31 December 2009

River City or Pottersville?

"you mean Bedford Falls"

"no I mean Pottersville! Don't you think I know where I live?!"

A reader gave me this idea for a story, one or possibly two years ago....and it seems only appropriate to write at this time of the year. Remember when George Bailly had his epiphany, discovering what life in Bedford Falls would be like if he had not been born? Old man Potter evidently would have filled the vacuum of good with his monopolizing evil if George had never been born. We see "Pottersville" filled with drunkenness and whoring and people living in filth. Because there was no Bailly Savings and Loan and no George Bailly.

Thankfully George Bailly awakes to Zuzu's petals in his pants pocket, Clarence gets his wings and a splendid rendition of Auld Lang Syne is bellowed from the rafters of the Bailly home.

Maybe I'm alone in this, but it does make me wonder what life would be like if I had never been born. I can't imagine it would be much different, other than my kids wouldn't be my kids. I can think of a handful of other things that would or would not be, but it seems like river city would just be river city. No better, no worse. I think that's because I'm not river city's George Bailly. In fact, I'm pretty convinced that river city's George Bailly was never born. River city is in many respects.....Pottersville already. River city lost its chance to be better maybe decades ago, the vacuum of good was never filled. People literally are living in Potter's slums.

I don't believe that all hope is lost, but I wonder if there ever really can be change for good....for the good of the people who live in river city......can it possibly combat the entrenched and inbred ideology that exercises total control? It isn't enough to be in a position to make change for good-one has to understand through human interaction and neighborly living what is good. One has to deny themselves, and their prescribed political associations and principles in order to freshly look at the quality of life the citizenry should enjoy. River city leadership, whether elected or operating due to abdication, has little if any regard or understanding for river city's residents. But they do know how to train the voter.

On this last day of the year I suppose the focus should be on what good one can still do in their life, in the positions which they find themselves in whether dad, son, grandfather, teacher, friend or patriot. We know from another Christmas classic that it is never too late to turn over a new leaf and embrace the good one still can do.

I don't know who was supposed to be river city's George Bailly, but I wish he had been born. Maybe he's still out there and if so, I wish him all the prayers in the world.

30 December 2009

year end book review

One of my New Year's resolutions for 2009 was that I would read more. I sorta did ok with that one (please don't ask how my non-existent workouts have been going). It takes an awfully good book to capture my attention long enough for me to want to read and finish it.

Here are the books that made it to the "completed" column in my library during 2009:

Traveler's Gift
In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day
Cats and Dogs
Wild at Heart
Crazy Love

Of these Crazy Love and In a Pit were the most moving. Both should be in any Christian guy's library; In a Pit to understand the strength we have in Christ and Crazy Love to understand the love that should flow through us.

Here are the books that I began in 2009 and can't pull myself to finish:
Geography of Nowhere
Ideas Have Consequences
Faith & Courage of Lincoln
Founding Brothers

I'll probably get back to the Lincoln book-I'm halfway through. Both Geography and Ideas are important reads, but in some ways I don't want to read about something that seems impossible to change. Buddy, believe me, I know Ideas Have Consequences-because I've tried to fight the Geography of Nowhere!

Here are the books that were given to me and I haven't even started:
Mike Huckabee: Do the Right Thing
Mere Christianity
Man Up

Here are the books that I received for Christmas and will no doubt finish:
Blue Highways
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
A Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor

I've started Blue Highways and am enjoying this read incredibly....and I can't wait to get started on Million Miles by Donald Miller, probably my favorite author.

That's a heck of a lot of books.....I'm just imagining myself pulled up on a rock by the creek reading this summer. Ahhh!

29 December 2009

Christmas in review

Favorite quote from Christmas morning as the kids pulled their toys out of their stockings: "Santa gets all his stuff from China" my daughter remarked. And get this.....is your dog smart enough to know what a stocking is for?

We spent a great deal of time in our house for our last Christmas at this house. Our annual trip to Lafayette for Christmas Eve was cancelled due to the ice and Christmas day at my folks was cancelled due to sickness. I was going stir-crazy so we caught a movie and had dinner out on Christmas-going against everything I believe. Ultimately we did get to mom & dad's....so I took a walk through the field and shot this picture on a snowy Sunday after Christmas.

