In my last blog post, I promised to show what I picked up at Lola + Company in Bloomington for the Writer Chicks. Here they are ... narrow silvery bangles. They are actually recycled guitar strings. The store owner wraps them in this charming recycled music-book paper. Sorry to spoil the surprise, Cathy. I'll bring yours next month.
It's time, much as I'll miss them, for the annual fern giveaway! I have four gorgeous ferns that need new homes or they'll be off to that great greenhouse in the sky. If you want one, all four, or any number in between, contact me. Messenger, text (317-224-7028) or email, firstname.lastname@example.org. First to claim them gets them. But don't call if you "might" want them, only if you do for sure and can come and get them. I don't deliver. These babies are HUGE! Frost isn't their friend and soon they'll be freezing their fronds off! So come get them!
Those who know me well are probably familiar with my penchant for plans. I love circled dates on the calendar. I would be that girl who wants a ring and a date. In fact, at this juncture in life, skip the ring. I just want dates.
For a string of years before covid, our immediate family took annual long-weekend Colts away-game trips. The secret sauce began the spring before, when the date was set, and intensive planning began. By the time it was wheels-up, we had a basically hourly agenda with tickets, times, addresses, and confirmation numbers.
I appreciate that most prefer travels to sandy beaches and water. I'll take a place with lots to experience and an agenda to go with it.
Our planning led to almost flawless times in some of America’s major cities. And cities are not our natural habitat, so we’re extra proud of ourselves when our navigation works out. Securing tickets in July for an October visit to the Statue of Liberty, for example, yielded coveted upgrades into the crown.
But there’s always something to be said for a spontaneous call from friends to “come down tonight if you aren’t doing anything” or some semi-whim-ish plans.
That's what happened when friend, author Cathy Shouse (www.cathyshouse.com) asked if I might want to tag along and “hang out in Bloomington” during an overnight trip this summer. We could have a couple of long, uninterrupted chats to and from, plus separate rooms in an air bnb. She would spend Saturday at her conference on the Indiana University campus, and I could do … whatever!
Ah, ha! I knew exactly what the whatever would be, if my friend Cheryl were available.
Cheryl and I made fast friends 33 years ago about to date when I became Neighbors Editor at the New Castle Courier-Times. After she moved to Bloomington several years ago, we tended to get together annually but life gets busy, and it had been quite a while since we’d had face time.
Cheryl instantly agreed! We could spend a good chunk of Saturday together! I was pumped and told Cathy YES!
We stayed at Straw Bale Bungalow, hosted by Keith, in a neighborhood in the middle of Bloomington. It's a 1920s bungalow with a straw bale addition. So many pluses! He’s next door to Cathy’s writer friend, Jan.
And, we were even invited into Jan’s lovely home, but turns out it was Friday night, and Friday nights mean Keith hosts a neighborhood dinner on his open-air back porch. There neighbors gather and enjoy homemade pizzas and pass a huge crock full of salad. Some bring wine to share, and the feast and delightful chatter are on! We were guests as well.
I had the good fortune to sit next to a writer and author (pen name Lynn Romaine) who pulls her small trailer around the country during a portion of every year and writes about her adventures. When I got home, I looked up one of her books, Wander on amazon.com. It was quite an enjoyable read with a bonus of practical travel tips and ideas. I rated and reviewed it! I wonder if she saw.
Amazon reviews or simply ratings are important to authors. Particularly if you are indie-published, those reviews and/or ratings are treasured in today’s ratings-driven culture.
You can imagine, as we're even asked to tell the USPS how we liked our stamp-buying experience from our local postal clerk, or if the big box store greeter said hi!
Even though I didn’t realize it going into the weekend, there would be a definite book theme going on, both on the surface, and in the background.
Not only are Cathy and I writers, but so is Jan, and along with the Wander author, another neighbor at the far end of the table where I didn’t get to chat with her, is also a writer.
Small world that it is, when I asked Keith if by chance he knew an author and cabinetmaker—really, a Bloomington celebrity—Nancy Hiller, he seemed surprised with my question and offered a resounding “YES! She used to live one block in that direction.” He pointed in the direction, and added that when she left there, she gifted him a plant start that now thrives in his backyard.
