Saturday, August 17, 2019

Don't Miss August!!

August Night Skies This Week from
It is late. It is dark. The sky is covered with the light of the full Sturgeon Moon, also known as the Green Corn Moon. I love the full moon, but tonight I am looking for the Pleiades. Every year I look forward to the Pleiades in hopes that I see a shooting star…one or a dozen, but this year, with the rain showers in Northeast Indiana and the full moon, they are hard to see.
I pull the blanket a bit closer as I am determined to wait it out to see at least one. These are the nights of reflecting. These nights, with no one else out in the backyard, the early signs of Autumn creep into the night air.
There is something pungent about the air in August. Go into your backyard and take a whiff, and tell me, yes, the air is August. Even though August gives way to Autumn, my personal favorite time of year, it is a sad scent as well.
We shift in August. In June, as written in “Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury we have “…a whole summer ahead to cross off the calendar day by day…” Now the days are crossed off and summer comes to a screeching halt as the kids go back to school.
I cannot speak for you, or for those who have children in day care all summer, but for me, summer meant another year of growth for my children. Going back to school was another year closer to their leaving me. Aaron used to say, “Don’t tell me it is time for school until the night before we have to go.” When they were little I did just that. Tucking them in bed in that late August heat (no air-conditioning on our farm), I would gently tell them school would begin the next day. Perhaps they knew. Perhaps it was the sharpening of the pencils or the clean backpacks. Perhaps it was the tilting of the sun or the birthday of the twins.
After their ritual of stories, I always sat out on the swing on the porch and looked out over the fields. Sometimes Doc would be there getting ready for harvest, but usually it was quiet. Fireflies dotted the landscape, and the early crickets joined in with the cacophony of other night sounds. There was always an owl somewhere in the distance. Those nights I remember as counters of their youth slipping away. Finally, I would do one last check of the barn, and call it a day.
On this night of waiting for the shooting stars, I think of all those August nights on the farm we waited for the meteor showers. Taking blankets and thermoses of hot chocolate outside, we watched until our eyes burned. The boys grew tired, and always wanted to go to bed, but then. But then a star would shoot across the sky in such wonderment that we never wanted to go to bed. That’s the way it was. That’s the way it should be. I look around my empty garden wishing they were here, but they are not. Finally, it is time to go in. Harley, my cat, follows me up to the darkened house for one more treat before he goes out for the night. Where he goes, I know not.
A couple of weeks ago someone posed the question to a group of us, “So, what would you do if you only had six months to live?” The answers were wonderful and varied, “Go to Paris, Rome, watch the Cubs win, see the grandchildren.” It was my turn. What would I do? Probably it is different for all the different times of the year, and my answer would never be the same. But on this night, I said, “I would want to watch the shooting stars with my children one more time, and smell August.”
“June dawns, July noons, August evenings over, finished, done, and gone forever…” states Douglas in “Dandelion Wine.”
Well, not quite over, let’s give it a few weeks. And, hey, it is still August, and there is still much to do. Kayaking, Swimming, Star-gazing. Blueberry picking.”
It’s not over ‘til it’s over, right?
I make tea before bed and sit out on the front porch once again listening to August, and there it is. My melancholy disperses, and I smile as I hear a two folks in quiet conversation walk down my street.
August. Here. Now. Step outside. Isn’t it delicious?
*This column was published by KPC on August 17, 2019.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

And off to Madison...

Image of the only Shrewsbury grandchild from the late 1800's.

It’s quiet on the river tonight. Quiet and cool. No barges in sight from one end to the other…just a couple of sailboats and a small fishing boat strolling by hoping to catch the last few fish of the day before going in. To the East the sky is blue, pale blue as in a robin’s egg, but to the West violet hues fall in ribbons. Except for a few lovers wrapped up around each other, I have the park to myself. I like it this way as my imagination can travel back in time with a flourish and I have no boundaries. This river, the beautiful Ohio River, is home to many towns and ports, but for me this week, Madison, Indiana is my town. No, I am not here to sightsee…well, not exactly. It started with a phone call early in the summer from Ellen Munds, Executive Director of Storytelling Arts of Indiana. The conversation went something like this, “Hi Lou Ann. It’s Ellen. So, the Shrewsbury-Windle House in Historic Madison just won the Cook Cup and we were hoping you would take the commissioned story. What do you think?”

I did have to think a moment.  On one hand, I love these projects having completed two Cook Cup commissioned pieces before: The Bass Mansion and The Charley Creek Inn in Wabash. On the other hand, I know how much work it is and this one will require overnight visits. On the other hand, as an artist, I am free to build my story in any way I choose. On the other hand, what if the magic doesn’t come and I get no story?

“Oh, I would love to,” I say without thinking anymore! And the deal is complete. The Cook Cup commissioned story is sponsored by Storytelling Arts, Indiana Landmarks, and Historic Madison, Inc. I hang up, mark the premiere date of February 16th on my calendar. I mark off four full days of research and go about my other work until the time comes.

