Fort Necessity

I was excited to head to Fort Necessity today (8/1/17) because this is where it all began:  The French Indian War which gave rise to the American Revolution.  So much of Washington is tied up in this area–his worst defeat, his biggest betrayal, his deepest humiliation, and the loss of a surrogate father figure.  Standing on the ground here, I felt, would give me the greatest insight for my book.  It is a truly incredible place.

I hadn’t realized that Washington and his men had spent almost two months clearing land for a road to attack Fort Duquesne.  One thing that has always stood out to me in this area is just how many trees there are–everywhere.  I can’t imagine trying to carve a path through them, much less fighting in them.  When he happened upon the Great Meadows, it must have seemed an oasis in the desert.  He termed it, “A charming field for an engagement.”  For a man who desperately wanted a British commission and who had been trained in the shoulder to shoulder British style of fighting, this spot was perfect.  Still, he hadn’t intended it for military service, but merely a supply station for troops attacking Fort Duquesne.

Another view of the fort

That all changed when three days later, Washington’s ally Tanacharison (the Half King) informed Washington there were French in the area (about 7 miles away).  His actions later make me wonder if this was a set-up, and he was simply using Washington.   Washington and 40 men set out to the Half King’s camp.  When they arrive, his scouts lead them to a ravine where the French are encamped.  From this point, two different versions of the story come into place.  Like typical siblings, both the French and the British claim the other one started it.  The French claim the British surprised them, and they fired back.  The British claim the French saw them approaching and fired first, with the British return fire being self defense.  Whatever actually happened, at the end of the day, the French commander Joseph Coulon de Villiers (Sieur de Jumonville) and 9 others were killed, one wounded, 21 prisoners, and one man who escaped to carry the news to Fort Duquesne.  British casualties were one killed, two wounded.  This would lead me to believe the British fired first, though they did have the high ground, so the disparity in casualties could come from that.  The interesting thing is that Coulon de Villiers was actually only wounded and was possibly trying to surrender–until the Half King got ahold of him–literally.  With a tomahawk.

Diorama of the Fort

When British Colonel Fry falls off his horse and dies of his injuries two days later, Washington is promoted to Colonel.  With the weight of leadership on his shoulders and the expectation of French retaliation from Fort Duqesne, Washington begins to try to make the area a fort, while still trying to do work on the road.  He has men guard those working on the road, but even with reinforcements still only has about 400 men.  His Indian allies meet with him, but when they realize Washington’s supplies haven’t come through as promised, and he has barely enough provisions for his men, they decide the British are a lost cause and refuse to fight.  Thus, Washington will face the 700 approaching Frenchmen and Indians with no allies.  I’m sure this was a huge betrayal by those he thought would stand with him–especially the man who was actually to blame for the incident.  But, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

Artillery demonstration

It’s a horrible, rainy day on July 3, making fighting sporadic, as both sides are dealing with wet gunpowder, and Washington’s men are standing in trenches, which are slowly filling up.  The commander of the French Army is none other than the Louis, brother of Joseph Coulon de Villiers.  But, Providence will both save Washington and humiliate him.  The Indians with the French prefer the element of surprise and the spoils of war.  Seeing that there is neither at this time, they tell Louis Coulon De Villiers that they will leave in the morning.  He has a choice to make.

He requests a truce to parlay, offering Washington the chance to surrender.  But, when the terms are sent to Washington, they are smudged because of the rain.  Washington’s normal translator had been killed, and the man who was translating was Dutch, but could understand most of what was said.  Most being the key word.  He informs Washington that the terms are generous, allowing Washington and his men to leave with honors of war, taking their baggage and weapons (but no swivel guns–like little cannons) and return immediately to Virginia.  They had to leave two men as hostages (who would volunteer, then provide valuable intelligence as spies.)  Unfortunately, the translator left out the part where, by signing, Washington is admitting to the assassination of Joseph Coulon de Villiers, whom the French claim was acting as an ambassador, in the same role as Washington himself–though papers in his effects give the possibility he was spying as well (as the British would claim).  This report makes it all over Europe and the colonies, and Washington is humiliated.  Though Governor Dinwiddie doesn’t blame Washington when he reaches Virginia, he will disband the Virginia regiments into garrison companies, and will offer Washington the demoted rank of Captain.  When Washington is unable to negotiate a higher rank, he will leave military service less than three months after the Fort Necessity debacle and return to Mount Vernon.

