Maple bourbon pumpkin walnut pie

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This delightful addition to our holiday pie lineup was inspired by the Country Potter, aka John Platt III, the only one of the original historic demonstrators from Fort Wayne’s first Johnny Appleseed Festival in 1975 who still participates.

I wrote about John’s 19th century Midwestern pottery techniques in a story that ran this fall in one of the last print editions of The News-Sentinel. I knew he made high-quality pie plates, because that’s what local pie-baking legend Helen Witte bakes her $2,000 charity auction pies in.

What I didn’t realize is that John’s a pretty good pie baker himself. When I went to buy a couple of his pieces for Christmas gifts recently, he told me about his maple bourbon pumpkin walnut pie. I couldn’t talk him into retrieving the recipe for me; the 75-year-old has a bad back and moves laboriously.

“Just google it,” he said. “That’s what I tell my kids when they ask for a recipe. It’s a lot faster anyway.”

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John Platt making a pot in his backyard studio in September 2017.  

For the pie we made on Sunday, I used a store-bought crust. For the filling, we tried this recipe from circulon.com, substituting evaporated milk for the heavy cream – partly to save fat and calories but mainly because I didn’t have any cream on hand. We baked ours for one hour at 350 degrees. That recipe is below. 

John had told me he scatters walnuts across the top of his pie. Most of the maple-bourbon-pumpkin recipes I found that included nuts used pecans. But we like walnuts, and I liked staying true to the spirit of the Country Potter’s pie even if we didn’t have the same exact recipe. So we decided to adapt this recipe for a maple-pecan topping from bromabakery.com.  That recipe is also listed below, under the filling recipe.

This pie baked up really nice, with a much more interesting taste than plain old pumpkin pie. I’m definitely making it again for Christmas!

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Maple-bourbon-pumpkin pie filling

  • 1 15-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (we used an equal amount of evaporated milk, one of the substitutions suggested by healthline.com).
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine the pumpkin, sugar, eggs, heavy cream, maple syrup, bourbon, vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spice and salt in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Pour into the prepared pie crust and set on a shallow rimmed baking sheet. Loosely cover the crust with aluminum foil.
  3. Bake in the center of the oven until the filling is just set, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven, cool to room temperature and chill at least 3 hours before serving.

 

Maple-walnut topping ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts 
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup light or medium brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Instructions: 

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt maple and brown sugar until it bubbles. Add in butter, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes. Add in walnuts and coat completely with mixture. Cook for 4-5 minutes more, until the nuts have absorbed most of the sugar and begin to look sticky.
  2. Remove from heat and place on parchment paper or wax paper to cool. Once pie is cooled completely, top with maple walnuts. 
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John Platt’s pie plates are made in the style of 1800s Midwestern functional pottery. 

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A simple example of how running therapy opens your mind

Saturday morning I was sitting in my little economy car, heater on, trying to maneuver one leg at a time against the dash so I could start stretching without freezing while I waited on my sister for a run.

Eyeing the frost outside, I wondered if I was wearing enough layers.

Then I get out and say something to Traci about the cold, and she goes, “It’s not that bad. There’s no wind.”

And just like that, I stop shivering.

Despite the fact that she’s been trying to give me orders since she learned how to talk, I don’t always listen to or agree with my younger sister. We’re opposites in many ways; there’s a reasonable chance we’d hate each other if we met as strangers.

But we’re both so used to our joint running therapy sessions that we arrive with our minds more open than usual. We expect to have our preconceptions challenged – and during these runs, at least, instead of clinging to our own point of view we welcome the opportunity to hear the other person’s perspective.

Because we’re so different, what strikes one of us as an intractable problem usually seems like no big deal to the other person. In any other setting, that imbalance might lead to some eye-rolling – or worse. How many arguments have I witnessed that start because one person is dismissive or even derisive of another person’s concerns?

But here, on the running path, we’re committed to lightening our load. Sometimes we just need to vent for a while. It makes the miles go by faster, and depending on how we worked up we are, it sometimes makes us run faster as well.

Thornier problems get broken down little by little, mile by mile.  A simple solution, or at least a coping mechanism –  hard to see when anxiety fogs your vision – almost always presents itself.  

Of course, few problems are so easily solved as my misperception of Saturday morning’s weather. Once Traci pointed out the stillness of the slightly-below-freezing air, I instantly realized she was right: Without a wind, the cold had no hold on me that I couldn’t outrun.  

