I thought I'd wrap up Gay's and my 2017 girlfriend getaway with this post. Then I decided there is simply too much to say. We've got twenty or more summer trips under our belts, each one enjoyable in its special way. This summer's outing is one of my favorite.
I need to do an entire post on our nation's fourteenth president, Ulysses S. Grant, and his Galena home, where he lived while he was General Grant. But that leaves so much unsaid about the unique city of Galena, so I will do a separate on the city.
That leaves the Brierwreath Manor Bed & Breakfast where we stayed and it needs its own post. So here we go.
Since I wrote two novels set inside a bed and breakfast, it's not a stretch to say I'm a fan of visiting them. I've loved B & Bs before I ever even stayed in my first one on a press trip long ago in Madison, Indiana. I can't count the number I've slept in, let alone the additional ones I've written about.
To me, the ultimate charm of any bed and breakfast is found in the innkeeper. A successful inn is not only beautiful, most likely historic, and offers comfort, and a delicious breakfast. It is operated by an innkeeper that resembles a favorite family member who lives in a town other than my own, and who cannot wait until I arrive.
The innkeeper has cooked and cleaned and planned well for my arrival. He or she has so much to share! Not only about what's on the breakfast menu, but the inside scoop about where to have a quaint lunch or fancy dinner, what shops and attractions not to miss, fun historical facts, and perhaps short cuts and GPS corrections that I'll need. The innkeeper has my back!
This time, the innkeeper who resembled a long-lost cousin is Joe Cook at Brierwreath Manor Bed & Breakfast, 216 N. Bench St., Galena, Illinois.
Joe carried our luggage upstairs and explained where to find what, including a hallway beverage station where we could enjoy coffee, tea or cold beverages any time we wished. Oh, and he had fresh chocolate chip cookies available for our taste buds in our room, along with a candy dish laden with chocolates.
I must give Gay a shout out because she had sifted through more than 30 B & B options in and around Galena to set us up strategically perfectly at Joe's place. While there are many beautiful choices, this one is an easy walk to the shopping-and-restaurant district as well as to the historical museum and the trolly that carried us on a tour of the town -- so worth our while -- as well as to General / President Grant's home.
Have I mentioned that special things always happen on our trips? (See previous post). Well, how about a tornado advisory blasting from the city's emergency sound system and from our cellphones, warning us one evening that there was in fact a tornado warning in effect and we should take cover immediately.
Gay calmly suggested that we should perhaps meander downstairs to ask about the warning ... We found Joe calm and at peace in the dining room. He told us we could go to the basement if we wanted but he felt perfectly safe above board. You see, behind us is a rather large stone wall, with another one higher on the hill behind said first wall. The hillside is above us even though we were well above the downtown in elevation. Yes, it sure looked like any tornado or weather of any kind would have to work awfully hard to even be heard, let alone nail us.
So instead, we settled into the living room and listened to Joe tell stories about the ancestors who appear in vintage frames on his end table, and about his love for running this Victorian home. He's been involved with the B & B business for many years as his folks previously inn-kept the Brierwreath. Now they live elsewhere in retirement and he took over. He hopes to keep running it for another twenty-six years ... and then maybe his son will replace him. But who knows?
I made an early exit from the fascinating stories because sleep was calling my name, but before heading to my own comfortable bed (read: soft mattress) in an adjoining room with Gay's, I wanted to soak for a while in the antique claw-foot tub.
There are three guest rooms from which to choose. We were in the Heirloom Suite. We learned that the Mayor's Room is so named for a former mayor of Galena who used to live in this home with the comfortable sitting porch.
Of course another splendid thing about a B & B is that when you wake up, pour yourself a cup of fresh coffee or steep a flavored teabag from the hallway refreshments station, get ready, and head downstairs, a delicious meal on good china awaits you.
And, pleasantly so, in the case of this inn, Joe settles in to join his guests for breakfast. Not all innkeepers do that. I'm glad that he does because we learn so much. And apparently, so does he.
