Wednesday, November 7, 2012

#20. Do Brown County

Fall is heralded by a number of indicators: pumpkin turn up everywhere, hot apple cider becomes a common Starbucks order, and musings on Halloween costumes pepper conversation. In Indiana, one of the true indicators is a weekend pilgrimage to Brown County.

Brown County, located in south-central Indiana, is renowned for its artists' studios and natural beauty. T.C. Steele, an American Impressionist painter in the late 1800s and early 1900s, is credited with establishing the County as an artists' colony, according to the Brown County Tourism website. Since then its beauty has continued to attract artists and visitors.

Brown County landscape by T.C. Steele
Although it is stunning in any season, Brown County really shines when the foliage turns from green to vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. Thousands of trees covering the hills and valleys of the County make it a truly stunning place to visit.

Brown County foliage
Most visitors to Brown County limit their time to Nashville, a town filled with quaint knick knacks and fudge shops, and Brown County State Park. While both are worth visiting, I had already done both of those things. I wanted to see a new side of Brown County.

Nashville shops
Inspiration came from an "Indianapolis Monthly" article (surprise) by Nancy Comiskey, a professor the IU School of Journalism. It detailed directions to the Stonehenge of Indiana, something I had not heard of. I knew this was definitely going to be a new side of Brown County for me.

Before I describe the Stonehenge of Indiana, I must describe the memorable journey. Driving through Brown County is a transportive experience in itself. The winding roads reveal yield to picturesque vistas at nearly every turn. Add a great playlist and the drive alone is worth the trip.

The first stop on the trip to Stonehenge was Stone Head. It is a carving from 1851 that points east to Colombus and west to Fairfax, a town that was flooded to make way for Lake Monroe. Comiskey describes it as an "unfortunate cross between a mime and Shemp of the Three Stooges." I would say that is a fair description.

From here we drove through the "prettiest valley in Brown County," passing its small farms and more fantastic foliage.

Sights from Highway 135 South
Next stop was the Story Inn, a restaurant and inn situated in a tiny village founded in 1851. The restaurant is out of the way, but undoubtedly merits the drive. Housed in a former turn-of-the-century general store, the gourmet restaurant serves delicious Hoosier favorites made with local ingredients.

The "Indianapolis Monthly" theme continues
The Story Inn
I ordered a tenderloin. It was huge, delicious and served with hand-cut french fries and slightly sweet cole slaw. Mason jars served as drinking glasses.

A musician played on the back porch, antique tools lined the walls and wine bottles filled with Christmas lights cast a soft glow from overhead, creating a peaceful and anachronistic atmosphere distinctively different from the typical Cracker Barrel-country kitsch.

Next door, the horse riding trail from Brown County State Park ends.

The Story Inn makes up the entirety of the village. Its isolation lends itself to beautiful nature scenes.

With a satiated appetite, the journey continued on several miles of gravel road. One last stop was left before the ascent to the Hoosier Stonehenge: a memorial to the people of Elkinsville. These people "had to leave their homes in the early 1960s when Salt Creek was dammed to create Lake Monroe," according to the article by Comiskey.

The memorial inscription reads the town was "Bathed in the shadow of Browning Mountain, a wonder in itself."

Elkinsville memorial
Homage paid, the ascent up the 928-foot Browning "Mountain" finally began. Although the path wasn't especially well-marked, the directions laid out in the "Indianapolis Monthly" article were easy to follow. It is a really off-the-beaten-path trail in the Hoosier National Forest, but so enchanting.

After about a half hour of hiking, the circle of sandstone slabs making "Indiana's Stonehenge" finally appeared.

Countless slabs scatter the hillside. Explanations for the stones include: "a foundation for an early settler's cabin; a Native American ceremonial site; an ancient temple; the handiwork of extraterrestrials," according to the Indy Monthly article. The most likely explanation is that the slabs were "quarried by an early settler and left behind when the builders found a more-accessible source for the stone."

Regardless of the source, it is a tranquil spot conducive to quiet reflection. This spot is a far cry from the streets of Nashville crowded with Ye Olde Fudge Shoppes and seasonal tourists.

