11 December 2011

The "back in my day" Christmas tree experience

When I was a kid we always went to hunt for the family Christmas tree at Klotz's Pines near Bremen. A few times we searched at Apple's Christmas Tree Farm south of Plymouth, but both places, particularly Klotz's, lacked the "pizazz" of what it seems today's Christmas tree farms try to provide as a...well..."solid" Christmas experience for the whole family.

Solid. Which frankly has become like a tough piece of beef that's hard to swallow. Seriously...it looks like Santa threw up a bunch of Christmas joy on some of these places. And what's worse is that people seem to just want to sit and soak in it.

Several years ago Klotz's closed which left pretty much one option if you wanted to cut down your own tree. The problem was that this place was adding to their "authentic" experience with each passing year. And that was adding to the price of their trees too. Ultimately a few Decembers ago I threw in the towel and went to Lowe's for our tree. It seemed all-together wrong, but really no less commercial than the other alternative. Finally last year was the last straw when I realized I had paid almost $70 for a tree to a place I dreaded going. The whole experience was no more authentic than picking a fake one out in the holiday aisle at Walmart. And that led to me planting a few dozen trees on the Hill that would become trees for future Christmases.

But what to do about this year? The Tribune printed a list of local Christmas tree farms prior to Thanksgiving. I scanned the list and found a farm in Monterey-the closest location to us and only an extra 10 minutes from the commercialized racket we had become accustomed to. So last weekend (a week after they caught the fugitive murderer in the area) I called the Monterey farm and got their hours and a few other details. The fella that I spoke with said he'd even take my wife as trade-in for a tree. This sounded very local so off we went.

This place was perfect. Aside from a wreath on the door and some jingle bells on the owner's old dog, this place had NO pizazz. The owner pointed us in the direction of the spruces and we were hard-pressed to find a bad tree. Not knowing what the damage would be I nearly fell over when he tallied my bill and it was half the cost of the other place....and no charge for shaking and baling. I told him he had a great little place there and I mentioned that - - - - was just becoming too commercialized, and that this was the kind of place I grew up with. He said I wasn't the first person to tell him that. Monterey Pines is a three generation owned family tree farm, and the owner reminded me a bit of uncle Eddie off National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Everything I would want out of the experience.

Now, don't get me wrong. If giant plastic candy canes, Santa and Mrs. Claus, reindeer, et al are your thing-have at it. I don't mean to be dissing any of my friends who patronize the other place, I'm just more comfortable with the way things were back in my day, a little less commercialized......and I don't think the kids missed out on anything either.

30 November 2011

Out with the new, in with the Old

As soon as we closed on our new old place out in the country, we began a feverish attempt to renovate as much as possible and still move in within a 10 day period. One of the first things to go was the cheap 1960s era paneling that adorned the walls of the dining room. Under it we found....wallpaper......not less than four layers of wallpaper.

But that wasn't the problem. We assumed we would find layers of wallpaper attached to plaster walls....the condition of the plaster we assumed would be so-so. The problem is that there was no plaster. Instead it was plywood. Plywood? That made be re-think how old the walls were in the dining room. We knew that it had been the original summer kitchen with a porch off to its south side. We knew that another summer kitchen was added c. 1890 on the east end. We knew that when the bathroom was created in the old summer kitchen, they enclosed the porch. And these are the walls that had plywood....probably from the 1930s. The top and bottom pictures are the way we found the dining room.

So, we got an estimate to remove all the plywood, install drywall and finish it. And not that the cost was too high, but I stopped and thought.....gee, what I'd really like to do is cover the walls in wood planks.

The former owner, whose family had owned the farm since 1865, told us that there was wood stored in the barn from when the house was first built. She believed that since her great x3 grandfather operated a sawmill that it had come from the property. I climbed up into the rafters and found more than 50 oak planks, between 8-10' long, an inch thick, and anywhere from 12-18" wide. It was gorgeous old growth wood, probably not less than 100 years old when they were felled almost 150 years ago. The top picture is what we lived with for almost 2 years, the bottom picture is the oak in process.

So the new plan was to use the boards to cover the dining room walls....not only did I think it would look cool, but it also would keep the boards which had a history with the farm, with the farm. I pulled the boards down, picked out the very best, and off they went to an Amish mill to be planed and squared.

An then back they came. Our carpenter used all but about 6 of the 45 boards we sent to the mill. He created a plate shelf at the top of the boards, which reach to the tops of the doorways. We used the boards on the south entry hall wall as well. Then to give it a look like they've always been here, I applied a light base stain and did my best Karate Kid impression of furniture wax on, wax off. The result is fantastic....makes me feel like I'm in a lodge most of the day. We have the crown molding to install in the dining room, and some minor trim yet in the entry hall, but after almost 2 years of a whole lot of ugly.....my wife couldn't be happier. We plan to use the other boards for a new top for the dining room table, and we're having an "innaugural dinner" tonight with the carpenter's family. The bottom and top pics are prior to stain and wax.

