Scratching paint, and other memories…

Norman Passet family 1954 (2)

Yesterday was my Dad’s birthday. If he were still alive, I’d bake him a chocolate cake or an apple pie, two of his favorite desserts. Or I’d serve him ice cream. For much of his life he was on a very strict diet due to high cholesterol, but on hot summer evenings he sometimes indulged in a bowl of “Ice milk.” I don’t know if the stores still sell it, but think ice cream without the fat. After he passed 93 and went into a nursing home, his inhibitions and self-control lessened. If we took him candy, he would eat one piece after another. And he devoured the cups of ice cream my mother bought for him at the nearby Dairy Queen.

These days Dad is never far from my mind. Sometimes people at our community gardens compliment me on keeping my plot weed free, but it pales by comparison to Dad’s, weed free and vibrant even when he he had to lie on the ground to do his weeding. And Dad always kept his wood farm buildings well maintained–our barn, garage, granary, woodshed, tool shed, and chicken house. In his later years he spent endless hours scratching paint and painting.

I recently had the opportunity to scratch paint on a friend’s deck, and realized it is a very meditative act. For one thing, it’s pleasant being outdoors, but this solitary activity also gave me time to explore memories and to listen for birds in the nearby trees. Plus, it was surprisingly satisfying to slide my putty knife under a loose flake of paint and send it flying through the air, like a game to see how much raw wood I could expose. In these moments I felt a strong connection to Dad, who has been gone now for eight years.

As a young man, Dad hunted and trapped, but he put that aside after returning home from World War II to focus on raising sheep, wheat, beans, and corn. He was so immersed in work that he seldom came to my school and church programs, but my mother explained he was making up for lost time (the over 4 years spent in the army).

That’s why I was stunned when at the age of 62 he developed a passion for coon hunting. He would go out every night the law permitted, and was always on the lookout for others to accompany him. My brother and cousins lacked the depth of his passion,  so he strung together a diverse array of hunting companions, and collectively they managed to keep up with him.

To support his new hobby, Dad became a distributor for Star Dog Food, selling the 40 or 50 pound bags from our tools shed. I suppose he received a percentage of each bag he sold, but selling dog food also enriched his social life.  You see, much to my mother’s chagrin, Dad didn’t like going places once he returned from the war. Trips to town for supplies were necessities, and he did coach a baseball team during the 1960s, but otherwise he preferred to stay put.

Christmas 2001 (2)But Dad loved to tell stories, and for that, you need an audience. Dog food customers and other hunters found themselves spending hours at our chrome kitchen table hearing about epic hunts, military service, baseball games played in the 1930s, and much more.  I realize now that Dad preserved his memories by telling the stories over and over again.

He also was an avid local newspaper reader, and in later years he enjoyed searching for the longest words he could find. Often, they were unfamiliar to him. On December 30, 2000, for instance, he found one with eighteen letters–telecommunications. (Picture–The hunter at 80 in his beloved bib overalls and flannel shirt.)

Dad’s retirement hobby was a source of great satisfaction in his final three decades. I don’t think he planned on being a hunter and gardener, but he embraced those identities. Like him, I retired early. In my mind, I envisioned myself as a writer and expected to turn out more books–especially ones without footnotes. For whatever reason, I don’t have the passion for it that I expected and I want more immediate results.  Perhaps it’s time to embrace a completely different pastime–music. It’s not one I planned on, but it has reached out to me–first the French horn, and now the piano.  Like hunting for my Dad, it is something one can do alone or with friends. And somehow, I bet it will be a source of many more stories.



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Why do I love living in Bloomington? Let me count the ways.

1. You can walk out your back door and find a baby deer.

IMG_0874-Baby Deer 2017

2. You an attend a harpsichord concert at the Wylie House, listening to talented musicians from the Jacobs School of Music perform in a charming nineteenth-century setting. The Early Music Festival and the Historic Performance Institute are amazing.

