In one way, it's hard to believe the Midlife Moms have been together for ten-and-a-half years. In another way, haven't we known each other forever? It's true that as an adult, a decade passes quickly. Just imagine: If we had started first grade together, we'd be halfway through high school junior year.
Yes, by now we all know each other and our casts of characters pretty well.
While we haven't seen each other through elementary school, first dates, and proms, we've lived a lot of life together this past decade, whispered a good many prayers for each other and our life circumstances, laughed at a lot of silliness, cried some tears, studied the Bible, taken on projects, and eaten some fantastic food.
We are a life group at Ovid Community Church. We do life together. And I thank the Good Lord that it works, that as group co-founder Delaine Wooden says, "We're more than a group. We're friends."
One of my favorite weekends of the year took place last weekend. Terri generously shares her beautiful lake home and water toys with us several times a year, times we have always referred to as retreats.
But of all the lovely weekends reminiscent of girlhood sleepovers, the summer ones are my favorite. You can't beat the ever-changing blues of the sky and water, along with the wind on our faces as we push through the water on Terri's boat, with the warm breeze brushing back our hair. We play in the water like the young dolphins we are not.
Sunday mornings we have a special Bible study out on the water. And in between, we feast on the bountiful menus that come together so easily with a crew of seasoned moms who know their way around the kitchen. We listen to each other's insights and tell stories.
For one summer weekend a year, we haven't a care in the world. Thank you Father for this refreshment. Thank you Terri for being the best hostess ever, and thank you to each of my MLM sistas, past and present, and Lord willing, future.
It's traditional that before we head back to our regular lives, we take some photos. Terri has a stack of pictures depicting lake memories from our ten years at Cordry Lake.
Above is one on the deck from last weekend. Some of the girls mentioned their lack of make-up and abundance of lake hair. They don't know they are beautiful. Inside and out.
A magnet from Terri's fridge. I'd have to agree.
This weekend I was awestruck anew by the incredible variety, color, nutrition, and beauty -- not even to mention creativity -- of God's food supply.
Friday night on the boat we enjoyed a picnic-type meal of Sharon's homemade ham salad sandwiches, artisan chips and dip, and Donna Shields' cole slaw, along with Delaine's summer Greek vegetable salad of tomatoes, corn, cukes, and herbs. It all hit the spot!
Then, because sometimes we bring so much delicious food, and have to hurry up and eat one meal so we can get to the next, we decided this weekend to do a daily brunch and dinner -- a two-meal day. Terri whipped up the above breakfast skillet with yellow squash, mushrooms, eggs and cheese. Fantastic.
Karen prepared this wonderful vegetable lasagne:
It was delicious, as was Delaine's fried zucchini with Parm and bread crumbs.
By the way, we have a signature scripture passage. Here's the NIV, Hebrews 10:23-25:
"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
Not a bad motto for doing life together. Happy first ten years, my sistas.
During an audience-participation program I present called, “What’s on your bucket list?” the responses are often predictable: Go to Hawaii or visit Europe. Or thoughtful: Live to see grandchildren (or great-grands) raised, married, and happy.
But of the hundreds of answers I’ve heard, one stands out. The woman said she wants to leave this world having no more than one bag of possessions to her name. One bag.
That's not enough space for family china, chests, antique children’s rocking chairs, a wooden wheelbarrow, boxes of newspaper clippings. One bag wouldn’t begin to hold a personal library of books, a closet full of Christmas decorations, a century-and-a-half worth of family photos, cards, and letters. It wouldn't even hold my restaurant-sized mayonnaise jar of mink pellets.
Some of us need more than one bag. We need the equivalent of a wing at the Smithsonian to hold all the stuff we’ve hung onto.
One thing is for sure; we can’t take it with us. Some of us think our kids should take it with them. But times change. Kids today have accumulated a boat load of their own stuff, or they prefer a lighter decorating style than mine which could aptly be described as Stonehenge Revival.
To put it mildly, Brian and I have a full house. Whereas once my idea of a good time was visiting an antiques store and coming home with a treasure, now I would only enter one to see what things are going for and how that translates into my stuff.
Friends are probably surprised to accompany me to a crafts fair and see me walk right past clever jewelry or kitchen knickknacks that I formerly would have carried home. I don’t need them, or lotions, or potions, or more – of anything.
There’s no room at the inn.
While that is obvious to any casual guest in our home, they would get a shock if they looked into our attic. There are boxes and bins, stacks and piles. Brian and I have said we are attacking the space with ruthless brutality. We’ve even marched up that ladder like Sherman headed for Georgia. But once there, we pardoned the whole works the way the General did Savannah.
Call it a sentimental journey at the top of those stairs. We become distracted by the boys’ childhood toys and trophies; bins of prom dresses; every college paper that crossed my hands; second-string collectibles, and antiques handed down in our families. All that is not even touching miscellaneous categories up there.
We end up folding up the ladder and fleeing the scene. We can always use the excuse that it’s too hot or too cold to work. That's usually true, but the real reason is we’re not yet ready to deal with it.