"The best part of the job is what happens around this table," says Joe. "The rest is housekeeping."
Pretty cool outlook. We missed out on sharing our stay with other guests but the prize was that we had Joe all to ourselves to make dinner and sightseeing recommendations and discuss Galena history.
If you would like to make the two specialty breakfast dishes we enjoyed, you can! Recipes for Apple Blueberry Walnut Pancakes and Pecan French Toast are on the B & B's website, www.brierwreath.com.
As I put down the trunk lid and prepared to pull away with my friend, I reminded Joe that he has twenty-six years left -- his goal -- to keep on innkeeping at Brierwreath.
I like to imagine pulling back up to 216 N. Bench St. in 2043 and finding him here to greet us. But then I think of my age then: I'd be 84! Do-able, maybe, but also a reminder to live life to the fullest now.
Brian and I were honored to be asked by our longtime friends, Big John and Debby Williams, to walk in the Greenfield Great Strides fundraiser this morning to help take "steps to cure" Cystic Fibrosis.
The family has reason to raise money and awareness toward that worthy goal. Two of them, in fact:
They walk for their adorable grandsons, Jackson and Lincoln Williams, sons of Nick and Erin Williams of Denver, Colorado. Both children have CF. The courageous faith, hope, and love shown by Nick and Erin as they move forward and provide loving homes for their children, including son Brock, is nothing short of admirable and amazing.
John and Debby's daughter (and the boys' aunt) Sarah, will host her own Fort Wayne team in June for another walk. Yes, the family is all-in when it comes to love and help. Let me count the ways. Well, there are so many I can't count. But here are three:
And so were plenty of other peeps who love the family.
This fella wanted to help, too ...
A poignant reminder of what this is all about ...
During opening ceremonies before the walk, we learned a few things. Among them, that in the 18 years that Greenfield has hosted the stride, an astounding $750,000 has been raised. In Greenfield. Alone.
We heard encouraging news from one dad whose twins have Cystic Fibrosis, and how well they are doing, and the hope they have in a new drug they have been in a test study for. We heard from another dad whose college-age daughter with CF is in Ireland this summer! He detailed all the CF meds and equipment that filled two suitcases so she could go. But go, she did.
And, we remembered those whose memories we honored with a moment of silence.
And then, we walked. For all of them. For a cure. For Jackson and Lincoln.
As we drove home, I read Nick and Erin's card, looked at the beautiful photos of Jackson and Lincoln, and read this poem, by Nick and Erin. Aren't those boys blessed to have such gracious parents? Read on:
God has blessed us beyond compare
He shows us each day the power of prayer
Lincoln and Jack were trusted to our care
They show us each day the power of prayer
If you walked for us in Denver or anywhere
You have shown us each day the power of prayer
When life gets you down and doesn't seem fair
I hope that you learn the power of prayer
Thank you for all of your love and support
Much Love and Many Blessings --
Nick, Erin, Jackson, Brock & Lincoln
It's been a little hectic of late in my world.
When I began 2017 with a prayer for new territory and experiences, I had in mind something such as, oh, say an Indiana library program for my books somewhere new, or the trip to an Iowa farm that my bestie Gay and I are planning for summer.
What I didn't expect was the phone to ring on Wednesday and my boss, Katie Clontz, to ask if I'd like to cover the U.S. presidential inauguration. Would I? As the word "Yes!" left my lips, goose bumps broke out all around. I didn't realize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity would find me in 2017.
I'll be traveling with Indiana State Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville), his wife, Sue, and 110 or so Hoosiers headed to the nation's capital on Wednesday. I'll be reporting on what it's like to attend an inauguration -- this inauguration-- and related festivities. Our state's governor, Mike Pence, will take the second-in-command oath, making him a heartbeat away from leadership of the free world.
I'll be writing for my newspaper, the New Castle Courier-Times as well as several sister papers in the Hoosier state. These will be exclusive to our chain, Paxton Media Group, but I'll also be posting to The Courier-Times Facebook page and blogging at the end of each day right here on Home Row. I can't give you anything firm regarding times or topics. I'm as curious as anyone.