IMG_3231-Harpsichord Wylie House

Tonight we heard the Historic Performance Institute goes Pop at the Serendipity Martini Bar, a nicely restored Art Deco setting. Imagine early musical instruments playing the music of Cyndi Lauper, Cher, and Madonna!IMG_0898-Serendipity

3. We have two great yarn shops–In a Yarn Basket and Yarns Unlimited. Knitting this shawl makes me do what the label promises:  knit, relax, smile. Tomorrow I’m taking a private lesson to learn how to knit socks from the toe up. If there’s something you want to learn you can probably do it here.

IMG_0884-Knit Relax Smile

4. For example, you can take piano lessons! Most of my life I was too busy to practice, but now I can indulge my desire to make all kinds of music. Last year I took French horn lessons. I continue to play it in the Bloomington Community Band (our first concert is this weekend), but I’m also taking piano lessons. My excellent teacher, Leighann Daihl, wisely started me at the beginning even though I have played before. What a great way to diagnose my strengths and weaknesses while playing fun tunes.

IMG_0899-Piano music

5. A friend recently observed that these days I seem to be spending more time making music  than writing.  Actually, I am pursuing a new writing project, but I don’t want to jinx myself by talking about it. Plus, writing is such a slow process for me, and it’s immensely satisfying to do things that offer immediate gratification.  Like making earrings, which are displayed here on a felted bowl.


6. You can get to know international students through Bloomington Worldwide Friendship. We’ve enjoyed hosting Hannah, from Myanmar, for the past three years. What a joy to celebrate her graduation from the Kelley School of Business earlier this month.


There are a million other reasons why I love living in Bloomington, but they will have to wait for another time because I had a lesson today, and it’s time to try out my new piano pieces!

Posted in animals, crafts, music, Writing | 1 Comment

Making Music with Friends

I was under the weather a bit lately, which inhibited my French horn playing a bit, but not my ability to practice scales on the piano.  Much to my surprise, I enjoy playing Hanum Junior exercises and watching my hands grow a tiny bit more limber from week to week.

We had friends at the house this past week and found several opportunities to make music together.  Admittedly, I had to play audience for some of this, but that’s an important role also!

Our first “play date” was with Mary, who plays both piano and flute. One of these days I aspire to be a good enough pianist to accompany Deb, but until then I’m deeply grateful for piano-playing friends.

Deb-Mary music

At mid-week we had an enjoyable visit from my former I.U. East Colleague, Alisa-Clapp Itnyre, who joined Deb on flute for several lovely duets. Listening to them transported me back in time to the nineteenth century, a time when families and friends entertained one another in the evening with musical performances. It’s such a pleasant escape from watching commercial television and political news.  Music leaves you feeling happy!

Alisa Deb music

We ended the weekend with our friend Carol’s visit. When she’s here, we always take in some kind of performance at the Jacobs School of Music. This time it was a pre-college violin extravaganza. We were in awe of the senior violinists who performed lovely and technically challenging solos, and charmed by the youngest students. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard 100 violins performing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”


When I retired a few years ago, playing French horn or piano was not on my radar. I’m so glad I rediscovered both. And now it’s time to practice!



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For the Love of Libraries

Wells Library

Wells Library, Indiana University, Bloomington

Today, the last day of National Library Week, seems a fitting time to write about my love of libraries. I am forever grateful to my mother for taking her second-grader to the Carnegie Public Library in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. The librarian walked me to shelves books suitable for my grade level, and said to pick from them, four books at a time. I devoured them. Eventually, my love of books and libraries led me to a position as reference librarian at Indiana University.

A few years ago after moving to Bloomington for the third (and final?) time in my life, I visited the Wells Library and marveled at all the changes wrought by technology since I worked there in the 1980s and 1990s. The massive card catalog area stood empty, awaiting construction of a Scholars Commons. I can’t say I miss searching drawers and drawers of cards, but the sight of them in this picture brings back memories of the time in my life when I first fell in love with research. I was an undergraduate at Bluffton College, and I spent hours scanning cards for research topics.  I never tired of it.

card-catalog-drawers cropped

No more card catalog!


