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 currently 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?”  “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; this photo is a good example.  Lots of seating, simple linoleum floors with area rugs, 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, often right in their own community.   

The bathrooms look just like what you would see in any home, except for 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, since 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!)  

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 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 Department Store.  On the other side, in the front, there used to be a grocery store; this has been replaced by a quilting store and a snack shop.  Further down the corridor is Yoder’s Shipshewana 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.  You can get a snack.  And—there are decent restrooms!

Yoder 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 Yoder’s serves the local Amish population with clothes, shoes, hats, and lots more.  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.

Yoder’s Shipshewana Hardware is, as I mentioned, old-school.  There are lots of local products, tourist trinkets, and just plain useful stuff.  Their kitchenware department is especially outstanding.  We have purchased a birdhouse and birdfeed there.  I’ve bought work gloves.  We have found all kinds of garden things that 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.

This is another place where one could spend an hour or two, learning more about the local culture than any book or museum could teach.  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.

Postscript - Shaklee Chris passed away on April 5, 2017.

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.   

Although a few of the businesses are no longer open, 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 actual ‘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 for my husband and I—I’ll talk 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 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 details.

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 local officer of the law.

“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 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, most of us have GPS.)

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 greenhouse 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’ll get 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 typically 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 currently 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.

But a few weeks prior, Glenn’s special horse (not the one in the picture) 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 oldest and original Amish friends recently bought a Dawdi Haus.  They had been eying the “English” home next door for a number of years, and when it went up for sale, they bought it to use as their future retirement home.  Since I never show street-view photos of my friends’ houses, I’ll not make an exception here, so you’ll have to imagine a blue house on a hill, overlooking the old family dairy farm.

This is out of the norm in three ways:  Firstly, it is not on the home property—it is next door.  Secondly, it is presently an “English” house, not Amish.  Thirdly, they are not ready to retire; their youngest son is only fifteen.  They will 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 cleaning it out.  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 their 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 useful when your ‘garage’ isn’t for cars, but for laundry days, canning, and other messy tasks.

The inside looks like it was done in the 1970s.  Lots of old carpet which will eventually be torn out; the Amish prefer linoleum.  (It’s hard to vacuum carpet when you don’t have plug-in electricity.)  Lots of dated built-ins that were topped 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 wonderful when it’s done.  And best of all, it’s next door to the old family farm.

So there’s lots to do, but they are up to the task.  Right now the house still has electricity; the Amish around here are allowed to take up to a year to remove the electricity from an English home they purchase, and in the meantime they are allowed to use it, so they can use power tools without having to hook up to a gas-powered generator.  I look forward to seeing their progress!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Buying A Dawdi Haus, Part One

My main and original Amish friends recently purchased 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 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 or mid 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 take Social Security payments, it’s the children’s job to care for their aging parents, and this system makes it easier.  Help and assistance is close at hand, and loneliness—the bane of the widowed retiree—is kept at bay.  The newly retired grandparents can do as much or as little farm work as they choose to do, and as health allows.  The grandfather can still help out on the farm, 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 as they get older.  It’s a tradition that works well.

Anyway… My main and original friends recently purchased 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 places that most tourists visit, but also some great out-of-the-way places.

Commandment #2: 
Check out the local visitors' center in Shipshewana on Route 5.  They have lots of brochures describing out-of-the-way places to shop, and they can answer nearly any question!

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.  If prices matter to you more than convenience does, 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 like auctions, and you drive by one, 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.  (And there’s often food available, usually as a fundraiser for a local Amish school.)

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 smaller 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, and this is true for me even after 20+ years.  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're 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, land-line 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 several families might share.  Each family (or young person) 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 a few times a day and call me back.  It’s still a strange thing to me to hear my cell phone and see their name on the caller ID!  But it does make it much easier to plan things than in the old days.

Some businesses have phone shanties closer to the building.  When you see print ads for Amish retail 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 for business, especially builders or other contractors who are “out and about” during the day.  And Amish young people ages 16 and upwards who are in their “running around years” (rumspringa) and have not yet joined the church might have cell phones.

Why are phone shanties allowed, but phones inside homes are not?  The long and short of it is, the Amish want to discourage faceless electronic communication rather than actual human contact.  They also frown on having endless hours frittered away socializing over the phone.  (Not unlike what I’ve heard “English” parents say!)  Their phones are for necessary calls, so they keep them at arm’s length…  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 their 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 theology.  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, and a doughnut otherwise known as “Amish crack” because it’s so addictive!

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 on the spot, 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 (also known as Route 250N) near the Lagrange 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.  I’ve heard that 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 sold out to a group of non-Amish  investors a number of years ago, and they now 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 several smaller outlets, 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.   

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 him up.  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 fee.  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!

Postscript - Shaklee Chris passed away on April 5, 2017.

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 5, 2013

Kettle Korn


Sometimes it’s the little things in life… and for my husband, one of those things is fresh homemade kettle corn or caramel corn.  See that 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 Shipshewana 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 kettle or 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 in the front seat to get us home.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Knee Surgery

I still remember the trip to Amish Indiana when my new 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 just overgrown boys 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 out of his comfort zone as he talked about it.  My husband, after 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 there is another pretzel place further down Route 5—Ben’s Pretzels—and the pretzels there are a bit different (more bready) but still 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, 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.

