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All is Calm (Before the Storm)

By on Nov 22, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

All is calm at the Outlet Shoppes in Fremont, Indiana. But behind the scenes things are heating up. Decorations are already in place. The Christmas trees have gathered, soldiers stand at attention, and merry-go-round horses ready to ride. Not to mention shopkeepers are unpacking scores of holiday deals and readying the shelves for eager customers who’ll come knocking Thanksgiving evening. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working at Bath and Bodyworks at the Outlet Shoppes during the first night of the Christmas shopping season. Writers often live very solitary lives. I wanted the chance to interact with people and experience some of the excitement of the season. We prepared for the night, days ahead with a meeting debuting all kinds of specialty items. Our stockroom was packed to the gills. The night of the big event we all got there early. It was all hands on deck. Customers lined the sidewalk hours ahead of time and pressed their noses to the window watching us switch out the latest scents and pile new items higher. At the appointed hour a human wave washed over the store. There was barely standing room for anyone as customers smelled the latest candle scents and vied for a limited number of specialty fragrances. I should have felt claustrophobic, but there was such infectious excitement in the air that it was difficult to be anything but joyful. The hours passed quickly—more like a party than a job. And from what I heard from workers at the other shoppes, the experience was similar. This year promises to be even better. The southern shoppes (those south of 120) are coming back. For those of you old enough to remember this is the site of the original shoppes. When I was a kid, it was the hotspot because KB Toys was there. These days that side of the road has gotten a facelift with a bright new coat of yellow and red paint. Everything from Rue 21 to Carters to Dressbarn and Kitchen Collection are there along with plenty of other great stores. Christmas music is already being piped throughout the area. Across the road, surround by protected wetlands, are two more areas to shop...

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Apples & Beer

By on Nov 10, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Nothing goes better with autumn than apples. Last week, I wrote about Stroh’s Orchard, but this week I want to concentrate on another kind of apple. Johnny Appleseed. As many of you know his real name was John Chapman. He dedicated his life to planting nurseries throughout the upper Midwest. While legend says he sprinkled apple seeds everywhere, he actually carefully planted orchards and put up well-engineered fences to ensure quality harvests. Today that same spirit of quality lives on in Chapman’s Brewery on Industrial Drive in Angola, Indiana. The company opened its doors in 2012. Though the tasting room and brewery is new, they are quick to point out that local beer crafting is an old tradition. Just a century ago, most towns of substantial size had at least one local brewery. There are a few perks and updates to the old way of doing things. For instance, precise measuring devices and stainless steel equipment, as well as a quality supply of steady ingredients makes for richly flavored and consistently drinkable beer. It’s their hope that customers will find the beer fresh and smooth, so that they’ll always want another. They keep the menu simple with just six main beers. Valiant, is an American stout with hints of chocolate and espresso. Enlighten, my favorite, is a Kolsch ale. It’s light and crisp. Undaunted is Chapman’s IPA. It has a more hoppy spice and pine flavor. (As a disclaimer: I make soap using these three beers as base ingredients. They are incredibly popular with customers.) Englishman, their most popular variety, is a southern brown ale. It’s a traditional pub beer, malty with a sweet caramel flavor. Wry American is a red rye and one of the brewery’s newer beers. Brighten Pale Ale, is a lighter beverage with a perfect combination of malty and hoppiness. Finally there’s the Rolette Series. These are small limited release beers. The idea is that it allows the brewery to work on new flavors while getting customer feedback. Sometimes the new brew work out so well, they become regulars like Wry American—which was originally called Red Ryeding Hood. (Cute. You should have kept it.) The simple menu has worked so well, it’s allowed Chapman’s to...

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Best Apples Around

By on Oct 28, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Michigan may have an apple named for it, but many Michiganders head to Indiana when they want the best apples. And they’re not alone. Customers often come hundreds of miles to visit G.W. Stroh Orchard in Angola. That’s because the Stroh’s grow many varieties of apples that can’t be found in grocery stores. Ginger Gold, Winter Banana, and Northern Spy are just a few of the off-beat varieties, at Stroh’s. The orchard grows 35 kinds of apples on a dozen acres. Gary Stroh was encouraged to grow his first apple tree by a high school teacher. But he’s quick to add that his dad was a big influence in his decision to go into the orchard business. It’s worked well now for almost 35 years. Today, he and his wife Susan have 3,000 apple trees, as well as 10 peach trees, 3 pear trees, and 1 plum tree. It isn’t hard to see that everyone in the family enjoys their orchard fruits. Even their big yellow dog, Kelly, who doubles as the shop mascot, isn’t above a few tricks to get himself an apple. While the orchard used to be u-pick, it’s popularity has made it too much of a risk for the trees. But all the apples are still hand-picked daily often by Gary. And it hasn’t stopped people from stopping by for favorites like Honey Crisp or Golden Delicious. This time of year the cider press is also going strong, churning out gallon after gallon of truly superior cider with a fresh from the tree taste. There are also plenty of pumpkins and squash to choose from at their shop along with jams, jellies, and Stroh’s own honey. After all, what would an orchard be without bees to keep it well pollinated? Stroh also furnishes the apples for Satek Winery’s award winning Autumn Classic wine. While it’s easy to attract customers with a great product, the Stroh’s may have a secret marketing strategy. They grow their own customers, by opening their orchard to schools for field trips. It doesn’t take long for the kids to taste the difference. Over the years those students return time and time again, eventually bringing their own children and whole new generation...