It’s interesting how the aging process works. It seems we spend the first half of our lives accumulating, and the second half figuring out how to part with what we accumulated.
I know people who get genuinely stressed out over all this. I know people who fret that their kids won’t want their stuff. It’s all interesting to talk about at this age and stage of life, but it doesn’t stress me. Here are my thoughts.
1. Yes, I’m a sentimental person combined with one who prefers antiques over new stuff as my farmhouse style of decorating. That’s a recipe for a lot of stuff. So what?
2. While I’m not actively accumulating more stuff (aside from replacing worn-out furnishings that we do have), I make strides into editing what we keep. If there are century-old photos of people who haven’t been identified by now, no one is left to do so in the future, so I throw away the photos. Same with fuzzy pictures of any kind as well as six routine shots of the same thing. Edit, edit, edit.
3. I will continue to keep cards and letters that mean something and contain personal notes and sentiments. But stacks of Christmas cards with only signatures? Birthday cards of the same? Toss them. I’ll never get around to cutting out the pretty pictures for gift tags, anyway.
4. The attic is a problem. But it hurts nothing in our daily lives. When the time comes – likely the next time we move, which will be to a smaller home – I’ll throw away the college papers, Brian will toss a lifetime of school lesson plans, I’ll decide no little girl will ever want to play dress up in my old prom dresses, and to the curb it will all go.
5. People say they won’t leave their kids with a mess to go through. Maybe we all shouldn’t leave ourselves with a mess, either. So edit, toss out, pare down – but hear this: Keep what you enjoy and what you love, or even what for some quirky, emotional reason you can’t part with -- even if it seems like a lot to others. It’s not their rodeo. You are living your life now. You don’t have to pack a bag and wait to die to make your life easier for someone else.
These are the artifacts of our lives, the illustrations of our stories.
6. It’s true that your kids won’t want it all. They might not want any of it. That's their choice. But let them decide what they do want, even if it’s nothing. If it bugs you that they will have to handle it all, think out of the storage box and sweeten the pot.
Create a special savings account designated for distribution of stuff. Put enough in there to pay for the whole works to be hauled away, for a couple of meals for the gang to eat while they are reviewing the chaos, and a letter to go with your will about how you’re sorry they have to deal with it all but you enjoyed your belongings and hope they understand.
Tell the kids to feel no obligation to keep grandma’s 24-piece lead crystal set or your collection of salt and pepper shakers from every state.
Tell them to keep, consign, throw out or haul away. Tell them that frankly, you don't care anymore because you are dead and you now have new concerns that have nothing to do with stuff. The special cash account should sweeten their outlook. They might even get a chuckle out of your creativity. (You're welcome.)
All that said – realize that every family is different in ways obvious and those not so much so.
Recently our daughter-in-law got her master’s degree in special education. It seemed the perfect occasion to present her with an antique desktop school bell handed down in the family. I also offered her all or her choice (or none) of antique Indiana school books that came down in my family. She took a few, one that clear as that bell tone, contained my grandfather’s name and the year 1903. It makes me happy that she has it.
But once you give something away, it’s no longer yours. You have to let it go. I don’t have a problem with that. Our joy came in seeing her accept these family tokens. That joy is far greater than having a book and a bell linger on our shelf.
So what would I put in my one bag of final possessions? I’ll go with the classic response: Family photos. Then I’d smush down the photos and add choice cards and letters received over a lifetime, and, well, all that would fill the bag beyond the brim. I'm good at smushing.
Even so, I can’t take it with me beyond this side of the grave. Not any of it. None of us can.
And that could only mean one thing: We won’t need any of it on the other side.
Hoosier journalist and author Donna Cronk enjoys giving a variety of programs to groups of all sizes and venues. Contact her for information at email@example.com. Her books, which are the sentimental, small-town sort, are available from her or on Amazon. They are: Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast, and That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland. Her next stop is 9-4, Saturday, Aug. 5 in downtown Pendleton, Indiana, at the first-ever Pendleton Arts & Music Fair. Stop by her table for a chat.
It's uncanny. And has been for a while now.
Whether I'm driving to work on Ind. 38, trying to get through town once I get to New Castle, or whether I'm trying to get, well, just about anywhere from my home, I'm met with signs warning: ROAD CLOSED or DETOUR AHEAD.
Sections of roads on both sides of our subdivision have been closed, and another common route not far away is blocked as well.
But it's not just around here. Reroutes and stalled traffic seem to be a part of wherever it is I'm headed.
I'm not going to tell you that I enjoy being rerouted, adding extra miles on my tires, or time to my commutes and errands. I will, however, tell you that I had epiphany.
Sometimes in life, things have to get downright messy before they get better. Roads are a perfect example. It occurred to me that I should be grateful that I am witnessing tax money serve us all through road improvements. Soon the potholes, narrow lanes, and decaying bridges will be replaced with smooth travel, wider lanes, and safe, strong bridges.
"No pain, no gain" applies to travel as well as personal fitness.