Braddock’s memorial

But, Washington doesn’t get too comfortable in the quiet life as a farmer.  When General Braddock is named Commander in chief of the British forces and arrives in America with two Irish regiments, Washington sends him a note of congratulations–a great way to get noticed.  Because of the way British commissions worked, Washington would be subordinate to even his British inferiors, so he makes the decision to accept the offer to join as Braddock’s Aide de Camp–a volunteer position in which he only answered to Braddock, and he could pave the way to a commissioned rank.

I can’t imagine what he must have felt when his path led him back to Fort Necessity, where the bones of his men were still visible against the landscape (the French had burned Fort Necessity to the ground.)  But, he had another chance to assault Fort Duquesne.  Unfortunately, it would be another devastating loss.

View of Braddock’s original burial site (right) and monument (left)

Braddock has mostly heeded Washington’s advice on the advance.  He has men scouting and protecting the flanks and rear as the army crosses the Monongahela River.  When he doesn’t get ambushed, however, Braddock assumes the French are holed up in the fort and pulls the scouts in, lining his men up, unfurling the banners, and striking up the band.  There’s not a chance the French can miss their arrival.  Unfortunately.  Unbeknownst to him, the French know Braddock’s coming and had made the decision to surprise attack–they just didn’t make it to the river in time.  The two armies slam into each other.  And though the British have over twice the numbers, the French and Indians are fighting ambush style, hitting the flanks from the treeline, and the British lines literally collapse into each other, forming a mass of red coated men–a horribly easy target.  Washington and Braddock, both on horseback, are trying to return order to the situation.  Both have horses shot from under them.  Both have bullet holes in their clothing.  Both are unhit–until Braddock is struck with a bullet to the shoulder which passes into his chest.  Washington is able to get him into a wagon and off the field, then assemble the men and cover the retreat.

The original spot where Braddock was buried.

Unfortunately, Braddock, who had been a sort of father figure to 24 year old George who had lost his own father at 11, would die three days later.  Washington himself will preside over the burial, choosing to bury him in the road he had built where soldiers will march over his grave, obscuring the site from those who would seek to desecrate the body.  He will remain there until 1804 when men repairing this section of the road will stumble upon the remains and move them to the hill.

Ironically, this site of so much pain will be bought by Washington who visited after the war.  For the surveyor, it is indeed a beautiful piece of land, but I can’t imagine being able to see past all the memories he would have had.  But, knowing that he also revisited Valley Forge, I believe Washington didn’t shy away from the hard places.  Perhaps that’s another thing that makes him great.







Morning time

We decided to run over to Colonial Williamsburg to take the walking tour with Thomas Jefferson today (7/13/16).  When we went by the Lombard House to get tickets, we discovered the tour was full. We were bitterly disappointed, but decided to stay and see if we could just tag along.  I’m glad we did!

Making candles

While we were waiting to sneak in on the tour, we visited the candle makers, which was fascinating.  With an additional paid ticket, kids can make their own hand dipped candles.  But, just listening to the candle maker taught me a great deal.  First, there were three types of candles colonists would make: tallow (animal fat), beeswax, or bayberry. Additionally, whale oil lamps were used which burned 10-12 hours compared to 4 hours for the others. Candles were dipped with around 50 wicks per bracket. So, a candle maker could make 400 candles in about 3 hours. Molded or gauged molded only allowed about 28 at a time. Unlike today, they didn’t use dyes or scents–candles were practical, not decorative.


