Category Archives: Adventures

The Inimitable Biltmore Estate

At 178,926 square feet, the Biltmore—the Vanderbilt family’s 8,000 acre estate— ranks as America’s largest privately owned home, and I’ve wanted to visit for about 50 years, particularly after hearing the rumor that we’re related by marriage to the Vanderbilts (many cousins-removed ago). In the early 2000’s (at the height of our family’s musical ministry), I was negotiating with the Biltmore to sing gospel music there one Sunday afternoon           (which they still do, by the way),  although one of my closest friends ended up planning her wedding for that same weekend, and being in the wedding preempted everything else! Nevertheless, the mystique of America’s grandest estate nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains hovered like mist in the back of my mind, and last May, after visiting many of the gorgeous châteaux along the Loire River in France, several of which were the French Renaissance inspirations for the Biltmore,    such as  Château de Blois,        Château de Chenonceau,         and Château de Chambord,         I realized that a trip to the Biltmore was still on my unconscious bucket list. So, when we attended a conference this May just 15 miles from the Biltmore, you can imagine my excitement to see this romantic tribute  to America’s Gilded Age!  Yesterday I shared photos from the gardens (in conjunction with thoughts for pondering how to overcome your past and fulfill your potential),  but today I want to share a few photos from the inside of this grand home,  which would have made a worthy location for Downton Abbey! The Biltmore Estate has 250 rooms,  including 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces,  a dining room table that can seat up to 64 guests,   and many novelties for the 19th century,  such as  a 70,000-gallon heated indoor swimming pool  and one of the nation’s first bowling alleys to be installed in a private residence. Only half of George Vanderbilt’s collection of 22,000 books can fit in his library, and while we were visiting, their was a special exhibition of costumes  and information related to movies that have been made  from some of the many first-edition classic books owned by the Vanderbilts. The Vanderbilt family still live in and operate their estate,  but unlike many European grand estates and palaces, the Vanderbilts allow visitors to take photographs of all the home’s treasures,  including many beautifully preserves tapestries  and gorgeous paintings.  On a sunny day, like the day we visited,  one could easily spend their entire day touring the home,  enjoying lunch at one of their stable-turned restaurant venues,  and exploring their vast gardens.  Although we loved visiting, Alan and I both left thinking
how happy we are to live in our snug little “Tanglewood Cottage.”  I’m not even sure “I want a mansion, just over the hilltop.” Do you?  Actually, I don’t care where I live, just as long as it’s with Jesus!

Jesus said, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

“Mansion Over The Hilltop”

“I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined.

Don’t think me poor or deserted or lonely
I’m not discouraged I’m heaven bound.
I’m but a pilgrim in search of the city
I want a mansion, a harp and a crown.

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we will never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold.” (Ira Stanphill)

(All photos, except the four related to our trip to France last May, were taken this May on our visit the the Biltmore Estate, near Ashville, North Carolina.)

What Happens After We Die?

Tomorrow morning I will be sitting with a lifelong friend while her husband undergoes surgery for cancer. Hopefully, the surgeons will be able to remove the cancer, and thankfully, her husband is not afraid of death. Tom is a man of great faith who knows that he will go to be with Jesus whenever he dies (and we hope that’s not for many years yet!), but I think his peace and confidence are exceptional, not the rule for people. Do you ever wonder what will happen when you die? A friend sent me the following devotional thought, and I wanted to share it with you this morning, just in case you are facing or fearing death.

~DEATH~
WHAT A WONDERFUL WAY TO EXPLAIN IT .. .

A sick man turned to his doctor as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, “Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side.”

Very quietly, the doctor said, “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?  You’re a Christian, and yet you don’t know what’s on the other side?”

The doctor was holding the handle of the door; on the other side came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room, leaping on him with an eager show of gladness. Turning to the patient, the doctor said, “Did you notice my dog? He didn’t really know what was in this room, but he knew that his master was here, so when the door opened,  he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing…I know my Master is there, and that is enough.” Jesus taught us: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29).No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:13-17, ESV)


Hiakus and Photos: Shopping in South Korea

“Love is the poetry of the senses.”  ~Honoré de Balzac

On Busy Public Transport in Asia   To go by subway    Train or bus is cheaper, but  You might have to stand!

 

On Shopping in South Korea  Second Market stalls  Filled with exotic wares, but   They all seem so strange!

 

On the popularity of Octopus Golden-haired children  Would you like some pie? We have  Lots of octopi!

