I Can’t Believe I Did It!

It has been a month now since I finished my physical therapy. My therapist warned me that I would need to keep doing my exercises at least two to four times a week if I wanted to remain strong and have less pain.

So far, I am exercising every day. Eventually I will probably move to just two to four times a week, but I am so glad to be free of pain that spending a few minutes each day in exercising is a small price to pay for this new life.

One of the things I struggled with beside the pain was just being able to walk any distance. It has been so great to be able to shop for groceries or go to the mall and walk with my husband.

However, we recently attempted a walk that was probably not one I should have tried. We went to Ludington, Michigan to see one of the lighthouses there. Since moving to Michigan four years ago we have made it our mission to see as many of the lighthouses here as we can. This was the beautiful lighthouse, Big Sable, located on the shores of Lake Michigan.

French explorers first called this place Grande Point au Sable. This area, approximately nine miles north of Ludington was a landmark for sailors on Lake Michigan. In 1856 Congress gave $6,000 and the Michigan Legislature donated the land for a lighthouse. However, it was not until the end of the Civil War that Congress again gave money – this time $35,000 – and construction began in 1866. The lighthouse was completed in 1867.

We were all prepared to drive to see this lighthouse. However, on entering the park that surrounds the lighthouse, we discovered we would have to walk to the lighthouse. The walk is 1.8 miles. The rangers assured us it was a level walk with benches along the way. Knowing this would be quite the challenge, we nonetheless decided to do it.

At first it was nice. A beautiful sunshiny day with a cool breeze from the ocean, we enjoyed the beginning of the walk.

My husband climbed the sand dunes to get a closer look at the Lake
Although the path was level, believe me walking in sand is not an easy thing to do.

About halfway up the trail I began to have strong doubts about the wisdom of attempting this. My husband offered to turn back. But I had committed to this, and I was determined to finish it. I stopped at every bench along the way to catch my breath. Just when I thought I could not go on, the lighthouse appeared in the distance.

Finally, we made it! I was proud of what I had done but was scared at the thought of making the walk back. My husband, who is 82, was tired but confident he could make it back. I was not so sure that I could.

This man is amazing! Still full of energy when we reached the lighthouse.

We sat by the lake and enjoyed the view while I gulped a bottle of water and ate a candy bar. After almost 30 minutes it was clear I was afraid I would not be able to make it back the 1.8 miles. My husband asked some of the workers at the museum and gift shop if someone could drive us back. Their response was: “The only way you get a ride out of here is in an ambulance.”

Faced with no other choice we started back down the trail. Although there were benches along the way, there were several places where the benches were very far apart. My legs were holding up fine, but my poor heart was not. About halfway back I began to have difficulty breathing. At one point I leaned on my husband and tried hard to get a breath. Other walkers on the trail asked if they could help me, but unless they were willing to carry me, I did not know what they could do.

Just when I thought I could not go on, we saw the end of the trail. Exhausted I sat on a picnic table for almost 30 minutes before I could go on.

We calculated our distance when we got back to the car. It was 1.8 miles there and back but when you added in the distance from the parking lot to the start of the trail we had walked over four miles.

Looking back I am not sure that was a smart thing for us to do – but I am so proud of the fact that I did it.

Before my physical therapy there is no way I could have done that. I was in pain for a couple of days afterwards – more sore than pain – but I recovered and I DID IT!!!

Weebles Wobble but They Don’t Fall Down

I have not posted anything for almost three weeks (have you missed me?). In case anyone was wondering, here’s my story.

In 1971 Hasbro/Romper Room created small egg-shaped figures that “wobble” from side to side but return to an upright position. Their slogan for these toys was “Weebles Wobble but They Don’t Fall Down.” Inside each weeble is a small weight. When the toy is tipped to one side the weight will cause the toy to “wobble.” Gravity soon brings the toy back to an upright position.

For the past few years, I have experienced chronic pain throughout my body. At first, I just thought it was arthritis creeping up on me or perhaps damage done to my body from the many chemo and radiation treatments I had as a cancer patient almost 20 years ago.

Along with the pain, it has become more difficult for me to stand for any length of time and to walk any great distance. My husband and I have always been active, but this constant pain and difficulty walking was beginning to make me depressed. I began dreading growing old and living a limited lifestyle.

My clothes also did not seem to fit properly. My tops always hung to the left and anything with sleeves would find the left sleeve longer than the right. No matter how many times I tried to straighten my tops – they refused to remain straight and even.

Finally, my granddaughter told me “Grandma, you wobble when you walk.” I felt like those little weebles – bobbing from side to side as I tried to walk straight. On uneven ground or climbing stairs I even wondered if this “webble” would fall down.

