For the record, I’m not like my husband who every year says, “I can’t believe the stores have out their Christmas decorations! Already!”
Never mind that he might say that on Dec. 15.
I’m never surprised, even if it’s August. It’s a dog-eat-dog economy. Retailers have to get in the game before the game is over. People are always looking ahead so of course, stores must also.
Most decorators and shoppers aren’t like Brian who is way more of a Christmas Eve than a Black Friday kind of guy.
So while I’m not surprised to see lit Christmas trees, stacks of wreaths and baubles of every description before Halloween, I am surprised that they led me astray today.
I had a number of errands to run in quite a few different business establishments. Everywhere I went, I ran smack into decorations. Beautiful wrapping paper here, wreaths that inspire my own decorating plans there, adorable little miniature lantern tree adornments, and even extension cords uniquely designed for large trees that require endless strings of lights.
Everywhere I turned, I found myself daydream-shopping. I couldn’t get my work done in a timely manner for my rifling through the clever holiday boxes that one fills with treats for gifts. I think I even audibly oohed and ahhed over a set of soft, white sparkly snowballs to hang on the tree. (I hadn’t thought about these old-timey decorations since I was a girl. Mom had one of these snowballs and I loved it to pieces.)
The contrast was stark: it is a beautiful, warm, entirely pleasant, fall day. I need to be doing something seasonal, something productive, not – certainly not – looking at Christmas decorations that I do not need!
I remind myself that the me who appears before the living room with mammoth totes in hand on Jan. 2 will be a far different human than the sentimental one I am today. That future me will insist that for Christmas 2017, I will become a minimalist. I will threaten to take my older wreaths to Goodwill, to donate or upcycle or do something other than pack away all the stuff we have.
I will be so over the sparkle and lights and ribbons (well, maybe not ribbons. I’m never over ribbons). I will put it all way and vow to purge.
But that’s not today. Today I got as excited as a small child on Christmas Eve. I thought about how I would decorate the tables for the Midlife Mom Christmas party I’ll be hosting. Or how I’ll hot-glue vintage ornaments to a candle ring for my holiday-gig book table. Or even, how maybe I should have bought those snowballs!
I got a taste for Christmas earlier this week when I visited the Wilbur Wright Birthplace and saw some of the decorated trees for the annual Christmas Walk. The walk is coming up the evenings of Nov. 4-5 and 11-12. It’s always astounding the number of trees, around 50 this year, that the volunteers decorate, each with a different theme. I’ll have a preview of the event in this Sunday’s New Castle Courier-Times.
Meanwhile, I’ll be dreaming tonight of a white Christmas.
Don't tell Brian.
By the way, if you are in or around Pendleton, Indiana, stop by and check out the Sugar Creek Bookstore on Pendleton Avenue downtown at 9 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 29. I'll be there to sign and discuss the book of the month, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast. So nice that Pendleton has a bookstore. Consider supporting it when you need a book or simply want to browse and see what owner Bobbi Cline has on hand.
Anyone who loves books will tell you that books are treasures.
Nowhere is this any truer than in the small Spiceland Town-Township Public Library on Main Street in southern Henry County, Indiana. This is likely the only library you’ll ever see that contains its own walk-in bank vault. It’s not that they’re locking up the books. It’s that before this was a library, it was a bank, starting in 1920 for over half a century.
Kathy has run the show for seven years with the official title of interim librarian. But it’s a safe bet no one here is looking for a replacement, and Kathy doesn’t much care about titles, unless they are book titles.
What Kathy cares about are people.
That’s evident in the personal attention she gives a little girl who drops by as soon as the library opened Saturday to tell Kathy how much she looked forward to the school carnival later that day.
It’s obvious in the conversation she has with a patron who dashes in for an armload of books before she meets her daughter to go Christmas shopping.
This isn’t the interim librarian’s first career but she says it will be her last. For 31 years she was a home economics teacher at Tri Junior-Senior High School. Still, don’t count her out when it comes to future careers. Every time she retires, a job finds her, as this one did, and as did a job working in a town flower shop. Oh, but this isn’t a retirement story.
