Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Why Christmastime is not Always a Happy Time for our Family

Those who know me well, know that I love Christmas. I. Love. Christmas. I love beautiful nativities, stunning Christmas trees, singing Christmas carols, going on sleigh rides, and seeing all the glitter and sparkle... all things Christmas. Except... the date. Christmas day, December 25th, is close to another date, December 28th, and that day is a very sad day for our family. (Terry, don't read this. Some of the rest of you shouldn't read it, either. It's going to be hard to get through. My tears are flowing as I write.)

You see, December 28th is a day of loss and grief for our family and friends. Our family has been touched (maybe "slammed" is a better word) by child abuse. Some of you know that all of our five children are adopted. All came to be our children via the state child welfare system. All were foster children at one time, for reasons including abuse and neglect. Valerie, our youngest, lost her younger brother at the hand of their birth father when she was four years old. She entered foster care (and our home) at that time, and after four years in care, she was adopted at age eight.

This is our story. It's a hard story to tell, but tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of Maxwell's death, and I think it's time to tell it out loud from my perspective as his grandma and the adoptive mother of both his older sister and his mother.

Valerie's brother's name is Maxwell. He was a delightful child, cute as can be - fun, engaging, loving, and loved. And he was a victim of child abuse. At the age of two, he was killed by his birth father. Although family tried to intervene, although calls were made, questions were asked, reports were made, and a DCFS case was opened, his birth father still had legal rights to visit. The man did not go out and buy a gun and shoot Max; he apparently became angry during the night and pushed a tiny little boy into a wall with enough force to give him brain damage equal to Shaken Baby Syndrome. One push that ended his life after what we perceive to be history of lesser pushes, bumps, bruises and battery.

Max was born to our then youngest daughter, a single mother involved in a relationship we didn't approve of in any way. In fact, we went to great lengths to try to end it, including having her get a legal order of protection when he put her in the hospital. It was hard to keep them apart, and it seemed that other professionals were less invested than we were in doing so. Both parents were in their 20's, adults in the eyes of the law and both had legal rights. Max's mother did many things right, but she could not pull way from the kids' birth father, even when he was fully involved in a subsequent relationship and had other children. She fit into patterns that are very consistent with a history of domestic violence.

When Max was killed, we'd already moved to Jacksonville and our hope had been that he and his family would move up here, too. Both kids were deaf, and we believed that they needed to be near Illinois School for the Deaf. We thought that if we moved up here, they'd have the support they needed to make the move. Our move, leaving our home and town of 25 years, gave me the impetus to be able to finally open my own Bed & Breakfast. We hoped it would draw them this way, too. Max, Val and their mom visited us for Christmas early in the week, then returned to their home. I can still hear, in my mind, the pain in my son's voice when he called late that week to say that Max was gone. He'd passed away during the night. The pain was great for all of us.

Often following visits, I encouraged Max's mom to take him to the doctor due to illness or unexplained injuries. In fact, I was with his mom twice when she took Max to the hospital following visits with his birth father. The kids' pediatrician, never once said, "I need to report this." or "These injuries are unusual. You need to stay away from this man." Never once did she do her job for Maxwell as a mandated reporter. We have list of doctor contact dates including one early in the week he passed away. When testifying in court, I stated that one of my greatest challenges was that we were holding a young mother accountable for Maxwell's injuries and death, but not the doctor she'd taken him to so many times.  Out of the blue one day, my son, still living in our old home area, called to say that he thought the doctor was going to be charged. I asked how he knew. He said that Max's picture was on the news again and the indication was that a doctor was being investigated. We believe now that when directly asked by DCFS, she stated that she had no concerns. As a result of Max's death, his pediatrician did lose her license to practice - for only one year. That's hard for me to wrap my mind around. We lost our grandson. As a result, she lost her livelihood for one year. My only hope is that Max's death and the subsequent loss of license had an impact on her consideration toward future mandated reporting and supporting families in crisis.