#45. Cover your eyes at the Speedrome

Few times in my life have I been ripped off. In total these instances have cost me about $40, which isn't too bad in the grand scheme of things. Much to my dismay, this total increased by $60 after my attempt to complete #45 at Indianapolis Speedrome, formerly known as Kitley Speedrome.

Indianapolis Speedrome
The Speedrome's World Figure 8 Championship sounded like the perfect mix of adrenaline, intrigue, danger and oddball racing fans. Three hours of harrowing close calls with cars nearly (or actually) crashing into one another on the figure 8 track seemed like the necessary respite from a week of dull academic readings, heavy backpacks and advisor meetings. I was so looking forward to this I even invited my grandparents to accompany me.

When we arrived at the ticket booth, the weather looked on the verge of a storm. Although we considered going home, we had planned this and already driven there. We decided to go in and ask the attendant if we would be refunded if the race were to be canceled due to rain or lightning. She said she thought we would be fine but wasn't sure what the track's policy was. This seemed strange, but we bought our $20/person tickets regardless.

Inside the track, it was exactly what I expected. Enthusiastic race fans hooted for their drivers of choice, greasy concession stand food wafted throughout and run-down cars warmed up on the pothole-pocked track.

I still adjusting to my surroundings when rain drops began to fall. Soon lightning lit up the distant sky. Cars left the track and clean up crew members began mopping the track. Curious chatter about the future of the night's activities was rampant.

A voice came over the speakers about ten minutes later. It announced that due to weather and safety concerns, the race was canceled but would resume the following day.

We had paid $60 to watch four cars warm up for 15 minutes. In other words, $4/minute.

My grandma and I walked to the ticket office to request rain check tickets. We were not alone in our frustration; about 20 other dissatisfied customers filled the trailer-turned-office. The clearly overwhelmed staff members informed us that our tickets would be awarded the following day as long as the numbers on the tickets matched their selling records.

We left satisfied and looking forward to the following day.

The next day, however, the ticket attendant refused to honor our tickets. I am sure there was an administrative problem somewhere along the way, but regardless we lost $60. The Figure 8 race might be a heart-pounding race fan's greatest dream come true, but I will never know. Unfortunately after this experience, I will never return to the Speedrome.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

#46. Tailgate with the clergy at a Notre Dame football game

In my experience it is football, not baseball, that is America's favorite pastime. Most people I know seem to prefer tailgates with grilled meat and music, violent tackles and the best cancelled TV show, Friday Night Lights, over long innings full of downtime. All of the best things about football (minus the TV show) can be found at a Notre Dame football game -- an event that was enjoyable even for someone with little interest in sports like myself.

Friday Night Lights cast
Coming from a family of football players and lovers, I have been to countless football games but oddly never really enjoyed them. They seemed barbaric and failed to catch my attention. But something about the Notre Dame vs Purdue game I attended was different. Maybe it was the excitement of being on a different campus and looking at college life from the outside. It could have been the 125 years of Notre Dame football tradition. Most likely it had to do with the shoulder-to-shoulder seating in the stadium which left me with no choice but to stand up and cheer along with everyone else. But no matter the cause, I quickly found myself swept up in a football game for the first time in my life.
the view from my seat
It seemed as though every Indiana college football fan attended the Notre Dame versus Purdue game. Massive crowds showed up for the sold-out game, and the tailgate lot showed this.

Notre Dame tailgate lot
A Notre Dame tailgate is extremely different from those at Indiana University. At IU, tailgating is divided into two categories:
1) tame family affairs in the parking lot with children playing touch football and parents lounging in folding chairs
2) the drunken anarchic mass of thousands of students in the grass area across the street from the stadium.

At Notre Dame, however, the two are combined. Parents and children tailgate alongside ND students wearing shirts saying things like "Drink 'Til You're Irish" and "Let's Get Weird." There is no obvious demarcation of students and non-students. While this may sound like a disaster waiting to happen, it all seemed to go smoothly. The ND students who were drinking were tempered by the nearby families and the families seem to enjoy themselves more by associating themselves with the carefree, joyful students. One key ingredient that I found missing from the tailgate lot were the clergy, the title of the blogpost. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see such a different tailgating culture.