23 November 2011

When a hymn becomes a prayer

We gather together
I think we too often forget the power and joy in simply gathering together, as family and friends, to share our lives, the joy, memories....just the company can renew our spirits

to ask the Lord’s blessing;
Please God, though we don't deserve to ask for any more blessing than we already have in this great nation....bless us with compassion, wisdom, and peace

He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
Because you are God, You know our hearts and You know our thoughts....and You do guide us and correct us to carry out Your purpose for us....and we pray others will see that in us

The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing;
We have no guarantee in this life that bad people won't take advantage of us or hurt us, in fact Your word says to expect these things if we are Yours

Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.
So God, grant us peace in knowing that we are Yours

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Continue to walk with us, direct our paths, let us look to You in the decisions we make

Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
Your will is above our own....the plans you have for us are for Your glory alone

So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
It may not look like victory now, but we trust that our fight is Your fight and justice is Yours

Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!
So thank you God, for walking with us.....this is Your life, not mine, all glory is Yours

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
How great and awesome are You God

And pray that Thou still our Defender will be;
So please, continue to sheild us from those who mean us harm

Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
For we are Yours and though things may not be easy, provide us a path through the storm

Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!
For You are God, and the freedom we enjoy is because of you.....please place within us a heart to see those around us free from oppression, strife, and poverty.

Be more than thankful this year......be prayerful.

09 November 2011

Occupy Wall Mart?

I've been watching the Occupy Wall Street movement as a curious bystander, wondering about the object of the demonstration as well as the source of the utter disdain some have for the protesters. To be honest, I'm not sure I get either. I think at the heart of the protest movement is just a simple outpouring of frustration in general that ranges from the lack of employment, corporate corruption and loss of ethics, to a broad underlying concern that it appears things are about to get worse given the political outlook. Sure, it has its crazies and detractors, but then who doesn't?

I had dinner with a good friend I would consider on the far right. He essentially mocked the movement because they don't have a clear message.....that in fact, it was a variety of concerns he heard as a reporter interviewed one after another protesters. I tend to be more sympathetic. However, I don't believe the Occupy movement, or at least it doesn't appear the movement has a deeper understanding of this unraveling of the American dream. Further, I don't believe they understand (generally) that they are the ones who have contributed to our economic condition.

Corporate greed is fed by willing spenders. We want our stuff cheap. Well, to do that retailers (assume big box since cheap automatically disqualifies mom & pop) have to outsource the manufacture of that cheap crap to someplace with a workforce willing to work for a third what we do. Hey, buddy, that's why you can't find work! Oh yeah, and we want cheap gas to drive our cars to buy our cheap crap.....which is on the other side of town now......so, guess what? The demand for drilling in your back yard and running a pipe line goes up, as does our imperative for an expensive military presence on the other side of the world. Unfortunately that is costing more than endangered wildlife their habitat, it has cost us dearly in dead and broken humanity.

No, I don't decry the protest like many others on the right. I just don't think the American public understand that we have created this mess ourselves, if we did, we would Occupy Walmart. We are too lazy to think about the collateral damage in making a living from gambling (did I say gambling, I meant to say day-trading to clean it up), supporting a "global economy" or much less the benefit to promoting a local economy. The outcry against the protests I believe is coming from those who have not yet become affected by the corrosive nature of this new American economic model, or from those who benefit from it. But it is apparent that as a nation we have begun this race to the bottom where things, including ethics, will only be weighed by their economic value. It is a new formula that dismisses faith, humanity, and stewardship for future generations.....and the last is what concerns me the most.

04 November 2011

le' coupe re doux

By the end of this post you should be able to identify an extreme preservationist.

When we were closing on the purchase of Sycamore Hill the former owner asked what we planned to do with the chicken coop...but quickly followed that up with "oh you'll probably tear it down, it is in rough shape." My eyes opened wide and I said, heck no, that's part of the charm of the place. Last year we bit off interior renovations and restoring the WPA outhouse. This year we renovated the porch, put in landscaping, and are finishing interior renovations (coming soon!); but we (I?) also made a commitment to restore the coop this year.

The coop was built in about 1930 and based on the material that was used, it looks like most of the structural members came from a few walls that were removed inside the house. Since the coop sits between the house and the barn, at the base of the hill, the roof is a dominant feature of the 21' x 16' building....and I didn't want to lose the "look" of the rustic old corrugated metal roof....but it was leaking and had caused some structural problems. So I removed and catalogued the metal roof panels, fixed the wood roof and structural problems and replaced the fascia (that was a tough decision, but new won out), put down a drip edge, and covered the roof with ice and water shield-not a cheap product. In the end the roof looked........exactly like it did before I spent $500.

Then I had to patch in wood siding that had deteriorated or was missing. There was very little of that fortunately, and since the coop was constructed with scrap and leftovers, I had enough scrap and leftovers on the farm that matched the two types of siding that the repairs are virtually seamless. Then to give my dad something to do, he painted the entire building with a sprayer.