When grieving, anniversary days are often hard - death dates, birth dates, missed holidays and other significant events. This 10-year anniversary is hitting me especially hard. We're coming up on our 10th anniversary with Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast. It is my dream come true, but it had a challenging beginning. Imagine trying to get a new business off the ground when your heart is breaking and you can't control your tears. My mind was on losing Maxwell; it was not on getting set up to do business. I remember the day my buddy said, "I'm just going to move all these lamps off your dining room table. You can put them wherever you want them later, but I'm getting them out of here." Council members volunteered to do my DCFS work for me. Many donated to a fund for children at Illinois School for the Deaf on our behalf. Thankfully, I had a lot of help and support in those early days.  I just held on to the Lord and leaned on my friends and family during some very dark days.


That brings us to today. Christmas time. A time of joy and laughter. A time to celebrate Jesus' birth. And an anniversary of a small child's death. It's a big one. 10 years. Imagine visiting a snowy grave with a 14-year-old surviving sister. 14 years old. A sister who lovingly places the Christmas gift she purchased, a red "muscle" Hot Wheels car, among other cars placed in days past. Picture standing behind this sweet girl as she carefully clears away the leaves and other debris to uncover other treasures left to honor him.

Valerie's time with Max was so limited that we're never sure how much she actually remembers him. Losing someone is never easy. Losing a child or grandchild is a really significant event. Losing someone at holiday time seems especially hard, but I can't wrap my mind around how hard it must be to be a child and lose your younger sibling at such a young age.

We have strong faith that we will see Max again in Heaven. I can't imagine where we would be without that blessed hope. I believe that the Lord took Max Home now to keep him from what may have been a longer life of abuse. I have to redirect my thoughts to the joy of eternity with the Lord rather than the loss and grief I feel because Max is no longer with us. How do you explain it to his four-year-old sister? We spoke to her of Heaven and directed her attention toward the clouds. That actually backfired on me when we had taken off on a flight to Texas. Because she was five years old, I thought she was just excited about flying. However, as we got up into the clouds she looked me straight in the eyes and with child-like faith asked, "When do we get to see Maxwell?" We were flying into the clouds and she was going to see him. There were tears shed in that moment, too. I shared this story and other things Val said in a book we wrote called, "Why Did We Have to Say Goodbye? Valerie's Story." We have copies for sale, both hard cover and paperback. It may be of benefit if you know a family at risk or one that has experienced child abuse.

Though I'm far from being a fan of contemporary Christian music, I'll never forget the lyrics to a song that was sung in Max's funeral. I'd probably never heard of Casting Crowns before that day, but the Lord used those lyrics to speak to me then, repeated it when the assistant pastor sang it as a special at Westfair a few weeks later, and it continues to speak to me to this day. Tears dripped off my chin as they sang that song. It still brings back the intense grief that had a hold on me and serves as a reminder that I can't praise the Lord only when things are going my way. I have to praise him when I'm in the midst of the storm, too.


Maxwell Owen Eyer, age two, died at 12:50 a.m., on Friday, December 28, 2007. That's our Max. This is an anniversary year. Even through my tears I want to celebrate Max's life. He brought love and joy into many lives and I know that we can look forward to seeing him again one day. Valerie and I have been invited to share our story at Prevent Child Abuse events. We do that to honor Maxwell's memory and to do our part to prevent the abuse and neglect of other children.

I live in a town that takes animal abuse seriously. Let's do the same for child abuse. Why do we see more tear-jerking appeals on TV to protect animals than we do to protect our children and youth? Is there someone you can't seem to get through to? Do you need to make a call? If you believe a child is in imminent danger, please call 911. If you believe you need to report child abuse or neglect, the number to call is 1-800-4-A-Child, 1-800-422-4453. You may save the life of a child. Do it for that child. 
Do it to honor our Max.

About Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast
Experience a stay in our award-winning Bed & Breakfast located in a magnificently restored 130-year-old mansion in the heart of the historic district. Pampered luxury is our goal, to delight both business and leisure travelers. We offer two upscale guest suites, each with private sitting rooms and private baths. We provide multi-course gourmet breakfasts, 24/7 family-friendly hot and cold beverages and snacks, and cookies and milk at bedtime. Wi-Fi is available throughout our home and each suite has a digital satellite TV and all-season fireplace. We are located just steps away from Illinois College, the Governor Duncan Mansion and Illinois School for the Deaf and our neighborhood is highlighted on one of Jacksonville’s historic walking tours. Escape the standard hotel room and enjoy your own private suite in the finest Jacksonville area lodging.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Designing Tablescapes using Chargers

Bed & Breakfast, Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast, crystal, fine china, formal table setting, table setting

Well-designed tablescapes offer a terrific way to change the look of our breakfast presentations at Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast. One of the easiest, and often least expensive, ways to change the appearance of a tablescape is to change out the charger, or service, plate. We have several options here, and they vary greatly in both the appearance of the charger and the impact on the place setting. They also can vary greatly in price, with some starting at around $3 per plate.

This video shows our assistant Kelly demonstrating our basic table setting. Our next blog post video will demonstrate how changing just one item - the charger plate - can change the look of your table. Please follow along as we share our work here at Blessings on State. We hope that you will be inn-spired to use some of these ideas in your own home!



About Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast
Experience a stay in our award-winning Bed & Breakfast located in a magnificently restored 130-year-old mansion in the heart of the historic district. Pampered luxury is our goal, to delight both business and leisure travelers. We offer two upscale guest suites, each with private sitting rooms and private baths. We provide multi-course gourmet breakfasts, 24/7 family-friendly hot and cold beverages and snacks, and cookies and milk at bedtime. Wi-Fi is available throughout our home and each suite has a digital satellite TV and all-season fireplace. We are located just steps away from Illinois College, the Governor Duncan Mansion and Illinois School for the Deaf and our neighborhood is highlighted on one of Jacksonville’s historic walking tours. Escape the standard hotel room and enjoy your own private suite in the finest Jacksonville area lodging.

Many thanks to Steve at Steve Weber Films for his collaboration on our video projects.

Table Setting Basics

Here at Blessings on State, a lot of our attention is directed toward breakfast service. After all, Breakfast is part of our name! We focus on providing fresh locally sourced food, prepared thoughtfully and served beautifully.

Well-designed tablescapes offer a fun way to change the look of our breakfast presentations. Some place settings are seasonal and others are used based on color, shape and size. Although I have full sets of china, I've also purchased place settings for two and additional pieces that I mix and match in order to create even more tablescape options. We also have several crystal options that are used to vary the overall appearance.

We use a more formal design for our breakfast tablescapes. This video shows our assistant Kelly demonstrating our basic table setting. Our next blog post video will demonstrate how changing just one item - the charger plate - can change the look of your table. Please follow along as we share our work here at Blessings on State. We hope that you will be inn-spired to use some of these ideas in your own home!



About Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast
Experience a stay in our award-winning Bed & Breakfast located in a magnificently restored 130-year-old mansion in the heart of the historic district. Pampered luxury is our goal, to delight both business and leisure travelers. We offer two upscale guest suites, each with private sitting rooms and private baths. We provide multi-course gourmet breakfasts, 24/7 family-friendly hot and cold beverages and snacks, and cookies and milk at bedtime. Wi-Fi is available throughout our home and each suite has a digital satellite TV and all-season fireplace. We are located just steps away from Illinois College, the Governor Duncan Mansion and Illinois School for the Deaf and our neighborhood is highlighted on one of Jacksonville’s historic walking tours. Escape the standard hotel room and enjoy your own private suite in the finest Jacksonville area lodging.