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Holiday eating tips from people who lost weight during Thanksgiving week

Looking for some holiday eating tips for an upcoming newspaper column, I stopped by Debbie Powers’ Weight Watchers class Sunday afternoon – where over half the members managed to register a loss for the week in spite of Thanksgiving.

“In 34 years as a leader, I don’t think I’ve ever had a group with this much success after Thanksgiving,” Powers said.

As Powers quizzed the class on what helped them survive what they called “D-Day” (Decision Day), one woman who hosted a gathering said she used small serving spoons to scoop out a taste of everything that looked good.

“There was space between everything on my plate,” she said. “Nothing was touching.”

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Debbie Powers, left, and her aunt, Frances Milan, who first took Powers to Weight Watchers when she was a hefty teenager in the 1970s. Powers lost 100 pounds in her successful quest to make the school’s pom-pom squad.

Powers’ Aunt Frances, who first took her to Weight Watchers when Powers* was a hefty high school student in the 1970s, reported that she ate a plate of steamed vegetables before attending this year’s feast at a relative’s house. Frances was down three pounds, though she noted that it probably helped that she didn’t have to cook this year.

A woman named Karen said she took a fruit plate and veggie tray to her family’s gathering to make sure there would be safe foods to snack on. Knowing she was craving her Aunt Cheryl’s stuffing, she allowed points for that but skipped the mashed potatoes and gravy, which isn’t a once-a-year opportunity.

“Normally I get a whole plate of desserts, but this year I only had half a pumpkin roll,” Karen said. “It was empowering.”

A member named DaVonna, who recorded a half-pound gain, said she knows what she wishes she would’ve done differently: Eaten something healthy and filling before she started cooking for her 30-plus guests the day before Thanksgiving.

Because she neglected to take this precaution, DaVonna ended up using up all her extra points before the big event arrived. 

“I feel like I should’ve been better prepared,” she said. “But now I’m motivated to do a better job at Christmas.”

Looking ahead to the coming weeks of holiday excess, Powers’ class came up with these tips to focus on:

  • “Stay on track by tracking what you eat.”
  • Have a healthy breakfast.
  • Make sure to get in enough fruit and veggies.
  • Be proactive with your points (or calories or carbs or whatever you’re tracking) so you always have something in reserve for an unplanned indulgence.
  • Check your calendar for events that will provide challenges and plan accordingly.

Finally, Powers offered up this tip for people who know they are likely to feel too busy to get to the gym or do their usual workouts: Do some extra walking while you’re at the grocery store. Don’t just park farther away, but take a few laps around the store either before or after you do your actual shopping.

“I’ve been doing that,” Powers’ Aunt Frances said – so much so that she drew the attention of the store’s security guard, who observed that “you’re here every night, and you got nothin’ in your cart.”

“I explained what I was doing,” she told him, “and he said that was probably a good idea.”

*To learn more about Debbie Powers’ weight-loss story, and other people who have managed to maintain a weight loss for several years, check out my new Weight Loss Masters page, a result of my ongoing blog-decluttering project. (This past week I also unearthed two more forgotten “How Normal People Eat” interviews, with the thoughtful and delightful Rachel Blakeman as well as my surprisingly cooperative brother-in-law, Gunnar Heller. )

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‘Death cleaning’ turns up lost ‘How Normal People Eat’ interviews

Dostadning is the Swedish term for “death cleaning,” decluttering your stuff as you get older so that you don’t burden your relatives with piles of junk they have no idea what to do with.

I hope I’ve got a few decades left, but I figure I better get started now if I want to have any chance of achieving that goal.  Technically this blog doesn’t count; there’s plenty of room for clutter in cyberspace. But when it starts bugging even me how hard it is to find anything on here, I figure it’s time to tidy things up a bit.

One of the first things I did when I started this blog, way more than 1,000 posts ago, was start hectoring everyone I knew who didn’t seem to have a problem with food how they did it.

I was obsessed with how “normal” people ate – and whether we were just wired differently, or if there was something I could learn from them.

Many people I talked to really did seem almost alien in their nonchalance about food. But I wasn’t looking for differences that I could point to as an excuse. I wanted to learn to do what they did, if I could.

Those interviews yielded food-management tips and analogies I still rely on today, seven years later. Sometimes it wasn’t so much a specific idea as just trying to emulate someone’s attitude that proved helpful, at least in the short term.

