I have a stack of old postcards that date from around 1900 to 1910. They are in about perfect condition, as though mailed yesterday, and they are all addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Robert McDougal, R.R. # 6, Box 55, Liberty, Ind., or sometimes, curiously, just to them at Brownsville, Ind. I think they lived between the two towns and I suppose postal staff at either town made sure they got their mail.
The McDougals were my great-great-grandparents on my father’s side. Donna McDougal was their daughter and became Donna Jobe – the mother of my grandfather. I was named for her.
The McDougals were entombed in an above-ground vault "up on the hill” in Brownsville. My brother, Tim, even has the key to the vault but found that the key only opens the exterior gate.
The cards were written by Donna’s sister, Grace. From what I gather from reading the cards, Grace lived in Indianapolis during the early 1900s and sent this flurry of cards to her family back home in Union County during over the course of a decade.
There are seasonal cards, birthday cards, cards for holidays and my favorite ones – scenes from Indianapolis. There's one picturing the U.S. President from Ohio, William Howard Taft, one of people boating in Glen Miller Park, and one from 1909 of BOnd's Department Store in Liberty. There are cards with flowers and pastures and two featuring herds of sheep from Melbourne, Australia. The McDougals came to Union County in the 1830s from Scotland. I wonder if some of their kin settled in Australia. Just a guess.
There are several cards featuring sites from inside Indianapolis. I wonder if these points of interest still exist. Obviously, Union Station and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument do, but what about some of the other parks and landmarks?
Have a look. Who knows? Some of the sites may resonate with you and if they do, please leave a comment.
This is it in the blogosphere for 2015. But I’ll be back at it in 2016 as I share random thoughts on the writing life – and life in general – with you. Please join me then.
So make a resolution or two – or not. Have a toast – or not. Stay up until midnight – or go to bed early and get an early start on New Year’s morning. However you choose to see in 2016, be safe and see you next year.
A JOURNAL FOR CHRISTMAS, 2.0
he year was 1987. It was both the worst and the best year possible. In January that year, we fell hard from the huge high of having our first baby, Sam, the previous year.
We learned on a cold but mockingly sunny January 1987 day at Riley Hospital that Sam had the heart defect Tetrology of Fallot, and would require open-heart surgery.
In a matter of moments, we experienced both horror and hope: horror that he would go through this; hope that doctors said he could be fixed. The following July, at 11 months old, Sam’s open-heart surgery took place – the scariest day of my life – and a little over a month later we took our baby home in time to celebrate his first birthday – happiness – and in our post-trauma, begin to relax and move on toward a normal life.
That Christmas of 1987, I gave my mother a project. It was a fill-in-the-blank memory book about her life. I wrote this: Mom, Here is a winter 1988 project for you. If you would work on this a little at a time I’m sure it would be a wonderful keepsake for Sam someday. Love, Donna.
I’m not sure when she handed it back, but she did, all neatly filled out, with some family genealogy, favorite memories, story of how she met my dad, remarks such as her favorite entertainer (Clark Gable) and songs (Irving Berlin tunes).
Her completed memory book was tucked away in our glass-front antique cabinet with our other special books, and basically – I forgot about it. Until this morning.
One of my Christmas gifts yesterday from son, Sam, and his wife, Allison, was a fill-in-the-blank journal about my life, called Mom, Tell Me Your Story.
My daughter-in-law Allison told me that she was excited for me to complete the book and at some point, return it to her and Sam.
This morning I sat down to fill out a couple of pages and thought I’d look in Sam’s baby book for some dates. Next to his baby book was that journal of my mother’s from the winter of 1988.
I spent some time reading Mom’s memories, such as that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first president she voted for, and that she was most proud of me when I was in 4-H. Mom wrote, “She was very dedicated to her projects and worked very hard and had great displays.”
How did I not know that she felt that way?
On the last page of the book, under the writing prompt: I hope you’ll always remember, Mom wrote to Sam that she hoped he’d grow up recalling:
Coming to the farm where your mom grew up and all the things you enjoyed while here. How much your grandma and grandpa loved to see you and dad and mom come. Always love and respect your dad and mom. You were very ill when you were a little 1-year-old and had your heart operation. Many prayers were said for you from many people and they were answered.
