At Home with Indiana Artist T.C. Steele

I’m standing in a living room, admiring the bold olive green paint, the dark polished woodwork and the shelves lined with books. But it’s the west wall that keeps grabbing my attention. Nearly every available space is covered in paintings, including landscapes and portraits, all skillfully done and breathtakingly beautiful. But, in the home of Hoosier artist T.C. Steele in southern Brown County, staring at his amazing works of art, I shouldn’t expect otherwise.

T.C. Steele's paintings grace the wall of his front parlor at his home near Nashville, Indiana.

T.C. Steele’s paintings grace the wall of his front parlor at his home near Nashville, Indiana.

I’m visiting the T.C. Steele State Historic Site just two miles south of Belmont off of State Road 46 west of Nashville and I’m thoroughly enjoying the blissful atmosphere. Any Hoosier who’s ever traveled in Brown County in the fall knows that the leaf peeper traffic can sometimes rival that of I-465 during rush hour, but turning on to T.C. Steele Road – which is NOT well marked, by the way – it’s possible to leave the thundering Harleys behind. This quiet, winding, tree-covered road is, in places, barely big enough for two cars to pass and is gravel in spots. On the Saturday I visited, I saw not a single one as I drove to the 211 acre site.

Coming to the former homestead of Indiana’s foremost landscape artist, one is immediately taken by the beauty of the place. Steele’s former home is an amalgam of towering oak and tulip trees, formal gardens, sweeping lawns, climbing vines and goldfish ponds which once served as emergency water sources for the home in its early years when it lacked running water. Dark red buildings – from the artist’s former outdoor studio to his larger, dream studio, to the home he shared with his second wife, Selma – dot the landscape and, frankly, as an amateur artist, it made me want to grab an easel and paint.

Inside the home of T.C. Steele

Inside the home of T.C. Steele

The grounds and formal gardens, which Selma Steele created for her husband to do just that, paint, are free for visitors to explore along with several hiking trails scattered about the 211 acre site. I popped into the office/gift shop to inquire about a tour and, discovering I had a 45-minute wait, I gladly spent it exploring and hiking. A slow idle among the gardens to the goldfish pond rewarded me with not one but 21 frogs sunning themselves on lily pads, and I had the pleasure of dodging dozens of falling acorns as I explored the Dewar log cabin which Selma Steele rescued from demolition and had moved to the property in the early 1930s.

After a half mile trek on the aptly named “Trail of Silences” which is not aptly rated as moderate given my desk-job physic, I waited outside the doors of Steele’s large studio for the tour. By this time a handful of other visitors had arrived, but, still, we barely constituted a crowd. After a brief background on Steele, his wife and their home, known as The House of the Singing Winds, Indiana State Interpreter John Moore unlocked the studio door and we were plunged into the world of the artist.

Theodore Clement Steele – T.C. to family and friends – was the most prominent artist of the Hoosier Group, a circle of talented, nationally recognized Indiana artists which also included Otto Stark and William J. Forsyth. Born in Gosport, Indiana in 1847, Steele lived most of his life in Indiana with the exception of five years spent training in portraiture at the Royal Academy in Munich, Germany. While in Germany, Steele was exposed to the work of landscape painters who embraced en plein air impressionism – a style of painting aimed at catching natural light while painting on site and out of doors – and it would eventually change his own style of painting and lead him to this out-of-the-way hilltop in remote Brown County.

Upon returning to the United States in 1885, Steele began making his fortune as a portrait artist in Indianapolis– this being the pre-selfie days of ever present cameras – and he and his first wife, Libbie, amassed enough money to purchase a summer home in Brookville where he practiced his landscape painting skills. That Steele once called Brookville home was news to me, and it turned out to be just one of the many interesting tidbits I learned during our tour of Steele’s studio and home. To know that one of my favorite artists once lived as close to me as Brookville was surprising to say the least. One can’t help but wonder what may have happened to Franklin County had Steele remained in Brookville, rather than forsaking it for Brown County in 1906.

One of Steele's paintings from his Brookville, Indiana days

One of Steele’s paintings from his Brookville, Indiana days

But forsake it he did, leaving Brookville in grief after the death of his first wife. Eventually Steele met his second wife, Selma Neubacher – who, at 23 years his junior, was an artist friend of his three children – and, after scouting around Brown County for some time, Steele purchased this hilltop as the site of his next summer home in 1907.

That same year the Steeles built their home, expanding upon it over time and adding other outbuildings as needs arose. During their years at The House of the Singing Winds, the view from the porches – as seen in many of Steele’s paintings – was expansive as the area had been logged and farmed, unlike the rather wooded grounds surrounding the home today. On the day I visited, it was possible to compare an actual view of the home with one Steele had painted decades ago from the same vantage point. The Indiana State Museum manages the site and with over 300 of Steele’s paintings at its disposal, changes the exhibits often, but as the home is featured in many of his paintings, you will most likely have the same opportunity to do so yourself, should you visit.

Outside Steele's dream studio at his home near Nashville, Indiana

Outside Steele’s dream studio at his home near Nashville, Indiana

T.C. Steele died in July, 1926 and is buried alongside Selma on the grounds which proved to be another surprise for me as I hadn’t planned on standing at his grave, but was honored to do so. Selma Steele struggled financially after his death, but remained at The House of the Singing Winds until her death in 1945. Upon her passing, it was discovered that Steele’s last painting – a still life of Selma’s peonies – was still upon his easel.

Selma left the property and paintings to the State of Indiana as a tribute to her husband and his work, but it fell into disrepair until the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Indiana State Museums and Historic Sites took over its care in the 1980s. Extensive repairs, renovations and restorations were undertaken, and Steele’s paintings were restored. Today, it is a testament to T.C. and Selma’s individual talents, his with a paint brush, hers with a garden trowel.

