Note: Henry County artist Marilyn Witt spent her career with the U.S. Postal Service, and then found a new adventure as an artist. She is on the go as she collects ideas for her art, then paints in her home studio or with other artists in New Castle. She also participates in competitions, and does all involved with her second-act career. Marilyn has created the cover art for all three of my books, including the new one, There's a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go. Enjoy a visit with Marilyn.
Q: Marilyn, what do you enjoy about being an artist?
A: Knowing that I am responsible for making someone else happy is one of the most fulfilling feelings a person can experience. Having the ability to move people intellectually or emotionally through something you have made.
It is a good feeling to witness my artwork making others feel or think something; watching someone respond to my artwork in a profound way is one of the best feelings for an artist.
By being an artist, I get to feel the invigorating energy of creativity. You are surrounded by beauty. You get to be surrounded by a community of other artists who share in your experiences.
Whether someone is learning how to become an artist or the artist has been creating for years, an artist community is filled with artists of all ranges and styles. What they have in common is a passion for the act of creating something new that adds value to your world.
And last, by being able to place a monetary value on your creations, you see the worth of what you've made in a dollar amount. Knowing someone will pay money to have your artwork is a special feeling.
Q. Were you artsy earlier in life before the empty nest?
A. I guess in a way I was artsy. I was always doodling, even on my school papers, which wasn't always appreciated by my teachers. I thought more about being a musician or singer, though, when I was younger.
I played the piano and violin and still play the piano. The only thing I considered when younger in the visual arts was being a dress designer. I still wish at times I had pursued it. I drew and cut out outfits for my paper dolls, even sewing or gluing on them bits of lace, rickrack, or tiny beads.
Then when I began sewing, I made clothes for my dolls, and for my cats. I always enhanced my own clothing and my children's. I also designed and made costumes for community theater for the Guyer Opera House.
I didn't begin painting until my children graduated from high school and I began taking art classes at Indiana University East.
Q. What's it like being a cover artist?
A. One of the purposes of a book cover is to draw the attention of curious readers. The book- cover artist needs to be sure that each book cover created is both representative of the contents and spirit of the book and also be attention-grabbing when surrounded by all the other books.
It needs to capture the attention of the reader.
It is interesting and fun to create and design a cover that coincides with the author's visions for their work. I enjoy the challenge of working with the artist and learning their thoughts. Besides, you get to be the first one to read the book.
Q. What was the experience of designing There's a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go like?
A. This is the third book cover I have created for Donna. I enjoyed them all, but this one has been the most challenging, stressful at times, fun, and I think, the most rewarding experience for me, as an artist, of all of them.
It needed to be a unique design and include all the features in the attic to express the mood of the author's writing and the essence of the story.
Coming up with the items for the cover attic that were in the stories in the book was a lot of fun. Next was to design them in a way that is representative of the contents of the book and attention-grabbing when readers are skimming the bookstore shelves.
I wanted a "wow" factor. I think that was the lady with her hands on her hips wondering what in the world she was going to do with all this.
Donna gave me the idea and I had to make her just right. Maybe the hardest thing for me was making sure I didn't overload this one and make it too busy. After all, nearly anything can be in an attic, but this was one particular attic. Or maybe the most difficult was those rafters.
The most enjoyable part was working with the author. Donna knew what she wanted and shared her vision.
I was able to develop a few ideas too for how the cover should look. In the end, I think it was a great experience. I hope for both of us.
Note from Donna: Yes it was, Marilyn. And I can't thank you enough. It is an honor to work with you.
Marilyn is a member of numerous national and local art organizations. Her paintings are in various private and corporate collections in numerous states. Her work may be seen in the Brown County Art Gallery.
Married to Dennis, the couple farm near Straughn. Their family includes a son and a daughter along with several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Marilyn is active in her church and community.
Connect with her on her website, marilynwittart.com or via email: email@example.com.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note from Donna: I don’t remember the first time Tisha Sledd of New Castle, Indiana, came on my radar, but our paths cross all the time and have for years. I’ve always been impressed by her creativity, homemaking skills, entrepreneurial bent, and the love she has for her husband, two sons – and for God. She’s also a frequent contributor to the newspaper where I work and won one of our annual recipe contests.
The Disaster Prepared Kitchen Cookbook is a fantastic how-to guide to stretching a dollar and I have a copy on my shelf, as well as a copy of her new book, The Battle for Peace: Who Is Your Master? In fact, I plan to suggest that my church life group read it when it’s time for a new study.
Today, we're swapping blogs. If you'd like to read mine, head over to her website, listed in her article. She welcomes you today and every day.
Given how well Tisha writes, and the strong messages she conveys, I’m astounded that picking up her pen is not something she enjoys. Here, she explains why she writes anyway.
By Tisha Sledd
I remember dreading when our fifth-grade teacher gave us creative writing prompts. Does anyone else remember that?