Wow. My daughter-in-law Allison could have had no idea at the double gift she gave me. The book for my own recollections is lovely, yes, and the gift of reading my mother’s thoughts and memories in her own hand – priceless.
At last, I know just when the right time will be to hand over my mother’s memory book to Sam. It will go to him when I hand back my memory book.
I just hope it doesn’t take me 28 years to complete.
BLESSINGS: NAME THEM ONE BY ONE
It’s human nature, I suppose, to stand on the brink of a new year and gaze both backward and forward. I do the same with the old and new planning calendars.
One is full of completed appointments as well as notations about the year’s events that resound in both good and bad ways. There are names of people and their contact info that I might need going forward, business cards and passwords to my various technology accounts.
The other is a new calendar, nearly spotless, except for the few scribbles that have already been made such as a date with our new tax preparer, some spring programs, a couple of hair bookings and a May wedding when my son and his wife will gain a new sister-in-law.
Oh yeah, and a routine colonoscopy. I’m finally getting to the bottom of that!
Right now I use the old and new planners in equal measure. But soon, the used one will slide into a drawer for reference and the new one will get the action.
And that is life, is it not? We look to the past to recall our experiences, inform our futures, learn from our mistakes and victories.
As I count my blessings, naming them one by one, here are a few from 2015:
-- Thank You Lord for the health and safety of my loved ones.
-- I am grateful that Brian got to retire after 40 years as a school educator. He celebrates his new status no less than daily, often numerous times. I have never seen him so happy and carefree. I love that he is retired! What’s not to enjoy about seeing someone you love so happy? And not just that, but he does all the laundry, dishes, did almost all the Christmas shopping, and so much more, besides!
-- I am grateful that everyone in my family who wants a job has one, which includes our kids, and so thankful that Sam, Allison and Ben enjoy what they are doing, and are good at their jobs.
-- This year, after writing my second novel (which you’ll hear plenty about next year), I was blessed by three talented people in my life who edited the book: Barb Clark, Debbie McCray and Steve Dicken. As I write this, the remarkable Marilyn Witt is creating a cover, and the wonderful Christy Ragle is helping me revamp some social-media marketing. Being an indie author / entrepreneur has opened up experiences I had never before dreamed possible.
-- We got new Apple computers at work this year. They are fast and quiet and intuitive! Thankful for a great group to work with at The Courier-Times, and a fun bunch in the newsroom. Also to long-time friends Sandy Moore, Cheryl K. Bennett and to all the wonderful correspondents who fill the Neighbors and Her magazine pages such as Blaise Doubman, Stacey Torres, Arlene Schmidt, Sherry Shepard, Trista Hill, Tisha Sledd, friend and boss Katie Clontz and others! Blessings one and all.
-- We said goodbye to my good friend John Hodge, who died on the golf course after exactly – to the day – one year of retirement. It remains sad and I miss John, but on the plus side, that man enjoyed nearly every single moment of his last year. So glad that he didn’t delay his retirement or he would not have known those joys.
-- Grateful for the annual summer mini-vacay with my dear friend Gay Kirkton. We had a home-and-garden theme in July for our time together. Thank you Katie for showing us around your lovely Irvington home and community.
-- Thankful for the fall Saturday with my dear friend and confidante Cheryl Bennett where we dined and shopped at Bloomington hot spots and enjoyed a stunning October day.
-- Grateful for my hometown of Liberty, Indiana and visits with brother and SIL Tim and Jeannie Jobe.
-- Thankful that Brian recently got a week in Florida with his brother and sister-in-law, Steve and Linda Cronk. I just love that they had that special time together and he had a ball! I hope they did too.
-- Grateful to my Midlife Mom sisters for the eight years we’ve had together. Those women have enriched my life more than I can say and I look forward to year nine. Grateful to Terri Fredericks for her gracious hosting of the MLMs several times this year at her wonderful Brown County lake house.
-- Appreciation to Patti and Monty Foust for their friendship, chats and Monty's skills at doing so many home projects for us through the years.