As I sorted through a hodgepodge of posts on my bloated and disorganized “interviews” page, I kept stumbling across interviews I’d forgotten all about. There were others I remembered doing, but couldn’t find.

I ultimately came up with more than half a dozen “How Normal People Eat” interviews that had been lost to blog clutter. You can find them on the “How Normal People Eat” page under the tab at the upper left of the blog.

Next up in the Dostadning process: Finding the posts where I analyzed trends and patterns from all those interviews. Maybe then I will finally achieve Spark Joy, the feeling that Japanese author Marie Kondo describes in her followup book to the bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

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6 people lost 1,000 pounds – but who will become a Weight Loss Master?

Several years ago I began collecting weight loss stories, hoping to glean additional insights to add to my own diet/fitness toolbox. Not surprisingly, some of the people I interviewed eventually regained the weight they’d lost. In one unfortunate case, the person actually died not too long after we spoke.

None of this is to suggest that those people were failures. If anything, it shows how hard it is to maintain weight loss.

Over the past year I interviewed half a dozen people who lost nearly 1,000 pounds between them for my “Adventures in Food and Fitness” newspaper column.  Recently I found myself wondering how many of them will become Weight Loss Masters – dietitian Anne M. Fletcher’s term for people who maintain a loss for at least three years. In her book Thin for Life, she argues that maintaining a loss of at least 20 pounds for three years seems to be the dividing line between those who “stick” with their new lifestyles and those who retrench to their old ways.

Of the six people I interviewed, I would argue that three of them already “earned their master’s.”

Brittany Horton, who lost 208 pounds (and went on NBC’s Harry Connick Jr. Show earlier this year to talk about it), has already made it to the three-year mark.

Brittany Horton before and after her 208-pound loss. (Note: Apparently stories in the newspaper’s archives did not translate well to the new website when the paper went all-digital in October, so I apologize in advance for any garbled headlines or missing photos. At some point I will create a cleaner version of these articles, complete with photos, on a separate page on the blog.)

 

•Longtime Fort Wayne Weight Watchers leader Debbie Powers lost 100 pounds as a high school student back in the mid-1970s. Though she had to contend with the “freshman 15” in college and some maternity weight after having three kids, she’s basically maintained ever since becoming a leader in 1983.

Debbie Powers, left, along with her aunt, who first took her to Weight Watchers when she was a teenager.

•Though technically Annie Giddens only made it to her goal weight in early 2017, her journey to a 225-pound loss took seven years. In that time she did have one period of slippage where she regained 50 pounds. But she lost that weight – and much, much more – several years ago. I don’t think she’s going back.

Annie Giddens at a CrossFit competition in August 2016.

Of the other three, only time will tell. I would put my money on Phillip Brenneman, who lost 200 pounds in 2015-16. For one thing, he worked hard to create his own diet and fitness regimen rather than merely following a program. He also has much more incentive than being able to fit into his skinny jeans: He has type 2 diabetes. Cutting his body weight in half helped him get off meds entirely after his health was in serious risk. It was the fear that he wouldn’t live long enough to see his young daughter grow up that motivated him in the first place. (Phil’s mother died when she wasn’t much older than he is now.)

Phil Brenneman cut his weight in half, going from 400 pounds to 200 in about 15 months.

Quinton Horton, who lost 80 pounds in 2016, still has a couple more years to go before he could qualify as a master. (He also was wanting to lose more weight when I last spoke with him in spring 2017.) But he has the same incentive as Phil – type 2 diabetes that was getting way out of control and young kids he wants to see grow up. He also has incredible support and accountability, considering that he gets weight loss coaching from his sister Brittany Horton.

Quinton Horton and his sister Brittany. Her 208-pound loss inspired him to drop 80 pounds when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Matt Wilson, the 2016 champ of Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner

That brings us to Matt Wilson, winner of the 2016 Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner competition. When I last spoke with Matt, in December 2016, he’d lost 147.8 of the 452 pounds he started out at. Because he was signed up as a coach for the 2017 season, I’d guess he lost even more weight, though I haven’t been in contact with him. Even if he’s met his goal, Matt still has three years to go. If he sticks with the program – I believe people can continue to work out with fellow contestants after the competition, if they choose – he’s got a good shot at it. Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winners provides incredible motivation and support. (One of my relatives was the program runner-up several years ago, and she continues to look fit and fabulous, at least in part because she’s maintained those relationships.)