My kids and I plotted out our garden at the farm.....we spent time circling items out of Burpee's and Gurney's. If you don't know what those are.....how in the world are we ever going to relate once we move?
I also spent some time budgeting and staging on paper the move....which we anxiously await. And to "envision" what the place will look like I did this color rendering of what the home will look like post-restoration.

23 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas with your friends and family this year! And I promise to work through the writer's block to get the blogger juices flowing again in the New Year.

21 December 2009

Sledding at the farm

We spent Saturday afternoon, with the little bit of snow we had, attempting to sled the hill at the new farm. We decided that another 3-4" of snow would improve the sledability of the large hill. What an amazing snow we had over the weekend....definitely can put one in the Christmas spirit.

19 December 2009

Birding @ Sycamore Hill

I took my first bird watching opportunity at the new farm this morning. The land was simply spectacular with the light snow falling and sticking to the cedars and trees that line the creek flowing at the end of the pasture (the image above is from a previous trip on the day of our first snow).

I was sure, with the property being surrounded with wildlife habitat, there would be no issue with seeing a wide variety of birds once we moved. Here is a recollection of the birds Wingman and I saw this morning:

Blue Jay
Hairy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Great Blue Heron
2 Brown Creepers
Black Capped Chickadees
Tufted Titmice
2 Mourning Doves
and a partridge in a pear tree

Wingman thought he heard a pheasant too. There were also a number of deer in the field next to the house. I am so anxious to get out there. We uncover new and exciting things every time we go there.....in fact I found a pitchfork in the barn today. Seriously, that makes me very happy because there is a lot of straw to clean out of the barn.

17 December 2009

Roadside Smorgasbord U.S. 24

Several weeks ago I found myself trying to find the shortest distance between two points....which is an unfair thing to do to an old road aficionado. However, in this case, I found myself driving Highway 24 between Logansport and Monticello to get to Chesterton. And I found it to be a fantastic drive.

So, when I needed to make a return trip to Monticello I headed there by way of Logansport again because I wanted to shoot some pictures of the great stuff along the way that I had witnessed from my previous drive.

The first thing that "jumped" out at me was the giant steer with chef's hat on the west side of Logansport at the Happy Burger hamburger joint. I thought to myself, how cool is this? Pieces of roadside kitch like these are hard to come by nowadays. And then I passed a giant rooster as I neared Lake Cicott. Hmmm. And then there was a fake lighthouse at a campground at Lake Cicott. And get a load of this little post office! I noticed several roadside relics or structures that would indicate this to be an important tourism corridor from the 20's through the 60's. Maybe due to travel to Indiana Beach?

So thoroughly did I enjoy my drive this time that when the need arises to travel to Monticello again, you better believe I'll be driving 24. And I'll snap some more pictures for a second installment on this roadside smorgasbord.

10 December 2009

the historic Schroeder farm, aka: Sycamore Hill

So let me tell you about this awesome place in the country we plan to move to.

The farm is in North Township, Republicania County. It is on Michigan Road lands, but nestled far back off the road even though the original farm fronted the old Michigan Road. Robert Schroeder came to the county in 1833, one of the first white men in the area, to construct the Michigan Road. He built the first saw mill, married and had the second white child born in the new county established in 1836.

Schroeder's first connection with the farm is traced to tax records in 1843, although it is possible he resided on the ground earlier. He and his brother went to California to mine for gold in the early 1850's, then returned to the area in 1857. Some records indicate he didn't move back onto the farm until about 1867. Schroeder was a Republican (the good kind), holding township and county offices and almost being elected State Representative. He was both lawyer and preacher (that's an odd combination) and died in the house. Oh boy.

The house appears to date to between 1850-1860, give or take a few years. The house sits up a hill from the county road which doesn't appear on atlases until after 1900. It has a creek flowing in front of it surrounded by woods. Several massive ash trees surround the property and a row of red cedars that appear to be at least 100 years old line the drive in front of the house. The house is what they call an "I-House" that was detailed in the Greek Revival style. We plan to restore the exterior, exposing the wood trim and painting the body of it red, of course.