At my last doctor’s visit, I pointed out to her that a rib on my left side was sticking way out. She gave a closer examination and determined that my left leg is shorter than my right and because of that my spine has slowly been tilting to the left. Thus, why my clothes do not fit properly and why I “wobble” when I walk.

Diagnosed with scoliosis, she sent me to their physical therapy department for further evaluation and treatment.

First order of business was to add an insert to my left shoe to begin to even out my legs. We have had to slowly raise the height of the left leg because my therapist said too much of an increase all at once would only make things worse.

My first few visits to PT were basically sitting, lying while they did adjustments to my pelvis, my spine, and my hips to try to bring me back into proper alignment. After four weeks of therapy, three times a week and more inserts in the left shoe, they have declared I am back in proper alignment.

I have four more weeks of PT where we are working on building strength into my muscles so that I can retain the proper position of my pelvis, spine and hips. My therapist told me I will need to continue these exercise three to four times a week for the rest of my life if I want my body to keep the right alignment. They can make adjustments to my spine, but it is the muscles that will hold that alignment.

While doing the physical therapy and learning to make other adjustments – such as losing my recliner for a more straight-back chair, using the right size pillows when I sleep, wearing shoes all the time (which I hate), adjusting my computer so that I am not looking up or down at the screen which is hard on the neck, I have been too busy to blog.

Honestly, I have thought about not returning to my blog and I have mixed feelings about it. But here’s goes my story of my absence – and I do hope some of my followers have missed me.

Santa’s Reindeer

Driving north from our home in Michigan we took a quick stop at Gaylord to try to get a peek at the elk herd found there.

The City of Gaylord maintains an elk herd and while there are several places to view them, we stopped at the Patrick Mankowskil Park. There on 108 acres the city staff provide the herd with corn, hay and sugar beets. Named after the man who was instrumental in raising funds to create this area to get a chance for a look at the elks, there is a plaque honoring him for his service to the City of Gaylord.

We only saw a few elk here. We were told the best times to view them is in September and October when the bulls are trying to establish mating rights with the females. April and May were also recommended as good times because the elk are active during the daylight hours eating the new green growth.

A short drive from downtown Gaylord is the Pigeon River Country State Forest that contains one of the largest free-ranging elk herds east of the Mississippi. However, we were on our way further north and left this viewing spot for another trip.

I did a little research to see what the difference is between elk and reindeer. I found that both are types of deer with the elk being larger than the reindeer. Both female and male reindeer have antlers, but only the male elk has antlers. Elks are found in North America while reindeer occupy the colder artic regions.

Many enjoy elk meat, and I am told it is very healthy as it is lean, low in fat and cholesterol, and delicious. You can even order elk meat on Amazon.

I am not sure I am quite that adventurous, but have any of my readers eaten elk meat? If so, did you like it?

Cross in the Woods

Getting off the beaten path on a recent trip north led us to another special attraction. In the unincorporated area known as Indian River we found the Cross in the Woods Shrine.

This wooden cross was made from a 2,000-year-old California Redwood tree. The tree was found in the state of Oregon and the timber from the tree arrived in Roscomon, Michigan in 1953. The cross weighs 14 tons and is 55 feet in height (77 feet above the mound) with the crossbeam 22 feet. The cross was erected August 5, 1954 and the dedication took place August 22 of that year.

Declared a national shrine by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on September 15, 2006, between 275,000 and 325,000 people visit the shrine each year. There are outdoor and indoor churches and smaller shrines throughout the location.

Saint Frances of Assisi

This statute of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus was called “the Holy Family.”

Our Lady of the Highway

A few years after the dedication of the cross, the body of Christ was added. The corpus weights 7 tons. It is 28 feet from head to toe and the arm spread is 23 feet. The body of Christ was attached to the cross on August 9, 1959, and dedicated on August 16 of that year.

There is a large church where masses are held everyday year round. The windows inside are large giving the congregation an excellent view of the cross. There is also outside seating where masses are held outdoors just below the cross.

I found it interesting to learn that the man who designed the Corpus, Marshall M Fredericks resided in Michigan (where I now live) but he was born in Rock Island, Illinois (the area where I used to live). There is a Marshall M. Fredericks Sculptor Museum in Saginaw, Michigan featuring his works as well as other sculptors.

Fredericks said he wanted to “give the face an expression of great peace and strength and offer encouragement to everyone who viewed the Cross”. He imagined his sculptor as portraying Christ at the moment when he says, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” The Vatican gave him special permission to omit the crown of thorns and the wound on the side of Jesus.