The coop has three windows (one on each side, except for the back) and one door. It looks like the windows and door came off another building on the farm. The south window and the door were fine. The west window (though covered with layers) was still there; the east window (also covered by layers and missing its mullions and bottom rail) was also "there". So I had the sashes restored and glass put in. We've wanted to paint our exterior doors on the house a feature color, which would be carried over to the coop. We decided on deep red, which ties in the red barn and the red trim inside the house. And it looks great on the little coop.

I kept a perfect record of the costs associated with this little project, as well as documenting it with photos just in case there is ever an insurance issue. From my office window I stare at the coop and outhouse all day long. I have to say I'm pretty pleased with the results. So the question is now, do we put chickens in it? I think that it's too nice for that....I may move my office into it. Next year we work on the '20s garage and start the big project...the barn.

Too often these little farm buildings disappear, until ultimately the barn is gone and the farmhouse sits there, looking like a fish out of water. I don't know how many structures have been removed here at Sycamore Hill. The corn crib foundation sits between the coop and the barn, but I don't see putting that back. The buildings work together to give this place the charm that I fell in love with almost exactly two years ago today. They represent a history that our generation is so far removed from, and I want to be able to have some vestige of that past that my grandparents and those before them knew, saved for future generations.

28 October 2011

More than 'a few birds!'

In honor of two great American "dark" writers, Edgar Allen Poe and Alfred Hitchcock, I offer this prelude to Halloween...........for the birds.

Crows. I know they aren't the Ravens Poe wrote about, but they do seem to be creating some havoc in U.S. cities, including Lafayette, and at Sycamore Hill. The other day I looked outside to the withered and browned stalks remaining in the garden only to spy nearly a dozen large black crows fighting over what little seed the sunflowers, dead as they may be, still had to offer. And then today while working I heard a, well, crowing commotion in the backyard. I peered out the window to first see one, no two, wait three, no at least four dozen angry crows filling our leafless trees and swooping to the ground around the bon fire pit. And when they heard me approach they lifted off in cascades of black. Hitchcock would have been impressed....and I must say, I was a bit unsettled. Though none chided me like the Raven.

"And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadows on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted--nevermore! "

And certainly not to be outdone by the flocks descending on our home, it is that time of the year to visit the Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski. We drove there last Tuesday and watched this fowl spectacle unfold under dreary skies. While not a scene from a horror show, the guttural sound overhead by thousands can be unnerving. It is a sight to behold.

"I keep telling you, this isn't 'a few birds'! These are gulls, crows, swifts...!"
"I have never known birds of different species to flock together. The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn't stand a chance! How could we possibly hope to fight them?" from The Birds

24 October 2011

Getting Away to Brown County

Today marks our 13th Anniversary. I think every year since our wedding we have made a point of getting away in the Fall to celebrate, except for last year. My wife insisted we get away for a few days so we landed in Brown County last week.

Last week-when the calender said October, but it clearly was late November monsoon weather.

This wasn't our first trip to lil' Nashville. Fortunately for past visits the sun was usually shining and the leaves radiated their colors. What stunk about this trip is that I had purchased a new toy-a really good camera-and wanted to try it out. I took two shots of our B&B. But, short of the weather, we had a great time. This is what the week looked like for us:

Tuesday night, after celebrating the Michigan Road Byway at High Point Orchard in Greensburg, we drove to Brown County State Park, hoping for a stay at the Abe Martin Lodge. After being charged the $5 entry fee at 9:15 p.m. I asked if it was refundable if there was no room at the inn. I was glared at. There was a room, thankfully, and the next morning we had breakfast in their dining room and drove through the park to check out the nature center and the rain-soaked leaves.

Then we drove into Nashville and met my parents at the Daily Grind Coffee House (they were on their way out of town). My dad calls the owner grumpy, but after watching my dad constantly goad him, I can understand why. We left there and meandered through the shops that included two artists' galleries. The first's clerk asked where we were from and when we said Republicania County, she said that's where her ancestors were buried. I asked what their names were and she said Boggs. I said, "really? I just wrote a National Register nomination for the Boggs homestead." They were the same; I plan to send her the document. The second gallery is a favorite stop of mine. As we looked at the paintings I noticed that several prints were created by Jim Gray (not blogger Grey); Gray was the name on a print we received for our wedding. Then I noticed a number of original "Matt Gray"s. I asked the clerk if the two were related and he said that Jim was his dad, and he was Matt. The $1000 price tag on his work was the only thing that kept me from buying a second generation Gray.

We had a bowl of soup for lunch at the Hob Knob Corner restaurant. If you've never been, you really need to go. Aside from the Brown County Courthouse kitty-corner from the Hob Knob, the building is the most historic place in town and was listed on the National Register many years ago. And the food is excellent. We checked into our B&B on the northwest corner of the downtown. The Hester House was built during the 1850s by a local judge and has been restored and turned into a Bed & Breakfast; not only is it one of the nicest places to stay in Brown County, it is also one of the most economical.