I met Nancy after writing a feature story about a gorgeous IU Press book she wrote on the cultural history of the Hoosier cabinet. The cabinets were made in the early decades of the 1900s in New Castle. They are to stand-alone antique cabinets what Coke is to soda pop or Kleenex is to tissue. I have a Sellers cabinet, so similar to a Hoosier, and Nancy had a brilliant observation I’ll slip in as a side note at the end of this piece.
Anyway, I met Nancy at the Henry County Historical Society when her book launched several years ago, and we hit it off to the extent that Cheryl and I enjoyed a dinner with her on another Friday night in Bloomington once upon a time.
Then on Saturday of this trip, at Cheryl’s suggestion, I visited the used bookshop inside the Monroe County Public Library. It was fabulous, and as you can imagine in a book-intense city like Bloomington, was as large as a small library elsewhere. There, featured on a pedestal, was one of Nancy’s books, this one about beautiful homes, and the women owners’ stories. It was a buck fifty. It went home with me.
The irony of how Nancy-rich my time there was, is that Nancy passed away not long after that weekend…
Also on Saturday, Cheryl and I visited a favorite store of hers, Lola & Company, which offers home, gift and garden products. I will be posting on Facebook the small gifts I brought home to my Writer Chick Society friends but in case they read this first, I won’t say what they are. The store is at 114 N. Walnut St. and you can check it out at email@example.com.
The owner and I had a sweet conversation as she uniquely gift-wrapped (free!) the little gifts. My Clydesdale book came up, and she said it sounds so interesting she is hopping on amazon and getting it pronto! I do hope she enjoyed it.
I enjoyed her shop, and this weekend in the one-and-only Bloomington, Indiana! Grateful to the entire cast and crew of the somewhat spontaneous summer weekend. It seemed longer than possible for only a 24-hour getaway. Thank you, Cathy, for asking me!
A LITTLE SIDE STORY ABOUT NANCY (if you have the time)
When Nancy and I discussed Hoosier cabinets several years back, I told her that I had dreamed of owning a Hoosier cabinet, and that a similar Sellers cabinet, also made in Indiana, came on my radar. I bought it!
I explained that the cabinet was a consolation prize. How so? In the late 1980s, I spent months pining for a 1905 house, fully restored, two-stories, and my dream, in a small town where we lived and rented a house at the time.
We low-balled an offer, which was rejected. Brian remained convinced that they would come down, and we might go up, and by spring, we’d have it. I stalked the property, driving by at a snail’s pace, visually decorating the porch, and filling the outdoor urns with geraniums and ivy. Would I paint the front door bright red or black?
Only one day, my daydreams were thwarted when I drove by, and spotted a moving truck unloading furniture. Someone else had bought it.
“My” house had sold. I was a little crushed.
Not long after, I visited a garage sale where this almost-perfect cabinet was for sale. Such cabinets brought six-or-seven hundo at the time. She wanted three-fifty for this one. I asked to call my husband.
Rather than say let’s think about it, or what will you do with it, or that’s too much, I knew what he was thinking: she didn’t get the house, but she can get this.
Nancy listened to my story, and said indeed, it was a consolation prize. She explained that the word cabinet means small cabin. I didn’t get the big house. I got the little cabin.
I’ll never forget that story, nor the generosity of Brian to go along with something that only I wanted or cared about. Because he loves me.
August, with its thirty-one days, is a long month. Yet it went by in a blur of activity. So much so that I am still saving back a separate story about friend Cathy's and my trip to Bloomington for another post.
With my other two books, summer months were quiet on the speaking circuit. I thought that meant that I could legitimately tell other would-be authors that you probably won't have much on your author calendar in June, July, and August. People take a break, but look out for fall and spring!
Ha! That wasn't the case for my summer this time around.
August sent four talks my way, with three of them in five days. The month meant writing four separate programs. Whenever I'm asked to speak somewhere, I think about the audience, the setting, and what the group has in common. How will they respond to my humor? Do they want hometown stories? Do they want how-to about heirloom organization and distribution ideas? Do they want stories from the book? Or a mix of all that?