As it happens, I got the last seat available on either of the two buses they are taking so that sounded like a pretty good name for my blog about the trip: LAST SEAT ON THE BUS.
If all that isn't enough to think about and prepare for, I had a serious technology issue that involved me tracking down replacement for an obsolete power cord that graciously quit working on me a few days before I leave for D.C.
While spending hours and many false leads chasing after a new one for most of one day was not in my plan, I am grateful it didn't blow up on the trip or I'd be up a creek. As it happens, Brian and I were able to find what may be the last one known to mankind right before closing time at Fry Electronics in Fishers the other night. SIGH of relief.
On Friday, we went ahead with plans to meet with our accountant in Rockville and get my books' Indiana sales tax squared away for another year and then as a reward for that, head north to visit and do lunch with dear friend Barbara Clark, rolling into our driveway a little after dark.
This morning, despite ice-storm warnings the Indianapolis media is gaga over, the roads were fine when I joined my author friends Sandy Moore and Annette Goggin in New Castle for a signing. They were so kind to graft me onto their event and even if folks were probably huddled tight at home for the most part (although a few brave souls did come by), the morning was not lost for me since I got to visit with my two friends. Thank you so much, Sandy and Annette, for inviting me!
My brain is scattered this afternoon as I figure out what clothes to pack, what other goods I need to stash away for the trip, and I make a list of what not to forget before we roll on Wednesday. That's not to mention the household chores I need to attend to such as bill paying, a run to the library, some research for the trip, schedule-rearranging calls to make, and a few other things before my mind can even begin to focus.
This has been quite a month. Over Monday and Tuesday, I need to put the winter issue of her magazine for women to bed, get some pages planned and paginated for the daily paper and prepare to be gone until next week. I need some training about some technical details of transmitting content besides.
The month unfolded with a newsroom "rush" on a project that normally allows the entire month of January to complete. It was a lot of work but the good news there is that it's now finished on our end.
So pardon me if I'm a bit daffy today. And please, join me on this journey through this blog as I plan to give you an insiders' guide to this peaceful transition of power, a hallmark of this nation. And, I'll show and tell whatever else unfolds.
Since Annette Goggin guest-blogged last time, and we mentioned the upcoming signing with Sandy Moore, I thought it would be fun to have Sandy visit Home Row.
So today, welcome to my friend of 27 years, Sandy Moore. She'll tell you about her children’s book, Sadie’s Search for Home. I am privileged to have written a blurb for the back of this sweet story. Child or adult, you’ll enjoy the enduring theme of how it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
I met Sandy in 1989 when I came to work at The Courier. She was friendly with a ready smile and pleasant demeanor, the kind of veteran employee that puts a newbie at ease.
For many years Sandy sat across from me in the newsroom and we shared life stories, as well as paper stories. Back then, Sandy wrote another book set on the farm for younger kids. I knew of her desire to publish. Now she has a new story to tell and the beautiful book is out.
I’ve always admired Sandy for her dedication to the Lord first, and also to her family and the paper, and looked up to her for her wisdom and faith. She has never failed to encourage me in numerous ways.
When Sandy retired to join husband Mike full time on their farm, she said her dream was to have a horse. She had wanted a horse her whole life and finally got one in retirement. Now her horses are her top hobby, one she shares with granddaughter Carly as well as friends and neighbors.
A leap of faith
by Sandy Moore
As I start a new year, I have begun to reflect on the past year and wonder what’s coming next. So many blessings last year, and one of those was writing a children’s novel entitled, Sadie’s Search for Home.
Why did I write a book for young readers? Reality would say that books are becoming the dinosaurs of children’s entertainment. Technology is the thing for children – there is not market for books these days.
But I could not push my desire aside. I have wanted to write a children’s novel most of my life. The fact is that I love kids, I love books, and I love horses so it seemed the perfect storm. I threw all caution to the wind and penned the novel, enjoying the adventure will all my heart.
