below. If something scares eight horses, you need at least two strong people pulling on those eight lines.
You may have wondered why I said, "The 10 most beautiful horses I've ever seen." The eight horses in the hitch were about as pretty as any horses I've ever seen. But when I got home, my own two horses looked almost a beautiful! Maybe just because I'm so happy that they are mine! Karm always greets me with a whinny and warms my heart.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Two Days as an Amishman

I recently spent two days at the annual Horse Progress Days, an event that rotates locations. This was my first experience with Horse Progress Days, but certainly not my last, Lord willing. ("Lord willing" is a common Amish statement made after declaring the intention to do something. This is taken from a Scripture verse. Jame 4:13-15)

I would like to have captured every moment for you in pictures, but I know that is not what Amish want. Much like everything about the Amish lifestyle, there are Biblical principals that are the basis for what they do, and don't do. If I were a photographer by trade, I would have had a major struggle at this event, because there were a million photo opportunities. As an author, I took it all home in my heart, soon to be shared with any who desire to read about this blessed lifestyle.

I lived without electricity for several days and my phone went dead. That kept me from being tempted to take pictures the first day. I found a place to charge my phone before the second day and took some pictures that I hope are respectful of my Amish friend's values. 

        Not only did I live without electricity, but also had no phone, computer, TV, air-conditioning or other modern conveniences for a few days. This was only part of my two-day experience. I also found myself surrounded by a crowd of people that left an indelible impression on my heart. When have you ever been in a group of thousands and heard no sharp words, foul language or lewd comments. For two days I was in the midst of large families, and yet, I cannot remember hearing one child throw a tantrum or pout because they couldn't have what they wanted. Yes, I did hear infants cry. However, I witnessed their parents gently rock, coo, and comfort them. I did not witness one child being spanked or scolded loudly. The children were very meek and polite, yet emanated a confidence in who they were. This was very evident in their handling of horses and ponies.

        How do they do it? I'm really not sure.

         I sold copies of my Amish novels at this booth. If you notice, the sign says, "City boy spends a summer on an Amish farm, he learns to farm with draft horses." My goal was to give folks a quick burb that would let them know what my books were about. I was surprised and pleased at how well I was received, though I was a minority (non-Amish) at this event, for sure!
         I can't tell you how many Amish folks asked me if I was that city boy, and if my books were based on a true story. The first day I told them that the experiences were mine, however the book is a novel and about a fictitious character. By the second day, I was telling them that the difference between my fiction character and me, is that he has an Amish grandpa... and that, "I wish I had an Amish grandpa." They seemed to enjoy my honesty and many bought my books.

        My grandpa was born in 1909 and raised on a farm, living almost the exact lifestyle these Amish live. However, if my grandpa had been Amish, I might be living the lifestyle I witnessed this past weekend. I have to tell you, my Amish hosts warmed my heart by their words, actions and kindness. After the second day, I still looked like an "English" outsider, with my goatee and modern clothes. Yet, inside, I myself felt so submerged in my surroundings that I left the event feeling as if I had literally become Amish for a few days. I will always treasure that experience.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Horse Progress?

My book signing booth
 Have you heard about Horse Progress Days?

I'm super excited about my upcoming trip to southern Indiana for this event! Horse Progress Days is the Amish equivalent to the Farm Progress Show, a national event for farmers to learn about the most up-to-date farm equipment and practices.

I will be there with my books, which happen to be about farming with horses.

Obviously, farming with horses does not qualify as "the most up-to-date" farming practice. However, farming with horses is an extremely "Green" style of agriculture that should be embraced by the most forward thinking people.

If you are going to be at the 2015 Horse Progress Days, look for my booth, stop in and say, "Hello!"

If you can't make it to this year's event, visit the website and start planning for next year.

In the meantime, order a copy of Under the Heavens and start reading about farming with draft horses. Under the Heavens is a "Huck Finn style" Amish adventure-novel about a boy that spends a summer on his grandpa's Amish farm.