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.

A New Look at My Childhood Songs

On a trip south we visited the Stephen Foster Museum.

The house and museum is located in the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center Park on the banks of the legendary Suwannee River. This river was made famous by Foster’s song “Old Folks at Home.”

The grounds are beautiful with majestic old trees.

As wandered the grounds we headed down to see this famous river.

Getting closer to the water I saw the sign warning of alligators and beat a hasty retreat.

Inside the building were many beautiful old pianos and paintings depicting many of Foster’s songs.

Foster wrote over 200 songs and was called the “Father of American Music.”

His song “My Old Kentucky Home” is the official song of the state of Kentucky. It is believed he wrote his famous song “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” as an attempt to win back his wife who had left him. While many of his songs are about the South he never lived there and only visited it once on his honeymoon.

While I grew up singing many of Foster’s folk songs both at home and in choir at school, I doubt that many of his songs would be used today. They clearly depict a world of southern white culture and its ties to slavery.

As a child I sang “Oh Susanna” but it was only when I did more research of Foster that I heard the second verse. On my!

“Massa’s in the Cold, Cold Ground” talks of how the “darkeys” are crying because their master is dead and how he made them love him because he treated them so kindly.

The State of Florida’s official song is “The Old Folks at Home.” Thankfully they have changed some of the offensive words;

Original words: All up and down the whole creation, Sadly I roam. I’m a still a-longin’ for the old plantation, Oh, for the old folks at home.

New version: All up and down this whole creation, Sadly I roam, Still longing for my childhood station, And for the old folks at home.

Original words: All the world is sad and dreary, Ev’rywhere I roam. Oh, darkies, how my heart grows weary, Far from the old folks at home.

New version: All the world is sad and dreary Everywhere I roam. O dear ones, how my heart grows weary, Far from the old folks at home.

On the grounds there is a 97-bell carillon and his songs are played throughout the day. This carillon is one of the largest musical instruments ever produced in the Western Hemisphere, and the world’s largest tubular carillon in number of bells.

The park itself is beautiful with hiking, bicycling, canoeing and wildlife viewing for visitors. There is also a full-facility campground and cabins to rent.

While I enjoyed the beautiful grounds and recognized many of the songs from my childhood as I took a closer look at many of the lyrics I left with mixed feelings about the place.

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.

My One Night of Luxury!

Shortly after my retirement my husband and I made a trip to North Carolina to visit our children who live there. On the way we decided to stop and explore the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina.

Built by George Vanderbilt, grandson of famed industrialist and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt, in Asheville, North Carolina in 1887 it is unbelievable how big it is. The home contains over four acres of floor space and includes 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces.

On the grounds is a conservatory which is full of beautiful orchids. We were told there are over 600 different orchids. I could not of course get pictures of all 600 but I did my best to capture some of the most beautiful ones.

While there we decided to spend one night at The Inn on Biltmore Estate. We knew it would be expensive, but thought after all these years of working, we deserved one night of luxury. The view from our room was wonderful.

The lobby and lounge areas made us feel so pampered.

In our bedroom we found custom bathrobes and slippers. They offered complimentary night turn-down service, but we passed on that.

When it was time for supper my husband suggested we go into town to find a restaurant, but I wanted to enjoy a meal in their dining room – it looked so special.

Wanting to keep me happy, he agreed. After we sat down and saw the menus, I realized this was probably not a good idea. But, too embarrassed to get up and leave, and still wanting to enjoy one night of luxury, we stayed. The food was excellent and we really enjoyed the meal. When we had finished the waiter asked if we would like a cup of coffee. My husband passed, but I asked for a cup. Thinking after spending such a large amount on the meal, the coffee would be complimentary, I sipped my cup that was served in very delicate china and enjoyed every drop.

I was very upset when we got our bill (which I knew would be much too high for our budget) to discover they had charged us $4.00 for this tiny cup of coffee.

The next morning we enjoyed some coffee in the library (which was free and served in paper cups) and read the newspapers savoring one more moment of luxury.

I felt a little guilty for spending that much money for one night – but looking back now I’m glad we did it. What price do you put on good memories!

Sunflowers and Salem Sue

Looking through my vacation albums I loved seeing some of the sights from our trip to North Dakota.

We were driving along a long, empty stretch of road when we spotted something yellow in the distance. What was it?

What a surprise as we came closer to see acres and acres of sunflowers.

Coming back home I did research and found that 40% of sunflower seeds production in the USA. comes from North Dakota. According to the State of North Dakota Tourist Bureau over 48,000 acres of sunflowers are grown every year in the state. People come from all over the USA to see the beautiful fields of sunshine.

One recent survey said that North Dakota was the happiest state in the union. I’m not sure how true that survey was, but since sunflowers always make me smile, I can see that maybe it is true. My granddaughter says that yellow is the color of joy. Maybe she is right also.

One of the funniest things we saw was in New Salem, North Dakota. From several miles away as we approached the town we saw a cow standing on a hill.

