Monday, June 29, 2015

"S"ycamore tree

Sycamore tree in winter. Photo by Diane Weidenbenner.
This winter, while walking beside Big Raccoon Creek near the Bridgeton Grist Mill in Bridgeton, Indiana, my friend and I noticed this beautiful, notty white-barked tree.

It's leaves were long gone but hanging from the tree were one-inch woody balls attached by small branches. Upon research with Google, we discovered this beautiful tree was a Sycamore, and the balls were actually the fruit of the tree that ripened in October and broke up into many small seeds throughout season.

Sycamore "fruit". Photo by Diane Weidenbenner.
There were still very large leaves gathered at the bottom of the tree, along with fallen fruit. Although Sycamore trees may look dead in winter (no leaves, bark peeling and falling off), the trees can actually live over 500 years, preferring deep river-bottom soils.

The trees are so prominent in Indiana, and the Wabash Valley, that you'll notice everything from apartment buildings and streets to the Indiana State Sycamores (the NCAA Division I intercollegiate athletic team) sporting the name.

After discovering these beauties on my own, I did a little Google search for the tree in Indiana. For example, Sycamore trees are known for getting quite large and the biggest big tree in the DNR 2010 Register was a 136-foot tall Sycamore in Johnson County with a trunk more than 25-feet around.

There's a page on the Internet that talks about "Indiana's largest tree - the old Sycamore." The decayed tree was located in Greene County until a storm destroyed it in 1925. The age of the tree in 1915 was estimated to be 500 years old and it reached a height of 150 feet. There is a sign erected in front of the last limb at Worthington Park, where the smaller branch of the tree remains, on public display.

The website lists Indiana as home to the "world's largest Sycamore Stump", located in Kokomo. It is 57 feet in circumference and 12 feet high. The tree was nearly 800 years old before storms tore it down. The stump has been displayed in Highland Park since 1916.

Who knew we had located such a stalwart tree, when we found the fallen fruit and "resting" trunk, next to the rushing waters of Big Raccoon Creek? Winter is such an important time for plants as they ready themselves for another green, moist promising spring in Indiana. I'd like to visit the tree again now, to see it in all its leafy glory.

Friday, June 26, 2015


My husband looks longingly at our cats and our dog, when they sleep. He says, "Wouldn't it be great to be that relaxed?!" It's like they abandon all striving and let their kittie/puppy dream states take over. Once in awhile you'll see them twitch or whimper - I think one of them is having a bad dream but he or she could just as easily be chasing the bird/squirrel of their choice.

I recently had a knee replacement and this meant that I had to sleep on my back, with my leg elevated on a pillow, above my heart. Talk about uncomfortable! It's hard enough to get to sleep after such a surgery without having to sleep in an awkward position.

At one point, Ollie, the orange and white cat seen in the above photo, came into the bedroom, came up on the bed and snuggled under my arm. His fur was so soft and warm, and his purring was comforting. It wasn't long before I realized that Ollie was my good luck charm in the sleep department. Go figure - that it would be a wonderful pet blessing after surgery that led to a peaceful night's sleep! Instead of heavy narcotics, I think doctors should prescribe furry pets as antidotes after surgery or during illnesses. I can see the Walgreen's pharmacists' faces now!

Thursday, June 25, 2015


There is something magical about those places that we go, where there is peace and quiet. Our minds can sift through the day's worries, list of "to do's" and "what if's" and settle on meaningful silence. I experienced that recently on a trip to California when I visited the beach.

It was after a very hectic week spent at a trade show with 40,000 people in attendance.

I arrived at the beach as the surf boarders and families playing in the sand were packing up to head home. By the time the sun tipped onto the ocean, there was just a couple holding hands on the beach, me and this seagull. What a perfect moment!

The sound of the waves were reassuring that life has a rhythm, a purpose beyond what we can comprehend. We only experience life a day at a time because if we knew too much of the future, we couldn't live in the moment, appreciate our family and friends, and take time to learn about God, his great love and blessings.

