Writers’ prompts and sugar cream pie

I just got home from a writers’ retreat in Indiana. Because the internet was pretty much nonexistent at the state park inn where we stayed, I’m just now posting the blog I wrote (and wrote . . . and wrote) during a couple of rainy days and sleepless nights in the Indiana woods. Think “stream of consciousness” and bear with me, if you will . . .

Howdy from the Hoosier State!

I have driven through Indiana a few times on my way to Chicago, but I don’t think I’ve ever even stopped the car in this state, other than to pause to pay a toll. I was going to say I’ve never eaten a meal here or slept here, but I just this very minute remembered that I was in Indianapolis to work on a Revco Health & Beauty Expo sometime in the early 90’s.

Remembering that might cause a better writer to scrap that first, pointless paragraph, but I don’t know when “pointless” has ever stopped me from nattering on about something or other. Look through the backlog of my blog posts. You’ll agree with me, I’m certain.

I’m going to rationalize calling this my “first trip to Indiana” by saying that all big cities are so much like other big cities, and whether we stayed in a Hilton or Marriott or Hyatt more than twenty years ago in downtown Indianapolis, all Hiltons and Marriotts and Hyatts are about the same. For many travelers, that’s one of their virtues, like always knowing you’ll get basically the same cheeseburger at every McDonald’s on the planet, if a McDonald’s cheeseburger is, indeed, what you’re hoping to eat.

Consequently, staying at a name hotel in Indianapolis and spending most of my time at the adjoining convention center (again, a convention center is a convention center is pretty much just another convention center), then THIS is my first trip to Unique Indiana. Indiana in the countryside. The Indiana of small town Angola and the Pokegon State Park.

And I’m not sleeping at a chain hotel. I’m staying at the Potawatomi Inn at Pokegon State Park. Believe me (did I just sound like Trump there?) when I tell you it in no way resembles any cookie cutter chain hotel, from the most basic Motel 6 to the predictably fabulous Four Seasons. If the internet connection in my room wasn’t so unreliable (in fact, almost impossible to access for more than a minute at a time), I’d immediately hook up some hyperlinks here and maybe lift some info from the website, but . . . I can’t, so we’ll have to forego the history of the Potawatomi and/or Pokegon tribes, Indiana history, geography, what year the inn was built, and so on. (links added later)

Most importantly, I am here for an informal writers’ weekend. Yes! Me! There are ten other women here, some of whom are published authors and others, like me, in various stages of writing and wondering if we’ll ever be publisher-worthy. Last night we all went out to dinner at the nearby Timbers Steak House. It was the best meal I’ve had here yet, though I should warn any foodie friends that iceberg lettuce seems to be the star of every salad bar in this neck of the woods. In fact, going to the salad bar as opposed to being served a salad (which I prefer) is the standard, and also, you have to go up and pay the bill at a hostess desk after each meal, rather than have your waitress collect your credit card at the table.

Since I am tossing out unwarranted generalizations everywhere in this story, I will venture to say that perhaps this is an Indiana custom. Maybe they simply want nothing to do with the little padded folders where the bill is tucked inside and there’s credit card-sized plastic sleeve so just the tip of your Visa can peek demurely above the folder. Cash is to be hidden completely inside. That’s the norm in Ohio, anyway.

Potawatami princesses
Listening to Ellen’s story.

Anyway, after dinner we returned to the inn and commandeered the library to read some of our work to the group. Most of the other people staying in the inn were busy at a wedding in the ballroom, complete with flashing disco lights. Some of us wanted to crash the reception to hit the cupcake display after dinner, but we hadn’t had enough to drink at Timbers’ to be brash enough to actually do it. A rowdy little gang of middle-aged (and old) women crashing a wedding reception might have added an element of levity and surprise to the happy couple’s special evening, but it’s a crap shoot. And no one wants to piss off a bride, right?

Since this is, as always, all about ME (and don’t you forget it), I will tell you that I read the first couple of pages of the novel I’ve been writing for the last year or so. (We took turns reading out loud to the group.) I had never read or shared any of the story with anyone but my son Chris and his sister Grace, so I was pretty nervous about it. People said it was funny and that they liked it. They even laughed out loud! I felt like Sally Field when she won her first Oscar and sobbed, ”I can’t believe you like me! You really like me!”

I had stopped writing about six months ago. I’m not sure why. Lost heart? Lost confidence? I can’t say for sure, but I just couldn’t seem to get back into writing. After sharing and seeing that complete strangers apparently think it doesn’t suck, I’m ready to get back to it. I still feel overwhelmed by the thought of trying to determine where the story goes next, but I’m going to stop being a wimp and go for it.

Meet the writers . . .

The ladies I met here for the weekend are an amazing group. I knew Pam, one of the organizers, from briefly chatting at last year’s Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton. I’m not sure if Teri and I crossed paths in Dayton or not, but through mutual Erma Facebook friends, we became Facebook friends as well, and that’s the extent of my relationship to Pam and Teri. I’m not sure what possessed me to say, “Hell yeah, I’ll drive to Indiana for a long weekend to meet a bunch of people I don’t really know and spend most of the time alone in my room writing! Why not?”