Our next stop was to the shoemaker.  This is always one of my favorite shops.  Here we learned that a pair of shoes takes between 3 and 7 hours to make. Boots take about 40 hours. As far as fixing shoes goes, repairing shoes costs about 1/5 of the price of a new pair and is just not worth the cost of the shoemaker. For those trying to save a bit, the saddle maker might fix your shoes for you or you could try a cobbler. But, a shoemaker was a 7 year apprenticeship while a Cobbler had no training, which gave rise to the expression “Cobbled together.” About half of the population just threw their shoes out when they wore out.  Most people owned 6 or 7 pairs and bought about 4 a year. The most common shoe was made from beef leather, so there was a lot to use. Sole leather was taken from the back of an ox or steer. Inner soles were made from the shoulder. Leather was curried with fish oil. They also made shoes out of goat leather, but these were usually slippers because the leather stretches too much. Turned shoes were sown inside out and turned which made them much more flexible for dancing, and as the saying goes, “Virginians must dance or die.”  A finer shoe simply meant there were more stitches per inch. About Shakespeare’s time, shoe makers stopped making right and left shoes because heels came into fashion, but within about 20 minutes of wearing shoe, the leather will mold to your foot, making your own individually tailored left and right shoes.

Grazing sheep

After leaving the showmakers, we went over to pet the sheep for a bit, then headed down to see if we could join the Thomas Jefferson tour.  Though they do collect tickets, the tour is entirely outside, so if you’re willing to stay on the fringes, you can share the experience.  Ticketed or no, this tour is a gold mine, and one I highly recommend.  So, I went on the tour while mom and Corban hunted for shells to take back to the family.

Bill Barker as Thomas Jefferson

Bill Barker has presented Thomas Jefferson for 32 years! (Check out his site here:)  He is as close as anyone can come to the real man with a knowledge of Thomas Jefferson that is unparalleled.  He began the tour with some information about Jefferson’s plantation, sharing that it took 2,000 yards of material to clothe his slaves.  When you consider that Cotton takes about 40 hours for seed removal and 60 hours to finish processing it to produce one pound of cotton which made 1 yard of fabric, the time commitment is huge!

Jefferson (as I will hereafter refer to Bill) shared often that Williamsburg was considered the capital of good manners–a key component of education. Though one of ten children, Thomas was given the privilege of an education.  Despite having three younger brothers, he himself was the oldest son who inherited the property. Yet, he often said the greatest legacy his father gave him–despite his inheritance of 700 acres and over 100 slaves–was education.

“Manners make the man”

Jefferson’s dad died at 49 when Thomas was just 14, which I’m sure affected him. He had initially been sent to James Murray Academy and later enrolled in The College of William and Mary (The first law school in America.)  While there, he worked with Dr. Small whom he said had gentlemanly manners.  Dr. Small said each student was a new mind. He realized that the educated mind always remained open to new ideas. Like Socretes, who believed “The unexamined life is not worth living,” Small would teach with questions.  He encouraged his students to “Go out and improve society because you are educated.” Small seems to have been a quite remarkable man who pushed for universal education while having the happy talent of teaching with humor.  Jefferson stated, “It was perhaps Dr. Small who more than anyone else shaped my destiny.”  Quite the compliment!

The men who shaped America

Jefferson’s journey continued under the tutelage of Mr. Wythe, who helped to form Thomas’s idea of how one should behave.  “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.”  Jefferson studied law for 3 years with Mr. Wythe, who only took one student at a time!   Other notable students of Mr. Wythe’s include John Marshall (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) and Henry Clay (The “Great Compromiser” who was considered a role model by Abraham Lincoln.)   Wythe’s manner of teaching law returned to Roman law under the Justinian Code stressing the principle that All men are born free–a lesson that clearly impacted Jefferson enough to put the concept in the Declaration of Independence. Initially, Roman slaves were voluntary apprenticeships to learn trades. Scribes and monks transcribed laws, but these laws were considered living and breathing with reasoning as the foundation of law. This helped set the model for our Constitution which gives the law of the land, but which may also be changed through amendment, giving rise to the idea that “Good manners dictate resolution and compromise.”