That evening we had a late dinner at the Artist Colony Inn (late for me is 6:30); it is one of the coziest places to dine in Nashville. And later we got coffee at the Muddy Boots Cafe' just a block from our B&B. I believe the place is fairly new; there were crowds there two nights in a row and live music, though when we ate dinner there on Thursday night only part of the band showed so the guitarist called it an early night.

Thursday we drove to Bloomington to visit the Bloomington Antique Mall in the old warehouse district. My wife had been there a week before and had seen a dining room cabinet she thought would be perfect for our house. It wasn't there any longer. The clerks told us to call the booth's owner in case she just switched it out. She had, and she had painted it for her own use. But she was still willing to bargain but couldn't accommodate a visit until late that afternoon. I didn't want to drive back from Nashville, so that perfect cabinet is sitting in her house today.

We drove on to Story, Indiana where we had lunch at the Story Inn. The town consists of a few houses and the inn and is a pleasant half hour drive from Nashville. When we drove up we saw a tour bus unloading. This hidden little gem is always busy and also accommodates folks from the other world......yes, it is supposed to be haunted. Back in Nashville we toured a few more shops including one potter's studio near the old Ferguson house. We visit J. Mills' studio every time we are in Nashville; he does exceptional work and has been operating from that location for as long as I can remember. We also ran into friends from Republicania County....that's happened more than once in Nashville.

Friday the sun came out. We left for home by way of highways 9 and 19 to absorb some of that fall-time beauty across the countryside we wouldn't get traveling up 465 and 31. This reads more like a travel logue, but I wanted to give a shout-out to some of the great places Indiana's famous fall retreat center has to offer......I just wish I had more pictures to go along with it. These are of the Hester House B&B.

14 October 2011

Photo Shoot on the Hill

A few weeks ago we held a family photo shoot at the farm and we couldn't have been more pleased with the results. So, this one is for our family and friends out there......

07 October 2011

Lincoln Highway Gains Byway Designation

Within a month of the Michigan Road becoming Indiana's newest state byway, the Lincoln Highway across northern Indiana was officially designated by the Lt. Governor on October 3rd. The Lincoln Highway, which was the brain child of Indianapolis Speedway founder Carl Fisher, first traversed the state from Ft. Wayne to Dyer in 1913 by way of South Bend (blue line). By 1927 motorists were asking for a more direct route so in 1928 a new alignment was marked between Ft. Wayne and Valparaiso by way of Plymouth (red line).

While the Michigan Road can capitalize on the state's early history, the Lincoln Highway can capitalize on the early 20th century's newly found fascination with auto travel. Both byways mean heritage tourism to the northern part of the state through a venue southern Indiana has been using for decades. The cities who are doubly blessed are New Carlisle, South Bend, and Plymouth due to having BOTH byways run through them.

27 September 2011

Our Newest State Byway: The Historic Michigan Road and Our Inseparable Ties

This old historic road that runs through Indiana, like a spine connecting the Ohio River with Lake Michigan, the Michigan Road, and I are old friends. We have a history tied to every facet of my life and it seems to be a road I can’t get away from, a road that pulls me back with it into the past and pushes me along with it into the future.

I did all my growing up on “Michigan Road Lands”; tracts of land the State of Indiana received as part of a treaty with the American Indians and sold to settlers beginning in the 1830s. We lived on portions of my grandpa’s farm located just a mile off the Michigan Road. I went to church at the LaPaz Church of God, along the road, until I was about 6 years old when we drove the Michigan Road to South Bend every Sunday to attend a church less than a mile off the road. I went to LaPaz Elementary School, located on the road, through 6th grade. And then I completed Junior and Senior High School along the road at Grace Baptist in Plymouth. And I drove the road every day to get there. Then I went to college and drove the road every day to get to South Bend.

After I graduated from college and got a job in Plymouth, just a block off the Michigan Road, I moved into an apartment in the downtown and had one of the best views overlooking the Michigan Road at 120 ½ N. Michigan. And then I walked along the road to get to work. In 1997 I met my future wife at a coffee shop on the road and in 1998 we were married at the Church of the Brethren in Plymouth-you guessed it-on the road. And we took a celebratory drive in the backseat of her dad’s VW with the top down, down the Michigan Road. A few months later we moved into our first home at 308 South Michigan, a house constructed in 1853 when the road wasn’t much more than a dirt path.

When we purchased our second home it seemed that our new connection to the Michigan Road was going to be tenuous at best. We were located a full quarter mile off the road, again on Michigan Road Lands. But then I looked into the history of our house and the man who built it, Robert Schroeder. Schroeder came to Marshall County with his father in the early 1830s to build the Michigan Road. His father built a cabin on the east side of the road a few miles north of Plymouth. Robert purchased the property in 1865 and built his house at the east end of the property, which is our home now. His grave, marked “first settler of Marshall County” is located in the Fairmount Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in the county, just north of our home along the road. It seems we can’t get away from this old road. And now we travel it with our kids to school and church on Sundays.

