Last night was a first: we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. I had the day to prep, and it reminded me of those growing-up years on the farm. Since my brothers, now passed on, are quite a bit older than I am, Christmas family gatherings were later in the day on Christmas so they could be with their kids or other extended families first.
It's what I grew up with, and I enjoyed the way we eased into the holiday. I opened gifts from Santa / my parents, and then we had a few hours to get ready for the rest of the family to join us for the big meal, gifts, and fun.
This approach worked out equally well after I got married because we could gather at Brian's folks on Christmas Eve, then have Christmas morning with them before heading east to be with my folks and extended family for a dusk celebration.
I loved those moments on the curvy, ribbony-hilled back roads of northwestern Union County, Indiana as we approached the farm in late afternoon, knowing all the fun ahead.
Yesterday as Brian and I got the house and food ready, I put the finishing touches on a white elephant exchange to do for laughs. There was even a dog category with three family dogs in attendance.
The fun took me back to 1981, our first Christmas in Fountain County. That summer Brian had accepted his first school administrative job at Fountain Central. We couldn't sell our trailer back in Richmond, Indiana and didn't know how or when that would happen. So we continued to pay on it and the lot rent, as well as the most reasonable rent on the spacious country home we rented.
My job was to attend college full time in person and take every extra short course or correspondence course I could to get my journalism degree and begin the career I dreamed of as a community journalist. With Brian's pay raise, it was possible, but without me contributing any money to the cause and these added expenses, we had little left for extras. There would be no new furniture, clothes, or other indulgences.
Yet we were happy as clams. Our dreams were coming true. We had each other. We had lots of plans.
That Christmas season, we went to an all-staff dinner party at the home of school secretary Barb Clark. Barb was all things to all people--and turning her family's basement into a party room with food and decorations fit for royalty was one of her endless talents. Barb could do anything well--backward in heels.
I was relieved that instead of spending money on "real" presents, we were to bring a gag gift for an exchange. Since those can be anything, and I had a silly fringe-laden top that I never wore and think I surely got in another silly exchange, it was wrapped and gifted. Done.
When I opened my designated gag gift, it was a Mennen Speed Stick. You would have thought it was the Hope Diamond. I don't recall our exact words but I know that we carried on about it as though we had hit pay dirt!
We looked at each other with delight: something we could use! Something namebrand even! Something we didn't have to spend money on! We held our deodorant close. I don't remember much else about the evening, other than the glow we had between us knowing that our underarms would be covered for a good while and live rent free on our bodies. Yippee!
Later, Barb was told the story and she recalled her version of a similar one: the Christmas that she and her beloved husband Hersh, were pressed for money and he bought her a potato masher. She was delighted!
As we gathered with our kids, and Ben's wonderful girlfriend, Julie, yesterday, (hugs to Sam's girlfriend Ashley, who was unable to join us with her beautiful daughters), we had the luxury of not only gag gifts (dish sponges and soy sauce, anyone?) but real gifts that cost considerably more.
The real Gift of Christmas is the Reason for the season: The Word who was made flesh and came to dwell among us ... (John 1:14).
Feeling grateful for life, health, peace, family, friends, and for His gift, according to God's perfect plan.
May your Christmases be bright, and all your gag gifts be useful.
In my last blog post, I promised to show what I picked up at Lola + Company in Bloomington for the Writer Chicks. Here they are ... narrow silvery bangles. They are actually recycled guitar strings. The store owner wraps them in this charming recycled music-book paper. Sorry to spoil the surprise, Cathy. I'll bring yours next month.
It's time, much as I'll miss them, for the annual fern giveaway! I have four gorgeous ferns that need new homes or they'll be off to that great greenhouse in the sky. If you want one, all four, or any number in between, contact me. Messenger, text (317-224-7028) or email, firstname.lastname@example.org. First to claim them gets them. But don't call if you "might" want them, only if you do for sure and can come and get them. I don't deliver. These babies are HUGE! Frost isn't their friend and soon they'll be freezing their fronds off! So come get them!