On Trying to Buy Gifts  Shopping for presents…  Where shall we go?  We cannot   Read a single sign!

It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.  How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:2-4, ESV. God’s miracles and signs are everywhere. Can you read them?)

Riding Up the Na Pali Coast on a Blue Dolphin

kathi-on-south-coast-of-kauai-blue-dolphin-boat-toursWhat? You don’t think this is a blue dolphin? blue-dolphin-charter-ii-in-eleele-kauaiWell, truly it is: “The Blue Dolphin II” Charter catamaran! gorgeous-and-rugged-napali-coast And, here is Na Pali’s unbelievably romantic, misty coast! grand-hyatt-kauai-hawaiiThe Hawaiian Islands are the closest thing I’ve experienced
to “paradise on earth” (as far as visual beauty, comfort, and climate),valley-on-na-pali-coastand one of their most gorgeous islands is Kauai, “The Garden Island.” mists-along-na-pali-coastWithin Kauai lies the unique, ethereal Na Pali Coast, which is so rugged that no “Heavenly Hana Highway” can circumnavigate; it can only be accessed by boat! sail-in-the-sun-blue-dolphin-charters-kauaiLast week I tried to talk Alan into taking a ride with me, but he was afraid he’d get seasick in the 8-15′ waves, although he graciously encouraged me to go. na-pali-coast-kauaiIt was fabulous! waterfall-cascading-down-napali-coast-hawaiiNot only did we see incredibly beautiful scenery for hours, lucky-lady-catamaran-on-south-coast-of-kauaiwe stopped for a while scuba-divers-on-blue-dolphin-charter-cruise to go scuba diving snorkling-on-blue-dolphin-boat-toursswimming, or snorkeling along a remote reef area. fish-chasing-pretzels-off-south-shore-of-kauaiThis pristine swimming hole was teeming with colorful fish.sea-turtle-on-napali-coastThere was also a sea turtle swimming on the port side (left), a-pod-of-dolphins-in-hawaii and a pod of dolphins came to check us out on the starboard (right) side. fish-and-eels-underwater-na-pali-coast-kauaiTalk about fun!
na-pali-coast-inthe-distanceAfter this refreshing interlude, they served us breakfast,
and then we headed up the coast to see “the magic.” napali-coast-kauai-dragons-teethKauai and the Na Pali Coast are so idyllic
that they’ve been the used for filming many movies over the years: closeup-of-jagged-mountains-behind-beach-on-napali-coast-hawaiiPagan Love Song (starring Esther Williams back in 1950), waves-rolling-onto-sandy-beach-napali-coast-kauaiSouth Pacific (1958), Blue Hawaii (1961),valley-between-mountains-along-napali-coast-kauai Jurassic Park (1993), Outbreak (1995), set-for-famous-movies-along-napali-coast-hawaii and Pirates of the Caribbean 4 (2011). mist-on-the-mountains-na-pali-coast-kauaiAt high noon, we took a break from all the beauty lunch-on-blue-dophin-charter-catamaranand enjoyed a lunch of sandwiches made from fresh bakery bread
and deli meats, salads, drinks, and cookies. hidden-entry-to-valley-along-napali-coast-pirates-of-the-caribbeanAnd, because this post is getting so long, I’ll stop here for today, humpback-whale-starts-to-dive-napali-coast-kauaibut next week I hope to share the rest of my adventure, including a whale tale! sunshine-and-waterfall-along-kauais-na-pali-coastMeanwhile, wouldn’t you like to be able to live in paradise someday?  two-waterfalls-napali-coast-kauaiHe that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches;
To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life,
which is in the midst of the paradise of God
” (
Revelation 2:7).

