Gay captured Brian and me in Grant Park in Galena, Illinois Saturday. Here, we stand in front of the Galena River that runs through the heart of the town. Behind the river is downtown Galena. This is the adopted hometown of President and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The river feeds into the mighty Mississippi, just a few miles away.
Less than a year ago, Gay Kirkton and I took our annual summer girlfriend getaway to the unique and beautiful Galena, Illinois, situated in northwest Illinois, a hop and skip from both Wisconsin and Iowa. Next to Chicago, this is the most visited destination in the great state of Illinois, with Springfield third.
With a population of 3,800, this small city has more than 50 restaurants in its vibrant downtown alone, and several blocks packed with one-of-a-kind shops that sell everything from trendy housewares to kitchen goods, gourmet food, fashionable (and affordable) clothing, and costume jewelry.
So the shopping is certainly a draw -- let's be honest -- for women especially. The food? For everyone!
For the Cronks of Pendleton and our friends Rick and Gay Kirkton of Angola (but proud Illinois natives), history got us there.
When you think of Illinois and U.S. presidents, perhaps Abraham Lincoln comes first to mind. He certainly does for me. Springfield, Illinois boasts a number of tributes to his life and times that you can visit from his presidential library to the only home he ever owned, to a visit inside his law office, the cemetery where he was laid to rest, and more.
But don't forget the other presidents who called Illinois their home. Consider this one.
Do you remember that President, California Governor and actor Ronald Reagan came from Illinois and spent from age 9 to adulthood in Dixon, Illinois? Here we are in front of the home his family rented for a few years which is a tour-able landmark in the town.
I'll do a separate post later on the home, as it is worthy of its own essay. It was a fantastic stop, and glimpse into an iconic man of humble roots. Our fellas stand next to a life-size cardboard version of the 1980s president. It appears accurate in stature as President Reagan was 6'1" and our guys measure up to prove that about right.
After a stop in Dixon, it was on to Galena. The drive was exceedingly charming as we rode in Rick's comfortable pick-up truck chatting away the hours and looking out for miles and miles over tidy fields and farms in our friends' treasured home state.
You can have your majestic mountains, and while I love looking out over water, my personal eye candy consists of massive green fields of Midwestern crops. You've got the best view of those in Illinois and Iowa.
In Galena, it was like checking in with an old friend as Brierwreath Bed & Breakfast owner Joe Cook greeted us. His inn is perfectly located in this hilly city because it's an easy walk downhill to the downtown where we had our choice and then some of dining options. We went for a repeat of last year's trip as we sat outside at Vinny's for an Italian meal.
On Saturday at breakfast, that uncanny thing that always happens to Gay and me happened again. At the first of two fine breakfasts served by Joe, we met B & B guests with a connection to Gay. One worked in public relations for the community college where Gay's father serves as a trustee. The guest could not believe it! She knows Gay's dad and the two had a lot to discuss about the college and their connections.
Then it was on to catch our trolley where we got a splendid overview of Galena's history from a lead-mining and steamboat hub in the 1800s to the home of a future and then post-U.S. president in the form of U.S. Grant and family in the mid-to-late 1800s to a town that celebrates commerce, history and architecture in the city it is today.
We had a wonderful tour of the home of U.S. Grant and family, above. More than 90 percent of the home's contents are original. Grant had lived in Ohio and St. Louis, Missouri but after marrying a wealthy farmer's daughter and being gifted with land, Grant found that he was not cut out for farming.
He brought his family to Galena, Illinois where his family owned a tannery. It is there he worked, living in a small, humble home to suit his means until his true talents as a West Point-educated soldier were recognized and he became the key figure in saving the union and will forevermore be recognized in that remarkable way.
To thank him for his war contributions, some wealthy men in Galena gifted the Grants with this home. It never left the family until the Grant children gifted the home to the state of Illinois in the early 1900s as a permanent tribute to their parents.