I'm curious. Do you experience detours and travel reroutes in your world? Do tell.
Today we celebrated a family milestone. Our daughter-in-law Allison received her master's degree in special education from Ball State University. Interestingly enough, Allison's sister-in-law, Lauren, got her master's degree from Purdue University this spring to become a nurse practitioner.
We're honored that Allison, Sam, Allison's Grandma Jo Jo, parents John and Carla and brother and sister-in-law Michael and Lauren allowed Brian, Ben, and I to host a luncheon in Allison's honor following the morning ceremony.
It was an early Saturday morning. The ceremony started at 10, but my morning began at 4:30 when yet another night-time thunderstorm woke me up. I fretted that we would lose electricity and in the process create problems for the pulled pork, salads and full ice basket that were ready for the luncheon -- not to mention for my unwashed hair! Since there was no way I could be seen in public without decent hair, I washed it quickly during the storm and set it in rollers.
Of course with all the commotion going on, Reggie got up to potty in the storm, and then we bunked on the couch for a couple hours. I must have fallen deeply asleep. I don't know if it was the rollers affecting my brain, but I had some terrible dreams, something unusual for me. At least it was a relief to wake up and find they were FAKE DREAMS. No REAL NEWS there. Whew! And the storm had passed.
Ben arrived on time and we were out the door a little after 8. Since we had plenty of time, Ben requested that we drive around to look over his college stomping grounds, including a cruise past the Light Street house he and three friends rented for two years. How is it that he's been out of college four years already? How quickly those years passed, as well as the four after them.
We caught up with Sam and the Parents at Worthen Arena where we found a good stretch of seating. It wasn't long before we spotted Allison.
A side note because there are a lot of teachers in our world. Of the summer graduates at this university known for educating teachers, guess how many undergraduate educators received their degrees today? Would you believe seven? What will be the ramifications ahead for Hoosier schools with a figure so low?
After the ceremony, a quick stop for a photo op with the new grad and her fan club.
Back at the ranch ... a late lunch.
Brian's family contains a number of career educators, besides himself with 40 years in the classroom and office under his belt. We have retired educators brother Steve and sister-in-law Linda Cronk. There were also his Great-Aunts Lee and Glad. And, we have numerous friends who either worked or still work in the trenches.
An antique teacher's-desk bell, which looks right out of Little House on the Prairie, has come down in our family. It seemed this was the perfect occasion to hand it off to the next generation, so Brian presented it to Allison.
I had planned for a while on a Ball-jar theme, ordering flowers from a local grower who sells them at the Pendleton Farmer's Market. Just a couple days ago I added a school theme, largely due to remembering that we had a nice stash of textbooks of more than a century vintage from my side of the family. One belonging to my Grandpa Roscoe Jobe contains his signature and is dated 1903 with an earlier copyright. We thought Allison might enjoy those books and passed them down.
Sam's great-grandfather Roscoe Jobe used this book in 1903. When picking up the cake yesterday, I noticed the abundance of school supplies. So I snagged a few, wrapped them, and just for fun, drew for door prizes of giant erasers, glue, Crayons and a duo of peanut butter and jelly.
It was a lovely day. Congratulations again, Allison!
We're having a little shindig at our house Saturday in honor of our daughter-in-law Allison's new master's degree. Then the Midlife Moms Bible study girls will be here Sunday night.
So I started in over the weekend getting things in order. You know how that goes. I bet you do it too when company's a comin.'
When the boys left home several years ago, and this mama hen knew I'd miss them like crazy, the only positive was that surely the house would forevermore practically clean itself. Clutter would cease. Floors would gleam. Peace, order, and an empty hamper would fill my days.
Why hasn't it quite worked out that way? There are just the two of us and our dog, Reggie, at home now. Yet things don't maintain themselves. I tend to form stacks and put off putting things away.
There was a time that within minutes I could put my hands on the title of any random college textbook Brian saved 40-some-odd years ago. If something mechanical broke, no worries, I located the file and retrieved model and serial numbers for replacement parts. Once I did this and the garage-door repairman was in awe.
But in recent years, I've lost my knack for that gold-grade level of organization. I could blame it on several years of concentration on one aspect or another of my book journey, but I don't know if that's truly the case. I've always had a lot of fish to fry in one way or another. So why do I pile instead of put away?
Still, I love an organized home. And company is the best excuse I've found for sprucing.
I've written before about the late Beverly Walcott's tablecloth. Many years ago I interviewed Beverly about her penchant for bargain hunting and stowing away her finds and freebies as Christmas gifts for her adult kids.
The kids got the mysterious bags of goodies at Christmas, a unique bonus gift each year. As we chatted for the article, I admired her tablecloth and she said, "I can make you one." So I ordered it, and she delivered. I've loved it ever since and most always, it graces our dining room table. Except, that is, when it's got a gig.
The tablecloth, hand-crocheted by Beverly, will not wrinkle no matter what you do to it, and it cleans in the washer like a dream. I can't begin to tell you the compliments it has generated, especially since it has gained a second life on the road.