These days (2018), the quilt gardens are in Elkhart County only, and no longer in Lagrange County (Shipshewana), but the quilt murals are found in both counties.

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 this time we stopped by to take a look, and now we’ve got a new local favorite.

Country Lane has a very small retail area, but there’s a lot to see and buy nonetheless.  We chatted with the Amishman behind the counter, and asked to purchase some oatmeal whoopee pies.  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.  (Talk about fresh!)  While he was away from the counter, I took this photo:

As the menu shows, there are a great variety of things to try—breads, rolls, cookies, cakes, and more.  My favorites are the chocolate walnut brownies and the whoopee pies; my husband likes the cinnamon rolls, the honey oatmeal bread, and the butter pecan pie.  Another favorite is the molasses cookies.

Country Lane Bakery is 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 and the food is made on-site.  The location is a mile or two out of the way, but we’re always looking for an excuse to drive out into the countryside anyway!  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.  Why should a few “English” families make all the money, when it’s the Amish culture that brings the tourists here in the first place?

NOTE:  It is October 2022 as I write this additional note, and Country Lane Bakery is for sale.  
The owners, I've heard, intend to go into the barbeque business instead!  So, I'm not sure about the future of Country Lane Bakery.  Hopefully someone will buy it out and keep it open at a new location.

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.

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’s Red 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’s Italian 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.

Monday, June 3, 2013

An Amish Wedding

Last fall I went to my second Amish wedding.  I have known the bride since she was young...  I’ve watched her grow up, have her heart broken a time or two, and finally, in her mid-twenties, meet her soul mate.  I was delighted to be asked to her wedding, which was held in this barn.  

Amish weddings take place during the week, in the morning, often at the home of the bride, and often in the barn.  Spring is a popular time, since the barn isn’t so full of hay or straw.  There are no special decorations.  The backless wooden benches used for church services are set up, men on one side in six or eight rows facing the center; women and small children on the opposite side in six or eight rows, facing the center; the elders, deacons, and preachers on the third side; and the unmarried girls and any “English” attending on a bench or two on the fourth side, nearest the door.  The bride and groom dress in their usual church clothing and sit, with their two pairs of attendants (“witnesses”), in the front row.

The wedding begins with the typical Amish church service—three hours long, all in “Dutch” (the German dialect the Amish speak as their first language).  Then at the end of the service, the bride and groom step forward with their four witnesses for the ceremony, which lasts about fifteen minutes.  Wedding rings are not exchanged; the Amish don’t wear jewelry, not even wedding rings or wrist watches.

For the first two hours, I was nearly the only non-Amish person, along with a few Mennonite relatives of the bride.  But then a dozen members of the groom’s family began to filter in—five of his nine siblings had not remained Amish when they became adults.  (Sidelight: members of an Amish family who do not join the Amish church are not shunned; shunning is for baptized members who leave.)

After the service, the food is brought out!  Usually there are four seatings, in nearby buildings or outside in tents.  The first seating is for those who attend the wedding.  The second seating is for those who helped prepare and serve the food.  The third seating is for those who arrive later—friends and relatives who didn't attend the wedding, due to space restrictions in the barn or other reasons. The fourth seating is held later in the day, for the young unmarried adults.  Over a thousand meals are usually served that day!

Amish weddings aren’t for the fainthearted, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

I went to another Amish wedding in 2018 - see this post.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Warsaw Cut Glass Company

There’s always something new to discover in Amish Country.  Recently my husband and I took a side trip an hour south to Warsaw, to the cut glass company workshop there, and it was a delightful afternoon.

I had visited the cut glass factory in Waterford, Ireland, many years ago, so I was familiar with the concept of “cut glass,” which is just what it sounds like—pieces of glassware have a series of cuts sawn into them, one at a time, by craftsmen who know what they are doing, and the patterns are beautiful.

The Warsaw factory still cuts glass the old-school way, as they have since 1911, with the same machinery used then.  The business has changed hands only three times, as one master craftsman trained the next one and then sold the business to him.  The present owner and master craftsman is Randy Kirkendall, who has cut glass there since he started training in 1980.  He now knows about fifty different designs.

The glass is cut by belt-driven wheels, and today it is one of the last places in America that still cuts glass the old-school way.  Calling ahead can allow visitors to go back into the large, open workroom and watch Randy practice his craft.  It is fascinating to watch him work!  He makes just a few marks on the glass with a red marker, and the rest is all freehand.  As he worked, he told us about the factory’s history and the process of cutting glass.  The building was full of the old machinery—huge belts that ran from one side to the other, spinning wheels of every size, different ones for different tasks.

My husband asked him, “How often do you mess up a piece and have to discard it?”  Randy pointed to a nearby shelf and said, “There are all my ruined ones for this year so far.” There were only a handful.  He said, “We get together on New Year’s Eve with our friends, and have a glass of wine, and fling them against that brick wall down there at the far end of the building.”  What a great tradition!  Out with the mistakes of the past, and start the new year fresh!

The factory has a shop out front, run by his wife, and we were amazed at how reasonable the prices were.  We went home with items for ourselves and others for gifts. Randy also does custom work, and they have a thriving mail order business.  Their website can be found at and there is a video there of Randy at work.