One of T.C. Steele's paintings of his home near Nashville, Indiana - The House of the Singing Winds

One of T.C. Steele’s paintings of his home near Nashville, Indiana – The House of the Singing Winds

The T.C. Steele State Historic Site is open year round, Tuesdays through Saturdays 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. and Sundays from 1 to 5 P.M. The site is closed on Mondays and holidays. With the exception of the Dewar Cabin, the buildings are not open to the public except during the daily guided tours which are frequent and well worth the wait and cost. Parking is free and readily available, and visitors can explore the grounds, gardens and trails for free too, but admission is charged for tours. Prices are $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and $2 for students and children over the age of three. Children under the age of three are free. Group rates are available too and members of the Indiana State Museum or any one of its other 10 historic sites get free admission.

For more information on the T.C. Steele State Historic Site or to plan your visit, check out the following links.

Friends of T.C. Steele – http://www.tcsteele.org/

Indiana State Museum – http://www.indianamuseum.org/explore/t.c.-steele

Follow my newspaper blog at: http://outaroundwithrobin.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobinFritz or email at outaroundwithrobin@gmail.com

Me working on a community art project - painting crosswalks in Shelbyville, Indiana.

Me working on a community art project – painting crosswalks in Shelbyville, Indiana.

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News

Advertisements

Winding My Way Through Indiana’s Wineries

I’m having a fruit fit and we’re not talking salad. I can’t decide whether I want blueberry, blackberry, red raspberry, cherry, plum or apple. And let’s not forget grape. Fortunately, as part of the Rushville Psi Iota Xi Fall Wine Tour, I can sample each delicious fruit-filled wine before I decide which – or even how many – bottles to buy and take home. And trust me, it’s a difficult decision. I’m currently drooling over the blueberry at Ertel Cellars Winery just a few miles southeast of Batesville, and we’ve only just started the tour. Plus, I have a hankering for merlot, the day is young, the wine samples will be plentiful, and I have to carry what I buy.

Bottles of wine at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Bottles of wine at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Good thing I work out.

And good thing the Psi Iota Xi wine tour comes with a chauffeured tour bus because, if past history is any indication, I’m a cheap date and will need it. Fortunately, Psi Iota Xi has pulled out all of the stops with the tour I’m on, and it’s doing the same again with its upcoming 2014 fall wine tour highlighting three area wineries, including Buck Creek Winery, Simmons Winery and Mallow Run Winery. This year’s tour is set for Saturday, November 1st, and, in addition to the tour bus transportation, it includes a sampling of wines at each location, one meal and prizes in addition to garden and back room tours.

What can I say? Sign me up – again!

Also, take note, you may receive a free wine trail wine glass at each location. We did on our tour, but I’m not sure if that’s part of the November 1st tour. As the glasses are cute and, well, are wine glasses, it’s worth asking about at the first stop. Still, cute as they are, they pale in comparison to my new favorite plastic wine glass with straw and a lid to keep bugs out, courtesy of my friend, Michelle, who introduced me to wine touring by bus in all of its many glories. Now THAT’S a friend!

The three wineries to be toured on November 1st are just some of the seven wineries that make up the “Indy Wine Trail,” one of five designated wine trails in Indiana. The wine trails stretch from Braiali Winery in far northeastern Indiana (on the “Wineries of Indiana’s North East Trail”) to the Pepper’s Ridge Winery in the Evansville area (part of the “Hoosier Wine Trail”) and include various parts in between. The Indy Wine Trail – not to be confused with the “Indiana Wine Trail” – also includes urban wineries in Indianapolis such as Chateau Thomas in addition to Simmons, the furthest south on the Indy Wine Trail, near Columbus.

The five Indiana wine trails are the brain child of the Indiana Wine Grape Council and were created to foster collaboration between regional wineries in an effort to offer customers a localized wine experience. Visitors can travel from winery to winery to learn about the various wines produced in the state with wine tastings offered regularly at each location. As the trails include visits to several wineries, everyone is encouraged to designate a driver – such as our poor tour bus operator who gets to travel to each winery without touching a single drop so have mercy and tip him or her well – and drink responsibly.

So many bottles, so little time....

So many bottles, so little time….

At Buck Creek Winery in southeastern Marion County, Psi Iota Xi tour guests will sample from Buck Creek’s large collection of red and white wines and will get a private tour of the back room. With names like Dew Drop (a sweet white with a hint of peach and citrus) and Christmas Cherry (a vibrant red made from sweet and tart cherries), deciding which to buy at Buck Creek may also have you eenie, meenie, minie, mowing your way around a half dozen bottles too. Or maybe that’s just me.

The tasting room and restaurant at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

The tasting room and restaurant at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

At Simmons Winery, tour guests will enjoy lunch while sampling wines and wandering the winery’s beautiful gardens. Located on the family’s 115-year-old farm in northeastern Bartholomew County, Simmons also offers a market during the summer months and features pumpkins come fall. With red, white and blush wines available, Simmons – like many of Indiana’s wineries – also makes several specialty wines, including a sweet dessert wine, Vidal Ice, and Winter Spice, a sweet red Marechal Foch combined with brown sugar and mulling spices which is great served warm, especially during the holidays.

At Mallow Run Winery located near Bargersville in Johnson County, try the Dry Traminette which is made completely from grapes grown in Indiana. A dry white with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and apple, it’s perfect for a fall stroll around the grounds. And, like many of Indiana’s other wineries, Mallow Run offers several sweet fruit wines, including its number one selling rhubarb wine, a zippy little number with a tart zing, not to mention a gold medal “best in show” award from this year’s Indy International Wine Competition.

As for the aforementioned Dry Traminette, that wine is actually produced from a grape specifically cultivated to grow in the harsh climate of the Midwest. The Traminette grape was created by Herb Barrett at the University of Illinois originally as a table grape, but it was found to have excellent wine qualities in addition to partial resistance to several fungal diseases. The Traminette also proved to be more cold hardy than its more established parent, the Gewurztraminer grape, while retaining its flavorful character. The Indiana Wine Growers Council has named wine made from the Traminette grape as the signature wine of Indiana so, as a fellow Hoosier, you should definitely give it a try.