-- July 4 was a special time when we had 29 family members here in our back yard for the McClellan family reunion, including cousins in from Colorado and Louisiana.
-- I am thankful that I can freely, openly and thoughtfully gather with hundreds of regional women once a week and study God’s Word at Bible Study Fellowship. This year we are in Revelation and this is year five of my studies. Want to join us? Message me and I’ll share details. It’s free and you will be more than welcome. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
-- I am grateful for Facebook and other social media that I use personally as a means to visit with my friends and loved ones and professionally to both find and research people and stories.,
-- My thanks to every person who invited me to speak, do a reading, attend an author fair or otherwise be a part of her social or service club, church group or banquet, if only for one lovely evening. My motto from the get-go of this book journey is this: If asked to attend, I say yes.
-- My most special moment of the year came unexpectedly via a texted photo when my son, Sam, sent a picture of himself with the heart surgeon who operated on him when he was an infant and then again at age 19. They ran into each other at the hospital where my son is a surgical tech. The surgeon had been working in one surgery, and Sam was working in another one. The surgeon is rarely at my son’s hospital so it was an unusual moment. There they both stood, beautiful in their identical blue scrubs, when they came face to face.
If someone had told me 28 years ago this photo would happen in the future, I would have bawled my eyes out with joy. It was all I could do not to bawl my eyes out with joy this time.
On the scary night before Sam’s surgery at 11 months of age, these words fell hard into my mind: My grace is sufficient.
That was 1987. There was no Google to find the origin for these words. But I had a Bible index and when I researched grace and sufficient, I was led to 2 Corinthians 12:9: “But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.”
It’s been my life verse ever since.
-- I am thankful for so many other things, too; so many people, events, surprises, laughter and joy in life and living.
And if you are reading this blog that has become a twice-a-week endeavor, I am thankful for you too.
Now prepare to go forth into that wide-open, blank calendar of 2016. There will be public and private joys and celebrations as well as a few heartaches. Wishing you His blessings.
His grace is still enough for us all.
A CHRISTMAS CARD FROM MISS KALTER
I didn't know this photo on the steps of the old Brownsville School existed until Miss Kalter shared it -- and several others -- with me a few years back. Amazing that I am Facebook friends with quite a few in this photo, including Cheryl Rodenburg, John Scott, Robin Buell, Dennis Houchins, Kim Cushing and Jeryl Telker.
The old Brownsville school was built in 1912, a red-brick classic, three stories, appropriate to the era. There, generations of children attended all twelve years. The red brick, the original slate chalkboards, and the Palladian window over the entrance gave the building a slightly elegant rather than merely utilitarian flair--this in a small, rural-Indiana, unincorporated village.
Among the generations of students passing through its hallowed halls were my dad, Huburt, who was in fact born the year it was built; my brother, David, who graduated from there; and my brother, Tim, who finished up at Short High School in nearby Liberty following 1960s consolidation.
Not long before the school was abandoned for good, then sold to a private owner, and eventually torn down, I made the attendance cut, barely. I was in the last kindergarten class to attend school there, the summer of 1964. It has always been a matter of personal pride that those few weeks made me an alumnus of that particular Union County school, adding something in common with the men in my family.
Kindergarten was exciting! I was finally old enough for school. The old building, on its last legs, seemed grand to my five-year-old eyes. I remember sitting behind Christy Sweeney who was wearing her navy blue dress with tiny stars on it. I can still picture the view of Brownsville through the large classroom windows. I loved playing Red Rover in the school yard and I remember swinging on the tall swings. I carpooled with Cheryl and Brenda Rodenburg and our moms.
Our kindergarten teacher was Miss Grace Kalter. And on the last day of school that summer, I remember receiving the first award of my young life. I was called with others to the front of the class and presented with a small ABC’s storybook. It was inscribed by Miss Kalter with a note that said it was for perfect attendance in kindergarten. I still have it somewhere.
I graduated from high school twelve years later with almost every single person who went to kindergarten with me that summer.