We enjoyed lunch outside at Gobbie's and then it was back to our B & B to rest up in our rooms before heading out to dinner downtown at Fried Green Tomatoes. We had a lovely meal including Harvest salads, pesto and tomato brushetta and crab cakes.
When it was time to leave, we discovered a drenching rain outside the restaurant. We waited in the entryway for it to clear but before it did, the restaurant owner, Fred, graciously appeared and asked where we were staying. He sent for his personal vehicle to transport us to our doorstep at the inn! Talk about above and beyond!
I promised Fred (he said to think of his name as Fried without the i) that I would mention this in my blog. So this is for you, Fred! I also would recommend your food and staff to anyone!
Gay and I enjoy attending church services in the towns we visit. We took the United Methodist Church up on its offer, via a display board out front, to sit in Grant's pew. On Sunday morning we all went to church a short walk down the street from our B & B to the former Methodist Episcopal Church where the Grant family pew is distinctively and tastefully marked with a small American flag. We got the photo shortly after services.
A couple special moments for me from the weekend were during the meet-and-greet portion of the church service, turning around to shake hands with a woman who formerly lived in Shirley, Indiana. That's a tiny town in the circulation area of the newspaper where I work.
Also, in the Grant home, upstairs a framed picture depicts key figures in the Civil War and in the group photo is included one Gen Ambrose Burnside -- who happens to hail from my hometown of Liberty, Indiana.
When you think of Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, remember that four U.S. presidents called this beautiful Midwestern state home -- Lincoln, Grant, Reagan and Barack Obama.
We'll certainly never forget.
Donna Cronk is a blogger, newspaper journalist and author of two novels: Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast and That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, available from the author , at specialty venues and on Amazon.com.
I have an old iron bell from my folks' farm where I grew up, and where my paternal grandparents lived before that. There's no reason I would need a farm bell. There are no men in the field awaiting its ring to dinner 'round the threshing table.
But I like it because it reminds me of such scenes from farms of old.
For years after it left Dad's barn, it sat in first one garage, then another, until finally I asked our friend Monty Foust to post it in our backyard. I like it there and wonder why we didn't raise it sooner. It does require a bit of maintenance. It had been painted silver once, for what reason I can't guess, and I painted it black. Now it needs a good touching up a couple times a year, most notably, after the winter months. Most notably, now.
But its fresh coat will have to wait a while. Things are pretty busy inside that bell. A few weeks ago I noticed that a family called Robin had claimed squatters' rights by building a nice little home there, sheltered sweetly by the protective shell of iron. I've stayed out of Mrs. Robin's way, observing from the window that she's been spending a lot of time maintaining her new digs which she decorated beautifully with found bits of dried grass and straw.
Some years robins nest in ferns on our back porch, but I don't have the plants up yet. One year a front-door wreath hosted a family. When the family sets up housekeeping in an eye-level fern or on my front door, I take the liberty of carefully peeking into the nest. Never touching, mind you.
Sometimes the tiny birds mistook me for their mother and opened their mouths wide, only to be briefly disappointed that I couldn't deliver a juicy worm. But soon, their mother swooped in and picked up the tab for lunch.
This bell is too high and I might do great damage to the family dynamic if I got out a ladder. So I watch from afar and was rewarded while ago when I saw a tiny head lift toward the heavens and a mouth eagerly await a to-go order.
Soon enough, the cozy nest will no longer suffice, and the birds will wing away, as birds and boys do, and their mother will do something else with her time besides deliver lunch and cuddle with them.
Meanwhile, here's to you, Mrs. Robin. Enjoy your family. Stop by again next year if you want.
In fall of 2014 I had the thrill of spending 10 days in Israel. I have never been the same since. I will never be the same in the future.
Today, Israel is on my mind and in my heart in a special way. It's the 70th anniversary today in terms of world governments and recognition. But it is the eternal city of God. And today, the U.S. Embassy is newly located in Israel's capital, Jerusalem.
