THINKING ALL-THINGS SUMMER
The calendar doesn't quite agree just yet, but the heat says that yes, it's summer here in Indiana. I finished a busy speaking season with twelve gigs around the state. Next up is joining my decades-long friend and writing colleague, Darrel Radford, on the lawn of the Henry County Historical Society in New Castle, Indiana, from 11 to 3 Saturday, June 10. It's the annual ice cream social.
Darrel and I would love for you to drop by our booth and chat. Always love seeing friends from my career years at The Courier-Times. I've been lazy about posting on here and missed the whole month of April. Here's a short catch up.
I accepted an invite from Typewriter Creative Co. to share insights into my self-publishing journey. Check it out here:
The spring season has taken me throughout the state for opportunities to present my signature program for this year called "Fun with Heirlooms." I have collected a number of ideas for caring for your heirlooms and even getting your kids and grands interested. It's always fun with others bring their treasures and share about them. Need a program for a women's program? Club? Banquet? Send me an email at email@example.com.
It's also fun to connect with other creatives. Author friend Cathy Shouse and I had dinner with the talented professional organizer Mendi Funk Consulting LLC. Check out her website at mendifunkconsulting.com.
If you are interested in the cowboy romance genre, check out Cathy's titles on Amazon.
Talk about inspiration, shout out to my husband, Brian, for taking the outside while I took the inside and we washed windows!
For now, I'm thinking about getting together with some friends and family and enjoying some summer fun and laughter--as well as completing a few projects on the old list. Happy summer to you and yours, whatever the calendar says.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Connecting the dots: This Julie Jolliff photo was taken during my talk on Saturday at the Union County Public Library in the community room where the original library had the checkout desk and books when I was a kid. I used the entrance you see at left, center, for my first-ever visit--and library card.
I remember the day.
I may have been 10, accompanying the neighboring Chapman kids and their mom to Liberty. I suppose their mother was grocery shopping at Woodruff’s, close to the Union County Public Library, and we girls were killing time.
We walked through the lower-level library doors. I had never been there before. The Chapman girls had library cards. They said I should get one. So, I did –my first library card!
It was a defining moment, although I can’t tell you what or if I checked anything out that day. I never dreamed then of the places a library card would take me, including cyberspace, and being able to read checked out books on my telephone!
Who could have imagined that more than half a century later, I’d be in that room we entered through those side doors, standing at a lectern, giving a talk about the day I got the library card—and about my third book? Yet there I stood Saturday, with some family, some childhood friends, and some community folks listening.
Library Director Julie Jolliff wasn’t even born when my library card was issued. I think I surprised her by having it.
That’s a pack rat for you—and for that I make no apologies. That library card is a passport to not only stories I read in books, but to memories.
I told some stories from There's a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go, that relate to growing up in Union County at Rural Route 1, Brownsville. There was talk, following the book signing, of some other venues I might speak at locally.
My personal “drop the mic” moment came when an audience member, Janice, told a story about my grandma! The story even related to some artifacts I displayed that day. When you get to be in your sixties and come across someone who remembers your grandma, who was born in 1892? Priceless.
If only for a couple hours that day, I felt as though I had never left home; had remained a part of the community. It's called roots.
Julie filled me in on the many ways the library serves the community. I follow the UCPL page on Facebook and in local media where I read about the ways it serves all the population from toddlers to the most senior members of the community.
It’s not “just” a library. Not that any library is that—as a library introduces us to a world, at our fingertips—through books written over millennia as well as the most current bestsellers, periodicals, and other forms of modern media. Yet those are only a small part of what modern libraries do in and for their communities.
Libraries provide programming for young and old alike, offer services such as meals and daycares, gathering spaces, a clearinghouse for family and local history, answers to questions and how-to information. Libraries are community centers for activities, conversations, meetings, and life.
I am inspired and delighted by Julie’s enthusiasm for her job, and by her love for the community that I too love. I thank her, as well as Cindy Morgan, for inviting me into their world, just as the Chapman girls invited me with them into the library so many years ago.