Coming into town we saw a sign asking for donations to help keep “Salem Sue” in good condition.

Salem Sue was built in 1974 for $40,000. Her stats are impressive: 38 feet high, 50 feet long, six tons of reinforced fiberglass. She had to be built in three sections to get her up the hill.  A brochure we picked up at the local gas station told us that “Sue’s primary purpose is to honor and advertise the dairyman who is an asset to his community, church, the economy and his family.”

So if you ever head to North Dakota be sure to go in the summer when the sunflower fields are in bloom. And if you are looking for New Salem, be careful you don’t just drive right through it. It is a small town. But I doubt you would miss it since Salem Sue will be sending you a welcome from her perch on the hill long before you reach the town.

Holy City – Really?

When we spent several weeks in Charleston, South Carolina a few years ago trying to escape the cold winter weather, I was amazed at all the churches with their tall steeples. We took a tour of the city on a boat and from the harbor you could see the beautiful steeples reaching to the sky. The city is called by some the “Holy City” because of all the churches. I was told there were over 400 churches and a variety of religions.

I was particularly interested in the French Huguenot Church because doing genealogy research I discovered one line of my ancestors were Huguenots driven out of France by King Louis XIV in 1685. The church is beautiful.

Another church we enjoyed was the Circular Congregational Church. They claim to be one of the oldest continuously churches in the South. We roamed through their cemetery with monuments dating from 1695. The street the church is located on is called Meeting Street and the street is given that name because it was here their first meeting house was built in 1681. In 1804 they built a circular hall replacing earlier buildings. When the building burned in 1861 they used bricks from the old building and constructed the present sanctuary in 1892.

Beating the congregation at the Circular Congrregational Church, St. Michael’s Church lays claim to being the oldest church in Charleston. On this site a small wooden church was built in what was then Charles Town in 1680. Called St. Phillip’s, as the town grew – and the congregation grew, a new building was built and given the name St. Michael’s. They began conducting services in 1761 and, except for a small addition in 1883, the church is basically the same today.

We spent over half a day exploring the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (Holy Congregation House of God). The synagogue is a National Historic Landmark. It is the country’s second oldest synagogue and the oldest in continuous use.

They shared a lot of their history – both of Charleston and of the Jewish religion. They allowed us to see the place where they housed the Torah. For my husband and I, both history nuts of American history and of Biblical times, it was a wonderful experience.

One of the churches we wanted to visit was closed. This building is a beautiful Gothic-Revival structure and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church was founded in 1791 and included both free blacks and slaves. The ministers were often jailed for violations of laws that prohibited slaves and free black to meet without white supervision. After the unsuccessful slave revolt led by Denmark Vesey, the community burned the church to the ground in 1822 because Vesey had been one of the church’s founders. Vesey and 34 others were executed.

After rebuilding the church, the congregation met there until 1834 when the state legislature outlawed all-black churches. Again, blacks could not meet in church unless there were white supervision. They simply met in secret until after the Civil War ended and then they formally reorganized.

I could go on and on about the churches we visited. But as we thought about their claim to be the “Holy City” we wondered how they could really consider their history to back up that claim.

Just a few blocks from some of these beautiful churches is the Old Slave Mart Museum. Established in 1948 it is the first museum on the history of slavery in the United States. The museum is located in a portion of the city’s last major slave market.

In 1808 when the United States banned international slave trading, the domestic slave trade became big business. Charleston became one of the major buying and selling markets. It is estimated that 40% or more of the slaves imported to American came through the Charleston port. You can check out more on that story on my post.

In Charleston slaves were sold in open markets until 1856 when the city passed an ordinance prohibiting public sales.  I guess the sight of blacks in irons and chains exhibited like animals for sale became too much for the people of the “Holy City.” In response a number of sale rooms or markets opened up in downtown Charlestown. One of the main ones was Ryan’s Auction Mart and the current museum is housed in part of that market.

The day we visited the museum the woman working there told us she was a descendant of one of the slaves sold there. Standing there in that dark place and trying to imagine the horrors of being sold like an animal and possibly being separated from parents or children, my mind wondered how people who built such beautiful churches to worship God on Sunday could deal in this terrible business on Monday through Saturday.

Being “holy” people they insisted that the slave markets be closed on Sunday so they could all go to church to worship God.

I left Charleston with mixed feelings. It is a beautiful city with the ocean and the old historical churches and houses. There are so many beautiful parks. There is so much history there. But I could not help but remember the history I saw there that I was never told about in history classes in school.

  • The slave market
  • Denmark Vesey statue
  • The original reason for building the Citadel
  • The first Memorial Day celebration where freed blacks honored the Union soldiers
  • The Gullah culture
  • Cabbage Row
  • Philip Simons Foundation

“Holy City.” Yes there are a lot of church steeples reaching to the sky. But after seeing all that I saw, I would never call it that.