What you should know about Spiceland is that it is a tight-knit town, situated to the right as you head south on State Road 3 between New Castle and U.S. 40. Honestly, if you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there.
It’s been home a good deal longer than 100 years to Draper, Inc., still owned by the same family, and that employs many area folks. There’s a Draper branch in California, (but Spiceland, Indiana is world headquarters, mind you) and sales are worldwide. That’s world and wide, don’t forget. It all started with good old-fashioned American entrepreneurism when the first Mr. Draper saw a need in supplying window shades to schools. And boy did it go from there.
I’ve done many stories in this town in addition to telling the Draper, Inc., story. There was the unforgettable late Cordelia Wright, a proud Birthright-Quaker who was a fine artist and just as fine a cook as she entered our newspaper’s recipe contests well into her 80s. But here’s my favorite Cordelia story. At 80, she started raising llamas. Llamas! As in a pasture full of them. If you ever think you are out of time to live your special dream, think about being 80 and becoming a llama mama. You’ve got time!
A few more stories: Pat Bogue, besides being one of the sweetest ladies ever, has three specialties: her caramels (scary good), her handmade, hand-sewn vintage-styled Santas, and her Bogie Bags. She makes them in every fabric you can imagine (I should know: I have a newspaper-print Bogie Bag)!
The Quaker ladies have a heritage of making beautiful quilts every fall for fundraisers. The Methodist ladies have been making mincemeat every fall for approaching a century. One of the nation’s top leaders in a popular brand of skin-care products lives here. And this town was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
On Saturday, I got to be on the agenda, if only for an hour, in the downtown library. But I had to compete with an auction across the street and a Christmas-shopping excursion by an avid reader, and a school carnival. Yes, a lot was happening, small-town stuff, life and people stuff. I thank those who came by for my presentation and in particular, thanks for picking up copies of That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland.
I may be thinking of Liberty, Indiana, as my designated sweet place. But I know of another, and it’s called Spiceland, Indiana.
By day, Donna Cronk is a community journalist with the New Castle, Indiana Courier-Times. By night and weekends, she’s writing programs that encourage women. She is author of two novels, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast, and That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’ve been hanging with me for a while, you might know that a few years ago, our friend and oh-so-handy man, Monty Foust, designed and built our open-air back porch. It’s been my joy ever since as a great place to sneak off to (well, sneak may be overstated as it is only one step away from the kitchen. I’m not so hard to find).
Although I am not much of a napper, I find that out there on the wicker sofa, with the soothing sounds of birds and breeze, I can drift right off. But after eight years of sun and rain, freeze and thaw, some sprucing is in order.
On Wednesday I touched up the two wicker rocking chairs with black spray paint. We had some upstairs space open up due to Brian’s exercise machine. It had a slow death of many years and so many visits from the repairman that he and his family expect invites to Thanksgiving dinner, but it is now gone and in its place is a gym membership. So the porch stuff is wintering upstairs.
The outdoor sofa’s exterior is holding up great but there is a problem. The elastic that holds the cushions in place is stretched out. This is due to us making the mistake of wintering the sofa on the porch one year. So I need to address that issue. And, the cushions need recovered due to sun and stains. My winter project beckons.
I have this OCD thing of wanting to put things away as good as or preferably better than I found them. Not that it always works out that way.
For example, I’m particular, some might say fanatical, about the way I store Christmas decorations. When they are unpacked each year, I care that the lights work, the ornaments have tops and hangers and there is law and order in them-thar boxes. Call me crazy.
One year when the time came to put them away, I was down with the flu. I felt so horrible that I told Brian just to throw it all in the boxes because I did not care. Luckily, I couldn’t hold up my head to supervise the work. I dreaded unpacking it all again in 11 months.
While I certainly am not the best housekeeper, I do like the notion of order.