Through the years, and in particular, during the last nine on my author journey, I’ve been in many libraries, large and small, in a variety of cities and towns and settings from A to Z—Attica to Zionsville. Each library and its personnel and patrons come with a distinct vibe and personality. I love how they are not all the same, but rather, quite the opposite of the same!
It is a blessing to see that the first library I ever entered remains in good hands.
I think the good people of Ukraine are showing us all regardless of our political stripe, that it is good to love your homeland, good to feel a link with a place and a people. Good to value your roots.
I’ve always felt those things about my little slice of the sweet land of Union County, Indiana. A little farm community? You betcha: the permanent address of my heart.
And ... where I'll be on Sunday:
The Union County Courthouse tower, a constant in my life for these 60 years. I took this photo five years ago this weekend. Thirty years ago this weekend, we were ready to launch into a new era, one we're in today, still living in Madison County. This has been home half my life. But parts of my heart remain in both Fountain and Union counties.
Thirty years ago this week, Brian, nearly-three-year-old Sam and I left behind one era of life and set out on a new one. On July 3, 1989, I completed my last day as managing editor of a small newspaper in Attica, Indiana.
Brian had just wrapped up his nine years as a school administrator at Fountain Central Junior-Senior High School.
We would spend the rest of July transitioning to the new home we had bought in Madison County and by August, Brian would be working at his new administrative post in the Hamilton Southeastern School Corp.
The number of mixed feelings about this uncharted new territory was extraordinary. I was more than ready to leave my former job, but knew I would miss certain aspects of my work and I would miss my work peers. I won’t go into what I would not miss!
I would miss Fountain County friends, our wonderful babysitter and her family and our landlord—all who had become like family.
I would be happy to move to a town much closer to my folks who were still living on the farm, although my dad’s dementia was worsening. And it would be a welcome change not to drive 15 miles to a nice-sized grocery store or McDonald’s.
On a daily basis, I was excited about taking a brief time-out from the busy world of community journalism and spend my days with Sam playing, going to the park, pool, and just hanging out. I needed time to settle us into our new nest.
I hoped that a call would come from someone at the New Castle paper asking me if I wanted a job. It did, I did, and early this fall, I’ll celebrate 30 years with The Courier-Times.
Along the way, after a couple attempts, we found “our” church; a variety of friends in a variety of communities; we had a second baby, and now both boys are all grown up and long-since on their own. How can it be, I still ask-that we're empty nesters? I can’t even call Brian a “recent retiree” because he’s been that for four years already!
What I do know is the time passes with brea kneck speed. And we're no longer so inclined to put things off like we used to do for years or decades. Just yesterday I looked up and remarked that our living room could use a paint job. "Do it!" Brian said.
Madison County has been home for three decades. That’s longer than I’ve lived in any other community in my entire life. In fact, I’ve spent exactly half of my life in Madison County, Indiana, and gone to work in New Castle!
I’m grateful to everyone who has touched our lives here, back in Fountain County, or back home in Union County. Some people touch our lives for reasons or seasons and many of you are in and out of it on a regular basis.
Where do we belong? It’s been said that home is where your heart is. I promise you that my heart is in all three locations at once! And I am grateful for so many people, places and things. Thank you most of all to the good Lord for this journey.
Which, Lord willing, and like a good story in a newspaper, is to be continued on another page. Hope you’ll stick with me as the page turns.
Where have YOU called home so far for your life's journey?
CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO ...
Built into our garage ceiling is a set of pull-down attic stairs. When we moved into the house 21 years ago, stashing things up there that we don't routinely use sounded like a great idea.
Into the rafters went the boys' special baby clothes joined by my prom dresses and Brian's childhood accordion. It seemed an ideal spot for our Christmas decorations, not to mention other off-season decor of fall garlands and spring floral wreaths.
Once Brian's folks were no longer with us, his dad's fishing tackle and keepsakes went up the stairs along with old framed photos and painting prints that his mom hung on their walls.