A great old bank barn dating to 1865 is behind the house and is in excellent shape begging for some down-home fun. There's also a chicken coop (the kids are claiming it for a bunk house) and a privy in the side yard. 8 1/2 acres offer plenty of room for gardens, orchards and vineyards. We have an opportunity to secure another 5 acres as well. We couldn't be more excited, even though it means we're "downsizing" by 25%! The farm has been in the owner's family for over 150 years and we've assured her that it is passing into good hands.

where the Hill have you been?

My blogging is pathetic. I do have an excuse though.

We officially signed our offer on Sycamore Hill last Wednesday. At the same time we signed documents listing our home in river city. Our place officially went on the market last Thursday morning and we had our first showing that afternoon.

Thursday morning my "motherboard" gave up the ghost in my 2 year old computer. I was without a computer (and, thus, work) until Tuesday this week, and then not running at full capacity until yesterday. During my "time off" I hurriedly patched and painted this old house using some gallons that haven't been open in nearly 11 years.

Monday evening we had our second showing. On Tuesday both couples who had looked at our place wanted to come back and take a second look. We had an offer Tuesday evening. Wednesday we countered and today we settled. So, in one week's time, we signed a purchase agreement, put our house on the market, spent two days sprucing it up, watched my computer die and then bought and setup a new one, and accepted an offer on our current house.

In this market? Yep. Isn't that crazy? So barring any unforeseen problems with inspections-it looks like we've bought ourselves a farm. More on the farm later!

02 December 2009

stuffed with turkeys

The turkeys evidently thought it was safe enough to come up from the woods to spend Thanksgiving with us on my parents' deck. At one time there were three perched on the bird feeding platform.

We spent part of the day "at the farm" doing a few more walk-thrus. The extended family all gathered and seemed to have their health and sanity-that's a big deal for my family. The turkeys weren't the only excitement that day though. My sister-in-law had brought a crystal relish tray loaded with veggies; the tray was a "find" at Goodwill. The problem is that it just happened to perfectly-I mean perfectly-resemble the crystal relish tray my grandfather bought my mother for her birthday, which happened to be the day he died. As we were washing the dishes and noticed that they were twins, my mom was visibly shaken now not knowing which piece of glass was the sentimental dish. My brother with cool afirmation said "it's this one". Truth be told.....he didn't have a clue either.

My blogging has hit a lul. I seem to find myself very busy; add to that everything that surrounds buying and selling a house and this is what you get.....pictures of turkeys from Thanksgiving. I'll be back at it soon!

25 November 2009

always at Thanksgiving

Funny how the time around each Thanksgiving is now marked with some new journey or soul-wrenching event. Three years ago began a tremendous time of conflict & renewal. Not knowing what it would lead to, and still not fully knowing, what I do know is that God love us. He knows what is best for us, He has gone before us and prepared a path. He knows my heart, my true heart and has always provided in the most remarkable ways. Even now He is providing the opportunity for a new adventure....a fork in the road as a good friend has described it.

written the day before Thanksgiving, 2006
This Thanksgiving............

Will be different.
With a fully thankful heart, I will express gratitude to my God, who in His mercy has brought me back to solid ground. In His quiet and perfect way has raised a mirror before me, exposing a man I despised-a man I had become.

To now be fully broken, laying out my faults before my brothers and allowing God to mold me into the man He intended. This is what I am most thankful for this year.

And to begin again-in loving my neighbor, in embracing life and in speaking truth.
Truly this is a new day.

This Thanksgiving will be very different.


Happy Thanksgiving!

24 November 2009

Sycamore Hill calls....farewell river city.

It's official.

Hoosier Reborn is packing the family and moving out of river city. Our offer on a historic farm I have already dubbed "Sycamore Hill" was accepted and now begins the long process of moving, renovating, selling our place.... It is a beautiful place with a woods, creek, large old trees a great old barn and house, room for a cabin, orchard and truck patch.