My desire for connection to children has stemmed from my childhood. My parents were both hard-working people who simply adored my sister and me. They were the best parents ever. Mom made doll clothes by hand and Dad taught me how to drive the tractor. They worked six days a week and on Sunday they seldom felt like getting in the car and heading to our local church.
I was full of passion for our church and did not want to miss a Sunday with my friends so they always made sure I could be there even to the point of dropping me off at the church steps.
Inside the church doors, I found the greatest gift ever. It was there that I met the Lord and learned Bible stories.
I had two of the most wonderful teachers God has ever created. Ruth Webb and Viola Ryan were stellar teachers who were diligent in teaching about Jesus and stories about God’s heroes in the Old Testament, as well. We had Bible challenges, memorized Bible verses and learned to give ourselves and our meager finances to the Lord.
Through the eyes of missionary-minded Mrs. Webb, I learned to look farther than the cornfields that surrounded our rural-Indiana home. As a class, we adopted an orphan in China. Each week we brought our change to help pay the adoption fee for the child. I am sure Mrs. Webb paid most of the money but we wrote letters to the child in China and she wrote back to us.
When it was time for church camp, someone in the church donated money so I could attend. I went for five years and had a blast.
Another childhood passion was reading. We did not have all-day television then or cell phones or electronic devices but we had the local library.
The local library allowed children to take out only 20 books per visit and I always took the limit. Then in two weeks, Mom took me back and I gathered up another batch of reading excitement. I love books to this day.
So I wrote a book for kids this summer and wondered about the feedback from children. Would they take the time to read it?
I have been thrilled to discover that so many children and their parents have enjoyed the book. The feedback has been very positive, bringing joy to my heart and tears to my eyes.
Another perk that has developed from Sadie’s Search for Home, is that kids want to meet Sadie. Several have braved the cold to come and give her a treat or ride her in the round pen. It has made the winter go from ho-hum to exciting.
I can truly say that I took a leap of faith writing this book, but I have jumped right into the best time of my life. I hope many more children and adults decide to join me in this adventure. Who knows what 2017 will hold? I’m ready for the ride!
Annette Goggin, Donna Cronk and I invite you to come to the Foursquare Church bouquet room Saturday, Jan. 14 from 9 -11 a.m. for a book signing. Stop in and have a donut and hot chocolate on us.
Sandy Moore is retired from a career with the New Castle, Indiana Courier-Times and embraces retirement on the beautiful farm she and farmer-husband Mike share outside of town. Sandy also writes a popular column in her magazine for women. Connect with Sandy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m delighted to welcome new author Annette Goggin to Home Row. But before I give her the floor, I want to say a few things. (Are you surprised?)
For most of my 27-plus years at the New Castle Courier-Times, I have heard Annette's name. I knew only that she wrote on occasion for the newspaper, and that she taught English at New Castle High School.
We recognized each other a year or two ago in passing at the Monday night Bible Study Fellowship in Middletown, but with a tight schedule and not being in each other’s small group among the hundreds of women there, we didn’t have a chance to chat. But the sighting put us on each other’s radar.
It is one of my unexpected joys of 2016 that I have gotten to know Annette, and we hit it off. Through our mutual friend Sandy Moore, who published a children’s book this year, Sadie’s Search for Home, I learned that Annette was writing her own book, and that she blogged, sharing some of her life stories that would become Home: Three Houses.
So I friended Annette on Facebook and began looking in on her blog posts that deal with three important areas of her life: farmhouse, school house and church house.
Annette started treating me as a friend. “Hey, would you and Sandy want to go to a writing conference with me?” she asked.
Another time Annette asked if she could pick my brain with some book questions over lunch. This fall, she asked if she could attend one of my programs to see how I do what I do in preparation for the release of her book. She came, shadowed me, and then we went to lunch to talk some more.
Occasionally Annette will email with a question or opinion on how I handle something.
I don’t know that I have told her, so I will tell her and you at the same time: I am honored by Annette asking me for advice and seeking out a writing friendship.
