Tag Archives: Ohio

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?

Critters are creeping me out . . . of the country

 

Oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear!

First, go right over and read the latest post written by my dear friend Kari Lynn Collins at One Funny Broad. Kari, is indeed one funny broad. Love her to pieces. But wait until you read her story about alligators and snakes. Oh, my goodness.

I have been afraid of Florida ever since that video on Facebook showed an alligator the size of a Chevy Silverado ambling along the green at a golf course near Sarasota. Then there was the toddler ripped from the beach at one of the Disney hotels by one of the resort’s “pet alligators.” Oh, and yesterday another Facebook video showed an alligator scaling a chain link fence.

Lake Texoma pic

I don’t know if this guy is looking at a fish or a turtle because my eyesight sucks, but I do know it’s not an alligator. This is at Lake Texoma on an alligator-free day. Photo courtesy of houseboatmagazine.com.

Seriously? And just when I’d decided that maybe I value my life too much to ever set foot again in the Sunshine State, I learn from my buddy Kari that alligators are now hanging out in Lake Texoma, a huge man-made lake bordering Texas and Oklahoma where my friend Patsy has a weekend home (sell it, Patsy, SELL IT!) and other watery spots in Texas where they’ve never been before. Those sons of bitches are even walking down the street in a little town in Oklahoma. I am telling you, folks, alligators are taking over the country. And as I said to Kari, if they come to Ohio, I am moving to Ireland, Trump or no Trump.

Rattlesnake_Dance_01

These are Northern Pacific rattlesnakes doing a combat dance. We don’t do Combat Dances here near Cleveland, so STAY AWAY, you pricks.

My friend Sydney freaked me out last month, telling me there are rattlesnakes in Ohio. I have lived here a gazillion years and I did not know that. I don’t want to believe it. Or maybe they are just teeny, tiny ones that don’t really hurt. Regardless, I just want to tell you I am not putting up with living in the Snow Belt if the inconvenience doesn’t at least pay off in protecting me from the snakes and reptiles and bugs that I associate with far warmer climates. Those fuckers need to stay far south of the Mason-Dixon Line is all I have to say about that.

In the meantime, I’m afraid the northern critters are presenting their own brand of worry. If you’re a Facebook friend, you may have seen the photo of the diseased squirrel I posted about a week ago. The poor guy not only had lost half his hair to mange, but he also

Squirrel pox

Squirrel with Squirrel Pox on my fence. Pitiful and sad but EEEUW.

was covered with revolting tumors that the nice lady at Lake Metroparks told me was Squirrel Pox. She said if I could catch him, I should put him out of his misery.

Me? Catch a squirrel? How does one even go about doing such a thing? There are so many squirrels in my neighborhood, I don’t know what I could devise for my particular trap to signal to the rest of them that it’s just for the sick squirrel. I picture myself catching and releasing dozens of squirrels, feeding half the squirrels in Willoughby, before finally catching the sick guy.

And can you picture the scenario if one of my dogs caught the diseased squirrel? As you can imagine, I’d be dragging them to the vet, screaming all the way, and shelling out hundreds of dollars for tests and shots and blood transfusions or whatever the hell it took to save The Boys from Squirrel Pox.

I haven’t seen the poxy squirrel in nearly a week, though that might be what died under the addition to my house. The pest control guys who installed the metal mesh barrier that failed to keep something from burrowing under there last weekend are coming to fix everything tomorrow. They’ll have a camera on a pole (a critter selfie stick?) to try to see what’s in there.

And – get this – I just saw another huge, fat squirrel on the fence next to my driveway and . . . I thought I saw a lump forming on his back. If Squirrel Pox is going to become a thing in this neighborhood, I might have to import a small squirrel-eating alligator to discourage them from coming to my yard.

This means that The Boys and I would have to move, at least until the squirrels are gone and it gets cold enough to freeze the alligator.

St. Patrick with snakesBetween the critters and the politicians and all these folks walking around with a pistol in their pants or pocketbook, I just may have to rethink life in the USA. My son Chris is finally moving back here from Australia (another terrifying place critter-wise, but at least they don’t have guns) in August and it will be hard to explain why I have to leave just as he’s returning. I wonder if the University of Akron (where Chris will be teaching this fall – hurray!) might consider opening a branch campus in maybe Galway, or Cork?

I know Saint Patrick ran the snakes out of Ireland a long time ago and I’m pretty sure there aren’t any alligators there, either.

I’m not sure about the squirrel situation, however . . . .

Sweet times in Ashtabula Harbor

A couple weeks ago my mother and I decided to visit the charming shops on Bridge Street in Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio. As soon as we walked into the Lift Bridge Landing General Store, an attractive display of jams and jellies by Gatherings caught my eye.

The hot pepper jams and jellies drew me like a magnet. Each label had a little “heat index” on the bottom and being kind of a wuss when it comes to really hot peppers, I decided to buy the mildest jam on the shelf:  Strawberry Loco. This combination of strawberries and jalapeno peppers is so spoon-licking delicious, I was tempted to dab a little on practically everything in the pantry. I plopped some on top of a wedge of Neufchâtel cheese (similar to lite cream cheese) and spread it on Wheat Thins. Then I mixed some with a little Neufchâtel and Cool Whip to make a dip for fresh strawberries. I still have half a jar left, but only because the scale has crept up and I think I’d better knock it off with the cheese and crackers for a bit.

pepper jam

If you visit Gatherings’ website, www.gatheringsac.com you’ll find out more about the other flavors they offer, like Zany Peach (made with fresh peaches and habaneros) and (fruit-free) hot pepper-packed Ghostly Burn – the most “caliente” in the bunch. Gatherings also concocts jellies made with beers and local wines. I think my mother chose a cherry cabernet jelly on our visit.

After tasting the amazing Strawberry Loco jam I thought, wow – I want to make some of that! I want to make it in cute jars and give it to friends and family for Christmas! I want to make enough to have it on hand every time I have a hankering for those sweet berries with a kick!

Fortunately, I did come to my senses (and not a moment too soon, since strawberry season is upon us).  Since I’ve never actually MADE jam or jelly in my life and am too lazy, not to mention protective of my poor lower back, to go out and pick bushels of strawberries . . . I think the wiser course of action is to leave the jam-making to the experts at Gatherings.

When you visit their website, you can order all the jam you want. Yay! They also provide a list of retail outlets that carry their line, or you can check the calendar of events where the Gatherings staff will sell their jams and jellies personally in the year ahead. I was very happy to learn that I can buy their jams here in Madison at Bendelewski’s Meat Market, so I anticipate finishing up the jar in my fridge soon and seeing what other flavors I can find  there.

Lift bridge, Ashtabula, Ohio

Lift bridge, Ashtabula, Ohio

And if you live in the area and haven’t been to the Harbor in a while, I have to say, it makes me so happy to see this exciting revival of an historic area. After decades of neglect, and thanks to local entrepreneurs who shared a vision and worked together to make it happen, Bridge Street  now has an upscale restaurant, a coffee shop, chocolate shop, stores with unique clothing and home decor items, and even one little boutique featuring beautiful beach glass jewelry. You have to go! Google Ashtabula for more information in several places, and visit and “like’ the Historic Ashtabula Harbor Facebook page to keep up with the local news.