Wow. Can't believe it. More later on this developing story.

22 November 2009

Madison: anchoring the Michigan Road

Our second of two meetings in southern Indiana promoting the Historic Michigan Road Byway was held Friday at the Madison Area Visitors Center in this historic river city, county seat of Jefferson County. And it was said not more than once that one couldn't ask for a better anchor to the MR than historic Madison, the road's point of beginning. At one time the largest city in Indiana, established as a port on the Ohio River long before statehood, Madison's architectural preservation far surpasses any other location in the Hoosier state. It also boasts one of the largest National Register of Historic Places Districts in the United States.

Me & the kids at the fountain, 2004

I've made the pilgrimage to Madison a few times with my wife & family. The boulevard leading to the river crowned with a historic fountain is my favorite street and stopping point. Other places such as the Lanier Mansion or strolling along main street is just as enjoyable. This year we visited the Lanthier Winery and found another tasty Hoosier-grown wine (I need to do a post on Hoosier wineries sometime).

Lanthier Winery

Hats go off to Linda Lytle, director for the visitors center, and Rhonda Deeg, their Main Street Coordinator for their hosting and helping with this historic project. We are incredibly blessed to have met such hospitable and knowledgeable people in this endeavor, with our southern friends rounding out the talent pool perfectly.
Lanier Mansion

One other comment on Madison. If you recall several months ago preservation-conscious Madison & Jefferson County was dealt a terrible blow when their historic courthouse erupted into flames. I've watched video of the event as the massive clock tower succumbed to flames and fell into the building under its own weight. They declared that they would rebuild the courthouse, but even I had doubts. Walking down main street on Friday we turned the corner to see county commissioners making good on their word. I just wonder if this would have happened in any other Hoosier county if the resolve would have been there to rebuild. Congratulations Madison & Jefferson County....the rest of the state could learn something from your honor of the past.
Jefferson County Courthouse burning & under restoration

20 November 2009


That's Hoosier for Versailles. Evidently the French had some influence on this other Michigan Road town too. Again, on my first trip down the Michigan Road in March of 1999 to Madison, we passed the town of Versailles; on the return trip you couldn't miss this impressive and unusual spire towering in front of us, just before we had to turn to the west. So, we drove back around the block and I couldn't believe my eyes.

Here, in this little southern Indiana town stood one of the most impressive Art Deco churches I have ever seen. And let me tell you, I know my Deco. Congregations just didn't go for this modern design for their places of worship so the style is a rarity. Nearby were other buildings matching the style and construction materials of a cream colored, glazed brick. What gives?

I never knew the story until Thursday while in Greensburg (from the below link):


James Henry Tyson was born on September 14, 1856, the son of William and Eliza Tyson of Versailles. The early part of James Tyson's life was spent in the printing industry, working in Versailles and Osgood, Indiana. He eventually travelled beyond his hometown throughout the United States and the world. In Chicago, Illinois, he met and became friends with Charles Walgreen. This friendship led Mr. Tyson to several positions in the Walgreen Co., including the firm's first bookkeeper and, following its 1916 incorporation, its secretary. While traveling the world and living in Chicago, Mr. Tyson retained strong feelings for his home town of Versailles. His donation of 18,000 shares of Walgreen Co. stock, established the Tyson Fund which was to finance the building of the Methodist Church, the public library, waterworks and other community activities. The church was designed by Odle, McGuire & Schook of Indianapolis with the ideas that Uncle Jim (as the local philanthropist liked to be called) had from travels around the world. I've checked into the architect and by far, during this period, it was one of their most impressive works along with the Hulman Building. It was built at a cost of $150,000 and was dedicated in May 1937.

Down the road is another impressive building that appeared to have served as the highschool with the "Tyson Gymnasium" and then across the street was the Tyson Library (above), also constructed in the same brick material, but for some reason a rather ordinary building when compared to the other two. I did not see the waterworks facility Tyson also funded, but will need to stop on a return trip. And man I'd love to see inside that church!