It’s the time of year when we work from the outside in. How about you? What are your fall projects before the snow flies and the winter winds begin to howl? Speaking of wind and winter, it’s going to be a chilly one tonight. First frost. I’ll be sipping my new favorite hot-tea flavor: Salted Caramel. YUM!
Hey! If you are free at 10 tomorrow (Saturday, Oct. 22), come on over to the Spiceland Public Library. I'm bringing homemade pie. Librarian Kathy Painter is providing coffee, and we'll talk about using recipes in novels, how I decided to write my latest, and whatever else you want. I'll have copies of both books. Meanwhile, grab an extra blanket. You might need it tonight (especially if you haven't turned on your heat yet, as we have not)!
A paint touch-up is in order for the porch rockers. The one on the left was $25 at a roadside sale near Noblesville a few years ago. The one on the right was 20 bucks at a thrift shop. Since they are real wicker (and not the all-weather kind) they need a little sprucing now and then. But mostly, they rock!
I didn’t set out to collect leaf pins. I suppose that’s how all collections begin. You start with one, and as soon as another is added, boom, you have a collection.
I tend to wear pins anyway as my jewelry of choice with a preference for the big, grandma brooches of old. Maybe that’s because I spent a fair share of childhood time rummaging through my mother’s and grandmother’s jewelry boxes admiring the sparkles and shine of their costume jewelry.
One of the most elegantly dressed (and beautiful) women of my childhood was my eighth-grade history teacher, Joan Kratzer. If you knew her, you will likely recall the gold, circle pin she wore daily. I once asked her about it and she said it was her signature fashion statement.
My first leaf pin was a resident of mom’s jewelry box. It’s the gold-hued one with the tiny pearl. It came from a neighbor’s Sarah Coventry Jewelry party in the 1960s. Who remembers those? And whatever happened to Sarah? Oh, I’m sure I could have my answer with a Google search and probably find other pins like this one online. When I think of that pin, I think of mom wearing it on a scarf.
The red, leaf one came from a second-hand clothing store in New Castle, if memory serves. Of my leaf pins, I think it’s my favorite. It seems to go well on jean jackets and black sweaters, both of which I’m partial.
The silver leaf is another pre-worn find, and it probably cost a buck or two.
I have a pair of tiny leaf “scatter pins.” The scatter pin isn’t something trending right now and that makes me even more of a fan. The leaves are very thin and have beautiful shimmers. I think there was a third in this trio that I gifted to my nature-loving friend Cheryl. They came as a set but where, I don't recall other than from a consignment store somewhere.
I also have a wreath-styled bronze pin of autumn leaves. I’m a big fan of wreaths as well as pins so when I saw this one in a thrift store, I snagged it. Yesterday it fell off in the middle of a parking lot with a lot of traffic around. I’m glad I heard it hit the ground or it would have been gone forever.
I don’t know why, but I never wear these cuties at any time of the year except for fall. Even though I should wear them year-round, I doubt that I ever will. It’s kind of fun to have some seasonal pieces to save and enjoy during, well, leaf season.
How about you? Do you have any fall collections?
My great-niece Nicki and her boyfriend Stephen are totally rehabbing the 1920s farmhouse where I grew up. We are so proud of the work they are doing and their vision for what will be. They have so many plans for the place! For starters, they are standing in what I knew as a bedroom, now transformed into a kitchen overlooking the living room.
Those of you who follow this blog may notice that my favorite means of selling books is to provide programs to anyone, basically, who is interested in having them. This is a surprise at this stage of life, but I've discovered that preparing programs is not so different from writing columns or blog posts. It may take some time, but it's actually fun to tailor a program to each venue audience.
Recently, I gave three programs in five days. In total, the number attending those venues came to about 300. As a self-published author, those are big numbers because often I’m speaking to a small club with eight to a dozen members or even a handful when it comes to a book club.