We'd be too busy looking ahead to notice those important things right at our feet, like the lines in the sand made by the movement of the ocean's waves or the seagull searching for a tasty morsel. We wouldn't notice the kindness of strangers, the clean smell of the forest after a rain or the dense, soft fur of our cats as they snuggle into the bed's covers. We'd forget to be grateful for all that we are, all that we have.

Monday, June 15, 2015


Hawthorn Park is beautiful in the spring, summer and fall. It can even be
peaceful in the winter, with new fallen snow. Photo by Diane Weidenbenner.
One benefit of living in Indiana is the abundance of natural parks and wetland refuges within a short driving distance from towns and cities. It's not uncommon to drive 15-30 minutes or up to one hour to reach parks, rivers, lakes and other such beautiful natural settings to relieve stress and enjoy time away.

I live in Terre Haute and in a 15-30 minute drive from my house, I have access to Hawthorn Park, as an example, which is on 250-plus acres and includes a lake that spans more than 68 acres. It was established in 1980 and was named after the Hawthorn tree, a plethora of which are located on the property.

They have both primitive and modern campground sites. A friend of mine was moving from one house to the next and had a two-week span in-between. She and her husband camped out at Hawthorn Park during that time and both were still able to go to work each day, having spent restful nights at the park. They utilized the shower houses as well! Another friend used to walk her dog after work, finding the park a peaceful place to work out the day's problems.

There are picnic shelters, playgrounds, restrooms, a boat launch, fishing docks an archery range and trails. It's a birdwatcher's paradise and a fisherman's dream. It hosts the Kenneth E. Smith Memorial Labyrinth, which was finished in 2003, and based on the Chartres Labyrinth in France.

There are a number of such parks close-by. Fowler Park (complete with pioneer village and seasonal activities) and Prairie Creek Park (with baseball diamond, tennis court and basketball courts and s sugar house for maple syrup production) are just south of Terre Haute, on U.S. 41.

There are also quite a few National Parks that include waterfalls and challenging hiking trails, as well as orienteering venues. With so many activities and places to choose from, it's not hard to stay entertained most of the year without traveling very far.

What areas are your peaceful respites, near your home? What do you find especially appealing to your area?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


My dad, Sterling, and my nephew Matt.
A person's "origin" can mean several things. It can be a place/location where I was born (Denver, Colo.), it can be a culture from where my ancestors originated or it can be my very beginning, which I consider to be in God's image/likeness.

My brother, sister-in-law and I took a trip to Pennsylvania last year, to meet some first cousins that we'd never met before. My dad was from Allentown and we discovered cousins on my dad's sister's side of the family. It was so much fun to see the physical similarities and commonalities, even though we'd never met each other before.

During this visit I discovered that we were Scotch-Irish, along with our German/Pennsylvania Dutch heritage (which we'd known). My grandmother's side of the family were English and Swedish, so I have those roots in my genes as well.

I was born and raised in Denver. And, until 10 years ago, when I moved to Indiana, I had lived and thrived in Denver. When I first moved, people would ask me where I was from and I'd say, "I'm originally from Denver but I moved here six months ago." Now I tell people I'm from Indiana.

If I think about the author and creator of life, I think of God. I am made in His likeness and being, so even though I have my mother and father's genes, God breathed life into me. At least that's what I believe.

So, origin can mean a variety of things, which I guess is still the spice of life!

Monday, June 8, 2015


Mama fox and one of her kits. A fallen tree is their habitat so
we can't clear it away. Photo by Diane Weidenbenner.
 My husband and I have .7 of an acre on the north side of a small town in Indiana. It's an older neighborhood and one that isn't "hip" anymore. All the chain restaurants, the Walmart, and the mall with Macy's and Carson's is located on the south side.

We enjoy less traffic up north, and an Applebee's was built shortly before we arrived. People would ask where we moved to and the follow-up comment was "They just built an Applebee's up there, ya know!" Yes, we've heard!

Our house is uphill from Lost Creek and we have quite a few wildlife visitors, especially in the warmer months. It's really fascinating at sunrise and sunset around our house. The groundhog comes out for breakfast and dinner, as does the fox. We had a box turtle in our yard larger than the size of a dinner plate. Our dog, Hershey, saw him before I did, which is amazing because with his head pulled into his shell, he looked like a rock.