According to Purdue University, Indiana’s wine industry annually contributes more than $72 million to the state’s economy, with Indiana wine sales growing on average by more than 15 percent a year. The exploding number of wineries in Indiana – from nine to nearly 80 since 1989 – have certainly helped with the growth in those numbers. Indiana’s wineries currently grow grapes on more than 600 acres, with Indiana wine production exceeding 1 million gallons a year – which translates into 5 million bottles, half of which I’ve probably sampled. Ok, maybe not, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.

As for this fall’s wine tour, Psi Iota Xi has opened it up to the public, but as the tour bus is only so big, it’s first come, first served with a limit of 55 seats. Tickets cost $60 per person in advance and include the very worthwhile tour bus transportation for the day, wine tastings at each winery, a delicious meal, and a drawing for prizes. Again, tickets must be purchased in advance – no same day sales – and can be purchased from the Rushville Public Library. For more information call Jan Garrison at 765-561-1105 or e-mail janmg@rpl.lip.in.us or Robin Sowder at rsowder0602@gmail.com.

The bus departs from St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Rushville at 9:30 a.m. – go to the west side of the church and just look for the big bus. Return time is approximately 5:30 p.m., but as that’s approximate, you may want to text your designated driver from the bus.

Vats of future goodness at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Vats of future goodness at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

As for Psi Iota Xi, it is a charitable women’s philanthropic organization with chapters throughout the Midwest and places a special emphasis on speech and hearing-related causes. With that said, it’s great to be able to support a worthy cause while also enjoying a Saturday outing to experience some of the wonders Indiana has to offer, even if the end result blurs my speech in the process.

If you can’t make the tour, I encourage you to still check out Indiana’s wineries, several of which also have restaurants on site. Hours and days of operation differ at each winery, with some locations changing their availability based upon the seasons. For more information, to get directions or to plan your own visit to any of the three wineries on this year’s Psi Iota Xi tour, check out their websites at:

Buck Creek Winery – http://buckcreekwinery.com.

Simmons Winery – http://www.simmonswinery.com

Mallow Run Winery – http://mallowrun.com

For information on the Indy Wine Grape Council and the Indiana wine trails, go to:

http://www.indianawines.org/tour/wine-trails

Next Week – I explore Stream Cliff Herb Farm and Winery.

Follow my blog at: http://outaroundwithrobin.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobinFritz or email at outaroundwithrobin@gmail.com

481266_10203777348727600_1608806686782902373_nBy Robin Winzenread Fritz

Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News

I Dream of Foreign Places and Dog-Free Spaces

Someone – I don’t know who – pooped on the welcome mat. I discovered it early one morning while chasing my teenage son to the school bus with a wet mop as he’s not a morning person,

Don't let that face fool you - she's a walking toilet

Don’t let that face fool you – she’s a walking toilet

doesn’t shower enough, and thinks 16-year-old boys shouldn’t have to ride the school bus but, instead, should be driving a smoking hot sports car with booming speakers and teenaged girls taking up every spare inch of space.

But I digress.

As I was saying, someone pooped on the welcome mat, and I’m hoping it was the dog, but in this house with these kids and my particular breed of husband, everyone is a suspect.  Being an optimist, I realized things could be worse.  For one thing, a) it had hardened by the time I found it and b) I hadn’t fertilized the shrubs in a while.  So, finding lemons and making lemonade, I gave the mat a quick flip, tossed the little unwrapped gift under the hopefully hungry yew and called it a morning.  Extra cup of coffee, here I come.

I love that extra cup of coffee because it comes with a quiet house and sleeping pets and time to think.  It’s that blessed in-between time when all is still and it’s not yet time to report to the home office.  It’s my time to sit, to sip and to dream – dream about a cleaner house, thinner thighs, constipated pets and, more often than not, of foreign times in foreign lands with foreign people in a beautiful little space charmingly free of cat hair.

My heart belongs to Venice

My heart belongs to Venice

I’ve found such a place in the form of my dream Go with Oh apartment in that magical place known as Venice, Italy.  When my dreams take me away like a 747 flying high over my rolling Hoosier farmland, I still find it hard to believe such a place does, in fact, exist.  How could this place, this magical watery space, be real?

When I planned my first of hopefully many trips to Venice in the spring of 2012, I spent many a happy idle hour drooling over Go with Oh apartments in Venice.  Did I want to be near the Piazza San Marco?

What wonders wait behind this open window?

What wonders wait behind this open window?

Or was something overlooking the Rialto Bridge more my style? Or perhaps I should consider something half hidden away in the looming shadow of the Santa Maria de Miricoli with her pink laced marble walls and her gleaming dome? Maybe one of the outlying islands would be fun.

Decisions, decisions.

While I could have happily searched for Go with Oh apartments for an eternity, I eventually, found what I was looking for – a lovely two-bedroom, two bath beauty with multiple windows and balconies overlooking the San Severo River, with an actual terrace AND an actual fireplace in the kitchen and a wide entry hall just begging for weary travelers to enter, unwind and toss down their luggage.  Pinch me until I’m pink, I found heaven on earth!!!

My Go with Oh San Severo beauty

My Go with Oh San Severo beauty

It was everything one could dream of.  One bedroom – MY bedroom – featured wooden parquet floors tread by who knows how many Venetian tradesmen.  A wooden desk sat between two windows overlooking the canal and a bridge – an actual Venetian bridge with its graceful arch and bobbing boats for neighbors.  I could easily imagine that desk and that bridge just waiting for me to show up with pen and paper to sit, stare and write.  Venetian glass chandeliers winked overhead.  Within the kitchen stood a wide open door to a terrace featuring who knows what kind of wonderful view outside.

I could sit here and write forever, I think

I could sit here and write forever, I think

I wanted to waltz into that kitchen, open that door and step outside to know –  really know – what was out there.  As long as it wasn’t a pooping puppy, I knew I would be thrilled!