Many thanks to Steve at Steve Weber Films for his collaboration on our video projects.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas Home Tour at Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast

The Christmas season is a wonderful time to experience Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast. We have a team of friends who come in for Elves Weekend to kick off the holiday season. This year our elves decorated five Christmas trees! There’s another great video that documents progress this year, from our Illinois College football players setting up the trees, to shots of all the work that goes in to making the magic happen when the lights come on. Since elves weekend, Christmas stockings have gone up, along with garlands, Snow Villages and other Christmas décor. With a name like Blessings, it’s probably no surprise that we have number of nativity scenes throughout our home. We love the holiday season and the sparkle and glow that comes from beautifully decorated Christmas trees, but our first goal is to recognize and honor our Savior’s birth.We officially turn on the Christmas lights after the Thanksgiving dinner dishes are done and I’m still decorating today. It’s fun to imagine new vignettes and tweak our displays as I pass by!

Last year we were on the Pilot Club Holiday Home Tour and next year we hope to host a Candlelight Christmas Tour, so this year we decided to offer a video home tour of Blessings on State! Come join us as we celebrate the Christmas season at Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast!



We change it up from year to year, but we always have several Christmas trees and five fireplace mantels and other areas to entice us as we deck the halls. My hand-stitched needlepoint stockings for our grandchildren are always displayed on the stairway. I love that our guests have their own Christmas trees to enjoy in their suites. We also display many nativity scenes throughout our home, because the birth of Christ is such an important part of our story here at Blessings on State. 

Many thanks to Steve at Steve WebPhoto for his collaboration on this project.

About Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast
Experience a stay in our award-winning Bed & Breakfast located in a magnificently restored 130-year-old mansion in the heart of the historic district. Pampered luxury is our goal, to delight both business and leisure travelers. We offer two upscale guest suites, each with private sitting rooms and private baths. We provide multi-course gourmet breakfasts, 24/7 family-friendly hot and cold beverages and snacks, and cookies and milk at bedtime. Wi-Fi is available throughout our home and each suite has a digital satellite TV and all-season fireplace. We are located just steps away from Illinois College, the Governor Duncan Mansion and Illinois School for the Deaf and our neighborhood is highlighted on one of Jacksonville’s historic walking tours. Escape the standard hotel room and enjoy your own private suite in the finest Jacksonville area lodging.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Good Old Home Cookin'



What's your vision of a good old home-cooked meal? Does it differ from your picture of a gourmet meal? I grew up in a world of great cooks. Oh, they weren't the kind of chefs you currently see on TV, but they were great cooks. From family dinners to church potlucks, we ate good food.

Our food was good because it was prepared with loving hands. Even the local cafe's knew their customers and worked hard to meet their needs. When we say grace, we often ask the Lord to bless the hands that prepared our food. Cooking takes time. It takes work. Some enjoy it more than others, and we recognize the effort that goes in to preparing good old home cooked meals.

Our food was good because it was fresh. Produce was often grown in our own gardens. My dad grew many vegetables, along with berries and tree fruits. He even raised honeybees so we always had a supply of clover honey. We knew the farmers that produced our beef and pork. We were really farm to table, even "back in the day." I believe that's one key reason that I enjoy buying from my new friends at our local Farmers Market.


Most summer Saturday mornings you could catch us when the market opened, buying fresh fruit and other produce, meat, and flowers for use at our Bed and Breakfast. We often purchased the fresh baked goods for our own use, as well. Our Farmers Market trips were an adventure. I watch the cooking shows and it was often fun to challenge myself to "find" foods at the market that I could prepare for our guests that morning. Oh, I planned the main entree and typically knew which meat would accompany it, but it was fun to hit the market to see what was available that week and use it to prepare the accompanying fruit and vegetable courses. Buy fresh, be creative and beat the clock!

As you can see in the video above, choices were abundant and I always had a good time shopping the market. Did I have a back up plan? Sure. But I never needed to use one! There was always a wonderful variety of foods available to choose from.

