My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Monday, December 23, 2013

E&S Sales

When we are in Amish Indiana, we almost always stop in at E&S Sales in Shipshewana.  This is another place that I drove by for years without stopping to investigate.  A bulk foods store doesn’t seem like a very vacation-like destination—but these days, we never get out of there in less than 20 minutes or for less than 20 dollars!  

I pictured a bulk food store as having 40-pound bags of flour and gallon jars of ketchup.  But as the pictures indicate, it isn’t anything like that.  Along with the usual things, there are hundreds of items there that just aren’t found in regular grocery stores, at least not where I live in suburban Chicago.  Bagged things like cookie and soup mixes, dried fruit snacks, dozens of kinds of pretzels, all kinds of candies, cookie decorations, nuts, popcorn, spices, beans, noodles, snack foods you’ve never heard of, and lots more.  Things in jars like jams, jellies, preserves, Amish peanut butter, apple butter, pickles, honey, canned fruit, relishes, maple syrup, and more.  It goes on and on.  It’s something you have to see, to believe.

E&S recently doubled the size of their building, and now they have more things like refrigerated and frozen foods and fresh bakery goods.  But the old favorites are still there, with lots of new ones.  It’s a nice place to rub shoulders with the Amish, learn about the local culture, and bring back some delicious and interesting items that you’d never find at home.  Be aware that they don’t take debit or credit cards, just checks or cash.  And like most retail stores in Amish Indiana, they are closed in the evenings and on Sundays.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Amish Homes: Breaking Through the Stereotypes

I’ve heard some funny questions about Amish homes, from those who have never seen one.  “Do they have indoor plumbing”?  “Do they have refrigerators to keep their food cold?”  “Do they have furnaces?”  The answer to all three questions is “yes.”

Walking into an Indiana Amish kitchen, at first glance you wouldn’t notice anything different from your own kitchen.  There is a stove, refrigerator-freezer, sink, and lots of countertop space and cabinets (often beautiful ones).  If you look more closely, you can see that the appliances don’t plug into the wall.  With no regular plug-in electricity (just power from batteries, gas-fueled generators, or, increasingly, solar panels), there are no outlets on the wall.  Many of the appliances are run on propane and are specially built for Amish consumers right in their own community.  Looking overhead, you see there is no light fixture, but rather a hook on the ceiling where a lantern can be hung.

The living room looks like that of a farmhouse in my grandparents’ time.  Lots of seating, simple linoleum floors, not much decoration on the walls, and lots of natural light.  Each lamp rises out of a cabinet which holds a propane tank—but increasingly, it might hold a large battery instead, and the light is LED rather than a gas flame.  Again, they are specially built for the Amish, right in their own community.  

The bathrooms look just like what you would see in any home, except for the lack of electric lighting and the electric lantern sitting on the counter.  The sink, commode, and shower look and work just the same as ours.  Amish homes don’t have very many bathrooms by our standards, as the girls don’t spend hours primping and preening!

Amish homes tend to be large and are usually white (although not always).  Often three generations live on the same property, with the parents turning over the farm to the youngest son and retiring to the “Dawdi Haus”—a smaller home right on the farm which may or may not be connected to the main house.  Vegetable gardens are common and often situated in front of the home, with flowers on the side facing the road.  (What a lovely idea!)

Furnaces are located in the basement and can be fueled by wood or, increasingly in this area, natural gas.  Gravity brings the heat to the upper floors.

I hope this clears up some misconceptions...   

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Yoder's Department Store

If you’re a people watcher like me, and you find yourself in Amish Indiana, then Yoder’s Department Store is a good destination to keep in mind.  There is excellent people watching to be done in the rocking chairs which can be found in the central corridor.  Often men can be found relaxing while waiting for their wives to finish their shopping.  I like to while away the afternoon hidden behind my sunglasses, watching life parade by.

Yoder’s is a favorite with both locals and tourists alike.  On one side of the central corridor is the famous Yoder’s Department Store.  On the other side, in the front, there used to be a grocery store; this has been replaced by a restaurant called “Seven Sisters” that seems to have stalled mid-construction.  Farther down the corridor is Yoder’s Hardware, an old-school hardware store.

Besides people watching, there are lots of other reasons to stop in.  It’s a good place to come in out of the rain, cold, or heat. The shopping is good.  And—there are decent restrooms there, down the corridor on the right.

Yoder’s Hardware is, as I mentioned, old-school.  There are lots of local products, tourist trinkets, and just plain useful stuff.  We have purchased a birdhouse there.  I’ve bought work gloves.  We have found kitchenware we liked.  Once I found a replacement rain gauge glass tube that I hadn’t found anywhere else.  It’s the kind of place where you can wander down the aisles, just seeing what they’ve got.  You can even purchase garden seeds by the scoop.

Yoder’s Department Store, 60 years old and going strong,  is legendary for its quilting department, where over 12,000 bolts of fabric can be found at last count.  But there’s lots more.  A quick look around makes it obvious that they serve the local Amish population with clothes, shoes, and felt/straw hats and bonnets.  There are also large sections of hunting apparel, work clothes, and other types of clothing.  We often buy high-visibility yellow items here for my husband, who is required to wear them at work.  We also buy his flannel shirts here—they stock a brand called “Big Bill” which fit his outlandishly long arms.

This is another place where one could spend an hour, learning more about the local culture than any book or museum could convey.  And like I said, it’s a great place for people-watching.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Shaklee Chris

I took this photo on the road in front of a certain Amishman’s farmhouse.  That Amishman could only be “Shaklee Chris.”  I have written about him before, when he and my husband went to a car show.  Here’s the story of how he got his name.

Chris was born in an Amish community in Kansas, but has lived his adult life in Lagrange County, Indiana, where he had eight children, all of whom remained Amish.  One of his sons runs the farm now, and Shaklee Chris lives in the “Dawdi Haus” across the driveway.  (When one of the children takes over the farm, his parents usually move into a smaller home on the same property.)

Anyway, Chris is in his mid-eighties now, but for quite a few years he has been a dealer in Shaklee products (health and cleaning products, sold by home distributors like Tupperware or Mary Kay Cosmetics).  He has a small retail-like shop set up in a back room, and once a week for many years, he has had a driver take him on his rounds, picking up Shaklee products and then delivering it all over the countryside.