There were my college papers, a set of dishes and related matching pieces that we bought in the 1970s and I added onto throughout the 1980s, but have been out of style since the early 2000s.
Like interest that accumulates on an investment, time compounded what went up, but rarely came down.
When we moved in, I was under 40. Now I'm over 60. I have no interest in hauling Christmas decorations down stairs, nor in hoisting them back up. I've decided that since I haven't used those dishes in 20 years, it's highly unlikely that I will start in the next 20.
Also, I'm re-evaluating some silly assumptions that caused me to keep certain things. I kept the prom dresses thinking future granddaughters might play dress up with them. Well, I've gotten a clue from friends who actually have granddaughters. Today's little girls like Disney princess dresses that fit—not 1970s attire that doesn't.
About those college papers. Surely a kernel of crazy made me keep them, thinking someone somewhere sometime might enjoy my 1981 essay about the national press covered Skylab. No line has formed. No one has asked to review the hard copy of my college degree.
We're making progress. The Christmas decorations have been sorted and relocated to an indoor closet. The empty, sturdy boxes we've saved that would alone qualify us for an episode of Hoarders are gone.
Yet the attic remains full of landmines. When I lift a lid of an unidentified tub, I might get my breath taken away. That happened the other day when I was met by tiny baby outfits and shoes not seen in a quarter century. The item that got me most was not the itty-bitty blue sweater but the preschool T-shirt. How was it that once the boys reached preschool I thought of them as "big boys" when now I look at that T-shirt and realize they were still so little. But wake up, Donna. The actual, real-life boys are men now.
I'm keeping that lid shut.
There's another tub I'm avoiding. It has a label indicating that it's full of correspondence. These date back decades. If I open that can of worms, as one might also call it, I could be there for days, perched at the top of those steps, lost in the pre-email years, rereading letters about a friend's toddler issues, cards wishing me a happy 30th birthday, or weekly letters from my mother about what was new on the farm, back before the Alzheimer's took her away.
I'm not going to deal with the boys' childhood things. What's there, from Batman memorabilia to special school papers and trophies, will keep until they are ready to decide the fate of their artifacts. Why move things Ben doesn't yet want to his apartment when the ones who will move them to his next place will likely be us? It would defeat the purpose of purging if I had to deal with those containers again and maybe again after that. They can stay where they are.
The attic is a work in progress. It's not a stairway to heaven. Yet for a sentimental fool like me, it has its moments.
This column by Donna Cronk appears in the June 15 New Castle Courier-Times. It is reprinted here.
GIRLS' WEEKEND ON CORDRY
So what if no one ever accused the Ovid Midlife Moms of traveling light? We need a few, ahem, supplies, for a weekend at Terri's lake house on Cordry Lake. And this is not counting what the eighth member of our weekend crew brought on Saturday morning.
We went Friday after everyone got off work. We couldn't wait to get there, gather the evening's menu offerings, and enjoy a picnic on the lake. We had eight of our 12 present.
Dinner onboard included Sharon's homemade ham salad sandwiches, Terri's pea salad, party mix, an assortment of fruit and I see some celery sticks in there. There were yummy, ooey-gooey chocolate bar cookies as well.
The weather was perfect and some of us headed back out on the boat shortly before bedtime to see God's moon show.
What a beautiful scene from the water. A cellphone camera doesn't do it justice, but yes, the moon was THAT bright.
Still, I was the first to bed around 10:30 p.m., and I slept well as I dozed off thankful for this weekend that so many of us look so forward to all year long.
That's why I couldn't believe it when I didn't get up until 9 the next morning!
When it's not your turn to cook, the scent is all the sweeter coming from the stove.
Delaine make the best egg casserole, and we enjoyed it with biscuits, fresh fruit and zuchinni bread by Patty. Delicious.
All but Karen, who came Saturday morning, are the gals who made it this summer weekend.
Such fun, including tubing, swimming, boating, moon-gazing, movie night watching "The Greatest Showman," and a beautiful Bible study on the boat Sunday morning, courtesy of Karen, taken from the book of Joel. Oh, and some crafts, including some bookmarks made from this and that.
