TRIP TO HOUSTON IS A BLAST
When the NFL football schedule comes out each late spring, it's a big day for our family. All five of us mull it over, and come to agreement about how and where to continue our annual tradition of creating a mini-vacation built around an away game. Then we spend weeks researching our many options -- flights and hotels, sites to see, special places to eat, quirky requests (Bucc'ee's in Houston, for example).
Two years ago we braved 50-below wind chills to see our Indianapolis Colts defeat the Minnesota Vikings. Last year we lost to the New York Jets and this year, it was the Houston Texans that defeated us in a tight loss.
While the games get us there, they are merely a part of the overall trips. It's fun to experience the unique cultural climate of each stadium and fan base. There's Minnesota loyalists with their braided toboggan caps, uber-warm boots and Vikings Skol chants in a beautiful indoor stadium; New York Jets with former Gov. Chris Christy in the parking lot, sans any kind of enterage, a nondescript, working-class feeling to their basic outdoor stadium in New Jersey and less than creative food options, and The Texans with their LOVE for football, the electric feeling of the sturdy crowd, and their A-plus selection of Texas burgers, brisket, huge loaded baked potatoes and other yummo choices.
This year's game was special as we had the fortune of sitting among the family members of a Colts player, EJ Speed. We had our own little island of blue celebrating big moments in the game.
But the crown jewel of this trip was the next day's visit to NASA at Johnson Space Center. After looking around Space Center Houston, which is a museum loaded with NASA memorabilia, including authentic space suits, capsules, a tour of the Space Shuttle, orientation films and more, it's time to see our family's two highlights of the entire vacay.
You load up into an open-air tram and off you go down city streets to the working NASA campus, Johnson Space Center. The buildings are basic, appearing to have been built in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
Bikes and deer
A couple cool observations unique to the campus: vintage Schwinn bicycles are all over the place. Many of these date back to the 1960s when the company donated them to NASA so the astronauts and engineers could ride them from one building to another. Schwinn company pays an annual visit to the campus to make sure the bikes remain in good repair.
Second, deer are free to run the grounds with no fence to keep them in, as a space-age, if you will, nature preserve. It's humorous to see them all over the place, and one wonders if they ever go out into the surrounding traffic and get hit! They look perfectly content in their surroundings and unaffected by the humans and trams going by.
My favorite stop of the entire trip to Houston was a visit to the Apollo Mission Control. The building is a National Historic Landmark inside this nondescript, functional building.
Inside, those able climb the 87 steps to Mission Control. A few needed to take the elevator -- which I overheard a guide point out is the original elevator.
We're ushered into an auditorium complete with original seating, including built-in ashtrays. We're behind a glass wall where on the other side is where top engineers sat at then state-of-the-art computers (now antiques) and worked their engineering magic with the equipment that landed men on the moon, including that first walk on the moon of Neil Armstrong 50 years ago in July 2019.
After some housekeeping announcements about cell phones and the like, we were told to sit tight as we are about to view 1969 straight before us and hear the voices of the engineers and astronauts who made history. The room is perfectly refurbished and preserved to what it was in 1969. And suddenly, magic:
Only it's not magic. It's rocket science. Screens light up, as do the boards in the front of the room. We hear tapes played of the engineers giving the "go" signs for the mission. Then we hear the voices of Neil and Buzz Aldrin, we see man walk on the moon. We relive history. Not just history for the ages where 100 years from now people will likely still be touring this space, but our personal history, as most of us in that audience were alive when it happened in real time.
I've been personally touched by the moon landing and walk this year. First, I remember with clarity how important it was in that my mom insisted I stay awake and watch Neil take that stroll on live TV. Then that fall, in Jeanne Sipahigil's fifth-grade classroom, I wrote an essay about how touched I was by the experience. And to think! Jeanne today is my Facebook friend.
Also this summer, in my job as a New Castle Courier-Times reporter, an email arrived from a man in his 90s, Earl Thompson. Earl grew up in New Castle, but lives in Florida. Florida, as it turns out, is where he made his living as an engineer working on all the Apollo projects, specifically working in communications areas on the lunar modules and rovers. He worked directly with the astronauts, knowing all of them.