And in real estate they say what matters is location, location, location and my Go with Oh San Severo beauty had that too. While everything in Venice is near the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, this one was so tantalizingly close that I imagine I could stand on that balcony and hear the ghostly breath of long dead prisoners coming from the Bridge of Sighs. I imagined I could pick out the domes of St. Mark’s against the one-of-a-kind Venetian skyline and I knew I

I would give four dogs and five teenage tantrums to peak out that door...

I would give four dogs and five teenage tantrums to peak out that door…

would be able to hear the ringing bells of the piazza’s tower.

Sadly, however, like many a beautiful woman, my Go with Oh San Severo love had many suitors and she was unavailable to rent the week I needed her.

First the denial – no, how could that be??? Then, the heartbreak!

And then, I returned to my Go with Oh apartment list and found the next love of my life, Ca ‘Elena.  Think what you will, she was no rebound apartment and in September of 2012, I fell in love with her too.  In fact, my heart will always belong to my little Ca ‘Elena.

http://www.oh-venice.com/en/venice-apartments/ref_16176/?arrival=2014-03-23&departure=2014-03-30&zone=VEN&sid=&s_id=s_52667dd1aa381&PRODUCT_TYPE=apartments&adults=2&children=0&babies=0

With that said, I WILL go back to Venice and I WILL take friends and family with me – but not the dog.  And I WILL begin a new love affair with the lovely Go with Oh San Severo beauty.  Until then, I will wash the clothes and pick up after the children and feed hard cheese and bananas to the dog in hopes of avoiding a

I want to awaken in this bedroom to the bells of St. Mark's in the nearby Piazza San Marco

I want to awaken in this bedroom to the bells of St. Mark’s in the nearby Piazza San Marco

repeat offense on the welcome mat.  I will clip my coupons and I will save my pennies and soon – hopefully very soon – I will be making plans and packing bags and sharpening pencils.

Because eventually I will sit at that bedroom desk and I will gaze at that bridge and I will write a line or two about what it means to travel and see the world.  I will make memories and take pictures and I will fall in love again with new spaces and places.  And, eventually, I will go home, but I will take with me a little of that watery, wonderful world that is Venice, Italy.

Here is a link to my future foreign Go with Oh San Severo home away from home.  I’ll share it with you now because I’m a nice person and I know I’m not the only middle-aged mom wrestling with crusty teenagers and pooping pets.

Hanging in a Venetian alley with my good friend, Candy.  May another Go with Oh apartment be in our near future!

Hanging in a Venetian alley with my good friend, Candy. May another Go with Oh apartment be in our near future!

Think of it as my little gift to you – and you’re welcome!

But it does come with a caveat.  While I’m sharing it with you, remember one thing – I’ve got dibs on next September.

http://www.oh-venice.com/en/venice-apartments/ref_15447/?arrival=2014-03-23&departure=2014-03-30&zone=VEN&sid=&s_id=s_52667dd1aa381&PRODUCT_TYPE=apartments&adults=2&children=&babies=

With that said, get to Venice.  Everyone needs a little living, breathing slice of real world fantasy to hold on to.  Now excuse me. I have to go diaper the dog.

Making friends in the Piazza San Marco

Making friends in the Piazza San Marco

Robin Winzenread Fritz

Mayberry Isn’t Gone – It Just Moved to Indiana…

Now that's a big root...

Now that’s a big root…

My husband is feverishly pouring through seed catalogs looking for turnips.  He has grand plans to grow a monster because he wants to challenge family friend Phil in the annual largest turnip contest held every Friday after Thanksgiving at the St. Paul Tavern.  Phil is the reigning turnip king and fears no competition, even the cheaters.  Buckshot filled turnips, grafted turnips, he’s seen it all.  He wears his porcelain turnip pin proudly and says, “Bring it!” to all pretenders to the throne. 

Family friend Phil standing in the middle with his world class turnip

Family friend Phil standing in the middle with his world class turnip

Me?  I’m just in it for the pageantry, the walleye sandwich and any chance to wear a t-shirt that says, “I love a big root.”  Thus while all of America shops for discounted electronics, we get there early to grab a good seat – trust me, it fills up quick – and sit in a wonderful local tavern eating, drinking and feeling up big winter vegetables.

The gang's all here!

The gang’s all here!

If the world were a counter full of Baskin Robbins’ 31 flavors of ice cream, to the uninitiated, Indiana can seem very vanilla indeed.  We have no mountains to speak of, no flaming desert vistas, only one major city and our sole beach front property consists of about a hundred miles of Lake Michigan coastline with nary a palm tree, conch shell or shark fin to be seen ever.  Much like pickled herring, Indiana – and large turnip contests – is an acquired taste.

A glorious sunrise over my little slice of Hoosier heaven

A glorious sunrise over my little slice of Hoosier heaven

And I get that, I really do.  I’ve traveled the world and I know how good it gets.  I once worked with a woman who grew up in San Diego.  Her childhood consisted of ocean, mountains and desert all within an hour’s drive so to her Indiana was somewhat of a disappointment.  She lasted about four months.

So, again, I get it.

In truth, a good part of me is thankful that a majority of the world doesn’t appreciate our flat little slice of the globe.  It keeps life somewhat simple, sane and sweet and, for that, I give thanks.  

 For example, in my adopted hometown of Rushville, my children’s farm-kid-oriented high school cheer block was recently praised by a visiting ref at a local football game because –  rather than loudly shouting the old stand-by, “Nuts and bolts, nuts and bolts, we got screwed!” over a bad call – they politely cheered, “We beg to differ!  We beg to differ!” *Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!*

 His comment? “Are they really dissenting respectfully?” 

Yep.

Rushville High School students dance on stage while waiting the judges' results in the lip sync contest

Rushville High School students dance on stage while waiting the judges’ results in the lip sync contest

During a recent lip-sync contest held in the school auditorium, I watched as these same kids – teenagers, mind you – stood up, cheered and encouraged three young ladies who entered the contest and then succumbed to self-consciousness and stage fright.  Rather than laugh and boo them off the stage, these wonderful kids cheered, clapped, STOOD UP and encouraged them.  The girls found their mojo and continued.  When they walked back to their seats, their classmates continued to cheer.  It was heartwarming and affirming and was even better than the movie, Hoosiers, because it was real.  Take that, Los Angeles.