It’s weird, right? But boy, am I glad I decided to come.

Most of the women know each other from a Cincinnati writing program called Women Writing for Change. Or for A change? I’m not completely sure, but it sounds like a wonderful thing for a writer to do. So there’s this whole contingency of Cincinnati women and not only are they interesting and nice and funny, but man, they can WRITE! Some women are writing novels or memoirs. Some are poets and Teri is an accomplished playwright who has a piece being staged in Chicago this summer. Listening to their work last night was humbling, and I felt so grateful to be a part of the group.

Pam is from Michigan and is in the final editing stages of her first novel. From what she read last night, I can’t wait to hear how the rest of her story unfolds. Suzanne, a college professor and a member of the Cincinnati gang, is writing a book about a young girl named Georgia and I really want to know how that story unfolds, as well. I need to mention Sandy (hilarious blogger), Ruthanne (spiritual and inspiring), Becky (won an Erma prize!), Claudia, Ellen, Suz (the fabulous poets) and finally, Lori.

Lori Duff, who flew in from Atlanta to join us, has written three books, is an attorney, a mother of two teenagers, a ghost writer, a blogger. I don’t know how she does it, but before I post this I’ll put in a link to her website. Lori’s humor is priceless and you’ll thank me for pointing you in her direction if you want a good laugh. She brought along her Frida Kahlo finger puppet, who I was happy to photograph frowning at a piece of pie. More to come on that.

I know I’m all over the place with this blog, but let me circle back to my impression of northeastern Indiana before I save this piece and run down to the Potawatomi dining room to meet the ladies for lunch.

First, it has rained most of the time we’ve been here. I’m not anti-rain, but undoubtedly Lake James – a gray, choppy body of water lurking outside the inn’s many windows – and the surrounding woods have significantly greater appeal when the sun is shining. It would be heaven to plop down in one of the Adirondack chairs near the water’s edge to savor a good book on a fine day, pages fluttering with the lake breeze. Sadly, that’s not happening on this trip.

And my rant on coffee . . .

Another thing that’s not happening on this trip is getting a good cup of coffee.

Uh, huh. You heard me. Indiana can’t make a decent cup of joe.

Potawatami breakfast
My first Potawatomi breakfast

Whoa, you say? How can you make a generalization like that, Kate? Well, I can because this is my blog, not yours, and it amuses me to make rash proclamations sometimes. First, the coffee in my room sucks. I finally made a pot using both a regular and a decaf pouch and it wasn’t awful. One pouch, as directed, produces a beige cup of blah. I couldn’t get into the dining room at the inn for breakfast yesterday because they were short-staffed and had a long list of boisterous families waiting for tables. The cup of blah and some Ritz crackers were my breakfast. Yum. And thanks, Indiana.

I thought I’d stop by the hotel’s little café, which finally opened at 11:00, counting on finally finding a decent cup of coffee.  Well, first, I had to make my own, choosing from a small selection of Keurig-type pods. I opted for the Robust Italian to counteract the effects of the Cup of Blah, but that was so freaking strong, I had to add water to it when I got back to my room. And it was not lovely Italian-type strong, either.

Oh, and the café had no creamer. Not even the powdered stuff that’s available in my room and at the coffee machine near the front desk (semi-drinkable). When I asked for cream, the young girl behind the desk acted confused and said all she had was some milk. I said, well, I’ll have some of that, please. She handed me a gallon jug of two percent and I managed to splash some into the pseudo-Italian sludge without slopping all over the counter, but it didn’t help much.

So this morning I decided to look for a local restaurant in nearby Angola (isn’t that an African country?) to treat myself to breakfast.

I went to the Village Kitchen, recommended (I guess) on Google Maps. It had a string of stars and claimed to be popular with the residents. I could have stopped at Bob Evans or even Tom’s Donuts along the way, but no. I passed them by to make a special trip to the worst family restaurant in Angola.

But who knew that the Village Kitchen would not only have yet more dishwater-inspired coffee, but also serve the saddest excuse for “hot cakes” that I’ve ever eaten? I really didn’t think it was possible to screw up pancakes, but these were so dry, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the cook decided to get ahead of the game on a dull Friday afternoon by frying up a huge stack of pancakes to have on hand for a busy Sunday morning. Or maybe they made too many on Saturday?

What was served to me were two dry, lukewarm hot cakes with a slightly melted ball of bright yellow margarine sinking in the center. I do believe the cook grabbed some old pancakes, plopped on the disgusting wannabe butter, threw the mess in the microwave for fifteen seconds, and told the waitress to give ‘em to that old fat lady who drove up in the car with Ohio plates. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. Needless to say, I didn’t each much. The bacon was good, though. Nice and crispy, as requested. Maybe the cook felt bad about the pancakes and made decent bacon to compensate. Sadly, it just didn’t have the gravitas to shore up the terrible hot cakes and coffee.