As much as my life is and was connected to the road, it should be no surprise that my ancestors were just as connected. My Dad and my Grandma Crothers Hochstetler went to the old LaPaz School like I did. My grandparents established the Garner Inn in 1949 at the road’s intersection with Highway 6 south of LaPaz. They traded their farm near Tyner for the inn and lived above it. My Crothers ancestors’ farm was located on the east side of the road on the north side of LaPaz; they built their home in about 1860 and it is still there today. My Barnhill ancestors traveled the Michigan Road from Indianapolis to Argos and established their farm on the west side of the road just north of town in the 1840s. Great x4 grandpa Barnhill started the Antioch Church north of his home on the Michigan Road; his home is still there but the church is long gone. My great grandparents, named Bryant, traveled the road north from Rochester and lived in a home on the east side of Michigan north of Argos, also still there today. My great, great grandfather Garner had a saddle and tack shop on the north edge of downtown Rochester, on the west side of the road; the building is still there. My great grandmother Garner had a dress shop in downtown Argos, on the southwest corner of Michigan and Walnut Streets. My great, great, great grandfather Moore had a dry goods and general mercantile on Michigan Street in Argos; both buildings are still there. My ancestors are buried in the old Argos, Fairmont, and County Line Cemeteries in Marshall County. I say all this to demonstrate that my family did their living, dying, schooling, and worshipping along this great old road, dating back to almost its entire history.

I first learned about the history of the Michigan Road in 1997. I had always thought it was just the road to Michigan. While working with a group of people from Plymouth to put the downtown on the National Register of Historic Places, I learned about the road’s story. I learned that it was the very first road commissioned by the State of Indiana which began as an agreement in the 1826 treaty with the Potawatomie Indians. In 1829 the road was surveyed and construction started the following year. The road stretched 270 miles from Madison to Michigan City, connecting the new state capital, Indianapolis, with shipping ports. The road led to the establishment of a number of Indiana towns, particularly in the north where the land was solidly wilderness. The road was the path over which the American Indian was removed from their lands and also served as a path to freedom for escaping slaves. Between 2005 and 2007 I placed both downtown Rochester and Argos on the National Register where the Michigan Road serves as their main street.

The fascination with the Michigan Road grew as I traced the route on a state map and longed to drive the whole route. I got the chance when I won a bet with my wife over the amount of snow each of us predicted from a blizzard on New Year’s Day, 1999. The winner chose a location to take a weekend trip. I chose Madison by way of the Michigan Road. It was after that trip I realized there needed to be a way created to celebrate the rich history of the road. I submitted one grant request for funds to survey the historic sites along the road and was turned down. I sat down with the state historic preservation office to establish a method to do this under another application, but it didn’t fit neatly into their standards.

I wrote a blog post on the Historic Michigan Road in 2008 and a fellow named Jim Grey found me and left a message. He wrote a piece on the road, to which I commented that we should work together to find a way to honor the road. On August 2, 2008, two guys who had never met before scheduled a meeting to “discover” the Michigan Road in Fulton and Marshall Counties. At that time we talked about finding some way to promote the history of the road. Several weeks later I attended the Indiana Byways Conference on behalf of the Lincoln Highway and realized this was the answer, and contacted Jim with the idea.

We held a meeting in Rochester in January, 2009, and invited as many people we could think of who could be interested in this endeavor in the northern part of the state. It was decently attended by several people who would become our committee members. We decided to hold another meeting in Logansport later that spring and at that meeting we organized and began a series of community meetings up and down the Michigan Road into 2010. Communities showed great interest and support for the project. In December, 2010, we submitted a 90+ page document nominating the Historic Michigan Road as a state byway. In May, 2011 members of our committee presented our case to state officials and on September 9, 2011 an order by the Lt. Governor officially designated the Historic Michigan Road a state byway.

It seems that the road and I are inseparable, like old friends, and it looks like we’ll have a long and happy future together.

26 September 2011

Extreme porch make-over & insul(t)brick

Like most old farmhouses, our backporch is our "front door". We have a front door and I think visitors have used it once or twice in the 20 months we have lived here, but many more times than not people come to the back door on the porch. It was the door we first used to get a look at the house on Sycamore Hill and rarely do we use any other door to leave the house.

Our back door in town was essentially our front door too. The problem was that we had two of them and since one didn't function the first five years we lived there everyone got used to using the other. Then we put on a gorgeous new door, stone porch and pergola, and created an inviting entryway.....and since people were used to using the other door, well, it was at least nice to look at.

So we moved to Sycamore Hill and couldn't have asked for an uglier back door. There was a 30' long porch, 6' wide with a pocked and broken concrete floor, screened in openings that were full of debris, boards enclosing the top portion of the openings so you could only see as far as the gravel drive, and the house wall was the best....it was covered in insulbrick, which was a fiberboard material used for siding, usually over wood siding, installed during the 1920s-40s. It was promoted as a brick look with insulatory qualities. I call it insult-brick, because it is a bit of an insult.

