Monday, September 04, 2023

Labor Day 2023 with Carl Sandburg

Labor Day comes and goes with the passing of the torch from those lazy summer days to the beauty and fun-filled days of Autumn. After a hot summer (okay, a few more days to go), the coolness of these late summer days offer a reprise from the heat of summer.

I think the late summer evenings are so delightful. The other night I just sat out in the darkness watching the night sky and listening to the deafening crickets. I am so fortunate that in my neighborhood, the sound of the crickets is the only sound that surrounds me. I guess that is the one consolation of losing my beautiful tree this summer. The sky opened up for viewing.

The ending of Labor Day and summer brings back rich memories from those once-upon-a-time summers. As a child, we spent our summers on Lake Michigan in a big, rattling house with a pathway down to the water. The house wasn’t ours, but a rental. Once we found it, we rented it every year for the summer. There was no shower or bathtub, but there was running water! The dining room table was big and round with plenty of room for guests to come and share in the fun and the stories and the nightly card games.

Oh, how we hated leaving on Labor Day weekend, yet school was to start, and we had to go home. With sand in our pockets, and the summer accumulation of trinkets, we went home to settle back into the school year. With a sigh we tried on our school shoes. Sometimes they fit, other times, it was back to the shoe store to get new ones! I was always happy when my shoes didn’t fit so I could get new ones! The shoe store was an adventure in itself as we had our feet measured and then x-rayed. That was great fun, and quite unhealthy!

These same thoughts of leaving were always when I came home from Ocracoke with sand in my pockets once again. These days there is no house to rent in Michigan or summers on Ocracoke. Labor Day found me cleaning and late day gardening in and around the purple house! I even picked up a paint brush! Maybe this Autumn I will get more done on my white picket fence. That task is on-going…forever!

In between these chores, I find myself sitting on my porch reading and tossing in some poetry, just because. On Labor Day I head to Carl Sandburg for my inspiration for a reading of his famous poem, “Chicago.”

Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois in 1878. He quit school at the age of 13 and became an American laborer. His may jobs included driving milk wagons and laying brick. He worked as a porter, a coal-heaver, a farm laborer, and a dishwasher as he criss-crossed America. He eventually settled in Chicago to work for the Chicago Daily News. It was there he began to write in earnest. He wrote about the factory conditions, labor rights, race relations and social justice.

In 1914 he wrote the poem, “Chicago,” which was a success and first published in Poetry Magazine. Two years later he published a collection of poetry featuring this poem. This was followed by his collection, “Cornhuskers,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1919.

Carl Sandburg was the people’s poet. He is remembered as one of the greatest American poets of the 20th Century. I celebrate him often, but most of all on Labor Day.

As I re-read Sandburg, I can’t help but think of our town. We are made up of much the same…farmers, laborers, teachers, street cleaners, garbage collectors, nurses, doctors. I also think of Sandburg when I see our firemen sitting outside of their station waiting for the call. I think of Sandburg as the guys redo my street in the coolness of the early morning. I think of Sandburg when the crossing guards take their stance so children are safe to walk to school.

We might not be Chicago, but we are beautiful and mighty with our own stories to tell.

Labor Day comes and goes for another year. I wrap up my paintbrush for another beautiful day. I listen to the crickets…make burgers on the grill, light the garden candles and sit under the stars.  

Hog Butcher for the World,

Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;

Stormy, husky, brawling,

City of the Big Shoulders:


 Carl Sandburg

Monday, August 28, 2023

Arsenic and Old Lace


You have probably heard by now that the Trine University Theatre will be producing “Arsenic and Old Lace” in November. To say that I am excited about this show is a vast understatement! As always, shows just take over my life. Sometimes it is my own show and other times it is directing for others to enjoy! I really do love my new role (okay, now a year old!) as theatre director. Of course, this means nights without sleep. How can I sleep when my dreams show me an empty stage or an empty theatre or a cast ready to go as the curtain opens, but no show! Right?

Now some of you know the show! You have attended the show or actually been in the show. I know years ago Angola High School produced this show. I have actual photos to prove that! The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre produced this show in 1943! Yes, an oldie but great show. But how did this show come to be produced? Let’s chat.

It all started by a woman named Amy Archer-Gilligan (1873-1962.) She ran a boarding house by the name, The Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids, in Windsor, Connecticut. (By the way, that is a really long name to hang out on a shingle!) Anyway, she lured seniors to her place, poisoned them with arsenic and buried them in her back yard or her cellar. She married Michael Gilligan in 1913 after she caught him up in a whirlwind romance. He was, of course, one of her boarders! February 19, 1914, she had him sign a will and he was dead in 48 hours! Her neighbors became suspicious! Afterall, it is rumored she poisoned between 20-100 elderly customers! It was also noticed that she was buying arsenic by the pound. (I do think that would have tipped me off!)