So I hesitate to sing our Hoosier praises because – shhh!!! – I don’t want to give the secret away, but – when you get right down to it – Indiana rocks, and no more so than during the holidays when nostalgia is as common and everyday as a Walmart commercial.

I love a parade!

I love a parade!

Case in point – the annual Christmas parade held just prior to Thanksgiving in my actual hometown of Shelbyville just 13 miles away.  The local town square which we call a circle – don’t ask – is blocked off to traffic, local stores stay open late, Christmas music wafts over the crowd, everyone comes out, children run amok and there’s a parade to boot. 

Horses march through the street pooping in front of the high school marching band.  Betweener-aged snowflake princesses file by in various convertibles – with the queen crowned later based on how much money she raised for her sponsoring charity as the determining factor.  My sister, Renee, walks shotgun beside her high school life skills class float, watching nervously for signs of falling decorations.  A motorcycle gang clad in leather cruises by slowly riding hogs.  Candy is thrown to the crowd and Santa brings up the rear.

My sister stands guard, watching for falling decorations

My sister, Renee, stands guard, watching for falling decorations

As the last float crawls by, everyone turns toward Santa’s little house, the light switch is flipped and transformers kick in.  Decorations blaze to life.  The fountain becomes a Christmas tree.  The statute of local author Charles Major and his bear cubs sport Santa hats and spot lights.  Take that, Las Vegas.

Let there be light....

Let there be light….

I love the Christmas parade because it’s a chance to stroll into Three Sisters’ bookstore, say hi to Carolyn and her sisters, shop for actual books with actual covers, and then grab a hot chocolate at their sandwich counter next door.  Beside them is my beloved art gallery where my friends Al and Diane and Candy and Kathy work on crafts, swap stories and offer up cookies and punch.

Three Sisters' Bookstore - an honest to goodness independent bookstore

Three Sisters’ Bookstore – an honest to goodness independent bookstore

As we stroll the circle waiting for the parade to start we run in to friends from church, friends from school, friends from work, friends from the gym, friends, friends, friends.   Take that, Times Square.

If parades and turnips and polite teenagers aren’t enough, there’s always the free showing of the movie, “Elf” held that same Friday after Thanksgiving at our little non-profit theater, the Strand.  Picture any movie cinema from the 1950s – located downtown right on the sidewalk, big marquee, flashing lights, small front windows covered in movie placards – and you can picture the Strand.  Nostalgia comes free with every bucket of popcorn and it’s even better when eaten in the balcony. 

Family and friends convene early, candy canes are given out, seats are taken, switched, changed and rearranged as we see more family and friends.  The theater darkens, the movie starts, the laughter is loud and life is good.  Call me crazy, but simple things can and do add value to life.

Yes, I get it that the majority of the world may be bored with turnips and small town parades and re-runs of free movies on the big screen.  It’s a coarser, harder world out there.

My little slice of Indiana isn’t perfect, for heaven’s sake, but we do get a great deal right.  I may have grown up in a flat little land whose charms are lost on many, but I’m still grateful nonetheless. 

Even the bears are decked out for Christmas

Even the bears are decked out for Christmas

It’s made me who I am.  I can go out into the world, love what I see and still come home and be happy in the Hoosier heartland.  And for that, I give thanks.

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

Just a Hoosier girl at heart

Just a Hoosier girl at heart

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Dublin

Blimey, I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Dublin

The first thing I saw were fists, tiny little fists raised to the air shaking with anger, confusion, fear, who knows.  She doesn’t recall why she raised her fists, partly because it didn’t appear on her favorite TV show, Merlin, or on her Kindle, and partly because she was only seconds old.  But I remember it like yesterday as it was the very first time I ever laid eyes on my daughter – ultra sound not withstanding- and she came out with a bang.  Her dark red hair was askew, her lungs were in good working order (and haven’t failed since) and those tiny fists were raised to the sky, making one thing abundantly clear – tiny or not, Jackie Marie was ready to take on the world.

My baby girl at her first communion, no doubt dreaming of a boy with an Irish brogue…. or wondering how far she can spit from there.

And now, she’s just one month shy of 18 years old, a high school senior planning her future.  For her, that future includes prom, graduation, fighting with her brother, heading off to college and – if we plan right and save accordingly – her dream trip to Ireland.

The Irish coast is a calling

That’s where Go with Oh’s dream contest comes into play.  I want to make my daughter’s Irish dream trip come true.  And if I get to tag along for the ride, so be it!

Despite our last name of Fritz, Jackie and I are Irish on my mother’s side (Kelley) and have the strawberry blonde hair, green eyes and freckles to prove it.  We don’t tan so much as pink up and Jackie has more Celtic music on her iPod than pop. She’s in love with all things Anglo Saxon, but not in a creepy Nazi sort of way, and she swoons at even a hint of an Irish brogue in any member of the opposite sex.  As for me, when I get mad, I try to cuss like an Irish sailor, but it clashes with my Catholic school upbringing, though somehow I manage.  If you prick our fingers, we bleed shamrocks and when I pee, it foams like Guinness. Don’t worry – I’m having that checked out.

The Bingley Bridge

Jackie’s dream is to live in Ireland, teach history, marry an Irish man and raise their adopted Chinese children, Ling and Ping O’Riley or whatever his last name may be, in the rolling green hills of the mother country.  Yes, you read that right.  Someday I may be the only Hoosier with Chinese grandchildren living in Ireland. Jackie’s learning Gaelic, has plastered her school binders with pictures of the Irish countryside, and works at Burger King partly to save for her graduation trip and partly because she’s too young and her mother won’t let her work at the Titled Kilt. Yeah, she’s that committed.  And yeah, I know that’s Scottish, but it’s close.

Hence our mother and daughter dream trip to Ireland.  Hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to Dublin we Go with Oh – we hope!

