The Union County Courthouse tower, a constant in my life for these 60 years. I took this photo five years ago this weekend. Thirty years ago this weekend, we were ready to launch into a new era, one we're in today, still living in Madison County. This has been home half my life. But parts of my heart remain in both Fountain and Union counties.
Thirty years ago this week, Brian, nearly-three-year-old Sam and I left behind one era of life and set out on a new one. On July 3, 1989, I completed my last day as managing editor of a small newspaper in Attica, Indiana.
Brian had just wrapped up his nine years as a school administrator at Fountain Central Junior-Senior High School.
We would spend the rest of July transitioning to the new home we had bought in Madison County and by August, Brian would be working at his new administrative post in the Hamilton Southeastern School Corp.
The number of mixed feelings about this uncharted new territory was extraordinary. I was more than ready to leave my former job, but knew I would miss certain aspects of my work and I would miss my work peers. I won’t go into what I would not miss!
I would miss Fountain County friends, our wonderful babysitter and her family and our landlord—all who had become like family.
I would be happy to move to a town much closer to my folks who were still living on the farm, although my dad’s dementia was worsening. And it would be a welcome change not to drive 15 miles to a nice-sized grocery store or McDonald’s.
On a daily basis, I was excited about taking a brief time-out from the busy world of community journalism and spend my days with Sam playing, going to the park, pool, and just hanging out. I needed time to settle us into our new nest.
I hoped that a call would come from someone at the New Castle paper asking me if I wanted a job. It did, I did, and early this fall, I’ll celebrate 30 years with The Courier-Times.
Along the way, after a couple attempts, we found “our” church; a variety of friends in a variety of communities; we had a second baby, and now both boys are all grown up and long-since on their own. How can it be, I still ask-that we're empty nesters? I can’t even call Brian a “recent retiree” because he’s been that for four years already!
What I do know is the time passes with brea kneck speed. And we're no longer so inclined to put things off like we used to do for years or decades. Just yesterday I looked up and remarked that our living room could use a paint job. "Do it!" Brian said.
Madison County has been home for three decades. That’s longer than I’ve lived in any other community in my entire life. In fact, I’ve spent exactly half of my life in Madison County, Indiana, and gone to work in New Castle!
I’m grateful to everyone who has touched our lives here, back in Fountain County, or back home in Union County. Some people touch our lives for reasons or seasons and many of you are in and out of it on a regular basis.
Where do we belong? It’s been said that home is where your heart is. I promise you that my heart is in all three locations at once! And I am grateful for so many people, places and things. Thank you most of all to the good Lord for this journey.
Which, Lord willing, and like a good story in a newspaper, is to be continued on another page. Hope you’ll stick with me as the page turns.
Where have YOU called home so far for your life's journey?
So what if no one ever accused the Ovid Midlife Moms of traveling light? We need a few, ahem, supplies, for a weekend at Terri's lake house on Cordry Lake. And this is not counting what the eighth member of our weekend crew brought on Saturday morning.
We went Friday after everyone got off work. We couldn't wait to get there, gather the evening's menu offerings, and enjoy a picnic on the lake. We had eight of our 12 present.
Dinner onboard included Sharon's homemade ham salad sandwiches, Terri's pea salad, party mix, an assortment of fruit and I see some celery sticks in there. There were yummy, ooey-gooey chocolate bar cookies as well.
The weather was perfect and some of us headed back out on the boat shortly before bedtime to see God's moon show.
What a beautiful scene from the water. A cellphone camera doesn't do it justice, but yes, the moon was THAT bright.
Still, I was the first to bed around 10:30 p.m., and I slept well as I dozed off thankful for this weekend that so many of us look so forward to all year long.
That's why I couldn't believe it when I didn't get up until 9 the next morning!
When it's not your turn to cook, the scent is all the sweeter coming from the stove.
Delaine make the best egg casserole, and we enjoyed it with biscuits, fresh fruit and zuchinni bread by Patty. Delicious.
All but Karen, who came Saturday morning, are the gals who made it this summer weekend.