After the tailgate fields, my family and I made our way to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a truly awesome space. In an earlier post I wrote about the stunning St. Joseph's church in Jasper. While St. Joseph's was beautiful and worth seeing, the Basilica had an even greater effect on me. The ornate alter, huge organ, richly painted ceilings and marble sculptures put me in a hushed, reverent mood more so than any other church I have visited. 
Basilica of the Sacred Heart

 From there we visited the Grotto of our Lady of Lourdes. This prayer space is "one-seventh the size of the famed French shrine where the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette on 18 occasions in 1858," according to the Notre Dame website.

the Grotto
The religious sites did not end there. The Golden Dome, topped with a statue of Mary, the mother of God, could be seen from nearly every point on campus.
Mary statue atop the Golden Dome
The Dome and church spires at sunset

Similarly omnipresent was Touchdown Jesus, the "Word of Life" mural on the Hesburgh Library. Before the extension of the football stadium, fans could see the mural behind the north end zone. Since this addition in 1997, however, only a portion is visible from inside the stadium.

Word of Life mural aka Touchdown Jesus
Although Touchdown Jesus wasn't visible, the stadium experience is unlike any other I've encountered. I have been to many Colts, IU, Purdue and high school football games but never has a stadium lent itself so well to an engaging experience. Although the stadium seats 80,000, every seat has a great view. Even the highest rows seemed somewhat close to the field. The tight benches, ridiculously enthusiastic student section and hardcore fans created an intimate setting.

Notre Dame student section

The setting, paired with a great game in which Notre Dame won with a field goal in the last 10 seconds, made for a fantastic football experience that even a sports non-fan like myself enjoyed.

Final score: Notre Dame: 20, Purdue: 17

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

#15. Pick your own Apples at Beasley's in Danville

One of the pitfalls of basing this blog off a two-year-old magazine article are the inevitable changes that occur over time. For example, I couldn't complete #17. Canoe down Sugar Creek because of the severe drought that Indiana experienced this summer. Dates and addresses listed in the article are occasionally outdated. And Beasley's Orchard doesn't offer you-pick apple orchards.

I have fond memories of going to Beasley's pumpkin patch fields to pick out future as a child, but I had never been to their apple orchards. I was unreasonably excited to return to frolic in the fields of yore; one can imagine my disappointment when a Beasley's employee informed me over the phone that they did not host any you-pick apple orchards, only you-pick pumpkin patches.

Beasley's Orchard
After recovering from my crestfallen state I found a handy website that lists PYO (pick your own) farms. Through this site I discovered Anderson Orchards in Mooresville; their website listed an impressive variety of apples and I decided that this would make up for my crushed Beasley dreams.

The Johnny Appleseed cutouts that stand at the entrance and exit wooed me. The red barn market filled with fresh fruits and vegetables made me want to permanently switch to local food. Size options of peck or bushel provided fun words to ponder. (Now that I have Google on my side, I know a peck is about 10 lbs and a bushel is about 40 lbs.)

With a peck bag in hand, my family and I drove through the orchard hunting for the currently pickable apples:

  • Mollies Delicious
    • sweet; similar to eating Red Delicious; meant for eating
  • Gala
    • sweet; all-purpose
  • Golden Supreme
    • sweet; similar to Golden Delicious; all-purpose
  • Jonathon
    • tart; all-purpose; popular for pies
  • Cortland
    • tart; all-purpose; recommended for cooking; cooks soft
The hunt was pretty easy due to Anderson's convenient labels and clumping of varieties. 

Soon we found a Gala row and hopped out to fill our peck bag. We were sorely disappointed with what we found: tree after tree with either rotting or newborn baby fist-sized apples. We walked the entire row hoping to find at least one blossoming tree but it was futile--the whole row was past its prime. 