Those who know me well are probably familiar with my penchant for plans. I love circled dates on the calendar. I would be that girl who wants a ring and a date. In fact, at this juncture in life, skip the ring. I just want dates.
For a string of years before covid, our immediate family took annual long-weekend Colts away-game trips. The secret sauce began the spring before, when the date was set, and intensive planning began. By the time it was wheels-up, we had a basically hourly agenda with tickets, times, addresses, and confirmation numbers.
I appreciate that most prefer travels to sandy beaches and water. I'll take a place with lots to experience and an agenda to go with it.
Our planning led to almost flawless times in some of America’s major cities. And cities are not our natural habitat, so we’re extra proud of ourselves when our navigation works out. Securing tickets in July for an October visit to the Statue of Liberty, for example, yielded coveted upgrades into the crown.
But there’s always something to be said for a spontaneous call from friends to “come down tonight if you aren’t doing anything” or some semi-whim-ish plans.
That's what happened when friend, author Cathy Shouse (www.cathyshouse.com) asked if I might want to tag along and “hang out in Bloomington” during an overnight trip this summer. We could have a couple of long, uninterrupted chats to and from, plus separate rooms in an air bnb. She would spend Saturday at her conference on the Indiana University campus, and I could do … whatever!
Ah, ha! I knew exactly what the whatever would be, if my friend Cheryl were available.
Cheryl and I made fast friends 33 years ago about to date when I became Neighbors Editor at the New Castle Courier-Times. After she moved to Bloomington several years ago, we tended to get together annually but life gets busy, and it had been quite a while since we’d had face time.
Cheryl instantly agreed! We could spend a good chunk of Saturday together! I was pumped and told Cathy YES!
We stayed at Straw Bale Bungalow, hosted by Keith, in a neighborhood in the middle of Bloomington. It's a 1920s bungalow with a straw bale addition. So many pluses! He’s next door to Cathy’s writer friend, Jan.
And, we were even invited into Jan’s lovely home, but turns out it was Friday night, and Friday nights mean Keith hosts a neighborhood dinner on his open-air back porch. There neighbors gather and enjoy homemade pizzas and pass a huge crock full of salad. Some bring wine to share, and the feast and delightful chatter are on! We were guests as well.
I had the good fortune to sit next to a writer and author (pen name Lynn Romaine) who pulls her small trailer around the country during a portion of every year and writes about her adventures. When I got home, I looked up one of her books, Wander on amazon.com. It was quite an enjoyable read with a bonus of practical travel tips and ideas. I rated and reviewed it! I wonder if she saw.
Amazon reviews or simply ratings are important to authors. Particularly if you are indie-published, those reviews and/or ratings are treasured in today’s ratings-driven culture.
You can imagine, as we're even asked to tell the USPS how we liked our stamp-buying experience from our local postal clerk, or if the big box store greeter said hi!
Even though I didn’t realize it going into the weekend, there would be a definite book theme going on, both on the surface, and in the background.
Not only are Cathy and I writers, but so is Jan, and along with the Wander author, another neighbor at the far end of the table where I didn’t get to chat with her, is also a writer.
Small world that it is, when I asked Keith if by chance he knew an author and cabinetmaker—really, a Bloomington celebrity—Nancy Hiller, he seemed surprised with my question and offered a resounding “YES! She used to live one block in that direction.” He pointed in the direction, and added that when she left there, she gifted him a plant start that now thrives in his backyard.
I met Nancy after writing a feature story about a gorgeous IU Press book she wrote on the cultural history of the Hoosier cabinet. The cabinets were made in the early decades of the 1900s in New Castle. They are to stand-alone antique cabinets what Coke is to soda pop or Kleenex is to tissue. I have a Sellers cabinet, so similar to a Hoosier, and Nancy had a brilliant observation I’ll slip in as a side note at the end of this piece.
Anyway, I met Nancy at the Henry County Historical Society when her book launched several years ago, and we hit it off to the extent that Cheryl and I enjoyed a dinner with her on another Friday night in Bloomington once upon a time.
