Category Archives: Adventures

Why I Loved our Cruise on the MSC Sinfonia

Believe it or not, cruising is not only exotic and amazing,  it’s sometimes one of the most economical ways to travel.  I became enamored with cruising about 20 years ago when I found a 10-day cruise of the French Polynesian Islands for $400 per person ($40 per day). Considering a cruise provides room, board, and transportation,  if you patiently watch for sales,  it can often compete favorably with other types of vacations.  For instance, once (just to prove my point), I spent less per day  on a Caribbean cruise than Alan spent planning a week vacation in Florida.  Recently, a friend seemed embarrassed to admit  that he was taking his wife on a cruise for their 25th anniversary,  I’m guessing because he assumed I’d think that was too extravagant.  But, the fact is, it you’re willing to get a sell-out deal for an inside cabin,  it’s very likely going to cost you less than flying wherever, renting a car,  staying in motels, and eating in restaurants.  Just sayin’…  With that intro, I want to tell you about the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) Sinfonia, which was our “home base” recently.  We were looking for a convenient way to spend a week with our kids
who live in Italy.  Their home is pretty much a 400-year-old palace,  but Alan has asthma, so he feared that the inevitable molds
(they have their own cave and their home is carved out of a mountainside)
added to pet dog and cat dander would be a recipe for hospitalization,
so we opted for sea breezes instead.  The MSC Sinfonia was the perfect ship!  It  has a great splash pad and swimming pools for kids,  a dedicated Lego Room  that could keep our kids occupied indefinitely,  a miniature golf course, shuffle board,  foosball, ping pong tables, a basketball court, and lots of fun activities.  I found a special where two adults could take two kids free,  so the four of us could take Mike and Grace’s four kids free!  Our grand daughters were truly ideal bunk mates  (not so sure about the two little boys,
who might have kept their parents up at times…).  Our waiters were incredibly good-natured and kept the fresh rolls, french fries and pasta bianca coming so the kids never got too hungry waiting for dinner.  Thankfully, the children are very industrious  and would spend a lot of time drawing and coloring  so the adults could enjoy  all the courses  of the (usually) 2-hour formal dinners each evening.  The ports were also gorgeous,  the weather perfect,  and the Adriatic Sea like glass.  In all, it was a pretty much ideal experience… or at least as smooth sailing as possible… with little ones.  So, if you’re looking for an easy way to maximize your bonding time  while minimizing your work time,  don’t totally discount cruising.  (One point of warning: We always watched the kids like hawks to make sure they didn’t fall off the ship from the 15th floor.) The railings are not kid safe! May I share a quick spiritual thought?  Sometimes we’re afraid to consider something because we think
it might be too spiritually expensive.  I’ve heard a lot of people say they don’t want to become a Christian
because it would be “too hard” or cost them too much. Really?  I believe that in reality, becoming a Christian is the most spiritually cost-effective way to attain the goal most people are after: Happiness, love, joy, and peace. Because we’re just human, nothing works flawlessly on this earth, but salvation through faith in Christ is the best “ship” to travel on
as far as I can tell, hands down!  If you haven’t looked into it yet, please do!

Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass” (Psalm 37:3-5).

(All photos, except the one of Tahiti, were taken a few weeks ago on our cruise of the Adriatic Sea via the MSC Sinfonia.)

Imerovigli (Ημεροβίγλι): Santorini’s Balcony of the Aegean

There are two communities in Santorini that are especially beautiful.  Today I want to share photos from Imerovigli (Ημεροβίγλι),which is also known as the Balcony to the Aegean, because the town sits high up on the cliffs  with perfect viewing of the sapphire waters and glowing sunsets of the Aegean. (We were back on the ship by evening, but even there the sunsets were lovely.) Imerovigli is also recognized world around because of the Church of Ai-Stratis, which has been loved, photographed, painted, (and even memorialized in a nursery mural) by various family members and friends!  Imerovigli only has 470 permanent inhabitants,  but their narrow streets are crammed with many thousands of visitors yearly!  Homes are built around the caldera amphitheatrically in the “Cycladic” style, typified by glistening white homes and blue-domed churches.  In the late 1800’s, wealthy ship captains built neo-classical mansions  into the sides of the cliffs,  and you can still see the succession of homes built above each other. The houses are painted with white lime wash so that the rainwater  which falls over them and runs down can be collected and used in their homes. Of course, they also paint their homes colorfully for aesthetic purposes.  I was amazed by how clean, new, and beautiful everything looked! Our guide explained that in 1956 there was a terrible earthquake  that just about destroyed everything on the island. Rebuilding has been a huge job, but what a beautiful community they have now! I would say they met their mountainous challenges and conquered them!While meandering through the byways of Imerovigli,  we noticed an irresistibly appealing book shop. The shop had words of wisdom written without and within. And, some words were even written on the bookshop:
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”  Have you met any new mountains lately?And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord‘s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it” (Isaiah 2:2).

