It's a snowy Saturday in that no-man's land between Christmas and New Year's. I think of this week as an extended snow day.
Historically, it's a hard time to get hold of people for feature stories. Government entities take a break, and lots of people are off work due to end-of-year vacation time or their workplaces are closed.
It's kind of nice; a break in the action before Tuesday arrives and we're thrust, ready or not, into a new working year.
I like today. It's 1:30 p.m. and I'm still in my pajamas! It's cold and snowy outside and other than taking the dog out, there is no reason to leave the house. There's no reason, even, to put on real clothes, but I may. Or I may not.
What I will do when I finish this final 2017 post is to clock some time for my newspaper job. Several January projects involve getting a head start, and permission to work on the clock from home for a few hours will help me greet Tuesday better prepared to tackle January.
I don't do politics on social media. Sometimes I have to hog-tie my fingers, but I don't go there. I don't argue or preach or add to the divisiveness I see and feel around me. I have many friends and family, not to mention readers, acquaintances and colleagues whom I love, admire, respect and maybe even on occasion simply tolerate, who disagree mightily on such topics.
In the online political realm, I am Switzerland.
What I will share is my Christian faith in the Living Trinity, the three-in-one of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit -- the only hope for humanity.
When I review 2017, I think of moments. There is my career high of covering the presidential inauguration and women's march from the aspect of what it was like to be there. It was an intense few days full of experiences, then back to the hotel to write and transmit everything to quite a few Hoosier newspapers. I will treasure the experience for the rest of my life.
I am grateful for yet another year of this ride as a regional author. To every book club, social or literary club, church banquet and program organizer, library staffer and author fair organizer who sought me out in some way, I am in debt. Going into each year, I think perhaps the ride is about over. So far, the surprise is that it hasn't been. So if you need a program or presentation or speaker, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are many friends and author friends to thank for your help. I think of how Janis Thornton showed up at the Fishers Library last March simply to support me in my program on self-publishing, and how she would like to work with me further in developing a workshop-styled program on the topic. That same night, son Sam and DIL Allison surprised me by arriving at the end of the program to help me carry everything to the car and deliver a refreshing hot tea!
I think of Sandy Moore and our mutual support society with marketing ideas and cluing each other in on opportunities. There is Annette Goggin who I only got to know through the author ride, but who I think of as a friend and admire greatly. Plus, I am grateful for her asking me to her old-fashioned hymn sing! I loved it! (Let's do it again?)
I thank those -- and I'm thinking of writer friend Cheryl Bennett -- who posted reviews of my second book on Goodreads and Amazon. And I am grateful for the number of people I don't know whose reviews pop up.
Oh, the list above goes on and on to include, but not limited to Mary Wilkinson, my bestie Gay Kirkton, her parents, my boss Katie Clontz, and I know I am in trouble because I'm leaving out some people but I'm trying to hurry this along!
Other precious moments include the trip Gay and I took to Galena, Illinois, and to Miss Effie's flower farm near Donahue, Iowa, and the new friend I have now in Cathy, the entrepreneur and Gay's college friend who founded the flower farm and crafts-filled Summer Kitchen there.
I think of walking with John and Debby Williams and loved ones in their fight against Cystic Fibrosis.
I am surrounded by inspiring, creative, resourceful, fierce, sweet, empowered, wonderful women!
Brian and I took a pretty-much perfect trip to D.C. in September and by writing ahead for tickets and clearance, got insider looks inside The White House, Congress, Capitol, Pentagon and FBI Building. The Newseum was outstanding, as was hearing a lecture in the Supreme Court courtroom.
I'm so grateful to Kids at Heart Publisher Shelley Davis for accepting my books into her bookshop at the Warm Glow Candle Co. complex.
I'm grateful to my husband for his love and support. Grateful to spend time with extended family -- wonderful trips visiting Tim and Jeannie in Liberty, Brian's annual trip to see his brother and SIL Steve and Linda in Florida, hosting a master's degree grad party for our DIL Allison, attending a great-niece's wedding and a great-great niece's birthday party. I think of seeing our friend Coach Rick's football team, Trine University, win a playoff game in its undefeated-season year.