So many moments, images, sights and sites, sounds and sound bites come to mind when I think of this most unique country of Israel and its Holy City and capital of Jerusalem. Here's one moment. Our group, about 35 of us with my Ovid Community Church, walked along together toward our next stop in Jerusalem. In the opposite direction some Jewish men walked by. One man's eyes met mine and with neither of us stopping or even slowing down, he called out, "Where you from?" I said "U.S.A." His response?
"God bless the U.S.A. and Israel, together."
And that is where we are in a special way today.
We don't get too far into the Bible before we read this in Genesis 12:3: "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." NIV
Indeed, Jesus came through the Jewish people ... the whole earth blessed by Him.
Is there any place on planet earth more important to so many as this spot? It is calledThe Wailing Wall, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount. This wall is part of the mount, or platform, that once held two Jewish Temples before they were destroyed. Jews pray here and leave notes in the wall. See the temporary fence at left with the women looking over it? This is where many Jewish boys have their Bar Mitzvah.
Psalms 132:13-14: For the LORD has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling, saying, "This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it." NIV.
Israel is the size of New Jersey. Everywhere (EVERY-WHERE) you step, you are walking on history. In fact, I best describe this experience as one where someone dropped me into a Bible and allowed me to walk around there. Events of both Old and New Testaments merge and mingle.
Whereas the Bible was once in black and white, it is now in living color.
Psalm 122:6: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
"May those who love you be secure. (NIV).
As the man said in the crowd in the heart of Jerusalem,
"God bless the U.S.A. and Israel, together."
The past week has been my May Blitz, so named for the cluster of author-related gigs scheduled through tomorrow. I can't remember when I've had such a concentrated period of responsibilities but also, it's been great fun.
A week ago today I spoke at the Foster Grandparents banquet in New Castle and then scurried to Warm Glow to sign and sit with the Kids at Heart bookshop. Then Sunday came a trip to my daughter-in-law Allison's church for the annual Mother-Daughter Banquet. So many memories have been made in this elegant downtown Indy church, Zion Evangelical United Church of Christ.
Sam and Allison were married there, had a lovely family-and-friend shower there and there have been sweet annual Mother-Daughter banquets, often organized by Allison and her mother, Carla. This year I was honored to be the banquet speaker as I was four years ago. I am grateful to Carla, Allison, the committee and to everyone who laughed at my jokes and offered kind words afterward.
Monday I drove 130 miles north to Angola where I had another treat in this Blitz. Bestie Gay Kirkton invited me to give a program to her Psi Oates Chapter. Gay chose an interview format whereby she asked me a variety of questions about life, writing inspirations and books. It was so much fun!
I am grateful to her and to each of the friendly women who made me feel completely at home from the moment I got there. I thank them for being such an attentive audience and for buying so many books! And then if I asked if I might trouble them for a photo, they said yes, and let's go outside for a better shot! We got this ...
So home late Monday, work Tuesday, and on Wednesday, it was off to give the Lunch & Learn program for Shelby Senior Services in Shelbyville. Director Kathy Nolting invited me, and I thank her. The delicious meal included chicken casserole and this green Jell-O with the carrots in it. Took me back to Methodist suppers of old that my mom's United Methodist Women used to prepare. Yum!
I'm more grateful than you know to everyone I've met and all the invitations that took me on a whirlwind tour of Indiana this past week! Tomorrow I'm headed to Brookville for one more round. Have a wonderful Mother's Day weekend, everyone.
When I was a girl, I loved few things more than the Mother-Daughter Banquet in the Brownsville United Methodist Church. No grand big-city hall could hold a candle to the loveliness in that church basement that brimmed with tiny plastic floral favors set at every table and squares of orange - studded Jell-O with shredded carrots.