Chris is a very, very good Shaklee dealer.  Quite a few years back, he received a letter asking him to attend the annual Shaklee convention in California.  He didn’t take the letter seriously, he told me; besides, California is a long way from Indiana by train.  (The Amish don’t fly.)  But after a few more letters, he asked his Shaklee supervisor, who assured him that his sales were so high, that he qualified to attend. 

Once there, he discovered that his sales were high enough to qualify for a car!  (A program no longer in existence, for the top Shaklee distributors in each region.)  Obviously he had no use for a car… so Shaklee made him a special deal.  They told him to select and purchase a brand-new buggy and a buggy horse, and send them the bill.

Over the years Shaklee Chris won eight (8) horses and buggies.  Each time he purchased them and then passed them on to one of his grandsons who was coming of age.  I can only imagine the publicity that Shaklee got from this!  But Chris tells the story with amusement and pride.  This is one special Amishman—and he still sells Shaklee.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

101 Things to Do in Shipshewana

Last year I discovered a wonderful little book. It was written by Melissa Troyer in 2010 and is called “101 Things to Do in Shipshewana.”  I picked it up and put it back without buying it several times, but eventually I spent the ten dollars, and it was a very good investment, even for someone like me who has been to Amish Indiana countless times.

Melissa Troyer grew up in the area, and her father was raised Amish until he was seven.  She has spent ten years working in the local tourism industry, and she has a lot to share about “Shipshe,” the town she calls home, and the nearby communities.   

She shares information about local business large and small, both Amish- and English-owned.  She talks about the local traditions, local crafts, local foods, and what a visitor needs to know.  She gives information about the not-to-be missed shops that everyone has heard of—like The Blue Gate and Das Dutchman Essenhaus.  But she also points out the back-roads spots that most visitors never see, such as Owl Toy Craft, B-Honey, Plyley’s Candy, B&L Woodcrafts, and Ragtime Rugs.  She talks about weekly events such as the auction, the horse auction, and the flea market, as well as special events like Old Fashioned Farming Day, May Fest, and Pajama Sale Day.  She identifies local foods not to be missed, such as mush, Amish Peanut butter, and whoopee pies.  She identifies local characters like “Norm the Painter,” Jim Rubley the blacksmith, Amish artist Marlene Miller, and Eva and Mariah, the carriage horses at the Blue Gate.  She suggests where to try your hand at local opportunities such as picking blueberries, creating a custom doll, riding an old-fashioned carousel, or watching furniture be made.  She points out where to get a buggy ride, a tour, or dinner at a real Amish farm.  She talks about places to stay, places to eat, and places to relax or see the sights on Sundays, when almost everything is closed.   

I still throw this little book in my suitcase every time I travel to Amish Indiana.  You’re never too old, or too seasoned a Shipshe traveler, that you can’t learn something new.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Shipshewana: Tough on Crime

This Shipshewana street runs through a fairly new subdivision on the south side of town—one of the few real ‘subdivisions’ in Shipshewana—after all, it’s a farming town of only about 500 people and heavily Amish.  It also happens to be a shortcut into town for the Amish who live southeast of Shipshe (and there are plenty).  They can get off of eastbound Route 20, cut through this subdivision, and arrive at E&S Bulk Foods, a favorite shopping destination (for both them and my husband and I—I talked about E&S Bulk Foods in another post.)  I’m not sure what the residents think of the Amish traffic and the “road apples” the horses leave behind, but anyone who lives in Shipshewana is more than familiar with road apples!  I would hope that everyone gets along.

Anyway… While driving through here in our Jeep with our Amish friends one day, my Amish friend Ruth mentioned to me that they have been “pulled over” by the police in this neighborhood twice!  Needless to say, I was eager to know the story.

It turns out that the first time Ruth was alone.  She pulled up to a stop sign and stopped the buggy.  But her horse didn’t come to a complete stop—he jumped out a little.  The next thing she knew, the police pulled her over for not coming to a complete stop.

The other time, she and Glenn were coming home from town at twilight.  Amish buggies have a large orange reflective triangle on the back and also other safety features, including battery-powered blinking red lights at each corner.  As the sun set and it started getting dark, they forgot to turn on their blinking red lights.  And soon they found themselves pulled over by a policeman.

“Shipshewana: Tough on crime.”  Luckily for them, my friends got off with a warning both times.  Whew.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Signs Along The Road

Want to go for a drive, see some beautiful sights, meet the locals, and perhaps find a bargain?  Then drive east to Shipshewana, grab your local map, and head into the countryside, especially to the south, but any direction will do.  It’s easy…  the free local tourist booklets all contain maps, and the roads run mostly in a square-mile grid, with the roads in all of Lagrange County numbered in a wonderful, easy-to-understand, hard-to-get-lost system.  (Besides, we have a Garmin.)

 Anyway… head into the countryside with some cash in your pocket and see what you can find.  It is said that only a small percentage of Shipshewana’s one million annual visitors head off the beaten path—most don’t get past the flea market or the downtown shopping district.  But it’s out in the countryside that the real beauty, peacefulness, and good shopping can be found.  Just drive slowly, watch out for buggies and bicycles, and watch for signs—they’re everywhere.

 What can you find?  Start with roadside produce and bakery stands—that’s easy enough.  But don’t stop there; head up the lanes also.  Remember—the sign would not be out on the road if they did not want you to drop in!  Be brave, drive up the lane, and see what you discover.  It might be rag rugs, maple syrup, honey, homemade wood items, apple butter, bread, eggs, or candles.  It might be a small Amish general store, filled with all kinds of things.  It might be a small gardening center with seeds, annuals, bird feeders, and more.  It might be a bookstore, a quilt shop, or a furniture maker.  You just never know.  But one thing is for sure—you’ll probably meet the locals and understand their culture better.  And you’ve gotten away from the crowds, the tourist traps, and the high prices found “downtown.” 

Another thing to think about:  The Amish are finding it increasingly more difficult to support their families by their traditional lifestyle of farming.  As more and more go to work in the RV factories, some have turned instead to small cottage industries on their own farms.  By patronizing these small mom-and-pop businesses, we are helping the Amish to maintain the way of life that drew us to Amish Indiana in the first place.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Losing a Good Horse

Last time I was in Amish Indiana, I drove my friend Ruth to Menard’s in Goshen to buy a vacuum cleaner.  Since she’d never bought one before, she was glad for my input!  (Note: They plug a vacuum into a gas-powered generator.)  The Amish don’t have a lot of carpets—they like linoleum the best—but a few families will share a vacuum cleaner for those times when it’s needed.