I think of the Midlife Mom sisters of Ovid Community Church, and the Bible Study Fellowship folks who help guide as the Holy Scriptures come alive to me each time I'm in them. I. think of my sons Sam and Ben and wonderful daughter-in-law Allison. Oh, and I'm grateful that Brian's McClellan clan continues to get together every Fourth of July weekend and for cousin Beth for starting a periodic cousins get-together.
I think of everyone who said yes when I asked if I could write about some aspect of their lives. I think of Steve Dicken, the English teacher I wish I had had in school, and of whom I am proud to have as a writing colleague now. I think of our dear friend Barb Clark. I think of my encourager and confidante Debbie McCray.
I have probably left out so much about this year that brought joy and sweetness. Life is short. We have to embrace every opportunity, love one another, care about one another. And if you are a writer, you probably have to write about it all.
I plan to keep doing just that. So bring it on! 2018, what do you have for me? Thank you God, for another year on this planet!
Happy New Year to you, whomever and wherever you are reading this.
Well, I was wrong.
I thought most of my loved ones were starting to think that Christmas cards were remnants of the past; that social media platforms and cell phone texts had taken the place of trips to the store to select cards, then to the post office to choose theme stamps and taking the time to look up addresses and mail off cards.
I thought this last year. So I quietly decided that instead of spending a month of Sundays getting cards ready, I vowed to send cards only to those who sent them to us first. For a while there, things were going as expected. There were a few die-hards, greetings from my kindergarten teacher Miss Kalter in Ohio and Brian's Aunt Janis in Louisiana. Probably the other regulars, though, had similar thoughts to mine. So, I continued to hold out. I put together cards for my Bible study friends and a card for a friend in Ohio whose hobby is card-making.
If mail call continued as expected, I'd finish my few cards and be done.
But as Christmas neared, the mailbox filled up daily. There were so many cards, some with long, detailed letters about accomplishments of everyone in the family, some written on beautiful holiday paper. The cards snowballed like a January snowstorm and with Christmas fast approaching on a Sunday, and prep needing done for the big day, I found myself out of time.
I briefly considered sending cards late, once everything settled down. But to me, a late Christmas card is like carving a pumpkin on Nov. 1 or getting a Christmas tree on Dec. 26. So I did what to some of you will find rude: I let it go.
This year I thought perhaps our friends and loved ones whose cards were not reciprocated last year would scratch us from their address books. But no! The cards are coming again. They come from a range of age groups from those in their early 30s all the way to those in their 80s.
It appears that rumors of the Christmas card's demise have been greatly exaggerated. I went out and bought a fresh box the other day. There's enough in there that will allow me to finish carding everyone who cards us first.
Perhaps next year I'll return to my old ways. In the old days, picking out the cards was a ritual. Then I I tucked them with Christmas stamps and the address book into a tote bag and worked on the addressing whenever I had a little time. Chilly Sunday afternoons and weeknight evenings found me working on cards with updates and greetings tailored to each family. My goal was to have them all mail-ready by Black Friday.
I have reached the conclusion that for the most part, my people are card-carrying people.
There's something sweet about that.
This is a reprint from Donna Cronk's column in the Christmas Eve 2017 New Castle Courier-Times. where she is Neighbors and Her magazine editor.
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Israel, located five miles from Jerusalem. The church was built centuries ago on top of the traditionally recognized site of where baby Jesus was born. Currently, between 25,000 and 35,000 (I've seen both figures) live in Bethlehem. One source said at the time of Christ's birth, 1,000 or fewer residents lived there.
As a little girl going to Christmas pageant practice at the Brownsville United Methodist Church, I saw the evening lights across the Whitewater River and imagined the town as what Bethlehem might be like. After all, this was the smallest "town" I knew. And in my childhood mind, I knew that Jesus was born in a little town.
O Little Town of Bethlehem and Away in a Manger were two of the most popular songs we’d learn for the pageant.
Never could I have imagined in a million years that I would one day visit Bethlehem, let alone see the very site where Jesus was born. Spoiler alert: Today it is not a manger scene.