I know I am being opinionated here, but I found leaving the crown of thorns and the wound on his side as somehow minimizing the whole message of the suffering Jesus endured for us.

We did explore the bookstore also and found many beautiful paintings and tapestries. There were a couple I would have loved to have – but with my husband painting more and more – our home is filled with his paintings with no room for anything else.

Discovering this site now leads us to another road trip – to Saginaw to check out the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculptor Museum.

Homes for Elves

We found the perfect elf house. Actually, several houses perfect for elves.

In Charlevoix, Michigan there are 26 houses built by Earl Young that appear to be perfect for a family of elves.

The neighborhood has a sign asking everyone to respect the privacy of these homes. However, across the street from most of the homes we found cars pulling to the side of the road and taking pictures. I wonder how it would feel to live in a house where tourists are standing across the street taking pictures.

They were so unique. I could not stop taking pictures.

Young created his homes to fit the site using the limestone, fieldstone and boulders he found in Northern Michigan. Each home is different from the other and has cedar-shake roofs with wide, wavy eaves. Over the course of his fifty-year career, Young built twenty-six residential houses and four commercial properties.

Along with the houses was all the beautiful use of the stones for fences.

The house that really caught my attention was the Thatch House. It was very large, and looked like a giant mushroom.

I discovered that this house is actually for rent for vacations or special events. It would be so cool (can I use that word?) to stay there, but since it rents for $1,000 a night during the week and over $1,400 for a weekend night, I will just settle to take pictures from the outside and try to imagine what it looks like on the inside.

But if you know of any elf looking for a home, send him to Charlevoix Michigan.

Hard Work U

On one of our trips south we visited the College of the Ozarks. This Christian, liberal arts college is located near Branson, Missouri. Presbyterian minister, Rev. James Forsythe, founded the school in 1906. Called The School of the Ozarks, it was first a high school and became a junior college in 1956. Nine years later it became a four-year college and in 1990 took the name College of the Ozarks.

The students at the college work on campus to help pay for part of their tuition. They work 15 hours a week during the school year and do two forty-hour weeks during that time. Scholarships provide the rest of the tuition, so students do not graduate with a large debt to be repaid. This does not include room and board, but students can choose to work during the summer and that will cover their room and board for the next year.

When they first arrive, students are assigned to a service-oriented job for the first one or two semesters such as working in the cafeteria or the restaurant that is open to the public, or mowing and keeping the lawns and gardens in good repair.  After the first two semesters they may apply to work in an area more suited to their career plans.

For example, students seeking a degree in agriculture work to produce the dairy, beef, fruit, and vegetables used in the kitchen at The Keeter Center, C of O’s restaurant, ice cream shop, and bakery.

They have a beautiful art gallery where students seeking a degree in Art Education can also work helping with the many events the gallery has each year.

Students seeking other degrees are offered jobs in areas where they can apply what they are learning to real life.

The campus is beautiful. Set in the beautiful Ozark Mountains the views are breathtaking.

We watched one of the students demonstrating the use of a loom. Her major was in Arts and she was working in the museum area as part of her job to pay for tuition.

There was also a mill where they made their own wheat and bread (again students working off their tuition and also learning a trade).

We loved all the water fountains on the campus.

We ended our visit with a delicious meal at the Keeter Center and enjoyed the view in the distance.

If you are ever in the Branson area it is a beautiful and interesting place to check out. While the free tuition is great, it is a very conservative college and would not be a fit for anyone who does not lean very right on the political scale.

The Wesley Garden

One of the favorite places I ever visited on our road trips is St. Simons Island. If I won the lottery (which I don’t play) I would have a home there. It is not only beautiful with the old oak trees and Spanish moss, but full of history.

One of the attractions there is the Wesley Gardens. Named for John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist movement, the garden is filled with native trees and plants and is a beautiful place to just sit and enjoy God’s creation.

The oak trees are so massive and beautiful.

There are over 4,000 azaleas in so many different colors.

In the middle of the garden is an 18-foot Celtic cross honoring the ministry of John and Charles Wesley.

Charles Wesley came to the colony of Georgia in 1736 where he served as secretary for Indian Affairs to Georgia’s founder, James Edward Oglethorpe. He was also the chaplain at Fort Frederica on the island. This fort was built to protect the colony from Spanish attacks from the south (what is now Florida). Charles’ work as minister at Frederica did not last very long. His very strict rules did not sit well with the colonists and he left after only a few months. His brother, John Wesley, served as missionary to the colony of Georgia from February 1736 to December 1737. He also returned to England discouraged about his work there.

However, both brothers went back to England and continued a successful ministry there. John established a movement that later grew into the Methodist Church. Charles was a prolific hymn composer, and many churches even today sing some of his hymns. Here is a list of some that I remember singing as a child.