Now, I'm sure somewhere out there is a good example of insulbrick that maybe should be preserved for posterity. However, our back porch wall is/was not such a location. It was dark grey-black and seemed to welcome mud-crafting wasps. But the ugly didn't end there. Right outside our back door, in the porch floor, was a "small pit" as the former owner described it, saying she fell into it one time while she visited her grandparents. The pit had wood boards over it and steel panels covering the wood. Out of curiosity just a few weeks ago I popped up a board. Small pit? That thing is 6' deep! It's a fall-out shelter!

So, we moved in and the porch became the repository for all the crap that we had to move out of the house to renovate it. Finally we emptied the porch of the junk after 6 months of living here. Then it sat. Then this spring I pulled off the two screen doors that certainly had seen better days, and the piece of plywood covering one doorway, and things just seemed a bit better. Then, in a fit of frustration and a bit of curiosity, I pulled out one screen and wood framing around it in one of the openings. The difference was like night and day. I had to be somewhere in an hour, but I started the demo that changed the face of the back porch from ugly to tolerable.

Then-what to do with that insulbrick? We plan to reside the house in a few years, but wouldn't a little primer and paint lighten things up? So I primed, and just a few weeks ago my dad painted, the porch. Wow. And then, though I'm not a big fan of outdoor carpet, I patched the concrete and covered up that mess with some fine synthetics which are waiting to be glued down. What a huge difference this has made on the old house. And the nice thing is that everyone has to use this door...so it's more than just nice to look at. The pictures are the progression from ugly this spring to about perfect this fall. The wife has decorating ideas, but a few pumpkins added about all the charm it needed. Now to paint the doors.

21 September 2011

Art Saves Kewanna

I don't typically send out kudos here on HH, but I was made aware this morning that Kewanna, a small town in northwestern Fulton County, is the recipient of yet another great downtown "save" by their summer-resident artist.

Several years ago Diane Tesler, an artist from Virginia, started a preservation boom in this little rural farming community. Spending her summers in Indiana, and drawing inspiration from the countryside, Tesler has made significant investments in Kewanna. One of her largest projects was the restoration of the town's Odd Fellows Hall. She has just embarked on the restoration of the town's cool-looking (to me) Masonic Hall.

Having taken the leisurely drive between Culver and Logansport on Highway 17, I was introduced to Kewanna and Grass Creek over a decade ago. Today it is a drive I find opportunity to take as often as possible. The one building that always caught my attention was this great old lodge hall on the west side of 17 (photo of the "before")....I've even featured it before on HH. So, seeing a picture of it today come across the wire, with its true facade finally revealed from beneath a bad aluminum job from the 60s, you can imagine I was pretty pumped.

Hat's off to Diane and all the work she's done to preserve the buildings in Kewanna, and the Hoosier landscape portrayed in her work. Her website is: http://www.dianetesler.com/

14 September 2011

The hot air behind wind energy

I am an environmentalist. A few right-wingers out there are salivating over the fact that I just admitted that, and no doubt it will come back to haunt me somewhere down the line. I remember the first time I said those exact words. It was in front of Republicania County's Drainage Board when I challenged the 19th century dredging philosophy still in use which was causing ever-increasing flooding in River City.

So, naturally, I would be the first to embrace massive wind towers across our Hoosier landscape, right? Well, much like the fervor behind the ethanol business only four short years ago (remember that? it was going to solve our dependency on foreign oil), I question the authenticity of any "get on the band wagon" energy plan. Naturally, any undertaking of such magnitude has to be profitable to work. But just like an ethanol plant shouldn't be plopped down just in any 'ol location.....neither should the newest commercial venture in dependency-free energy.

The wind energy debate landed in Republicania County and has risen to a boiling point since discussions about towers shooting up east of a lake resort community began several months ago. Now, I'm not opposed to wind energy towers.....but to somehow equate them to grandpa's windmill on the 'ol homestead is ludicrous. Grandpa's windmill couldn't be seen 3 miles away. Our wind energy ordinance requires that towers not be placed any closer than 1,000 feet from a home. Now, that's less than a quarter mile away (roughly 4 city blocks). Why should home owner's have the enjoyment of their property, and its cash value, be lessened just so a farmer (maybe, or maybe just a guy who purchased enormous tracts of land) and a large corporation can make some serious cash? These are massive commercial undertakings with little local benefit.

Top photo is off the massive wind farm stetching for miles along the South Dakota/Minnesota border. The photo above is the wind farm constructed along I-65 northwest of Lafayette.

My friends on the clean energy side of this debate need to come to terms with the prospect of a potential for windmills randomly placed throughout the county. SMART planning, something our county has failed to do since we adopted zoning in the 1970s, would create zones based on wind maps, and then make the commercial towers only acceptable in those locations with no deviation. 1,000 feet from any residence? That's even less than wind energy corporations' OWN standards. Frankly, there should be a push to place these near or in our industrial or highway commercial areas......this is far more appropriate in land use.

I've had several people ask me to weigh in on our county's wind energy debate, to which I've said that if I could trust our county to do the right thing, I'd be all for it. I've even looked out my windows and thought...hmmm.....1,000' could drop a tower very close....but I found a few acceptable locations that a wind farm could locate in my view. I fully support exploration in renewable energy, including wind, but there are appropriate places for any such initiative. This is not NIMBY, this is simply doing what is right, for everyone, all the way around.