Such fun, including tubing, swimming, boating, moon-gazing, movie night watching "The Greatest Showman," and a beautiful Bible study on the boat Sunday morning, courtesy of Karen, taken from the book of Joel. Oh, and some crafts, including some bookmarks made from this and that.
Thank you Terri, for the wonderful, relaxing, laughter-filled weekend. And thank You, Lord, for your creation, your abundance, and for providing such sweet friends.
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.
It's nice if you can have something special to look forward to on a Monday.
This week, it was special, all right. My friend Sandy cooked for me in her charming rural New Castle farmhouse!
For many years, Sandy sat across from me in The Courier-Times newsroom. Although she is retired, loving it, and busier than ever, Sandy's writing career is going strong. She is author of two children's chapter books, Sadie's Search for Home and Doodle's Search for Success. She also writes a regular column for her magazine for women.
Sandy is active with the DIVE program for kids in New Castle, with her husband, Mike, and more family, including her granddaughter Carly, numerous friends and caring for the Moore home and horses.
Sandy and I have more things in common than I can count from being farm girls at heart to Bible Study Fellowship, of course writing, and also we're both Weight Watchers! Sandy has been serious about it for a while and I just got serious again after, well, let's say a lapse.
So Monday, lunch included a four-point meal and boy was it delicious. While four points won't mean much to you if you aren't a Weight Watcher, it simply means that it was a very healthy and low-cal meal. We even had appetizers of shrimp cocktail.
Then we enjoyed chicken fajitas, vegetables and low-fat dip.
Then, strawberry dessert.
The meal was amazing but of course it's the friendship that is the bigger blessing.
Thank you, Sandy! What a refreshing time! I appreciate you more than you know.
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.
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.
We were at the ballpark Thursday night with our friends from Northern Indiana, Tom and Char Kuhn. The Kuhns are huge Cubs fans, Brian is a White Sox fan, and I grew up a Reds fan. But for one beautiful, summer evening, I was simply a fan of the game itself, and of a special evening out with friends.
Tom is Brian's best friend dating from their high school days. Char is his fun-loving, vivacious wife. It's a shame we don't get to spend much time with them. Tom, Brian, and Brian's brother, Steve, take a fishing trip together every summer. Tom and Char are there for our family's big events such as the kids' open houses and Sam's wedding, and vice versa.
We always say we'll get together more. Now that three of the four of us are retired, I truly hope that can happen. Brian is so happy around Tom and the four of us get along great. (I mean, look, the man is letting me take photos of his smiling face and normally he's like "I don't like my picture taken.")
We enjoyed a stroll along the river walk which takes folks along a parks complex that ends with the city's signature ball parks. Pretty ingenious. This is Tom, Char and Brian before dinner and the game.
I grew up watching the Big Red Machine in the 1970s and my hometown of Liberty backed the Reds. When the Reds were in the Playoffs and World Series, TV monitors were set up in the cafeteria where students could watch day games.
I grew up occasionally attending Reds games with family. It was always a big event when we visited Crosley Field (I must have been all of age 5, but I remember it) and Riverfront Stadium. Even though my family has been to Great American several times, I had never been.
Baseball was a personally huge part of our family's life for a dozen years as our son, Ben, was talented player and every summer meant not only local league play, later high school action, but also travel teams that took us all over the Midwest and even Arkansas. Our summers revolved around his games. And then, it ended. Abruptly. A part of that broke my heart.
Once his baseball days were over, I could hardly look at a baseball game on TV, let along visit a ballpark. In fact, Thursday's game was my first return after eight years. Looking at that beautiful green field in Cincinnati brought it all back. As we walked to our seats a few rows from the field, the classic, "Put Me in Coach" played for the fans and yes, I felt a lump in my throat.
I knew I would enjoy the evening's company and the setting on a perfect summer evening, but I didn't expect to enjoy the game. To my surprise and delight, I did. I'm back!
After the game, we headed back to Indiana. Brian decided to take a different route to avoid a road-work detour. We headed north through Rushville, then hit U.S. 40 and turned west through Knightstown.
This was my favorite -- and most unexpected -- part of the evening.