  • Christ the Lord is Risen Today
  • Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  • Jesus, Lover of My Soul
  • Oh for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Such a Peaceful Spot!

Driving along Route 21 in Wyoming we spotted a sign saying “Ayres Natural Bridge.” The sign was small and from its appearance did not indicate anything of importance. Still, we love to get off the main road and so we decided to take the secondary road and see what this was all about.

What a great discovery! It was one of the most beautiful and spectacular sites I have seen in our many road trips.

Surrounded on three sides by sharp bluffs there was only one way into this beautiful park. The road in was narrow and I was having a panic attack afraid of what would happen if we met a vehicle coming down as we were going up. Fortunately that did not happen.

Ayres Natural Bridge is one of the few natural bridges in the world that has water flowing under it. Part of the Casper Sandstone Formation laid down during the Pennsylvanian Age, time and water eroded a hole in the rock and the stream flowing there now is call the LaPrele Creek.

The arch is 50 feet high and 100 feet long. Surrounded by lots of trees with a picnic area, playground, hiking paths, a sand volleyball court, fishing areas and horseshoe pits, it was the perfect place for a family outing.

Indian legend said that an Indian brave was struck by lightning near the bridge and was killed. An evil spirit, “King of Beasts” lived beneath the bridge and had swallowed the life of this brave. From then on, Indians would not go near the bridge. It became a sanctuary for those fleeing from the Indians. If they could make it t the bridge, they would be safe because the Indians would not come near the bridge.

The bridge and the park are named after Alva Ayres. Ayres was an early day freighter who settled on the lland. In 1920 his son gave a deed for 15 acres of land to Converse County. This land included the bridge and so it became known as Ayres Natural Bridge. Later, others donated more land to the county and the park was established.

The creek running the park and under the bridge had such a peaceful sound. Standing there by the water surrounded on three sides by the high cliffs, seeing all the majesty of God’s creation it was to me a moment to worship the Creator.

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
For the Lord is the great God,
And the great King above all gods.
In His hand are the deep places of the earth;
The heights of the hills are His also.
The sea is His, for He made it;
And His hands formed the dry land.…..Psalm 95:1-5

We are not campers but at that moment I wished we had camping gear because I would have loved to camp by that creek and go to sleep listening to the water running under the bridge.

We have been blessed to see much of the USA on our road trips. This place will always be one of my favorite memories.

Once again, getting off the main road always leads to great discoveries.

Legend of the White Buffalo

Located in Jamestown, North Dakota is the National Buffalo Museum. They state that their purpose is “to advocate for the restoration of the North American bison through education and outreach.” It was an interesting stop on our road trip out west. The museum’s website states:

The National Buffalo Museum opened in June of 1993 and has since been dedicated to preserving the history of the bison and promoting the modern bison business.

In 1991, the North Dakota Buffalo Foundation (NDBF) (d.b.a. the National Buffalo Museum) formed to start a herd of bison that would graze in the pasture just below the “World’s Largest Buffalo” monument in Jamestown, ND. Around the same time, the National Buffalo Foundation was looking for a facility to house and display numerous accumulated bison-related objects, artwork, and historical memorabilia from the bison business. Thanks to tireless advocacy from the founding board members of the NDBF, many of whom were themselves bison producers, the first five animals in this herd came from Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the site of that first small herd became the home of the National Buffalo Museum.

Paul standing below the “world’s largest buffalo”

We saw three white buffalo. The first one was White Cloud born in 1996. She gave birth three times before giving birth to Dakota Miracle in 2007. The next year another buffalo gave birth to an albino buffalo named Dakota Legend. These three very rare animals were quite a draw for the museum in Jamestown.

I wanted to get closer for this picture but decided I should probably stay outside the fenced area after I saw this sign.

This very rare animal is seen as sacred by many Native American plains Indians. The Lakota believed that the White Buffalo Calf Woman brought them the first sacred pipe. There are apparently different versions to the legend but this is the one we were told.

The legend states that two scouts were out looking for bison when they saw a white cloud coming toward them. As it came closer, they saw a young Indian woman dressed in white buckskin and carrying a bundle. She was the most beautiful woman they had ever seen.

One of the scouts had bad thoughts about her and shared them with his companion. He responded “That is a sacred woman; throw all bad thoughts away.” She knew their thoughts and said “If you want to do as you think, you may come.” When the scout with the bad thoughts came close to her a white cloud covered them both. The young woman came out of the cloud, blew it away and at her feet lay the bones of the foolish scout with the bad thoughts.

