Throughout the Newseum -- a museum dediciated to the five freedoms spelled out in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, there are what I think of as "pullout quotes." As for this one, I had to smile. I have known quite a few who perfectly fit this description. I have fit this description. And even though I'm no longer young, I hope I still do.
I promised at least one more post about our trip to Washington, D.C. I could do individual ones on so many related topics. Yes, our nation’s capital is endlessly interesting on many levels. This post will be a wrap with some photos and comments.
I’m saving back two topics for my Courier-Times columns. One runs Sunday about the most moving and memorable thing we saw. Another will run a week from tomorrow about some Hoosier influences in our capital.
My best tip for visiting the capital is to contact your Congressional representatives well in advance (a couple months out if possible) and ask what tickets they can provide. Phone or email works great as they are staffed to expect these calls. You'll provide your Social Security numbers, names and addresses. You tell them when you will be visiting and you'll be assigned dates and times during your stay.
In fact, if you want to go inside The White House, the Pentagon or the FBI Building, you must go through a member of Congress for specific timed tickets. We went through Sen. Joe Donnelly’s office and received tickets to all three as well as gallery passes to the House and Senate.
A Donnelly intern – from Muncie – gave us a personal tour of the U.S. Capitol, complete with a tunnel ride from the Ryan office building to the Capitol. It was entertaining and interesting to walk through an office building full of senators and one by one, pass their offices, as well as experience the tunnel trip – much shorter than walking. And since we had the intern all to ourselves, we learned about what that experience is like, the pecking order of Congressional aides, and what it's like for him to live and work in D.C. in this role.
Who were we to get these tickets? We were simply Americans who planned ahead.
As soon as we completed a thorough tour of the U.S. Capitol, we sat in on the House of Representatives in the gallery for a while. There was nothing dramatic going on in those moments that would make for press headlines but what we experienced was representatives doing the people's business.
There were short speeches about wild fires in North Dakota, an honor presented to a pastor from Louisiana, a California Congresswoman criticizing President Trump, and a voice of support for the President from Texas. 'Merica, folks. Democracy in action.
It was peaceful, respectful, and a look inside what it is like in the House on a daily basis. Many views and opinions, all representing the varied concerns of one nation, working out the messy business of democracy.
In Statuary Hall, in a wing off the Dome, each state provides two statues of figures from history they want most to recognize. They cannot be living to be honored there. Can you guess the two Hoosiers on display? How about author Gen. Lew Wallace from Brookville and Civil War Gov. Oliver P. Morton from Centerville?
Across the street from the Capitol is the Supreme Court. I think it's the most beautiful building in Washington, D.C. No admittance tickets are required here. You simply walk in and look around and there's much to see. The best part, however, you should note: Every hour, there is a half-hour lecture inside the Supreme Courtroom where you'll get an overview of how the court works, and learn about its history.
Two posts ago I did a lengthy piece on The White House, but here's two more photos I didn't include previously.
Here's the outside of the Newseum. If anyone has any doubt about the building's theme, it's spelled out. This was my number-one destination. It is a privately funded site, so there is a fee. But the Berlin Wall and the 9/11 exhibits here are worth the fee alone.
Another favorite stop is Ford's Theatre. The building was closed for more than a century. Today, however, it is restored inside the theatre to how it was when Lincoln was assassinated. The basement contains a wonderful museum with artifacts such as the gun that killed Lincoln and the top hat he wore that night along with the blood-stained pillow on which he died across the street.
Directly across the street from Ford's Theatre is the House Where Lincoln Died. Yes, that is what it was known as for many years. The mortally wounded president was brought in following being shot and there he passed. The property was much later purchased by the U.S. Upon Lincoln's death it was utteredin this room the famous phrase: "Now he belongs to the ages." Some think the actual quote was, "Now he belongs to the angels." Guess we'll never know for sure.
Very close to Ford's Theatre is the FBI Building. The public exhibit here has been closed since 9/11 until three months ago. We were fortunate to have tickets from our Congressman on the day we visited as we got to witness a group of FBI agents being tested for their shooting abilities. They are required to pass tests every three months to make sure their skills are sharp.
Fascinating displays are found here, including those relating to notorious bad guys such as John Dillinger and the Boston Marathon bomber. Long-time director J. Edgar Hoover's desk is on display. It's a wonderful tour.
We flew into D.C., having purchased an Expedia discount package months in advance. We decided to rely solely on the D.C. Metro system to get us around. Even so, expect a lot of walking. But it's an effective way to get around.
How do you find accommodations for D.C.? We went with a package several months ago through Expedia. We took an early Monday flight and returned to Indy around midnight Thursday night / Friday morning. It worked great.
We stayed at the George Washington University Inn near the Foggy Bottom Metro stop. Bonus: the stop is exactly at the GWU Hospital and steps inside the front door you'll find a Starbucks, cafeteria and public restroom. We opted for cafeteria coffee over Starbucks and even ate there a few times for convenience. The employees were super nice -- one even had a Noblesville connection.