Other major influences on Jefferson include his mother’s uncle (mother’s father’s brother.)  Jefferson’s great grand parents had settled at Turkey Island. They modeled that it’s not aristocracy but meritocracy that matters. William and Mary Randolph were considered the Adam and Eve of Virginia. Their son Sir John Randolph was the only man the colonies to have been knighted. His son John II (who was his second son) inherited the title Attorney General. Payton Randolph, the first son of John Sr., became the president of the Continental Congress. Though both influential, John and Payton couldn’t have been more opposite, especially regarding the American Revolution.  Payton Randolph (considered an icon of fairness who listened to all sides) was strongly in favor of the new nation and, when he died, had the largest funeral until Ben Franklin’s. John, however, was a loyalist who returned to England where he later died. In an interesting twist, John’s son Edmund Randolph became first Attorney General in Washington’s cabinet.  Jefferson often said he learned how to act by following the example of these incredible men.

The Raleigh Tavern

He then launched into a discussion of the Declaration of Independence.  This incredible document was first printed on the printing press here in Williamsburg. It was read three times on July 26 from Raleigh Tavern.  One of the events leading to the need for this document was that Governor Nicholson disbanded assembly because they requested a day of fasting and prayer on June 1 over the closing of Boston port. (Of course, if you were fasting and praying, no work could be done, but still…)  It was the governor’s custom to declare religious observances, so he felt the assembly overstepped their bounds.  The Colonists, however, called for a Congress to be held in Philadelphia. Philadelphia had been proven progressive by offering the first free public school and the first free society for slaves. Jefferson was invited and wanted to attend but got sick. In his stead, he sent a printed document on law and called for abolition of slaves, but first called for a lack of importation. Though Jefferson was not at the First Continental Congress, he gained a lot of attention as an author because of his pamphlet.  I’m certain this reputation is part of what led to the choice to ask him to draft the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson did attend the Second Continental Congress, but in reality, his involvement in politics goes back much earlier to his time in Williamsburg. As a boy, Jefferson had attended Raleigh Tavern with his dad. Another fun fact is that in card game, his dad won 1,000 acres in Goochland County. The deed of land states it was traded for one bowl of Arrack punch. One of mountains on that land Jefferson went on to inherit is Monticello, meaning “Little Mountain” in Italian.


Monticello itself played a dramatic role in our nation’s history.  Williamsburg was made the capital in 1699. Though the Capital building was burned in 1740, the records were saved and afterwards moved to a public records building. To protect against fire, they made the walls double thick and designed them to be burn proof. When they moved the capital to Richmond in 1780, Jefferson oversaw the moving of historic documents. However, when the war broke out, Jefferson moved the public records to Monticello, thinking no one would ever look for them there. Later in the war, Tarleton was sent to capture Jefferson. (If you don’t remember Banastre Tarleton, he’s the villain in The Patriot.  The movie portrayed him fairly accurately–He killed men who surrendered and was nicknamed “The Butcher” for his brutality.)  To have him coming after Jefferson was not good!  Thankfully, a boy warned him, and Jefferson buried the documents under the floorboards at Monticello. Jefferson himself fled.  His servant Martin Hennings was asked to give Tarleton information. He said that everything of value had already been taken from the house. Tarleton burned the barns and tobacco fields but didn’t burn house. Later in France, Jefferson met him and asked why he had spared the house. He said it was because of the civility with which the Americans treated the Hessian prisoners of war. Because of good manners, that cardinal value of Jefferson, his house was spared as were the documents.