While I love giving programs, preparing, traveling to and from, and the time there, when combined with my newspaper job and weekly Monday-night Bible study, church women’s group and other obligations, three different programs in one week kept me on my toes. In fact, on Monday I came home from work and went directly to the couch to crash before I headed to Bible study. Brian said, “You never do that.” That night I did.
I haven't taken time to catch Home Row readers up on that busy week. So before that week fades into full-blown memory, and because the days since them have already piled high, here’s a condensed recap.
Friendship Circle Center, Covington
For several years, Jane Bowers worked for me as a part-time reporter covering school boards and city government. She was efficient and dependable, not to mention pleasant and fun to work with. She even filled in for me when I was off work having Sam.
When Jane dropped off a story (there was no email in the 1980s, folks) and went back out the door, I would look longingly at her walking away while I had to stay and say, “I want to be Jane Bowers.”
At the time, I had a baby (now age 30) and wanted a break in the action to have a second child. I loved my career but longed deeply for more home time instead of covering a downtown fire on the Fourth of July and 4-H fairs most nights for two weeks straight in two counties.
The funny thing is, I got to “be Jane Bowers” when I went part-time after Ben was born. By then I was Neighbors Editor at The Courier-TImes in New Castle.
Working part time meant I didn’t make a lot of money (but in small-market journalism, that’s how it goes anyway). I continue to be grateful that I had the opportunity to enjoy what was for me the best of both worlds: being home more, and still having a writing career.
Fast forward to when my novels came out and I reconnected with Jane for the first time since the 1980s. She is now director of the senior center, known as Friendship Circle Center in Covington, her kids are grown with children of their own, and Jane does a beautiful job there.
She had me in as a luncheon speaker in the summer and invited me to address her annual fundraiser at The Beef House almost two weeks ago. There were about 175 people there! It was so well organized that Jane’s event, in content and numbers, would be the envy of event organizers in the big city!
Into the memory bank goes that Sunday-afternoon speaking engagement in The Beef House banquet center – the same place I attended banquets as a reporter and editor in the 1980s. The day provided another example of how these novels have connected me to all eras of life. Thank you again, Jane!
On the way to the event that Sunday morning, I was tooling along ahead of schedule and there on Ind. 32 West, in Jolietville, this cute little building seemed to pop up out of nowhere and the OPEN sign beckoned. The store, a mercantile of sorts with lots of whimsies and uniques, is called Serendipity Sisters 3 and is operated by yes, three sisters: Tammy, Jackie and Sue. The address may be a bit confusing on paper but trust me, it’s in Jolietville on 32 West. The address is 17610 Joliet Road, Suite A, Sheridan, IN 46069. Yet there is a Zionsville city sign just beyond it and you are on 32 deep in the country and near Lebanon as well. Go figure. You can call 317-708-1003.
They do special events for their shoppers and the place is charming and the sister I spoke with is engaging. I left my card and said I'd love to come back and give a program at one of their events. Well, why not?
Spring Valley Quilt Guild, Pendleton
It was an afterthought. Once I had prepared my program and loaded my little red HHR for the presentation three days after the Covington event, I wondered if the Spring Valley Quilt Guild would be interested in seeing my grandmother’s quilt.
My mother gave me the beautiful quilt that was kept folded in our front closet for as long as I can remember with the back facing out. It was never displayed or discussed, even. But it was there, and it was gorgeous. I only know that the quilt, with a floral pattern and puffy petals, came from my grandmother Jobe. I don’t know if she made it, inherited it, or what.
In my house, I kept the quilt high on a closet shelf so as not to tempt Boston terriers, cats, or kids through the years with using it as though it were an ordinary blanket. It is not.
In recent years, I’ve kept it in a separate basket. On the day I was to speak to the quilt guild, I slipped the basket into my car. At the venue, I had two long tables that were mine to fill as I pleased. I placed the basket on one table and decided to open the program telling the quilters that this was my prized quilt and spread it out for decoration before launching into the rest of the program.