I greatly admire English teachers and count among them a best friend in Gay Kirkton and a sister-in-law Linda Cronk, and a book editor Steve Dicken. I can think of a bunch more influential English teachers in my life but I’ll leave it there for now.
Here is something about which I’m super excited. Annette and Sandy, who are both members of Foursquare Gospel Church, 3200 S. 14th St., New Castle, Indiana, have invited me to join them at a book signing there from 9-11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 14. We'll all three have plenty of books and be delighted to sell, sign and visit with anyone who cares to drop by.
Meanwhile, here’s Annette.
The flip side of failure
By Annette Goggin
In his poem “Don’t Quit,” Edgar Guest said, “Success is failure turned inside out.” My book, Home: Three Houses, proves him right.
In September 2015, I applied for a teacher creativity fellowship grant worth several thousand dollars. If my proposal were chosen, this money would fund my attendance at writing conferences and pay for the publication of my book.
The process of applying for the grant forced me to define my dream of writing a book, decide what it would be about, and hone in on how it would be organized.
By the time I had submitted the grant proposal, a writing recipe that had been on the back burner of my mind for years had been moved to the front burner, and it was hot.
In January 2016, I received the bad news that I had not been chosen as a grant recipient. Failure.
That failure turned inside out when my passion to write the book eclipsed that setback. I “inside-outed” that failure and wrote the book anyway. Home: Three Houses is a series of stand-alone true stories that give a refreshing glimpse into the goodness of people and of God.
Readers will relax, crack a smile, and laugh.
Author Annette Goggin is a long-time English teacher at New Castle High School, where she continues to teach classes in AP English and grammar. Home: Three Houses is her first book, which came out just before Christmas. For a copy or information about booking her for a program or signing, email Annette at: email@example.com.
There’s snow on the ground, the tree is lit, the house is dressed all cozy for Christmas, and I have some thank yous in order for this TGIF-edition of Home Row.
First up. Thank you to Brian’s brother and sister-in-law, Steve and Linda Cronk, for hosting him at their winter digs in Sanibel Island, Florida, for a week. It was a great va-cay for him as he enjoys few things more than guy time with his brother where they laugh and carry on the way brothers do. Thanks for putting up with them, Linda.
I am so glad he got to do this again this year.
While I take a ton of photos for both work and pleasure, and enjoy posting them on social media, not everyone is a camera hog the way I am. So we’ll be lucky if Brian lets me keep the post alive with this picture. But I happen to think the bros look pretty darned cute out there in the Everglades on one of those air boats. Looks like fun too.
Mail call brought a surprise this week, one in which I need to issue another special thank you.
My thank you goes to retired Fountain Central Junior-Senior High School teacher Lynnette McMahan of Covington who worked for years with Brian. She attended one of my programs last summer.
This week she sent me a "self-portrait" by Mary Higgins Clark, famed author of 51 bestsellers. Lynnette won the piece in a charity doodle auction.
Writes Lynnette, “I was going through this stack of autographs and asked myself who I know who could relate to a well-known author. Your name popped into my head immediately.”
Thanks, Lynnette! How incredibly thoughtful.
Seems to me that Mary's self-description is good advice for writers of every genre. Consider: 1. Pen in hand. 2. Always in a hurry. 3. Looking for a plot.
In summary: Always be ready!
My third thank you is to all the Midlife Moms for their clever little gifts they made or selected for the rest of their MLM sistas. It’s always a fun part of our Christmas party to see what everyone has been up to such as Marilyn with her hand-stitched Christmas cards and Teresa with her M & M canisters, Patty with her decorated white wooden letters and this – Karen Carr’s jars of potato soup mix. I made a bowl of this for lunch today and it is simply delicious!
We all have so much for which to be grateful. Counting my blessings on this Friday, and wishing you all a beautiful pre-Christmas weekend.
It’s a treat whenever my friend Sandy, a farmer's wife, can get away from the joys of retirement long enough to squeeze me in for lunch at Café Royal in New Castle.