Earl and I worked together via phone and emails in detail after detail for a week or more on the two stories I would put together in conjunction with the historic 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I even went out and chatted with his New Castle siblings! Here I am with them from this past summer:
It was surreal to meet with Earl's family in New Castle, shown with The Courier-Times from half a century ago. Little did editors or reporters know then that one of their own from the city helped engineer this successful mission. It only came to public light this summer and I had the privilege of telling the story.
I also love it that Earl gave a special shout out to his New Castle High School math teacher who nurtured his natural bent toward math. The story of America: Ordinary people from ordinary towns everywhere do extraordinary things -- both that math teacher and her pupil, Earl Thompson.
All these things passed through my mind while touring Mission Control.
Then it was back to Space Center and aboard another tram. This one took us to a nondescript building, one we Hoosiers would call a gigantic pole barn, where we would step inside and see the rocket that was ready to launch Apollo 18 to the moon. This one never made it as the program ran out of money but the rocket remains. Holy cow:
I'll say it again: HOLY COW!
Can you imagine the POWER generated? The fire descending from those babies?
It was a day out of this world.
THE BRITISH ARE COMING!
In The Old North Church. The pews here are boxes that families would purchase back in the day. The church remains a functional Episcopal Church. See the name plaque behind Brian? How does Char manage to look 15 in all the photos and I look like a drowned rat? It was raining and as soon as we left the Old North Church, we got caught in gale-force winds and rain on our walk back to the hotel. Will never forget it, that's for sure!
We had a couple fabulous tours in Boston. If you haven't been, Boston has devised a great method for folks to see key Revolutionary War sites. It's a thin brick path built into the streets. It was nice to have guides as well.
This is the Old North Church, famous for Paul Revere arranging for lanterns to be placed high in the windows so Patriots could be signaled that the British were coming. Do you remember the code? "One if by land, two if by sea."
Tom pays his respects leaving a penny at Paul Revere's grave markers at The 1660 cemetery, Granary Burial Ground. Also buried in this city graveyard is John Hancock, victims of The Boston Massacre and Samuel Adams. In fact, the guide explained that across the street from Samuel Adams' grave is a pub that serves Samuel Adams' brew. You can toast Sam from there, looking at his grave.
I still have another post or two to make from our New England trip. Can't forget the Presidents' Adams in Quincy, Mass., and Martha's Vineyard. But I won't get to those today. I have a list of real-life stuff to get done. It's back to work and reality tomorrow, and today, a to-do list.
Before our trip, I had no idea what a big deal October is in Salem, Mass., home of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in colonial times. Let's just say that in the same way that Parke County does covered bridges, Salem does witches -- marketing the whole month as a festival.
Only we're talking hundreds of thousands of people, many wearing extraordinary costumes worthy of the finest movie set, taking to the streets of the city. I had hoped to get this post up before Halloween, but didn't. Maybe next fall I'll post a bunch of the costumed characters but for now, here's another.
I took a dozen or more photos of the characters, all happy to pose for the camera. Shows you what this Hoosier knows. I figured our trip to Salem would be visiting a sleepy little town where we would see some "witch" tombstones in a centuries-old graveyard, and maybe a history-laden film in a small museum, detailing the trials. Oh no.
"Witches" are big business here, and on a tour we took, for one small example, a whole coven of them, donning their pointed hats, had flown in from Texas, there for a "witches' ball" and sightseeing. Presumably they took a commercial airline.
Also, there are no "witch" tombstones to view. The girls who were tried and found guilty were hung outside of town at a site that was unknown until recently. There are no grave markers for them for at the time, our guide explained, they were held in such contempt that their remains might have been destroyed. So where they were buried, likely discreetly by their families, is unknown.
Along with the informal parade of fully costumed characters, there are vendors along the streets, as one would expect at, say, our Indiana Parke County Covered Bridge Festival. We arrived late afternoon, and stayed into the evening hours. We had a great visit with a police officer who said it's a calm enough place but late in the evening things get ... a little more challenging. We were tucked into our beds back in Boston before such a "bewitching" hour.