She wrote a prompt on the chalk board and we had to take it from there and write a several-page story.
It might look like this: Imagine you woke up and saw a dinosaur in your backyard. Write a story telling what you see and do.
Or this: Would you want to visit the moon? Why or why not?
Ick! It makes me sick thinking about it. I am not sure why I didn’t like it, except I thought it was boring. It was work to make my brain be creative – and I felt like there was little payoff.
I think God probably smiled at my reaction to those writing prompts, considering what He knew He would call me to do.
In high school, I took an advanced-placement English class that gave me college credit. There was a professor who came from our community college to teach the class three times a week. He was a little, odd fellow with a dog. He was probably in his late fifties, almost completely bald with horn-rimmed glasses. He lacked interpersonal skills and as a snarky high school student I thought he dressed funny. I don’t know how he got that dog passed the administration but it came with him to class every single time.
I forget his name but I wish I could remember it because I probably learned the most important skills of my life from this peculiar fellow.
He pounded into our heads about how to write reports and themes. He was a stickler and didn’t let us get away with anything. I am sure I rolled my petulant teenage eyes a thousand times at having to go back and rewrite something. I find it humorous that 25 years later I am so thankful for this professor’s heavy-handed teaching. I learned to write as a senior in high school … because of a funny little professor and his dog.
He would tell me that I was a good writer, but I dismissed him. I didn’t like writing.
I was surprised to find that a year later when my future husband was in a college writing class with this professor that he used one of my papers as an example of how to write a good paper.
Later in my college career I had to write a report on the history of opera. My professor was so impressed at what a good writer I was. I told her thank you – but I dismissed her. I didn’t like writing.
I have been in ministry for 14 years. Every once in a while over the course of those years I wrote an article for the Religious Perspective column in our local paper. I always got great feedback from people who read my articles. Sometimes people would really touch me with their stories of how much my articles meant to them.
But that is as far as my writing had gone - until June of 2015.
God began to press me about writing articles for a blog. I argued with Him a little bit. I said, “God I don’t like to write. I don’t understand why you would want me to do this.”
His answer came one day while I was reading Paul’s letters in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul wrote two-thirds of the New Testament and the Church has been strengthened for thousands of years because of it. God spoke to my heart and said, “It is the words that are written down that last for centuries.”
This touched my heart because I could remember reading books that impacted me as a young person (outside of God’s word). A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle was inspiring to me. I cried for an hour after finishing Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I hated having to read Shakespeare but who could not be impacted by Romeo and Juliet?
I have a message inside of me to give to the world. It is a message of hope and it is a message of correction. But how can the world receive the message if it is not written down?
So I write.
Since June 2015, I have written over 200 blog articles at www.TishaSleddMinistries.com. AND I finished my first book about spiritual warfare called The Battle for Peace: Who Is Your Master? (You can find it on Amazon by following this link.) I previously wrote a cookbook called The Disaster Prepared Kitchen Cookbook you can also find on Amazon HERE.
I have also finished two thirds of my next book. It is a work of fiction called As in the Days of Noah, a Sci-Fi thriller set in the time of the unfolding events of the last days. It will be launched in 2017.
Here is the funny thing about the past year - even though I have done all of this writing, and even though I have a book and I’m writing the next one - I still don’t enjoy writing.
I am not sure why except that I much prefer talking with people rather than typing on a computer. But I understand why I must write.
I want to help people get closer to God. I want to help people understand who He is and why He came. I want to help people understand the Kingdom of God and how it works.
So I write.
If it is not written down – how can people learn? The Lord has given me Habbakuk 2:2 many times. It says this:
The Lord gave me this answer: “Write down clearly on tablets what I reveal to you, so that it can be read at a glance.” (GNT)
This is why I use my gift of writing. Not because it’s fun. Not because it’s fulfilling. I write because God has asked me to.
Maybe God has given you a gift that you don’t necessarily enjoy using. I want to encourage you that there is a reason that He gave it to you. You may not understand but it will make sense when your story is all done.
Your talents and giftings are meant to glorify Him. Begin to use them just because He’s asking you to.
Tisha Sledd is passionate to see transformation on earth by putting Jesus Christ on the throne in every area, beginning with the hearts of individuals, thereby transforming entire communities, which is then reflected in the heart of our nation. She and her husband Tom established Tisha Sledd Ministries to give hope to the hopeless and equip the Body for works of service. Fnd out more at www.TishaSleddMinistries.com. Contact her at email@example.com.
Today’s guest blogger is my friend, writing colleague and Courier-Times Chew This! columnist, Blaise Doubman of Kennard, Indiana. Blaise is a gifted baker, cook, blogger and recipe creator. He pops up in my book, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, as the town baker and he created the Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie recipe that you really need to try.