But after that summer, I never saw Miss Kalter again all through school. She taught at another county school, Kitchel Elementary, and the next dozen years went by in what now seem like a blur.
It wasn’t until many decades later that Miss Kalter again appeared on my radar. The mother of a former mayor in New Castle, in the town where I work, knew I was from Liberty and mentioned that she knew Miss Kalter. I got her address, and sent her a letter. Miss Kalter wrote me back.
It was like getting a letter from a celebrity. She was a celebrity. Aren’t all teachers celebrities? I always thought so. She seemed to remember me and she said she had photos of our kindergarten class.
I had dreamed, literally, about that class, classroom and school for all of my life and here she had evidence on film of those days. I asked if I sent her some money, would she send me copies. She did. I think I cried when I saw the photos – my friends, classmates and me. There we were in our five-year-old glory.
Miss Kalter and I began exchanging Christmas cards and pleasantries. Last year when I did a book signing at the Union County Public Library, Miss Kalter and her sister were there!
The other day, it happened again. A Christmas card arrived with a short update from my kindergarten teacher. I think it’s my favorite card every year.
The Lord presents us with unique gifts throughout life, personal ones that are special only to us, and one of mine is the annual Christmas card from the kindergarten teacher I had more than half a century ago.
I don’t think too many people at age 57 can say they get cards from their kindergarten teachers. Thank you, Miss Kalter! And Merry Christmas.
Teachers are our heroes. And they are our celebrities. God bless them, every one.
Today’s post is written by Ohio resident Debbie McCray. Debbie is a former engineer, current writer, blogger, editor—and friend. Most recently, she helped edit my next novel. I met Debbie in 1989 when we moved to Pendleton and shared a Sunday school class. Later we moved to her neighborhood and shared Carriage Lane for several years. Debbie welcomes you to visit her blog at www.wordpress.snowdrops4faith.com.
By Debbie McCray
As a new wife, I was eager to please my husband with my cooking abilities. I had big shoes to fill since my mother-in-law was an excellent cook. In early December, I decided to make my husband’s favorite cookie: thumbprint cookies with buttercream frosting.
Before I started, I called my mother-in-law to make sure I did everything the way she did. I used the right combination of butter, margarine, and Crisco. A sample batch helped me determine the perfect baking time. If effort and care ensured success, I knew these cookies would be a hit.
This was back in the days before I made my own frosting. I bought the flavor of frosting that my husband said “made the cookies.” Since these were festive cookies, I colored the frosting red, and frosted cookies covered the counters and kitchen table. They looked just like my mother-in-law’s cookies.
My husband was the willing taste-tester. He sat down with cookies and milk. I anticipated the kudos he would heap on his bride. I eagerly watched as he took the first bite. That’s when my perfect scenario of wedded bliss fell apart. “What did you do to these cookies?”
I didn’t hear the expected confirmation, but rather an accusation. It didn’t take long to figure out where I went wrong. I bought the wrong flavor of frosting! To this day, I swear my husband said thumbprint cookies with sour cream frosting were his favorite. My husband would have never said sour cream frosting as his mom always used buttercream frosting.
This distinction was noted on the recipe for future reference. I have not made that same mistake again since my first batch of thumbprint cookies twenty-seven years ago.
It was a good lesson for us as newlyweds: communication is more than just words. It is making sure that the other person has truly heard and understood what was said.
Good advice for our marriage and especially for the thumbprint cookie recipe passed down in the family. It was an easy fix for thumbprint cookies, but it is not always so easy to fix other things in our lives. We can follow directions, consult with others, do our best, and still fail epically.
In God’s eyes, this often describes the efforts we employ to fix our spiritual condition. It doesn’t work and it will fail every time because it is dependent on us.
Ephesians 2:8-9 explains the reason for our failure: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
The best paraphrase I have heard for these verses is: Saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
No amount of striving, competency, or resources apart from God will save us. The part we are responsible for is faith in Jesus Christ. Faith puts us on the path of salvation and guarantees our place in heaven.
We celebrate Christmas because God’s hope for us became flesh and blood. The Christ child grew up to be the Son of Man who died on the cross as the Son of God to save us. May we as Christians share this sweet victory with others.