One of our mama's kits. She's fluffy and her ears are too big for
the rest of her body. Super playful! Photo by Diane Weidenbenner.
We also know by experience that we have many raccoon and opossum in our midst. And, we've had deer and coyotes visit as well, of course not at the same time.

Our house and the house next door used to be the only ones built into several acres of field. A California land developer bought up the remaining land, connected 12th street, north to south, and built rental homes in front of ours. So, we have a little rock road that connects our two houses to the main road. While I'm not thrilled that the houses in front of ours are rentals, once I arrive home, it's easy to shut out the rest of the world and just enjoy the nature which is our backyard.

We really do enjoy country charm but live in town. Several local restaurants have opened up near us and I'd much rather support their efforts over the chains. We even have an ice cream and coffee shop, although it's a bit hard to find parking, since you have to park in back of an old building and walk to the front. Just have to plan an extra few minutes in my schedule, which isn't a problem because I make them up by not having to fight traffic to work. When I lived in Denver, it would take me at least 45 minutes to drive to work. My current "commute" is 12 minutes and I get the scenic route no matter which way I drive. I don't have to go very far to enjoy nature - just take a few steps out the front (or back) door.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"M"other's Day

I'm four weeks out from having a total knee replacement and I'm grateful for the surgery, albeit still quite sore. I'm 52 years old and this is the first major life event that I've had since my mom passed away in 2010. You would think at this age that I would be a seasoned professional at handling life's twists and turns. I'm a Christian, too, so I have faith in God, and in His strength and comfort.

Mom and my nephew, Matt, at a family dinner.
For some reason, this surgery was harder on me emotionally than it was probably physically. After all, they give you really good pain meds for the first week or two. What I didn't anticipate was having times after surgery where I would melt down into a puddle of tears, to the point where I felt like I couldn't breathe. The physical therapist and the doctor said this was "normal" after such a intense surgery and recovery period.

I attribute it to the realization, the finality that I don't have a living parent in my life. Don't get me wrong. My husband has been an angel during this time, attending to my every need, pain signal and ice request. He's been my rock and I could never have gotten through this without him. My sister-in-law recommended a terrific surgeon and my brother and she were at the hospital during my surgery. Joe's mother had both knees done and she has been a great encouragement and help to me. And, my boss at work, Sister Ann, has sent cards and also been wonderful. My friends have supported me with their prayers, phone calls and one "break-out-of-jail" trip into the country which included lunch.

Mother's Day has recently passed and that day, too, was hard. My mom may have had her bouts with depression and anger, but I loved her and miss her presence, especially since she was in Indiana with us her last four years. Having both my parents gone does force me to lean on God and those important people that He has put into my life. I am grateful and blessed to have such meaningful relationships, both near and far. My surgery has been a reminder that although scar tissue and healing can take many forms, there is a hole in my heart because of my parents' absence that will take many more years to heal, if ever.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Living with cats: Is your cat on Instagram?

Tikey is one handsome cat! Who could he be connecting with
on Instagram? Skype?
I read this article, “Is Your Cat on Instagram,” and for a minute I thought, "I hope not!" If he or she is, I’m not aware of what they are posting. Then, this idea took me to Twitter, Facebook and of all things, Skyping. After all, my laptop does have a camera and mic. It would be quite easy for my cats to participate in any of these social media outlets. And, I would never know!

How do I ensure that my cats and dogs are safe on the Internet? That they are not being phished for or scammed? We as parents must have their user names and passwords so at any time we can see what they are doing. I’ve trained them to not share their kitty or puppy vaccination numbers or birthdates with strangers. The thought never crossed my mind that I need to talk to them about Internet safety, especially my younger pets.

As I read more of the article, I realized that there were a few steps that I could help my cats with, on Instagram. For one, they don’t have to always post selfies. With a little help from me, I can take photos of them in action, ensuring that they are quality photos with editing when needed.

I do see the need for the kitties to build community – have an outreach to others with similar group interests: Catnip Abusers Network (CAN), Meowy Christmas Baking or Initiating Play with your Persons.