Then on Saturday of this trip, at Cheryl’s suggestion, I visited the used bookshop inside the Monroe County Public Library. It was fabulous, and as you can imagine in a book-intense city like Bloomington, was as large as a small library elsewhere. There, featured on a pedestal, was one of Nancy’s books, this one about beautiful homes, and the women owners’ stories. It was a buck fifty. It went home with me.
The irony of how Nancy-rich my time there was, is that Nancy passed away not long after that weekend…
Also on Saturday, Cheryl and I visited a favorite store of hers, Lola & Company, which offers home, gift and garden products. I will be posting on Facebook the small gifts I brought home to my Writer Chick Society friends but in case they read this first, I won’t say what they are. The store is at 114 N. Walnut St. and you can check it out at email@example.com.
The owner and I had a sweet conversation as she uniquely gift-wrapped (free!) the little gifts. My Clydesdale book came up, and she said it sounds so interesting she is hopping on amazon and getting it pronto! I do hope she enjoyed it.
I enjoyed her shop, and this weekend in the one-and-only Bloomington, Indiana! Grateful to the entire cast and crew of the somewhat spontaneous summer weekend. It seemed longer than possible for only a 24-hour getaway. Thank you, Cathy, for asking me!
A LITTLE SIDE STORY ABOUT NANCY (if you have the time)
When Nancy and I discussed Hoosier cabinets several years back, I told her that I had dreamed of owning a Hoosier cabinet, and that a similar Sellers cabinet, also made in Indiana, came on my radar. I bought it!
I explained that the cabinet was a consolation prize. How so? In the late 1980s, I spent months pining for a 1905 house, fully restored, two-stories, and my dream, in a small town where we lived and rented a house at the time.
We low-balled an offer, which was rejected. Brian remained convinced that they would come down, and we might go up, and by spring, we’d have it. I stalked the property, driving by at a snail’s pace, visually decorating the porch, and filling the outdoor urns with geraniums and ivy. Would I paint the front door bright red or black?
Only one day, my daydreams were thwarted when I drove by, and spotted a moving truck unloading furniture. Someone else had bought it.
“My” house had sold. I was a little crushed.
Not long after, I visited a garage sale where this almost-perfect cabinet was for sale. Such cabinets brought six-or-seven hundo at the time. She wanted three-fifty for this one. I asked to call my husband.
Rather than say let’s think about it, or what will you do with it, or that’s too much, I knew what he was thinking: she didn’t get the house, but she can get this.
Nancy listened to my story, and said indeed, it was a consolation prize. She explained that the word cabinet means small cabin. I didn’t get the big house. I got the little cabin.
I’ll never forget that story, nor the generosity of Brian to go along with something that only I wanted or cared about. Because he loves me.
A week ago, I had the pleasure of being guest speaker at the 62nd annual Hagerstown Rural Urban Banquet, sponsored by Western Wayne County organizations and businesses, along with Hagerstown Young Farmers and Optimists.
I’m comfortable attending events alone, as I spent 37 years covering such things for community newspapers and several years before that, writing for college newspapers.
This time, however, I was invited to bring guests. To my delight, younger son, Ben, and his girlfriend, Julie, were those guests. What a treat! Thank you, Rural Urban!
The evening went well, the food and conversation were great, and I got to visit with some folks I have met and written about from the Western Wayne area over a course of decades, including my former boss, Bob Hansen, and 50-year Dance with Cindy owner, Cindy Oler, who in retirement is a columnist for her magazine for women.
Backdrop was the beautiful Harley Hills Golf Course. After festivities ended, and the last opportunity to sell a book had passed, dusk settled in.
Someone helping at the banquet graciously asked to help transport my wagon to the car where I packed everything into assigned spaces and started to drive off into the beautiful sunset.
AND ... it's corn and tomato season in the heartland! Would you just look at these beautiful cherry tomatoes? YUM! They are delicious, too. I love them in contrast with this old blue bowl.
What's in your plans for this August weekend? I'm heading shortly to Bloomington with Writer Chick Cathy Shouse. She writes cowboy romance. She's got a conference there tomorrow, and I'm spending the day with New Castle-native Cheryl Bennett, hanging out in her adopted hometown of Bloomington.