I love to hear about her life on the farm, about her horses, her granddaughter Carly, about Mike, her farmer husband, a retired school-bus-driver.
Even though unlike me, Sandy is tall and blond, beautiful and inspiring, sometimes I think in other ways we were separated at birth. We can talk for an hour without taking a breath and it feels like five minutes.
Yesterday she brought me a treat: a bag brimming with a dozen beautiful ears of yellow sweet corn, crisp and tender, delicious and perfect. Once we finished lunch, I rushed off toward work while she got an iced-tea refill. I had forgotten her request: Remind her not to forget to get the corn out of her vehicle.
Back at the newspaper office, I noticed someone pulled in beside me at about the same moment I did. It was Sandy with the forgotten sweet corn! I put the cobs in the seat beside me so that I didn’t forget them again once I got home.
The funny thing was, I couldn’t forget about that corn. Instead, I thought of little else.
Corn reminds me of my dad. Some joke about Indiana corn with a slogan that cajoles, “There’s more than corn in Indiana.” Or people say they live in the middle of a cornfield as though that’s a bad or boring thing.
When I told Brian last night I planned to devote my next blog to corn, he groaned, adding that only I would write about something as corny as, well, corn. He suggested a two-part series: Corn and Beans.
This morning on the way to work, I stopped along the road near Shenandoah High School for some photos of corn growing in the field. I looked closely at that healthy stand of Hoosier gold and I saw, in my mind's eye, my dad. So many things change but corn and my dad take me back. Back home. OK, back home again.
I think of that particular gold color, ears of field corn in the fall that are the exact shade of a school bus. And how the buses are back in action and that too, reminds me of him as much as do the corn stalks standing so straight and uniform in the morning sun and dew.
Then I realized with a start that my father has been gone for 25 years this summer. How can that be? He’d had advanced Alzheimer’s disease for a while but still, the July he passed, his death came as a shock, as death always does.
His natural habitat was our big, old barn. He was many things: A beef, corn and soybean farmer, a school-bus driver for 32 years, an artist, an inventor, a guy who could figure out how to fix anything, a seller of Lincoln Arc Welders on the side, and a repairman for dairy refrigeration operations besides. He could play a violin, roller skate with the best of them, shoot a basketball, kill you at croquet. He could, in my mind, do anything. He was king of his little slice of rural kingdom.
But for today, I think of my father the farmer and how we would drive around the country roads to check on the crops, and in those moments, and many others, how I knew to my core how much I loved our farm, and how lucky I was to be that farmer’s daughter.
So Sandy and Mike Moore: thanks for the beautiful ears of corn. And Dad: thanks for the memories.
I’ll be passing through Union County tomorrow. I may have to leave the house early. I may have to take the back roads to get there. Just so I can watch the corn grow.
Back in January 2007, Ovid Community Church had an experiment, of sorts. Everyone was encouraged to sign on with a life group that seemed to suit them and commit to just six weeks, no more. At the end of six weeks, those in the group decided if they wanted to continue to meet and continue “doing life” together.
Not only did our group continue, but (blessing of blessings) heading toward a decade together, we’re still at it. The group, which we named the Midlife Moms (MLMs for short) has changed as some have come, some have gone and many remained a part for all these years. Our current roster is 12.
The thing about church is this: if all you do is go and sit in a pew on Sunday, you won’t get to know others, develop relationships, or have personal support or encouragement in times you need them. A life group is a combination support group / Bible study / social group. A life group is a space to get to know one another and know them well. We humans have a deep desire to know and be known by both God and others.
We’ve done many interesting things through these years from put on church dinners to creating women's church retreats, hosting a garage sale and donating our proceeds, to enjoying many studies together. We’ve prayed and cried and giggled and been there for each other.
The journey continues.
And this weekend, it continued at our annual summer lake weekend at friend Terri’s place on Cordry Lake in Brown County. I can’t get over how easy it is to put together our lake weekends. An email goes out: What does everyone want to bring? The slots are filled quickly and on Sunday – we enjoy the best meal of the weekend with our leftover brunch where we clean out the fridge.