What does this have to do with losing a good horse, you may wonder?

I was using my husband’s pickup truck, which I’ve driven only a few times.  He’s very fond of it, and he doesn’t even like dust on it, so he rarely allows it out of his sight.  As we parked at the far end of the lot as I had promised to do, I explained to Ruth that he is very fond of this truck; I showed her the “pinstripes” that he had hired someone to paint on it.

She remarked that her husband Glenn was similarly fond of their main buggy horse.  He had raised the horse himself, and she said he once remarked, “I wouldn’t take $5,000 for this horse.”  (Typical prices are $1,500 to $3,000.)  Whenever one of their children needed a buggy horse, he always held that one back if he could, and sent them out with a different one.

A few weeks prior, Glenn’s special horse had died from West Nile Virus.  The horse was only four years old—the prime of life for a buggy horse.  She said her husband didn’t usually get emotional about animals, but this had been a hard thing for him to take. 

They had noticed the previous Friday that the horse seemed lame in one back leg.  By Sunday they realized something was very wrong, and they suspected West Nile Virus, which had killed a few other horses in the area.  First thing Monday morning Glenn phoned the veterinarian, but she didn’t show up.  He called four times that day, asking her to come as soon as she could.  By the time she arrived, at 8 in the evening, it was too late, and the horse was too far gone.  Ruth said that Glenn couldn’t stop wondering whether his favorite horse could have been saved if the vet had arrived sooner.

There is a vaccine for horses which prevents West Nile Virus, but it’s very expensive.  The vet said the best thing to do is to keep the horses pastured as far as possible away from the woods.  At any rate, it was too late for Glenn’s favorite horse.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Buying a Dawdi Haus, Part Two

So as I said in my last post… My main and original Amish friends have been eying the home next door for a number of years now, and when it went up for sale, they bought it to use as their future Dawdi Haus (Grandparent House)—their retirement home.  Since I never show photos of my friends’ houses, I’ll not make an exception here, so you’ll have to imagine a blue house on a hill.

This is out of the norm in three ways:  Firstly, it is not on the home property—it is next door.  Secondly, it’s an “English” house, not Amish.  Thirdly, they are not ready to retire; their youngest son is only fifteen.  They are going to rent the house out for a few years, until they need it.

They bought the house from empty nesters who had let it go to rack and ruin, both inside and out.  They have already started the process of gutting it.  I saw it recently, and what a mess!  On the outside, they are going to build a small horse barn, but for now, they turned the small yard barn into a horse barn for the renters.  There is an in-ground pool that was in terrible shape, which they are filling in.  The gardens had been neglected for years.  The garage floor and part of the driveway had to be torn out, and their cement-contractor son-in-law is pouring a new floor—complete with a garage drain—which is quite necessary when your ‘garage’ isn’t for cars, but for laundry days and buggy-washing.

The inside looks like it was done in the 70s.  Lots of old carpet which will be mostly torn out; the Amish prefer linoleum.  (It’s hard to vacuum carpet when you don’t have electricity.)  Lots of dated built-ins that were loaded with mouse poop.  A balcony which had been enclosed and now is home to hundreds of flies.  A tiny kitchen which will be a lot more Amish-friendly when a wall is knocked out. 

But the house has advantages.  It is large and roomy with lots of natural light, and it sits on a hill where it has beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.  It will be beautiful when it’s done.  And it is next door to the old family farm.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Buying A Dawdi Haus, Part One

My main and original Amish friends recently bought a Dawdi Haus.  Most times, however, a Dawdi Haus is built, not bought.

What is a Dawdi Haus?  It’s a retirement home.  In the Amish culture, one of the sons, usually the youngest, gets the farm.  If the youngest is in another line of business, another son gets the farm—or even a daughter and her husband.  In one Amish family I know, the oldest son ended up with the family farm.  So there’s some flexibility there.  But generally and traditionally, it’s the youngest son.

It’s a great system, if you think about it… By the time the youngest son marries, probably in his early twenties, the parents are most likely in their sixties.  So the son and his wife take over the farm, and the parents move into the Dawdi Haus (Grandparent House).  Normally this is a second, separate home on the same property as the farm.  Sometimes it’s connected by a breezeway, but each family unit has their privacy, and each woman has her own kitchen.  Even the Amish believe my father’s old saying, apparently—“Two women can’t live under the same roof.” 

Since the Amish don’t pay or receive Social Security, it is the children’s job to care for their aging parents, and this makes it easier.  Help and assistance is close at hand, and loneliness—the bane of the widowed retiree—is unheard of.  The newly retired grandparents can do as much or as little work as they choose to do, and as health allows.  The grandfather can still help out on the farm, and and the grandmother can help with the cooking, grandchildren, or whatever she wants.  They are included in family and social gatherings and never feel like they’ve been left behind. They have their privacy, and their own home, but family is nearby in case of trouble, and they can be properly looked after.  It’s a tradition that works well.

Anyway… My main and original friends recently bought a Dawdi Haus—as opposed to building one on their farm.  More about that in Part Two.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Ten Commandments of Shopping

My husband and I go to Amish Indiana mostly to feast—and to feast our eyes—but we also do some shopping.  Over the years I’ve brought home gardening supplies, plants, bird feeders, yard art, furniture, house décor, clothing, quilted items, books, and who knows what else?  So I thought I would share The Ten Commandments of Shopping in Amish Indiana.   

Commandment #1: 
Check the current Shipshewana Visitor’s Guide.  It’s free and available everywhere, and it contains the popular and pricey places that most tourists like, but also some great out-of-the-way places.

Commandment #2: 
Check out the local tourism center in Shipshewana on Route 5.  They have lots of brochures describing out-of-the-way places to shop.

Commandment #3: 
The further you get from the tourist traps, the better the prices.  Taking a little time to do your homework—or just cruising around the countryside with your eyes open—can save you some money.  Get away from the tourist traps, and do some exploring before you buy.

Commandment #4: 
If you see a homemade sign by the road advertising something you might be interested in—pull over.  Drive up the lane and check it out.  They wouldn’t have the sign out there if they didn’t want you to stop by.