She then told the other scout to go home and tell his people that she was coming and they should build a big tipi for her. Four days later she came to the village. As she sang, a white cloud came from her mouth that was good to smell. She then gave the Chief a pipe with a bison calf carved on one side to mean the earth that bears and feeds us, and with twelve eagle feathers hanging from the stem for the sky and the twelve moons.

She told the Chief, “With this pipe, you will be bound to all your relatives. All these people and all things in the universe are joined to you who smoke the pipe. With this, you shall muliple and be a good nation.”

She stayed with them for four days showing them how to prepare the pipe and how to smoke it. This is how the pipe came to the Lakota tribe.

When the left she promised to return in times of need. She walked in the direction of the sun stopping to roll over four times. The first time she got up as a black buffalo. The second time she became a brown buffalo, the third time a red buffalo and then finally a white buffalo. The white buffalo walked on, stopped, bowed to each of the four directions and then disappeared over the hill.

This legend also led to the white buffalo umbilical cord pouch. When a baby was born, the umbilical cord was dried and put in a beaded pouch which was often turtle or lizard shaped. They believed the cord was the connection to life before birth and after death. When the person died, the pouch would be buried with him/her.

I recently discovered that Dakota Miracle died from injuries he sustained when he fell down a ravine. The Museum said his lack of pigmentation included poor eyesight and they believe this contributed to his fall.

If you make a trip to North Dakota this museum is worth planning a stop to see.

America’s First Lady of Courage

On a trip to Alabama we were able to stop at the home where Helen Adams Keller was born and raised. Built in 1820 by Helen’s grandparents who came to Alabama from Virginia, the house is a white clapboard home designed in Virginia cottage construction. Called Ivy Green because of the English ivy that grew on one side of the house, the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1954.

Helen was born on June 27, 1880 and was a healthy child. At 19 months she became very ill (it is believed it was probably scarlet fever) and was left blind and deaf. Unable to communicate with the world, Helen became what was described as a “wild child.”

 Her parents, desperate for help took her to see Alexander Graham Bell when she was six. Bell connected the family with a 20-year-old teacher from the Perkins Institution for the Blind. Ann Sullivan came to live with Helen in Alabama and stayed with her from March 1887 until Ann died in 1936.

As Anne began working with Helen she recognized that her family had given no discipline to her and she need to teach Helen both obedience and love. She convinced the family to allow her to take Helen from the main house and they lived together alone in a nearby cottage. After a few weeks as Helen began to respond to Anne, they returned to the main house ad the family.

Ann began having Helen feel objects and then would spell out the word on Helen’s palm. At first it was a difficult effort but a breakthrough came when Ann kept running water over Helen’s hand and then writing the word “water” in her palm. Suddenly it was as if a light went on. Helen understood what Ann was trying to teach her.

Having read the story of how her teacher, Ann Sullivan, was able to reach her through sign language, it was so amazing to see the well where this amazing event took place.

As Helen received a way of communicating with others, she quickly showed how brilliant a mind she had. By age ten she had mastered the Braille alphabet and learned to type. She then began the difficult process of learning how to speak. By 16 she had learned how to speak so well that she went to preparatory school and then won admission to Radcliffe College in 1900 and graduated cum laude in 1904.

She became an author and published several books including The Story of My Life (1903), Optimism (1903), The World I Live In (1908), Light in My Darkness and My Religion (1927), Helen Keller’s Journal (1938), and The Open Door (1957).

She became active in promoting laws and policies to help the handicapped. When she attended the Lions Clubs International Convention in 1925 she challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.” Accepting the challenge the Lions have programs aimed at preventable blindness every since.

At her home there is a statute of a Lion and plaques commemorating that partnership between Keller and the Lions.

There is a garden on the grounds with a bust of Helen as well as a statute inside the house of the young girl standing at the well where Ann Sullivan was able to reach her with the word “water.”

When you consider she was blind and deaf, her achievements are even more amazing.

She fought for workers’ rights, for women’s suffrage and was an early member of the American Civil Liberties Union. She worked for over 40 years with the American Foundation for the Blind. Her speeches and efforts for the blind led to state commissions for the blind, rehabilitation centers and made education more accessible to those with vision loss.

She made multiple trips to other counties and met world leaders such as Winston Churchill, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Golda Meir. General Douglas MacArthur sent her to Japan as American’s first Goodwill Ambassador. Her appearance brought attention to the needs of Japan’s blind and disabled citizens.

A lot of credit should also go to her teacher, Ann Sullivan, who devoted her life to Helen. Her work with Helen as a child was depicted in the play The Miracle Worker. This play won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960 and was made into a motion picture in 1962.