½ Cup Parkay Margarine (or 1 Stick), Softened
½ Cup Butter (or 1 Stick), Softened
1 Cup Crisco Shortening
1 Cup Brown Sugar
4 Egg Yolks (Save Egg Whites)
2 Teaspoons Vanilla
4 Cups Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
4 Egg Whites
1½ Cups Finely Chopped Walnuts
One Batch of Buttercream Icing
Use mixer to beat together margarine, butter, shortening, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, vanilla, and salt. Mix together. Add flour one cup at a time. Mix after each addition. Roll dough into 1-inch balls.
Use a hand whisk to “beat” egg whites. Set out a bowl of egg whites and a bowl of finely chopped walnuts. Dip top and sides of dough ball into egg whites. (It is not necessary to dip the bottom of the dough ball.) Then dip dough ball into walnuts, covering the top and sides.
Place at least 1” apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Put thumbprint in cookie before placing in oven. Bake at 325o F for approximately 20 minutes. (Time will vary between 15-20 minutes depending on oven.) Bottoms will be golden brown when done. Recipe makes 5½ to 6 dozen cookies.
Before completely cool, fill thumbprint with buttercream frosting. One batch of frosting should frost one batch of thumbprint cookies. (It will be close!)
½ Cup Parkay Margarine (or 1 Stick)
1 Pound Powdered Sugar (or Approximately 3¼ Cup Powdered Sugar, Slightly Packed)
1 Teaspoon Vanilla
3 Tablespoons Milk
In large bowl, beat together sugar, margarine, vanilla, and milk until smooth. It may be necessary to add more milk or powdered sugar to get the right spreading consistency.
If desired, add a few drops of food coloring. Stir to blend.
LET 'EM EAT PIE
This is a fun weekend. Yesterday I met up with Ben to watch the new Ron Howard movie, (in 3-D, IMAX!) Heart of the Sea. It’s the “story behind the story” of Moby Dick, and it’s wonderful. We followed up the morning with lunch at the new Chick-Fil-A at Hamilton Town Center and then I did some holiday shopping and last night, wrapping.
Today I’m making two pies. One is a Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie, created by Blaise Doubman of Kennard for next year’s novel. Did you know that Sugar Cream is the official Indiana state pie? It will go to my church life group’s holiday party Sunday night. The other one is a mincemeat for our Courier-Times Christmas luncheon Monday.
The mincemeat is from a 75-year-old recipe that the Spiceland (Indiana) United Methodist women make every year. I haven’t eaten mincemeat since I was a kid, and even then, when Mom made it, I don’t know that I actually ate a piece. It sure smelled good baking but let’s just say it couldn’t touch pecan, apple, cherry or peach.
Did you know that mincemeat is a traditional British Christmas meat pie, dating back 500 years and traced to English Crusaders who brought spices from the Holy Land? If anyone has a hankering for a jar of authentic mincement made by ladies who have been making it from scratch for decades, give these gals a call to purchase jars: Virginia at 765-987-7634 or Sarah at 765-529-6598.
I’ll be curious to see Monday how my adult taste buds feel about this dessert—and if anyone else in the office will eat it. (I’m also taking a green-bean casserole). Green-bean casseroles are the ugly Christmas sweater of the holiday menu. But the funny thing is, they get eaten and despite the cliché, many people love them. They are also economical to make for a crowd. Ben has requested that I make one for his work’s Christmas pitch-in.
Before Sunday's church party, the afternoon (1-4 p.m., Dec. 13) will be spent at the Hancock County Public Library at an author fair co-hosted by the library and the Hancock County Historical Society. I hear that nine authors will be there to chat about and sell their volumes. Come on by. Even if you are just looking and not buying, we love discussing our work.
For me, an author fair is a hit if it leads to just one person saying “Hey, I’d like to have you come speak to my ...”
Monday, there’s the work luncheon, and after work, I’ll head to Middletown for a mini-party, of sorts, with my Bible Study Fellowship pals before we close out our lessons for 2015.