That tablecloth has been to some 200 book-related events -- programs, author fairs, festivals, you name it. Wherever I take the books, I take the tablecloth because it will magically fit any table (the bottom simply drapes more or less according to the situation). On more than one occasion, a potential reader makes a beeline for my table at an event. But before I can get out my pen to sign a book, she touches the tablecloth and says, "This is beautiful! Did you make it? Where did you find it?"
So Sunday when I started cleaning, I began in the dining room and realized that Beverly's tablecloth hadn't appeared on the dining room table in months. It was time for it to come home. On the table it will remain until I take it on the road again.
Oh yes, no matter where I roam, there's no place like home, even for a tablecloth.
Speaking of the road, I still have some fall openings, and I'm taking bookings for 2018. If your book club, library, social or service club need a program, I offer several. Most are designed to encourage women to live their dreams and bloom where they are planted, but I also offer a children's literacy program, and a two-hour self-publishing workshop. If you would like more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once upon a time there was a beautiful young woman. Well, she wasn't exactly beautiful, and she wasn’t particularly young. As a matter of fact, she was more like plump, average looking, and of a grandmotherly age. Her name was Mama Bear.
She and Papa Bear decided it was time to get her a new chair. She wore out her old chair from too many years in it writing nursery rhymes. OK, they weren’t nursery rhymes, but they were storybooks all the same, and log updates, and Facebear posts, and presentations for other mama bears who also lived in the woods, and articles for The Woodsier Times.
She was excited to go into a local furniture store. But of all the chairs she tried there, they were too big, or too small, or too expensive, or too fluffy, or too non-fluffy.
The same was true at the next store, and the next, and the next, and even at the next, and at the one after that. There was not a single chair in all the land that was just right. Mama Bear felt discouraged.
There must be something wrong with her, she told Papa Bear, because it shouldn’t be that hard to find a chair that is just right. She knew this was a first-world problem, and she felt guilty complaining about finding a perfect chair when so many other bears in the great woods beyond them had no chairs at all.
Papa Bear was the pragmatic sort. He was tired of looking at chairs so he growled at Mama Bear. “How difficult can it be to find a chair that suits you?” asked Papa Bear. “I can walk into any store in the land and find a chair I like.”
And so Papa Bear did just that. Only when he got it home, he sat in his chair and frowned. “This chair is too short when I lean back,” he said in a sad voice. “I don’t like it.”
But as the weeks passed, Papa Bear came to love the chair he picked out for himself. “It grew on me or I grew into it,” he said happily. But he was sad that Mama Bear still had no chair.
Her old chair went to meet its maker, and Papa Bear’s old chair was taken away to the Goodbear store. Mama Bear had no place to plop her furry behind.
Then one day Papa Bear said, "Let's go back to one of the stores we visited and look again."
So they did. Mama Bear was amazed. She spotted a chair that was not too big, nor too small, nor too fluffy, nor too non-fluffy. It was just right! The only thing wrong with it was that she didn’t like the fabric. “Too mod,” she told Papa Bear. She was an old-fashioned kind of bear.
But the store people said she could have that chair in an old-fashioned fabric, and the people gave her many choices of material. So she picked out a fabric she liked and ordered her new chair.
Then she waited.
And waited some more.
One day her chair arrived and Papa Bear picked it up to surprise her when she returned from her work at The Woodsier Times.
But there was a new problem. The chair came in two parts. The two bears had to attach the back to the seat and after an hour of trying as hard as they might, and saying words that should not appear in a chairy tale, they were angry.
The bars on which they needed to fit the back were too tightly pressed into the sides of the chair. What could they do? The chair might have to go back to the store. Mama Bear might not get her chair after all.
She might never find a chair and she would have to do her writing … where?
But wait! Papa Bear had an idea! He found two crowbars in his bear cave! He had never used a crowbar before in his life but, his own Papa, Grandpapa Bear, had once told him when he was just a cub that they would come in handy one day. The cub who became Papa Bear didn’t believe him, but once again, he was still finding out things in life about which his own Papa was right. This was one of them. The day had come for those crowbars to come in handy, after all.
Papa Bear used the tools to hold the steel bars in place so the back would slide on. It did! It slid right on. The two bears rejoiced!
“Why do we make simple tasks so hard, sometimes?” Mama Bear asked while finally sitting in her new chair next to Papa Bear in his.
“I don’t know, Mama, but sometimes that is just how we roll,” said Papa Bear with a chuckle as he settled into his new chair for a long winter's nap.
Finally, they could laugh about their experience finding the right chairs. At long last, Mama Bear had her new chair. And there she wrote happily ever after.
General Grant's home, you say? Wouldn't it be more accurate to call it President Grant's home?
Well, you can, but in Galena, the story line is about Grant the general. Due to his work saving the United States Union, the Grants were presented with this handsome home from local businessmen.
The house remained the Grants' legal residence throughout his two presidential terms.