The “Special” shells

When asked about Jefferson’s impact on laws, he referred to the printed body of Virginia Law  Jefferson drafted with William Hennings. It introduced 126 revisals, especially to the penal code. He made it so part of the punishment was that criminals had to serve time in the penitentiary (designed to make a person penitent or sorry for their crime.)  He also helped end the importation of slavery in 1783. Another step against slavery was allowing that a slave who showed meritorious service could be freed (1785). There was, however, a $25 bond placed on slave to be freed before law. He also drafted the Religious Freedom Bill as well.  Free education, though Jefferson’s idea, did not occur until 30 years after his death.  One thing I especially appreciated is that Jefferson deemed History the most important course according to the bill. So why didn’t Jefferson free his slaves?  Initially, he was in France  when the bill came out.  Then, he was in debt so  he couldn’t.  Still, he did a great deal towards equality and preserving our freedom.

All in all, it was an incredible tour.  I returned to find mom and Corban, who had acquired a great number of shells, and we headed home to pack.  All in all, it was an incredible experience!

John Smith and “John Smith”

After church yesterday (7/10/16) we decided to check out the sites at Historic Jamestowne. It’s always fun to see the progress they’ve made on the digs and continue to examine the artifacts they find.  It is, however, different traveling with a six year old instead of older kids.  For him, the joy was seeing turtles and tadpoles in the shrinking water under the bridge or just being able to wear his John Smith costume and see him and Pocahontas (a movie that he loves, despite its glaring historic inaccuracies–at least they made the Susan Constant look right.  If you’re wondering, “What glaring inaccuracies?” John Smith was actually about 40 and Pocahontas roughly 11–they weren’t romantically involved.)  Corban also enjoyed a scavenger hunt in the museum, but we didn’t stay a long time.

img_5005Today (7/11/16), we headed into Virginia Beach to give Corban a look at the Atlantic Ocean.  We drove to the end of Atlantic street where there’s easy, free parking right on the beach front.  Definitely one I’d recommend.  You take 264 to where it turns into 21st street, then go right on Atlantic.  It’s a tricky parking lot to get to, but if you stay to the right around 4th street (Keep on Atlantic), you’ll loop around to 2nd street where you can park.  It’s the Grommet Island park–right on the beach with a huge kids play place.  We literally unloaded our stuff in a sled on the bank (much better for pulling than anything with wheels), and walked about 50 yards to the water.

While there were surfers on the edges, it wasn’t too crowded, and the life guards kept everything in order (complete with Baywatch red suits and red rescue flotation devices.)  Other than losing one of my shoes to the ocean, it was a lovely day.


Model and sculpture

We decided to start the day (6/29/16) at the Crazy Horse monument, then head out to Custer’s State Park.  The vision Korczak  Ziolkowski had for this area is an incredible one.  The entrance fee of $28.00 for a carload may seem steep, but when you consider that all the work on the project is paid for out of the proceeds of the admission, gift shop, and private donations (with No Government Support), it’s an investment worth making.

We started at the museum with the movie, which gives insight into this remarkable family. The Ziolkowskis and their ten children have truly made this sculpture a life calling.  It was fascinating to me that Korczak didn’t really know many Native Americans before beginning this project, and yet honoring, preserving, and enhancing the Native American experience has become a driving force for not just Korczak, but also his children.

Korczak’s portrait

After the movie, we took a tour of the museum given by one of the students of the Native American summer program. The first place he took us was to the portrait of Korczak his friend Dean Nauman painted. Korczak himself made the frame. He asked for them to put only half of it up initially and put the other half up when the mountain is finished.  The estimated finished date is unknown

Crazy Horse’s gun and saddle

One thing I especially enjoyed on the tour was the sections of artifacts from Crazy Horse. We were told a bit of Crazy Horse’s life which I was not aware of.  First, he went on a vision quest at 14 instead of the usual 16.  While on his vision quest, he saw a horse and a red hawk. When he became a warrior, he always wore a red hawk feather to commemorate this event. He also took over his father’s name Crazy Horse. As a warrior, he became a shirt wearer (police officer)–another testament to his ability as a warrior.