One thing that feels humbling and amazing is how my two little great-great nieces have somehow taken a liking to attending my talks! They even made me drawings and Katie sent me a snail mail letter. Thank you Katie and Lexi! You are my youngest followers! Thank you to their Mammy, Marlene, my niece, for bringing them to a library gig last spring, and then to our hometown church one week ago. They even made cookies for the pitch-in.
I can only imagine the joy my mother, their great-great-grandmother, would experience in seeing them and having them at church sitting so close to where she sat on a pew almost every single Sunday for fifty years! And, their great-great-great grandmother Hazel! She played organ in the Brownsville United Methodist Church for twenty-five years.
Following the church pitch-in meal, I spoke about the book, with emphasis on the community and the memories that span every inch of our little country church. Then came a time of show and tell, with Connie Parks Call, left, showing her "Brownsville Lion" mascot from when the township school served all grades before consolidation. Her cousin Janice Parks Burk, right, showed her Grandpa Elliott's cup that always hung on the outdoor pump for all comers to pump their own drink of water from the well.
When we returned home Sunday afternoon from Brownsville, I unloaded the car with the props and materials I used for Brownsville, and reloaded I needed for the next day at the District VII Extension Homemakers Retreat at Placid Lake Retreat Center, near Hartford City.
I got there early to set up my book table. I saw several familiar faces among the women from several counties making up the area represented--including Madison, Henry, and Union counties, along with Randolph, Franklin and Blackford members.
Following lunch, it was time to move my goods over to a different building where I would present a breakout program billed as "Book Review." Instead of just reviewing what's in my memoir, There's a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go, I used the time to offer ideas on organizing, downsizing, bequeathing special legacy heirlooms, and even how to divide household goods among loved ones.
Then came my favorite part of these programs: When attendees show and tell about their special heirlooms. The participation was outstanding, as were the stories.
Two of the Homemakers' stories each had a ring to them, including LaVonne's, at left. Hers concerns her father's putting his hands on his late wife's (and LaVonne's mother's) diamond ring, long after it had been worn.
It hung on a nail inside a cabinet.
Stories shared by those attending center on not so much the actual objects, but the objects of their affections: the people they loved and love to whom the items belonged.
It's the nature of what we keep: things that remind us of memories and moments that have informed our lives and helped connect the threads of people and time into the people we are today. Thank you Homemakers for being a great audience and the stars of the session!
There are no bigger fans of Union County history than Steve and Vicky Logue. Steve grew up in perhaps THE most historic home in the county, one that helped usher one-time slaves to freedom as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Vicky is Union County historian, following in the footsteps of history lovers in her family including her late mother, Virginia, and her grandmother, Esther Cox. Her husband Steve's cousin, Nancy Huntington, who grew up on this road, provided gorgeous Ball jars brimming with summer blooms.
It was an honor to be asked to speak at the Union County Historical Society's annual dinner meeting in August. My talk emphasized recognizing and savoring the oral and written histories handed down in our families, and that we ourselves experience. The stories help make for a personal historical record of family and community for the generations that follow us.
In a delightful handmade basket were a variety of locally made products and whimsies, including this stitched heart. Liberty. My home, and my deep love and respect as an American citizen. This heart will go on our Christmas tree and when I gaze at the tree and this ornament on a snowy December night, I'll think of that delightful night back home again--in Liberty, Indiana.
One more for the road. This one is from Hamilton North Public Library in Cicero's program I did in early August. I'm grateful to my sister Writer Chick, Susan Sparks, for recommending me to the Friends of the Library. It was a fun evening.
If you need a program for something, let me know. Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. We have a good time.
And as I just told someone a little while ago, I'm not the best at asking for reviews and ratings--or asking for anything, really (being a saleswoman doesn't come naturally)-- but if you've read the Clydesdale book and would feel so inclined, please post an honest Amazon or Goodreads rating or review. It helps get the book noticed in a big, beautiful world full of big, beautiful books of every kind.
Blessings. I'm outta here for now! I have a newspaper column to write.