We don’t see many castles in Indiana

As a mother, I relish the thought of joining her on that trip for many reasons.  From what I’ve seen from pictures, Ireland is stunning.  Imagine how amazing it would be to stand on the ramparts of a castle ruin trying to count how many different shades of green one can see.  Whether we’re strolling the gardens of Trinity College or ambling down a cobbled stone street in some tiny Irish village or hanging upside down to kiss the Blarney stone, one can bet the surroundings will be stunning.

It’s just waiting to be explored

Plus, it’s dripping with history, a love my bookworm daughter and I both share.  I can easily imagine us enoying a gray afternoon in the National Museum of Ireland steeping in Celtic history and Irish lore.  After all, there’s Viking Irish history and medieval Irish history and let’s not forget about iron-aged Irish history – so much to discover and so little time.  And when the museums are few and far between, we most certainly will stumble into every church that strays near our path.  Bring on the incense and candles!

And, there’s that family connection too. How many Kelleys will we find?  And will any of them claim us?  After all, who doesn’t want to visit their ancestral roots, even if they include more than a wee bit of drunken debauchery?

Which brings me to my next set of reasons for joining her on her trip – parental supervision required.  Much like her mother, Jackie has tasted a glass of wine or two and liked it, plus she’ll be 18, of legal age, in a foreign country, smitten by boys with Irish accents and able to go to the bars.  Not that I don’t trust her, mind you, but a mother’s got to do what a mother’s got to do, and if that includes Irish bar hopping, sign me up.  After all, it sure beats sending her to her room.

Lovely, lovely Dublin

 So a good part of our mother-daughter dream trip will be an indoctrination into responsible adulthood before I send her off to college.  Yes, we will be on vacation and yes, we will be exploring the wonders of Ireland in all their radiant green glory, and yes, we WILL go to the Dublin bars, but it will also be our time to talk, to share, to plan and to practice for that next stage of her life.  August will be here before we know it and with it will be college and moving her into the dorm.  She’ll be tasting that first sweet taste of real independence.  Sure, she’ll still be my baby girl, but she’ll be off on her own. It’s enough to make a mother cry with both joy AND dread.

How do I love thee? Let me count the greens.

But to have a dream week with my daughter in Ireland will make that transition so much more bearable from a maternal point of view.  It will still be delightfully painful to part with her this fall, but that looming pain of sending my little Peaches off into the real world will be tempered by those sweet green Irish memories of our time together.  It will still sting and I will still cry, but that’s life and we’ll always have Ireland.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win fantastic prizes from their Facebook competition, check out their link at:  http://www.gowithoh.com/

And enter the competition at: http://www.gowithoh.com/competitions/blogger-competition/

Life is short, travel is fun and the world is blessed.  Get out in it, see it, live it and share it with a loved one.

Hanging with my baby girl in New York

By Robin Fritz

Yes, I Got Crabs in Florida…..

I’m a newbie diver still wet behind the ears and not in a good way.  As a landlocked Hoosier, it was always on my to-do list to get certified, but actually making it happen kept falling by the wayside as college, tedious desk jobs, mortgages and children with poopy diapers interfered with those grand plans.  And it didn’t help that I see more corn than coral on any given day.  Plus, as a

Key Largo

Key Largo

Midwestern middle-aged mother, it seemed almost selfish to want to take up a new hobby that would take me hundreds of miles away from my children.

But then they became teenagers and, guess what?  I got over it.

It’s not that I was unaware just how thrilling diving could be all those years.  My brother Andy was a rescue diver with the Indiana State Police, and he regaled us with amazing tales of floating in near complete darkness at the bottom of a Hoosier reservoir only to have a large catfish run headfirst into his chest, momentarily dislodging his regulator.  And my brother-in-law Steve – a highly experienced master diver – had wonderful stories to share about his exploits in the ocean, from hiding behind a large fan coral while watching a huge barracuda at night

Me on my way to meet my little friend

Me on my way to meet my little friend

to getting seriously crapped on by a whale shark off the coast of Mexico.  It was, he said, as if a dump truck had unloaded a giant pile of dirt on him all at once and it became for me a bucket list item.  

In short, I knew it was cool.

So in the summer of 2006, fresh off the heels of turning 40, earning an MBA and still reeling from burying my brother Andy after he lost his life in the line of duty some years before, I decided it was time to make the adventure happen.  What better way to celebrate his life and my hard work than with an open water diver certification?

Still, getting certified in Indiana is rather lame as adventures go.  Diving in Indiana involves check out dives in relatively tame gravel quarries with nary a current or wave to be seen or felt.  The greatest challenge is braving the thermacline cold and the greatest danger is that of getting hooked by an overanxious angler who thinks those funny bubbles popping on the surface are from a record breaking snapper turtle. 

So when I actually set off on my first ocean dive, I was feeling like a fish out of water.  Sure, I knew I was in good hands.  And I knew it would be a

Dive buddies Karen and Scuba Steve chatting with Captain Marvel

Dive buddies Karen and Scuba Steve chatting with Captain Marvel

challenging, liberating experience that I would remember for the rest of my life.  And I was grinning from ear to ear despite the nerves.  But, little did I realize just HOW memorable an experience it would turn out to be.

On a dive adventure scale, I was in the kiddie pool.  We were in the Florida Keys, diving at Snapper Ledge off Key Largo in relatively shallow waters early one morning.  The seas were glassy calm, the ocean pee-water warm, the weather stunning, the visibility something you would write home about, and any current was non-existent.  It was, to say the least, perfect.

We had chartered a trip with Blue Water Divers on a boat captained by a man named, I kid you not, Captain Marvel.  All told there were only five of us on the boat, leaving no chance for anyone to be left behind in a cattle call

Karen & Captain Marvel's trusty sidekick, Brent

Karen & Captain Marvel’s trusty sidekick, Brent

situation.  My brother-in-law Steve and our friend, Karen – both experienced divers, were along for the ride.  And Captain Marvel had a trusty sidekick named Brent who would lead the way.

