It Was a Dark and Stormy Night….at Whispers Estate

It may be a cliché to say it was a dark and stormy night, but as we pulled into the eerily empty downtown of Mitchell, Indiana on our way to tour Whispers Estate, it literally WAS a dark and stormy night. In fact, it rained for the better part of two and a half hours as my 19-year-old daughter and I made the drive south of Bedford but, as we were headed to an actual purported haunted house, we didn’t really mind. It only added to the experience.

Whisper Estate in Mitchell, Indiana

Whispers Estate in Mitchell, Indiana

Frankly, as we crawled to a halt on Warren Street, we both realized this place didn’t need any help from Mother Nature. If spooky has a poster child, it’s Whispers Estates.

Pulling up in the dark, it wasn’t difficult finding the place. Just picture a typical block near the downtown of any small Indiana burg with its large older homes in various shapes and sizes and you’re half way there. Now picture one of those large houses standing silent, dark and foreboding with only creepy purple light streaming from its street lamps and you’ve crossed over to the other side. Whispers Estate announces its presence in silence and – lucky you – you get to pray that silence is the only thing you hear. Given its past history of growls, knocks, self-closing doors, childish singing, falling objects, mysterious footsteps and vague whispers – hence the name, Whispers Estate – before the night is over, you may be begging for a little silence from beyond the grave yourself.

And did I mention the earthquake shaking toilets? Which, in this instance, have nothing to do with either my husband or too many refried beans? More on that in a moment.

We parked on the street, somewhat unsure of what to do as I had forgotten when I registered for our hour-long flashlight tour that we were to meet in the garage in the backyard. I did, however, remember that we were to wear athletic shoes. No hard sole shoes are allowed on any flashlight tours or mini investigations to reduce background noise. This became a reoccurring and somewhat unsettling theme during our visit to Whispers Estate. The home’s owner, Van Renier, and his tour guides are very serious about the goings on at Whispers Estate and, collectively, they take great pains to explain away and debunk ANY unusual occurrences. Their attitude was so upfront about what wasn’t paranormal that, I’ll admit, I was impressed. And then, I’ll admit too, I was nervous.

If they voluntarily explain every odd noise, just what, pray tell, can we attribute to the UNexplained ones? That had me pondering.

My daughter, Jackie – a lover of all things ghostly – stood back on the sidewalk as I climbed the steps to the front porch where a solitary rocker sat. At any moment I expected it to start rocking on its own, but fortunately, it cooperated which was good since I forgotten to put on a pair of Depends. Naturally, a funeral home stands cattycorner to the house and, in this dark little town which seems to have forgotten to pay the light bill, it was the only building well lit. Turning back toward the house, I tried peering through the windows, but could see nothing as they were blacked out. Terrific, I thought. Bring on the dark.

Jackie in her element at Whisper Estate

Jackie in her element at Whispers Estate

Back on the sidewalk, we were joined by three middle-aged couples who didn’t know each other, but who all happened to live in Avon. Since there is safety in numbers, we proceeded as a group through the rain to the backyard and entered the garage which serves as a makeshift launching pad to the supernatural world beyond.

There we signed in, handed over our liability release waivers – which declared us to be healthy and which gave the folks at Whispers Estates permission to seek emergency medical treatment if we needed it – we selected our flashlights from a basket on the table, and sat down to await our tour. As we sat, we chatted with the guides while also looking at posters displaying pictures of past visitors who apparently got more their money’s worth. From a police officer with a large bite mark on his arm to a teenager with three strange, red scratches on the back of his neck, evidence mounted that this wasn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill, high-school-fundraiser, pop-up-only-at-Halloween type of experience.

And naturally it was after I read the description of some earthquake-like experiences on the toilet that I heard my daughter ask innocently enough, “Is there a bathroom I can use?”

Great. No more soda for you, grasshopper.

Like most old garages, the one at Whispers Estate is potty free, so one of the tour guides led us through the back door of the house to the small bathroom just off the kitchen. Fortunately, there was a light, but bright as it was, we still looked around nervously while awaiting a good shaking as we took turns doing our business. Had something happened, at least we would have been in the right place.