We wore our Easter finest and patent-leather shoes. Then someone sang. It was a delightful evening sitting next to my favorite person in the world, my mother. Our church didn't have these every year or even, I don't think, very often. But I remember one evening before a childhood banquet sitting in the apple tree in the pony lot. The tree was in full-explosion mode with pinkish white blossoms covering every inch. I was in a fantasy-land tree, only it was real life and I was going to the banquet!
April and May are when we have banquets here in Indiana. Maybe it's so everywhere, a time to celebrate academic and sports awards, install honor society members and women's club officers. It's when organizations recognize their members and hand out certificates. It's mother-daughter season.
Something I've enjoyed immensely about being a local author these recent years is that about now, my plate is full. And I do mean the one with the chicken salad and chiffon pies as well as the metaphorical one found on various pages of my planner. People still ask me to speak at their banquets this time of year.
Banquet season kicked off for me yesterday at the Foster Grandparents Program recognition banquet for seniors who serve community children from Rush, Hancock and Henry counties. There are 48 in the program that send seniors to day care centers, Head Start classrooms and other schools where they read to and with children, rock babies and show our young'uns how much they care. Those babies and children may still be talking about these Grandparents 90 or close to a hundred years from now to their great-grandchildren. Imagine that!
So ICAP Senior Services Director Mary Ellen Brausa invited me to be the speaker. It was the carnation corsage that got to me. How many times in life do we get to sport a corsage? Aside from high school Christmas dances and spring proms and the days our kids get married, well, none. Except I got to wear one yesterday. And can you believe it was the color of my fingernails?
The theme? Share Today, Shape Tomorrow. That sounds about right. But the day also took me back many moons, the distinctive scent of the carnation to a time when I sat in an apple tree on a farm and dreamed of attending a banquet that very night with my mother. I didn't think life could possibly get any sweeter.
Thank you Grandparents, and thank you, Mary Ellen, for allowing me the honor.
It was oh-so tempting to stop yesterday and pick up the HUGE $12.99 Boston ferns that I like on our porches. Likewise, in a drive-by looking over one of those pop-up greenhouses, I noticed pots lavishly brimming with red geraniums.
But what I know is that it's still too early. It's still way too windy. To buy plants now would be a mistake. I know, because I've done it before and the ferns were beaten so violently by the wind that they self-destructed before June. I know, because the warmth of sunny May days is intoxicating and we want to think that we've turned the corner into something close to summer.
But most of all, I know because so many times, my mother's words have come back to me and prove true. Don't plant anything until May 10. Some say May 1, others go with Mother's Day. But Mom was always right to allow those few extra cushion days.
So, I'm enjoying plant life -- the fake kind. I adore wreaths and it's been a while since I bought a new one. How do you like this summer beauty I found at Cracker Barrel? I repurposed a Christmas decoration, this painted Ball jar from my friend Rita, by taking off the bulbs and greenery on top and added a bundle of white tulips I've had for a few years. The square (fake) magnolia-leaf wreath recently relocated to the family room from the master bedroom.
A few years ago there was a decorating war on fake flowers and arrangements. But I admit to using them and I even think they're becoming more realistic all the time. In fact, there are more choices in this genre out there than ever. So yes, it's May, but I'm faking it until I'm making it with the real McCoys.
Meanwhile ... I'm gearing up for quite a busy weekend. Friday morning I'll be speaking at the Rush and Henry County Foster Grandparents banquet in New Castle at 11 a.m. As soon as it's over, I'll point the HHR east and be hosting at the Kids at Heart bookshop at Warm Glow from 2-7 p.m. I'll also be selling and signing my books there. It's the Warm Glow complex's spring open house all weekend.
If you've never been to Warm Glow, this is a fantastic weekend to check it out. I'll be in the Artisans & Java Building.
On Sunday, I have the privilege of providing the program for the annual mother-daughter banquet at my daughter-in-law Allison's church in Indy. Looking forward to making another wonderful memory in the church where Allison and our son Sam were married.
When do you plant your flowers and put out your porch plants?