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December 31, 2007

Thank you...

On the eve of a bright new year, my thoughts naturally turn to hopes and dreams for the year ahead. I do want to take a minute to say thank you to everyone who has made Talk of the Town a Tony, Sarah, Adam, James, Mahri, Eleanor, Drew, Kelley, Tiffany, Christy, Teresa, Forest, Erik and countless others who have been a major force in bringing this project to the forefront and who have been a wonderful source of guidance and encouragement...without you, this wouldn't have been possible. May God bless you all in the coming year.


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December 30, 2007

One woman, a camera, computer and a love of this community

When I think about this new endeavor – Talk of the Town – it amazes me in many ways.

About 15 years ago when I began my career in journalism, the only future I saw involved ink and newsprint. If I wanted to write, my means of getting the word out were rather limited. I would need to work for an existing publication surely. Owning my own publication, as exciting as that sounded, wasn’t really an option – particularly to someone just out of high school.

I still felt that way as I worked through college, gaining skills and experience at various publications along the way. Considering the expense of either owning printing equipment or outsourcing your printing expense, there was little opportunity for another form of communication. Even with more time and experience, owning my own personal media was still a pipe dream.

I remember learning about the internet toward the end of college and I remember being forced to communicate with other classmates via something called “e-mail.” I remember thinking, “What a waste of time! I can talk to these people in person or over the phone, so why do I need to get on a computer to converse with them?” This seemed completely foreign to me as did this strange “superhighway” called the internet – I mean, really how were we going to have access to all of this information that was not in any one particular place? I would have never imagined that I would make such technology the basis of a business – let alone have it become such an integral part of my daily life.

Fast forward a few years and now I check my  e-mail all the time, chatting with friends in the same town and cousins around the world.  I use the internet for everything from looking up a telephone number to reading the news, researching a recipe for dinner and finding directions to a store in another town. I can use the internet to watch the sun rise and set in another town or to see if it is raining in Paisley, Scotland, at this very moment. On this very computer, I learned the names of my ancestors, marveled at their penmanship on documents I'll never see in person. I've bought and sold things I use every day via the internet. Without leaving my home, I can be very much connected to the world around me.

It is amazing what technology has done for us and, in my own personal life, what it has enabled me to do with regards to changing gears from writing with ink and paper to sharing news in another way. Driving enroute to Warsaw with my husband for dinner last night, I remarked at how it would not have been possible for me to have my own business such as this just a few years ago – the technology didn’t exist to publish something online that everyone could read nor did I have the access to the resources I needed to make this happen.

I initially began this website as a means of reaching out to those in our county with news – particularly the news I knew wasn’t getting out via the existing form of media in our community. But over the past few days I have learned that Talk of the Town has become much more far reaching than even I had hoped. Via the internet, we’re uniting people from as far away as New York, Alaska and Mississippi as well as dozens of other places well outside the Whitley County lines. That is amazing to me! I have received notes from far off places saying this site helps them keep in touch with a community they still love – though separated by time and distance. That is truly a beautiful thing and something that makes me very proud.

So, here we are today – one woman, a digital camera, a computer, a love of this community and an interest in promoting our best attributes. We have an exciting road ahead of us.

Jennifer Zartman Romano

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December 24, 2007

Farewell Always Floral and Second TIme Around...

Later this evening, on Christmas Eve, the doors of two businesses in Whitley County will close forever…Always Floral and Second Time Around.


This pains me greatly because both of these businesses are special and for different reasons.


Second Time Around, a second hand store in Columbia City for more than 30 years, operated in several locations over the years. I remember it best when it was in downtown Columbia City. There, I have fond memories of visiting the store as a child with my mother in search of “treasures.” A trip there usually resulted in some interesting items to take home – often new additions to my costume collection – and then a trip to The Nook for lunch, followed by some browsing at Our Compliments and other stores downtown. This made for wonderful Saturday mornings and warm memories of times spent with my mother and my sister.


As I got older, I became aware of the connection between Second Time Around and Passages, Inc. Proceeds from the sale of items in Second Time Around benefited the clients and programs of Passages, a non-profit organization geared at helping our community’s disabled citizens. Additionally, Second Time Around has been instrumental in reaching out to help other local agencies such as Helpline, the Lighthouse homeless shelter and the Red Cross.


