Archive for September, 2009

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday – Dying for Chocolate

September 30, 2009

Last weekend I read a mystery novel by Diane Mott Davidson, Dying for Chocolate. I was going through the Indiana Humanities Council’s collection of books for reading and discussion groups, looking for novels related to food. This book was one of several titles containing the word “chocolate” (Like Water for Chocolate, Chocolat), so I decided to give it a try.

First of all, it was a lot of fun. But I also discovered that Dying for Chocolate is a prime example of a subgenre that has become very popular in the last few decades – the culinary mystery. Like all detective fiction, it offers the satisfaction of an intellectual puzzle, on the one hand, and a morality play, on the other. The master detective solves the crime, and the wicked are caught and punished.

CookingThe culinary mystery, however, adds some delightful and delicious ingredients to the basic mix. Like other “cozy” mysteries, it often takes place in an idyllic setting, such as a small town or village, populated by easily recognizable characters, whether eccentric, endearing, or just ordinary. The detective is usually a woman who is a caterer, innkeeper, or other purveyor of food. In Dying for Chocolate, the heroine is a caterer and single mother who has to track down her boyfriend’s killer while coping with demanding clients and gourmet menus. Culinary mysteries often include recipes for the dishes described, and it’s hard to imagine the book group that could discuss this novel without at least a package of store-bought frosted brownies on hand.

The setting for Dying for Chocolate is Aspen Meadow, Colorado, but the Council’s collection also has culinary mysteries from other regions of the country. Joanne Fluke’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder is set at the Cookie Jar Bakery in Lake Eden, Minnesota, owned by Hannah Swenson. Tamar Myers’ No Use Dying Over Spilled Milk features Magdalena Yoder, Mennonite proprietor of the Pennsylvania Dutch Inn. Nancy Pickard’s The 27-Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders takes sleuth Eugenia Potter from her New England base to her ranch in Arizona. As small business owners, these women have a lot on their plates.

For those who can’t consume just one, most culinary mysteries are part of a series of novels. Like Agatha Christie herself, these writers are very prolific. They also have a penchant for puns in their titles. My favorites: Tamar Myers’ The Crepes of Wrath and the next book by Diane Mott Davidson, The Cereal Murders.

Also recommended (by Keira Amstutz): Julie Hyzy’s State of the Onion (White House Chef Mystery series).

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Meandering Indiana 16 – Spencer County

September 28, 2009

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
Spencer County, Indiana, is Abraham Lincoln country, the locale of his boyhood home. In preparation for the Lincoln Bicentennial, I have had the opportunity to take many trips to Spencer County, but two were especially memorable.

My first visit to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial was a tour guided by site superintendent Randy Wester. From the memorial building, with its large sculptured limestone panels depicting phases in Lincoln’s life, we walked across a landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., then up a hill to the Nancy Hanks Lincoln gravesite. A sense of peacefulness and remembrance seemed to hold these places apart from time. Randy pointed out that the site was a National Memorial, not a park or a monument.

The second occasion I remember vividly was a tour led by Bill Bartelt, author of There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth. Bill, a teacher who spent many summers as a park ranger, had studied not only the life of Lincoln but also the land he must have walked in southern Indiana.

Path in Spencer CountyCrossing over to Lincoln State Park, which adjoins the National Memorial, Bill led us to a wide path in the woods that was once a primitive road connecting one frontier settlement to another. As we stood among the trees, with hardly anything modern in sight, it was not difficult to imagine a teenaged boy of the 1820s, sauntering along this path on his way back from an errand.

Last night Ken Burns’ latest project, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea premiered on PBS. Lincoln Boyhood was the first national park established in Indiana when, in 1962, it was transferred from the jurisdiction of the state to the National Park Service. Not only are our national parks amazing resources that we all can share, but we can also access NPS.gov, a rich online resource for discovering history, exploring nature, and continuing to learn about our country.

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Leadership and the New Science

September 23, 2009

By  Larry Rowland, Chair of the Indiana Humanities Council’s Board of Directors

It has been said that the only things that will always exist are “death, taxes, and change.”  Our world has seen a tremendous amount of change in the last year; declining stock markets, wars, elections, and the U.S. government taking an active role in bailing out major companies.  It is perhaps the rare and undiscovered individual who predicted all of these changes. The speed of recent change has created a sense of disquiet among many, and who among us would not like to once again see the reasonable predictability of market growth? 