With all this holiday hoopla, it’s a safe bet that come Tuesday evening after work, I’ll be pretty wiped out.
But it’s all good.
Since it’s 64 degrees (yes, in Indiana), I may also work in the yard cleaning up the leaves that have blown against the porches and landscaping.
I just caught a whiff of the baking mincemeat pie ... reminds me of Saturday mornings when I was a kid. That's when Mom did her baking.
How are you spending your December Saturday?
Sugar Cream Pie, left, and the mincemeat pie before the top crust is added. The Sugar Cream is finished and the mincemeat is baking as I write this cutline. What's your favorite holiday pie? Shout out to Blaise Doubman for walking me through how EASY it is to make a pie crust. I'll never buy one again (well, probably).
About a year ago, while standing in the checkout line in the Indiana Historical Society gift shop, author Janis Thornton and I struck up a conversation. The line was long, and the two of us packed a lot of information into those few moments. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that both of us are long-time newspaperwomen, able to compress many words into a brief period.
-- We are both former managing editors in the former Nixon Newspapers, Inc. chain – she in Frankfort; me in Attica.
-- Janis was in the building to promote her cozy mystery, Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies and I was there with my women's Christian fiction book, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast.
-- We both consider veteran newsman and retired NNI publisher and executive Ray Moscowitz a major influence in our careers.
-- To this day, Janis assists Ray with special projects including books and social media.
-- We know several of the same people, although the two of us had never met.
From that encounter, we friended each other on Facebook, quickly becoming colleagues and sharing tips and promotional ideas. Janis claims that I gave her some good marketing ideas. I know for sure that she helped me bunches. Last summer, Janis even paid a house call and helped me set up this website and blog. I’ve been blogging twice a week since.
Janis also told me about a crowd-sourced project that Indiana University Press is publishing for Indiana’s 2016 bicentennial. It’s a book called Undeniably Indiana and Janis told me the project had both our names all over it. Sure enough, we both have essays accepted and the book will be out next fall.
I count Janis as one of the unexpected joys of 2015! A delight of this author gig is finding kindred spirits who come beside each other with support, information, ideas. Besides Janis, I’m thinking of Trista Hill with the how-to lifestyle book, Eat Cheap!; Mary Wilkinson with the young adult work, Call Me Lizzy and Mark Herbkersman with his three westerns, and special friend Debbie McCray with her blog, Snowdrops for Faith.
After years of thinking that I should work on my author’s platform via an active blog, this year it happened, thanks to Janis’ assistance. For half a year now, I’ve been posting right here wice a week.
The other day, Debbie, who is my most faithful blog reader / commenter, asked if I prefer she comment on the blog website or on the Facebook link. I told her that I don’t care which, and that I simply appreciate her comments. Then the thought hit me: I have failed badly this year in responding to comments readers are kind enough to leave, and thus, am failing to advance potential dialogue between us. Even though I get more than a thousand blog page views a month, few leave comments. Maybe that’s because I haven’t been a good steward of my own words. So here’s a vow for the new year: I plan to do a better job at responding to your comments.
As we wrap up 2015, consider picking up a copy of my book via Amazon, Kindle or directly from me for someone on your gift list. I’d be delighted to sign the book to whomever you wish, and even wrap it for Christmas and mail it back to you. If you are interested, hit me up at email@example.com and we’ll quickly work out details. You can also go to the ABOUT DONNA tag on this site, scroll down, and buy the book. Boom!
I haven’t said much about my next big project because you'll hear a lot about it in 2016. But even though some new things are coming, please know that I’m still actively booking programs relating to the first book. If your Red Hatters, home ec club, church life group, book club, spring tea committee or any other ladies group you are involved with needs a program, I can tailor one to suit your needs. Give me a shout at the email above and we’ll talk.
I leave you with a look at this little ornament on our Christmas tree. I picked it up at a camel ranch last year on my trip to Israel: “Trust God but tie up your camel.” The saying made me chuckle. We have to have faith in the Lord, but we have to reach out and do our part too, accomplishing what He has for us to offer the world or at least, offer our little sphere of influence. That looks different for each of us as we are all uniquely wired according to His will and boundless creativity.