Our foursome thought we'd settle for street food, but then happened on a little cafe that was first-come, first-served, and we went in and were fed quickly. Ahhh, here's this trip's first taste of New England, with a classic:
I'll keep posting about our trip as time allows. There is so much to unpack! And I'm not talking clothes.
RARE AIR: FROM THE KENNEDY COMPOUND
You know those dreams? The ones where you wake up and say, “Oh my! You won’t believe what I dreamed last night!”
Then you describe the craziness: You and your husband are on the Kennedy compound with your pals and a bunch of folks you recognize, all walking around, coming and going from Joe and Rose Kennedy's home in Hyannis Port, Mass. You recognize it as the one you’ve seen your whole life on those home movies depicting young Joe Jr., Jack, Bobby, Ted, Eunice, and the rest of the nine sibs enjoying their summer home on the Atlantic coast with the parents looking on, smiling that Kennedy smile.
Each time I see those home movies, I can't look away. So much life and promise. They have no idea what's ahead.
Then the scene changes to the kitchen that looks like your grandmother’s kitchen from the 1940s, smaller than you would have guessed, well-used, not done up with the latest appliances or granite countertops you might expect from your notion of how rich people live.
There’s Rose Kennedy’s china, dining room table, piano and all the rest. Yeah, you even go into JFK’s childhood bedroom, frozen in decor from the time of his horrendous death.
Then you shake your head and think: Yeah right! Like that could happen in a million years! Me? In the Kennedy home?
Only it happened to us earlier this week.
Brian, friends Tom and Char, and I had the privilege of being part of the Tom and Sue Saunders’ travel group this past week. This time, the American-history-themed trip centered on Boston, Quincy, and more Cape Cod destinations of Martha’s Vineyard, Hyannis and yes, Hyannis Port.
Our group visited the Kennedy compound, courtesy of Tom Saunders’ magic wand and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute which now owns the historic home. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, arranged for two guides from the Boston-based Institute, which we also visited, to give us a tour. The home is used now for special events and don’t you suppose, Tom imagined, that one day it will be open to the public as are other prime presidential sites throughout the U.S.
No photos are allowed inside the home, purchased by Joe and Rose Kennedy in the 1920s, and donated to the Institute by the Kennedys. But we were treated to have one taken (by one of our Institute guides, no less) as we gathered around the living room fireplace and bookcases brimming with Kennedy belongings. It was the exact same spot as a famous picture that included JFK’s siblings, wife and parents the morning after he was elected President. (Give it a Google. Note the mirror which is easily identified in the famous photo.)
I had always imagined that the compound was located off to itself, something like the Bush mansion at Kennebunkport is set apart from the city of Kennebunk, island-like, not a home that’s easy to approach.
The Kennedy compound is in a neighborhood, past Bobby and Ethel Kennedy’s home, where she still lives. There's plenty of security, including a guard who has watched over the compound for decades. We couldn't have been on the property without an invite and appointment. (So if you are thinking of a visit, you'll need to contact the Institute first for sure.)
You think of the fun, games, family meals, and those lawn football games that took place there. And you imagine more: The horrendous grief for those parents and siblings when they endured the sudden unimaginable losses of their children and other family heartaches.
Whatever your politics, it doesn’t matter; you feel for their personal pain, the kind you may know from rough and tragic times in your own lives. You think back to being 5 years old and remembering where you were when you heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated. The same way you remember 9/11.
Is there any American political or celebrity family so well known, followed, written about and discussed? I would say none are even close. But what you quickly understand is that they were very real people, living very real lives and this was a place for the whole gang to gather and be family.
Originally, the Kennedys lived at the home seasonally, and later in life, Joe and Rose were there most all the time. You see the elevator that transported Joe after his stroke in the early 1960s. Ted and Vicki lived several years at the home up to the Senator's death.
Our Institute guide spoke of how the cook would lay out four spoons for the Senator to taste test what was for dinner upon his arrival home for the evening. Unless they had company, he and Vicki would eat in the kitchen. He sailed most days, right up to just before his death.