Being reminded of Anne Fletcher’s book has been encouraging for me personally, because I’m constantly aggravated with myself for having regained 10-15 pounds of the original 90 I lost in 2010. (After sticking at my goal weight through early 2014, it was, ironically, training for my first marathon that got me off track for my monthly Weight Watchers weigh-ins.)

I still hope to get back to my goal, but I guess in the meantime I should be more thankful that I’ve kept most of the weight off.

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The physics of overeating

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an external force.

– Sir Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion

(as it is most commonly paraphrased in modern language)

 

My mouth is a textbook example of Newton’s First Law of Motion: Once activated, it doesn’t stop eating until it encounters some kind of resistance.

Some people seem to come equipped with an internal braking system that helps them slow down and eventually stop eating when they start to get full. I was well into my 40s before I realized I was missing not only brakes but a fuel gauge as well.

There’s no point in wallowing in shame over this defect. My time is better spent figuring out what can function as an “external force” to stop my mouth. In eight years of research, here are a few of the things I’ve come up with:

Finish something off – This is a bad habit that I’ve managed to (sometimes) convert to a useful purpose. One day last week I found myself going crazy over cornbread. I was only cutting small pieces, but I couldn’t seem to stop. Given my innate need to finish off a container of food perceived as being almost empty, I was afraid I’d just keep going until the cornbread was gone.

I’d been drizzling honey on my cornbread, but for dinner that night I’d also set out a small bottle of crappy pancake syrup I’d picked up on sale somewhere. Realizing that was nearly empty, I squeezed out the last of the syrup and tossed the container. The finality of that act broke the spell.

Construct an end note – In sheet music, a bold double-bar line signals the end of a song. I remember one day in the middle of my 2010 weight loss I stopped a would-be binge by visualizing two pieces of string cheese as that musical symbol signalling “stop.”

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Shock your palette – If you’ve been eating something sweet and/or carby, grab an orange, a tart apple (Granny Smith works nicely) or a pickle.

Stop on a dime – When I was counting Weight Watchers points, I noticed that if I planned out the last thing I intended to eat for the day so that it would use up exactly how many points I had left, I would feel satisfied. But if I was even one point under – or over – it would nag at me subconsciously even if I thought it wasn’t (or shouldn’t be) that big of a deal.

Channel Bugs Bunny – I’m rarely organized enough to keep a container of cleaned carrots in the fridge, but when I do, I always leave a few full-sized rather than cutting them into sticks. Gnawing on a giant “Bugs Bunny” carrot is quite a workout for your mouth. I’m almost always ready to stop eating before I get to the end of that thing. 

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Hiking Chimney Tops after the Great Smoky Mountains wildfire

Our first trip back to the Great Smoky Mountains since a wildfire destroyed the condos where our family has stayed the last 30 years was bound to feel strange.  

After the fire last November that consumed 17,000 acres of the national park and 1,684 structures in Gatlinburg, I figured we’d be inhabiting a charred wasteland. For the most part, though, the strangest aspect of our whirlwind weekend was how much seemed the same.

Inside the 800-square mile park, the burned area amounts to less space, relatively speaking, than a skinned knee. And I didn’t arrive in time to join family members who visited the rubble of the Highlands, or stay long enough to make the journey myself, so I chose to remember our old accommodations and that mountainside neighborhood the way it was.

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The concrete shell of the Highlands on the mountainside overlooking Gatlinburg. 

The place we stayed this year wasn’t as nice, nor was the view as breathtaking. But the upside to staying on the edge of town was that we could walk just about anywhere we wanted to go. None of our family’s favorite dining establishments were affected by the fire, so that, at least, felt familiar.  

Because of heavy rain one of the two days I was there, there was time for only one group hike. Chimney Tops was the unanimous choice, because that trail had been closed for renovations the last couple of years.

It’s only a couple of miles long, but it’s one of the most arduous trails in our repertoire because it’s a fairly steep grade. (Among the renovations are more than 600 wooden steps in a section where mud always made the climbing that much more difficult.)

We quickly split into two groups, with my sister Traci, my oldest daughter Rowan and I falling back to stay with my brother Brent and his 4-year-old daughter, Kyla. She’d successfully tackled the trail to Grotto Falls a couple of days earlier, but her determination quickly fizzled on Chimney Tops. I carried Brent’s heavy backpack full of water and kid supplies while the other three took turns carrying Kyla.