Michigan Road to reality in the south

We held our first two meetings in southern Indiana over the last two days in promoting the Michigan Road as a Historic Byway stretching, as blogger Jim likes to say, "Coast to Coast in Indiana". Thursday night Main Street Greensburg played host to a small but committed and enthusiastic group supporting the byway in Decatur County. Many thanks go to their Main Street Director who is stepping up to lead the charge in Decatur County, Bryan Robbins. This guy clearly has a heart for his hometown and the know-how to make things happen. What's Greensburg's landmark? That's right-there's a tree growing out of the courthouse tower.....ever since it was first noticed during the Civil War. Geesh, I get trees growing out of my gutter and no one pays them any attention!

My wife and I headed south to spend the night at Clifty Falls in Madison. Along the way on the Michigan Road are the two towns of Napoleon and Osgood. A block off the Michigan Road is this bit of chain saw art depicting the short fellow the town is named after. Napoleon is a great little town with tons of history dating to the Berry's Trace constructed in 1808, twenty years before the Michigan Road would become reality.

I have a good friend who is a huge Napoleon fan. I'm thinking about buying he and his wife a night's stay in this sleepy little town. Buy a little grub at the old mill, pay tribute to the statue and think about some real estate investment at the Napoleon Bank.

On my first trip down the Michigan Road I noticed this little theater in Osgood that obviously had suffered from years of neglect. What a pleasant surprise to drive through today and see that the Damm Theatre got a new lease on life. Someone evidently er, uh, gave a Damm. (before/1999 and after)

More on building the Southern Alliance for the Historic Michigan Road Byway to follow. It was a wonderfully refreshing and encouraging time and these pictures by no means do justice to this beautiful piece of Hoosier landscape. Please join the effort in celebrating this important route in Indiana....visit http://www.historicmichiganroad.org/

17 November 2009

All aboard! the Bremen Depot

We've all heard of the "last train leaving the station", but how about the last station leaving the train? After several years of hard work, anticipation and even some desperation the folks at Historic Bremen, Inc. had something to blow their train whistle about this past weekend.

The town mobilized several years ago to form the non-profit historic preservation group and they set their eyes first on the long forgotten and neglected 1929 town depot on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Their major obstacle? Moving the multi-ton beast built like Fort Knox. Surely that made working with CSX, FHWA, INDOT, SHPO and the rest of the alphabet in the can a cake walk. With the unstopable fury of a raging locomotive, people like the Henkes plowed through and what has resulted is something generations of Bremenites, now and forever, can be grateful.

This was one of those projects I hated walking away from when I left last year, just before groundbreaking....or should I say foundation breaking? Working through the morass of red tape there were pleasant memories too...such as meeting the last station manager, who happened to know my grandparents and dad whose nickname was "Railroad Jack" for less than dignified reasons. The wait was unbearable until finally one day the small fortress-like building along with its extraordinarily thick terrazzo and concrete floor inched its way about a half mile to Bremen's entry way park, practically on Doc Meyer's front lawn. Restoration on the building reinstalled two impressive porches on the front and track side of the building. Alas, dollars ran out to finish the restoration but the group has already received some federal dollars to stimulate the remainder of the restoration that will include recreating the dormers, a new roof and refurbish the interior.

Historic Bremen has plans to use the building as a small visitors' center, town museum and meeting hall. This past weekend they had the building open for public viewing prior to full restoration.....and a steady stream of visitors were either reminiscing, or possibly seeing the building for the first time since passenger service ended many decades ago. With roots that run almost 180 years deep in the Good Town's soil, I couldn't be more happy for them. Congratulations!

16 November 2009

what is "Normal"?

Several years ago I was part of a team invited to submit proposals on renovating the "Indian Normal School" in Rensselaer, across the street (and part of the campus) from St. Joseph College. I remember driving south out of town and seeing the campus rise out of the wooded area acting as a buffer between it and the sprawl quickly overtaking the surrounding cornfields. Then, down a long lane on the east side of the road sat this impressive building known as the Indian Normal School. We got a tour of the less than impressive state of repair. The building had a courtyard in the center of it, which I thought was a remarkable feature.