On May 8, 1916, she was formally charged and sentenced to hang for her deeds, but was instead sent to the state prison in Wethersfield. Ironically, she worked in the cafeteria! Really?

Joseph Kesselrig, writer and author of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” heard this story as a kid and later went to research the story through the newspapers. He was fascinated by the story and decided to write a play about it! The first draft was a drama, but because of WWII, he changed it to a dark comedy. It opened on Broadway in 1941 and was one of the longest running shows of Broadway at that time. It ran at the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre in September of 1943.

Of course, it couldn’t just stay a play! Warner Brothers bought the rights to do the film in 1941. This was exciting for Warner Brothers and for Frank Capra as he would become the director. (You know that name because he also directed, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”) There was a clause in the transaction that would not allow the film to be released until the show ran its course on Broadway.

Capra wanted Cary Grant to play the lead, but Warner Brothers had another idea. They wanted Bob Hope to play the lead. If not Hope, they wanted Jack Benny or Ronald Reagan. However, Hope was under contract with another publishing house. Capra wanted Boris Karloff also. Karloff really wanted to act in the film, but was also under contract with Broadway film productions so was unable to do so.

Cary Grant got the role of Mortimer and loved doing so. However, later in his life he said he thought Jimmy Stewart would have been better!

The film was finished in December, 1941 right after Pearl Harbor. Capra enlisted and the Corps let him finish up before swearing him in. Grant also helped the war effort by donating all his salary, $160,000, from the film for the war effort.

As for the plot and complete story line, well, my friends, you really have to wait until November when we roll out the red carpet and invite all of you to see the show. As always, there is much to do as we are just in the process of auditioning now. Are there any Boris Karloffs or Cary Grants out there? If so, you know where you should be. But for the rest of you, we will see you at the theatre.

Oh, one last thing. Beware of arsenic and old lace this autumn season. Just a warning and you heard it first from me!

See you at the show!

Monday, August 21, 2023

Advice for college students, including my own!


Jonah in 4th Grade

Dear Jonah…

I just can’t believe that today is your first day of college. I am so proud of you! With my 40 plus years of teaching, I am sending along my “Professor” tips so that you will do well in every class.

1.    Sit near the front! I never let my students sit in the very front row (so that I don’t step on them), but I want them close after that. Sitting in the back is very bad!

2.    Do not have your cell phone on or your ear buds in…ever…unless asked to do so. Keep both of those items in your book bag. Don’t even put them on your desk or in your pocket! If there is a reason for your phone to be on with an emergency or anything really important, tell your professor at the beginning of class. They are understanding and will be very willing for you to take the call…outside of class!

3.    After your first class, introduce yourself to your professor. (Even though the roll call will probably be taken!) Shake hands with a firm grip, look your professor in the eye and introduce yourself again. Tell them you are glad to be in their class!

4.    Whenever a professor writes to your class, send a short, brief note thanking them for the memo.

5.    Whenever you do not understand something, ask immediately. Professors and teachers are there to help. They are your cheerleaders. Don’t just walk out wondering what to do or what was said.

6.    Do not ever chew gum. Ever.

7.    Be kind and helpful to all of your classmates. Always.

8.    Do your work on time. Check it. Double check it. Submit it early if you can!

9.    Take the extra credit when offered even if you do not need it! Why not get 110% instead of a100% !

10. Find out the hobbies or interests of your professors and ask them about it on Monday or Tuesday. They will be so impressed that you remembered!

11. Do not be late to class. Sometimes it will happen such as hockey practice early in the morning or a lab. Tell them ahead of time that might happen so they know why you are walking in a few minutes late.

12. When you have outside activities such as hockey games, and you need to miss class, let your professor know. The coaches always send notes to your teachers, but the list is long and they do not have the time to hunt for names and for which class. Tell them ahead of time.

13. When you do miss class because of a lab or a sports event, make sure you know what was covered in class and get the work done. That is your responsibility, not your teacher’s. You need to do the asking.  

14. Do not stay up late and then sleep through the exam the next day. Keep a scheduling book and use it! Get things done early. If you stay up all night to study, you will be exhausted and not do well or then sleep through your class. No excuses for that one. Never.

15. If you are ill, send a quick note to let them know. It takes ten seconds to email your professor. It is appreciated. Do not have a classmate do that for you!