I imagine things got difficult for Second Time Around when the Goodwill came to town a few years ago -- “big box” versus “mom and pop” of sorts. Casually, people began using the term “goodwill” interchangeably for “second hand store.”


Admittedly, I shopped both stores…but I could still make a distinction. I would only donate items to Second Time Around and I appreciated the fact that the items found in Second Time Around were local. I like that. I enjoy knowing that someone from around here once owned the items I was looking at. I think there were exciting things to be found in there that you would never, ever find in the Goodwill because a lot of that stuff isn’t local and a lot of the really good stuff ends up going elsewhere. The antique and aged-item area at Second Time Around was superior to Goodwill.


Always Floral, a creative endeavor for Joan Western and Kay Hurley, offered beautiful floral design work from their location on US 30 and Walker Way.


I will never forget after our blizzard last winter, driving past their mailbox, nearly covered in a giant pile of snow, I could see that it was decorated with the most gorgeous rose arrangement. I actually thought those roses were real until somewhat recently. I learned, too, that many people had enjoyed their mailbox arrangements along Walker Way and had ordered them for their homes too.


Always Floral was a true supporter of this community, giving so much to local organizations and non-profit events. They not only operated business here, they were involved and participative in what was happening here. Kay and Joan invested a lot of themselves in what they did and in being givers to the community. Their closure is a significant loss for this community.


In all of this, there is a bit of a cautionary tale for all of us. We have lost too many local businesses – those businesses that are owned and operated by local residents. Many others are likely on the brink of closing. Our locally owned businesses are what make us unique – they draw people to our community, the dollars spent there are reinvested in our community and, importantly, they support the other things we having going on in our community. They are operated by our friends and neighbors. Please, make a point of supporting local businesses with your dollars because ultimately, you’re supporting our community as well.

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December 17, 2007

Along Chauncey Street...

From the time I was a small child, I’ve had the dream of one day living on Chauncey Street.
I remember driving slowly down the street as a little girl. The houses, each a mansion in my eyes, drew my attention. The bumpy, brick-lined street was unique and caused our car to clippity-clop along. That neighborhood was different, gorgeous and dramatic.
Certain ones caught my attention for different reasons, each representing something different and intriguing.
Over the years, I’ve “almost” bought a house along there twice. I’ve toured three previously and on Saturday, I gleefully added another to my list – the Hooper House.
That house, though rough in appearance, has had my attention for many years not because I wanted to live there, but because I wanted to walk inside.
The Adams Young Hooper House, a neatly appointed brick home, sits at the corner of Jefferson and Chauncey Streets. From the front window, across the street, you can see the impressive home of former US Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall, now known as the Whitley County Historical Museum.
Legend has it that Marshall was engaged to Adams and Edith Hooper’s daughter, Catherine, and that on the eve of their wedding day in September of 1878, she died, tragically. Marshall, so in love and so traumatized by the loss, sank into disparity and nearly drowned in the bottle.
I can’t imagine the tinge of sadness Thomas Marshall must have felt as he looked westward from his bedroom window in the home one Jefferson Street and caught a glimpse of the old brick Hooper place every morning upon rising or the familiar glow in those windows as he retired each evening.
How sad that his love was lost just a day before what would have been such a happy occasion? How dreadful that he would have had to look upon that building as a reminder of his lost love?
Perhaps, though, Marshall’s feelings were different. Maybe the house was a reminder of happy times? Either way, life went on for Marshall. He found love again in the form of  Lois Kimsey at the age of 40. Eventually, he stood up, swept himself off for a role as governor and later vice president.
That story has captivated me for years.
And, for that story and the countless others I’ve heard about the homes along Chauncey, I am entranced. Maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll add a chapter to my own story there. We shall see.
Jennifer Zartman Romano

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December 09, 2007

Call me when Santa tries to wear a Speedo...