We usually do some sort of craft or creation on Saturday nights and this year we made bandana bracelets, courtesy of our friend Donna S.
The entertainment revolves around boating and swimming and deck sitting. Glorious!
We left Friday, came home today (Sunday) and still, the time is too short, the boat rides and swimming and giggles over too quickly.
So tonight, I am grateful. Grateful to God for the blessings of these women, for our church and for these lake weekends when we can refresh and renew. Thank you Terri for a great time.
I always loved girlfriend time growing up, having a slumber party in PJs with one friend or several.
It’s great news that girls our age can have this kind of fun too.
Captions: Upper left, only half of our gals could make it this time but we have a great time no matter the number. Upper right, a sampling from the leftover buffet -- our favorite meal of many for the weekend. Lower left, Donna S. supplied the craft this time: plastic piping rings wrapped with one-inch wide strips of bandana and glue-gunned together. Far right, a look at the wrists that wear the bracelets, in a "We are the World" kind of moment.
CAPTIONS: Donna holds the page with Katherine Sherwood's Date Swirls recipe and Pat Buell with her mother's Date Swirl Cookies. Katherine made the cookies for six decades. Lower left, the McClellan women's vegetable soup, and bottom right, old-fashioned macaroni salad. All these recipes are in That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland.
There is a trend among certain fictional novelists to mention homemade food within story lines, followed by those recipes at the end of the chapters or books. I enjoy this approach because it adds another dimension to a story. The reader gets a taste, as well as is able to physically become a part of the action, by preparing and enjoying those recipes.
While writing Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast, it wasn’t long before I knew I would “season” my tale with special recipes. It was a natural fit for a book about a bed-and-breakfast. But what to include?
The three signature dishes in that book came from my mother and two of my best friends. My mom’s spice cake is probably a 150-year-old recipe, an old-fashioned eggless, milkless and butterless treat also known as a "Depression Cake" that hailed from her mother.
The cake was part of every special occasion during all the years my mother baked. Growing up, when I woke up on a Saturday to the distinctive scent of that cake baking, I knew that a special event or holiday was unfolding.
The granola recipe was adapted from The Best granola I have ever eaten, which came from friend Gay Kirkton, and to Gay from her mother Betty Greenwood, and from Betty’s friend to her. That’s how recipes go, and they tend to evolve from person-to-person. The funny thing is that granola is a favorite of a particular group of my friends who think of it as Donna’s granola and it is that too because I put my own twist on it. I was delighted to get both Betty’s and Gay’s permission to reprint the recipe and add my twist.
The sugar cookies, which were mentioned numerous times in the first book as Sweetland’s signature sweet, came from my friend Patti Broshar-Foust, who treasures that recipe from her Aunt Martha. Those cookies have been a big topic inside our friendship and were even baked by Patti and decorated by me for son and daughter-in-law Sam and Allison’s bridal shower.
So, having fictionally used three terrific recipes in the first book, the time came to decide what to serve up in That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland. In a previous blog, we unpacked in detail food writer (as well as upcoming cookbook author) Blaise Doubman’s delicious Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie.
I also knew I wanted to use the recipe given to me by Brian’s Aunt Wilma for the vegetable-beef soup that all the McClellan women, including my late mother-in-law, made and I still enjoy serving in cold weather.
Included is my own Simple Chicken Salad – which people seem to like for its, well, simplicity, but would be easy to embellish with veggies and or grapes to suit more complex taste buds.
I also included my mother’s macaroni salad, which I have always thought was the best of its kind. Sure enough, at a book club discussion, where the food of book two was served, one of the readers made this dish and said her husband declared it the same.
But there was one more recipe that I really wanted to include. It was for a type of cookie that I have thought about my entire life, but, ironically, seldom actually tasted. It was for the date-nut swirl cookies I remembered from my childhood.