The time comes to pack up my Jeep and head out of town to begin the research. The drive is long and hot. Upon arrival, I stop at the Broadway Tavern for dinner and much needed conversation. I meet Larry who fills my head with ghost stories. Perfect. Larry tells me it is the oldest bar in Indiana. Much later I go check in to my home-away-from-home. I organize my room by throwing everything on the floor and fall asleep.

By 9:00 I am at the Shrewsbury-Windle House ready to meet John Staicer. John is the President and Executive Director for Historic Madison, Inc. and will be my guide and tour companion for the week. Actually I meet him at 9:15 as I get lost…even with my GPS. It is not a good way to start out, I think, but maybe he won’t notice. I shake his hand, chat my way out of being late, and enter the house, or should I say mansion?

The truth is no matter how many historic homes and locations I put my heart into, I am never prepared and always surprised at my amazement. The Shrewsbury-Windle House was built in 1846-1849 for Captain Charles Shrewsbury, his wife Ellen, and their six children. Just walking through the doors conjures up images of Christmas trees coming through the twelve-foot tall entry doors. There is so much to see and ask about, and it is magnificent. The restoration took five years to complete at a cost of 2.3 million dollars.

We tour the house, the basement, the attic, the outhouses, the gardens. I ask question after question and we are there for over three hours. It is easy for me to realize within the first few minutes that John and I are kindred spirits in our love for history and travel.

By noon I am faced with the daunting task of finding story. Finding story means combing through over fifty boxes of coal-sooted material gleaning a piece of story from a letter or a photograph or a household item or a diary. I spend three days in the belly of the archives. John comes to visit regularly anxious to find out what I have found. Other members of Historic Madison, Inc. make their way to me!

It is time to go home. The initial visit and research is complete. I have new friends, new stories, and a beautiful river to guide me through the twilight.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Time slips away!

Good Morning!

How does the time slip away as it does...I always promise to get back to you, but then so much happens.

It is a lovely, cool day in northern Indiana and a quiet morning on my porch with coffee and the New Yorker and guests all sleeping. I love this part of the day...actually I love all the parts of the day! Today is special. It is my birthday and here is one of my favorite photos for this day. Wishing us all a wonderful day...

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

100 years ago today...

One hundred years ago today women were given the right to vote by the Senate vote. The constitution still had to be ratified which it did in August.

So, ladies, are we voting??? Our vote counts. Every one of them.


Sunday, June 02, 2019

Happy Birthday Walt Whitman!!!

Original hand-written copy of "O Captain, My Captain."

At the end of each semester at Trine University, I take my students out into the courtyard for our “good-bye” as in Dead Poets Society. They all know it is coming as it is on the Syllabus and I speak of it frequently; yet when it is storming or snowing or sleeting, there is much complaining…of course! Actually I love it most of all when the weather is adverse!
I stand in the middle of them reciting their send-off with poetry. (And, no, it does not matter which class I teach…they all get the poetry.) I fling my arms out as I recite Shakespeare’s King Lear, “Blow winds, blow!” Or “I felt a funeral in my brain,” by Emily Dickinson. As I continue into my foray of poems, the students are polite, interested, and I think they know this moment will not come again. No moments ever come again. The last poem is Walt Whitman’s, “O Captain, My Captain.” By this time, I am usually in tears. Maybe it is letting them go, or the wind that circles around in the courtyard, or even the snow or rain that pummels down on us. Or is it the moving words of the poetry?

Yesterday was the 200th birthday anniversary of Walt Whitman. How could I possibly let this go by without sharing words and thoughts about him? Do you know Whitman? His life? His poetry? You are about to find out! Listen in…
Whitman was born in West Hills, New York on May 31, 1819. He was the second child of eight into a family owning a large piece of land which was sold off. He watched his father struggle through the years with farming, carpentry and sundry other jobs. Whitman was plucked out of school at age 11 to help his family with the income. He was an office boy for a Brooklyn attorney. Interestingly enough, without an education, he became a teacher in Long Island at age 17, but, by now, knew journalism was his calling.

He left New York in 1848 to become editor of a small newspaper in New Orleans, the Crescent, but quit in less than three months and went home. He continued with odd jobs, all-the-while keeping a small notebook with his thoughts and ideas. In 1855 he self-published his collection of poems, Leaves of Grass. It was a radical political piece at the time. (Note: in 1870 copies of the book sold at auction for $2. In 2014, a surviving copy sold for $305,000.)

The Civil War took a toll on Whitman. His brother, George, was wounded, and the nation was in disarray. Whitman volunteered his time visiting wounded soldiers. Record keeping in Washington, D.C. logged more than 80,000 patients. He wrote, O Captain, My Captain to eulogize Abraham Lincoln.