We mentioned to Tom that the Hoosier Gym, the site where many scenes in the classic basketball movie, Hoosiers, were played, is in that town. So of course we drove up to it and at 12:30 a.m., Brian and guests went up to the doors and peered inside. I remained in the "getaway" car as we all felt as though someone might call the cops on us. We all giggled like kids.
Tom even took pictures in the dark night of the sign outside. We promised to take them back the next time they visit. Only we'll go during the day as paying customers.
It was a happy return for me to the majesty of a ballpark, and an unexpected ending to a lovely "double-date night." Next time, let's play two.
In one way, it's hard to believe the Midlife Moms have been together for ten-and-a-half years. In another way, haven't we known each other forever? It's true that as an adult, a decade passes quickly. Just imagine: If we had started first grade together, we'd be halfway through high school junior year.
Yes, by now we all know each other and our casts of characters pretty well.
While we haven't seen each other through elementary school, first dates, and proms, we've lived a lot of life together this past decade, whispered a good many prayers for each other and our life circumstances, laughed at a lot of silliness, cried some tears, studied the Bible, taken on projects, and eaten some fantastic food.
We are a life group at Ovid Community Church. We do life together. And I thank the Good Lord that it works, that as group co-founder Delaine Wooden says, "We're more than a group. We're friends."
One of my favorite weekends of the year took place last weekend. Terri generously shares her beautiful lake home and water toys with us several times a year, times we have always referred to as retreats.
But of all the lovely weekends reminiscent of girlhood sleepovers, the summer ones are my favorite. You can't beat the ever-changing blues of the sky and water, along with the wind on our faces as we push through the water on Terri's boat, with the warm breeze brushing back our hair. We play in the water like the young dolphins we are not.
Sunday mornings we have a special Bible study out on the water. And in between, we feast on the bountiful menus that come together so easily with a crew of seasoned moms who know their way around the kitchen. We listen to each other's insights and tell stories.
For one summer weekend a year, we haven't a care in the world. Thank you Father for this refreshment. Thank you Terri for being the best hostess ever, and thank you to each of my MLM sistas, past and present, and Lord willing, future.
It's traditional that before we head back to our regular lives, we take some photos. Terri has a stack of pictures depicting lake memories from our ten years at Cordry Lake.
Above is one on the deck from last weekend. Some of the girls mentioned their lack of make-up and abundance of lake hair. They don't know they are beautiful. Inside and out.
A magnet from Terri's fridge. I'd have to agree.
This weekend I was awestruck anew by the incredible variety, color, nutrition, and beauty -- not even to mention creativity -- of God's food supply.
Friday night on the boat we enjoyed a picnic-type meal of Sharon's homemade ham salad sandwiches, artisan chips and dip, and Donna Shields' cole slaw, along with Delaine's summer Greek vegetable salad of tomatoes, corn, cukes, and herbs. It all hit the spot!
Then, because sometimes we bring so much delicious food, and have to hurry up and eat one meal so we can get to the next, we decided this weekend to do a daily brunch and dinner -- a two-meal day. Terri whipped up the above breakfast skillet with yellow squash, mushrooms, eggs and cheese. Fantastic.
Karen prepared this wonderful vegetable lasagne:
It was delicious, as was Delaine's fried zucchini with Parm and bread crumbs.
By the way, we have a signature scripture passage. Here's the NIV, Hebrews 10:23-25:
"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
Not a bad motto for doing life together. Happy first ten years, my sistas.
General Grant's home, you say? Wouldn't it be more accurate to call it President Grant's home?
Well, you can, but in Galena, the story line is about Grant the general. Due to his work saving the United States Union, the Grants were presented with this handsome home from local businessmen.
The house remained the Grants' legal residence throughout his two presidential terms.
U.S.came to Galena for a job at his family's downtown tannery. Before he was called into service leading the Union in the Civil War, the Grant family lived in a small home where he walked home for the midday. (And you should see the flights of outdoor stairs.)
Oh, but I'm getting ahead of myself. A little biography first.
Born in Point Pleasant, Ohio in 1822, U.S. Grant graduated 21 years later from West Point. He served in the Mexican-American War. He met and quickly became engaged to Missouri-born Julia Dent but it was four years later when they married. For the next ten years, Ulysses served in the army, resigning in 1854 and moving to St. Louis.