And Indiana’s State Pie . . .

I returned to the inn, worked on this again for a while, then it was time to meet the writers for lunch in the Potawatomi dining room. As it turned out, the only option on Sunday is the $15 brunch buffet.  Call me picky, but I didn’t want a damned buffet, either. I don’t eat eggs, so the omelet station held no appeal to me. There were chafing dishes with deep-fried, breaded blobs of things, some grayish Brussels sprouts, fried chicken, dried ham, etc. There was the ubiquitous salad bar with iceberg lettuce and cottage cheese and some scary pale pink pudding. Yogurt, maybe? The ladies liked a vegetable soup that looked suspiciously to me like the leftover veggie medley from last night’s wedding buffet drowned in a mystery broth.

After nibbling on a few  entree-type offerings I decided to head to the dessert table. There wasn’t much left so I chose what looked like a piece of custard pie. I then learned from the omelet chef that it was actually Indiana’s State Pie – Sugar Cream Pie. I had never heard of a “state pie,” so I was excited to try it. I’ve been disappointed by pie in the past, but it’s a rare occurrence. Pie usually delivers.

Potawatami pie
Frida Kahlo (courtesy of Lori Duff) gazes at the Indiana State Pie,   sugar cream pie, in disgust.

And wouldn’t you know it – sugar cream pie is one of those odd pies out. It was not at all custard-y. It is dense, bland, and extraordinarily sweet. It tastes like nothing more than solidified milk and sugar. Not even a hint of vanilla. Everybody had to try a bite, of course, and my favorite comments came from Lori who called it, “Diabetes on a crust.” She also said, “That is such a white person’s pie.” You can’t argue with that. I’ll bet it’s Mike Pence’s favorite dessert.

So there you go. As disjointed as this piece is, I do hope that I’ve amused someone. If not, I can assure you that at least I amused myself. Don’t take any Indiana criticisms to heart. It just looks like more Ohio to me, except, thank heavens, we don’t have Mike Pence. If forced to make a choice, I’ll reluctantly take John Kasich any day.

Watch for Sugar Cream Pie on the White House menu. Coming soon – whether we want it or not.

Potawatami group shot
The sun finally came out Sunday afternoon and we found these remnants of silk flowers left behind by the wedding party on the inn’s patio. And here we are – the Watomi Writers Group. Or maybe the Potawatomi Princesses. Fabulous, right?

13 thoughts on “Writers’ prompts and sugar cream pie

  1. I loved everything about the weekend, from the coffee to the Iceberg lettuce. What a beautiful location for a nonworkshop workshop: the lake; the chairs and couches and benches facing the lake; the irises and peonies and begonias; the salad bars. A fabulous weekend in a bucolic setting. Thanks to our organizers/motivators, Teri and PAM.

    1. Sandy, I sincerely hope I haven’t offended you or Pam or Teri (our beloved organizers- I’m so thankful to them, too!) with my brand of humor. I had a blast!

  2. I love this, Kate! Thanks for capturing the cuisine adventures – and the weekend. Here’s to more writers weekends, but with better food and coffee!

    1. Thanks, Suzanne! I hope I wasn’t too snarky about the food and coffee, but that’s just me – tryin’ to be funny! What a joy it was to spend time with you and everyone in our group! xoxo

  3. Oh Kate, it takes so much more than this offend me. (PS, the salad bar at the Timbers had lots of spinach!) Nothing was great, except the company. I’ve decided I’d rather have disappointing food than be disappointed by the people.

  4. It takes so much more than this for me to be offended, really. Nothing was great except the company. So I’ve decided I’d rather have disappointing food than be disappointed by the people.

  5. Well, I laughed out loud (again)! This piece is hilarious! I love your sarcastic sense of humor, truly. I felt the same way about the coffee in the room -ugh! I was too lazy to do anything about it, though. Instead I drank 4 cups of the watery whatever every morning, thinking perhaps it had the caffeine equivalent of 1/2 cup of “real coffee.”
    So glad you are now inspired to get back to writing! I loved being in the company of women writers! I was sad to see it end.

    1. Thank you so much, Ellen! I had never experienced anything like that before and can’t tell you how much I wish I could be a part of Women Writing for Change. What a wonderful was to be inspired and become recharged on a regular basis! I’m still amazed at how compatible this group is. Before I forget, your poem personifies the essence of the beautiful woods at Pokegon. Your writing is truly beautiful. XOXO!

  6. Kate you always make me laugh! The attendees sound wonderful and the setting quite charming – with the side of humorous local cuisine. Besides it’s the mishaps that make the best funny memories.

  7. Hi Kate,
    Thanks for visiting my blog. I am glad you liked my post about how to use YouTube to blog better.
    In response to your blog, I almost became a travel blogger, but now I blog about blogging tips, as you saw.

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