Our guide explained that the neighborhood, which sits near the water, was a draw for wealthy folks to come and relax back in the day. She said it wasn’t that the Kennedy family set out to develop an enclave, but through the years, more homes were bought by family, such as the one where Ethel lives now—next door. Another Kennedy also lives in the area, one of the grandkids.
She spoke of how Rose liked to keep up with whatever was current for young people. She would listen to rock music and read what the kids were reading. And, she challenged those who sat at the dining room table, which remains there today. If you were over 16 you were upgraded from the children’s table to the adult table. There was a topic posted for the daily discussion and everyone was expected to have input.
Those who came to dinner were expected to dress, be on time, and be prepared to discuss the day’s topic.
When he lived there in his later years, Sen. Ted Kennedy continued the format of a topic of the day for discussion. The Kennedys always hosted Thanksgiving. Often, the family sat on the porch where they read the newspapers and clipped items out for each other to read.
Music was a big part of the house and Rose’s grand piano was at the ready in the living room for the family to gather round and sing. There are 14 bedrooms in the amazingly comfortable, lived-in family home where generations gathered and relaxed.
Our Institute guide said that when Jack was elected president, Rose decided to hire someone to “fancy up” the home. Indeed, JFK even hosted staff there, and a small table was pointed out as where they met. A cardinal – who later became Pope – visited the home and the sofa he sat on remains there. Rose had a plaque made for the back of the piece to indicate that the pope sat there.
Our group descended the steep stairs where the basement is like basements of old, not designed for hosting guests. Rose kept her doll collection there that came from all over the world, now relocated to climate-controlled storage. Photos of the dolls remain. There is a small movie theater, very utilitarian, with a pull-down screen, and a room nearby holds a collection of old movie equipment.
Following the tour, we went into Hyannis and visited the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, and also St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church to which Rose walked daily, and where extended-family Kennedys worshiped while in town.
In Boston, we toured the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, along with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, located right across from the president’s library. The Institute has a full-sized replica of the Senate floor where visitors can sit, learn about the Senate and hear guest speakers and programs.
There is also a replica of Sen. Kennedy’s Senate office.
Our thanks to Tom and Sue, to the Kennedy Institute, and to Patti with the Hyannis Chamber of Commerce for wonderful opportunities.
Unless I wake up soon, it appears that none of this was a dream.
Note: This post covers only the Kennedy aspect of our trip. I’ll do another post or two on other parts of our adventure which includes dining at the oldest restaurant in America, and visiting the home of two more presidents. Not sure when though. Real life is calling.
'I'M A FORD, NOT A LINCOLN'
This photo of from left, Rick and Gay Kirkton, myself and Brian in front of the Ford museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a typical case in point of how we roll. Much to Brian's chagrin, I'm always ready for a photo op of one kind or another. I have never said, "Oh, we can get that picture later." I have too near 40 years' experience in newspapers to know that the "later" shot often never happens. You get it when you can.
So of course I say, "Let's get a photo of all four of us in front," before we walk in. And who should appear out of nowhere? A professional photographer who said sure, he'd be glad to capture it. He was passing through for an assignment on the grounds.
There's a serendipity to travel. Not just the photo; not by a long shot. When we were anticipating our couples trip with the Kirktons to Michigan to visit the Ford landmark, I tried to remember back to the 38th President's time in office.
I was a teenager, and recalled something about an assassination attempt (there were two), and that Ford pardoned Nixon, and that his daughter, Susan, had her prom in the White House (she is the exact same age, to the day and year, by the way, as Gay).
But I didn't recall all there was to say about the long-time Congressman-turned President from Michigan. Not even close. So what clever turn of phrase would go on T-shirts in the gift shop of his presidential library and museum?
I asked Brian this a couple weeks before we went and he nailed it!
And with that, I had to pick him up the shirt!
Ford made the statement after being sworn in as vice president in December 1973. The full quote: "I am a Ford, not a Lincoln. My addresses will never be as eloquent as Mr. Lincoln's. But I will do my very best to equal his brevity and his plain speaking."
We spent four-and-a-half hours in the museum, learning about how Jerry Ford wasn't born Jerry Ford. His father was abusive to his mother and she left him. When she later remarried a kind man in Michigan, her oldest son was renamed after his new stepfather.