While the Grants were abolitionists, the Dents were quite the opposite, owning a Missouri plantation. Our Grant home-tour guide said that at family events when the two families were together, the couple's fathers remained in different rooms.
In the St. Louis area, Julia's father gave the couple a farm, but it wasn't successful. U.S. called it "Hard-Scrabble Farm." It's now a tourist attraction, Grant's Farm. The Grants moved to Galena in 1860 where he worked at the Grant family tannery.
Preserved our nation
The next year, when the Civil War started, he became a colonel for the 21st Illinois Volunteers. In 1862, Grant demanded unconditional surrender from the Confederate Army -- and with that, became a national hero. But it wasn't until three years later when Lee surrendered that this horrific war era of American history ended and the Union survived.
Grant became the nation's first four-star general in 1866. Following the war, a group of business men gifted the Grants the Galena home as a thank you gift for his contribution to the U.S. Ninety percent of the furnishings you see there today were there when the Grants called the place home. It remained their legal address through his two terms as president.
Following those, the Grants took a world tour where they were lauded the world over. In 1881 they moved to New York City and lost $100,000. It is there Grant died in 1885. He is buried in -- wait for it -- Grant's tomb (did you see that one coming?) in New York City. Julia lived 17 more years.
In what might today be called a man cave, several significant items fill the space. A Bible on the table rests on four buttons attached to it so that the Holy Word never touches the floor or whatever is underneath it. Look to the left, under the window. That is Grant's smoking stand. He was known for smoking up to 20 cigars a day, said one tour guide. Grant died at 63 of throat cancer. It is suggested that he might have smoked heavily during the war to cover the stench.
An elegant parlor with the General / President over the fireplace at age 57 in an original portrait. U.S. Grant stood 5'8" and normally weighed between 135 and 140 pounds. Ninety-percent of the home's furnishings are authentic Grant pieces.
The couple had four children. Their only daughter, Nellie, got married in the White House. The china outfitting the Galena table above was used at her wedding breakfast. The portrait is of Julia. She has the distinction of being the first to be called First Lady.
Two years after Julia's death, the children bequeathed the home to Galena as long as it served as a memorial to their father. The home has welcomed the public for a century, now owned by the state of Illinois. Eighty-thousand visitors tour the two-story, fully-furnished home annually.
By the time Grant died, he had few financial resources, having lost a great deal of money in New York. He worked on his autobiography so that it could bring in money for his family. He completed it just two weeks before he died. The book brought in more than $450,000 to the family, according to a tour guide.
I'm struck with the observation that even when he was surely suffering a great deal, Grant had the drive to do what needed done, as he had during the Civil War. This time, it was to finish his book and thus, provide for his family after he passed.
With gratitude to U.S. Grant State Historic Sites brochure, trolly tour-guide and the Grant home tour guide for information in this post, and to Joe Cook of Brierwreath Manor Bed & Breakfast for his insights.
Long before we planned a trip to Galena, Illinois, the town had been on my radar. A perennial favorite on the pages of Midwest Living magazine, the small city in northwest Illinois is a photogenic destination for visitors looking for all things quaint.
Since my friend Gay is both a proud Land of Lincoln native and has been to Galena before, combined with the trip including a visit to her friend Cathy in Iowa (see two posts ago), added with a crazy-busy spring for me, she graciously took over the planning and logistics. She did a fantastic job.
The hours from Gay's home in Angola, Indiana and Galena, Illinois clicked off with ease as we caught up on months of updates about our lives and times. Gay is not only a great story teller, she is a superb listener.
As we neared Galena, the already-beautiful farm country of rural Illinois got even prettier with deeply rolling hills. Just outside Galena proper, a sign encouraged travelers to pull over for a scenic view. So we did.
And in typical Gay-and-Donna fashion, the vehicle that joined us contained an employee of the Galena tourism bureau. So we picked her brain about dinner spots, told her about Miss Effie’s in Iowa (and she immediately liked Cathy's place on Facebook).
It seems she chose the very moment we did to pull over for a photo op.
We checked into Brierwreath Manor B & B (see previous post), checked out a basket brimming with restaurant menus and set out on foot down the hill into the vibrant downtown retail-dining district.