The cookies came into my life from farm wife, family friend and neighbor Katherine Sherwood. I can still picture that sweet woman standing at the top of her long country lane handing off a plate of the goodies as a Christmas treat for my dad, who was a farmer-school bus driver. They were delicious. All these years later, eve my brother, Tim, remembers them as tasty besides.
So does everyone who knew Katherine. As with my mother and her spice cake, with Patti and her Aunt Martha’s Sugar Cookies, and with Gay and Betty’s granola, the date-nut swirls were Katherine’s specialties.
I spotted the recipe in an old Brownsville cookbook and with Katherine having passed on, I contacted her daughter Pat, who is still active in the church and community. SURE, she told me. Not only could I use the recipe but she said her mother would have been thrilled. I was elated. The recipe is in the book, along with a “must-do” tip. Pat said no matter what, be sure to use black walnuts in the recipe. She recalled how her mother hand-gathered and hulled walnuts from their rural Indiana woods for the precious nut meats.
To use English walnuts in this recipe would be a sacrilege, Pat explained. She said these cookies have been all over the world as they made their way by mail from Katherine to servicemen abroad.
Fast forward to last Sunday. The Brownsville UMC invited me to give a little talk following a pitch-in lunch. I brought Blaise’s sugar cream pie (which is fabulous, I might add) and meatloaf the way mom made it (simply ground beef with oats, onion, eggs and ketchup). I hoped that Pat would do the very thing she did: bring the famous cookies. It was only the second time she had made them as she said there was no way they could be as good as her mother’s.
They went like hotcakes. Pat made them with candied cherries, which she recalls her mom adding for the holidays. Others at church Sunday commented that they didn’t remember them with the candied fruit. I don’t either.
But one thing I know for sure. These cookies taste exactly as I remember. They are fantastic. So if you make them, remember that tip to use the black walnuts. Those give them their distinctive flavor. The cookies are soft and chewy on the insight with a crispy crunch on the outside.
It’s fun to share these truly hometown, tried-and-true recipes with readers-- in a novel way, of course.
Both of my novels are available directly, signed if you want, by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are also on Amazon in print and Kindle versions. Better yet, book me for your club or gathering and along with giving a program I'll bring stacks to sell and sign. And we'll have a good time!
As I travel around Indiana, I love hitting the back roads and scoping out interesting stops in small towns. This week I was reminded, however, that often we don’t know what we have in our own back yards.
I found this true Wednesday when a couple of Brian’s work-days pals, Sandy Burns and Lois Valasek, invited me to lunch in downtown Fortville.
We met at the Foxgardin and enjoyed a fabulous, affordable meal. Lois and I had the Fortville Tenderloin sandwich which was a party in a bun, with all the fixings. Sandy had a wonderful cheese soup and she ordered a sugar cream pie slice for the three of us to sample. I noticed some scrumptious-looking salads on the table next to us. The restaurant, at 215 S. Main St., defines itself as "Kitchen. Ale." And a slogan, "eat.drink.meet."
It was Wednesday. It was 1 p.m. The main floor was packed! We walked upstairs to look around in the old downtown building. There we found a comfortable and unique bar-lounge-type setting, cozy, with unique art on the walls and black comfortable chairs. Out back is a covered patio. I was elated because this is a great new place to meet friends or take guests. Who knew?
I was amazed at the downtown vibe which is, unexpectedly to me anyway, very Mass Ave. There were several funky home-décor and unique clothing boutiques as well as a tiny sewing shop (it wasn’t open but it’s where the PINK mailbox is downtown). After our visit, I walked around and snooped through the shops. I overheard one shop owner talk about how the town had a couple of nice Mexican restaurants too.
I didn’t even realize that Fortville had a downtown, on Main Street, just west of the main drag. Until now, I associated the town with its signature pink elephant on Ind. 67 and the Dairy Queen where both boys worked years ago for a time.
Fortville is just a stone’s throw from Pendleton. I’ll be back!
This month a beautiful Pendleton home graces the cover of Indianapolis Monthly as part of a cover story about small-town homes. Sometimes we take for granted what’s right here in our own back yards.