Thank you Terri, for the wonderful, relaxing, laughter-filled weekend. And thank You, Lord, for your creation, your abundance, and for providing such sweet friends.
GOODBYE, 2017; HAPPY NEW YEAR
It's a snowy Saturday in that no-man's land between Christmas and New Year's. I think of this week as an extended snow day.
Historically, it's a hard time to get hold of people for feature stories. Government entities take a break, and lots of people are off work due to end-of-year vacation time or their workplaces are closed.
It's kind of nice; a break in the action before Tuesday arrives and we're thrust, ready or not, into a new working year.
I like today. It's 1:30 p.m. and I'm still in my pajamas! It's cold and snowy outside and other than taking the dog out, there is no reason to leave the house. There's no reason, even, to put on real clothes, but I may. Or I may not.
What I will do when I finish this final 2017 post is to clock some time for my newspaper job. Several January projects involve getting a head start, and permission to work on the clock from home for a few hours will help me greet Tuesday better prepared to tackle January.
I don't do politics on social media. Sometimes I have to hog-tie my fingers, but I don't go there. I don't argue or preach or add to the divisiveness I see and feel around me. I have many friends and family, not to mention readers, acquaintances and colleagues whom I love, admire, respect and maybe even on occasion simply tolerate, who disagree mightily on such topics.
In the online political realm, I am Switzerland.
What I will share is my Christian faith in the Living Trinity, the three-in-one of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit -- the only hope for humanity.
When I review 2017, I think of moments. There is my career high of covering the presidential inauguration and women's march from the aspect of what it was like to be there. It was an intense few days full of experiences, then back to the hotel to write and transmit everything to quite a few Hoosier newspapers. I will treasure the experience for the rest of my life.
I am grateful for yet another year of this ride as a regional author. To every book club, social or literary club, church banquet and program organizer, library staffer and author fair organizer who sought me out in some way, I am in debt. Going into each year, I think perhaps the ride is about over. So far, the surprise is that it hasn't been. So if you need a program or presentation or speaker, let me know at email@example.com.
There are many friends and author friends to thank for your help. I think of how Janis Thornton showed up at the Fishers Library last March simply to support me in my program on self-publishing, and how she would like to work with me further in developing a workshop-styled program on the topic. That same night, son Sam and DIL Allison surprised me by arriving at the end of the program to help me carry everything to the car and deliver a refreshing hot tea!
I think of Sandy Moore and our mutual support society with marketing ideas and cluing each other in on opportunities. There is Annette Goggin who I only got to know through the author ride, but who I think of as a friend and admire greatly. Plus, I am grateful for her asking me to her old-fashioned hymn sing! I loved it! (Let's do it again?)
I thank those -- and I'm thinking of writer friend Cheryl Bennett -- who posted reviews of my second book on Goodreads and Amazon. And I am grateful for the number of people I don't know whose reviews pop up.
Oh, the list above goes on and on to include, but not limited to Mary Wilkinson, my bestie Gay Kirkton, her parents, my boss Katie Clontz, and I know I am in trouble because I'm leaving out some people but I'm trying to hurry this along!
Other precious moments include the trip Gay and I took to Galena, Illinois, and to Miss Effie's flower farm near Donahue, Iowa, and the new friend I have now in Cathy, the entrepreneur and Gay's college friend who founded the flower farm and crafts-filled Summer Kitchen there.
I think of walking with John and Debby Williams and loved ones in their fight against Cystic Fibrosis.
I am surrounded by inspiring, creative, resourceful, fierce, sweet, empowered, wonderful women!
Brian and I took a pretty-much perfect trip to D.C. in September and by writing ahead for tickets and clearance, got insider looks inside The White House, Congress, Capitol, Pentagon and FBI Building. The Newseum was outstanding, as was hearing a lecture in the Supreme Court courtroom.
I'm so grateful to Kids at Heart Publisher Shelley Davis for accepting my books into her bookshop at the Warm Glow Candle Co. complex.