As we snapped on to the buoy, I told myself I was ready, even if walking in scuba gear on a gently bobbing dive boat reminded me more of my 21st birthday than I cared to admit.  I swayed and swerved and finally made it aft where I took a deep breath, held my mask and regulator as I was taught in class, put one foot in front of the other and, with my heart thumping, jumped in.

You’ve heard it all before, heck, YOU’VE no doubt experienced it – that sense of entering another world, where you’re weightless and all around you is color and light.  I was captivated!  All hint of nervousness vanished as we sank slowly downward through the brilliant blue water.  We explored and swam and

My idea of a commute

My idea of a commute

looked.  A spotted ray undulated across the sandy floor and massive conchs slowly crept along, headed who knows where.  Jaw fish played hide and seek with Steve’s finger and fish in every possible color floated by.  I actually found myself looking outward in hopes of spying a dolphin or a turtle or, heck, even a SHARK, for heaven’s sake in the distance. 

I pretended I was a mermaid.  I forgot about bills and arthritic knees and a living room carpet back home which now looked more like an African leopard skin thanks to all of the spots and stains brought on by pets and children and husbands who don’t wipe their feet.  It was the closest I’ve come to feeling like a young child again stepping off the school bus at the beginning of summer and nothing stretches out before you but freedom waiting on the horizon.  Actually, it was even better than that, now that I think about it.  It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.

Sighting a huge school of yellow snapper I motioned to Steve that I was going to float into the midst and as he watched, I made my way among the school, slowly, surely, cautiously entering their world.  Within moments I was in a bubble of beauties who hovered just at arm’s length away, staring at me with big black eyes.  They watched me, I watched them and it was heaven.

Heading out to sea

Heading out to sea

Except in heaven water doesn’t suddenly entered your ear – as it did mine which, I will admit, is not an unusual occurrence 25 feet down.  But we’ll come back to that….

I thought little of it at the time and continued the dive, working on my buoyancy, avoiding the precious coral and keeping pace with Steve and Karen.  The dive ended all too soon and before I knew it, we were back on the boat talking a hundred miles an hour, reliving every minute of it.  But the adventure still wasn’t over for as Steve stripped off his dive gear we noticed several tiny little crabs no bigger than my pinky nail on his wetsuit.  Astonished, we carefully collected the little creatures, marveled at their size and gently released them back into the ocean. 

We returned to our rented condo, ate a quick lunch and relaxed by the pool.  As I lay on the deck chair cooking in the sun, I relieved the dive, all the while shaking my head from time to time, trying in vain to get the water to drain from my right ear.  I tried lying on my right side, hoping gravity would take over and I plunged my pinky nail in to give my ear a good shake.  I tossed my head hard to my right shoulder time and time again, but no luck.  I could actually feel the water sloshing in my ear and occasionally a hint of static set my ear drum pounding, but the water persisted so I tried to ignore it and took a nap in the sun.

Five hours after our dive, we showered dressed and headed out to dinner, looking forward to a well-cooked meal at a local Thai restaurant down the

Back at the condo - hanging out with my little friend

Back at the condo – hanging out with my little friend

road, ready for a seafood feast.  Climbing out of the car, I gave my head one more good toss and finally felt the water move to the edge of my ear.  Finally, I thought. Relief was just around the corner.

I raised my pinky nail to my ear, eager to help the water on its way out, only to encounter something hard.  Disturbingly hard.  Sticking out of my ear.  With a start, I reacted, flicked it with my nail and watched as a tiny object fell to the ground, landing near my shoe.  Bending over to see what it was, I looked in shock.

For lying dead on the ground, no bigger than my pinky nail was a tiny, little crab glistening in the evening sun and coated with a shiny new layer of ear wax.

The three of us stared in disbelief.  I knew when I entered the ocean that I was voluntarily plugging myself back into the food chain, but I hadn’t expected anything to take up lodging too.  At this point, I half expected an obnoxious yellow sponge dressed in red shorts to come bounding out of the other ear.

I scooped the little creature up and put it in my eyeglasses case to show the children.  I had hoped to cover him in resin and make a necklace out of him, but alas, it was not to be.  For while my ear may have been a decent port in a

Scuba Steve & Karen enjoying a post-dive beverage

Scuba Steve & Karen enjoying a post-dive beverage

storm – the storm being a swirling bubble of yellow snapper I realize now – my glasses case proved to be otherwise.  He dried up over the next three days, leaving only a miniscule pile of crabby dusty in his wake.

I’ve had other fun dives since and a challenging one too invovling a roiling ocean near Key Largo that included vomiting into my regulator while staring up at the Christ of the Abyss , but nothing else has crawled in and come along for the ride – at least not that I know of.  More adventures await and I say, bring ‘em on, even the crabs.

The moral of this story?  Even when diving the tamest of locales in the best of conditions surrounded by experienced divers, the act of diving itself will always be a memorable adventure that you just won’t have on land.

– by Robin “The Crusty Crab” Fritz

Oh Bring on the Nooks and Crannies…

My childhood home – the place where my mother still resides – was simple and pleasant enough.  It had three bedrooms which housed six people, and the one and a half baths proved to be more than adequate since my brothers were allergic to cleanliness.  Like most American homes, it had all the necessities – a serviceable, but lackluster kitchen, a living room/dining room combo with a large picture window looking out over a front lawn sprinkled with dog poop, and a tiny family room with a fireplace.  And, like so many other Hoosier homes, it was a standard ranch-style one-story brick house, in essence a nearly identical replica of its many cookie-cutter brethren. 

An amazing Oh-Florence.com apartment with one heck of a view!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the home I grew up in.  It was and always will be home even though I now own one of my own.  Yes, it was loving, yes it was warm and, yes, it was home, but a creative living space, it was not, despite my attempts to color it up with homemade macaroni art. 

Nooks and crannies?  Nada.  Twisting staircases?  Forget about it!  Frescoed walls?  Arched hallways?  Dormers with window seats? Butlers’ pantries?  Hidden passageways?  Bay windows? Nope.  Not a one.