16. Never get your parents involved. You are grown up now. It is your responsibility.

17. Keep a jacket in your bookbag. Classrooms are funny about heat and air. Some rooms (in the same building) can vary ten to fifteen degrees so be prepared.

18. Make sure you always have a tablet of paper and pens and pencils even though you will use your laptop for almost everything. Sometimes you need paper and pencil. Have it ready when it is needed!

19. Smile.

20. Remember, you are the fortunate one for the opportunity to go to college. Not everyone gets this chance. Love every moment. Make friends. Be the guy your classmates can count on. Be the first name your teacher remembers.

This is my list of 20 things. Do well. Study hard and check in with me. I will want to know how it is going.

I love you. Nannie

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Small Towns


With the kids all nestled back to their home in Charleston, it is time to open up my home and my yard to travelers and bicyclists from all around the country and other countries as well! I think sometimes we need to be tourists in our own towns so we can actually see all the beauty and all that our towns and communities have to offer. Visitors are amazed at our beauty, at our strength of small-town values, and our lovely downtown. I supply guests with bikes, with stories and I make sure they feel welcome in our community.

As you know, I am a small-town girl. I love traveling for storytelling, but the truth is, I love coming home. I love making the swing around Miss Columbia and then turning onto West Street. I feel the same about this old house as I visit each room with joy each and every day! To this end, my blog (built over 20 years ago!) is titled, Stories from a Small Town.

You can only imagine my delight when I found out about the film, “Small Towns: A Special Look at the Communities of Northeast Indiana.” The premiere was in Kendallville, but our local showing was at Cahoots Coffee Café last week. The audience was small in number, yet the room was full of much appreciation and joy. The film-maker, 25-year-old Daniel Adamson was on hand to answer questions and accept our accolades. His brother, Tom, is known to most of us, and he did the music for the film. It was absolutely delightful. I knew that I would enjoy the film, but I had no idea I was in for such a treat! Okay, yes, I cried during the film. I was absolutely overtaken with the beauty and the stories he chose to highlight. The best part is that this is just episode one with many more to come. If you miss it, you are in luck as you can view this on YouTube; just put in the title and it will come right up! Our own Elten Powers is a star on this video as are several folks from other small towns in northern Indiana! So, pop some corn and sit back and enjoy the film!

Since we are chatting about small towns, how about some other lovely events and news from our towns? I was able to participate in Pleasant Lake Days on Saturday. My ukulele group was able to help fill in for an ill performer. We played with Ken Sharpenberg and his wife, Judy, and had a ball. Between sets we ate burgers supplied by the Pleasant Lake Lions Club. After our gig, we toured the Pleasant Lake Depot. The news from the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society was so lovely last week. How is it northern Indiana is the recipient of such gracious and exciting news? When I stepped into the depot on Saturday, it was as if I could hear the sound of the coming train and the footsteps of passengers sporting top hats and parasols as they waited for the train. I really think I could smell the grain as it was stored on the top floor waiting to be funneled into train cars for delivery. The building is old, but stable and beautiful, and full of once-upon-a-time graffiti inside. We are blessed! Stay tuned for tickets and information!

I always have to smile a bit when folks ask, “What is there to do here?” Oh my. Everything. Shopping. Movies. Coffee Shops. Friendly folks everywhere. What else, you ask? Friday night hosts Hubie in the park as part of our Angola Parks and Recreation. Those folks totally rock over there! (Yes, that would be you and your staff, Tabitha!) Concessions begin at 6:00 and the show at 7:00. You know I will be there!

Thursday evening, August 24th, Trine Fest will be held in the downtown. This is the second annual event sponsored by the city and Trine. Come on downtown and visit with friends and neighbors! Saturday, August 26th finds folks participating in the Historical Treasure Hunt sponsored by the Steuben County Historical Society! Bring the kids and learn more about our beautiful town as you scavenger around our area looking for treasures! The event starts at 1:00 with pre-registration!

I love sharing all of these events with guests, with you, with friends. All I can say is be part of this beautiful community as we share in the love of Small Towns.

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Summer Drama Camp!


I close my binder, full of photos, play bills, a worn-out script and my unreadable notes, up on the shelf in my studio with all the many plays I have written. This was a favorite. I guess at the time of each show, that particular play is my favorite. I love writing these shows for drama camp.

Friday night’s show at Lima Brighton was the culmination of another week of drama camp sponsored by LCYC. As I was introducing the show, I said, “I think it has been eight years or nine years or a hundred years, not really sure!”