Blaise’s much-anticipated first cookbook, Blaise the Baker Dessert First, will be out within weeks and he’s taking pre-orders now. Grab a glass of iced tea and meet Blaise.
Q. Blaise, you were raised in the small town of Kennard into a fun-sounding family and you are blessed to still have two grandmothers around as close friends. What were your earliest influences in your love for cooking and baking?
A. Oh, you are right. I am blessed to still have both of my Grandmothers and I do not take a single minute for granted. They still teach me things that I am not sure how I would know otherwise. I was lucky to be born into a food loving family, which has really shaped my life.
My Grandma Barbra was the first person to show me where food comes from and how it is prepared. She would never credit herself as a teacher, but I would have to disagree. She is skillfully patient, kind and informative in the kitchen. Once Mom started noticing my adventures in the kitchen with my Grandma Barbra, she started having me help her. That progressed into having Grandpa Max and Grandma Deloris show me their tricks of the trade.
Looking back, I am so incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by adults who gladly welcome me into their kitchens and encourage me to help. And no matter what it was, nothing was too advanced, or too messy. Those lessons stuck with me because I am always one to encourage kids in the kitchen. Of course you must also teach them about safety, but those lessons also apply to their lives outside of the kitchen.
Q. Do you remember the first dish you made? Through the years, what have become your signature dishes?
A. Yes! I actually do remember the first dish I ever made! I think I have discussed this in one of my Chew This! columns. I can remember when I was a few months old. Sights, sounds, smells – all of the things that start to develop, I remembered developing right away. Strange, I know.
The first dish I made was with Grandma Barbra and it was for boxed brownies. I helped stir and scrape the pots as soon as she introduced me into the kitchen, but the first finished dish, instead of just participating in, was boxed brownies. I remember being utterly fascinated by how this brown powder, when mixed with water, oil, and egg could produce something so delicious! I actually remember burning the roof of my mouth too, because I could not wait to dig in. Something I am still doing to this day! It was my first experience of from start to finish, baking. And I loved it!
As far as my signature dish, I would have to say anything dessert. Whenever there is a get-together I am the person people think of when bringing something sweet. I am known though for lasagna, sour cream noodle bake and a few appetizers-- all of which are featured in my upcoming cookbook.
Q. You live a culinary lifestyle. You create recipes, prepare food, write a food column, food blogs, enjoy restaurants and cookbooks. What is your favorite aspect?
A. You know, until you asked this question I had not really thought about it. Me, living a culinary lifestyle is appropriate and to actually hear it makes me realize how extremely fortunate I am.
When I was 12, I knew I wanted to make food, create food, write about food, feed people and make people happy. Simple as that. And really, I didn’t even have to think about it. I just knew.
I love all aspects of my food journey. When I develop a recipe it is a feeling of accomplishment. When I write about it, it becomes a feeling of satisfaction. When I share it with people, feed people and see and hear how much they like it, it is a sense of overall happiness and enjoyment.
I’ve always loved to write and tell stories but when writing about food and knowing that I am sharing something with someone that I have created, it is a magical feeling.
And cookbooks! Can we talk about cookbooks? I have several thousand, so many that I refuse to count, but my love for them started with Grandma Barbra, no question! She does not have the collection I have, speaking in terms of value and mass amount, mostly because she said she refuses to find the area to store them, but she has more than your average person.
She bought me my first cookbook, Learn to Bake and You Will Love It, from a rummage sale. I still have it and I still use it. It is one of my treasured possessions. Sometimes, I look back at that cookbook and remember holding it in my little hands, marking recipes to try and just being amazed. I actually am the same way now, except my hands are bigger! My favorite aspect is sharing what I love with everyone who is interested. There is nothing quite like sharing your love with people who also share the same love and interest.
Q. How did you make the decision to publish your first cookbook now and is there a single favorite recipe? And, what kinds of recipes are inside – so much more than desserts, right?
A. Oh my, yes! A lot more than just desserts! My cookbook has a little bit of everything. From desserts, of course, to salad dressings, main dishes, breakfast foods, appetizers, brunch items, dips, soups, casseroles, pastries and so much more. There are popular recipes from my blog, Blaise the Baker, as well as popular recipes from my food column, Chew This!
There are 100 new recipes that I have never published anywhere before. I think that is what I am most excited about, releasing such a large amount of recipes that nobody has ever seen before. It is a thrilling experience for me!
Before the recipes start in my book there are several pages of commentary. I talk about what ingredients are best, how I tested the recipes, my thoughts on cooking utensils and bakeware, and tips on foolproof cooking and baking.
The cookbook is more than a cookbook. I like to think of it as a friendly companion that you will want to keep in your kitchen at all times. I wrote it for everyone. No matter if you are a novice in the kitchen, or a professional, I think everyone can learn something from my experiences that I write about and share.