Commandment #5: 
If you like yard sales at home, check them out on the road.  I’ve come home with all kinds of things from yard sales in Amish Indiana.

Commandment #6: 
If you drive by an auction, pull over.  Chupp’s Auction House is on Shipshewana’s main north-south road (Route 5), but on any given weekend, there are auctions happening all over the countryside.  Pick up a free copy of The People’s Exchange, check bulletin boards in the stores and restaurants, or just keep your eyes peeled as you drive around.  We don’t often buy, but we love to watch.

Commandment #7: 
Bring a cooler.  Don’t leave home without it!  You never know what you might find, and it’s a real shame to pass up something good for want of a cooler.  A bag of ice is only $1.50, so bring a cooler!

Commandment #8: 
Don’t load up at the first place you stop.  This holds true for bakeries especially.  There are so many good places to explore, so pace yourself!  Stop at lots of places.  Try some new ones.  And save the big tourist traps for last—they’re open late.

Commandment #9: 
Bring home something yummy to share.  I used to bring home goodies for my elderly mother.  Many places have small loaves of bread or pies, packages of three cookies, and other things that make great gifts—so for a few dollars, you can make someone at home very happy.

Commandment #10: 
Try someplace new every time you go.  No matter how often we go to Amish Indiana, we never run out new places to shop.  Every country road has a bakery or a farm stand or a sign advertising bread or eggs or honey or maple syrup or candles or something good.

So there you have them...  The Ten Commandments of Shopping in Amish Country.  Go, and sin no more.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Riding the Chicago "L" with the Amish

I have mentioned that my boss has been drawn into my love of Amish Indiana, ever since he drove six of my Amish friends from Indiana to Illinois for my wedding in 2007. 

One time a few years back he decided to invite some of my Amish friends to Chicago for a day of sightseeing, and it was a day of sightseeing like no other.  We went to the Shedd Aquarium, ate lunch at the Signature Room Restaurant on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building, walked around Millennium Park, stopped at a Jewish deli, and rode “The L”—the Chicago subway/elevated train system—where, as it turned out, we made a stranger’s day.  Recently my Amish friend Ruth asked me to tell that story again.

Even an Amishman can have a “bucket list”—and one of the Amish in our party had always wanted to ride The L.  So we (about eight Amish and six “English” in our party) bought tickets and took three or four rides around (and under) the city.  We got some looks, but downtown Chicago is a diverse place, so not as many as you might think!  At one stop, while we waited for our train, I noticed a young female train employee looking at us and talking excitedly into her cell phone, looking close to tears.  When I stepped closer, she said to me, “Are those real Amish people?”  I assured her that they were, and she got even more excited.  She said, “I saw a special on TV about the Amish one time, and I so admire their faith and their way of life.  I’ve always wanted to meet an Amish person for real.  This is really something!”  So I thought I’d see what I could do to help her cross something off her bucket list…  I called over two of my Amish friends and introduced them to her, and she introduced herself to them.

The young woman then told them of her admiration for their lifestyle and their faithfulness to their beliefs, tears running down her face.  She said she was talking to her mother on her cell phone.  As she talked to us, she said things to her mother such as, “Yeah, Mama, they are real Amish people!  Yeah, honestly, for real!  What a blessing!  This is such a blessing!”

My Amish friends were happy to make her acquaintance—and also to make her day.  What a blessing,  indeed.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Yoder's Meat and Cheese

For years I drove by Yoder’s Meat and Cheese in Shipshewana without stopping by.  I didn’t think I wanted to shop for meat on a weekend getaway—it’s not a very vacationish-type of activity, buying meat!…  But then I stopped by one day with an Amish friend, to pick up her daughter’s W2 form.  One visit and I was hooked.

Since meat and cheese are their specialties, they have plenty of both—with free samples of the cheeses, and there are a million kinds, most of which I’d never heard of.  The meat cooler is packed with chicken, pork, beef, and even buffalo, all locally grown, all hormone and steroid-free.  The entire place is clean and organized and a pleasure to shop in. 

As for the bother of taking meat home—I have learned that it’s worth the trouble of tossing a cooler in the back of the Jeep.  My husband buys summer sausage there from the large selection of smoked meats (samples available there too) that he takes to work in his lunch bag with some of their cheese and a box of crackers.  And their thick-cut peppered bacon—when it’s cooked right, in a good pan of bacon grease—is the best I have ever eaten.  (My husband says it has ruined him for any other bacon!)  They sell bags of ice and inexpensive coolers for the unprepared, so it’s really not much trouble to take something home.   

But half the store has other food items, and we never leave empty-handed.  Yoder’s has nuts, preserves, seasonings, locally made noodles, and all kinds of stuff for good down-home cooking and baking.  I’ve found some unique sweet and salty snacks there, and the prices are better than where most tourists shop.  (The First Commandment of Shopping in Amish Indiana is this: The further you get from the tourist traps, the better the prices.)  It’s a good place to pick up things to bring home for yourself or for gifts.  We bring back jars of the horse radish for a friend of my husband’s—he says it’s the best he’s ever tasted.  Now some of his friends are hooked on it, too.

Out in front in the parking lot, a local Amish family, the Millers, make and sell kettle corn on some days, and free samples are offered to passersby.  The “fry pie” vendor is sometimes set up with his trailer.  You never know what you’ll find.  I never thought I could get excited about a meat and cheese store, but I was definitely mistaken!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Phone Shanties

It used to be that to communicate with my Amish friends, I’d have to write a letter.  And if my Amish friends needed to make a phone call, they would walk or ride a bike to the diner down the road.  But these days, phones are working their way into the Amish community—via phone shanties.

A phone shanty is a little building out by the road containing a phone which four or five families share.  Each family has a different voice mail extension, so this is what you hear:  “For Alvin Troyer, press 1.  For Merle Beachy, press 2.  For Noah Miller, press 3.  For Jacob Bontrager, press 4.”

When I phone my Amish friends, I leave a voice message.  They usually check their voice mail twice a day.  It’s still a strange thing to me to hear my cell phone ringing and see their name on the caller ID!  But it does make it much easier to plan things than in the old days, particularly since my husband and I sometimes head for Amish Indiana on short notice.