I did face one more challenge at the Farmers Market. I make friends easily, and I hated to pass by vendors without stopping to make a purchase. I appreciate their dedication to being available for me week after week. They're there on the nice spring days, on the hot sunny summer days and on the days when the storms hit, blowing down their canopies. (That day I waited until after the storm to go shopping!) So... I developed a plan. Unless I was short on time and making a beeline to specific booths that I needed to visit, I always did a little welcome stroll, greeting the vendors, thanking them for being there and perusing each booth to see what was available that particular day. There are distinctions in the items offered and after seeing what was available, my goal was to make my purchases from as many vendors as I could.

Besides having the ability purchase some of the freshest food in town, I also learned from the vendors as I got to know them. From tips like when to trim back your mums to how to make a dipping oil for Artisan bread, you can gain a lot of information from the vendors at the Farmers Market. Don't be afraid to ask questions. I've found that the vendors at our Jacksonville Farmers Market at Lincoln Square are delighted to share their knowledge and it's fun learning from them. Who'd have ever thought to serve white gravy with sweet potatoes?

The market is closed for the season, and I won't be able to go back until April or May, but we had a great partnership and I look forward to next year. I do have one wish for our local Farmer's Market. I'd like to see a local coffee roaster come in. I don't even drink coffee, but I'd love to have fresh roasted coffee beans to grind for our guests!

About Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast
Experience a stay in our award-winning Bed & Breakfast located in a magnificently restored 130-year-old mansion in the heart of the historic district. Pampered luxury is our goal, to delight both business and leisure travelers. We offer two upscale guest suites, each with private sitting rooms and private baths. We provide multi-course gourmet breakfasts, 24/7 family-friendly hot and cold beverages and snacks, and cookies and milk at bedtime. Wi-Fi is available throughout our home and each suite has a digital satellite TV and all-season fireplace. We are located just steps away from Illinois College, the Governor Duncan Mansion and Illinois School for the Deaf and our neighborhood is highlighted on one of Jacksonville’s historic walking tours. Escape the standard hotel room and enjoy your own private suite in the finest Jacksonville area lodging.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Christmas Elves at Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast


We're excited to add more videos to our Be Innspired video series. We've been working with Steve Weber of Steve WebPhoto and he's done some terrific work for us!

People often ask how we get all of our Christmas decorating done by ourselves. The answer is... we don't! We have a great team of volunteers that come in to help us out.

The first year we were in operation was the first Christmas following the death of our young grandson. As much as I love Christmas, I was struggling to celebrate the season and we were scheduled to be on the Pilot Club Holiday Home Tour. Several of my friends came to the rescue and through their love and determination we were ready to open Blessings on State for the Christmas tour.

Those friends have continued to come in each year in what has become our annual Elves Weekend. We now always begin with dinner at Lonzerotti's, then come back and start decorating. In the early days, and sometimes even now, Glenn has stayed with family and friends and it's been a girls getaway weekend. These days, in addition to those initial volunteers, others stop in each year to help us out.

It’s always an exciting time for me as our friends come in during Elves Weekend. It’s a time of fun and laughter and a lot of hard work. Take a look at the video and you'll see what it takes to make the Christmas magic happen at Blessings on State.


Many thanks to Steve at Steve WebPhoto for his collaboration on this project.

About Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast
Experience a stay in our award-winning Bed & Breakfast located in a magnificently restored 130-year-old mansion in the heart of the historic district. Pampered luxury is our goal, to delight both business and leisure travelers. We offer two upscale guest suites, each with private sitting rooms and private baths. We provide multi-course gourmet breakfasts, 24/7 family-friendly hot and cold beverages and snacks, and cookies and milk at bedtime. Wi-Fi is available throughout our home and each suite has a digital satellite TV and all-season fireplace. We are located just steps away from Illinois College, the Governor Duncan Mansion and Illinois School for the Deaf and our neighborhood is highlighted on one of Jacksonville’s historic walking tours. Escape the standard hotel room and enjoy your own private suite in the finest Jacksonville area lodging.