For centuries, we have built our expectations, and our companies, around the precepts of Newtonian physics.  We, and our companies, have worked hard to control our environment, our markets, and our workforce.  Top management’s responsibility in this model has been to set the corporate direction, and demand that the rest of the corporation fall in line in pursuit of the senior leader’s goals. Yet in spite of all of the corporate command and control structures we have built, we have painfully learned that equilibrium does not exist.

Dr. Elizabeth Wheatley, in her book, Leadership and the New Science, suggests that we should be building our companies and our leadership styles using the principles associated with quantum physics.  Quantum physics suggests that there is an interrelatedness of organisms with their environment.  Dr. Wheatley makes the case that leaders should listen to each employee, and develop cooperative teams to focus on the challenges facing their company or organization.  This new focus also encourages the free flow of information throughout the organization rather than using the “top down” strategy used by corporations for decades.  Focusing on the values of the individuals and aligning them with corporate goals, she postulates, can enable an organization to more quickly and flexibly respond to rapid changes occurring in the environment and markets.

Most of us for years have worked for leaders who have taken their leadership cues from Newtonian physics.  What results do you think could be achieved if leaders began listening to their colleagues more, encouraging the free flow of information, and aligning the goals of the individuals with the goals of the company?

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Eat, Pray, Love

September 16, 2009

I finally picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” — a book I’d been begging my sister to borrow, but she kept lending it out to someone else before I could get my hands on it. Now, I feel like I’m the last person (or at least woman) to read it — especially because Gilbert’s sequel will hit the shelves in January.

Just from the jacket’s description, I knew this was a book for me — and not just because my sister told me so. “Liz” is everything I love in a great fictional character –s trong, funny, passionate, and of course, an avid traveler — but she’s not fictional. Even better. Knowing a little about Gilbert, I was also looking forward to exceptional writing.

So I woke up early one morning over Labor Day weekend just to crack open the book before anyone else stirred. I crashed through the first 75 pages before I even realized it, intermittently laughing out loud and getting a bit teary-eyed. As much as I hated to be pulled out of Liz’s world, when I got interrupted, it was just as well. The book was so delicious that I didn’t want to waste my enjoyment in one setting. Now, I get to live vicariously through Liz’s world a few nights a week. And maybe more. Like my sister, I may read this one twice.

By Kristen Fuhs Wells, communications director at the Indiana Humanities Council

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Find multi-generational activities in the Resource Connection

September 14, 2009

One of my favorite memories growing up was “Grandparents Day” at school. I loved eating lunch with my grandparents, performing skits and creating works of art just for them. As your family celebrates Grandparents Day, take a look at the Resource Connection and discover some activities your multi-generational family can do together—perhaps it’s reading a story that teaches young children what it means to be a veteran, reading a few stories handed down to students by their grandparents, or inviting kids to think about what grandpa really means when he says, “Back in my day…”.

Do your own search at the Resource Connection and see what you can discover.

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: There I Grew Up

September 9, 2009

The long weekend gave me the chance to finish William E. Bartelt’s book on Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana years. At almost exactly the time when Indiana became a state (Dec. 1816), the Lincoln family moved across the Ohio River to their new home in southwestern Indiana. Abe was 7 years old. He remained a Hoosier until the Lincolns moved west to Illinois when he was 21.

Bartelt has collected much of the original source material related to what we know about Lincoln in Indiana, but he has also researched and interpreted those stories and testimonies, with additions and corrections. The result is a readable, well-illustrated text that describes this extraordinary individual in the context of his family, his community, and his moment in Indiana history.

Hoosier Youth by Manship

Hoosier Youth by Manship


Lincoln wrote about himself: “We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up.” And also: “He settled in an unbroken forest; and the clearing away of surplus wood was the great task ahead. A. though very young, was large of his age, and had an axe put into his hands at once . . . .” The natural environment and frontier conditions were primitive, but soon a small community around Little Pigeon Creek began to form as families claimed land in early Perry and Spencer counties.

If young Abe had an axe in one hand, he had a book in the other. With little formal education, he nonetheless learned to read, write, and cipher. Determined to improve himself, he read all the books he could beg or borrow. Bartelt provides a list of books he probably read, including Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, and biographies of Washington and Ben Franklin. Abe also read newspapers and wrote essays (on temperance and animal cruelty, for example). Popular and well able to hold an audience, he used his natural gifts to entertain and to persuade by making speeches and telling stories.

It was both a privilege and a pleasure to spend some time getting to know a young man on his way to history and a young state on its way from woods to fields.

William E. Bartelt. “There I Grew Up”: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2008.