Some businesses have phone shanties closer to the building.  When you see print ads for Amish businesses in tourism brochures or The People’s Exchange, a phone number is often listed, but normally it will say “VM” next to the number—“voice mail.”  Some Amish businesses are permitted to have cell phones, such as builders or contractors.  And Amish young people ages 16 upwards who are in their “running around years” and have not yet joined the church might have cell phones.

Recently I asked my Amish friend Ruth how things are going with the phone shanties, and Amish phone usage in general.  She said that they share a phone shanty with three other families, and lately it’s been a struggle.  She will walk or ride her bike to the phone shanty and sometimes have to wait an hour for her turn.  Recently she had to make three trips to the shanty in one afternoon before it was free.  She said they are going to ask their bishop if they can split it up and have two phone shanties, one for just their home and the home next door.

Why are phone shanties allowed, but phones inside homes are not?  The long and short of it is, they want to discourage faceless electronic socializing rather than actual human contact.  They also frown on having endless hours frittered away, socializing on the phone.  (Not unlike what I’ve heard “English” parents say.)  They believe in doing your work when it’s time to do your work, and then when work is done, spending lots of time in social activities and fellowship—face to face and in person.  

I remarked to my friend that recently I’ve seen what I call “phone shanty creep”—the shanties seem to be moving farther up the lane and closer to the homes and businesses.  She agreed with that, and said that the local bishop has said that the shanty can be partially up the lane, but not close enough that you can hear it ring from inside the house.

What a slippery slope keeping modern technology at bay can be!  A 500-year-old religious and cultural group, trying to maintain their identity as a "separate people" while not creating undue hardship on their members...  But as I've said before, it's not my place to defend the Amish or try to explain their choices.  I'm glad they are as accepting of my contradictions as I try to be of theirs. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Rise N Roll

Does my husband look happy in this picture?  You bet he does.  And what is the source of this happiness? A cinnamon caramel doughnut—one of the specialties at Rise N Roll Bakery and Deli in Shipshewana.

Bakeries are everywhere in Amish Indiana—but this one is special.  On Saturday mornings the line runs through the building and out the door.  But any other time it’s easy to purchase something freshly baked to eat there, and something more to take home.

I remember, not that many years ago (2001 to be exact), when Rise N Roll began in a white building on a farm on the Middlebury-Shipshe Road (Route 250N) near the county line.  I stopped by with a friend, and the eager young Amishman behind the counter, Orvin Bontrager, said that he and his wife had just started the bakery and they really hoped that it would do well. 

It certainly did!  Now Rise N Roll has a huge new building on Route 20, and they sell baked goods as well as local food products of every kind.  There’s also a deli with tables where people can eat breakfast or lunch, or enjoy a fresh doughnut with the always-free cup of coffee.  It is a great place to get gift items to bring back with you, since they carry so many things that will ‘keep’ on the trip home.

 Standing at the checkout counter, you can see the huge work area in the back where the goodies are made.  Sometimes if you’re very lucky, and you’re there in the morning, you can stand there and watch the young women making the baked goods singing while they work.

Rise N Roll’s original owners have joined up with outside (“English”)  investors now, so they have a website ( and a facebook page.  They have expanded to making gluten-free baked goods, all-natural pizzas, box lunches, and gift baskets.  They now have two stores (Middlebury and Nappanee), and their products are sold in local supermarkets, shops, and restaurants, as well as farmer’s markets around Chicagoland.  But when in Amish Indiana, it’s still a nice place to eat, shop, and relax for a few minutes with a free cup of coffee.  And for the happy man in the photo, a cinnamon caramel doughnut.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Shaklee Chris Goes to the Car Show

My husband recently traveled from our home in Illinois to Ohio to meet some old friends at a hot rod event, and he decided to break his journey in Amish Indiana, where he could have some great pie and stay at one of our favorite B&Bs (Songbird Ridge).   

His stop was to be over a Thursday night, so he decided to go to the huge cruise-in that happens at Essenhaus Inn in Middlebury on Thursday evenings in the summer.  A “cruise-in,” for those of you not married to a “gearhead,” is when owners of old cars show up at a designated place and spend the evening checking out each other’s cars.  Sometimes there is music, food, and/or trophies.  Lots of spectators show up at the bigger cruise-ins, and the event at Essenhaus is huge.

I remarked that “Shaklee Chris,” one of our older Amish friends (how he got that nickname is a story for another day) had been wanting to attend that event, but it was too far by buggy and his adult children didn’t want him to ride his bike there alone!  (He is 85.)  My husband Gary left a voice mail for Chris, and soon it was arranged.

Gary arrived in Amish Indiana in time for some pie-eating before picking up Shaklee Chris.  They proceeded to Essenhaus, where Chris treated him to dinner.  They then spent some time wandering up and down the rows of old cars.  My husband said that Chris was the only Amishman he saw there.

Later, on the way back to Shipshewana from Middlebury, Chris told Gary stories about the local Amish—and about some of the local business owners who were now “English” but had grown up Amish.  They made a couple of stops, including an Amish buggy shop run by one of Chris’ grandsons.  He makes a good living making buggies for the locals, and he picks up extra money from an arrangement that a tour company made with him.  They stop by with busloads of tourists who want to look around his buggy shop, and he gets paid a small fee for each tourist.  He said he often sees two groups a week.

I was glad to see my husband so comfortable with the Amish.  It was his first trip into their world without me, and he passed the test with flying colors.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Amish Sense of Whimsy

Amish sense of whimsy... The window on the left side of the barn is fake, just painted on - as are the white cross-pieces on the barn doors. So is the white triangular vent at the peak.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Hidden Creek B&B: A Hidden Treasure

In a previous post I mentioned Songbird Ridge B&B, one of our favorites places to stay in Amish Indiana.  Songbird Ridge is run by Gwen Newcomer, a second-generation B&B owner.  Her daughter Gretchen has followed in the family tradition with her own B&B, which she calls “Hidden Creek.”  It is located near Songbird Ridge, north of Shipshewana on State Route 5, but on the other side of the road.

Hidden Creek is well named.  The first time we stayed there, we drove by the sign two or three times before we saw it.  The house is located at the end of a long lane between two Amish farms.  The front side of the house is where Gretchen and her family lives, but around back is the entrance to one of our favorite hideaways in Amish Indiana.