Whitman was one of America’s first democratic poets celebrating life in America. We learned, or at least heard this poem, in school, “I Sing of America.” The first line says, I hear America Singing, the varied carols I hear. Whitman knew it was his job, his responsibility as a poet to write about the fate of the nation and those forgotten. I think we could use a little Whitman today.

He was so popular in New York that they began to publish the status of his health on the front pages of The New York Times. They wrote what he ate, how he felt, what his physicians said about him. He died on March 26, 1892 leaving behind his expanded version of Leaves of Grass and so many other poems we all love.  He is considered to be a groundbreaking poet of American Society on culture and politics.

I am ecstatic on this day of his anniversary. The sun is shining. My garden is growing. But what can I do, or should do, to celebrate and remember this poet in my own life?
After a long talk with a guy named Shaun in New York, and one click of the Etsy button, I am now the proud owner of a 1963 Emerald Green Smith Corona Sterling portable typewriter with an extra ribbon. This is a combination birthday present to myself and a celebration of poetry, and I will love it!

And you, my friend, will see me sitting on the square typing out poems for you. Stop by, let me write you a poem or let’s chat about anything.
Let’s keep America singing. It is our job. I will do my part…how about you?

Friday, May 10, 2019

Spring is here...almost...get the bikes out!

Ellen just got her new bike!

Spring is almost here...although I must admit...I still have the heat on in this old house! I was looking through files today and popped over to my blog and realized I have not  written a thing for over a month. Well, actually, I have written many things, I just have not taken the time to put them on the blog. So, with school out for the year, and summer here, I guess it would be a good time to start putting everything back on.
Hope all is well with you. Drop me a line or two so I know you are still out there!!
Lou Ann

Friday, March 29, 2019

Ukulele Camp

You might think I am going to go on and on about my spring break. Well, I am. You might think I am going to go on and on about ukulele camp. Well, I am. But first let’s start with this: Plato once said, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”

I guess this quote sums it up rather nicely.

By 7 a.m. I am packed and ready to go. My clothes, phone and ukulele are neatly waiting by the front door for Carolyn to pick me up. She arrives and we fill her van with my necessities and I hop into the front. We stop for coffee and begin the drive to Midland, Michigan, for as I call it, ukulele camp.

This is our second camp, if you remember. Two years ago we attended camp in Indiana, but this one is different … more players, flash mob, mall concert, nonstop ukulele playing. There is a Western theme for this camp as is noticed by Carolyn’s bright pink cowgirl hat in the backseat. I forgot my hat, but tie a purple bandanna around my neck as we drive. I know I am excited and happy about this camp, but really, I have no idea.

We arrive by noon to check in, get our name tags and share in the meet and greet. In the background I hear the strains of ukulele chords as if the Philharmonic were warming up. We meander back into the large room and find folks decked out in their “git along little doggies” clothing. There are still two seats available in the second row next to a handsome cowboy named Larry. We introduce ourselves to Larry and find out he is a guitar player from Richmond. We sit down, put our music on the stands and tune our ukuleles. My heart is beating wildly as I realize I am part of this marvelous event. I look around at the 60-70 folks each wearing cowboy hats and bandannas. And then it begins.

Johnny Hunt, the leader of the pack and board member of the Folk Music Society of Midland, takes center stage and welcomes us. He goes over the agenda and we begin.

Ukulele in place, songs on the overhead, we commence singing and playing. I am smiling from ear to ear. I look at Carolyn and she is doing the same. Soon we rehearse for the flash mob at the mall. We will be playing and singing six songs without music in front of us. My eyes reflect the deer-in-the-headlights syndrome. No way can I do this, but we pack up and meet everyone at the mall. Two by two we arrive in the center playing “Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.”

I don’t know how, but I do it, and folks gather round to take photos and sing along. This is my very first flash mob, and I think how proud my grandchildren will be of me!

Mid-afternoon we are back singing and strumming ’til nightfall. My fingers are raw from playing, but do I care? It isn’t until 9 p.m. that we head over to our hotel. But no sleeping for us … oh no. The lobby is full of ukulele players. We throw our stuff onto the bed, grab our ukes and join in the fun ’til the wee hours. I think to myself that I am now a real musician!

The next day is exactly the same, except now we have lots of friends. On this day there is a mall concert, but we get to take our stands and our music. After a rehearsal we head on out to the mall and take our places. It is Saturday so the mall is full of shoppers with 60 ukulele players in the middle. We play and sing our hearts out under the direction of guest artist, Petey McCarty, but he doesn’t know “Cool Waters.” Our new friend, Larry, goes up to sing and direct. We cheer and holler for him.

The rest of the day is full of strumming and singing and again at the hotel into the night.

I don’t want it to be over. Really, I don’t. I lament leaving my new friends and this rich experience.

I think of Plato as we drive. “Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life.”
*First published in KPC Media News.