It was slow going, and Traci couldn’t help fretting about her kids getting to the mountaintop long before we did, where they were bound to climb out on the rocks that always give the parents in our group a virtual heart attack because of the sheer drop off the other side. (I wasn’t too worried myself, as Colleen and Rowan were my only offspring on this hike, and both are terrified of heights.)

“It’s probably a good thing I’m not up there,” Traci said, reasoning that maybe she would be less nervous not seeing them in action.

They weren’t, though. The peak of Chimney Tops was where last year’s fire started, and in our excitement to hop on the trail we hadn’t noticed the sign saying the last couple hundred yards at the top is now closed – maybe for good, as it turns out.

Though the mountain itself will endure, the stability of that outcropping for human passage may no longer be feasible. So “climbing up on the rocks at the top of Chimney Tops” may become just another story from the past – a legend retold by family daredevils with more embellishment each passing year.

 

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We could see the outcropping at the summit of Chimney Tops trail, but the last couple hundred yards of the trail that leads to it is now closed – maybe permanently – thanks to the November 2016 wildfire at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

 

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Racing in the neutral zone

“Pro-America,” read the bumper on the car ahead of me at a traffic light one day last week. “Pro-Freedom!”

I wished I had one just like it, only with a third line at the bottom: Anti-Trump!

A T-shirt would be even better. Knowing I was going to a big race on Sunday where runners often dress in all sorts of goofy costumes, I began fantasizing about how satisfying it would be to add my own human billboard to the mix, challenging the absurd notion that rightwingers somehow “own” patriotism.

I never got around to having the T-shirt made up, primarily because I didn’t want to draw attention to my missing race bib. We’re budgeting pretty tightly since my husband got laid off, so when our youngest asked to run the River City Rat Race I paid her registration fee but decided I I’d just tag along for moral support. It was my first time running “bandit,” and I didn’t feel great about it, so even though it was hot I resisted the urge to grab a cup of water or any postrace goodies.

It was my first race of any kind this year, actually – I’m STILL dealing with plantar fasciitis – and I’d almost forgotten the simple pleasure of “running with the herd,” especially on such a gorgeous (if unseasonably warm) fall day.

In the end, I was glad I’d opted against wearing a political statement. Given how hard it is to go a single day without being reminded of this Uncivil War blasting all around us, it was almost intoxicating to be part of a moving mass of humanity and not know or care which side anyone was on.

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Colleen used to hate to run, but she really, really wanted to run the River City Rat Race.  

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The horror of eating

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Lola the ball python consumes a mouse. 

Lola didn’t mean to bite Doc Ferriss Oxide.

She’s famished, hasn’t eaten in a week, been pacing around her enclosure – or what passes for pacing when you’re a python – and on top of everything else, her eyesight’s not so good. So when the lid opens and a hand reaches in, how was she supposed to know it wasn’t dropping a befuddled mouse into her lair, but humoring a little girl’s request to watch Doc hold the snake?

There wasn’t much blood; it was just a nip. The instant Lola realized this piece of mammalian flesh was attached to a body bigger than hers, she relented.

And yet, watching Lola in action shortly afterward – hugging a Stuart Little lookalike with the force, Doc Oxide tells us, “of 10 blood pressure cuffs” – you realize that despite what people say, a ball python could most certainly kill a human. If a belt or a scarf can strangle something as vulnerable as a human neck, you think this muscular  5-footer couldn’t do the job?

Luckily, snakes – unlike my own species – rarely kill anything they don’t intend to eat.

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Doc Ferris Oxide, aka Neil Ainslie, feeds Jake the garter snake while Lola, left, and sixth-grader Owen Stein watch. 

I volunteered for this assignment.  As a trail runner, it’s counterproductive to haul a snake phobia into the woods. Photographing Stuart Little’s horror is like a front-row seat to the live production of my childhood nightmares. This particular photo, in fact, proved too graphic for the hometown paper, which opted to run this  more conventional shot instead.

Once Stuart’s head vanished and only his feet were sticking out, though, I found myself viewing the scene from Lola’s perspective. Without taste buds, does a snake ever get to experience the joy of eating?  

I suppose Lola is used to nudging her meal into her mouth without the benefit of hands. But what an inconvenience!

Does she ever worry about some critter getting stuck in her throat?  