Number 4 – Creating a killer profile page bothers me a bit, since I don’t want them sharing personal or private information. And it sounds violent.

I definitely can help them with using hashtags (#6), because without opposable thumbs, this can be hard to do.

Number 7 and 8 – utilizing the entire social media community and checking out other pet accounts – I’m sure that our cats can learn a lot by observing others who are successful on Instagram. Guess I’m going to need to get the unlimited data plan if I’m going to encourage the kitties to ramp up their social media presence!

P.S. Today I am having knee replacement surgery and I want to assure everyone that this post was written prior to today, and prior to any pain medication being taken. Just sayin'!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Blogging A to Z: "K"-ittens

There is something special about kittens. Don't get me wrong. I like grown up cats and dogs, too. After all, eventually all kittens and puppies grow up. We have four cats and all but one were adopted as kittens. No matter how tall or round the cats get, I still see them as those fluffy, adorable, sweet kittens that like to jump on fuzz or feathers as they waft across the floor. Everything is new and interesting to them. And they are fearless. Raja, our most recent rescue kitten, was less than 2 pounds when she first made friends with our dog, Hershey, who was then 50 pounds.

Here's my ode to kitten-hood:
Oliver (aka Ollie) when he was allowed up on our comforter, at 3 months old.
Gracie was a stray that had had two litters before we caught
her so technically she's not a kitten. But she was young at heart
when we got her, at about a year old.
Tikey, at the vet with a horrible respiratory infection,
estimated to be about 8 weeks old. Talk about a "bad hair day."
Raja was a tiny kitten when she was rescued and
weighed less than 2 pounds. She now weighs a healthy
11 pounds and plays with 70-pound Hershey.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Blogging A to Z: "J"-asper, Indiana

My husband and his family are from Jasper, Indiana, a town founded in 1830, with a rich German, Catholic heritage. Today, Jasper has almost 15,000 residents and is the county seat for Dubois County. The area was originally inhabited by the Piankishaw/Shawnee Indian tribe and was covered by forest.
St. Joseph Catholic Church, Jasper,
Indiana. Photo by Diane Weidenbenner.
Jasper's name comes from a Mrs. Enlow, whose family owned the town's first 120 acres. She read Revelation 21:19, which says, "And the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was Jasper ...," and the town's name was born. It's located 122 miles south of Indianapolis, covers 13.17 square miles and is bound by the Patoka River on the east.

There are several things that you'll notice when visiting Jasper. One is Courthouse Square, which includes the four-story, slightly elevated Dubois County Courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1910, was renovated in 1996, and boasts nicely preserved Renaissance Revivial-style architecture. There is a Riverfront Master Plan Development in the works which people hope will invigorate the square and make it more of a place to shop, eat and hang-out.

A large annual draw for Jasper is the five-day Strassenfest, a festival which celebrates the German heritage of Jasper and draws more than 30,000 visitors on the first weekend of August. This event is centered around the Courthouse Square, with booths for German food, children's games, a Bier Garten, lively bands with polka music, fireworks, etc., and includes a substantial parade. My husband's parents have been actively involved for years.

Another icon is Saint Joseph Catholic Church, founded in 1837 by Father Joseph Kundek, a missionary priest from Croatia. The current building was built beginning in 1867 and was completed and blessed in 1880. The church was renovated in 1954. Father Kundek had a large role in German immigrants migrating to the area because he spoke German, English and French, and encouraged the German residents to write their families about Jasper's promising future.

To get a feel for how Jasper and Dubois County came to be, you should visit the Dubois County Museum. It's an interesting place to learn more about the German heritage and how the area was settled through agriculture, woodworking and the effect of several wars. You'll learn more about the Buffalo Trace, which cut through the northern part of the county, and get up close and personal with a stuffed buffalo. There is also a miniature train exhibit which is fascinating for children and adults alike.

Your visit to Jasper wouldn't be complete without lunch or dinner at the Schnitzelbank German Restaurant which offers an amazing salad bar, wonderful fried chicken (and livers), and traditional German fare. You can even pick up a few German chotchkies in the gift shop or perhaps a genuine German cuckoo clock for your foyer.