Horse armor with 24,960 beads

One interesting story was that Crazy Horse tried to run away with a married woman. Her husband caught them and shot him in the shoulder (which I’m betting is not where he was aiming.)  Because of this attempted affair, Crazy Horse was ostracized by his tribe and sort of separated from them.  Thankfully for him, he became famous as a warrior in his own right. In one skirmish, he drew 86 soldiers into an ambush.  He also fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn. Because he had repeating rifle, he was able to beat the military who was still using single shot.  Eventually, however, he was captured, tried to escape, and was stabbed in the back.


Bedroom in the Cabin

Another interesting part of the museum is the information about the sculptor himself.  I was fascinated to find out that Korczak actually worked on Mount Rushmore, but had been fired when Borglum discovered he was learning techniques to do his own monument.   He also served in the war.  When he came back, he built his cabin to work on the mountain.  He had met his second wife while he was carving in Connecticut.  She had actually met him at 13, but they became better acquainted when she worked with a group of artists who helped him on a sculpture.  The cabin he built them is still used by their daughter.

Horse and Old Pagan sculptures

Another thing that was especially interesting was how incredible of a carver Korczak really was.  Looking around both the cabin and the studio, one can’t help but be impressed with his ability.  My favorites were the horse he carved in just 9 days.  Next to that is a sculpture entitled Old Pagan.  This man was carved when Korczak was 21 out of wood taken from Boston Harbor. Pagan was a carpenter and sailor who had memorized most of Shakespeare. The carving shows him reciting King Lear.  Next to that is a woodcarving from Oberammergau carved by a man who was the cousin of the famous actor Anton Lang who played Christus in the Passion Play.   Since it’s my goal to go to the Oberammergau Passion Play, this was also an incredible connection.  Among the other amazing antiques were pieces of furniture and items that were a gift from the late King Farouk of Egypt.  He had replicas made of items found in King Tut’s tomb. I would have loved more time to browse all the amazing things around the room, but the tour continued.

Sculptors’ studio of Korczak and Monique

Our next stop was the Sculptor’s Studio. Here we heard about Korczak’s early life. He was orphaned at one and was raised by an Irish prize fighter (Though I heard somewhere that he was placed in a series of foster homes.). He moved out at a fairly young age (16), so he basically raised himself. He even created his own name by taking his mother’s last name as first name and father’s last name as his last name. The pieces pictured in this area are both Korczak’s and his daughter Monique’s who has definitely inherited her father’s talent and is currently supervising work on the mountain.

One fun fact our guide told us was that Korczak carved his sculpture of Wild Bill Hickok out of rock blasted from the mountain.  As he was carving, he found three pieces of gold in the area for the chin!


Eager Donkeys

Since we were trying to beat the storm to Custer State Park, we left after browsing through the wares of a variety of Native American artisans.  Custer State Park is a vast landscape, and we hoped to see animals on the wildlife loop.  Our fist animal sighting was a pair of turkeys complete with babies.
We continued the baby theme when we came across the donkeys.  These donkeys were definitely not shy, and they were even sticking their heads in the windows of passing cars–largely, I’m sure, because people kept feeding them.  They created a nice traffic jam trying to get food, which I’m sure the park discouraged.


After the donkeys, we went looking for bison, which we really wanted to show my niece. But, they were very elusive.  In fact, on the main trail, we only found one.  Driving down the gravel road, we found a small herd, but they were too far away for good pictures.  We were blessed to see a few antelope and deer before the storm set in.


The View from the Top

We concluded our day taking the winding road back.  The rain lifted, and the views were incredible.  Whether it was viewing Mount Rushmore through a tunnel or the hairpin turns of “the pig tails” where the road literally curves back on itself, we loved the beauty of the landscape. But, alas, it was time to head back and get packed.  Next stop:  Williamsburg, Virginia!



Posing Prairie dog

We left De Smet early this morning (6/28/16) headed for Keystone.  It’s about a five hour drive, but we wanted my niece Anna to see this beautiful landmark.