Returning to the garage, we joined the other six for a lesson on the house’s less than pleasant history. Note – I stuck around and was able to hear this same introduction to the 10 p.m. tour group which was comprised of young girls (who I would guess to be about 10-years-old) and their parents. As I sat in the background listening to this same introduction, I realized that the guide was downplaying certain aspects of the goings on in the house – and rightly so. Once more I was impressed with the staff at Whispers Estate. Apparently, when you give tours at a house that is really haunted, the goal is to not work at scaring the guests. After all, why make the effort when you can let the house do it for you?

Young Rachel Gibbons died in the house and may have never left.

Young Rachel Gibbons died in the house and may have never left.

Flashlights in hand, the eight of us finally proceeded through the backdoor. One poor man had made the unfortunate mistake of expressing a lack of enthusiasm for all things paranormal so our first tour guide nominated him to open the doors of each room as we entered. Another victim – I mean, visitor – was nominated to shut the doors of each room behind us. Quickly, we proceeded through the main hallway to the parlor where we sat down and the real tour began.

For the record, I’m not going to give away any of the tour highlights. Each room is unique and comes with its own story. For example, in the parlor we were first introduced to Rachel, the young adopted daughter of Dr. John Gibbons and his wife Jessie. One Christmas eve, Rachel snuck downstairs to peek at the presents, but her nightgown caught fire in the parlor and she died a few days later as the result of her injuries. Mother Jessie died in the master bedroom of tuberculosis. Four other people are also known to have died in the house, not counting any patients of Dr. Gibbons, who apparently couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

The flashlight tour covers the house from attic to basement including a red-painted room that had each of us muttering, “redrum” from Stephen King’s “The Shining.” The good doctor’s exam room did give me a frightful start when I noticed the scale on the floor, which reminded me of the horribly hateful one in my own bathroom back home. My daughter nearly fainted when she spied an actual rotary phone and may still need counseling.

As we toured the house, the three women from Avon openly called out to Rachel throughout the house, but heard nothing in reply. The house’s owner, Van Renier, joined us at the end of the tour and asked that none of the child spirits be provoked. Van is protective of his young spirits, though not so with the one referred to as “Big Black” who may be responsible for the scar over his right eye – tangible evidence from his own encounter when he was shoved down the stairs of the attic.

Our tour was the first of the night at 8 p.m. and, for the most part, we survived it unscathed. The 9 p.m. tour apparently was not so lucky, given that a large shadow followed them up those same attic stairs responsible for Renier’s scar and, while the group stood in the “redrum” red room, they could hear soft knocking on the door. The guides told us that, as the night progresses, activity picks up so if you’re dead set – excuse my pun – on having an experience, the later the better.

Of course there had to be creepy clown dolls in Rachel's bedroom.

Of course there had to be creepy clown dolls in Rachel’s bedroom.

As for me, I will admit, I’ve never had an encounter with anything paranormal. But I’m not saying I don’t believe. Two people whom I have known all of my life and who will remain anonymous have had experiences and they are two of the most honest and least imaginative people I know. As for me, nothing.

I shared my lack of paranormal experiences with Van who did give me the greatest chill of the night. As we discussed his own experiences in the house which have led him to believe and my own lack of paranormal experience, he warmed, “You can’t un-ring the bell. Do you really want to fall down the rabbit hole? Because once it happens, you can’t go back and pretend it didn’t.”

Now that’s a scary thought.

For me, it has yet to happen. At least, I think it hasn’t happened. In Jessie’s bedroom I experienced a feeling – I won’t give it away so as to not prejudice you should you go – just as our guide began to describe this very same feeling. Was it paranormal? I don’t know. I also don’t know if I really want to thoroughly un-ring that bell. But curiosity is a wicked mistress so I’m sure at some point, I will go back.

I left with a t-shirt stating I had been examined by Dr. John.

I left with a t-shirt stating I had been examined by Dr. John.