U.S.came to Galena for a job at his family's downtown tannery. Before he was called into service leading the Union in the Civil War, the Grant family lived in a small home where he walked home for the midday. (And you should see the flights of outdoor stairs.)
Oh, but I'm getting ahead of myself. A little biography first.
Born in Point Pleasant, Ohio in 1822, U.S. Grant graduated 21 years later from West Point. He served in the Mexican-American War. He met and quickly became engaged to Missouri-born Julia Dent but it was four years later when they married. For the next ten years, Ulysses served in the army, resigning in 1854 and moving to St. Louis.
While the Grants were abolitionists, the Dents were quite the opposite, owning a Missouri plantation. Our Grant home-tour guide said that at family events when the two families were together, the couple's fathers remained in different rooms.
In the St. Louis area, Julia's father gave the couple a farm, but it wasn't successful. U.S. called it "Hard-Scrabble Farm." It's now a tourist attraction, Grant's Farm. The Grants moved to Galena in 1860 where he worked at the Grant family tannery.
Preserved our nation
The next year, when the Civil War started, he became a colonel for the 21st Illinois Volunteers. In 1862, Grant demanded unconditional surrender from the Confederate Army -- and with that, became a national hero. But it wasn't until three years later when Lee surrendered that this horrific war era of American history ended and the Union survived.
Grant became the nation's first four-star general in 1866. Following the war, a group of business men gifted the Grants the Galena home as a thank you gift for his contribution to the U.S. Ninety percent of the furnishings you see there today were there when the Grants called the place home. It remained their legal address through his two terms as president.
Following those, the Grants took a world tour where they were lauded the world over. In 1881 they moved to New York City and lost $100,000. It is there Grant died in 1885. He is buried in -- wait for it -- Grant's tomb (did you see that one coming?) in New York City. Julia lived 17 more years.
In what might today be called a man cave, several significant items fill the space. A Bible on the table rests on four buttons attached to it so that the Holy Word never touches the floor or whatever is underneath it. Look to the left, under the window. That is Grant's smoking stand. He was known for smoking up to 20 cigars a day, said one tour guide. Grant died at 63 of throat cancer. It is suggested that he might have smoked heavily during the war to cover the stench.
An elegant parlor with the General / President over the fireplace at age 57 in an original portrait. U.S. Grant stood 5'8" and normally weighed between 135 and 140 pounds. Ninety-percent of the home's furnishings are authentic Grant pieces.
The couple had four children. Their only daughter, Nellie, got married in the White House. The china outfitting the Galena table above was used at her wedding breakfast. The portrait is of Julia. She has the distinction of being the first to be called First Lady.
Two years after Julia's death, the children bequeathed the home to Galena as long as it served as a memorial to their father. The home has welcomed the public for a century, now owned by the state of Illinois. Eighty-thousand visitors tour the two-story, fully-furnished home annually.
By the time Grant died, he had few financial resources, having lost a great deal of money in New York. He worked on his autobiography so that it could bring in money for his family. He completed it just two weeks before he died. The book brought in more than $450,000 to the family, according to a tour guide.
I'm struck with the observation that even when he was surely suffering a great deal, Grant had the drive to do what needed done, as he had during the Civil War. This time, it was to finish his book and thus, provide for his family after he passed.
With gratitude to U.S. Grant State Historic Sites brochure, trolly tour-guide and the Grant home tour guide for information in this post, and to Joe Cook of Brierwreath Manor Bed & Breakfast for his insights.
Long before we planned a trip to Galena, Illinois, the town had been on my radar. A perennial favorite on the pages of Midwest Living magazine, the small city in northwest Illinois is a photogenic destination for visitors looking for all things quaint.
Since my friend Gay is both a proud Land of Lincoln native and has been to Galena before, combined with the trip including a visit to her friend Cathy in Iowa (see two posts ago), added with a crazy-busy spring for me, she graciously took over the planning and logistics. She did a fantastic job.
The hours from Gay's home in Angola, Indiana and Galena, Illinois clicked off with ease as we caught up on months of updates about our lives and times. Gay is not only a great story teller, she is a superb listener.
As we neared Galena, the already-beautiful farm country of rural Illinois got even prettier with deeply rolling hills. Just outside Galena proper, a sign encouraged travelers to pull over for a scenic view. So we did.
And in typical Gay-and-Donna fashion, the vehicle that joined us contained an employee of the Galena tourism bureau. So we picked her brain about dinner spots, told her about Miss Effie’s in Iowa (and she immediately liked Cathy's place on Facebook).
It seems she chose the very moment we did to pull over for a photo op.
We checked into Brierwreath Manor B & B (see previous post), checked out a basket brimming with restaurant menus and set out on foot down the hill into the vibrant downtown retail-dining district.
It was dinnertime, and there were so many choices! We settled on Vinny Vanucchi’s Little Italy. Even though they were busy and we had no reservations, we were ushered right away to our first choice of seating: out on the patio under an umbrella on a lovely evening.