The main theme of my first book is this: Trust in the Lord and He’ll walk beside us in every season of life. As I put a wrap on 2015, I believe that. And pretty soon, a new season will arrive for all of us. It’s called New Year’s Day 2016. Are you ready?
Special invite: If you're a blogger, please share your blog link and tell a bit about it. My village might well be interested in yours.
I knew at 16 what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Heck, I probably knew at 4 but couldn’t verbalize it then as I roamed around the house, “covering” a party presidential convention played out on our black-and-white TV. (Back to you, Chet.)
I still know.
It’s always been the same answer: a newspaper reporter. It’s nothing fancy, and no one I’ve ever met does it for the pay. These days, it’s old media. Call me crazy but I’ve always wanted to write stories about ordinary people that do extraordinary things—maybe not even extraordinary, but things that are unusual, fun, unexpected or even typical but somehow make a difference in the life of a community.
Here I am practically an old lady now and I still can’t imagine anything more interesting than stepping up to the sidelines of another person’s life, getting a good look inside, asking the questions others are wondering about but lack access, opportunity or, as my husband would say--the brass to ask.
And then, with a notebook brimming, and the setting recorded inside my camera, I return to the newsroom and write. I’m the one entrusted to tell the community what happened. It still feels like an honor.
Maybe it’s a story about the average guy who won millions (and millions) in the lottery. Or one about what it’s like to be an Amish homemaker transplanted from Pennsylvania to rural Indiana. Could be ongoing stories about artist Robert Indiana’s interest in his hometown. Or updates over a longer period of time about a little boy who finally got a new heart and today lives happily ever after.
The happily ever afters … oh yeah, those are sweet.
I’ve been at this thing called community journalism for more than three decades now. Where have those years gone? People are starting to ask me things like, “When are you retiring?” Someone the other day sent an email telling me she hoped I didn’t retire for a long time. I guess the clock is ticking.
But if it’s the first Saturday in December, I’m not an old newspaper gal. On that magical day each year, if my name appeared in an autumn letter telling my employer that I would be particularly interested in attending the Hoosier State Press Association Newsroom Seminar and Awards Banquet, that means I will spend the day mixing and mingling with news people from across Indiana, that my stomach will produce a butterfly or two, and that I will fall in love with newspapering all over again.
The first year I attended HSPA, I was nearing graduation from Indiana State and had accepted my first full-time reporter’s job at the Attica Ledger-Tribune. In one of the oddest turns of circumstance in my life, it so happened that the Attica editor was Sue Barnhizer (now Anderson, Ph.D, by the way), whom I grew up with! I knew that Sue had a journalism degree and had even been editor-in-chief of the Ball State newspaper.
But it wasn’t until we moved to Fountain County and I looked down at an issue of the Attica paper to spot her byline that I knew where she had landed. I called Sue and she was thrilled that we lived nearby. Things worked out that I could be her reporter as well as her friend. Oh, we had some fine times.
One of those fine times was December 1983 when Sue and I went to HSPA together. We left the conference so inspired to “do good journalism,” we felt like prowling for a story the moment we left the Indianapolis Convention Center.
We vowed to return the next year and one year, to even win a prize.
We did both one year later, taking home an award for our coverage of a company that wanted to blow up chemicals in our rural county. Gov. Robert Orr flew in to reassure the citizens that he opposed the company. This country bumpkin with a notebook even got to accompany the county big shots inside the governor’s private office to meet with him personally on the matter. Big stuff for a rookie.
The year after that, we returned to the convention again. I can’t recall if we won anything – maybe – but more awards followed as the years passed; first in Attica, then in New Castle. I think of Sue every first Saturday in December and remember the blast we had “doing journalism” in those early days.
In fact, on this first Saturday in December, I always think of so many of my colleagues, cronies and competition with which I have spent this day and shared newsrooms through the decades. We wear our best office attire and settle in to hear experts in our field. Then we eat a fancy meal, and if we’re fortunate, haul home some hardware.