Would they yawn at the pattern? Would my quilt be a cliché and even, was I being silly showing it off like that? I was delighted when their reaction included oohs, and ahhs. Then I proceeded with my usual program. What a great group! They were attentive, and had thoughtful and unique answers when asked about their bucket-list dreams.
And it was even show-and-tell night! So I viewed a vintage quilt restored with the use of buttermilk to remove mold. (Who knew?) It was a tip remembered and shared from a grandmother, long ago. Another quilt was made of funeral ribbons, the ribbons on floral arrangements brought to funerals. Again, who knew? I love the waste-not spirit of those who created that quilt and it remains in perfect condition. There was also a display of a cool, contemporary Halloween quilt.
While I signed some books and chatted after the program, I noticed some folks huddled around my grandmother’s quilt, examining the stitches and discussing something. When I went over, to my delight, I was told that the guild is considering using my quilt pattern for their 2017 fundraiser quilt! I am so honored. Guess it was a good thing after all that I brought along the old quilt.
Thank you to my neighbor, Linda Lupton, for inviting me to speak – never having heard me in advance. That was a leap of faith in me, and in my work, and I am grateful.
Henry County Extension Homemakers
The next evening was County Club Night for the Henry County Extension Homemakers. The beautiful Paula Chapman had invited me to be the speaker some months ago. I love these women. They are, what Brian describes as “your people.” I love their values, their humor, their insights and their approach to life and the home.
I was honored to speak to them with a twist on my “Bloom Before You’re Planted” program, telling them that they are already blooming! I shared about my evening with the wonderful Young Moderns Club and how that club is a model of how well a woman’s club can work as it includes lessons and humor and faith and friendship as it has for 53 straight years.
I am grateful to know the Henry County Extension Homemakers, to cover them, to be invited into their world as I have been for all of my 27 years in New Castle, and for their support of my newspaper work and my novels. They are the best.
So there’s a bit of a catch-up of what I’ve been up to lately. My sincere thanks and gratitude to all who made that busy week possible. I am blessed beyond measure.
Here's a tip from the quilt guild. This quilt features fabrics from clothing worn decades ago. There were some mold or mildew stains but guess what took them out? This tip came from the lady in the yellow's memory of a comment by her grandmother. The answer? Buttermilk! BELOW: Left, decorations at Henry County Extension Homemakers County Club Night, Note the flowers made of recycled book pages. At right, Rosalind Richey reads the name of the winner of the fundraiser quilt while Paula Chapman, center, watches. Paula invited me to be the evening speaker and bring my books. Right is Kelsey Meyers, the new Extention Educator, and a Henry County native.
Oh, before I forget to mention it, I found the gourds this morning. Recently on Facebook I bemoaned an inability to locate the fake gourds that I get out every fall.
A couple of people thought they might be with the Christmas decorations and that’s where they were – with a catch. They were tucked inside a basket on top of a shelf full of Christmas wreaths and table-top sized trees. I thought it was simply a random basket with nothing inside but pulled it down on a whim and there they were. I have no memory of putting them there.
While the southeast is enduring a serious hurricane today, the contrast here is striking. It is a stunning day in the Hoosier state. I have had a non-stop week on the go including three special book programs in five days in Covington, Pendleton and New Castle. I will unpack those, but not today.
Today feels like a treat, a stay-cation even, just to hang at home and do common things for a change. I have no programs this weekend for which to prepare, no vendor responsibilities. I need this break in the action and I actually crave it!
Brian and I hit the grocery store earlier and I was inclined to pick up some extra ingredients. For one thing, I’m going to make Blaise Doubman’s Comedy of Errors Apple Pie for my church life group, the Midlife Moms, on Sunday night. There’s another recipe I may try if time allows for my work pals for Monday, but in case they are reading, best not promise.
With this spectacular weather, I would like to touch up the porch’s black wicker with black paint before putting it away for the year. I always find that no matter how nice the weather seems during Indian Summer, by about Nov. 7, it’s time to pack up the outdoors stuff for the season as the party’s over. There's something completely satisfying about putting something seasonal away with its repairs completed so that when it's time to get it back out, it looks wonderful and is ready for action rather than paint and primping.