Jerry went on to become an Eagle Scout, popular football player and one handsome fella, I'll tell you! He coached football at Yale, became an attorney back in his hometown of Grand Rapids, then a Congressman serving a quarter century, later veep for Richard Nixon, then becoming President when Nixon resigned.
He had much to deal with, as does anyone who becomes U.S. President, including the energy crisis, the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the decision (which many fervently disagreed with) to pardon Nixon and allow the country to heal and move forward. It is clear from the bi-partisan testimonies found throughout the building that President Ford had the respect of most everyone, and was considered a good, honest, fair man.
Brian said, "We need Gerald Ford now."
And while he was dealing with the nation's business, he was no doubt experiencing tough times with concern for his wife, Betty, who battled breast cancer and would famously go on to found The Betty Ford Center to help those with addictions. She also survived breast cancer to live several more decades.
Here's a few photos from our trip to the museum.
RONALD REAGAN'S CHILDHOOD HOME
On our recent trip to Illinois with friends Rick and Gay Kirkton, our first stop was Dixon, Illinois, population 15,000. This is the hometown of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.
We toured the restored and immaculately maintained home where the Reagan family of four lived from 1920-1923. It’s a classic, two-story American home built in 1891 on a tree-lined street. As American as apple pie.
The Reagan family, which consisted of parents Jack and Nelle, and sons Neil and little brother Ron, rented this and other homes in the area. There was no family wealth; Nelle was a homemaker and Jack sold shoes.
Ron lived in the home, sharing a room with his older brother, Neil, when Ron was 9-13.
The family attended the First Christian Church in town. Ron and his mother taught Sunday School there.
The home has few original furnishings, notably a quilt that belonged to Nelle is all that was pointed out, but is filled with period décor. The bathroom tub is original, as is the woodwork and other features.
The original fireplace and tile surround on the floor are present and come with a cool story. Apparently Ron knew there was a loose tile and would lift it to hide small amounts of change.
Ron, Nancy and Ron’s brother Neil visited the home in 1984 when Ron checked out the tile and placed a few pennies there.
At that time, he was President and it was decided in advance that the Reagans might enjoy a quiet meal in the dining room. The story goes that during a pre-visit security sweep, Secret Service noted a window with a clear view of the table in the small dining room. They didn’t want to draw attention to the space, yet didn’t like the security aspect of the situation. So, they arranged to plant new landscaping just outside the window.
The situation looked as though the house staff was simply fixing up the place for the visit, but in reality, the new plantings created a block. The trees were removed after the President’s visit.
Ron had a variety of jobs in town as a kid. He worked at the Dixon Golf Club and spent six summers as a lifeguard where he is credited with saving 77 swimmers.
Ron went on to Eureka College where he studied economics and sociology. He was hired by a radio station to announce University of Iowa games and worked as a sports broadcaster for a variety of stations before moving to Hollywood in 1937 From there, his public career, which included being a fairly famous actor, took off.
Ron served governor of California from 1967-75 and U.S. President from 1981-89. He left office with a 68 percent approval rating. Ron spent his final years battling Alzheimer's disease, dying in 2004 in California.
Upon his 1984 trip back to town, Ron said, “My heart is still here.”
Gay captured Brian and me in Grant Park in Galena, Illinois Saturday. Here, we stand in front of the Galena River that runs through the heart of the town. Behind the river is downtown Galena. This is the adopted hometown of President and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The river feeds into the mighty Mississippi, just a few miles away.
Less than a year ago, Gay Kirkton and I took our annual summer girlfriend getaway to the unique and beautiful Galena, Illinois, situated in northwest Illinois, a hop and skip from both Wisconsin and Iowa. Next to Chicago, this is the most visited destination in the great state of Illinois, with Springfield third.
With a population of 3,800, this small city has more than 50 restaurants in its vibrant downtown alone, and several blocks packed with one-of-a-kind shops that sell everything from trendy housewares to kitchen goods, gourmet food, fashionable (and affordable) clothing, and costume jewelry.
