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

Friday, April 26, 2013

Songbird Ridge


One of my favorite places to stay in Shipshewana is Songbird Ridge B&B. 

Gwen Newcomer is a second-generation bed and breakfast owner, and she learned from the best.  Her parents, Ruth and Paul Miller, ran a bed and breakfast just up the road from where Songbird Ridge is located.  (Ruth and Paul are retired now, and their old place is being run by a new owner.)  There are five lovely rooms at Songbird, all bird-themed.  Our favorites are the three at the lower level, which have their own living room.

It should be said that my husband is not a big bed and breakfast fan—he doesn’t like the idea of “staying in somebody else’s house.”  If he has to rub shoulders with a bunch of strangers, he’s not a happy traveler.  But he makes an exception for a few B&Bs, and this is one of them.  There is enough privacy to suit him, but enough social interaction to suit me. 


There are many reasons I like Songbird Ridge.  The breakfast room, for one.  It is a wonderful place to eat, and the views are wonderful, particularly in the winter when the leaves are off the trees.  The grounds are lovely; the rooms are comfortable and pretty; the front porch is a delight on a nice summer evening, when one can hear the clop-clop of the horses on the road.

My husband appreciates the homemade bran muffins served for breakfast every day.  And being a birdwatcher, he takes advantage of the binoculars to check out the wildlife from the big picture windows in the breakfast room.

 
Bed and breakfasts tend to come and go in Shipshewana, but a few of them have staying power, and this is one of them.  Gwen and her husband make their guests feel welcome and well taken care of.  Time after time, they have gone out of their way to make our stay comfortable or help us with a handy piece of information or advice.  Going back there is like having a home away from home.  The prices are similar to the motels in the area, but the ambience is very different.

Right down the road from Songbird Ridge is another B&B, Hidden Creek, which is run by third-generation B&B owner Gretchen—Gwen’s daughter.  And Gretchen learned  her hospitality lessons well—her place is another delight.  I’ll talk about Hidden Creek another day.

Their website:  www.songbirdridge.com

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Accident



The last time I spent an evening with my Amish friends, one of the men present that evening was Kenneth. He is the brother of my friend Ruth, and he farms his parent’s farm. (Usually the youngest son gets the family farm, yet he is the oldest son—but that’s another story.) 

Kenneth had been in an accident—not a farming accident, but a highway accident. He and eight other Amishmen were traveling in a hired van, as the Amish often do, to a dairy convention in Michigan, when the van apparently hit some ice, spun off the road, rolled three times, and ended up in a field on its roof. Three men were thrown from the van, and one man’s arm was trapped under it after it came to rest. Kenneth, who was riding up front next to the driver, said the last thing he remembers before the accident was the van beginning to slide, and the driver saying, “Oh, no…”

When I came home and looked up the accident online, I found that the story had been carried in papers all over the country, including USA Today. The story pointed out something I’d never thought of: “Identifying the men was slowed because these Amish men didn't have driver's licenses or state-issued identification cards.”

Kenneth was wearing his seatbelt (not all of them were), but nevertheless, he ended up being one of the two who were critically injured. He had broken and cracked ribs, a punctured lung, and other injuries. At first doctors though he might have a broken neck as well, but that turned out not to be the case. He did rupture a disc in his back, though, and is still facing possible fusion surgery. When I saw him, two or three weeks after the accident, he was in a plastic body cast from his waist up, but in good spirits. He can’t do any farming for the next six months. But in typical Amish fashion, friends, relatives, and neighbors have already begun to step up to help, plowing his fields or whatever else needs to be done.

Do the Amish own motor vehicles? No—neither tractors nor cars. But they will hire a car or van when they are traveling very far from home. A buggy horse is good for only 15 or 20 miles—and even then, the horse needs a night of rest before making the return trip. Why will the Amish travel in cars, but not own them? It’s not my job to explain their theology or defend it. I’m sure there are many, many things about my way of life that puzzle them exceedingly, also. But the essence of a cross-cultural friendship is acceptance. I just hope Kenneth feels better soon.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Pumpkinvine Trail


My husband loves to ride his bike, and I can often be talked into going with him, if he slows the pace to accommodate me!  Until recently, a bike path was one of the few things Amish Indiana lacked.  But no longer. 

Piece by piece, a trail is being put together that will stretch 16 miles from Shipshewana at the east end, to Goshen at the west end.  From Goshen riders can hook up with Elkhart via the MapleHart Trail.  Most phases are done, and two more segments in Middlebury are being completed this spring.   All in all, a beautiful ride through Amish Indiana. 

Some segments of the trail east of Middlebury towards Goshen are still not completely off-road, and bikers must ride on the roads for a mile or two.  My Amish friends tell me that a few of the local farmers have dug their heels in about having a bike trail cut through their land.  I hope they come around eventually.

The Shipshewana-to-Middlebury stretch, seven miles long, was mostly completed last fall, and we were happy to try it out.  It starts out at the west edge of Shipshewana, and runs parallel to State Route 20 towards Middlebury.  It is a beautiful trail, as you can see.