My Twenty-nine Hour Day

napali-coast-kauai           Do you ever wish you could have a few more hours in your day? sailboats-on-napali-coast          I’ve caught myself thinking: “If I just had a few more hours, I could…lazy-river-at-grand-hyatt-kauai-resort-and-spaget all my work done, find time to exercise, be more thoughtful, eat better, have time to relax and play some music,” etc!  view-of-napali-coast-from-kaialau-lookout-kauai  Well, let me tell you what actually happened on the day my wish was granted. rooster-in-kauai-one-of-hundredsIt was January 21, unseasonably warm with a heavy fog draped across our window panes. Joel had Alan and me to the airport on time to catch our flight to Chicago, but our flight was delayed…once, twice…the third time was the charm. aerial-view-of-holland-and-lake-michiganWe left 2.5 hours late after re-booking our flights out of Chicago to Los Angeles. chicago-ohare-airportWe arrived in Chicago’s O’Hare needing a shuttle bus to the C terminal and no time for the lunch we were looking forward to at Manchu Wok. In fact, the shuttle bus required a 15-minute wait, so we arrived at our gate with just enough time to grab a bag lunch from the venue next door to the gate: McDonald’s. aerial-view-of-chicago-and                                                Better than nothing, right?! aerial-view-of-rocky-mountainsThe flight to Los Angeles was breath-taking. I was thrilled to have a window seat even after the last minute flight switch, since my chief delight on flights is sitting with my nose pressed against the window watching the world glide by beneath me. I wasn’t thrilled to be separated from Alan, and I was downright unthrilled when I discovered that the lovely couple sitting next to me wanted me to pull down my window blind so the light wouldn’t bother them while they worked on cross word puzzles and read.sleeping-seat-matesNevertheless, they eventually drifted off to sleep, and I resumed my watch, rationalizing my uncharitable behavior with the thought that my body was blocking enough of the light so they never stirred from their happy slumbers. aerial-view-of-grand-canyonHowever, it was increasingly hard to relax as the hours passed and I realized we were going to arrive at Los Angeles’ LAX at about exactly the time we needed to start boarding for our flight to Hawaii. “DOOMED!” I think they say. aerial-view-of-los-angelesAs soon as we landed, Alan and I caught each other’s eye to make sure we were both registering the same level of panic and joined the snail trail of passengers who seemed to take longer than forever to relocate and unload their overhead luggage. Wide-eyed, we raced up the landing dock and couldn’t believe our fortune! We landed at Gate 74 and our new flight was departing from Gate 76, just next door! We heaved a huge sigh of relief and waltzed from arrival gate to departure gate with ease and only some slight discomfort from not being able to access a restroom before boarding. Not to worry! We’d have six hours and twenty minutes before landing…definitely enough time to catch up with john. aerial-view-of-sunset-over-the-pacific-oceanWe flew directly into the sunset, its pastel glories blocked by the wing, and soon it was pitch black. We read. We slept. I ate another burger and fries (all the Mediterranean wraps are gone? Hmm…not surprising…) and felt rather ill from a double dose of barf burgers for lunch and dinner. I tried to read some more but was too listless to concentrate. I tried to sleep some more but couldn’t. By the time we arrived, it was only 8:30 pm Hawaiian Standard Time, but it was 1:30 am by EST (aka/ Armstrong body clock time). So far, the extra 1.5 hours on our 24-hour day hadn’t garnered us anything but grogginess.  kauai-sunset-with-palm-treesAn exhilarating 45-mph wind whipped up by the time we reached Lihue, Kauai, and the descent and landing were attended with jostling and jolting unlike anything I’ve experienced since riding Hollywood Studio’s Tower of Terror.  We all braced ourselves for a crash landing…which switched to giddy applause after we touched down and catapulted safely to a screeching halt.  grand-hyatt-kauai-resort-and-spaThe rest was a bit of a blur, but we did make it to the right spot to catch the right bus to the right car rental to dig out the right car and find our way to the right resort to check in and find our way through an incredible maze of hallways to the right room (600+ of them sprawling like a six-story serpent along the oceanfront). By the time we unpacked enough to bathe and climb into bed, it was midnight Hawaii time. “Whew!” Alan sighed as he flipped out the light. “What we needed was a day with about five fewer hours.” I couldn’t help but laugh. I finally got more hours in my day, but if anything I’d been more grouchy, exercised less, ate less carefully, had not relaxed, and had been too listless to get everything on my “wish list” accomplished! So, note to self (and friends): Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it!

waimea-canyon-lookout-kauaiMake me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.
Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.
” (Psalm 119:35-37)sunset-over-grand-hyatt-kauai-seawater-lagoon(All photos taken last week on a trip to Mayo Clinic’s Medical Update in Kauai.)