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Fall Fun

By on Oct 10, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

There’s a place on 20 North where pumpkins float in a sea of orange, ducks race down water pump streams, and kids swim through corn kernel pools. But it’s not one of the 101 Lakes in Steuben County. It’s Ridenour Farms. My family and I have made visiting this fall attraction an annual event. It may sound cliché but it really does have something for the whole family. For starters there’s a mini play area including a junior corn pool and bouncy castle for the iddy biddies. The main area consists of huge industrial pipe slides, a giant straw bail climbing mountain, larger corn pit, big kid bouncy castle and two race tracks—one for peddling contraptions and one for bouncy horses. The corn maze is great for older kids and even more hair raisingly fun at night when it and the surrounding woods become “haunted.” During the day families can enjoy the same area with a hayride or “train excursion” (tractor pulls several mini carts behind it). The fire pit is always lit and there are a variety of candy confections at the snack bar including something called caramel apple nachos. I’m not going to give away the surprise you’ll just have to go see them for yourself! Ridenour Acres is open through October 30. Admission is $7 per person, free for 3 and under. For more information visit http://www.ridenouracres.com/. Erika Celeste is an award-winning journalist who has worked in radio, print, television, and marketing. She owns and operates New Moon Media Group where she’s written several documentaries and books....

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Steuben Co. Indiana Torch Relay

By on Oct 4, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

It’s Sunday October 2, 2016. So many memories come for me with Indiana’s Bicentennial. When I was 6 years old my family and I went to a special bicentennial celebration for our country. My little sister and I got to wear long dresses and bonnets just like our first settlers. I still remember watching my shadow and wishing I could wear an outfit like that every day as. My family and I walked to the big church picnic in Bloomington, Indiana—my sister and I taking short turns pushing our baby brother in his stroller before being distracted again by our shadows. At church everyone was wearing period costumes, playing games, and eating tons of great potluck. It’s a memory I’ll never forget. Little did I know, just 40 short years later I’d be helping Indiana celebrate it’s bicentennial too. Trying to explain the torch relay to my 5 year old hasn’t held the same mystique for him as the great experience I had when I was his age. “Indiana’s turning 200,” I told him. He looked at me blankly. “Why?” “Well it just is. It’s very old now and we’re holding a birthday party for it.” “Will it get presents?” I considered telling him about the gift of the new buffalo statue by the new public restrooms in downtown Angola, but answers must be kept short with ADHD 5 year olds. “No, but people are going to run with something like a big birthday candle.” He looked at me skeptically. “That does not sound safe.” I smiled. “This one time it will be all right…and there will be cake.” He brightened at that and all in all has been a very good sport in the 5 hours it took for me to shoot the torch relay. Twenty torchbearers have now escorted the flame from Trine Recreational Area to Pokagon State Park, where it circled the area in a seaplane piloted by Randy Strebig. (You see, I did find a way to work in some seaplane footage after last week’s fiasco!) A short ceremony has followed in which it was pointed out to Tourism Director June Julien that we get to celebrate another bicentennial, this time for Steuben County, in...

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Chainsaw Art

By on Oct 4, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

A mermaid watches over I-69 from high atop her hill at the EZ Camp just off N 50W. She and her friends the squirrel, raccoon, and bear along with whatever other seasonal inspirations strike creator Jeff Pelkington, have been keeping guard over the area for the past couple of summers. Jeff’s mother, is a collector of nautical themed knickknacks. Several years ago, she acquired some pieces that weren’t particularly well made. Jeff thought he could do better and the challenge was on. He’s been sculpting with his chainsaw ever since. Things went so well in fact that he quit his day job in order to cover the world in whimsical art. He and his dog, Baby Girl, spend the warmer months at the campground working. Of course his art is always on display for passersby and anyone who might want to stop in to watch him work. The little pieces take less than an hour to complete—a day if you count the painting. Then there are the bigger things. He’s done several downed trees, turning the stumps into yard art. Eagles, Tiki Gods and even a Rastafarian banjo player, decorate the landscape in his wake. There are also plenty of bears and a German Shepherd coming out of tree trunks, not to mention Spiderman climbing a wall and an angel wrapping her little patch of land in peace, and an extremely oversized set of boxing gloves. If you can imagine it and have the tree to do it, Jeff can make it reality. Jeff will be at the EZ Camp until the end of October when he moves to warmer accommodations for the winter. But don’t worry, he has every intention of being back next spring to keep helping Steuben County be an even more interesting and exciting place. For more information on Jeff and his work you can contact him at jeph19692@yahoo.com or 260-431-9001. Erika Celeste is an award-winning journalist who has worked in radio, print, television, and marketing. She owns and operates New Moon Media Group where she’s written several documentaries and books....

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