It happened again today. This year, I had the pleasure of spending the day with my editor and friend, Katie Clontz. When I started working at The Courier, Katie was not quite 3. For many years, I worked with her mom, Amy, our former news editor. Talk about full circle. I am so delighted to see Katie love newspapering the way I always have.
Katie and I won awards and we both left Indy wanting to go back home and “do good journalism.” Just like those before us did. Just like I have wanted to do since I was 16—or 4.
God willing, we’ll do just that and come the first Saturday in December 2016, we'll gather with those of like minds yet again.
DIGGING OUT THE HOLIDAY MAGAZINES
I’ve always been a magazine junkie. As a young girl, I loved reading the celebrity profiles in my mother’s TV Guide. I enjoyed the stories in Good Housekeeping, cut out the Betsy dolls in McCall’s, and even leafed through my dad’s Prairie Farmer.
Do you remember Co-ed magazine? We got free copies of those in junior high home-ec class. They were gateway magazines to make us lifelong addicts, I suppose. I loved those magazines and couldn’t wait to get on the school bus and delve inside.
Better Homes & Gardens has remained a staple from Mom’s coffee table to today.
I’ve written for magazines too. While in a college magazine-writing course, the professor challenged students: Get your work published in a national magazine and you ace the class.
I did just that. It was the early 1980s and I sent a letter to the editor of Time magazine regarding a cover feature about older women having babies. As a baby born to a mother of almost 45 in 1958, I felt I had a few insights. The letter was printed. I bought about five copies of the magazine. And got an A in the course. But since I loved every minute of the class anyway, I continued to do the work.
Indianapolis writer and blogger Jolene Ketzenberger hooked me up with freelance work for Indianapolis Monthly during the early 1990s during her stint as an editor there, and there were decorating stories I had published in several national decorating magazines on into the 2000s.
My favorite magazines to read have been Country Home, Country Living, Colonial Home, and Real Simple (in which I had a submission).
Once, I had a photo published in Metropolitan Home to go with writer Joyce Maynard’s essay.
My friend Gay and I had a memorable brush with Midwest Living. We always take a short girlfriend getaway every summer and one year, we stayed at a bed and breakfast in Centerville, Indiana, The Lantz House, which is now closed.
The living room of that inn graced the cover of Midwest Living 10 years before our visit – and in the Christmas issue at that. I had saved that magazine all those years, and finally, we decided to stay there.
Upon arrival, the owner told us we were in luck. A writer with Midwest Living was staying there that very night! Her particular assignment was – wait for it – to research girlfriend-getaways!
We couldn’t believe our timing. Gay and I spent the next few hours talking about how we couldn’t wait to meet the writer. We were just sure she would want to interview us, girlfriends on a getaway and all. We watched around every corner and sat up thinking we would casually bump into the writer. No luck.
But we knew we had an ace in a hole: Since it was a B & B, we’d be eating breakfast with the writer.
Bingo! She was talkative … but not about her job and not about our visit. Despite our telling that writer about our numerous girlfriend getaways, and the link with our visit and that decade-old cover of Midwest Living, she was flat out not interested in us. She wanted to talk about Nick Clooney!
After the frustrating non-interview, and absolutely no contact with her following the meal, I decided there was more than one way to get ourselves in Midwest Living. It was then my personal mission.
So I went home, wrote a letter to the editor about the inn and told our story about how I had saved their magazine for a decade and was not disappointed in our eventual stay at their cover subject. I enclosed various photos. Months passed and fittingly enough, I didn’t even know the piece ran – complete with one of my photos of Gay and I and a file photo of the inn – until Gay brought a copy and told me about it that Christmastime when we got together.
I still love magazines and I still save my favorites. This time of year, I find it particularly relaxing to grab a few copies of the vintage Christmas decorating magazines I’ve stashed away and look through them while enjoying my nightly bubble bath.
I’ve noticed a steady decline in the size of magazines from the mid-1990s when the Internet became popular until now. Print media has so much online competition.
But sometimes, it’s just nice to hold these old magazines in my hands and look in on the beautiful wreaths and trees, the recipes and all the rest. Maybe I should recycle them this year and clear out the shelf space.
Maybe so, but it's not likely.