I’ve mentioned before that my husband isn’t a big fan of B&Bs.  He doesn’t like the feeling of “staying in somebody else’s house,” and he’s not fond of socializing with strangers at breakfast.  But Gretchen’s B&B is perfect for guys like him; it is a self-contained unit with living room, kitchen, and two bedrooms, each with its own bath.  (One bedroom has a queen bed and the other has a pair of twins.)  It is pretty and comfy and quiet, and we sometimes bring DVDs to watch on the TV while we make some popcorn (provided) or munch on that day’s purchases of caramel corn or baked goods.

Early in the morning, Gretchen appears from upstairs with a basket of homemade bran muffins, cheese, meat, fruit cups, cereal, orange juice, and coffee.  We sit at the table, looking out at the meadow behind the B&B with its sheep and frolicking goats, while we talk about our plans for the day and check our email (Hidden Creek has free wireless, which is a rare thing at B&Bs).

Hidden Creek doesn’t have a website, and Gretchen doesn’t take reservations directly.  Her mother handles that task via her own B&B, Songbird Ridge; and ordinarily, Hidden Creek isn’t available unless Songbird Ridge is booked.   

We sometimes stay at the large inns in Amish Indiana, and they do have their advantages, especially for those with children in tow.  But it’s nice to have an alternative, and Hidden Creek is a good one.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Kettle Korn


Sometimes it’s the little things in life… and for my husband, one of those things is fresh homemade caramel corn.  See the smile on his face?  Caramel corn put it there.

It would be easy to drive by and not see the Kettle Korn building—it’s set back from the street on a promenade that cuts through the middle of the block, in the middle of the downtown shopping district.  But we always make a point of stopping there.  If the older Amish gentleman who makes the popcorn treats is busy with the big kettle, then the wonderful aroma drifts out to greet any pedestrians on the main street.  There are jars with free samples, as if the aroma isn’t enticing enough!

Even if he’s not on duty, the treats are for sale, on the honor system.  A wooden box sits near the various kinds of popcorn (caramel corn, kettle corn, cheddar cheese corn), with a sign above it giving the prices for small, medium, and large bags.  You put your money in the slot and take your treat.  We’ve resorted to asking total strangers for change for a big bill, so we don’t go away empty-handed!

There’s another wonderful popcorn stand south of downtown, Vernon Miller’s Blue Ribbon Kettle Korn, located in the parking lot of the Red Barn Shoppes.  Someone is usually standing by giving away samples—often a young Amish woman, probably a daughter or niece...  Warning—if you try it, you will buy it.

We have found that caramel corn is a nice snack to much on during the three-hour trip home.  So with a cooler in the back full of pies, meat, cheese, and other goodies, we make our way back to everyday life, with a taste of Amish Indiana to get us home.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Knee Surgery

I still remember the trip to Amish Indiana when my husband finally became comfortable around the Amish.  It was the time that Glenn had knee surgery.

My Amish friend Glenn had torn up his knee sliding into third base during a family game of baseball the previous summer.  (I guess men are men in any culture!)  One December when we were out visiting, Glenn told us that the doctor had said that surgery was needed, and he was obviously feeling quite far out of his comfort zone as he talked about it.  My husband, after silently conferring with me for agreement, said, “We can come out here and take you—would that help?” 

So plans were made… We would come out on Thursday night, spend the night at the farm (something my husband had said he’d never do), and then on Friday we would take Glenn and his wife to the surgery center fifteen miles away, sit with her while he was in surgery, and then drive them back.

The time came, and out we went.  Late that Thursday evening we settled in with Glenn, Ruth, and their 14-year-old son to play a few games of dominoes by gaslight.  It was a game my husband and I had to be taught—another step back to a simpler time.  Things were going along just fine until there was a ruckus outside.  An Angus steer had broken out of his pen at the Angus beef farm down the road, and he was running renegade through the snow in the dark, breaking through any fences that got in his way.  The men (Amish) dropped everything and ran out to assist, and that was the end of dominoes!  Later that night we slept under a homemade quilt, with an electric lantern by the bed.

The next morning we headed to the surgery center, and I do think that having us along made a difference.  We knew where to go and what to do and what to expect, and Ruth didn’t have to wait by herself.  Glenn’s surgery went well, and we were able to get him his prescriptions on the way home.  So it all worked out… and after that, my husband was as comfortable around the Amish as I could hope for.  Now he felt like they were his friends, too.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Best Pretzels Ever

I never thought I could make a meal out of a pretzel… but that was before I discovered JoJo’s Pretzels in Amish Indiana.

JoJo’s has been on the first floor of the Davis Mercantile Building for as long as I can remember—it dates back to the old building, before the big fire (but that’s a story for another day).  The shop has expanded as its popularity has expanded.  But two things haven’t changed—the Coca Cola décor and the pretzels.  These days they come in all kinds of flavors with all kinds of dipping sauces, instead of just the original white and whole wheat with sauces of sweet or sour  mustard.  There’s something for everyone—even hot dogs or soup for anyone crazy enough not to like their pretzels.

I’ve read that owner Levi King named the place after his wife JoAnne, and that on a busy day, they make over 1,000 pretzels.  You can watch them being made—the workers cut off a chunk of dough, twist it into a rope, and flip it around to make the interconnected loops.  Then it’s baked, dipped in butter, and salted.  Yum.

Right next door is the Kitchen Cupboard, one of the few places in Shipshewana where you can get a good latte or cappuccino (or a frozen ice-blended coffee drink).  The two businesses are connected, so it’s a great combination.  We often sit at one of the tables there to rest our feet, enjoy our snacks, and plan out the rest of our day.  (Note—Kitchen Cupboard goes heavy on the flavorings in their lattes etc., and I like then less sweet, so I ask them to go light on the syrups.)

Fresh-baked pretzels don’t travel or reheat well; therefore, it’s best to eat them on the spot.  So pace yourself and make sure you leave room for a JoJo’s pretzel and a soda (I like the Boylan brand diet cherry) or a coffee drink.