I'm grateful to my husband for his love and support. Grateful to spend time with extended family -- wonderful trips visiting Tim and Jeannie in Liberty, Brian's annual trip to see his brother and SIL Steve and Linda in Florida, hosting a master's degree grad party for our DIL Allison, attending a great-niece's wedding and a great-great niece's birthday party. I think of seeing our friend Coach Rick's football team, Trine University, win a playoff game in its undefeated-season year.
I think of the Midlife Mom sisters of Ovid Community Church, and the Bible Study Fellowship folks who help guide as the Holy Scriptures come alive to me each time I'm in them. I. think of my sons Sam and Ben and wonderful daughter-in-law Allison. Oh, and I'm grateful that Brian's McClellan clan continues to get together every Fourth of July weekend and for cousin Beth for starting a periodic cousins get-together.
I think of everyone who said yes when I asked if I could write about some aspect of their lives. I think of Steve Dicken, the English teacher I wish I had had in school, and of whom I am proud to have as a writing colleague now. I think of our dear friend Barb Clark. I think of my encourager and confidante Debbie McCray.
I have probably left out so much about this year that brought joy and sweetness. Life is short. We have to embrace every opportunity, love one another, care about one another. And if you are a writer, you probably have to write about it all.
I plan to keep doing just that. So bring it on! 2018, what do you have for me? Thank you God, for another year on this planet!
Happy New Year to you, whomever and wherever you are reading this.
So today I feel overwhelmed by gratitude. That’s a good place to be. It's been such a fast-paced week, I'm only now getting this posted.
After last Saturday in Indy at the newspaper conference, Sunday it was off to Centerville where I visited with shoppers, colleagues and friends in the new Artisans and Java building at the Kids at Heart Publishing mini-bookstore.
Monday night was a speaking engagement at Fishers United Methodist Church’s United Methodist Women’s Christmas gathering. I am grateful to Linda Shimer who served this year as co-president of the UMW and is also active in the church’s book club. I appreciate her support and encouragement so much.
She also wows me! In addition to her leadership role, she went and picked up and returned home a friend who couldn't get there on her own. In fact, she left so quickly following the program that I was unable to get a photo with her. Not only that but I found out that Linda and her husband MOVED last week!
Even though my connection to the church’s book club had nothing to do with my husband’s 26 years working in Fishers schools, ironically, Linda told me that several were coming who knew him. It was such a delight to see these wonderful former co-workers of Brian’s – and look up to find their smiling faces near the front of the sanctuary as I spoke.
I took their photos and texted them to Brian. He was pretty pumped about their attendance and when I got home, he took a trip down Fishers Memory Lane, reflecting on all the wonderful people he worked with during those years.
Last summer, a surprise invite came from town library director Carrie Watson to give the opening program to children in the summer reading program. I spoke on the topic, “What’s Your Clue?” about looking for our gifts and talents – even as young kids, and then later in the afternoon, I gave a second talk to the adults in a program on our bucket lists.
Carrie told me she would invite me back during the annual town Christmas walk and library open house. She even gave me the date but I didn’t put it on my calendar. I thought I should wait and see if the invite came through and guess what? It did!
I got there at 5 and enjoyed delicious hot soup samples prepared by members of the library board, and hot cocoa, served by Carrie’s adorable daughter, visited with many of the more than 100 people (probably closer to 150) who came through the library to warm up and chat with their neighbors. What a bunch of truly nice people with friendly smiles and were interested enough to stop and chat.
Carrie’s mentor, Iraida Davis, even visited the library! At age 90, it’s been a while since she directed the place but I found it touching when the two librarians posed together. Carrie says Iraida was her idol. I think she still is.
Carrie is a woman of many talents. Not only is she library director in Farmland, she is the Union Modoc library director and teaches Title 1 reading. She is a mom, a quilter, and – I kid you not – a drag racer who shows her skills all over the country.
I tried to think of how to describe Farmland, an artsy farm community with something special. The best I can do is to call out two old-time TV shows. I think Farmland is something of a blend of the two: Northern Exposure meets Mayberry.