You were expecting a manger? Well, the site that once held the best-known manger, baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph was honored by placement of a church over it in the 4th century. It’s a complicated story to explain centuries of conflict and destruction, not even to mention the three denominations that share the church: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Armenian Orthodox.
Here’s one story though. Legend has it that invading Persians destroyed all Christian churches and monasteries in 614. But not this one. Why? A painting depicted the Nativity scene we would recognize today – complete with three wise men. The artist dressed the wise men in Persian clothing. The invaders honored the Persian-appearing wise men by preserving the church.
Following is my Dec. 3 New Castle Courier-Times column. I’m still thinking about ornaments today as I prepare a new Christmas program for tomorrow night's Lilac Literary Club in Hancock County. It’s about how our ornaments tell the stories of our lives.
Thirty-one years ago, I couldn’t wait to place baby Sam’s first ornament on our Christmas tree.
As the years passed, new ornaments were purchased annually first for Sam, then also for Ben when he came along. At first I did the choosing, picking out Disney and bear decorations, but as the boys got old enough to care, they got to choose their own.
It became a much-anticipated Christmas tradition to take them to the Hallmark store and select their ornaments. As the “senior” son, Sam got first dibs, and usually selected the year’s cool Batman or sports hero. Along the way came orbs depicting trends such as video games or the hot sports figure of the year.
There were athletes with staying power such as Peyton Manning, and ones who are forgotten footnotes in old box scores. There were action figures such as Spider-man and Lego creations such as a fireplace with Santa appearing to be made from them.
Several years ago, I stopped putting the collection on the big family Christmas tree. These were during the years that the boys were in their late teens and early 20s. The boys had lost their thrill of selecting new ornaments and moved on in their interests. It seemed the time for childhood ornaments had passed.
It’s funny what a few years out of circulation will do to a collection.
Our younger son, Ben, is 26 now, and this is the first Christmas he’s truly been out on his own without a roommate. On Thanksgiving, he was anxious to get back to his apartment and have Brian and I help him put up his own tree.
His lights worked great on the shimmering white tree that came intact from his small patio storage closet. But the problem was, he had no actual ornaments.
So, I offered up his childhood Hallmark ones. I don’t know which of us was more delighted – Ben over the idea of the nostalgic decorations, or me over seeing his delight.
That weekend he came home and went through the pile of Superheroes and athletes, cars and novelty items, all created with the special charm of Hallmark, in ornament form.
One by one we looked them over and he separated his stash from his brother’s and home he went with them. Later that evening, he sent us a photo and video of his decorated tree.
I had always wondered what would become of the boys’ ornaments and if they would ever want them.
I’m happy to see them enjoyed anew in their new home on their new tree – with their old boy.
Several weeks ago, this invite appeared on my desk at work.
It had nothing to do with a book program, or a feature story for the paper, and it was from someone I barely knew.
I met Irene last summer when she entered a drawing for a book giveaway celebrating women’s right to vote. She told me about how she and her husband are from the area but had moved to Florida many years ago. They moved back.
Then I did an article about Irene, and she also entered our holiday recipe contest.
With the date open, I put the tea party on my calendar. What a lovely afternoon at Irene’s sipping tea with her friends and tasting the delicious treats she kept producing from the kitchen.
We were to bring our own tea cups and Irene had us tell where we got them.
The first snow of the season brought a dusting, making the day even more festive.
Thank you, Irene, for inviting me to your authentic tea party.
I went home and made chili, wrapped gifts and watched It’s A Wonderful Life.
It is indeed.
So today I feel overwhelmed by gratitude. That’s a good place to be. It's been such a fast-paced week, I'm only now getting this posted.
After last Saturday in Indy at the newspaper conference, Sunday it was off to Centerville where I visited with shoppers, colleagues and friends in the new Artisans and Java building at the Kids at Heart Publishing mini-bookstore.
Monday night was a speaking engagement at Fishers United Methodist Church’s United Methodist Women’s Christmas gathering. I am grateful to Linda Shimer who served this year as co-president of the UMW and is also active in the church’s book club. I appreciate her support and encouragement so much.