We later learned that it should come as no surprise to find an Italian restaurant (as well as French-German and other nationalities) in Galena. We learned that people once came from all over the world to live and work in Galena.
Many immigrants came to Galena to make their living in the lead mines. Interesting that our server was from Ireland. She apparently was there on summer break earning money for college. She was very nice.
I enjoyed a delicious meatball sandwich and a tossed salad with house dressing. Gay describes her entree: "I had seafood pasta with big chunks of scallops and crab and maybe shrimp. So good."
The next day we took a trolly tour around the city of 3,500 residents. It was lightly raining so couldn't enjoy the open air. The clear but rain-splattered window coverings didn't lend themselves well to the many home photos I would have liked to get.
I can’t stress enough how stunning the houses are in this town! They are in so many different styles dating back from the oldest, 1826, to all periods forward. There is an abundance of mid-18th and 19th century Victorian homes, and it is obvious that Galena has historically been a city of wealth. Some of that is attributed to a thriving, if short-lived riverboat era, and nearby lead mines.
So here are some things we learned from our capable trolly driver / guide:
* The most lead used for the Civil War was produced in Galena.
* Galena was a military town, with a training post there. The small city had nine men promoted to generals during the Civil War. That is the most of any location in the country.
* There were seven brick factories in Galena. There are more than 800 historic buildings in this city, and 1.5 million tourists visit a year.
* Native Americans discovered what they called “mineral” which was in fact lead inside the "mineral" and used to paint their faces, for one thing. French traders came along and traded flour, liquor and blankets for that lead.
* Due to the steamboat era, and quite likely the lead mines, in the mid-1850s, Galena’s population was 14,000. Riverboat captains made their home in Galena and one spectacular example is the Belvedere Mansion, an Italianate home referred to as “the jewel of Galena.”
I will go into the Ulysses S. Grant story in my next post, but one thing I found interesting is that despite a huge emphasis around town on the General / President, the reason he lived in Galena – working in the family leather shop downtown – goes without notice at the site of that shop. It is now a nice sock shop but there is no plate on the door or anything there to indicate that historical fact.
That, my friends, is a great reason to take a guided tour when visiting an interesting place. You get so much more information than you’ll find on your own.
We also saw this incredibly handsome U.S. Post Office, which happens to be the oldest continuously operating post office in the country. One distinction is the white stone which the builder found in Nauvoo, Illinois., where Mormons settled before they moved on to Utah. (Nauvoo is another great Illinois town to visit.) We were told that the builder decided that if the Nauvoo stone was good enough for a Mormon Temple, it filled the bill for the Galena post office.
We shopped til we dropped in the afternoon. Several downtown blocks on both sides of the street are filled with one-of-a-kind boutiques offering everything from pretty paper (and ribbon) goods to kitchen gourmet foods (and lots and lots of free samples) to clothing, accessories, socks, tourist fare (Brian loves the General U.S.Grant T-shirt I brought him) and an abundance of restaurants. It’s so hard to choose which!
For dinner our second night, we selected Fritz and Frites, a French-German eatery. We felt as though we were in Europe. Such an elegant restaurant, with fine-dining choices.
We dressed up and settled in for a lovely meal. Gay decided on the rainbow trout that she says, "just melted in my mouth." I had the chicken and potatoes, beautifully presented, with the most delicious juices and tasty mushrooms tempting my palette.
Gay, left, and Donna enjoying a French and German old-world taste and decor at Fritz and Frites.
It was an easy walk up the hill, back to our B & B, and a good night’s sleep (after the tornado warning passed). Check out a few more pictures.
If you'd like more information on Galena, Illinois, click on www.VisitGalena.org. You can email them at email@example.com.
Hoosier Donna Cronk welcomes readers to her blog, on which she posts twice a week. She is a career newspaper journalist and author of two novels, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast and That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, both available on Amazon.
I thought I'd wrap up Gay's and my 2017 girlfriend getaway with this post. Then I decided there is simply too much to say. We've got twenty or more summer trips under our belts, each one enjoyable in its special way. This summer's outing is one of my favorite.
I need to do an entire post on our nation's fourteenth president, Ulysses S. Grant, and his Galena home, where he lived while he was General Grant. But that leaves so much unsaid about the unique city of Galena, so I will do a separate on the city.
That leaves the Brierwreath Manor Bed & Breakfast where we stayed and it needs its own post. So here we go.
Since I wrote two novels set inside a bed and breakfast, it's not a stretch to say I'm a fan of visiting them. I've loved B & Bs before I ever even stayed in my first one on a press trip long ago in Madison, Indiana. I can't count the number I've slept in, let alone the additional ones I've written about.
To me, the ultimate charm of any bed and breakfast is found in the innkeeper. A successful inn is not only beautiful, most likely historic, and offers comfort, and a delicious breakfast. It is operated by an innkeeper that resembles a favorite family member who lives in a town other than my own, and who cannot wait until I arrive.