So the shopping is certainly a draw -- let's be honest -- for women especially. The food? For everyone!
For the Cronks of Pendleton and our friends Rick and Gay Kirkton of Angola (but proud Illinois natives), history got us there.
When you think of Illinois and U.S. presidents, perhaps Abraham Lincoln comes first to mind. He certainly does for me. Springfield, Illinois boasts a number of tributes to his life and times that you can visit from his presidential library to the only home he ever owned, to a visit inside his law office, the cemetery where he was laid to rest, and more.
But don't forget the other presidents who called Illinois their home. Consider this one.
Do you remember that President, California Governor and actor Ronald Reagan came from Illinois and spent from age 9 to adulthood in Dixon, Illinois? Here we are in front of the home his family rented for a few years which is a tour-able landmark in the town.
I'll do a separate post later on the home, as it is worthy of its own essay. It was a fantastic stop, and glimpse into an iconic man of humble roots. Our fellas stand next to a life-size cardboard version of the 1980s president. It appears accurate in stature as President Reagan was 6'1" and our guys measure up to prove that about right.
After a stop in Dixon, it was on to Galena. The drive was exceedingly charming as we rode in Rick's comfortable pick-up truck chatting away the hours and looking out for miles and miles over tidy fields and farms in our friends' treasured home state.
You can have your majestic mountains, and while I love looking out over water, my personal eye candy consists of massive green fields of Midwestern crops. You've got the best view of those in Illinois and Iowa.
In Galena, it was like checking in with an old friend as Brierwreath Bed & Breakfast owner Joe Cook greeted us. His inn is perfectly located in this hilly city because it's an easy walk downhill to the downtown where we had our choice and then some of dining options. We went for a repeat of last year's trip as we sat outside at Vinny's for an Italian meal.
On Saturday at breakfast, that uncanny thing that always happens to Gay and me happened again. At the first of two fine breakfasts served by Joe, we met B & B guests with a connection to Gay. One worked in public relations for the community college where Gay's father serves as a trustee. The guest could not believe it! She knows Gay's dad and the two had a lot to discuss about the college and their connections.
Then it was on to catch our trolley where we got a splendid overview of Galena's history from a lead-mining and steamboat hub in the 1800s to the home of a future and then post-U.S. president in the form of U.S. Grant and family in the mid-to-late 1800s to a town that celebrates commerce, history and architecture in the city it is today.
We had a wonderful tour of the home of U.S. Grant and family, above. More than 90 percent of the home's contents are original. Grant had lived in Ohio and St. Louis, Missouri but after marrying a wealthy farmer's daughter and being gifted with land, Grant found that he was not cut out for farming.
He brought his family to Galena, Illinois where his family owned a tannery. It is there he worked, living in a small, humble home to suit his means until his true talents as a West Point-educated soldier were recognized and he became the key figure in saving the union and will forevermore be recognized in that remarkable way.
To thank him for his war contributions, some wealthy men in Galena gifted the Grants with this home. It never left the family until the Grant children gifted the home to the state of Illinois in the early 1900s as a permanent tribute to their parents.
We enjoyed lunch outside at Gobbie's and then it was back to our B & B to rest up in our rooms before heading out to dinner downtown at Fried Green Tomatoes. We had a lovely meal including Harvest salads, pesto and tomato brushetta and crab cakes.
When it was time to leave, we discovered a drenching rain outside the restaurant. We waited in the entryway for it to clear but before it did, the restaurant owner, Fred, graciously appeared and asked where we were staying. He sent for his personal vehicle to transport us to our doorstep at the inn! Talk about above and beyond!
I promised Fred (he said to think of his name as Fried without the i) that I would mention this in my blog. So this is for you, Fred! I also would recommend your food and staff to anyone!
Gay and I enjoy attending church services in the towns we visit. We took the United Methodist Church up on its offer, via a display board out front, to sit in Grant's pew. On Sunday morning we all went to church a short walk down the street from our B & B to the former Methodist Episcopal Church where the Grant family pew is distinctively and tastefully marked with a small American flag. We got the photo shortly after services.