I decided to go ahead and finalize my cookbook because I felt like it was the right time. There have been a lot of people on this journey with me and there have been a lot of people waiting and anticipating it being finished. It had come to a point where the recipes could not be improved upon anymore, the script had been proofread and I had a sense of being extremely happy with how everything had turned out. That is when I knew it was time.
I was happy with everything and I could not envision myself ever changing anything. I knew then that it was complete and that I was ready to let everybody in on it.
As far as favorite recipes, I admit that I do have a few. At the top of the list has to be my Famous Tea Room Chicken Salad (page 102). I have a special way of preparing the chicken for this recipe that produces the most delicious, moist, and tender chicken that you have ever had. Plus, it involves a very special ingredient that brings out the flavor of the chicken.
I had a recipe tester in Minnesota tell me that he and his testers found this the best chicken salad they had ever had and that it was even better than the town’s leading restaurant. I highly recommend people try that recipe first!
Another recipe that is pretty special to me would have to be my Family Salad Dressing (page 164). The recipe comes straight from Grandma Barbra and it is her secret dressing for everything! She uses it in her potato salad, pasta salad, chicken salad, coleslaw.
And it was not until I was in the process of writing this cookbook that I found out that her dressing was the basis of all of her salads and slaws! I thought that was pretty cool. I am really excited that she is having me share it with everyone.
I also love the Hummingbird Cake with Thick Cream Cheese Frosting (page 10) because it reminds me of my childhood with Grandpa Max and Grandma Deloris. This remains a favorite of my Grandma Deloris still to this day! I loved baking it for her but never really appreciated the true tastes and textures until just a few years ago. It is by far the best Hummingbird Cake recipe that you will ever have! And the thick cream cheese frosting recipe that I have include to go with the cake is fabulous topped on cinnamon rolls!
Sarah's Pecan Rolls (page 88) is a recipe I had to include from our neighborhood friend Sarah Darling. She made them for her friends and family every year around Christmas time.
She passed away several years ago but we keep her memory alive by making these delicious rolls every holiday season!
Same goes for Carmen’s Fruit Cookies (page 54). They hold a special place in the heart of my family. Do not let the name fool you, either. These are delicious and packed with flavor! No typical fruit cake type cookie here.
There are so many recipes, all of which are tied in with such special memories for me. One recipe that would seem to be the easiest, but was actually one of the most challenging, is my recipe for Chocolate Puff Pastry Turnovers (page 93). Sometimes the simplest of tastes are the hardest to really get down pat.
I finally did manage to find the taste I was looking for with these and they are really a fun and memorable dessert!
And how can I leave out Darla’s Spanish Rice (page 120)? A recipe that I have grown up eating for years, with special thanks to Mom, and I am so thrilled she let me share the recipe with everyone! When you spend so long with all of these recipes it is hard to pick a favorite.
Q. You are a graduate of Indiana University East and entrepreneur in the culinary arts. If you could name your dream career from here on out, describe it.
A. Food writer. There is no question about it. I love writing about food. No matter if that means writing my food column, Chew This!, writing my latest cookbook review for my blog, writing out a recipe I have developed, writing an essay on a food-related topic or doing a business or restaurant review.
I am beyond thankful and grateful for the opportunities I have had that have lead me to do the work I have always dreamed about doing.
Some day, when I have the extra time, I would like to really learn more about the history of food. I would like to know more about why we eat what we do, how we do and prepared the way we do. I have a friend who is a food historian and I really admire that.
I have always found the background history of food to be just as interesting as developing a recipe or tasting a new taste combination. So I will say that as the career of my dreams: food writer, recipe developer, and food historian.
Q. When you aren’t working with recipes in some fashion, what are your other interests?
A. Reading and collecting cookbooks. I read and collect compulsively. I have always got my nose stuck in a cookbook. It could be a cookbook I am reviewing for my blog, a cookbook for a friend that wanted me to write a blurb or just a cookbook that holds my interest.
My collection runs deep, however I am the first to admit, that you will not find any low-fat, no-sugar, diet or fad -program diet books in my collection. I just find they are not any fun to look at!
Outside of food though I have varying interests. I love to listen to music. I love reading great books. I love taking the time to talk to my parents and grandparents about life and trying to gain perspective on how their lives were growing up. I love learning about photography and I love seeing the world through someone else's eyes.
Instagram is really good for this. There are some fabulous accounts from people all over the world. I love to sit and browse what their world looks like to them. I love to talk and I love to laugh with friends. I try and enjoy each day I have and remember that not everybody gets a chance to do so. I am a firm believer in finding and following your passions.
Q. If people should try only one recipe in your new book, what is it?
A. Oh, without a doubt, my Famous Tea Room Chicken Salad (page 102). I want people to really know and realize that I love to cook just as well as I love to bake. My main focus are desserts and everything sweet but I would like to think that not to far off of my main focus is my love for cooking.