When I was a reference librarian at I.U., I remember walking around campus and hearing students ask what the building at the corner of tenth and Jordan was. I heard seniors say they had never stepped foot inside. Today the Wells Library is a bustling place. True, there are fewer physical books onsite, but there are students/researchers everywhere you look and they’re doing amazing things with knowledge and technology. If they’re not having animated conversations in glassed-in study rooms, they’re immersed in computer and phone screens. And a coffee shop/cafe keeps them well-fueled.


I love going to the Monroe County Public Library to satisfy lots of my reading needs, but this past week I spent several days in the Wells Library reading microfilm of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. I know, it sounds esoteric. That’s the beauty of having access to a major research library, you can find almost anything. Before I knew it, I had time-traveled back to the 1850s, and the din of  library users around me faded away. It was heavenly!



Back in the day, I read film on machines like the one pictured on the left. I remember feeling like an idiot because I could never thread the film correctly the first time and images would be inverted or backwards. Today, those machines are gone, replaced by computer screens like the one pictured on the right. With a click of the mouse, I could enhance the page, crop, and even save a digital copy (well, I never quite figured out that last step).

Don’t get me wrong, I still love physical books, too. Aren’t we lucky to have access to information in so many different formats?

book stacks

This brings me to a final point, one my mentor Herb White (former Dean of the School of Library and Information Science) used to preach. Why do we call it National Library Week when we should be recognizing the librarians whose work makes libraries possible? Here’s a big thank you to all the librarians who have enriched my world. I’m ever grateful!






Posted in Indiana University, Libraries, Research | 2 Comments

Strawberry Festival and The Alva Diner

When I read about the Alva Strawberry Festival  in last week’s paper, I thought it would be fun to attend, and while there, take a meal at the Alva Diner.  Alva, with a population of just over 2000 people, is more than double the size of my home town and the atmosphere reminded me a lot of home.

The drive out on highway 78 took us through farmland (cattle grazing alongside their calves) and a regional park. When I attend festivals in the Midwest, I usually see a big sign announcing it–Centerville’s Archway Days, or the Wharton Festival. But we drove all the way through Alva and found ourselves wondering if we had the wrong day.On the second pass through town, however, we noticed a lot of cars parked on a side street. This must be it!

After parking the car, we followed others on their way  to the Alva Library Museum. I was blown away by the line. Were all these people waiting to tour the museum? Or to buy berries? I hate standing in lines, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay.


Fortunately, the long line turned out to be for people wanting to buy strawberry shortcake. The shorter line to the left, was for people wishing to buy strawberries. And if you wanted to visit the library museum, you could walk right in. The berries taste every bit as good as they look.


This little library’s origins are quite similar to its counterparts in the Midwest.  It started out as a book club founded by Esther Hovey, and grew into a the first public library in southwest Florida.

IMG_0532The building dates to 1909, although I believe the library was chartered several years earlier. Directly behind the library museum stands a Methodist chapel dating to 1901.

It’s pretty easy it is to recognize church architecture, don’t you think?


Finally, time to check out the diner, where the menu boasts of serving the world’s best broasted chicken. I’ve had some pretty good broasted chicken back home in Wyandot County, but I must confess, it is hard to beat what I ate today at the Alva Diner. We got there early, before 11:30, but there was still a 25 minute wait to be seated. It was worth the wait. Steaming hot, crispy, tender chicken. Absolutely delicious!

And now, time for some strawberry shortcake!




Posted in Festivals, Florida, music

Peg’s Tips for a Good Life

Today at our dulcimer group we celebrated Peg’s 96th birthday. Before she danced with Manny, also 96, she shared her tips for a good life:  good nutrition, regular exercise, thinking positive and finding reasons to say thank you, and not taking things personally.

In keeping with her suggestions, I thought I’d share a few positive things in things my life.

Making music with new friends.