She also wows me! In addition to her leadership role, she went and picked up and returned home a friend who couldn't get there on her own. In fact, she left so quickly following the program that I was unable to get a photo with her. Not only that but I found out that Linda and her husband MOVED last week!
Even though my connection to the church’s book club had nothing to do with my husband’s 26 years working in Fishers schools, ironically, Linda told me that several were coming who knew him. It was such a delight to see these wonderful former co-workers of Brian’s – and look up to find their smiling faces near the front of the sanctuary as I spoke.
I took their photos and texted them to Brian. He was pretty pumped about their attendance and when I got home, he took a trip down Fishers Memory Lane, reflecting on all the wonderful people he worked with during those years.
Last summer, a surprise invite came from town library director Carrie Watson to give the opening program to children in the summer reading program. I spoke on the topic, “What’s Your Clue?” about looking for our gifts and talents – even as young kids, and then later in the afternoon, I gave a second talk to the adults in a program on our bucket lists.
Carrie told me she would invite me back during the annual town Christmas walk and library open house. She even gave me the date but I didn’t put it on my calendar. I thought I should wait and see if the invite came through and guess what? It did!
I got there at 5 and enjoyed delicious hot soup samples prepared by members of the library board, and hot cocoa, served by Carrie’s adorable daughter, visited with many of the more than 100 people (probably closer to 150) who came through the library to warm up and chat with their neighbors. What a bunch of truly nice people with friendly smiles and were interested enough to stop and chat.
Carrie’s mentor, Iraida Davis, even visited the library! At age 90, it’s been a while since she directed the place but I found it touching when the two librarians posed together. Carrie says Iraida was her idol. I think she still is.
Carrie is a woman of many talents. Not only is she library director in Farmland, she is the Union Modoc library director and teaches Title 1 reading. She is a mom, a quilter, and – I kid you not – a drag racer who shows her skills all over the country.
I tried to think of how to describe Farmland, an artsy farm community with something special. The best I can do is to call out two old-time TV shows. I think Farmland is something of a blend of the two: Northern Exposure meets Mayberry.
Carrie agreed to let me write about her in a future issue of her magazine for women. Yippee!
On the ride home, the moon was huge and bright, showcasing the lovely, peaceful Hoosier farms I passed as I made my way south and west through Randolph County, then continued straight west through Henry County, and home to Madison County on U.S. 36 most of the way.
By 9:30 when I landed home, I was so tired I could hardly get from my favorite chair to draw my steaming-hot bath. But I did, then headed for bed.
It's supposed to snow this weekend; just a Christmas Chamber-of-Commerce type dusting of a couple inches.
I hope so.
I have a new ornament on the family Christmas tree. It’s a small felt dove from the gift shop inside the President Woodrow Wilson Home in Washington, D.C.
I picked it up in January when I landed the last seat on the bus with State Rep. Tom Saunders’ Roaming Elephants, covering the presidential inauguration and related festivities.
The day before the swearing-in, we took a detailed tour of Wilson’s home, a time capsule filled with furnishings and memorabilia from his life there following his presidency.
I enjoy museum gift shops as they stock the most unusual souvenirs; keepsakes, really. The one in the Wilson home is packed with nice things, too, but the shop is fitted into a room the size of a large walk-in closet. Still, my eyes fell on something perfect to take home! It was a plastic bag containing a couple dozen or so white felt doves. The bag was sealed so I could only touch the flock through the plastic, but it appeared they were possibly strung together.
The price on the outside of the bag made the package a steal. My mind raced, imagining how the doves would make a beautiful tree garland, or since I’m a wreath junkie, the strand could adorn a wreath. Gosh, the doves were so lovely, I could even take them apart and offer them as small gifts to my Bible study friends.
There were no other plastic bags full of doves, or of any other decoration of its kind. Maybe these were on clearance. I just knew they were going home with me. I went ahead and checked out, then headed for the bus to get out of people’s way so others could peruse the gift shop before we rolled.
Once I got on the bus, I decided to open the sealed bag and see how my garland was structured. But when I opened it, I got a surprise. Inside were individual dove ornaments, not a garland. And each dove contained its own price tag -- the same dollar figure as appeared on the outside of the bag.