If you would like to un-ring that bell for yourself, Whispers Estate offers flashlight tours hourly from 8 p.m. to midnight and mini-investigations starting at midnight through either 3 or 4 a.m. (the times change from month to month) beginning at the end of August and running every weekend through October. Halloween is primetime so make your reservations early as tours and investigations fill up fast and the number of participants is limited. While regular tour hours end after Halloween, Whispers Estate is happy to schedule visitations for groups of 10 or more at other times throughout the year. My suggestion? Even if there are only seven or eight of you, given them a call and ask. They may just accommodate you.

Flashlight tours run $10 per person and, in my opinion, are well worth it even if you don’t end up wetting yourself in the process. Mini investigations run $10 per hour per person, thus an investigation from midnight to 3 a.m. will cost you $30 per person, and until 4 a.m. will cost you $40 per person. I haven’t participated in a mini investigation yet so I can’t tell you what goes on, but it is definitely on the bucket list and you can get a sense for these investigations on YouTube.

For more information on Whispers Estate and to schedule a tour or mini investigation, check out the website at: http://whispersestate.com/

To follow the mansion’s haunted happenings like the Whispers Estate’s Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/whispersestate?fref=ts

Follow my newspaper column 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

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

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

Warm Murano Memories to Melt a Cold Winter’s Night

My Venus di Milo impression

The days are short and the cold is hard.  Winter is coming to Indiana.  And for now, I’m fine with that, for the upcoming holidays always seem more festive and child like when the promise of snow lingers in the air.

But when the Thanksgiving turkey is a delicious memory and the torn Christmas wrapping paper is sitting on the curb with the other trash, the charms of winter will begin to fade and with it my enthusiasm for snow, cold and ice.

When that time finally does come, however, I’ll be prepared for I have my built-in memories stored in my collective conscious and that of my travel buddies of a blessedly sunny and warm day strolling the glowing streets of Murano, Italy.  Plus, if I close my eyes just so and raise my face up toward my dining room ceiling fan with the lights a blazing, I can almost pretend I’m basking in that magical Italian light.

Murano is a miniature Venetian feast for the eyes.  Go there.  See it.  Linger.  You’ll never be the same.

A view from the vaporetto to Murano.  We got off at the stop for the Museo Vetrario (the glass museum) on the Fondamenta Giustinian, but it was tempting to stay on aboard for a longer ride.

Lingering on the Fondamenta Giustinian, enjoying the boat parking on the San Donato canal.  Bellisimo!  Or however the heck you spell that….

Murano’s Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato along side the San Donato canal.  Could the sky possibly be any bluer?

It was home to my Venus di Milo impression.  It took a crowbar to pry me out of my niche.

Shopping for mosaic tile – so many beautiful colors!  I picked out several  blue and green glass tiles that reminded me of the Venetian laguna.  My buddy Candy is going to make me a piece of jewelry with them.  How wonderful is that!

We stumbled upon this lovely hidden courtyard and, naturally, there was laundry on the line.  When I came home, I hugged my clothesline.  Now, I appreciate it even more.  Can you believe some American neighborhoods actually BAN clotheslines in their covenants? 

This is Murano’s version of the little red wagon.

Peering inside the door of a working glass factory.  That chandelier puts my dining room ceiling fan to shame.

View of a side canal.  See that large red awning in the middle distance?  That’s where I enjoyed a wonderful lunch with great friends and an amazing view.

My lunch time view – I could get use to this!

Great bridge, don’t you think? 

Candy and I have a moment

Chasing that Italian light

Mosaic Mary – isn’t she gorgeous?  She lights up the place too.

See that ochre yellow building in the center with the single room at the top left center?  I could live there and paint and be happy for years, I do believe.

The lighthouse at the tip of Murano.  I would have loved to have climbed this for the view but, sadly, it was closed.  Maybe next time.

I fell in love with these contrasting colors, the soft buff of the building against the bright red of the boat.  So lovely.

So many memorable views.  I hope to capture some of these on canvas during the cold winter months in Indiana, but they’ll never come close to what I see in my mind’s eye.  But won’t it be fun to try!

 

These pictures don’t even come close to really capturing it.  To really get a sense of what this light “feels” like, you have to smell the salty ocean air and feel the warmth of the sun radiating on your back.  Then, you’ll know that Italian light.  But savor it.  It’s far to fleeting….

 

 

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.