Unsullied Sully: The Miracle on the Hudson

sully-front-coverOne of my favorite movies from 2016 is a thrilling biographical drama about American pilot Chesley Sullenberger, “Sully.” Sully was a 57-year-old fighter-pilot-image-from-sully-movieformer fighter pilot, glider pilot, and expert on aviation safety as well as the U.S. Airways pilot assigned to Flight 1549 on the morning of January 15, 2009. sully-and-jeffry-skiles-in-movie-sullySully and copilot Jeffry Skiles were commissioned to fly from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina with 150 passengers on board.airway-flight-leaving-laguardia-sully Just three minutes after takeoff, their Airbus A320 collided with a flock of geese and lost all engine power. air-traffic-control-officers-in-sullyAlthough some air tower control officers thought Sully
might be able to reach an airport, hudson-river-sullySully (who had logged 19,633 total flight hours) believed his only hope
was to land his craft in the icy waters of the Hudson River, preparing-for-crash-landing-sullywhich had never been accomplished successfully before. sully-passengers-preparing-for-crash-landingAlthough this event became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson” ditching-airplane-on-hudson-riverand was described as “the most successful ditching in aviation history,” ditching-aircraft-on-hudson-river-sullythe incident was carefully scrutinized and debated in court. ferrry-to-the-rescue-sullyI don’t want to ruin the suspense if you haven’t already read all about it passengers-on-wings-of-airbus-320-after-crash-landing-on-hudson-river-sullyor remember the incident when it occurred, but even if you have,rescuing-passengers-sully I still think the movie is very inspiring…waiting-on-the-wings-for-help-sullyto see the way people worked together to survive,emergency-helicopter-crew-to-rescue-sully and the bravery, valor, and courage of the many officers and citizens aquatic-rescue-helicopter-jump-sullywho were involved in the rescue. chesley-schIf you want to be inspired to live an unsullied life of integrity and heroism
…this is for you!

The integrity of the upright shall guide them” (Proverbs 11:3).interviewing-survivor-on-sullyHe [God] delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth
” (Daniel 6:27, ESV).

Reflections On The Devil’s Pool: Did The Devil Make Me Do It?

victoria-falls-from-zimbabwe-national-parkAs one who taught life saving and served as a water safety instructor for ten years,  and as one who swims around our little lake most days during the summers, I thought we’d do okay at the Devil’s Pool. team-on-livingstone-island-preparing-for-devils-poolAlan wasn’t going to go at all, but he did sign up at the last minute—mostly in hopes of keeping me from drowning, I think. We did survive, but after thinking it over, I personally feel that the adrenaline rush and excitement wasn’t worth the risk to life, limb, and health. Here are my reasons:

view-of-hippos-on-zambezi-river-from-royal-livingstone-hotel-zambia1. We had to swim in the Zambezi River,
where I’d seen hippos and crocodiles upstream.warning-about-the-danger-of-the-devils-pool-zambia2. Even though there had been a twenty-year drought and we visited just before the rainy season began, there were all kinds of safety issues. zambezi-river-on-way-to-devils-pool-victoria-falls3. There was a definite current to negotiate. rocky-path-to-the-devils-pool-victoria-falls4. We had to walk on somewhat slippery rocks to reach the river. starting-across-the-zambezi-river-to-livingstone-island5. We had to feel our way over slippery rocks under the water
for part of the time. swimming-to-the-devils-pool-victoria-falls6. We also had to swim upstream (up river) for a short distance.sitting-atop-victoria-falls-zambia 7. Logs or other debris could have hit us at any time. basking-in-the-devils-pool8. Fish nibbled at our feet and made us all jumpy. current-in-the-devils-pool-zambia9. One false move could have sent one of us over the edge. top-of-victoria-falls-at-the-devils-pool10. The rock ledge, though sturdy, will doubtless one day give way. devils-poo-victoria-fallsMay it not happen when anybody’s nearby!
(That was the #1 reason our tour guide didn’t want to try it.)

basking-in-the-devils-pool-victoria-falls11. Last, but perhaps most importantly (and I didn’t know this until we were having dinner  a week ago with some friends who do medical mission work in Africa), the Zambezi River is known to have a strain of parasitic Schistosomiasis which is a common in Sub-saharan Africa and can be lethal if not treated. There are some 200 million people affected world wide, half of whom live in Africa. Since learning this, I’ve made an appointment with my doctor for testing.  So, to answer my question: Did the Devil Make Me Do It? No. I chose to do it. Was it a wise choice? I don’t think so. Would I do it again? No. Did I pray about it? Yes. Why didn’t God tell me not to go? I’m not sure. I think sometimes God allows us to do things that aren’t wise, just like a parent allows his child to do things that the parent knows are risky. I do believe in God’s divine will (which cannot be altered) and His permissive will (which allows us freedom of choice). I prayed and didn’t get a clear “No,” so I went. And, as with all unwise decisions, there may be consequences I didn’t consider when I made my choice. In future, I think I want a clear “Yes” before making decisions, not just a “You may!”

Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him” (Proverbs 26:12)