Ok. It is 7 p.m. on Sunday, December 9 and we’ve officially reached the point of rediculousness.
I just heard on the evening news that there is a regime to put the jolliest of elves on a diet. Can you believe that? A diet? For Santa?
Indeed, there are some who believe that his portly plus-sized proportions are sending a bad message to children. Somewhere a campaign is apparently in motion to tighten the belt, trim up the body and thereby, in some way, impact the overall health and level of childhood obesity in the country.
Do they really believe that by being large and in charge, children are going to strive to look like him? Really. Ok, so I’ll begin to worry when eight year olds start donning red, fur-trimmed suits, dye their hair white and attempt to grow facial hair. Just as those are not trends I expect to see sticking, I don’t anticipate that there is a child standing in front of a full-length mirror somewhere, trying to envision his gut extended. There is, probably, unfortunately, a child standing somewhere trying to suck their stomach inward in hopes of looking more like less wholesome, less flattering personalities. Are we actively doing anything about that?
Expecting a guy who has been around hundreds of years (albeit a bit more rounded in the last century or so) to trim down in the name of being a role model seems obsessive.
Santa is a big man. He’s larger than life. And just as children aren’t as likely to seek the hug of a skinny teddy bear, I think we can all appreciate a few more pounds on the old guy. Besides that, he’s in good company as someone pointed out on the news broadcast. After all, Frosty the Snowman, the Grinch and even the Easter Bunny are a bit, as those I know call it, “fluffy.” If we’re going to take it as far as taking pounds of Santa, should we also shrink down the giant Thanksgiving Day parade blimps so that they can more easily fit down the streets?
I suppose that if people really are concerned about Santa and his diet, and ultimately the health of our citizens, a better idea might be to encourage the nation’s children to leave healthier snack options on the plate with the requisite cup of milk. Maybe instead of a sugary frosted Christmas cookie, Santa would do better with some celery sticks or broccoli florets. That’s reasonable. That might actually help.


…ok, this is probably the last time I’m going to talk about Santa for awhile.

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December 03, 2007

The Santa Mystique

The holidays are indeed a magical season for children.

From the colored lights outlining the shapes of homes along the car ride home to the annual tradition of decorating the tree, their eyes are wide with wonder as they watch the activities going on around them. They don't miss a thing and when talk turns to that great bearded man bearing gifts, Santa Claus, you know you have their undivided attention.

My memories of Santa at an early age were very real. I am certain I heard his reindeer land one year on the slate roof of our old brick farmhouse. I know I heard the jingle of sleighbells out the car window one night as we drove home from my grandparents' home in Fort Wayne. I'm just sure he ate the cookies we left him and I believe he read my letters. I believed and later as I grew older and began to question things, my mother cautioned me against losing that belief -- even as an adult. She said there would be no more gifts if I didn't believe in Santa. In a figurative way, that was right. If we lose the belief in the things Santa Claus represents, we lose a little of the magic that is Christmas. The lights are a tad less twinkling, the excitement turns more to anxiety.

Unfortunately, so often this time of year I hear adults, even in the vicinity of children, talking about Santa in ways that cause them to question his reality. With so much unpleasantness in the world, I guess I just see no reason why we shouldn't continue to protect their belief in Santa just a few years longer. We all know that soon enough the stories will be told on the playground or they'll discover the truth on their own at some point.

In a restaurant two years ago in Warsaw, I thought my son might have stopped believing after the adults at a nearby table chattered non-stop through their lunch about how he wasn't real and when they stopped believing. My husband and I were so upset. Apparently, however, our conversation and engagement of his attention must have outweighed the talk at the nearby table. This year, the same thing nearly happened once again when my daughter and I were watching the Rachel Ray show. Her conversation turned to talk of losing her belief in Santa when I believe she caught herself and attempted a quick recovery, knowing that likely many young moms were at home watching her show with toddlers in tow. These are just a few of the near-misses.

As we move forward in this holiday season, I'd encourage you to evaluate your own belief in Santa. Not your belief in him as a living human being, but as a a real, live representation of all the things that are wonderful about the holidays. If you can, find a small way to pass along and preserve the mystique of Santa Claus in the lives of young children. Can we help them to believe there is true goodness in the world? That someone who doesn't know them could still love them? That truly impossible things are possible if we believe?

And, above all, watch what you say about the man in red...the little ones are listening.

Season's Greetings! 

 Jennifer Zartman Romano 

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December 01, 2007


Welcome readers!

Many of you read my previous bi-monthly column in The Post & Mail entitled the very unimaginative "Home and Hearth." Retrospective on Talk of the Town will be my newest column and with my new site, I'll have the ability to publish a new column as often as I'm inspired!

I look forward to sharing my insight on our community and welcome your comments, ideas and points of view as well.

Jennifer Zartman Romano

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