Just a quick change-of-pace 28 hours or so. I hear it's Freshman Move-In Weekend! Yikes!
I’m approaching six months after the release of my memoir about cleaning house, There’s a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go (available on amazon.com, and from me).
I continue to spend a good amount of time crafting programs for a variety of speaking engagements throughout the region. By the end of summer, I will have had, good Lord willing, more than 25 opportunities to share observations about downsizing and organizing heirlooms, as well as stories behind them.
At many of the events, we get the treat of listening to attendees share about their heirlooms in a "show-and-tell” activity.
But for a couple weeks this month, I’ve had the chance to take a break from writing and road hopping to turning my attention from organizing and downsizing attic goods to the paper trail in our living-space archives.
Once, someone who worked at the Indiana Historical Society explained to me that the IHS is where historical papers are archived,” and the Indiana State Museum as “where objects are archived.”
With July's 90-plus degree temperatures in the Hoosier land (and much warmer than that inside attics), I’m spending no time there. My attention has turned to the paper goods in our living quarters, such as this 1898 large certificate belonging to my late grandfather, Roscoe Jobe.
Or this adorable Liberty Little League baseball team photo from 1957 of my late brother, Tim, second from right, and his team.
I am the archivist (not an official title but it’s more legit-sounding than sentimental hoarder) of family photos and papers in both Brian’s and my families on various sides. Some of the pictures and documents date back to 1830.
What does one do with all that? I mostly keep it tucked in a variety of woven baskets which are stacked out of the way in our study. I have taken an “I’ll deal with all that later” approach.
Problem is, I put off figuring out who some of the black-gowned ladies are in those photos for so long that there is no one living who could identify them.
My immediate family’s albums are full and stand in bottom rows of bookcases. I’m thinking of covering them with linen fabric in a neutral shade.
I figured out long ago that even if I live another 30 years, there are not enough days, nor a desire to take apart the yellowed pages and begin again with fresh scrapbooks or albums. But these are the photos that depict the ordinary and special events in our family, dating throughout my lifetime thus far.
Other keepsakes of a paper nature are scattered here and there but should be rounded up and stored together.
Finally, I hit upon an idea! I found black acid-free 12x12-inch storage boxes at Hobby Lobby. I plan to fill and label these boxes with things that tell complete stories. Below, left, a box is devoted to articles and other paper keepsakes from my years as a reporter and editor in Attica. The one on the right is filled with keepsakes from covering a presidential inauguration and the women's march in D.C.
I’m looking for a manageable approach to archiving all this stuff for our own enjoyment and accessibility, but also, maybe, hopefully, we’ll see, for a way for our kids and other family members to see the value in all (or some) of it.
I store my notes from a dozen years in Bible Study Fellowship in these binders in the top of my closet. Last year they switched to spiral-bound notes so I don't have a colorful, cool binder for those. The notebooks at right are notes from the lectures.
This is a project that will take ever-so-long to finish. But as I work on it, I enjoy seeing it all myself. Will it result in another book about heirloom organization? I don’t see that. But I will include some of what I’m doing now in future programs.
By the way, if you’re reading this and are interested in a program for your social or service organization, library, senior or community center, or a more informal one for your book club, let me know. We share some laughs, and take a trip or two down memory lane. We have a good time.
Indiana author and newspaper columnist Donna Cronk can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Friend her on Facebook on her author page, Donna Cronk.
For the last two decades we kept two inexpensive, plastic Adirondack-styled chairs on our front porch, centered under the picture window. The chairs are the color of our house trim and garage doors, which is good, but their seats are too low for old knees, making them more for show than for sitting.
In the winter, the wind blows them around the porch or they tumble into the landscaping. Short on garage space, I tend to stack them unattractively in a porch corner to weight them down until the spring winds subside and they resume their warmer-weather placement.
Last spring I decided this is ridiculous! We are in our sixties! If we’re not worthy of proper porch furnishings now, then when? What we need, I decreed, is a pair of functional chairs. Black ones, to match our outdoor sconces. Sturdy ones, that we can leave out come hail or high water. Rocking ones, that will remain in an upright stance.