A couple special moments for me from the weekend were during the meet-and-greet portion of the church service, turning around to shake hands with a woman who formerly lived in Shirley, Indiana. That's a tiny town in the circulation area of the newspaper where I work.
Also, in the Grant home, upstairs a framed picture depicts key figures in the Civil War and in the group photo is included one Gen Ambrose Burnside -- who happens to hail from my hometown of Liberty, Indiana.
When you think of Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, remember that four U.S. presidents called this beautiful Midwestern state home -- Lincoln, Grant, Reagan and Barack Obama.
We'll certainly never forget.
Donna Cronk is a blogger, newspaper journalist and author of two novels: Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast and That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, available from the author , at specialty venues and on Amazon.com.
In fall of 2014 I had the thrill of spending 10 days in Israel. I have never been the same since. I will never be the same in the future.
Today, Israel is on my mind and in my heart in a special way. It's the 70th anniversary today in terms of world governments and recognition. But it is the eternal city of God. And today, the U.S. Embassy is newly located in Israel's capital, Jerusalem.
So many moments, images, sights and sites, sounds and sound bites come to mind when I think of this most unique country of Israel and its Holy City and capital of Jerusalem. Here's one moment. Our group, about 35 of us with my Ovid Community Church, walked along together toward our next stop in Jerusalem. In the opposite direction some Jewish men walked by. One man's eyes met mine and with neither of us stopping or even slowing down, he called out, "Where you from?" I said "U.S.A." His response?
"God bless the U.S.A. and Israel, together."
And that is where we are in a special way today.
We don't get too far into the Bible before we read this in Genesis 12:3: "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." NIV
Indeed, Jesus came through the Jewish people ... the whole earth blessed by Him.
Is there any place on planet earth more important to so many as this spot? It is calledThe Wailing Wall, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount. This wall is part of the mount, or platform, that once held two Jewish Temples before they were destroyed. Jews pray here and leave notes in the wall. See the temporary fence at left with the women looking over it? This is where many Jewish boys have their Bar Mitzvah.
Psalms 132:13-14: For the LORD has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling, saying, "This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it." NIV.
Israel is the size of New Jersey. Everywhere (EVERY-WHERE) you step, you are walking on history. In fact, I best describe this experience as one where someone dropped me into a Bible and allowed me to walk around there. Events of both Old and New Testaments merge and mingle.
Whereas the Bible was once in black and white, it is now in living color.
Psalm 122:6: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
"May those who love you be secure. (NIV).
As the man said in the crowd in the heart of Jerusalem,
"God bless the U.S.A. and Israel, together."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are many friends and author friends to thank for your help. I think of how Janis Thornton showed up at the Fishers Library last March simply to support me in my program on self-publishing, and how she would like to work with me further in developing a workshop-styled program on the topic. That same night, son Sam and DIL Allison surprised me by arriving at the end of the program to help me carry everything to the car and deliver a refreshing hot tea!
I think of Sandy Moore and our mutual support society with marketing ideas and cluing each other in on opportunities. There is Annette Goggin who I only got to know through the author ride, but who I think of as a friend and admire greatly. Plus, I am grateful for her asking me to her old-fashioned hymn sing! I loved it! (Let's do it again?)
I thank those -- and I'm thinking of writer friend Cheryl Bennett -- who posted reviews of my second book on Goodreads and Amazon. And I am grateful for the number of people I don't know whose reviews pop up.
Oh, the list above goes on and on to include, but not limited to Mary Wilkinson, my bestie Gay Kirkton, her parents, my boss Katie Clontz, and I know I am in trouble because I'm leaving out some people but I'm trying to hurry this along!
Other precious moments include the trip Gay and I took to Galena, Illinois, and to Miss Effie's flower farm near Donahue, Iowa, and the new friend I have now in Cathy, the entrepreneur and Gay's college friend who founded the flower farm and crafts-filled Summer Kitchen there.
I think of walking with John and Debby Williams and loved ones in their fight against Cystic Fibrosis.
I am surrounded by inspiring, creative, resourceful, fierce, sweet, empowered, wonderful women!