09 September 2011

9/11 Then and Now

A few days ago while driving in the central part of the state and listening to Hoosier Country the dj posed the question "do we need to be bombarded with images from 9/11?" His point was that it was in the past and the feelings that reliving that horrific day in American history could do more harm than good. In fact he commented that a number of psychologists recommended not watching 9/11 footage because of the anxiety, depression, and rage that may ensue.

I remember the week following 9/11 hearing similar comments. The footage of that darkest day was broadcasted 24/7 and helplessly we watched. But I think something remarkable came out of that in the days and weeks to follow. We became One Nation. We became compassionate and sacrificial. And yes, knowing we had a common enemy, we became determined.

But in the months to follow 9/11 the determination swelled into hatred in some American hearts. And a year after 9/11 it seemed that "the day that would change a Nation forever" had changed us, but not into the character developed in the days after 9/11. While I absolutely believe that fighting terrorism on an international scale had to be done, I wonder about the war at home.

Patriotism defined in this post-9/11 world is vastly different from what we witnessed in the days after the sky fell, and nearly opposite of the heartbeat of the Greatest Generation's defining moment. During the days of World War II the homefront was characterized by sacrifice, conservation, and neighbors caring for each other. Today, in the throws of this 10 year war, hearts beat with anger and selfishness. Too strong and generalizing? I don't think so, not after listening to the divisive rhetoric being spewed by politicians and pundits.

Think about the calls for sacrifice during World War II. Think about the propaganda several months after 9/11. The government and corporations were asking us to go out and spend our money. This was patriotism redefined. Fifty years ago we understood the value of collectively educating our children. Today patriotism seems defined by taking a knife to the throat of public education. Individualists did not build this country, as much as we like to think they did.....patriotism is not the dismantling of Social Security, public education, or government in general. In fact, I think it is quite the opposite. Even in my young, right-wing Rush days, I would never have been convinced that what is being proposed by today's conservatives is the right path for a great Nation.

As I thought about the question the dj posed, and having already seen tremendous replay of footage from September 11th, I thought to myself "God, don't let me forget"....don't let me forget the tremendous culture of heroism, compassion, and sacrifice our country experienced in the days following its aftermath. The 10th anniversary of 9/11 could be the cultural equivalent of a hundred years removed from that day. If it did indeed change us........God help us for what it seems to have changed us into.

02 September 2011

Blueberry Memories...going with the theme

It may be the heat, or I may be getting lazy, but here are a couple of posts in fond reflection of the madness known as the Blueberry Festival. Congratulations to this year's parade Grand Marshal, a good friend and director of the Marshall County Historical Society & Museum.

24 August 2011

Why Jesus is the Answer...to Perry

You know me. I purposefully avoid politics as much as possible, but I do "enjoy" watching politics play out on the national scene particularly with a presidential election looming next year. But I will be honest...you could have asked me who Rick Perry was several weeks ago and I would have said "dunno". Maybe that is how people view Mitch outside of Hoosierdom.

But then came his announcement calling for a day of prayer in the Lone Star state and soon the hype on Perry escalated to a fervor in anticipation of his declaring a run for president. People were comparing him to Reagan and questioned if this day of prayer could distance him from the center of the GOP. Calling for the abolishment of the Department of Education, you would think, would push him even farther from center.

But I think people forget what race Perry is trying to win. Not only do you need to look far to the right, you better have some extreme ideas in this political climate. Perry is playing to the Tea Party and Evangelicals. Frankly, he could win with one or the other's support, but since there is no one in the Republican field courting evangelicals-I could go out on a limb here and say he may well have the nomination wrapped up. Perry will appear left of Bachman, assuming her shooting star hasn't fizzled by the end of the year, but still far right to gain Tea Party supporters that may come to realize Bachman is terribly unqualified.

People on the left are afraid of Perry. Maybe legitimately so, I don't know. The thing that makes me want to puke (yes, I'm using that strong of a word) concerning Perry is his political strategy. I think we are used to politicians invoking the name of God to score political points, but c'mon, seriously, Perry calls for a day of prayer one week prior to his big announcement? When asked what he would be asking prayer for he said economic prosperity. What? Where is that in the Bible, or is Perry a believer in the prosperity doctrine? And why wait until this stage of the game to ask for a day of prayer (obvious answer), why not 2008?

I feel so strongly that the church, and particularly Evangelicals, need to extract themselves not just from the GOP, but politics in general, if they ever hope to be the salt and light God called them to be. Christians falling victim to wolves in sheep's clothing, like Governor Perry, is proof of the warning in Scripture that God's children will be led away from the truth of God. The Church in America is at deadly tipping point and I believe that Christ has been calling for His bride to stop playing the whore to politics. If you're reading this and you are incensed, good. Spend some time reading through the Bible and let me know what from Christ's sermon on the mount runs parallel to Republican party politics. We've sold out to it and it is an anti-Christ-model agenda. What concerns me most is that it may take the nation's full embrace, and subsequent failure, of this agenda before the church can truly be broken.