We will never stop riding the country roads in Amish Indiana—they have a beautiful charm all their own—but this is a very nice alternative, with more safety than a regular two-lane country road, and none of the horse manure issues of a two-lane road with an Amish buggy lane on each side of it!

The trail has been a boon for the local Amish population, who can ride their bikes (or walk) in a safer environment than a country road provides.  One of our Amish friends is in his eighties, but he regularly rode the trail from Shipshewana to Middlebury last fall, where he would treat himself at the Middlebury Dairy Queen before heading home to Shipshewana.

Spring is fast approaching here in the Midwest, and we are already making plans to put the bike rack back on our Jeep, air up the tires on the bicycles, find our helmets and water bottles, and head east to spend the weekend in Shipshewana and ride the Pumpkinvine Trail. 


Here is a link to their website:  www.pumpkinvine.org

Monday, April 15, 2013

Across Cultural Lines: My Friendship with the Amish



Sometimes a new friendship begins when you least expect it.

By the late 1990s I had been visiting Amish Indiana with various friends and relatives for fifteen years.  There were a handful of B&Bs that had become favorites, and I tried to visit at least twice a year, soaking up the local atmosphere and shopping for things for my home.

One summer I brought my 9-year old niece Amy for a visit, along with a friend and her daughter.  Our B&B owner had become friends with her Amish neighbors over the years, and since we were staying over a Sunday (rare for visitors, since nothing is open on Sunday)—she said, “My Amish neighbor sometimes takes my guests for buggy rides after church.  Do you think your niece would like that?” 

So the next afternoon, Glenn (as I now know him) pulled up in his buggy, and we took a ride.  It was wonderful!   A buggy goes just the right speed to see the countryside—fast enough for a constant change in scenery, but slow enough not to miss anything.  I was totally smitten.

The next morning we bought a Yoder’s gift certificate (a local department store frequented by the Amish).  We wrote some words of thanks on a card and drove over to deliver it to their farm.  I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it if no one came to the door—but Ruth (as I now know her) came out and, after we explained our errand, said the last thing I expected:  “Would you like to come in and have some lemonade?”

I had read everything I could find on the Amish during those early years, and I didn’t see this one coming.  They do business with “the English” (as they call us), but socializing with us—that isn’t so common.

Before long, my niece Amy had disappeared with Ruth’s children, not to be seen for the rest of the morning.  Amy fed livestock, hauled firewood on a wagon, and just generally had more fun than a girl from suburban Los Angeles could imagine.  When she came back with cow manure on her shoes, and Ruth had to hose it off, Amy said, “Cow manure!  I can’t wait to tell the kids at school!”

That was about fifteen years ago...  Ruth’s eight children, who all lived at home then, are mostly married now.  I’ve been to two of their family’s weddings, and six of them have been to mine.  I know their extended family and some of their friends, and they have met some of mine as well.  We have shared laughter and sorrow, and always, lots of good food! 

I still don’t know what they saw in me, or why they allowed me into their world.  But I have learned that friendship is friendship, across cultural lines—and this friendship is a “keeper.”

Saturday, April 13, 2013

How It Started


I feel like I’ve been visiting Amish Indiana forever, but actually it started in 1985.  I was a teacher in suburban Chicago, and our staff went to South Bend, Indiana, every fall for a teachers’ convention.  At a rest area along the tollway one particular year, my friend Becky picked up a brochure for a country inn near Amish country.  She said, “We should do this next year after the convention!  We could spend the weekend and go shopping.”

So the next fall, we did just that—and every fall thereafter for a decade.  And that began my love affair with Lagrange and Elkhart Counties—Amish Indiana.  I came back to visit again and again over the years—at first once a year, then twice a year...  I am not fond of driving on the tollways, but I always had one friend or another who was willing to drive.  

Sometimes we would stay at the big Amish-style inns, but usually we would find little B&B (Bed and Breakfast) places.  It was nice to have a local to ask for advice on where to eat, where to shop, where to find things.

At first I spent most of my time in the shops—but as the years went on, I had more stuff than I needed.  Then I started going just to soak up the atmosphere.   Sometimes I sat at the Friday morning horse auction for hours to watch them sell the big Belgian work horses and the smaller, sleeker buggy horses.  Sometimes I found a rocking chair at Yoder’s Department Store and, hidden behind my sunglasses, I watched the people go by.  Sometimes I went to the auction barn, which fascinated me.  Sometimes I brought home a piece of furniture or other decor.  Sometimes a long drive through the countryside was just what I needed.

And always, there was the food.  Good old-fashioned food, like my grandmother used to make.  Locally grown beef and chicken…  Locally made bread and pies…  Snacks that I could find only in Amish country.  I brought it home by the bagful.

Then in 2007, a big change—I got married.  What would my new husband think of my favorite place?  Would he think it was boring, or would he understand what I saw in it?  It didn’t take long for him to make up his mind…  I think what first won him over was the food.  All the rest was just icing on the cake.  Now it seems like we’ve always gone there together.

My husband and I hope to retire there in a few years—how wonderful that he shares my love of Amish Indiana!  When he first suggested retiring there, I thought, “What?  Leave my life in Illinois and start over?”  But now I am looking forward to it more than I can say.  It suits me.  It suits us.