We started out last Monday. It was as if it was a class reunion. Holly and Brianna were so thrilled to see so many of their friends audition for the play. They only get to see them once a year, but the theatre has a bind about itself which is different from many activities. There were a few new ones too, although I did have to have a cut-off number. Does everyone want to do drama camp? I think so! Several are signed up for next year’s camp already! We don’t even have a date!

After the shrieks and hugs and conversations, we got right to work. By noon, I introduced the new play. On Tuesday morning, we hold auditions. By Tuesday noon, the parts are given out. There really is something for everyone! By Wednesday we block and get right to work. It is an amazing journey. Thursday they are taught the dance, and a dress rehearsal. The Thursday afternoon rehearsal was a déjà vu of Hitchcock in February when the lights went out. Storms were predicted, but we were working away oblivious to the weather. It did grow dark outside…wind, rain, hail and then the power went out. It was dark on the stage where we were, of course, rehearsing. In part of our play, “The Jukebox Heist,” the lights really do go out! So, I thought, of course, it was one of our students practicing with the lights, but no, it was the real thing. And it was dark, very dark. I simply said, “Go get your phones.” Of course, they were reciting my words back to me as I do not allow phones at any rehearsal. “No, no,” I said, “go get your phones, and turn on the flashlights.” They did. We sat knee to knee on the stage rehearsing our lines of the show. Jennifer Martin, the LCYC executive director, said it was her. I assured her that it was definitely me! We finished the entire afternoon with our flashlights. Once again, as in Hitchcock, these young actors will never forget that afternoon.

By Friday morning the power was back on and we are ready to roll.  I ask for no scripts on Friday morning although they could do line call. I never know how they do it exactly. I mean, it is a 40-minute show. I ask for them to learn the whole show so they know where to come in, and to cover for any one forgetting their lines. I know Holly and Brianna spend every moment, outside of camp, learning and rehearsing lines. Friday morning there were no scripts on the stage. Outstanding.

They were all back early on Friday night for costumes, make-up, last minute dance practice and just to be together. Since this show took place in a diner, we transformed the stage and the seating area to look like a diner. All the tables had red and white checked tablecloths, bubble gum adorned the tables. Jen made popcorn so everyone who came received popcorn. Jen and I also grabbed aprons to complete the scenario. Of course, there is that old saying, “If you build it, they will come.” By the time the 7:00 bell rolled around every seat was taken…every seat! They were marvelous and dare I say, adorable? Well, they were. It was an outstanding show with a standing ovation. What more could I ask for?

I love working with Jen; she makes my job so easy. She cooks lunch for us every day, attends to every detail. This year, Tara Rinkle Homan was my costume designer. She set up her sewing machine and trunks of clothes to remake. The costumes were superb.

Another year for drama camp. I miss it already. I miss my girls as they flew back to Charleston on Saturday. The summer of the grandchildren is over.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023



When the Littles were here, they spent many happy hours outside in the dark. Barefoot and covered with the garden dirt of the day, they ran happily through the grass chasing fireflies. Just being outside in the dark is definitely an adventure for children, but add fireflies to the equation and life is magical. Of course, chasing after fireflies is so fun, but catching them is quite another adventure. Faith and Noah ran over to me every time they caught a firefly! As all children do, they put them in small containers after I poked holes in the lids. I did give instructions to my Littles that we enjoy and love them and look at them until it was time for bed, and then off with the lids and let them go back into the night where they belong.

Any one of us reading this knows the magic of fireflies. I hope you still feel that magic! I know I do. I love sitting in the garden watching the light show as Venus continues her show from the night sky. What is not to love?

However, I think we are all aware that we are noticing less and less in the summer gardens. What are some of the causes of the diminishing numbers of fireflies? Dr. Casey Sciar, director of The Arboretum at Penn State gives us a few ideas. “The finger is pointed at light pollution,” he says, but he goes on to say, “But it is also pointed at our use of pesticides.” Of course, he goes on to say that cutting down of woodlands and marsh areas are to blame as well. “We do need to pay attention to preservation and conservation for our natural resources.”

It is to this length that the Firefly Watch Project has gone into effect. So, let me explain. I was introduced to this project about a month ago, and I have been participating ever since. It is simple, really, and we all can do it! Find a spot in your yard or your neighborhood or even a park that you like to visit. The important thing for you to do is to choose this same location through the length of the firefly season which usually lasts until mid-August.

Once you find your favorite firefly location, visit it once a week and make observations and notice the following details: habitat type, temperature, precipitation, wind, cloud cover, artificial light. Next, notice the flash patterns over the course of ten minutes in three ten second periods. If you want to take this a step further, you an submit your observations so that all of the data collected will be able to help scientists. This data goes to Mass Audubon Firefly Watch.