We decided to go by way of the Badlands to give another amazing experience. If you’ve never been, the beauty of this National Park is overwhelming.  After driving five hours over relatively flat lands with prairie grasses and fields currently packed with hay bales, stumbling upon the varied colors and structures of the Badlands is a contrast like no other.  I can’t imagine how those first pioneers reacted upon seeing it.

Approaching the Badlands, we opted to stop at the prairie dog store (before the official Prairie dog town.) I think Prairie dogs are such fascinating creatures!  Since we had already been to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead, we didn’t feel the need to pay for the Prairie dog town to see a soddie. At the Prairie Dog Store, we got to see prairie dogs for free.  These were so used to people, they’ll let you get right up next to them.  We even got two to take peanuts from our hands. (You can purchase peanuts from the store–you’re asked not to give them other food.)

The yellow Badlands

Having satisfied my desire to see prairie dogs, we went to the badlands.  This amazing landscape is so peaceful. We stopped a few places to climb, but many places, we simply sat and listened to the sound of the vast emptiness, broken only by the hum of passing engines and prairie grasses rustling in the wind.  Truly amazing. My favorite area was the yellow rocks.  There’s also a great number of overlooks for hiking, climbing, or simply sitting to absorb the beauty.

Mount Rushmore at night

But, we were trying to get to Keystone before the rain, so we didn’t spend as long as we could have. We made it to Keystone, settled in, grabbed dinner, and headed to Rushmore.

We wanted to be there for the lighting ceremony, and it truly was an incredible time. At 9:00, there is an evening program consisting of a ranger sharing, a video about the park, and the lighting ceremony.   At the conclusion of the program, the ranger invited all military personnel (active and retired) to come to the stage to be honored.

Military personnel in attendance

They also were able to participate in the flag lowering ceremony. I was amazed that in a crowd of about 2,000, there were so many military personnel.  I know there were even more who didn’t navigate the stairs (the man by us for example.)  Despite the fact that the crowd contained people from all over the world (I met a family from Poland, there were other foreigners we encountered, including the Thai man who served us ice cream), still when the service men and women shared their names and ranks to be honored, you could hear a pin drop.  2,000+ people completely silent to honor these heroes.  It made me wonder what those from other countries thought in that moment.  Then, we stood to sing the national anthem. Truly a breathtaking time!



Rainy Day at Cade’s Cove

It was supposed to be a rainy day today (12/23/15)–and all week, actually–so we decided to take our chances and head into Cade’s Cove.  We love Cade’s Cove for all the beauty of the scenery, but also for all the wildlife we are able to see.  It is truly a beautiful drive.  Since we knew Hannah hadn’t been when she was in Gatlinburg last, and we knew how much she enjoys nature, we were looking forward to sharing the beauty with her.



Thankfully, the rain held off, and we were able to hike around the trails and see some of the wildlife.  We encountered deer in several places and even some wild turkeys.  We especially kept our eyes open for bear.  Though we did not see one in person, a family we met at the visitor center had seen (and recorded, so we got to see pictures and videos!) a tiny bear cub.  He actually crossed the road in front of them!  They stayed with him for a while, once they noticed he had no mama, and later informed the park crew that he was there.  Because he was so small, they had guessed he was either abandoned as a runt or his mother had died.  Though we did not see him ourselves, it was neat to know that some visitors to the area had, so we will continue to hope the next time we come back.


The Sink


We finished up our time in the park with a visit to the sink.  This beautiful area was formed when earlier settlers dynamited a log jam.  It has experienced tourists since the 1800’s.  It’s breathtakingly beautiful with an incredible combination of strength and beauty.  Just an amazing place to experience!