17 August 2011

The Back to School Blues

checking on her flower garden

I hated going back to school when I was a kid. It was like impending doom as soon as August 1st rolled around and I dreaded any time we drove past LaPaz Elementary. Then as I entered Junior High and High School, the impending doom began about May 1st when I preferred to just stay in school-even though I loved the summer.

Now that I have kids of my own, two very differently tempered kids but both with their father's sense of humor, I could feel the tension around the house this morning with it being the first day back to school. But it was dad and mom that had the blues. I think the boy was nervous-his first day at intermediate school, and my daughter, who got to celebrate her 9th birthday by going back to school...ughh, I think was looking forward to it.

learning to whittle

I have to admit that while settling into a new, much quieter, routine working from home is going to have some benefits, I had some uneasiness sending the boy off to that next stage of his life, and knowing my baby girl was turning 9 today pretty much did me in......especially when my wife sent a message that she was a teary-eyed mess after dropping the kids off. Hmm...what's changed?

This summer was rough, both emotionally and because our schedules seemed to be packed full of something going on all the time. We wrapped up our vacation last week and presto-the summer was over. Maybe it is all of the gray hairs I seem to have gotten over the last two years, the occaisonal aches and pains, too many funerals this summer, a high sense of weariness of the world around me, or knowing that my kids are growing up way too fast.....but it seemed to hit me hard today.

I pray that my kids do well. That they cling to God every step of the way and not let others define who they are. But mostly I pray that I don't screw them up too badly as we continue to move, quickly, through this life. The one thing that I've tried to do, having felt this way for a while now, is find an opportunity to grab both my kids together and give them a big hug and say that I have the best kids in the world and that I love them. It's about all we can do.

12 August 2011

Kayaking the Eel River

Yellow, check. Sugar, check. Tippecanoe, check. Kayaking the Eel River, check.

In an effort to get to know Indiana's waterways, and to satisfy the need to hear water lapping the sides of my kayak, I headed out for a four hour trip on the Eel River with a few guys two weeks ago. The trip took us through northern Wabash County from Laketon, near North Manchester, to Stockdale at the Miami County line, near Roann. Had we known the trip would have been as short as it was, we likely would have stayed in to Mexico (Indiana, of course).

The hot weather of a few weeks ago was the perfect climate for kayaking. The water was cool and invited more than one dip and swim to the other side. The current was steady until we got to the dam at Stockdale, where the river widened out and slowed down considerably. This stretch of river offered pristine woodlands with virtually no development. Near the end of the excursion we crossed beneath the Roann Covered Bridge and ended at the historic Stockdale Mill. No tangles, no portaging, and very little in the way of scraping bottom. Perfect. We concluded the outing with a stayover at Chain of Lakes State Park-really nice camp site and not a long hike to the fresh coffee brewed at the campstore in the morning.

I hope to cruise down several more rivers in the coming years. I have my sights set on Wildcat Creek next so that my Facebook status can state I "tamed the Wildcat".

01 August 2011

three years ago today.....

The first project out on my own was a National Register nomination for the Koerting House in Elkhart. It was designed in 1937 by Alden Dow, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's most accomplished proteges.

The owner made a mean martini, also a first for me.

Another anniversary to celebrate here on Sycamore Hill. It was three years ago today that I walked across the threshold of my former employer's office door for the last time. It was a rather anti-climatic moment considering it was the only job I had known since college and twelve of the best years of my life. Married, bought our first home, celebrated the births of both our children, good elections and bad...and a whopping 10 minute round-trip commute on foot.

But it was liberating as well. I had no job to go to and no real plans to work for myself. I had a small project a friend asked me to do for their organization a few months earlier, but it would hardly pay the bills. But that first day I didn't go to work a second little job came in, then a third, and then....well, I figured I would ride it as far as it would go even though an architect friend of mine told me a few weeks later that August 2008 was the worse time to be going out on your own.

She had it wrong, 2010 was the worse time to be out on your own. 2009 was a stellar year and 2010 was not. But all the way back in January I realized 2011 would turn out all right. Hence the business principle of averages. Thank God I remembered something from my previous degree, which finally was put to use.

Speaking of God, a number of people have commented about the faith I must have had to start my own business. Well, I'll let you in on a secret. I can't consider it a step of faith when I was pushed by God. There didn't seem to be a choice in the matter, so I want to give credit where credit is due and God certainly gets all the credit here. He made the decision obvious, and He has always been the one to provide.

I love what I do. Maybe my work wouldn't appeal to you, but having the opportunity to travel all over the state, working in large and small communities, with a lot of like-minded people has given me a little hope for Indiana. I've enjoyed the dozens of histories explored, the architecture revealed, and new creations that rise from the ground. I've enjoyed linking our stories together across the state to reveal what makes us unique. And I've enjoyed going to work some days in nothing but shorts or my pajamas.

So, here's to three great years....and hoping for many more (retirement age is now 80, right?).