I should mention that the Red Barn Shoppes on Route 5 also have a pretzel place (Ben’s Pretzels) on the second floor at the head of the big staircase, and the pretzels there are very good.  So if you find yourself south of downtown when the craving hits, or if JoJo’s has a line going out the door, take a chance and try Ben’s Pretzels instead.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Amish Guests at My Wedding

In 2007, at age 51, I got married—for the first time.  (Call me a late bloomer.)  One day not long after I got engaged, my boss asked, “Have you thought about having your Amish friends at your wedding?”  My answer was, “I’ve thought about it every day.”  I’d brought my fiancée out to meet them, and they shared my joy that I was finally “settling down.”  But I didn’t think there was a way to have them attend the wedding—after all, they lived 150 miles away, and the logistics would be more than I could handle.

My boss had been thinking about it, too, or he wouldn’t have asked the question—and he had a plan.  He offered to rent a 7-passenger van; drive over that Friday; bring back six of my Amish friends; have them stay at his house Friday night; bring them to the wedding on Saturday; and then drive them home on Saturday evening, in time for them to attend church at home on Sunday morning.  I was overjoyed.

The next task:  Deciding which six to invite.  I quickly decided on Glenn and Ruth, my two original Amish friends, and two of their daughters with spouses—the oldest two—the two who had invited me to their weddings several years earlier.  (In the end, one of the daughters was just too nervous to come, but her younger brother and his wife came in their place.)  Glenn said to me, “Well, Sue, we’re nervous.  But we’re coming.” 

How to make them less nervous, I thought to myself?…  So I printed out three copies of the entire wedding script and mailed the copies to them.  I also assured them that there would be no alcohol, loud music, or dancing at the reception—just food, quiet music, and socializing.

The time came, and they arrived.  I decided they might be more relaxed if they met the wedding party and families the night before, so I invited them to the rehearsal dinner at my new home.  They arrived looking very nervous indeed!  But half an hour later they were eating and talking and having a fine time.  The next day, after asking the wedding photographer to not take any pictures of them (it’s against their religious beliefs), they settled in at the church, and I still remember the beaming smile I got from Ruth as I walked back down the aisle.

It was so special to share my big day with my friends from a different culture who had been so accepting of a middle-aged, unmarried woman in their midst all those years.  After being invited to two of their weddings, it was wonderful to return the favor!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Camping Out - Not Just for the "English"

Last time we visited Amish Indiana, we stopped to see our original Amish friends, as we often like to do.  Glenn was out in the fields, so we hopped in the Jeep with his wife Ruth in the back seat and drove out there, down the long, sandy lane to the far end of their deep and narrow acreage.   Glenn took a break from his corn-planting, gave the five-horse team of Belgians a rest, and we walked back into the woods, where Ruth wanted to show us something. 

On the way, Ruth told us that their two youngest sons had always liked to camp out in these woods on a summer night with their friends.  They had been doing this for a number of years—but this year, the older brother was sixteen, had a buggy and horse at his disposal, and was old enough to be ‘running around’ socially.  He had other interests now, and no longer camped out in the woods with his friends.  But his younger brother planned to do so that very weekend, and had been working with his friends to upgrade the site.

A few minutes into the woods, we saw this wonderful picture.  Is there any young boy who likes the outdoors—Amish or “English”—who wouldn’t love this?  The boys had cleared an area in the woods, made a fence using a circle of trees, and set up a campfire pit with a cooking area over it.  In the right foreground you can see their firewood supply, cut and stacked.  Ruth told us that they planned to come out that afternoon to set up a tent and make other final preparations.

But, boys will be boys…  We asked Ruth what the boys would be cooking over the fire the next evening.  She smiled and said, “They told me that what they really wanted was for me to heat up a pizza and bring it out, and they would keep it warm over the fire.”  Fourteen-year-old boys may like to camp out, but that doesn’t mean they know how to cook!

The Amish being a very social people, the plan was that the boys’ parents would come along as well, and while the boys camped out in the woods, the parents would socialize at the main house.  It sounded like a great plan to me.  I hope they had good weather!

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Quilt Gardens of the Heritage Trail

It’s June as I write this, and time to bring on the “Quilt Gardens and Murals Along the Heritage Trail.” 

This is something rather new in Amish Country, but it seems to have caught on.  A number of places in the various towns of Amish Indiana (including Elkhart, Bristol, Middlebury, Shipshewana, Goshen, Nappanee, and Wakarusa) participate in the display.  The quilt murals are painted on wood and mounted on the sides of buildings.  The quilt gardens are just what they sound like—gardens made to look like quilts. 

Some of the twenty or so gardens are planted on slanted surfaces created just for the gardens.  Others are on flat ground, but a viewing platform has been built to offer a better view.  We drove around and took pictures of a few:

This garden (above) was seen at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury.  It was built on a natural hill.  It is one of the largest that we saw, and had a grass path running through it so that people could stand in the middle and have their picture taken.  The quilt pattern is called “Dresden Plate” and they chose it because of their popular restaurant.

This second garden was found at Menno-Hof in Shipshewana.  A viewing platform had been built in front of the quilt garden.  Notice that the quilt pattern is a replica of the Menno-Hof logo, found on the upper part of the barn behind it.

This third garden (above) was found near the second one, this one at the Farmstead Inn.  The ground was built up to more of a slope here, to show the garden to better advantage.  The pattern is called “Goose Tracks.”

Many of the locations have brochures and maps of the entire collection, and some have fliers describing their particular garden.  The garden at Essenhaus in Middlebury, for example, is over 3,200 square feet in size and contains 7,700 flowers—begonias, marigolds, ageratums, and petunias.  The garden at Menno-Hof contains 4,752 flowers—marigolds, ageratums, and begonias.

Peak time is August through September, so the brochure said.  When we saw them in late June, some still needed to grow in a little, but others already looked wonderful.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Country Lane Bakery

We just got back from Amish Indiana, and as usual, we discovered something new.  This time it was Country Lane Bakery.  We had stopped there once before with our Amish friends so they could pick up an order, but since there was no retail area, we hadn’t been back to check it out.  But this time we stopped by to take a look, and it won’t be the last time.

Although there is no retail area, there is a display area behind the counter, and a price list (along with some merchandise on a rack and in a cooler) out in front.  We chatted with the Amishman behind the counter, and asked to purchase some oatmeal whoopee pies.  Knowing we were new customers, and wanting to win us over, he threw in a small loaf of white bread for free.  When my husband asked about the cinnamon rolls, he threw in one of those as well—after he had frosted it, right on the spot.  While he was away from the counter, I took the chance to take this photo:

 As the menu shows, there are a great variety of things to try—breads, rolls, cookies, cakes, and more.  My favorite local baked goods are the chocolate crinkle cookies and whoopee pies; my husband likes cinnamon rolls and almost any kind of pie.  Our boy at home likes the monster cookies.