Walking along the beach and marveling at the beauty of nature.

Making art/doing crafts.

Spending time with friends.

There are many other things on this list.  What’s on yours?

Posted in Aging, Dulcimer music and groups, Florida, French horn, music

Plum Pudding Time

I was rearranging my bookshelf the other day, and rediscovered my mother’s cookbooks. For many years they stood on the bottom shelf of the built-in cupboard in her farmhouse kitchen. Well-worn, their spotted and yellowed pages contain her handwritten notes telling me which recipes are “good” and how to modify them if improvements were needed. Mom’s cookbooks span at least eight decades, including a Betty Crocker cookbook that must have been a wedding present in the 1940s, a variety of Amish cookbooks, cookbooks assembled by Lutheran church women, and crockpot and microwave cookbooks.

And then there’s the cookbook Grandpa made for Mom when she still lived in Kansas–two pieces of stained wood tied together with a shoestring. The grain is prominent, and I wish I could travel back in time to ask what wood he used to make it. Inside are yellowed pages holding hundreds of recipes clipped from the newspaper and countless others in my mother’s even handwriting. Her recipe for “economical raisin pie” and the section of “Recipes to Stretch your sugar ration” suggest she started the cookbook in the late 1930s or early 1940s.


I doubt I’ll ever make “Corn Syrup Cake,” but I am curious about “Yum Yum Gems,” “Black Devil’s Food,” “Penuche” and “Sea Foam.” Without a doubt, Mom had a sweet tooth. More than three-fourths of the book’s pages are filled with recipes for cakes, cookies, pies, candy, and jams.

Turning the pages, I spy Mom’s handwritten recipe for “Christmas Plum Pudding.” The recipe originated with my great grandmother, a native of England who went into service when she was fourteen. By the time she immigrated to Kansas in the 1890s, she was cooking for a “ladies school” in London.


I always associate plum pudding with Thanksgiving and Christmas, the two times a year we ate it. When I was small, my grandmother made the pudding and brought it to our house on Christmas day. I watched in anticipation as she unveiled the pudding, boiled (or steamed) in a cotton cloth four four hours. After she sliced it, we analyzed its surface and the distribution of the fruit inside. Then Grandma supervised preparation of the hard sauce in a double boiler, a simple mixture of milk, sugar, salt, nutmeg, butter, and flour. I wondered why it was called hard sauce when it contained no alcohol. Perhaps my great grandmother, a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, removed an ingredient from the recipe.

The day finally came when Grandma could no longer prepare the plum pudding, and Mom took up the task. I remember her setting out on a quest to acquire beef suet from a butcher and currants, citron, and almonds (not everyday ingredients in our pantry). At first, her puddings tasted much like Grandma’s. Like Grandma, she agonized about how tight to tie the bag in which the pudding steamed, but I don’t remember any failures.


Then came the day when Mom grew concerned about cholesterol. The next thing we knew, she started making the pudding from healthier alternatives. I don’t know what she substituted for beef suet, but I do recall her using Egg Beaters instead of eggs. And if it was difficult to locate currants or almonds, she omitted them. We watched as our beloved pudding morphed into a less tasty Christmas tradition until my brother intervened, telling Mom to use the original ingredients since we only had the pudding once or twice a year.

Over the years, we had a number of visitors to our table who were not familiar with Christmas plum pudding. “Put on lots of sauce,” we advised. An acquired taste, most took a small bite and opted instead to have a piece of pumpkin pie. I could never understand it because I loved the fruit-laden pudding with its clove-infused sauce, and the ceremony surrounding its preparation and consumption.

I helped Mom make the pudding a few times, but by the time she grew too frail to manage the heavy bag of pudding in the boiling water, I had moved away. My brother took on the challenge and maintained the tradition until the year she died. I haven’t had plum pudding for five Christmases now because palates have changed and everyone is counting calories. But I have the recipe…

Posted in Christmas, cooking, family history, Kansas, Mothers, The Great Depression, World War II | 2 Comments