The innkeeper has cooked and cleaned and planned well for my arrival. He or she has so much to share! Not only about what's on the breakfast menu, but the inside scoop about where to have a quaint lunch or fancy dinner, what shops and attractions not to miss, fun historical facts, and perhaps short cuts and GPS corrections that I'll need. The innkeeper has my back!
This time, the innkeeper who resembled a long-lost cousin is Joe Cook at Brierwreath Manor Bed & Breakfast, 216 N. Bench St., Galena, Illinois.
Joe carried our luggage upstairs and explained where to find what, including a hallway beverage station where we could enjoy coffee, tea or cold beverages any time we wished. Oh, and he had fresh chocolate chip cookies available for our taste buds in our room, along with a candy dish laden with chocolates.
I must give Gay a shout out because she had sifted through more than 30 B & B options in and around Galena to set us up strategically perfectly at Joe's place. While there are many beautiful choices, this one is an easy walk to the shopping-and-restaurant district as well as to the historical museum and the trolly that carried us on a tour of the town -- so worth our while -- as well as to General / President Grant's home.
Have I mentioned that special things always happen on our trips? (See previous post). Well, how about a tornado advisory blasting from the city's emergency sound system and from our cellphones, warning us one evening that there was in fact a tornado warning in effect and we should take cover immediately.
Gay calmly suggested that we should perhaps meander downstairs to ask about the warning ... We found Joe calm and at peace in the dining room. He told us we could go to the basement if we wanted but he felt perfectly safe above board. You see, behind us is a rather large stone wall, with another one higher on the hill behind said first wall. The hillside is above us even though we were well above the downtown in elevation. Yes, it sure looked like any tornado or weather of any kind would have to work awfully hard to even be heard, let alone nail us.
So instead, we settled into the living room and listened to Joe tell stories about the ancestors who appear in vintage frames on his end table, and about his love for running this Victorian home. He's been involved with the B & B business for many years as his folks previously inn-kept the Brierwreath. Now they live elsewhere in retirement and he took over. He hopes to keep running it for another twenty-six years ... and then maybe his son will replace him. But who knows?
I made an early exit from the fascinating stories because sleep was calling my name, but before heading to my own comfortable bed (read: soft mattress) in an adjoining room with Gay's, I wanted to soak for a while in the antique claw-foot tub.
There are three guest rooms from which to choose. We were in the Heirloom Suite. We learned that the Mayor's Room is so named for a former mayor of Galena who used to live in this home with the comfortable sitting porch.
Of course another splendid thing about a B & B is that when you wake up, pour yourself a cup of fresh coffee or steep a flavored teabag from the hallway refreshments station, get ready, and head downstairs, a delicious meal on good china awaits you.
And, pleasantly so, in the case of this inn, Joe settles in to join his guests for breakfast. Not all innkeepers do that. I'm glad that he does because we learn so much. And apparently, so does he.
"The best part of the job is what happens around this table," says Joe. "The rest is housekeeping."
Pretty cool outlook. We missed out on sharing our stay with other guests but the prize was that we had Joe all to ourselves to make dinner and sightseeing recommendations and discuss Galena history.
If you would like to make the two specialty breakfast dishes we enjoyed, you can! Recipes for Apple Blueberry Walnut Pancakes and Pecan French Toast are on the B & B's website, www.brierwreath.com.
As I put down the trunk lid and prepared to pull away with my friend, I reminded Joe that he has twenty-six years left -- his goal -- to keep on innkeeping at Brierwreath.
I like to imagine pulling back up to 216 N. Bench St. in 2043 and finding him here to greet us. But then I think of my age then: I'd be 84! Do-able, maybe, but also a reminder to live life to the fullest now.
Every summer, as we have for twenty-something years, my friend Gay Kirkton and I take a little trip. Or a big trip. We’ve gone by plane, train, and automobile, and we fully expect special things to happen during each outing. Why? Because they always do. We might end up in Metropolitan Home, The San-Francisco Examiner, or Midwest Living (we have landed in all three). We might sit on top of a New Hampshire mountaintop next to TV stars (yes, this happened). We might help a famous author with her yard sale (happened).
And, we might drive down a gravel road on an Iowa farm where Gay renews an old friendship and where I find a new one.
Ride along with us…
During her time at the University of Illinois, Gay lived in 4-H House with a group of other young women who had enjoyed their 4-H years, and decided to live in a sorority-type setting where they room together. One of those women was Cathy Linker Lafrenz.
A vibrant home-ec major with a ready laugh and a lot of shoes, Cathy was memorable. But as happened with friendships in the 1970s, before social media kept us all a click away, college pals tended to go their separate ways.
Fast forward 40 years. Several months back, Gay caught up with another college friend and learned that Cathy now owns a flower farm in Iowa.
So over New Year’s Eve, when the Kirktons and Cronks got together as they always do, Gay suggested that a trip to Iowa might be in order for our summer fun. “Let’s do it,” I told her.
Quick as a wink I Facebook-friended Cathy’s you-pick flower farm, Miss Effie’s Country Flowers and Garden Stuff and the longing set in for a summer’s day when we would slip down a country road with corn growing oh-so-green on either side, and we would pull into Cathy’s lane.