I became familiar with the desire of a certain woman named Drexel who constructed the building as a missionary project to "normalize" Indian boys taken from reservations. I don't question her good intentions despite what we would consider maybe inappropriate today, but I always think that examples of people living out their faith in real ways are remarkable. So while in Rensselaer not long ago I wanted to see firsthand the renovation work on the landmark building placed on the National Register in 1973. And it was a far cry from what I saw 5 years ago.

I went looking for information on Sister Drexel to write this post and was overwhelmed at the information out there on both her and the school:

Born in 1858, Katharine Drexel was the middle daughter of a millionaire banker. She had everything women of that time could possibly have hoped for: beautiful homes, a superb education, a loving family, opportunities to travel in Europe as well as in the United States. Katharine’s parents were devout Catholics who set a powerful example of generosity and personal attention to the needy. From the beginning, Katharine’s life centered on personal prayer and the Eucharist. Her desire to devote herself to prayer only intensified after her parents died, leaving her a huge inheritance. She thought herself called to a contemplative religious order, but it was not to be. Instead, her eyes were opened to the needs of Native Americans and to the injustices done to them. Moved by the scope of the need, she began to finance missions, churches and schools from the Great Lakes to the Mexican border.

In 1888 she funded the school to the tune of $50,000 and it became known as St. Joseph's Indian Normal School. It sat on 40 acres and included a craft shop. Drexel visited the three story building after it was constructed. Drexel was canonized in 2000.

Believing that such schools were a way to "civilize" the West, the U.S. government funded the school's operation. The school lasted only eight years, troubled by the Indian students’ dislike of American ways, homesickness and the demands of school. It suffered a fatal wound when the government withdrew support under “separation of church and state” protests. The building then became Drexel Hall, one of the first structures of the new St. Joseph's College. Drexel Hall's location across from the entrance to the College and at the entrance to the town give added visibility to what is widely regarded as the most historic structure in the community after the county courthouse.

The building became used as a men's dormitory for St. Joseph College and included a chapel on the third floor. This purpose was abandoned also and the building quickly fell into disrepair until it was restored in 2006 for adult learning programs. What a unique story in this little Indiana town.

Here are some links with information and some before pictures:

14 November 2009

tree massacre

Shortly after I moved to river city I was given the title of Chief Tree Hugger. A republican tree hugger you say? Yep. I believe that how we treat creation is indicative of what we think of our Creator. Besides, there are a ton of other benefits that any self-respecting conservative would be hard-pressed to refute, if they were truly a conservative.

Well, for all the, possibly, hundreds of trees I have planted in my 41 years I have never been responsible for cutting one down...until this week. You see, when we bought "the pink house" across the street behind us (now green) we also received a massive soft maple tree with it. This old tree was probably 5' across and 70' tall with three massive main branches that dwarf most trees lining main street. Its age was showing with decay in its extremities and near main branch connections. One day while working inside the pink house the wind picked up and a chunk fell out while I was standing just a few feet away. At that time I decided to have an arborist do some pruning. That was expensive enough. The price to take it down didn't seem to warrant its removal. Besides....I kinda liked this tree.....our woodpeckers loved it and it was where we spotted the pileated woodpecker and turkey roosting one time.

The big tree on the right of the former pink house

But this past summer, on the day we were celebrating my daughter's birthday, with little wind blowing, another large limb (small compared to most on the tree) dropped perfectly between our neighbors' porch and car. He was unnerved. I figured it was time for it to go. The next drop would have landed on top of my barn....and insurance is rarely enough. Now, only a third of the tree was actually on my property. A third was on the neighbors' and another third was the city's-but they wanted nothing to do with it. The neighbor's landlord and I are splitting the bill.

Clean-up from the summer's drop

So, the tree cutters came and started early Monday morning. Thankfully I had several meetings that day which took me away from the window I could look directly out of and see the massacre. When I got home it was dark and with the exception of lots of sawdust blowing around I couldn't detect the change until the morning. There's a big hole across the street that needs a tree in it.