OH NO! It took but a second to realize my mistake that was not caught by the sales clerk, either! By my new calculations, not counting sales tax, I had just stolen a $288 flock of birds from Woodrow Wilson!
Evidently, the packaged doves were new inventory not yet opened or stocked properly. I was the beneficiary – er, criminal – who hoisted them!
I knew I’d make it right if the Secret Service or National Guard or IRS didn’t chase me down first. I would package it all up with a note and mail it back to the gift shop once we got home, keeping exactly one dove, for which I had paid.
But wait. Even better, the bus wasn’t yet full, so I sprinted back into the shop, and in a rushed flurry, told the surprised clerk what happened. He thanked me for my honesty as I headed out of the shop.
“So do you want just the one, then, or your money back?” the clerk asked.
“Yes! No! I mean, I’ll keep one—since I paid for it already,” and onto the bus I climbed in the nick of time.
Guess the price wasn’t so amazing, after all. In fact, $12 for a palm-size felt dove was actually a bit pricey but it came with a story. And in the currency of a writer, that makes it priceless.
On the day after Thanksgiving, just like that, we pass from fall to the Christmas season. Down comes the autumn-hued wreath; up goes the evergreen one with the pine cones and red bow.
My post-feast day is spent decorating the house. This year I cheated by assembling our nine-foot tree and getting the lights in place before Thanksgiving so today I could focus on the ornaments. This year I omitted a couple of standards: No icicles and no bows. I didn’t empty every single carton to fill the tree, but gave it a little breathing room. I also didn’t use too many shiny balls, but instead added quite a few from my herd of sheep ornaments. I’ve collected sheep for 35 years, finally accumulating so many that they outgrew joining the other ornaments on the family tree, and merited a tree of their own.
A few years ago, I stopped putting up the lamb tree but I missed those baaaa-d boys. So this year, I placed some of the 100-plus sheep on the main tree and others around the house in garlands and on shelves. Reggie would dearly love to get her paws on those lamb chops. In fact, she snagged one before I noticed and chewed off its rear end! Brian thought it was hilarious. “She’s a sheep dog disguised as a Boston terrier!” he said.
I didn’t find it humorous.
This year our tree has a new location. We rearranged the room and the tree fits great beside the TV, in front of the stairs. Along with the sheep go decorations that tell the story of our lives. The first ornaments we ever got as a couple were actually gifts to Brian before we were even engaged, Christmas 1977. Brian’s wonderful landlady, the late Mary Snyder, who lived in a lovely old home on Seminary Street in Liberty, next to Orrs and across from the Cohens. She gave him four pewter ornaments hung with the original red yarn. They’ve adorned our tree ever since.
There’s the little pop-cycle-stick sled I picked up at a craft bazaar at Indiana State while a student. There are Santas and angels from office ornament exchanges, tassles from graduation caps, a bat key chain from the Louisville Slugger factory, a glittery peace symbol from a show at the state fairgrounds several years ago, a glass corn ornament because I’m a corn-fed Hoosier farmer’s daughter, the little sign I waved when Sam and Allison left the church as newlyweds that reads “Wahoo!”
At the top of the tree is a topper I got from George Washington’s Mt. Vernon gift shop of a dove, symbolic of The Holy Spirit. There’s a glass ornament that was my mom’s and my brother painted the Brownsville Bridge on it. I love that.
There are other ornaments, too, like the accordion Kathy Thomas found for Brian. (It’s a nod to Brian’s brief hobby as a childhood accordionist. Don’t ask). There are vacation baubles. Almost everything on that tree comes with stories, memories or both.
Outside I hung artificial wreaths on the windows but only after replacing the faded ribbons with new ones.
I hung a lighted garland over a doorway. I filled a couple of baskets with greenery and changed out the kitchen tablecloth.
There is no doubt more that I will do but right now, I’m ready to call it a day in the décor department.
Today is remarkable for something that I do not recall doing in my 57 years of life, except on sick days: I remained in my pajamas all day while decorating. Right now, I’m heading to a tub of bubbles, and a stack of old Christmas decorating magazines I’ve saved for inspiration.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll emerge from the tub really inspired for round two.