Foggy Bottom is the GWU stop and we enjoyed seeing the students heading to and from classes. Our inn was a block and a half away on a residential street. It was perfectly serviceable but not particularly memorable otherwise, aside from the cold lemon-lime water in the lobby, quite welcome when returning hot and tired on a late afternoon.
Here's an elephant from the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum. Big guy.
I also want to shout out to how helpful and friendly an untold number of people were -- strangers all -- of various races, heritages and economic realities. What we have in common as human beings is so much stronger than what separates us.
I think the national media fuels a fire that isn't always there, at least and certainly not in the peaceful daily lives of those we encounter and enjoy randomly throughout this great land of the United States of America.
We saw two protests -- IF you want to call them that. Inside the Capitol were some African Americans wearing shirts that read this: "Trump is not racist."
And, while resting in a park across from The White House, this fella slipped on the mask and walked past us. Waving.
'Merica, folks. All views welcome here.
With Brian’s background studying and teaching U.S. history and political science, and mine in journalism with a history minor, it’s no surprise that we love to visit Washington, D.C.
But much more than that, we both love our nation, and we relish learning about its heritage, as well as our rights and privileges as Americans.
All summer we’ve looked forward to this last week in September. We knew the best way to get ourselves inside the public tours of The White House, Pentagon, and FBI were to first contact our Congressional representatives weeks or even months in advance of our vacation.
Turns out, in this post-9/11 era, the only way for the general public to get inside those sites is with passes issued through Congressional offices.
While you can get into the Capitol without Congressional tickets, without them you won’t get a personal tour from a staff intern, complete with a tunnel ride from a Senate office building into the Capitol complex. We received our assigned appointments for all these tours, then built the rest of our itinerary around them.
We were a little surprised to learn that we had been issued credentials for all of our requests, but then, I also learned that the best months to visit D.C. to avoid crowds are September through November.
I was too excited to sleep much before we flew out early Monday morning. My number-one on the ticketed-tour list was The White House. This was my fifth trip to D.C. but only the first inside the home of every U.S. president minus George Washington.
About a White House tour, I've heard, “You don’t see much.” Others have memories of visiting as kids or on senior trips. I wonder how our tour stacks up to those from decades past – or even those prior to 9/11 when security in our nation’s capital – and our great country -- absolutely changed.
For those who might be disappointed, I don’t know what they expect – a nap in the Lincoln Bedroom? Tea poured by the First Lady on the second floor? Let’s get real. This is a home, and a real family lives here. What you’ll be seeing are about a dozen first-floor public rooms along with their priceless furnishings.
What I also know is that the current mostly self-guided tour, was much better, and included seeing more rooms, spaces, and décor than I had guessed. Rather than any disappointment, I'm surprised and delighted with all we saw, and with the fact that only for the past two years has the public been permitted and encouraged to take photos on the tour route. I'm glad we came when we did.
Not a good-hair day for me, but get a glimpse of that beautiful White House Library.
You know this woman, below. I'm stricken by how much (like, exactly) that Chelsea looks like her mom. I suppose Chelsea is about the age now that Hillary was when she stood for her official First Lady portrait.
I should have taken more photos of the first ladies, but I got a few of the official presidential portraits, below. The first ladies and presidential portraits are scattered throughout the floor. I learned that they do not remain in one spot but are rotated throughout the mansion.
The Vermeil Room was once the billiard room, now used for various functions. Portraits of a variety of recent First Ladies are displayed there along with a collection of gilded silver, or vermeil.
Here are a pair of presidential portraits from a hallway. You know these men.
Remember that a family has lived in The White House continuously since 1800 and along the way, these families make changes and leave their own touch on the property. Some things go, like the billiards room, and some stay, like The China Room designated in 1917 by Edith Wilson.
I was surprised by how small the official State Dining Room is, below.
Next to the State Dining Room is the Old Family Dining Room. Another visitor asked if we would like our photo taken there. Yes, please, below.
And now the rooms we know by color.
I took quite a few more photos but I'll close with this one. I asked a Secret Service agent stationed in the room about the stairway, below. Yes, indeed, he told me, the stairs do go to the second-floor private family quarters.
I'll be doing a Part II post on some aspect of our trip to D.C. What I really want to share with readers are some thoughts and photos from The Newseum on their 9/11 exhibit, and about the statues and other aspects of the trip that referenced people and places I know well from east-central Indiana, One or both of those topics will be in a Courier-Times column.
For now, let me ask you: Have you toured The White House? When and what were your impressions? I loved this tour and am crossing this off my bucket list. I am impressed with the security, traffic flow, and also the way guests are still ironically able to take their time touring this beautiful mansion. And, I'm delighted that photo-taking is encouraged.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments on your White House experiences.
And for the record, I didn't break anything!
When we make our way through an airport, I marvel at the light-footed traveler who checks in nothing, sports a single, smallish carry-on, and somehow, is perfectly equipped for whatever journey is ahead.
