January is not an easy month.
I don't mean the weather, as it has been forgettable, at least when compared with past first months of various years.
Take 42 years ago today, the Blizzard of 1978. I worked in Connersville at the time at the little Western & Southern Insurance office as the clerk.
My job was to collect deposits and do the bookkeeping for all the agents' collections as well as wait on customers by collecting their money and taking deposits to the bank every day. It wasn't a great job but I was glad to have it.
It was a late Sunday afternoon or early evening when Brian called to tell me if I wanted to get out the next morning, I should come to Liberty and stay at my brother and sister-in-law Tim and Jeannie's home. A blizzard was on the way.
It seems I looked out not long after that only to see snow coming down hard. I took his advice, threw clothes in a suitcase and headed to Liberty. I think I spent the next two weeks on my brother's couch. Pretty sure I didn't make it to work for a day or two or more. But I made it a lot sooner than if I'd stayed out on the farm.
There have been other difficult Januarys; lots of them, in my years on this planet. When we lived in Fountain County in the 1980s the snow would get so deep and high that I had to go into Attica where I worked and stay for a week or more at a time with my boss / friend, Sue Barnhizer Anderson. I often have wondered what I would have done had she not been the boss. Would I have kept my job if I couldn't have gotten in for a week or more?
There was the worst January of my life, when Sam was diagnosed with a heart defect at Riley Hospital as a baby. And the year before that, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in the sky, and I was home from work with morning sickness.
This January has been drab of weather, but but that same weather has not been threatening. There has been no piled snow and the snow shovel hasn't come out.
Things can change on a dime, and who knows what February will bring. I'm just grateful that the bulk of my January projects is behind me --a couple hundred or more calls or contacts for our annual community directory we call Answer Book; two large feature stories for our HOPE edition; her magazine wrapped up and off to the press.
Add to that training on new computer software, a family funeral, and some sad news from a friend, yes, all that going on in the nation's capitol, and I can tell you that this January isn't one I'll miss when the calendar flips.
Still, we press on.
I'll check back in soon with information about what I'm looking forward to about February, and how that concerns you! But for today, I'll leave it there.
SO, we planned to leave the Christmas decorations up for another week. There's no secret about how much we have enjoyed the tree lights as well as the entry and staircase garlands. The time has gone quickly since we put them up the day after Thanksgiving, partly because there was no extra week in November, a cushion between the two holidays.
Then I got up yesterday thinking about the incredibly busy January ahead that includes not one but several large work projects and extra assignments, and how my schedule will be altered this coming week with the second-straight Wednesday holiday, and then back to work on Thursday.
With nothing pressing on yesterday's agenda other than a trip to the grocery store, I thought that what I should do is go ahead and take down the decorations and be done with it. After all, next weekend, I might well not feel in the mood to deal with it.
Taking down Christmas makes me grumpy and meloncholy. Does it you?
But at the same time, I'm slow as a snail about it all because I want it put away just right. Call me OCD, but I get a ridiculous level of satisfaction in bubble-wrapping each heirloom bulb and bauble and store them by category in their stackable containers.
I also upped the game by placing the garlands in individual smaller containers, labeling where they go next Thanksgiving time, and the tree lights got their own large container, with appropriate extension cords stored with the lights.
We even beat the rain and took down the outdoor wreaths so they are dry when put away.
Now it's all packed away, and while the living room seemed dark and joyless when dusk moved in yesterday, it's done, and I don't have to spare the time next week.
I remembered my daughter-in-law's homemade Christmas gift. It's my favorite gift of the season! She took three Ball jars, covered them with doilies and frosted the glass. Inside, she placed battery-powered lights that look like real candles. There's even a little doily runner that goes with them. I placed the trio in our kitchen window where a lit garland had been.
I absolutely love it! Those cheerful lights will be our winter decor, shining against the gloom and gray of winter and matching the snows that will inevitably arrive in the coming weeks.
Thank you, Allison, for the lights! They are beautiful! And they are just what I needed with the decorations all put away for another 11 months.
Our nine-feet-tall Christmas tree, the photo taken just a few days ago at dusk, which comes at around 5:30 p.m. in central Indiana these days. Much as I admire theme Christmas trees, we stick with a family-memory tree each year containing ornaments we've collected through our 41 years of marriage, plus those our parents accumulated through the years, as well as keepsake ornaments from vacations, mainly historical sites.
Merry Christmas morning! As I write this at 9:15 a.m., I've been buzzing around the house since 6:11 a.m. I didn't have to get up that early this Christmas morn, but it's actually late for me, as I prefer rising between 5-6 a.m. daily.
I know; weird. But it is an unexpected gift of aging, I suppose, or better put, of this season of life. I look forward to the quiet time when I feel I can do anything I want in the peace. But what I want in the early hours are simple things: that first sip of black coffee, with a cup or two to follow; working on one of my Bible study lessons; or maybe looking with fresh eyes at a particular project I have going at any given moment, such as a program for a speaking engagement, or maybe a to-do list. I may tune into TV to catch the headlines or commentary.