Carrie agreed to let me write about her in a future issue of her magazine for women. Yippee!
On the ride home, the moon was huge and bright, showcasing the lovely, peaceful Hoosier farms I passed as I made my way south and west through Randolph County, then continued straight west through Henry County, and home to Madison County on U.S. 36 most of the way.
By 9:30 when I landed home, I was so tired I could hardly get from my favorite chair to draw my steaming-hot bath. But I did, then headed for bed.
It's supposed to snow this weekend; just a Christmas Chamber-of-Commerce type dusting of a couple inches.
I hope so.
OUR LIFE STORIES CHOOSE US: A REVIEW OF JOYCE MAYNARD'S NEW BOOK: 'THE BEST OF US'
Joyce and Jim exchanged vows on Fourth of July weekend 2013 on a New Hampshire hilltop. In this moment, Joyce told everyone to get comfortable because she had something to read to Jim and it would take a while. We would have expected nothing less. What we didn't expect was that they wouldn't have long together before they battled the demon of cancer that took Jim.
I’ve been a fan of author Joyce Maynard for 30 years. When I discovered her, she was knee-deep in raising kids and tomatoes, making pies, and beautiful Christmases. In the midst of all that, life got messy, and she didn’t shy away from sharing those parts, either.
There came the illness, then death of her beloved mother, a painful divorce; dating and relationships. And who happened to be in New York City on 9/11? Joyce, of course, as though sent to chronicle another moment that we needed to see through her first-person lens.
I would learn that Joyce had gained national fame as a teen with a New York Times magazine-cover essay whereby she rocketed to the description of "the voice" of her generation, and that led to a relationship with a famous man, her first heartbreak.
But what interested me most was not the fame part, but the ordinary part of her life – the kids-and-tomatoes part.
Add that homey side to the community-columnist and small-town-newspaper-reporter side of me, and I was hooked on her writing – and let her know.
Joyce came off the page when she invited me to stay with her during her epic New Hampshire yard sale before her move to California in the late 1990s. Who could guess there would be a second invite to New Hampshire, this time to see her marry Jim, the eventual love of her life, the dashing California attorney? Yet there my friend Gay and I stood on a New Hampshire hilltop, watching the ceremony in July 2013.
What nationally-acclaimed author gets that personal with her readers?
While she has always detailed the life and times of her generation, as well as shared personal details from her life, as though each reader is really her close friend visiting over coffee, The Best of Us is one we all wish she didn’t have to write.
She lost her love too soon. She tells us everything; things we don’t want to hear, but know she must say, about cancer and what you do when the person you love most is dying. Or before you know he is dying and you are frantically trying to find what will save him, and save you. But her fans have been around a day or two. We’ve seen cancer, and death, and pain, and disappointments along with our own hilltop moments. We understand.
At the end of almost every chapter, there is a simple, but profoundly poignant point offered by Joyce, a takeaway even, for us all. For example, while addressing a frustration over an inconvenience due to her husband losing his car keys, she writes, “In the old days, I would have made some sharp remark. How could he? I didn’t do those things anymore. ‘If only,’ I often said, ‘you could learn the lessons of cancer without having cancer.’”
She writes with candor, her signature, of course, in ways that sometimes make you wince and want to look away from plenty of ugly situations, not only of the cancer journey that we know won’t end well, but of heart-rending situations before the two found each other. We’re reminded of our own, personal, look-away moments. We're prone to hide them away rather than put them out there.
The joy that sparkles in this book is that Joyce and Jim found each other, and got to experience travel and life and love in a condensed form that I would call blessings.
Joyce and I are two different women in more obvious ways than we are alike. Yet perhaps at the heart of our curious connection is this shared core belief: That it isn’t real until it’s written. And that we don’t get to choose our life stories. They choose us. Then we tell them.
She spent a year after Jim’s death writing this book, and now she’s touring with it, something she revels in, and finds energy from. Writing a book is necessarily a solo experience with quiet and isolation. Joyce recharges by meeting her readers, hearing how they identify with her words, and how she identifies with them.
