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

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.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bee Meets the Amish

I have a niece whom I used to call “Bee.”  She’s a teenager now, but when she was young, she used to go to Amish Indiana with me every May, during May Fest weekend.  She enjoyed the food, the shops, the Saturday morning parade, and staying at a Bed & Breakfast.  One thing she wasn’t so sure about was my Amish friends.

One year when Bee was about six, we made our May trip.  During my usual visit with my Amish friends, we decided that Bee looked bored, just sitting with the grownups and listening to them talk.  My Amish friend Ruth called over her two youngest sons, who were about Bee’s age—perhaps a year or two older, but she was as tall as they were.  They were even less sure about Bee than she was about them…  Bee was shy, but they were even more so!  But I worked on Bee in English, while Ruth worked on her two boys in “Dutch” (Pennsylvania Dutch, a peculiar form of German that is the everyday spoken language of the Amish).  I would imagine we were saying the same thing—“Be nice and play with her/him.”  All three of the kids looked like they would rather not, but in the end, reluctantly, off the three of them went towards the barn.

Ruth and I sat down to continue our conversation.  A few minutes later we saw the pony cart fly by, with three happy kids in it—one "English" girl and two Amish boys.  They looked like they were having the time of their lives!  At one point they got up so much speed that they veered off course, broke through the rock border of the vegetable garden, left cart tracks curving through it, and then broke out the other side, rocks flying everywhere!  Later, they played with the animals, swung from the rope swing in the hay barn, and then headed for the special swing set featuring a hollow log with a ladder running up through the middle of it.  Bee told me later that at one point, they got so used to each other that one of the boys turned to her and asked her something in "Dutch."

Bee decided that day that the pony cart was her very favorite thing in Indiana, and she had many more pony cart rides in the years that followed.  And I was happy that my cross-cultural friendship with the Amish had gone down to the next generation.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Out of the Doghouse: A Mother’s Day Surprise

As I write this (May 2013), Gary and I just got back from two days in Amish Indiana.  As usual, it was filled with good food, beautiful scenery, time with Amish friends, and lots of R&R.

It’s a tradition that my Amish friend Ruth and I go to one of the local the Amish-owned greenhouses in May to get our spring annuals—we’ve done it probably half a dozen times now.  Our favorite is Nature Lane Greenhouse, which has a new location this spring (more on Nature Lane another day).  It is owned by a local Amishman named Miller who has many entrepreneurs in his family, and it’s a wonderful greenhouse.  This year, my friends’ two youngest boys were old enough to handle the milking by themselves, so husband Glenn went with us.

Later Friday afternoon, we made a few other stops (business and pleasure) and then headed out to eat supper together.  The subject of Mother’s Day came up as we drove.  Glenn looked very surprised as he said, “What?  Mother’s Day is this weekend?”  Ruth (she and I sit in the back seat and talk while the men ride up front) looked at me with an expression that said, “Guess who forgot to get me something for Mother’s Day?”  We could see that Glenn was in the doghouse.

The next morning (Saturday) I got an early phone call.  We had mistakenly left a flat of Ruth’s “Wave Petunias” in the back of our Jeep after the greenhouse run the previous day, which gave Glenn the perfect chance to volunteer to walk to the phone shanty down the road and call us.  He said, “Are you going to be near the greenhouse today?  Remember that orange rose that Ruth admired there?  I left some money in the workshop, clipped to my tape measure.  We will be gone this morning.  Could you take the money, get that rose for Ruth, and put it in the workshop?  It would be nice to surprise her with it on Mother’s Day tomorrow.” 

We were glad to help.  I did remember the rose she admired, and Gary and I picked it up, brought it out to the farm, left it in the shed, and took the money.  This is one Amishman who is going to be out of the doghouse on Mother’s Day after all!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Bucket List

Do you have a “Bucket List”?  My boss, a suburban Chicago lawyer, does.  And one of the things on it had to do with his love of horses.  My boss has been drawn into my love of Amish Indiana over the years; he met some of my Amish friends when he brought them from Indiana to Illinois for my wedding and they stayed at his home.  One day he said to me, “I’ve always dreamed of driving a six-horse team of Belgian workhorses, and I mentioned that to [your Amish friend] Glenn.  Do you think you could make that happen?”