I had my eye on just the pair, but first needed to run it by the house appropriations committee. The committee co-chair said get them. No quiz, no commentary, no asking the price even. My kind of yes.
Upon close inspection, the chairs are even better than I had imagined. They are made here in Indiana of a composite all-weather material, and they each come with a 20-year guarantee.
“They’ll last longer than I will,” Brian deadpanned, noting that he would be all of 87 when the warranty expires. I save that warranty in its own folder alongside other important papers in their respective files.
How surprised the store clerk will be if a chair breaks at age 19 and I show up for a refund. I can’t say they were inexpensive, but for once, that wasn’t the priority.
Once they were lifted off son Sam’s truck and onto the porch, they looked as perfect as I had anticipated. I dreamt of the years ahead, sitting in one of the chairs with Brian in the other as we rocked and watched the neighbors and their dogs stroll up and down our street against a backdrop of colorful sunsets.
I’ve always loved a good rocking chair, and these seats fit my backside with space to spare. The armrests are likewise substantial, able to balance a glass of iced tea with ease as I rock. And our knees have no issues.
Brian was in no hurry to try out the chairs, but I kept prodding him until he joined me for a trial rock. I awaited his compliments regarding my shopping skills. He didn’t offer those, nor any comment right away. Later he told me that they didn’t fit him all that well. I felt disappointed.
As spring gave way to summer, I rocked out on the porch every time I got the chance.
Meanwhile, I added cushions to soften the seats. A friend from Fairmount emailed, “I’d like to come sit on your porch and rock a while.”
I loved that comment. I would drive a distance to rock and talk, myself; especially now that I'm retired. There’s no question about that, but to know that someone else would do the same delighted me.
As the summer continued, Brian began to get his strength back from his winter ordeal, and I felt delighted when he felt able to walk first a half mile, then longer around our neighborhood in the cool of a summer’s eve at the start of golden dusk.
Then, it happened. One day I sat on the porch rocking while Brian walked. When he finished, he sat down in the chair beside me and we talked for a while. Then it happened again. And again.
Before long, as July gave way to August, he would say, “I’m going to go walk.” It seemed my cue to turn off the TV or close the computer and go sit on the porch, warming up my rocker, enjoying the peace of that time a day, anticipating his return.
I might even sweep the porch or water my plants, pull a weed or two, grateful beyond measure to watch for his familiar outline a way down the street, before I assumed my rocking spot on the porch. Night after summer’s night, he sat down in the companion chair.
For about 15 minutes, Brian and I chat about plans, news of the day, the kids, whatever we had to say in the moment. It has been my favorite time of day in recent months.
One evening Brian walked and I didn’t make it out to the porch. When he returned to the house he said, “You didn’t come out and wait for me.”
Touched that he apparently likes these appointments too, I’ve been sure to keep them ever since.
I came to notice that like clockwork, moments before dark, a gaggle of geese from a nearby pond takes flight in perfect formation over our house, heading west. I would love to know where they go, and if this is their bedtime ritual. Maybe they were wondering why we sit on the porch, a formation of two humans never leaving the ground.
When you endure a loved one's illness, you treasure simple moments in a whole new way. I’m grateful for daily life to the point where each and every day feels like a gift to unwrap. I can’t possibly get everything in that I would like to pack into a given 24 hours. So much remains to be done in this life! How is it that time seems to race?
Brian hasn’t mentioned again the chairs being uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the cushions. I like to think it's the company.
Now that it’s fall, the evenings grow increasingly cool and crisp. Comfortable rocking sessions on the porch at dusk will become fewer as this month progresses, and let's face it, pretty much disappear with November frosts. Soon I’ll remove the cushions and the rocking chairs will be more decoration than function for a few months. It will be time to come off my rocker until those warm days return.
But first, I’ll throw on a sweatshirt and wait for Brian’s return from his walk, counting my blessings.
Donna Cronk is the retired New Castle Courier-Times Neighbors Editor. Her columns appear the first and third Tuesdays each month in the Connersville News-Examiner and on the second and third Saturdays in The New Castle and Shelbyville papers. Connect with her via email at email@example.com.