She will survive this. Jim had said he only wanted to be her good husband. He regretted, perhaps more than anything, the burden he would say he became to her, the pain his pain caused her. The way she can honor him now, I believe, is to press on and have a wonderful life, find new love and joy and, (I would add, most of all) faith.
She told me once to “Keep telling stories.”
I will stay tuned to hear hers. There will be new ones to find and I know she will write about them all. I hope that the next chapter will be one that makes her heart sing. Life is full of so much. Love, laughter, people we love and lose, relationships, sadness, disappointment, and moments that surprise and soar. She’s not done, this woman who chronicles life for the Baby Boomer generation.
I still see the two of them, Joyce and Jim, on that New Hampshire hilltop four years ago. They had it all.
From them, let us remember that our days are likewise numbered. And to cherish each and every one we get.
Connect with her at www.joycemaynard.com. Her book is available in bookstores, on Amazon.com, and if you are fortunate enough to catch her on tour, from Joyce personally.
Career community journalist Donna Cronk is author of two novels, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast, and That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland.
GO JUMP IN THE LAKE!
In one way, it's hard to believe the Midlife Moms have been together for ten-and-a-half years. In another way, haven't we known each other forever? It's true that as an adult, a decade passes quickly. Just imagine: If we had started first grade together, we'd be halfway through high school junior year.
Yes, by now we all know each other and our casts of characters pretty well.
While we haven't seen each other through elementary school, first dates, and proms, we've lived a lot of life together this past decade, whispered a good many prayers for each other and our life circumstances, laughed at a lot of silliness, cried some tears, studied the Bible, taken on projects, and eaten some fantastic food.
We are a life group at Ovid Community Church. We do life together. And I thank the Good Lord that it works, that as group co-founder Delaine Wooden says, "We're more than a group. We're friends."
One of my favorite weekends of the year took place last weekend. Terri generously shares her beautiful lake home and water toys with us several times a year, times we have always referred to as retreats.
But of all the lovely weekends reminiscent of girlhood sleepovers, the summer ones are my favorite. You can't beat the ever-changing blues of the sky and water, along with the wind on our faces as we push through the water on Terri's boat, with the warm breeze brushing back our hair. We play in the water like the young dolphins we are not.
Sunday mornings we have a special Bible study out on the water. And in between, we feast on the bountiful menus that come together so easily with a crew of seasoned moms who know their way around the kitchen. We listen to each other's insights and tell stories.
For one summer weekend a year, we haven't a care in the world. Thank you Father for this refreshment. Thank you Terri for being the best hostess ever, and thank you to each of my MLM sistas, past and present, and Lord willing, future.
It's traditional that before we head back to our regular lives, we take some photos. Terri has a stack of pictures depicting lake memories from our ten years at Cordry Lake.
Above is one on the deck from last weekend. Some of the girls mentioned their lack of make-up and abundance of lake hair. They don't know they are beautiful. Inside and out.
A magnet from Terri's fridge. I'd have to agree.
This weekend I was awestruck anew by the incredible variety, color, nutrition, and beauty -- not even to mention creativity -- of God's food supply.
Friday night on the boat we enjoyed a picnic-type meal of Sharon's homemade ham salad sandwiches, artisan chips and dip, and Donna Shields' cole slaw, along with Delaine's summer Greek vegetable salad of tomatoes, corn, cukes, and herbs. It all hit the spot!
Then, because sometimes we bring so much delicious food, and have to hurry up and eat one meal so we can get to the next, we decided this weekend to do a daily brunch and dinner -- a two-meal day. Terri whipped up the above breakfast skillet with yellow squash, mushrooms, eggs and cheese. Fantastic.
Karen prepared this wonderful vegetable lasagne:
It was delicious, as was Delaine's fried zucchini with Parm and bread crumbs.
By the way, we have a signature scripture passage. Here's the NIV, Hebrews 10:23-25:
"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
Not a bad motto for doing life together. Happy first ten years, my sistas.