Brian and I took a pretty-much perfect trip to D.C. in September and by writing ahead for tickets and clearance, got insider looks inside The White House, Congress, Capitol, Pentagon and FBI Building. The Newseum was outstanding, as was hearing a lecture in the Supreme Court courtroom.
I'm so grateful to Kids at Heart Publisher Shelley Davis for accepting my books into her bookshop at the Warm Glow Candle Co. complex.
I'm grateful to my husband for his love and support. Grateful to spend time with extended family -- wonderful trips visiting Tim and Jeannie in Liberty, Brian's annual trip to see his brother and SIL Steve and Linda in Florida, hosting a master's degree grad party for our DIL Allison, attending a great-niece's wedding and a great-great niece's birthday party. I think of seeing our friend Coach Rick's football team, Trine University, win a playoff game in its undefeated-season year.
I think of the Midlife Mom sisters of Ovid Community Church, and the Bible Study Fellowship folks who help guide as the Holy Scriptures come alive to me each time I'm in them. I. think of my sons Sam and Ben and wonderful daughter-in-law Allison. Oh, and I'm grateful that Brian's McClellan clan continues to get together every Fourth of July weekend and for cousin Beth for starting a periodic cousins get-together.
I think of everyone who said yes when I asked if I could write about some aspect of their lives. I think of Steve Dicken, the English teacher I wish I had had in school, and of whom I am proud to have as a writing colleague now. I think of our dear friend Barb Clark. I think of my encourager and confidante Debbie McCray.
I have probably left out so much about this year that brought joy and sweetness. Life is short. We have to embrace every opportunity, love one another, care about one another. And if you are a writer, you probably have to write about it all.
I plan to keep doing just that. So bring it on! 2018, what do you have for me? Thank you God, for another year on this planet!
Happy New Year to you, whomever and wherever you are reading this.
HOOSIER CONNECTIONS IN THE CAPITAL
This column ran Sunday in the New Castle Courier-Times.
By DONNA CRONK
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Earlier this fall, Brian and I visited Washington, D.C. One of my just-for-fun objectives was to look for Hoosier symbols wherever we went. They are, in fact, everywhere.
Consider the federal monuments and buildings alone. Indiana limestone and other stone went into these, along with many others not mentioned: The Lincoln Memorial, the interior dome of the Jefferson Memorial, the National Cathedral, The Pentagon and marble in the Indiana Memorial stone in the Washington Monument.
Also, Indiana limestone or stone grace the National Archives, National Theater, Departments of Commerce and Interior, Federal Triangle Building, Botanic Gardens, Federal Trade Commission and more.
In the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, Italian-American artist Constantino Brumidi painted the frieze that appears as almost three-dimensional around the rotunda. It illustrates major events in U.S. history. We were told by our guide that two spaces in the frieze remained when the painter fell from a
ladder and never finished the frieze. However, the artwork was completed by other artists.
One spot went to Henry Ford for his contributions with the automobile, and the last blank area to complete the ring went to Henry County native Wilbur Wright and his brother Orville in an homage to flight.
When the House of Representatives was moved for more space in 1857, the Old Hall of the House became National Statuary Hall. Each state was invited by Congress to provide two statues of its most notable citizens, according to a capitol brochure. These statues in the collection are displayed in the Hall, the Rotunda, the Capitol Visitor Center and corridors.
Can you guess the identities of the two Hoosiers who are depicted in
The first is Wayne County’s own Oliver P. Morton, Indiana’s Civil War governor.
He was a Centerville attorney whose home survives on the western edge of U.S. 40 (originally called The National Road) in Centerville and is on the National Register of Historic Places. He was elected to two terms as governor, beginning in 1861, and left office to serve as a U.S. senator. He died at age 54 during his second term.
Morton lived from 1823 to 1877. His statue graces the Statuary Hall collection.
The second statue is Gen. Lew Wallace.
Wallace was born in Brookville in 1827 and died in Crawfordsville in 1905. An attorney, Civil War Union general, governor of the New Mexico Territory, and Hoosier author. He wrote the classic Christian historical-adventure novel, “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” in 1880.
The state of Indiana commissioned his tribute statue in marble. In it, he wears a military uniform. The statue was unveiled in 1910.