Luckily future rows were much more successful. It was a fun process; eyeing suitable apples turned into a sort of competition with us calling each other over to gauge the quality of our sweet discoveries and compare them with each other. We quickly filled our bag about 3/4 full with more apples than we could eat. 

My family was not the only one having a good time; other families were picnicking and eating fruit straight off the trees. (This is probably not allowed but they didn't seem to care.) The fun came at a low cost too; for $5 we bought about 25 apples.

Now that I am outside of the orchard I realize this is a ridiculous amount of apples for a small family. To avoid letting them spoil, I gave some to my grandma and used about seven of them in a few loaves of apple bread using this tasty recipe. I plan to make homemade applesauce and apple crisp in the next couple days because there is no way we will finish them before they start to go bad.

So far the bread has been a big hit and hopefully the other recipes will be as well. With such fresh apples, I assume they will.

#16. Trace your Indiana Roots

I have a pretty sizable family. My dad is one of nine children and my mother one of five. I have more first cousins than some football teams have players. My grandparents all had at least three siblings and their progeny have been very bountiful.

Approximately 98 percent of my numerous relatives live in Indiana. The Indy Monthly article asks "How Hoosier are you?" I always knew the answer was: very; however, I never knew what I was besides Hoosier. Sure, I knew that I had German and Irish ancestry like every other white person living in the U.S. but everything else was very vague. Sometimes I would be told I had ancestors from Czechoslavakia, other times Yugoslavia, still others England or Austria. In high school, my Spanish teacher informed me that I was actually Slovenian. (She grew up down the street from my grandpa in a heavily Slavic area.) Even though borders in Eastern Europe have been crazy for years, I wanted concrete answers.

I found them, sort of, at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne. The library's genealogical center is one of the best resources in North America for tracing family history. Powerful genealogical databases, microfiche, microfilm and printed volumes fill the center with loads of information for family tree makers.

Allen County Public Library genealogical center
The center is probably most useful to hardcore genealogists. A woman standing in line beside me at the Help desk was looking for information on a really distant relative from the 1700s. She traveled to the Center from another state after finding information in a cemetery in Maryland. As a rookie looking for information on my paternal great-grandfather I felt a little out of my league. Even the librarians knew I was a noob; they gave me a family tree diagram I remember using for a project in first grade, complete with colored illustrations.

The library handout wasn't quite this elementary, but it was close
Nonetheless, I had a great time researching my family history. I focused on my dad's side of the family because my mom's relatives are really aware of their ancestry. My maternal grandma, who accompanied me on the trip, even brought several books of family trees and demonstrated a real talent for remembering names and complicated familial ties.

Every time I would make a discovery I felt strangely accomplished. It was like putting together a never-ending puzzle that involved a lot of dead ends and parsing of old documents. This may not sound like fun, but it was to me.

Volumes in the Genealogical Center
I discovered some interesting things. For example, I now understand the confusion over my heritage. Records showed relatives who immigrated from Yugoslavia, Croatia and Austria. All of the regions they hailed from are now Slovenia. I also found a picture of my great-great grandfather's Indianapolis grocery store with an address; I think it would be interesting to visit the location sometime soon to compare the differences.

Some of my great-great aunts and uncles standing in front of my great-great grandfather's grocery store
Some discoveries were weird. I found that a woman who I believed was either the mother or guardian of my great-great grandpa was an inmate at an insane asylum. I wasn't able to find much about my paternal great-grandfather beyond his year of immigration; there was a 23-year gap between his year of immigration and the first U.S. Census in which I could find him mentioned.

Example of 1930 U.S. Census sheet
All of these discoveries, both good and bad, raise questions. I want to verify discoveries with my elderly relatives and wrack their memories for stories. I've already learned new things from my grandma and dad because of this visit and I look forward to talking to my other grandparents and family members to learn more.

Researching family history has an odd draw. I'm not sure if its appeal lies in the challenge, the discovery your roots, or comfort in knowing future generations may remember and search for you just as you search for long-dead relatives. Whatever the reason, myself and others will continue to trace family relations with the resources of the Allen County Public Library's genealogical center.