On this point, at last, I find common ground, recalling the time a burned bit of veggie burger crumble lodged in my windpipe.

Nobody was home but the dog, who watched with curiosity and apparent pity as I tried, unsuccessfully, to dislodge the speck sealing off my oxygen supply.

As the seconds ticked past, I contemplated my options. Dial 911? There was no way an ambulance would arrive in time. Were the neighbors home? Would they answer the door? We weren’t great friends. In their place, I might pretend I simply hadn’t heard.  

Time was running out. I sank to the floor next to Buddy, realizing this might be it: I’d never see Bob or the kids again. Such a stupid, pointless way to go. And yet instead of rage I felt increasingly calm. Resigned to my fate.

And then suddenly, inexplicably, the seal was broken. Air!

Apparently I’d relaxed enough for my throat muscles to stop constricting … or something. I guess I’ll never know exactly what happened. For quite a while after that I was a much more careful eater, obsessed with patience and gratitude, though eventually, of course, I returned to my hoggish ways. It’s my nature.

Watching Lola eat, repulsive as it was, ultimately helped me view her as less of a monster. She can’t help being a carnivore. That doesn’t mean I liked being near her: As a mammal, I can’t help feeling nervous around a creature capable of viewing me – even inadvertently – as prey.

Luckily, I’m not likely to encounter the likes of Lola running trails in northeastern Indiana. (Though it could happen – I have a hard time forgetting the time some idiot dumped half a dozen ball pythons about 10 miles south of here a couple of years ago.)  

The snakes I do see, much more frequently than I’d care to, are more like Jake, the little garter snake in the enclosure next to Lola’s at the Upper Wabash Conservation and Science Center in Bluffton.

In a way, he’s a much more disgusting eater than Lola is. The day I visited, Jake was gulping down creatures that were still very much alive – though I can’t say I felt as sorry for the doomed worms as I did for the mouse.

Compared with Lola, Jake seemed about as dangerous as a tube-shaped toad. Note to self: Remember that the next time I go for a run in the woods.

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Jack the snake eating dinner at the Upper Wabash Conservation and Science Center in Bluffton, Ind. 

 

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Reeling in the years

The exercise I logged this weekend was hard to quantify: Without a FitBit, I had no real way of knowing how many miles I walked after parking the car on Friday night and using only my feet for transportation as my husband and I explored our old stomping grounds at Indiana University with some of the best friends I’ve ever had — one of whom I hadn’t seen in 30 years.

We got drenched in sweat and rain. Though the only time I broke into a run was a futile attempt to escape a downpour, I was on a nonstop runner’s high all weekend.

Nobody could have predicted the strangeness of the occasion: Saturday was both the 150th anniversary of the Indiana Daily Student and the last day of print publication for Bob and I’s former primary employer, The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne.

We had to sneak past construction barriers to get a photo in front of Ernie Pyle Hall, home of the former School of Journalism, which is being converted into a Campus Welcome Center. The official “celebration” was at Franklin Hall, home of the glitzy new Media School funded in part by IU grad Mark Cuban. It’s a technological marvel, with the fastest computers on campus in its virtual reality lab. The future of journalism is waiting to be discovered there, though nobody knows exactly what that might look like.

Given all the uncertainty in the air, it was hard to know what to feel as I signed Ernie Pyle’s desk, a ritual for the outgoing editor-in-chief ever since the Pulitzer-prize winning correspondent’s death in World War II.

Somehow there was a period in the 1980s when this ritual was forgotten, and so a handful of us former editors whose signatures were missing were asked to sign retroactively on Saturday. At a time when I most often sign my name on a screen, applying Sharpie to such a hallowed wooden structure gave me a little shiver.  

Will anyone still be signing Ernie Pyle’s desk 150 years from now? That’s hard to picture, and not just because there isn’t much space left on the drawer designated for that purpose.

But at breakfast on Sunday, an old friend who now works for the university told us how they handled the sad realization that the expansion of the School of Business required the removal of a tree planted by the late legendary chancellor Herman B Wells. Jenny told us the school took starts from that tree and planted 500 new ones.

It’s not the same. But maybe it’s better.

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Signing Ernie Pyle’s desk with my old friend Kate McKenna, whom I saw for the first time in 30 years over the weekend. (That’s what happens when you live nearly 900 miles apart and raise seven kids between you.) It was amazing how we were able to pick up right were we left off. From now on, we’re going to get together once a year. 

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