It was dinnertime, and there were so many choices! We settled on Vinny Vanucchi’s Little Italy. Even though they were busy and we had no reservations, we were ushered right away to our first choice of seating: out on the patio under an umbrella on a lovely evening.
We later learned that it should come as no surprise to find an Italian restaurant (as well as French-German and other nationalities) in Galena. We learned that people once came from all over the world to live and work in Galena.
Many immigrants came to Galena to make their living in the lead mines. Interesting that our server was from Ireland. She apparently was there on summer break earning money for college. She was very nice.
I enjoyed a delicious meatball sandwich and a tossed salad with house dressing. Gay describes her entree: "I had seafood pasta with big chunks of scallops and crab and maybe shrimp. So good."
The next day we took a trolly tour around the city of 3,500 residents. It was lightly raining so couldn't enjoy the open air. The clear but rain-splattered window coverings didn't lend themselves well to the many home photos I would have liked to get.
I can’t stress enough how stunning the houses are in this town! They are in so many different styles dating back from the oldest, 1826, to all periods forward. There is an abundance of mid-18th and 19th century Victorian homes, and it is obvious that Galena has historically been a city of wealth. Some of that is attributed to a thriving, if short-lived riverboat era, and nearby lead mines.
So here are some things we learned from our capable trolly driver / guide:
* The most lead used for the Civil War was produced in Galena.
* Galena was a military town, with a training post there. The small city had nine men promoted to generals during the Civil War. That is the most of any location in the country.
* There were seven brick factories in Galena. There are more than 800 historic buildings in this city, and 1.5 million tourists visit a year.
* Native Americans discovered what they called “mineral” which was in fact lead inside the "mineral" and used to paint their faces, for one thing. French traders came along and traded flour, liquor and blankets for that lead.
* Due to the steamboat era, and quite likely the lead mines, in the mid-1850s, Galena’s population was 14,000. Riverboat captains made their home in Galena and one spectacular example is the Belvedere Mansion, an Italianate home referred to as “the jewel of Galena.”
I will go into the Ulysses S. Grant story in my next post, but one thing I found interesting is that despite a huge emphasis around town on the General / President, the reason he lived in Galena – working in the family leather shop downtown – goes without notice at the site of that shop. It is now a nice sock shop but there is no plate on the door or anything there to indicate that historical fact.
That, my friends, is a great reason to take a guided tour when visiting an interesting place. You get so much more information than you’ll find on your own.
We also saw this incredibly handsome U.S. Post Office, which happens to be the oldest continuously operating post office in the country. One distinction is the white stone which the builder found in Nauvoo, Illinois., where Mormons settled before they moved on to Utah. (Nauvoo is another great Illinois town to visit.) We were told that the builder decided that if the Nauvoo stone was good enough for a Mormon Temple, it filled the bill for the Galena post office.
We shopped til we dropped in the afternoon. Several downtown blocks on both sides of the street are filled with one-of-a-kind boutiques offering everything from pretty paper (and ribbon) goods to kitchen gourmet foods (and lots and lots of free samples) to clothing, accessories, socks, tourist fare (Brian loves the General U.S.Grant T-shirt I brought him) and an abundance of restaurants. It’s so hard to choose which!
For dinner our second night, we selected Fritz and Frites, a French-German eatery. We felt as though we were in Europe. Such an elegant restaurant, with fine-dining choices.
We dressed up and settled in for a lovely meal. Gay decided on the rainbow trout that she says, "just melted in my mouth." I had the chicken and potatoes, beautifully presented, with the most delicious juices and tasty mushrooms tempting my palette.
Gay, left, and Donna enjoying a French and German old-world taste and decor at Fritz and Frites.
It was an easy walk up the hill, back to our B & B, and a good night’s sleep (after the tornado warning passed). Check out a few more pictures.
If you'd like more information on Galena, Illinois, click on www.VisitGalena.org. You can email them at email@example.com.
Hoosier Donna Cronk welcomes readers to her blog, on which she posts twice a week. She is a career newspaper journalist and author of two novels, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast and That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, both available on Amazon.