On our way home, we decided to stop in several shops along the way.  There’s a phenomenal country store that allows visitors samples of everything from fudge to honey and pickled okra to barbecue sauce.  They easily have 100 samples, and it’s an incredible way to experience a variety of flavors and types of food all in one place. You can check out the virtual tour of the Moonshine Country Store at

The workshop at The Front Porch Carvers

After the country store, we checked out our favorite wood carver, The Front Porch Carvers (now on Etsy!). We’ve stopped every time we’ve been in Gatlinburg.  Today, we got to speak to the owner and hear a little of his amazing life story from being all over the world in the Air Force (including in Berlin when the wall came down) to driving trucks, to real estate, to wood carving.  I love to hear people’s stories.  Michael shared both his story and his workshop.

When we got home, we prepared to go to the Dixie Stampede.  When we arrived, we first went to pre-show entertainment, which we really didn’t get to enjoy as the two tables next to us had several foreign families with both parents and kids who talked loudly through the whole show.  We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t know proper American conduct during performances.

Live Nativity

The actual show was an incredible experience.  The food was delicious, and the entertainment boasted a great variety of singing, dancing, trick riding, and other fun competitions.  It often involved members of the audience!  There were magic tricks, pig races, barrel races, wagon races–even miniature ponies.  The trick riding was incredible.  I also loved that they got the audience involved by dubbing you either the North or the South (at Christmastime, it’s the North and South Pole, but as the stalls in the bathrooms are labelled Northerners Only and Southerners Only, I’m guessing it’s a competition year round.)

The North (Green) vs. the South (Red)

The North (Green) vs. the South (Red)

Throughout the various competitions, we cheered our side on, whether it was things the rider controlled like barrel racing or things they didn’t like little kids chasing chickens.  I’m pleased to say that our side–of course, the South–Won!  All in all, we had a great time and were able to share a bit of the Wild West with Hannah.



The Finished Product

Since mom had the car to check out the Wyndham Resorts (and earn our free tickets to the Dixie Stampede),  Hannah and I were left to our own resources for the morning (12/22/15).

We decided to have a girls’ dream morning.  Because I usually curl my hair, Hannah had wanted to try curling hers to see what it looked like.  So, in between getting set up to bake, we put her hair in hot rollers and gave her beautiful ringlet curls, which she loved.


Cataract Falls

We then set about baking chocolate chip cookies.  I am famous on a small scale for my chocolate chip cookies.  In reality, they’re simply the Nestle Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe on the back of the package, except I use butter flavored Crisco instead of butter, and I take then out right when they stop getting shiny, so they’re still soft and gooey.

If you’ve ever made cookies, you know after the initial preparation, it is a lot of waiting.  Since Hannah knows the tunes of the Christmas carols and can even hum along but doesn’t know the lyrics, I decided to write some out for her.  I’d really never considered how difficult some of these are to explain to those who don’t have English as a first language.  Things like :  Don we now our gay apparel (we put on our happy clothes?!?) or Troll the ancient yuletide carol (Sing the old Christmas songs)–so many words no one uses EVER–outside of Christmas carols. Sometimes it was hard, but we had a good time, regardless, and Hannah loves to learn!

Whose Secret Picnic?

When mom got back,  and it was no longer raining, we decided to head to the Sugarlands Visitor Center to hike down to one of the falls.  Since Hannah has a forestry degree in China, it was especially interesting to walk around with her and look at the various plant life labelled by the park service.  We ended our hike at Cataract Falls, a beautiful spot nestled about 3/4 mile from the Visitor Center or right down the road from the Park Headquarters.  When we arrived at the falls, we noticed a picnic blanket and a bright red basket in the woods.  We are too curious to not investigate, so we walked over to find out what it was.  It contained a bottle of wine or sparkling cider in a bucket–we weren’t sure what else it contained, since we did opt not to open it and see, but we all agreed it was very interesting that someone set everything up (for a proposal, maybe?) and left it unguarded in an area where we passed at least 20 people in the half hour or so that we were out.  It was, however, fun to speculate.

Finally, we headed home to do our own nestling with tea, popcorn, and Anne of Green Gables.  Truly a lovely day!




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