So while my home provided all the love and comfort a girl could need, it wasn’t exactly inspiring on a creative level.

While most kids may give little thought to nooks and crannies, as a child, I was different.  Buildings and boats fired my imagination, and I spent quite a bit of my childhood drooling over both and building models of each.  I once owned so many dollhouses that my younger brothers threatened to line them up and

Oh-Paris apartment with the fireplace of my dreams. Hot dogs anyone?

recreate the great Chicago fire.  When we visited downtown department stores, my siblings would run for the toy aisle.  Me?  I ran for the furniture.  As an adolescent, I actually saved up my allowance to subscribe to House & Garden magazine and that one day a month when it arrived in the mailbox was my own private Christmas morning.  Yeah, I was that weird.

And that mania hasn’t mellowed with age, oh no, quite the contrary!  I actually have an inch-thick file of colored chip strips collected from various paint departments.  I now subscribe to more decorator magazines than I have toes and fingers, and my husband has to pry me out of the kitchen display sections of home improvement stores with a crowbar.  When we drive anywhere in the

This Oh-Florence apartment has a triangular-shaped terrace! Almost makes me wish I was better at geometry.

dark, I peer at passing houses in hopes that I may spy a staircase or built-in bookcase through the windows.  Naked people doing God knows what in there?  Who cares!  I want to see their walls!

When my children were little, I gave thanks for Halloween because it meant trick-or-treating in the oldest neighborhood dripping with big turn-of-the-century mansions left over from a more prosperous age.  Thus while my kiddies begged for candy at strange door after strange door, I peeked into one architectural beauty after another, here a Queen Anne, there a Victorian, everywhere a Gothic.  It was heaven.

So imagine my joy, my glee, when I stumbled upon Oh! 

Headquartered out of Barcelona,Spain, Oh is a vacation property management company specializing in Europe.  With hundreds of rental properties to choose from in such locales as Venice, Paris, London, Prague, etc., they are, in short, the maker of vacation dreams.  I discovered this by accident when I stumbled over a retweet of Oh’s spring blogger competition and entered.  The contest was inspired, but simple – pick one of ten European cities and write a blog post about why you want to go there and the top five things you would do while visiting.  In return, the winner would receive one week in four different cities, equating to a month-long grand tour of Europe!  My imagination inflamed, I entered, I dreamed, I won.

Well, I won a runner-up spot!  Congrats to Leah of “Leah Travels” who won the grand prize with her fabulous winning blog entry onFlorence.  See the link to it below – it’s delicious!

http://leahtravels.com/site/places/italy/i-want-to-go-with-oh-to-florence

After discovering my wonderful runner-up status, I proceeded to scare the neighborhood dogs with my peeling screams of delight.  I then ran around the house asking my family to pinch me because I had to be dreaming, but my children declined, oddly enough, and my husband wouldn’t stop.  Go figure.

After that, I sat down and I dreamed.  And indulged.

For my runner-up prize is three nights in Venice, Italy in accommodations provided by Oh, and after going to Oh’s property rental site (see link below) I spent the rest of the day pouring over Venetian rental property after Venetian

This puts my sofa from Big Lots into perspective.

rental property after Venetian rental property.  For on Oh’s site, one can not only see where the rental property falls on the map, one can also drool over pictures of the accommodations and, in many, cases view a layout of the apartments.  Le sigh!

http://www.oh-venice.com/

As a nook and cranny junkie and a lover of creative living spaces, I was hooked.  Apartment after apartment after apartment – many located in buildings older than my hometown – scrolled past on my computer monitor and time slipped away.  In my own way, I was an explorer, off to distant lands, making my way through unfamiliar territory and loving every minute of it.

And I couldn’t stop at Venice.  After that it was on to Oh -London and Oh -Florence and – oh my God! – Oh -Paris!

And now Oh’s property sites have replaced Pinterest as my day-time dream-filled distraction of choice.  Where as Pinterest drips with things I will never have or places I can never attain or clothing I will never fit into, Oh’s property

A Venetian room with a view courtsey of Oh-Venice.

is oh so attainable and very much available for rent, thus making these little slices of heaven one can actually enjoy as I will be doing in September.  *Pinch*  Ouch!  God, that felt good!

Venice awaits and maybe next year my daughter and I will finally fulfill one of her dreams and get to Dublin.  My 70-year-old mother has always wanted to see England, the home of her grandmother.  My husband dreams of his family’s mother country of Germany and Berlin.  And I will definitely have to get to Barcelona if for no other reason than that of drooling over matadors in tight shiny satin pants.  It’s wonderful to dream, isn’t it?

I once worked with a woman who grew up in southern California between the Pacific Ocean to the west and burnished mountains to the east.  She moved to

My Cape Cod doesn’t look like this. Neither does the yard barn from Lowes.

Indiana after marrying a native Hoosier, but while she loved the man, she failed to fall in love with my home state.  As she grew up a stone’s throw from both deserts and palm trees, I can understand why.  Her benchmark for beauty was set high at an early age.  Growing up in a vacation destination, could she appreciate Indiana otherwise?

My childhood home is much like the land in which I live.  Both are serviceable and have their charms.  They’re understated and often overlooked.  Bells and whistles are non-existent.  But living in that little cookie-cutter house surrounded by Indiana’s flat fields of corn left me with a very flexible benchmark for beauty.  I delight in a winter wheat field.  Golden pastures of rolling hay bales give me pause.  And I will swoon over Venice.

September will be here soon and with it Italy.  I am preparing now to be left speechless.  And in the meantime I will dream and plan and drool.  And even while I will fantasy over Parisian apartments and London hotel suites and

I think Anthony Bourdain visited the owner of this building in an episode of No Reservations. I recognize the courtyard!

Tuscan abodes, I will embrace my quaint little house and my childhood home and my flat little land and thank them for being what they are and for shaping me into who I am.

By Robin Winzenread Fritz,

Writer, dreamer and lover of spaces big and small.

Previous Older Entries