As months passed, I learned that Cathy spends the winter knitting and embroidering and sewing sweet country gifts to sell in her gift shop on the property, The Summer Kitchen.
But she also spends her time teaching. Think freelance home-ec teacher. She offers classes at a local university on topics such as how to raise chickens. She teaches sewing and canning. Her trusted husband, whom she lovingly calls Honey (and so do her friends and customers) is her assistant at some of her gigs. Here are their chickens.
The big day for us came on Thursday as we left Galena, Illinois (I’ll post about that in my next blog) and off we went across the great Mississippi River to Donahue, Iowa, down some country roads, and there in the middle of some beautiful Iowa farms, we spotted Miss Effie’s sign.
Cathy was looking for us because as soon as we rounded the bend in her lane, she threw her arms in the air, almost as if to hug our car. I stopped and Gay jumped out. The two long-lost pals hugged and cried. I wasn’t ready with my camera as the tears welled in my eyes too. Cathy motioned for me to park and then I got a warm hug as well.
Even though her agri-tourism business was open and folks were busy picking buckets of flowers and strolling the grounds, Cathy still found the time to prepare us lunch. It was ready and waiting in the cornzebo!
This ingenious creation is an old-time corn crib that was found on a local farm and dis-assembled by Cathy to be relocated on her place. Inside is a long table, white chairs and a sitting area where you can watch the corn grow and if you are lucky enough to be the friend of her college friend Gay, you too might get the treat of being seated for a lunch of Cathy’s homemade quiche (made with her own brood’s eggs, no less), local lettuce and veggies, beautiful red raspberries, and Cathy’s own raspberry dressing. There was even a pot of hot water and our choice of teas.
Over a delicious meal, we chatted. We wanted to know so much. After Cathy got her home ec degree, she worked in various capacities including as an interior designer. Along the way, she met Honey. They went out at the suggestion of his daughter. While it wasn’t love at first sight, you could call it that at second.
The date was dinner at his place, which is now theirs.
“I walked in the door and I knew I was home,” Cathy recalls.
He suggested that Cathy plant flowers. Why? To take up some space where he wouldn’t have to mow. And it wasn’t long before, says Cathy, “I realized I loved growing flowers.”
She named the business Miss Effie’s Country Flowers and Garden Stuff and this is her sixteenth season. The catchy name – so unlike any other of its kind – is both fictional and a nod to Cathy’s grandmothers and another woman she once knew.
In fact, Cathy is a modern version of her great-grandmother who was able to save her family’s farm by using her farm-wife-type talents of cooking, gardening, baking and sewing. Back in the day, she sent her girls out on horseback to deliver products to neighbors. Think farmer’s market to go.
Today they call it entrepreneurship. She has a great relationship with tourism bureaus, and she is charming and helpful to her customers. She hosts events on the farm such as weddings, and encourages families visiting to spread out blankets and picnic on the grounds. And those grounds. Wow.
Sit under the tree on the hill and you’ll be able to see the lights of a ball field 17 miles away. Or if you come on the Fourth of July, not one but four fireworks shows from area towns will fill the sky before you as though you are watching them on the biggest screen you can imagine. Stretched out before her farm is a view to die for: endless rows of beautiful green corn with a massive blue sky above, strips of gravel roads and tidy farms scattered about the landscape.
But it's not just about making a living. It's about making a life. A good life. It's a place where Cathy longs to connect women to their rural heritage.
The scenery is a Midwest farmer's daughter's dream.
Gay was a bit nervous before we got to the property, but we always have the mantra that we’re in it for the experience and whatever happens, happens. We ended up spending hours with Cathy. It amazed me to find that she and I connected so well on a variety of topics ranging from finding our tribe in church settings to sharing our experiences with each of our businesses -- her farm and my books.
We also learned of Cathy’s passion for politics, eating fresh, local food, and serving the community in which she is placed. She talked about the political candidates as though she knew them personally. In Iowa, that’s how they roll. The politicians go door to door. We told her she should run for public office.
Eventually the time came to leave. But it was hours later than we anticipated, and after we all had a long, lovely visit. Gay’s timing was perfect when she told Cathy, “We have brought you a taste of Indiana.”
Out came a floral Vera Bradley tote bag. Inside were a matching wallet, some beautiful printed fabric for apron-making and my two novels. Cathy looked genuinely shocked! I have tears in my eyes just thinking about how stunned she was by the gifts. It was so much fun!
And, I have tears thinking about the most beautiful day I could ever imagine spent in the middle of a whole bunch of Iowa cornfields at Miss Effie’s Country Flowers and Garden Stuff.
Most of all, I can’t quit thinking about its founder, chief cook, bottle washer, CEO -- my new friend, Cathy.
Check out Cathy's website at: http://www.misseffiesflowerscom.
Hoosier Donna Cronk is author of two novels, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast and That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland. Both are available on Amazon in print and Kindle editions.