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

It’s beginning to look (and sound and taste) a lot like Christmas


Fountain in front of IU Auditorium

Wednesday we had our first snow, the beautiful, wet, heavy kind that makes perfect snow people and snowballs. It’s the kind of weather I associate with the Christmases of my childhood, when my brother and I made snow forts and angels in our barnyard. I have such fond memories of visiting Santa at the Wyandot County Court House and sneaking into the living room with my brother to shake and feel the packages Santa left for us under the tree.

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year, ranking up there with spring, with its fringe of green on the trees and courageous crocuses poking their purple and yellow faces up toward the sun. Each December I fall in love with Christmas all over again, with its lights, red bows on greenery, and familiar carols.

The holiday started Friday after Thanksgiving with Bloomington’s annual lighting of the canopy of lights. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people gathered on the courthouse square sipping hot chocolate, visiting with Santa, and awaiting the magical moment when someone flips the switch. Ten–nine–eight–and so forth. As the countdown reaches one, we all gaze up at the sky. A second later, oohs and ahhs fill the air. The holiday season has begun!

I also love being on campus during December, attending the many holiday performances. There’s the Nutcracker, the Chimes of Christmas, and the Story of Christmas (music by Heinrich Schutz) performed in the rotunda of the Court House. It was stunning!

I.U. buildings are always beautifully decorated, both inside and out, making campus look like a greeting card. Things are quieting down now, though, as students take exams and leave for the holidays.It was sad to say goodbye to our Fulbright scholar, Maija, who is returning home to Finland. We had so much fun introducing her to many wonderful musical programs at IU’s Jacobs School of Music.

Elsewhere in town there are other signs of the holidays, for instance, the hot chocolate stands that sprang up last Saturday across the community. It was sufficiently cold enough to encourage sales. The stand we visited, sponsored by the Gerber family, featured a fire ring as well as very tasty cinnamon rolls. Proceeds from the stands went to Monroe County United Ministries to benefit those who are struggling to keep warm and fed this winter.


At home, it’s a time of baking and putting the final touches on homemade gifts. I’ve never been much of a shopper, except for the necessities, but I love to bake and knit. Most Decembers we make fudge, red and green butter cookies, biscotti, and an assortment of other cookies (frosted, chocolate chip pecan, and more). This year we also made turtles from pecans, caramel, and delicious German milk chocolate. We were too generous with the caramel, and had to make another trip to the store for more chocolate to cover it. Thankfully, I am not keeping track of the per turtle cost!

Whatever your holiday traditions are, I hope you are enjoying them to the fullest! The memories you create and the cheer you spread are priceless.

Posted in Bloomington, Indiana, Christmas, Indiana University

And They Danced


I’ve been remiss in blogging this month. There have been many blog worthy topics, but before I can write about them, other activities claim my attention. Still, I don’t want to let November slip away with writing a few lines about the Ohio Star Ball Collegiate Challenge in Columbus, Ohio the weekend before Thanksgiving.

In early October we attended our first collegiate ballroom competition at the University of Illinois, and were impressed by the dancers, but we were wowed by the level of competition we witnessed in Columbus. Participants came to Columbus from all over the U.S.

Our neighbor’s daughter, Sydney and her partner Nick were two of the dancers representing Indiana University. We went to cheer them on, but in the process we’ve grown attached to some of the other IU dancers, too.

In the morning, the “newcomers” took the floor, and we were thrilled to see their increased confidence and skill. How many people, when thinking about club sports, conjure up images of ballroom dancers? I know I didn’t. But watching these young men and women I grew to appreciate their hours and hours of practice, travel to competitions, and the projects they undertake to raise money in support of their club. Watching them on the floor and off, I was impressed by their camaraderie, the pleasure they take in dancing, and their support of each other, no matter how many hours they must sit on bleachers waiting for their friends to dance.

I love these images of colorful gowns and movement as the dancers glide across the floor appearing as light as air. But I also enjoy the faster paced dances. In the dance pictured below, I felt like I had time traveled back to the 1920s.



One of my favorite dances was not even part of the competition. While the judges deliberated, the announcer invited everyone to the floor for a straight-legged Samba. I kept my seat since I don’t know how to Samba, let alone doing it with straight legs.

Sydney’s dance partner (Nick, #388) danced with  another tall young man and took third place with their amazing moves.

By this time in the afternoon, some of the dancers had changed from their fancy costumes to sweats, jeans, and flannel shirts, but it didn’t stop them from taking the floor. And as the image of the little girl in the brown dress testifies, this dance had no age limit.

There’s something about listening to music and watching ballroom dancing that lifts the spirits. We left the convention center walking a little lighter, with melodies dancing in our heads. Thanks to all of these young people for sharing their love of dance with us!


Posted in Dance and dancing, Indiana University, Uncategorized

Making History

Early voting began this week in Indiana, and today Deb and I took our friend Nancy, 90 years young, to cast her ballot. She’s elated to have lived long enough to see a woman running for President on a major political party ticket.There was a sense of excitement in the polling place as a steady stream of citizens stepped into voting booths.

Lately, I’ve been feeling discouraged by the ugliness of this presidential election cycle. I combat it by turning off the television and filling my life with good books, music, performances, and exercise. When I walk around town, attend musical performances, exercise, or simply stand outside talking with my neighbors, I am reminded that there is so much goodness in the world. We cannot allow partisan politics to cast a shadow this goodness. We are better than that.

My mother was born the year American women received the right to vote. I remember hearing her  mother, my grandmother, describe the sense of excitement and responsibility she experienced the first time she stepped into a voting booth. She took voting very seriously, and never missed an election from that day forward. I thought of her today as I carefully read through the names of candidates and marked my choices.

Eighty four years passed from the ratification of the Constitution until the first woman (Victoria Woodhull) ran for President on the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872. At that time, women lacked the right to vote. It would take  until the ratification  of the 19th Amendment in 1920, before women could make their voices heard in the polling place.  Another sixty-four years passed before a woman (Geraldine Ferraro) was nominated to run for vice president on a major political party ticket. Now, thirty-two years later, a woman (Hillary Clinton) is running for President representing a major political party. Whether you are a Democrat,  Republican, or Independent, this is indeed a historic moment.


Posted in Bloomington, Indiana, friendship