Both are complete opposites, in baking everything is science and scientific driven, but both can be fun ways to express yourself.
Q. How can people subscribe to your blogs or contact you to pre-order your cookbook?
A. The easiest way to subscribe to my blog is to log on to http://blaisethebaker.com and find the link on the side of the page that reads subscribe. Click on that and enter your email address. You will get an email every time I make a new post. Please like my page on Facebook too. Visit http://facebook.com/blaisethebaker Anyone is also more than welcome to email questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Donna: Thank you, Blaise, for this visit with Home Row readers. I've sent in my pre-order and can't wait to get your cookbook late next month.
This is the only photo I have with Debbie, taken two years ago at the Huddleston Farmhouse in Cambridge City at a farmers market. I found myself with a free Saturday morning and asked about setting up with my first book. There wasn't much of a crowd but good things happened. Debbie was free and drove over from Ohio. We chatted away the morning and then went to lunch. Also, one of the shoppers was a writer for the Western Wayne newspaper and did a little interview, took some photos, and that led to another gig down the road. I wish I had thought to get our photo taken together last week. But I am grateful that Debbie is in my life and helped edit the new book. And, I am grateful for her friendship.
I’m excited to welcome Debbie McCray from the Buckeye state as today’s guest blogger. Debbie was one of three editors for That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, and when I asked if she would be interested in making the hour-and-a-half drive to New Castle for last week’s book luncheon, she said yes! Debbie beat me to my own event. It was such a comfort to see her sitting there, smiling, waving. It was not our first book-signing adventure together. A couple summers ago, we met up at a small farmers market and chatted away the morning. Debbie welcomes you to visit her blog at www.snowdrops4faith.wordpress.com.
Connections that entangle the heart
By Debbie McCray
Connections are our sense of belonging. We have connections from our tight-knit circles to ever-expanding circles that eventually connect us with people throughout the world. This past week, I was invited to spend time with one of my Indiana connections: Donna Cronk.
Donna was launching the book tour for her sequel, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland. The venue was a group at a local funeral home in New Castle, Indiana. Witnessing her connections prompted me to reflect on our connection through the years.
I trace ours to our boys growing up together in the same school district, the same sports teams, and on the same street. We were friendly neighbors busy with life. Donna likes to remind me that Carriage Lane was not the place where we first met. Over 26 years ago, we were in the same Sunday school class at the same local church.
In a way, our connection has also been a journey of faith where God kept putting us together for a reason. God eventually revealed the reason a couple of years ago, when we shared our mutual desire to self-publish a book. In practice, the enduring connection has been our shared love of writing.
Writing was natural for Donna as she went to college for journalism and has been a community journalist for 27 years in one Indiana town and county. Writing was never on my radar given my engineering background with its focus on numbers and logic. I was the stereotypical engineer. I never aspired to be a writer and I did not care about writing, other than what was necessary to complete an assignment.
Hence the surprise when shortly after I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in 1994, God prompted me to write. God was very specific. I was to write devotions for our church’s monthly newsletter. I often thank God for Pastor Dick Blose of Pendleton Christian Church. When I approached Pastor Dick, he said “Yes” and allowed God to use me. Pastor Dick’s encouragement enabled me to “blossom where I was planted!”
Donna’s recently published book was the day’s connection for the crowd that attended her new presentation. As I was introduced to people, I asked, “So how do you know Donna?” Some connections were common to all of us: work-related with both current and former co-workers. Other connections were more specific to the book: editors, reviewers, and fellow self-published authors. It was a friendly crowd with people Donna knew and friends of friends that Donna met for the first time.
Donna shared her new presentation, “Bloom Before You Are Planted!” Her message reminded us that God has good plans for each one of us. The deeper take-away involved self-reflection on my part. Am I paying attention to God’s nudges? Will I act on the seeds that God plants in my heart? Do I embrace God’s joy for my growth? Will I praise God for His beauty inside of me, waiting to bloom in the perfect season?
After Donna’s program, she and I enjoyed our unique connection by simply sitting and chatting for hours. We covered much territory, revisiting old connections and discovering new connections. Finally, it was time to walk out to our cars and say goodbye for the day. That’s when I remembered my family cookbook.
Over the previous six-and-a-half hours, I had completely forgotten about the cookbook I wanted to connect over with Donna. This is the nature of genuine connections. The time goes by too quickly and we are left with a longing for the next visit.
The best connections always explore the nuances of life and entangle hearts!