It is fine if you just want to make your own observations without sending in the data. I have been sending mine in for the past few weeks because I find it very interesting, and it helps me pay attention to the fireflies in my own garden. This is quite a fun project and perhaps you would like to do this with a friend or neighbor…or a child or grandchild to help them understand our natural world. While you are sharing this with children, there are many wonderful books out there on the subject of fireflies. One of my very favorite books was written by a Fort Wayne author, Helen Frost. She and Rick Lieder (photographer) have produced a gorgeous book, Among a Thousand Fireflies. This is one of many in my own library. There are lots more as well to share with your children!

We live in a magical world. Last night a firefly got caught on my screen door. I watched it for a long time wondering if I needed to rescue the firefly. Time stood still for me as I watched the flashing pattern on my door. I don’t know how long I watched, but eventually the firefly moved back into the dark of my backyard! Even though I do not collect them in jars anymore, I am enchanted by them every summer’s night. I hope you do too.

Let me know how your firefly observations go, I would love to hear where you are doing this and who is sharing this activity. Don’t forget to look up at the new moon as you sit in your garden!

Jacqueline Woodson once wrote, “Make a wish, Make a good one. Firefly wishes always come true!

Here is the Audubon website:

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Ukulele Camp!


The first time I went to summer camp, I was ten and it was girl scout camp. I remember my mom and dad leaving me standing in the doorway of the cabin. I watched them drive off. “I’ll write!” I called after them. I turned around, put the sheets on my cabin bed, and tried not to let the other girls see me cry. I was already homesick! However, it didn’t take long before the fun started! You know, the camp fun. Singing in the mess hall, learning to canoe, swimming, telling ghost stories at the campfire, and writing home. I am not sure what new badges I earned, but I know there were several! By the time camp was over, I didn’t want to go home! The absolute worst part was being stung in the cabin by a wasp. One was bad. Then I was stung again. When I went to bed that night, one of the other camper girls leaned over my bed and said, “If you get stung again, you die!” I didn’t tell the counselor at first, but finally I had to tell her because I was so worried about dying that night. She was kind. She didn’t laugh, but she told me that was not true and she would keep an eye on me all night. I didn’t get stung again. I didn’t die that night so I never did find out if that was true.

Going to college was a bit like going back to camp. I packed up all my things, and headed to school with my parents. It was deja vu all over again watching my parents leave, turning around unpacking and making my bed. I even wrote home…not every day, but often!

This past week, it all came back to me as I packed to go to Ukulele (and Harmonica) Camp this week at Manchester College. Carolyn and I sent in our registration weeks ago, and I put the date on the calendar. This past month with the Littles visiting, I didn’t pay much attention to that calendar. Once they left, I dusted off my planner and there it was in bold writing, Ukulele Camp. I was committed. I paid the fees, and I packed my bag. We decided to buy the linens for $12.50. “Wouldn’t that be easier?” we both thought.

We loaded up Carolyn’s van, waved farewell to Elten as he hollered after us, “Have fun at camp!” We chatted all the way to Manchester College and soon found ourselves at the registration table. We got our room keys, and our name tags. Mine said, “Ukulnannie.” What was I thinking when I put that down? I guess I was in Nannie mode. With our keys in our pocket, we checked into our dorm room. The room looked no different than the one I checked into years ago. I just stood there looking at the bare room with our bags of linens tossed on the beds. We did, however, have our own bathroom shared with two other suite mates. We opened up our linen bags to find pieces missing, but a quick call down to the desk, and the other linens promptly appeared. The sheets were two flat thin sheets, and I know, I KNOW, these were the same threadbare sheets that were delivered to my dorm room many years ago! I had forgotten. Nothing tucked in! When I woke up each morning, all the sheets were in a huge round bundle in the middle of the bed! But, I came to camp to play the ukulele, and play we did…from morning until night.

The three-day camp did not leave time to even write home! The days were filled with classes and the evenings were concerts by some of the best uke and harmonica players in the world; I think I can safely say that. We took notes, made friends, ate in the cafeteria, and shared stories. There was no canoeing or backpacking down the streets of Manchester, but the songs and the music carried us around the world. We took classes on every genre of music.

Today is our last day. We have to say farewell to new and old friends, just like camp. We have to bundle our linens and place them in the hall and turn in our room keys, just like camp. We have to say, “See you next time at camp.” And the packed car will turn northward.

Yes, Virginia, camp is for everyone…even grown-ups!

Labor Day 2023 with Carl Sandburg

Labor Day comes and goes with the passing of the torch from those lazy summer days to the beauty and fun-filled days of Autumn. After a ho...