I’ve got a hankering to pick up some pumpkins to decorate the front porch. In one of Brian’s two annual decorating escapades, (the other being putting Christmas lights out front on the shrubs) he enjoys carving Halloween pumpkins. I’m more a fan of them in their natural state.
I have bills to pay, general clean-up and putting the house back together after a week of inattention, unpacking my car and taking inventory of books after the week’s programs. And I have to work on my Monday Bible Study lesson and -- is there a chance I will get to one? -- I was given two books to read this week that beckon: a freebie Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None, that Henry County folks are reading in the annual Big Read program, and a loan from Ruth Phelps, Billy Graham’s The Journey: How to Live By Faith in an Uncertain World.
Oh, there’s also laundry and umpteen other jobs if I get to them. I won’t. But the longing is there for home, chilling out, and nothing of a deadline nature outside of the newspaper norm.
Tomorrow, I’m meeting my Greenfield, Indiana, buddy Suzy to take in Riley Days.
What are you up to this weekend? This fall? Whatever your plans, I hope you enjoy them. We’ll talk soon.
BELOW: Basket of ... deplorables? Nah, gourds. BELOW RIGHT: a kitchen centerpiece with a my new favorite fall candle scent: Yankee's Salted Caramel.
I started writing this blog a year ago in July. I had wanted to blog for a while, but when writer friend Janis Thornton asked when could she come set it up—well, the time had come.
I’ve kept newspaper deadlines for decades so giving myself a steady deadline didn’t feel hard. I would post twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays. I would be consistent, and I would write about something, because deadlines had to be kept. (The old journalist in me talking.)
Also, I’ve read enough blogs myself, and attended enough social media workshops, to know that readers lose interest if they can’t count on the bloggers they follow to add new content regularly.
I don’t mind posting my blog early. In fact, I get a kick out of that sort of “over-achieving” accomplishment. But I do not like being late.
Today coming home from work I thought (briefly) about skipping this mid-week offering. Who would care?
I’m in the middle of a stretched stretch. Saturday I took the morning to run bunches of errands and pay some visits regarding books and programming before attending a birthday party in the afternoon.
Sunday I drove 100 miles to Covington’s Beef House where my long-ago colleague Janie Bowers had invited me to speak at the annual fundraiser for the Friendship Circle Center in Covington (formerly known as the senior center). The banquet hall was full of folks who came out to enjoy the afternoon of music, silent auction, a humorous style show and of course, those fabulous Beef House rolls and other goodies. Then it was 100 miles home.
Monday was work and Bible Study Fellowship in Middletown that evening.
Today was work and the next two days, I have separate programs to give to two groups. Tomorrow I’m speaking to the Spring Valley Quilt Guild in Pendleton. Our across-the-street neighbor Linda Lupton invited me after finding my first book in the Pendleton Library! I’m looking forward to sharing a program with them – and I’m taking my grandmother’s quilt along just to show it off! Who doesn’t love a quilt?
But also tomorrow, I have some essential errands to run, a hair appointment, and getting over to the library early to set up for the program. I’m happy that tomorrow finds me in the town where I live because I also need a good chunk of time to work on Thursday’s program for the Henry County Extension Homemakers’ County Club Nite!
I wrote a special program for that wonderful group that has shown me such kindness through all these 27 years I’ve covered them. Their annual County Club Nite was the first evening event I ever covered for The Courier-Times.
Tonight, I have a panic-y sort of feeling of too much to do, and a shortage of time to get it all done well. The next two days and nights are GO TIME! A condensed schedule.
So this will have to do for a blog post. I leave you with some grass – some ornamental grass – that grows outside our front door and never looks prettier than it does now when it suddenly gets these brown-gold spikes just before dying and becoming dried and corn-stalkish.
For now, I am done. I’ll have more to say again soon. At least I exceeded my deadline, if nothing else.