2 John 12
I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
In the same way that developing a novel's story line and working out plot lines take some time, so too does developing a recipe. When I considered recipes for my new book, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, I knew I wanted a sugar cream pie. Why? It's iconic Hoosier, and because the book is published in our state's bicentennial year, I wanted to include it. It even ended up on the cover! One person in my life circle was up to the challenge of creating a pie recipe for the book. He's Blaise Doubman, the talented baker, cook and food writer who writes Chew This! twice a month for my Neighbors section at The (New Castle, Indiana) Courier-Times. You'll love Blaise's enthusiasm. Check him out at https://blaisethebaker.com. Meanwhile, thanks for the guest post, Blaise. Enjoy, everyone, below.
By Blaise Doubman
Hello everyone! My name is Blaise Doubman, although some of you may know me as Blaise the Baker. It's my honor to write a special guest-blog post for my multi-talented friend, Donna Cronk.
It's been my pleasure to get to know her personally and professionally, and as I'm sure you're all already well-aware, she's not only a strong woman in faith, but a strong woman in inspiration, perseverance, talent, editing and writing. She's been a driving force at The Courier-Times for almost 27 years editing the Neighbors section. Her career is well documented and spans into all skill levels and fields.
I'm here to talk about her new book, "That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland." The book (a sequel to "Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast") doesn't have to be read consecutively to be enjoyed. Her first book was wonderful, and contained several delicious recipes - all of which I tried and enjoyed.
A 'novel' idea
I love how novels include recipes within their covers. It makes me feel even more part of the story. I feel like I'm fixing the food like the characters do, eating like the characters and experiencing almost a "life-like" realness that adds even more to the story line.
When Donna told me she was writing a sequel, I was beyond excited! Grandma Barbra and I discussed the possibility of a sequel after reading the first, but I'm a firm believer in encouraging writers with their current story lines - and not pushing more creative ideas into them - because sometimes a creative person releases what she needs to say the first time.
Grandma Barbra and I discussed what we thought would have happened after the book ended, and earmarked our favorite parts, and placed the book in her kitchen collection of cookbooks. (We decided to keep it in the kitchen with the cookbooks instead of in the living room with the novels because the recipes were all so delicious!)
If you think I was excited when Donna told me about the sequel, imagine my excitement when she asked if I would develop a sugar cream pie recipe for her book! It literally took me an hour to come down off the ceiling ... and then imagine my surprise and excitement when she asked if she could write me into the book! Yes - write me into the book!
Let's start with the sugar cream pie and how it was developed. Donna and I discussed how the Indiana official state pie is the sugar cream pie - so what would be more appropriate? I decided right away that I would call mine "Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie."
I started to work on the development like I do all of my other recipes. I went to my recipe book (a small leather pocket notebook - I have several for recipe developments and ideas) and wrote at the top of the page "Donna's Pie."
I looked at it for a while, and felt extreme excitement, and yet at the same time sadness. I know, you may be thinking, "why sadness?"
I was feeling a little sad because my Grandma Barbra, at the time, wasn't doing well. She was in a rehabilitation center for some health issues. I told myself that this time, I was going to have to develop and research the recipe all on my own. Now don't get me wrong, I had tested and developed recipes on my own several times, but this time it was a pie! How would I do this on my own?
Grandma Barbra is known in my family as The Pie Queen! Would I ever be able to live up to something she would like - and not to mention something Donna would like - and all of her readers of the new novel! The pressure was on. I handled it though.
I talked with Grandma Barbra about it and she said for me to follow my instincts and "just do it," and that's what I did. I immediately went to food-history books, and searched for anything sugar cream pie related. I made notes on what I had learned, its history and how different recipes are different yet very similar in taste and texture.
The sugar cream pie isn't a pie that can be topped with a crumble, nor is it a pie that can be topped with lattice. It's a pie that has stood the test of time, something traditional and familiar. Now I was getting somewhere. This I could handle.
I then searched online for even more sugar cream pie history and searched out some food related message boards. I then conducted a "survey" of sorts as to what people associate "sugar cream pie" with.
The results? Most people selected words such as - custard, vanilla, sweet and nutmeg as what they would associate with the dessert. I wrote everything down, compared recipe techniques online and found that some sugar cream pies are made on the stove top only, some in the oven only and some a variety of both methods.
I would have to try several of each method to determine what would be the perfect pie. I also decided I would absolutely have to use a homemade crust. When I think of pie, I look forward to the crust just as much as the filling.
With my kitchen notes in hand, I spent the next several days testing sugar cream pies. The first thing I had to do was develop a pie crust recipe. I tried several with butter, a few with shortening and a few with both butter and shortening. I found that using shortening only, gave the pie crust the flakiness and the tenderness I was looking for, without incorporating any additional flavor, like the butter did.
The recipe I ended up with is strikingly similar to the pie crust my Grandma Barbra still uses to this day. I took that as a sign that even though she was fighting her own battles at the time of my testing and developing, she was still with me in the kitchen.
After the crust recipe was complete, I wanted to make the instructions as easy to follow as possible. In my experience, people will see, or read, that a pie involves a "homemade crust" and they run the other way!