Country Lane Bakery a mile and a half south of Route 20 between Shipshewana and Middlebury, at 59162 County Road 43, in this unassuming building with a phone shanty out front.  It is Amish-run, the food is made on-site, and they don’t advertise much.  The location is out of the way, but we’re always looking for an excuse to drive out into the countryside.  The food is fresh, and good, and reasonably priced.  As is typical in Amish Indiana, they are closed on Sundays.

 We shop regularly at the big bakeries in Shipshewana and Middlebury and will continue to do so.  But it’s nice to patronize the smaller local establishments whenever we can, especially the Amish-owned ones.  And sometimes, with enough patronage, some of the “little guys” have become bigger players.  (An example is Rise and Roll Bakery and Deli.)  Why should a few wealthy “English” families make all the money, when it’s the Amish culture that brings the tourists here in the first place?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Amish Vegetable Garden: A Thing of Beauty

My husband and I are both gardeners, and we have a great system—I point and he plants.  In the Amish culture, it doesn’t work that way; the garden is the responsibility of the wife.  We like to look at them as we drive around the countryside.  Some of them look plain and utilitarian—but in many cases, you can see the care that was taken to make the garden not just a food source, but a thing of beauty as well.  Often there is a wide swath of flowers on the edge nearest the road or the house.  I could show a hundred examples, but I’ll stick to three or four.

This first picture I took before I knew whose garden it was—and then when we passed the mailbox, I realized it was the parents of one of my friends.  I like how it tucks in between the front yard and the trees.

This next one (below) belongs to a family named Weaver.  I know this because when I stopped to admire it and take a picture, the woman who owned it was relaxing at a picnic table nearby, and we sat and talked for a while.  She was pleased that I liked her garden and she didn’t mind my taking pictures of it.  (The Amish themselves don’t pose for photographs, as it is against their religion.)

But my favorite garden is always my friend Ruth’s, shown below.  She obviously has a gift for gardening, as well as an eye for beauty.  Down the edge of the garden was a mix of perennials, roses, flowering shrubs.  The red and pink flowers are poppies.  She said that she’s already canned 50 quarts of strawberries and has told her grown children that the rest are theirs to pick.  The soil is very sandy there, so she can grow potatoes and carrots, as well as sweet corn, tomatoes, strawberries, onions, green beans, and lots more.

I asked her how much time she spends in her garden in a typical week, but it was hard for her to say.  I think she goes out there whenever the weather is good and she wants to get some sunshine and fresh air.

We will probably never tire of looking at Amish gardens.  Each one is different.  They show the love and care that an Amish wife has for her family, as well as the pride she takes in creating something beautiful and useful.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ervin's Hardwood Furniture

Lots of furniture places call themselves a “furniture barn”—but in the case of Ervin’s, it is literally true.

We discovered Ervin’s in 2007, when he had a much smaller sign than this one...  It was February, and we saw the small, modest sign by the road, and we decided to drive up the very long lane—past the fields, the farmhouse, and the herd of dairy cattle—and see what was at the end of it.  We were not disappointed.  Ervin and his six or seven sons have two barns full of beautiful pieces, and they also do custom work and millwork of every kind.

The barn is heated and lit in the old Amish way—and like many Amish businesses, it doesn’t take credit cards.  The shop meanders through the old building on two floors, and there are all kinds of handmade hardwood items (mostly oak and cherry) like dining tables and chairs, bedroom sets, desks, TV stands, and bookcases—at prices much lower than we would find at home in suburban Chicago.  A few years ago we got a dining room table with two leaves and six chairs (pictured) for well under $1,500.  There were six or eight styles of chairs to choose from, so we sat on each one to decide which one was the most comfortable.  The chair seats come in two sizes, one regular and one for, shall we say, larger customers.

After we purchased the dining room set, we went back for a china cabinet.  All the china cabinets we had seen were too big for us—they seem to be mostly three-door cabinets these days.  We wanted a two-door, but all of the two-doors we’d seen were corner cabinets.  So I brought a photograph of my old, beaten-up two-door cabinet, and they made me a new one to match the dining room set.  I even saw it when it was halfway done, in the staining barn down the road.

There are a number of furniture stores in Amish Indiana.  If you are looking for a modern, well-designed showroom—or even one with electric lights and central heating—then Ervin’s is not the place for you.  But if you are looking for beautiful items at reasonable prices, then stop by.  Ervin will probably be there to greet you.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Legacy of Rocky Weaver

For many years I stayed at a Bed & Breakfast called Weaver’s Country Oaks quite regularly.  It was out on old State Route 20, south and east of Shipshewana, in the home of Lamar (Rocky) and Catherine Weaver.  A shed out back was the workshop for Rocky’s sign-painting business.  I liked to go back there with him and see what he was up to.  Sometimes I would take an old discarded sign off his ‘burn pile’ and take it home with me.  For years I had an old sign he created for a clothing shop displayed over the washer and dryer in my basement.  Back in those days, many of the local shop signs were his work, signed with his name. 

I enjoyed the many evenings I spent at the Weavers’ home, and they were the ones who first introduced me to my Amish friends.  But eventually the B&B got to be too much for them and they sold their country home and moved into Middlebury.  I saw Catherine a few times after that, since she worked in a local shop, but Rocky died in 2004—a victim of the heart problems that ran in his family.

Rocky painted signs to make a living, but what he really loved was painting local scenes.  Late in his life he got a chance to do one that would live on after he was gone.  It covers the wall over the entrance at the Yoder’sRed Barn Shoppes building, on Route 5, near the flea market grounds.  The mural is 12 by 24 feet in size and took Rocky six months to paint in 2002.  He signed it in the lower right corner, as he did so many of his creations.

Rocky’s work can also be seen on the walls of Rulli’sItalian Restaurant in Middlebury—he created all kinds of Italian motifs and faux bricks and alcoves that are a delight to the eye. 

But my favorite work of Rocky’s is one that he gave me on one of my many visits there—this little box.  I keep little treasures in it—but the best treasure is the box itself, and the memories it brings back of Rocky and Catherine and staying at Weaver’s Country Oaks.