So Glenn and I talked about it…  A few conversations later, a plan was in place.  The following spring, some time between the beginning of spring field preparation in April and my Amish friends’ daughter’s wedding in mid-June, my boss and his wife and I would drive to Indiana for three days of fun on the farm.

The time finally arrived, in May of 2012.  We arrived at the farm on a Monday afternoon—four of us—my boss, his wife, their visiting friend Olivia (a story for another day), and me.  My boss immediately headed off to the fields with Glenn, where he spent most of the next three days doing farm work.  My boss’ wife and Olivia helped Glenn’s wife around the house and visited the local Amish-Mennonite history center.  I—who am domestically challenged—spent my time driving one of their daughters around, completing various preparations for her upcoming wedding.  I had known this daughter since she was eleven years old, so it was a pleasure to spend so much time talking to her and helping her get things done.  We visited the florist, the glass engraver, and lots of other places.

Meanwhile, my boss was having the time of his life.  I took this picture of him one afternoon... 

On the second afternoon of our visit, I was out and about doing wedding errands when I got a text from my boss.  It was a desperate plea: “Please—bring Diet Coke.”  So I picked up a few bottles on the way back to the farm, and after arriving, one of the girls said, “I’ll ride my horse out and bring it to him.”  My boss told me later that it was quite a surreal moment, to pause from his farm work to see a young Amish woman riding a horse across the fields to bring him a bottle of Diet Coke!

It was a wonderful three days for us all, and I’m glad I was able to help a friend cross an item off his Bucket List.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Buying a Paddleboat

Sometimes a day doesn’t turn out like you planned.

Last winter my husband and I were in Amish Indiana, and we decided to stop and visit my main and original Amish friends, Glenn and Ruth.  I had left a voice mail for them, saying that we would be in town and if they wanted to go anywhere, if they had any errands, we would be happy to take them for a drive.  (The Amish don’t have phones in their homes, but they share “phone shanties” out by the road.)  Glenn called back and said that he’d been wanting to look at paddleboats at the Menard’s store in Goshen, and while we were there, why not go out for lunch together?   In addition, Gary and I had found a 10% off coupon good at Menard’s. 

Goshen, seventeen miles from their farm in Lagrange, is too far to drive with a buggy, especially in a snowstorm.  But our Jeep has no problems with the weather, so off we went.  Paddleboats are apparently a big thing with the Amish; they use them for an afternoon of fishing on the many lakes in the area.  Besides that, their grandkids love them!

Later, at the Menards in Goshen, we realized that the paddleboats were on sale (it being the middle of winter).  Adding the coupon to that, it seemed like a very good time to buy.  But there was a catch—in order to use the coupon, the boat had to be taken home that day, not delivered at a later date.  But how to get it home?

My handy husband went out and took a look at the Jeep and then came back in the store and said, “I think we can get this thing home for you.”  There followed a flurry of activity by Glenn, my husband, and several Menard’s employees.  In the end, the boat was held on top of the jeep by twine and not much else, and off we went.  I took this picture a few minutes later, in the Aldi’s parking lot, when there was a break in the snowstorm.

Slowly and carefully, we drove the seventeen miles back to the farm, my husband keeping the car as steady as possible—especially on turns!—while the other three of us looked up at the boat out of the windows, watching for slippage.  The snow came down, the plastic flapped in the wind, but the boat stayed put.

It wasn’t our fastest trip across Amish Indiana, but it worked.  We unloaded the boat at the farm an hour later and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.  Glenn got the boat at a very low sale price and didn’t have to pay for delivery. 

The last I heard, he was looking forward to using the boat this spring on the lake near two of his children’s homes.  He has outfitted it with an anchor, and some straps to attach it to another paddleboat in case of a group fishing expedition.  Maybe my husband and I will take it for a spin some time.