It upsets me that people think they're so difficult to make, when in reality, they're pretty easy, and so much better than anything you can buy! I wrote the recipe to be pretty self-explanatory, and gave it to a friend of mine who hadn't made a pie crust in her entire life. I wanted to see how she would do following the instructions and I would take the recipe writing from there.
She took the recipe, with worry and concern that she wouldn't ever be able to pull it off, and followed it step by step. And guess what? She made pie crust! The finished pie crust was beautiful and just the way it was supposed to be! She was beyond excited and actually may have jumped up and down, "I made pie crust! I made pie crust!" I knew then that the recipe, and the instructions, were perfect. Now, onto the pie filling. Half way there.
I tested several sugar cream pies using the stove top method, but it just didn't do much for the crust and it had trouble "setting up". It was simply too complicated and too difficult trying to tell people the difference between "blind baking" the pie shell ahead of time, and actually making the pie on the stove top.
I was worried that people would skip the step of making their own pie crust, and I was also worried that people just wouldn't want to attempt the recipe.
I moved on to the method of making the sugar cream pie in the oven only. I didn't care for this method either. These pies had a tendency to burn quickly, and frankly having to wrap the pie crust in foil halfway through baking, just wasn't a step that I wanted to do - and I was sure nobody else would either. I wanted to create something simple and that people wouldn't mind whipping up. Plus, when making the sugar cream pie in the oven only, it changed the texture of the pie from a custard to more of a gelatinous texture which wasn't pleasant at all!
I decided to combine both methods. Why couldn't a person make the pie crust, have it baking in the oven while they're making the filling, and finish it off in the stove? Well, that's exactly what I did!
By making the pie crust first and poking it with a fork there's no need for any extra equipment - no pie weights and no foil wrapped beans. While this baked in the oven, the filling is being mixed up and prepared on the stove top. The addition of butter at the end really brings about a thick creaminess that can't be duplicated any other way.
Once the crust is baked, and the filling done, popping the whole thing back into the oven finishes off the filling by baking it completely as well as warming and thickening the filling - bringing everything together. It also warms up the nutmeg that's sprinkled on top and really incorporates its delicate aroma into the pie.
'It's perfect and ready to go'
I must have made the finished recipe a dozen times before finally saying to myself - this is it - it's perfect and ready to go. My family, friends and taste testers all were great sports about it. Several of the testers said that my pie was even better tasting than a very familiar, locally well-known pie. I was pleased - and thankful.
I sent the recipe to Donna and awaited her thoughts. I just knew she would love it - and I was right! She said she loved the pie, and has actually made it several times since the first initial baking. She was really impressed with the foolproof homemade pie crust, which I found to be the greatest compliment because if I can make something "daunting" a little easier for someone, I've accomplished my goal and that makes me feel good.
My recipe is featured in Donna's new book and I couldn't be any more excited or grateful! And guess what!? I actually make a guest appearance in the book! Well, all fictitiously of course. How and where? You'll have to read it, find out and see where my pie is incorporated into the story.
I'm highly recommending this book in my "Blaise the Baker Book Club" as well as to all of my family and friends. Thank you Donna for asking me about developing this recipe, thank you for including me in your book, thank you for allowing me to join you on this journey.
I highly recommend you buy TWO copies (one for you and one for a friend) of "That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland." Here's a few options...
Have Donna autograph a copy and send it directly to your door! Mail your check or money order for $17.79 (includes tax and postage) to Donna Cronk - 8754 Carriage Lane - Pendleton, IN 46064. Make the check or money order out to "Donna Cronk". Also include to whom you want it inscribed or if you only want Donna's signature.
Local people can get the book for $15 (includes tax and postage) from Donna at the newspaper. Or you can purchase a copy through Amazon.com in print or for your Kindle.
She's also has a new speaking program called "Bloom Before You Are Planted" and is accepting new dates for discussion, book clubs, church and social groups. Congratulations Donna.
Sometimes it would seem that even though we didn’t choose certain objects that we keep around our homes, they become important parts of our lives all the same. Kelly Finch, my hometown friend from Liberty, Indiana, shares such a story in today’s guest blog. Thanks Kelly!
By Kelly Finch
The bear blanket was given to me nearly 30 years ago as a Christmas gift. At that time, I had scarcely any –if any at all—extra blankets.
This certainly didn't fit my decor, as I was in my early 20s and trying to make my home look "grown-up.” But it was big and thick and warm—perfect to wrap up in and keep warm in the winter.
Soon thereafter, as my babies came along and turned into toddlers, the bear blanket became the favorite one to cuddle with on the couch while reading or watching TV.
It was the one the kids wanted wrapped up in when they were sick. No one really fought over it, and by the time numerous extra blankets had appeared in the house, the bear blanket was always the first one someone grabbed.