I’m not her.
Every time we travel, I experiment with techniques said to streamline luggage. Put each outfit in its own plastic bag. Roll your clothes. Bring one pair of pants, several tops, and you’re done. Checked luggage is for novices.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I still end up with a large bag to check, usually one to roll through the airport, and a personal satchel and purse besides. After all, I'm sure I'd be the one who would spill something toxic and staining on my one spare pair of pants. I'd be the one whose check-in luggage was lost. I'd be the one without whatever it is I need. And what if it turns cold and I have no sweater? Or hot and I have only sweaters?
So I over pack, and I flash back to first grade.
It was my first field trip, and a big one for a child who had never been on a day trip with anyone who didn’t include her mom. It was exciting! We packed into a school bus and headed to the Cincinnati Zoo.
We were traveling light, and I had with me a small, plastic, snap-shut change purse which held enough money for whatever I would need. Cotton candy, maybe. A toy? The possibilities were endless to trade from the contents of that pocket-sized money holder.
I don't remember what we did about lunch. It sure seems as though we would have brought brown bags full of food. It could be, however, we bought lunch there. I don’t remember the animals or who I hung out with, if anyone.
I only remember what I didn't have. The one thing I have never forgotten is that I lost my change purse at the start of the trip and the resulting feeling was of being utterly without resources, the trip spoiled.
It’s not a subconscious feeling. It’s right there, in the front of my mind. The coping messages sound off: Take an extra pair of glasses: What if yours break or the lens falls out? Carry-on underwear, makeup, an extra outfit: What if your luggage is lost? Do you have enough cash with you? What if you lost your credit card? Pack an extra camera: You want pictures, above anything you buy.
The real question always comes back to that little girl who lost her money. If I lose what I need, what will I do?
I vented about all this to a close friend the other day, herself a seasoned traveler. Hardly a month or two passes but she is off to visit her children in other states or on a vacation in Hawaii or even Paris.
“How do you do it?” I asked her in confidence. “How do you travel light?” I wanted some additional secrets, maybe a few that worked better than the plastic bags and rolled outfits that don’t. Most importantly, I knew I could ask her and not be chided for my ignorance of knowing how to pack lighter, the gold standard, it seems.
Guess what she told me?
She takes extra glasses, outfits, and over packs too.
I think rather than thinking I’m crazy to be channeling my inner six-year-old, and berating myself for schlepping it all through the airport, I’ll just relax in my over-preparation -- and roll with it.
What about you? I’d like to hear about your packing methods and if you can go light or if you, too, take along the kitchen sink.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
I planned to finish this blog series a week ago. But real life got in the way. I arrived home Sunday night of inauguration weekend. After catching up with Brian, tossing the ball with Reggie, skimming the mail, and grabbing a hot bath, it was bedtime.
Monday and Tuesday meant a return to work at the newspaper and buttoning up coverage along with normal work duties.
Wednesday would be my catch-up day and it was full to the brim, starting with a hair appointment, then an overdue trip to the grocery store. (Brian still won’t solo). Halfway through shopping, I realized I was not feeling well. By the time I got home, it was clear: I was sick.
Thursday I went to the office to spend a necessary couple hours finishing the weekend Neighbors section. The symptoms by then were familiar: cough, chills, aching body, full throat, fuzzy brain and no appetite. I got home by noon and crashed.
And so it went the next three days. I had to cancel several different plans ranging from Friday Weight Watchers, a Saturday memorial service, lunch with a friend, and helping out at church Sunday. That's not to mention some library returns, a return to the mail stack, unpacking.
But you know how those things go. You feel so bad that it’s just how it is. As Sunday pressed on, my ability to remain upright improved and Brian's lessened. Yep, he's got it.
So that’s a long way of saying I'm here to finally wrap up the trip. I thank so many of you who have traveled this distance with me on Home Row and through the separate news stories printed in The Courier-Times and its sister papers.
I thought I’d post a few random photos. It seems when you visit DC, there is a photo op and story everywhere you look.
My sincere appreciation to my employer, Paxton Media Group, to everyone at my home paper, The Courier-Tmes, to Tom and Sue Saunders who did an outstanding job organizing and implementing the trip, to everyone who traveled with the group, and to the good Lord who helped me meet deadlines and keep my health during a week I’ll never forget.
While touring the fabulous Woodrow Wilson House, the tour guide said this hallway mirror was once in the White House. She explained that at one time, the White House would occasionally purge belongings and put them up for sale. That's where this mirror came from. I wonder what other images it captured throughout history. Wilson died, by the way, in this home in 1924. His wife, Edith, lived there until 1961 until her own passing. She donated most all possessions in the handsome abode to sustain his legacy.
Trump International Hotel, the former Post Office in DC. The 5-star hotel offers luxury rooms in this historic 1899 building, recently remodeled by Trump. The photo was taken just after dark Saturday, the day after the inauguration and day of the Women's March. Protesters from the march gather in front of the hotel.