This time of year, I turn on the Christmas lights and enjoy them. I don't tire of them one bit, and have found that this year with Thanksgiving coming at the latest time possible, I feel "shorted" that extra pre-Christmas week. It will be early again in 2020 so maybe I'll even break with our unspoken "house rule" of no Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving and start in early. Why not?
Ben has the week off, and to our delight, arrived yesterday afternoon --even before I got home from work because yes, I worked on Christmas Eve. We had a great visit before he and Brian watched some NetFlix shows that didn't interest me, so I retreated to my hot bath, then turned in early. That is the flip side of getting up so early, tuckering out at a time night owls feel is early.
Sam is working at the hospital today, and he and Allison will spend time with her wonderful family when he gets off, and they'll be here for dinner tonight. I'm looking forward to the rest of the day! This is the kind of Christmas day I knew growing up and well into my adult years. I had older brothers who spent time with their wives' families or on their own early on Christmas days past, and then everyone assembled at my folks' farm later in the afternoon.
For me, it felt perfect. It made the anticipation of food, family and gifts last that much longer.
Brian and Ben are still sleeping. Once they wake up I've got some noisier tasks to get to.
For now, I thought I'd leave with you the devotion I wrote for my church's Facebook page this week. Wednesday is my day of the week for devotions and it's not up yet on the page. If you would like to be added to our church's Facebook page, where you can catch my weekly devotions and those of other folks, just let me know and I'll add you in a jif.
Another little preview announcement: I'm facilitating a devotions workshop at our church on Saturday, Feb. 15. It's free, it's fun, and YOU can come! Just let me know if you want more details as they become available. You don't have to belong to our church!
Meanwhile, Merry Christmas! The Light has come! Here's the devotion:
SEASONS OF FAITH – WINTER’S CHILL
CHRISTMAS DAY 2019
THE LIGHT HAS COME! – Donna Cronk
When I was a girl, my folks turned on the Christmas-tree lights only at night. I
loved the moment when darkness parted like the Red Sea as well as when
we lit candles surrounding the nativity scene on top of our TV set.
All these decades later, Brian and I leave on the Christmas-tree lights during all
our waking hours. Even if we’re only going to be home for a short while before a
work day, the lights are on, shining against the darkness of early morning.
Light is beautiful. It illuminates all that it touches. It warms us and draws us to
remain in its presence. Especially in the darkest moments of our lives, light offers
hope and comfort.
This time of year when the daylight hours are short, Christmas lights are all the
Is it any wonder that Jesus refers to Himself as the Light of the World? On this day
we celebrate and rejoice that the long-awaited Savior has come! And He is Light!
May each of us reflect His Light in our own lives so that others may be drawn to
Merry Christmas to you, my friends! Shine on!
John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in
darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Donna Cronk photos // When our family travels for our annual away Indianapolis Colts long weekend, we make the most of it. This year's journey was to Houston. Along with the NASA sites, aquarium, museum of natural history, game and good eats, (and a few more stops!) we enjoyed an evening at the Houston Zoo strolling around looking at the Christmas lights. I'm so glad we did. So here's a little tour.
This weekend I'm putting the finishing touches on a program I'm giving at Senior Living at Forest Ridge in New Castle Tuesday morning, Dec. 10. Won't you join me?
I'll be going down memory lane, as I share some of my favorite characters and stories I've written in three decades at the New Castle Courier-Times. The program is at 10 a.m. which includes a free brunch. All you need to do is let LauraLisa Stamper know by noon Monday by calling 765-521-4740.
I'll bring along some free copies of the current issue of our her magazine for women and other specialty publications.
Hope to see you there!
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.
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.
So if you're eating at the oldest restaurant in the U.S.A., and it's in Boston, with the Atlantic Ocean nearby, you're probably going to have a seafood meal. For the first time I ate raw oysters, "throwing them back" as is the proper technique, and they weren't bad. I then enjoyed this meal:
I had lobster once before in New England, several years ago in Maine with Gay Kirkton. You may disagree, but to me, these guys are a lot of work and mess for no more meat you get out of them. But I'm glad I ordered the big guy. When in Boston, eat like a Bostonian!
But just think. This restaurant has been here since 1826. But let's go back before that. Upstairs, possibly in the very spot where our group dined, starting in 1771, Issiah Thomas printed "The Massachusetts Spy. The paper's motto? "Open to all parties, but influenced by none." It's our nation's oldest newspaper.
In 1775, Ebenezer Hancock of the Continental Army established headquarters for early Federal troops here. During the Revolution, you would have seen the Adams, Hancock and Quincy women and their neighbors sewing bandages and clothing for the columnists in the building.
And who should live on the second floor? No less than the future King of France, the exiled Louis Philippe.
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.
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.