It went on family vacations with us or even long day trips when we might have to leave early in the morning. The kids would grab a pillow and blankets to sleep on the way. The bear blanket was a staple on all these trips.
As the kids got older and began playing sports, it went along on cross country meets. It is seen in many pictures with my kids and their friends wrapped up in it for warmth on a chilly fall morning, at track meets, football, basketball and softball games. It became well known with the teammates. It seems everyone loved that bear blanket.
The kids have grown up and left home. My husband has pretty much commandeered it and it is still a staple item, used almost on a daily basis.
Through its many washes, it has become threadbare, it's faded, and the binding has been long gone. Food and drink have been spilled on it. It has been vomited on, drug through the mud, the dog likes to lay on it. You name it; it has experienced life. It is certainly well-loved.
My baby is a senior in college this year. A couple of weeks ago she became very ill while at school and decided she needed to come home. (Asking to come home, I knew she must be very sick!)
Before I left, I asked her if she wanted me to bring her anything. Of course, she wanted the bear blanket.
It's strange to think of a piece of fabric--something you would never have purchased for yourself, something that didn't fit the idea of being grown-up-- would end up being a family favorite. And a continuing source of comfort.
Note from Donna: One of the joys of writing is talking shop with other writers and authors. Mary T. Wilkinson is a retired elementary-school teacher from Rush County. She published her first novel, Call Me Lizzy, at about the same time my book came out in 2014. Our paths have crossed numerous times since then and we agreed to swap blog posts. Here's Mary on how God's timing for her career goals has been perfect.
by Mary T. Wilkinson
How does a small-town girl, one of 13 children, grow up to do anything worth writing about? Well, let me tell you. It wasn’t my plan, and I didn’t do it alone.
It’s not that I didn’t have plans. I did. I wanted to be a singer like my mother. She had studied opera at Indiana University for three years before becoming a wife and mother. The babies just kept coming and soon the opera part had been thrown out the window with the bath water.
Still, she didn’t give up on singing. I think everyone in town had my mother, and her equally talented sister, Rita, sing for their wedding or funeral. Besides that, she taught all of her children to sing and harmonize with her. We were one big musical family. So my first career plan was to be a singer, preferably on The Lawrence Welk Show.
My second plan came because my dad was a recovering alcoholic. My older sister, Sherry, and I had to babysit our siblings at least three nights a week so that Dad and Mom could go to AA and Al-Anon meetings to keep Dad sober and mom from going crazy. Sherry and I got the kids bathed and in their pajamas. Then I told them a whopper of a story I made up. After I had their attention, I’d finish with a big finale. Putting them to bed with a story was fun. I started thinking maybe I could be a writer. I really loved working with children and dreamed I would be a children’s book author.
My last plan was to get married and have a home and children of my own. That one wasn’t going so well, either. Sherry got all of the dates. I never really had a boyfriend. My father wanted all six of us girls to eventually marry and be in homes of our own. He felt that being a wife and mother was God’s greatest calling for a woman, but since I was not dating, he told me I definitely needed a job when I graduated to support myself.
I talked to my dad about my dreams; being a famous singer or an author, but he said I would never make any money in those two careers. I always wondered if I would have been dating someone at the time, if he might not have been OK with my aspirations. After all, I could sing and write and still be a wife and mother. I did pretty well in high school and my counselor told me I might want to consider being an elementary teacher.
I had one of those “Aha!” moments when she said that, even though I had no idea how I’d be able to pay for college. Dad hoped I would come home with a degree and a husband, which I did. I taught 5th and 6th graders for 29 years. I read my students stories I had written to encourage them to write. I sang songs I’d made up to make them laugh or to help them learn a particular lesson. I became a mom and wrote songs and stories for my children. In the summers I sent my stories out to publishers. In the winter of the year, I counted all of my rejection letters.
It seemed none of my plans were quite working out like I wanted, except for being a mom. That was the absolute best. I wondered if I should keep writing stories and songs when they took so much time and effort. I didn’t realize it at the time, but God had plans for me too, but He had a timeline that was different from mine.
Several years ago, our church started a praise band and they wanted someone to sing who could do harmony. They chose me and I was thrilled. I am still thrilled every Sunday that I get to sing in the Praise Band. Then just when I was wondering when to retire from teaching, a publisher called me out of the blue and wanted to publish my first novel, Call Me Lizzy. If I could put that whole book down into one sentence, it would be this: Never quit believing that God answers prayer.
Maybe your plan is not going how you want it to go either. Ask God to show you what His plan is, and be ready to wait for His perfect timing. In the meantime, use those talents any way you can. Ecclesiastes 11:6 says, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” So sing, write, dance, draw, whatever inspires you and trust that God has the better plan. He’ll show it to you when the time is right and you are ready for it.
Mary lives in Rush County, Indiana. To contact her about her book or related events, email her at: email@example.com.