Farm to Table - Home Grown Goodness




Fresh peaches, fresh corn, fresh squash, fresh blueberries, fresh beets and potatoes... fresh food! I love this time of year because it's a great time to find all my favorite fresh produce. They say that food may travel 1500 miles to make it to our tables. Summer farm markets offer the opportunity to buy from our own community and serve Farm to Table. We are committed to serving fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables as much as we can. It's a Midwestern value that we hold dear. Our local Jacksonville Farmers Market at Lincoln Square will continue through the first Saturday in November. Our local County Markets even advertise the names of their local growers and producers that reduce the travel time and keep our food fresh. 

I grew up in a farming community. I knew hog farmers and beef farmers and families that raised chickens and turkeys and I went to school with their children. I grew up "in town" in the small town of Newton, Illinois. My dad was a gardener. He grew a lot of flowers, but also had an extensive vegetable garden each year. I grew up eating the freshest vegetables around. (I learned to love most of them, but I still don't favor eggplant or okra.) I have an appreciation for home-grown, but I'm not much of a grower. Our property is so shaded that it's very hard to grow anything other than perennials. I do have a kitchen herb garden on the back deck, but that's about it. Since I can't grow 'em, I rely on others to do all the work. I buy from the local Farmer's Markets, at roadside stands and sometimes friends and neighbors have such an abundance they give food away!


When I was very young, we sometimes gigged asparagus along the roadsides out in the country. After we moved into town, we were always in search of "Indiana melons," i.e., cantaloupe and watermelon grown in Indiana. I've gone from spitting seeds to buying seedless, but I have very fond memories of the seasonal search for that pick-up truck bed filled to the brim with Indiana melons.  In our area we often look for "Calhoun County peaches" and "Beardstown melons" and we serve them to our guests. There are well-known local orchards, but I still get a thrill buying at the Farm Market or from a pickup truck alongside the road. I guess I'm still a small-town girl at heart.

Saturdays are my favorite breakfast preparation days. Lately, I've been flying by the seat of my pants as I design my menu after I hit the Farmer's Market at 7:00 a.m. Seeing what's available inspires what's for breakfast at the B&B. Oh, I plan the breakfast breads, but the vegetables that go in the egg dish and the side vegetable are up for grabs until I see what they have each week. One weekend I served sauteed squash as a side and our guests loved it. I also buy my breakfast meat at the market, so it's always fresh from the farm. One weekend I used tomatoes, blackberries, Italian sausage, an onion, and squash - all fresh from the Farmer's Market. I often use potatoes, but haven't come up with any great breakfast recipes for beets and other root vegetables. If you have some ideas, please send them along!

One of the benefits of staying in a Bed & Breakfast is that food is prepared in smaller quantities, and using fresh from the garden or farm is always a viable option. We have a small family and I try to use fresh foods for our family meals, too. We've been enjoying a blackberry cobbler this weekend, made from berries from the Farmer's Market and the Pioneer Woman's cobbler recipe. I highly recommend both, and I know that Glenn will concur. I've also prepared it using fresh peaches instead of berries. Sweet corn is still in season and we have found some of the best! (I'm still trying to figure out a good way to serve it for guest breakfasts.)

Several of our local growers are organic farmers or focus in other ways on growing foods with high nutritional content. I enjoy cooking indulgent breakfasts and I love to use healthy ingredients. As an innkeeper, I'm very thankful to have easy access to such a terrific bounty of fresh food here in my own community.

About Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast
Experience a stay in our award-winning Bed & Breakfast located in a magnificently restored 130-year-old mansion in the heart of the historic district. Pampered luxury is our goal, to delight both business and leisure travelers. We offer two upscale guest suites, each with private sitting rooms and private baths. We provide multi-course gourmet breakfasts, 24/7 family-friendly hot and cold beverages and snacks, and cookies and milk at bedtime. Wi-Fi is available throughout our home and each suite has a digital satellite TV and all-season fireplace. We are located just steps away from Illinois College, the Governor Duncan Mansion and Illinois School for the Deaf and our neighborhood is highlighted on one of Jacksonville’s historic walking tours. Escape the standard hotel room and enjoy your own private suite in the finest Jacksonville area lodging.