Visiting Magnificent Santorini

The Greek Isles deserve their reputation for mythical beauty,  and of all the Greek Isles, I think Santorini is the most famous and splendid.  What I didn’t realize is it that Santorini is actually a group of  islands. It is a volcanic caldera
formed by one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions some 3,600 years ago.  The steep cliffs are nearly 1000 feet high  and the lagoon over 1,300 feet deep! The day we visited, it was a cloudless 80° with a soft wind blowing—a perfect (but typical) summer day!  Temperatures range from about 49-82°F year round,  and there’s nearly always a breeze blowing.  In fact, winds from 35-61 mph are not uncommon, so all their grape vineyards sprawl flat on the ground to keep from being destroyed by the winds! Our ship, the MSC Sinfonia, anchored in the lagoon,  and everyone had to “tender” (take a ferry from the ship) to Skala Port. There is a donkey trail  between Skala Port and Fira, the town built atop the cliff there,  but to save time, energy, and Alan’s allergic nose,  we zipped up on one of their efficient cable cars, which gave us breathtaking views of the area for miles around! Although it would have been pleasant to spend the day exploring Fira,  the most famous areas are Imerovigli and Oia, considerable drives from Fira, so we hired a very good-natured taxi driver
who was willing to stuff all eight of us into his van.  Per hour, this was by far the easiest and most cost-effective way  to tour a large group (especially with small children),  and our knowledgeable driver gave us phenomenal driving  and walking tours  of some of the island’s most picturesque places.

Well, I’ll have to share the rest of our adventures in Santorini tomorrow, because my time is up! At noon on Thursdays (EST), I join a prayer meeting at the Aqueduct Prayer Center. If you ever want to join us, here’s the link:

https://aqueductproject.org/prayer-center/

(then click where it says to click for the “live video conference call”). Anywhere in the world there’s internet, there’s potential for a prayer meeting together! Let me know if you want to join!

Meanwhile, I just finished praying with Catherine through Psalm 92, and I want to share two verses of that beautiful psalm with you as today’s benediction: “For thou, LORD, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands. O LORD, how great are thy works!  and thy thoughts are very deep” (Psalm 92:4-5). Remembering the beauty of Santorini makes me very glad, and I know His thoughts are deeper than the deepest harbor!

A Blissful Day in Dubrovnik

Until my son Joel had a housemate from Dubrovnik a few years ago,  I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never even heard of it.  It is an amazingly beautiful seaport along the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia,  and as it turned out, this was both Alan and my favorite day of the cruise,  which is why I’m telling you about it first instead of last!  Although it only has a population of about 43,000,  Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site  and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Mediterranean Sea. After visiting…I totally agree with the world of tourists! 🙂 It took us about a half an hour on a bus to get from the ship  to the center of the Old City,  and it was such a gloriously balmy day  that by then it was time for our daily gelato break.  (Italian gelatos make American ice cream look a little lack luster.)  Thus fortified, the kiddos were brave adventurers…with one caveat.

As an FYI if you travel there: Stop at the ATM before leaving the town square for some Croatian kuna (about 7 to 1 on the American dollar). Our toilet attendant would not accept Euros and expected payment per person to use the W.C. (water closet), so be advised! A kindly Englishman took pity on our crew, bless him!

So, happily reconstituted, we were all ready for a big day of exploring. Just a few blocks up the road from the fortress is a gorgeous maze of old streets, and beautiful buildings. The streets are lined with shops, musicians, and street vendors selling their wares. Old City Dubrovnik is clean and beautiful… even the pavement shone like glass!  Like all world-class cities,  the streets were also lined with beautiful flowers and appealing outdoor cafes. In the heat of the day, we decided it was time to find the beach. Banje Beach is one of the most beautiful Mediterranean beaches I’ve ever seen. The water was cool, clear, and just perfect for swimming! It was so warm that we all got to swim for as long as we wanted to, and after swimming, we could search for beautiful bits of sea glass on the shore. They had lovely, free changing rooms (and bathrooms!), and all in all, I think it was a 5-star experience for all of us! My mother traveled all over the world, but my mother-in-law used to say,
“If I want to know what some country is like, I’d rather look at a picture book!”

To each his own! If you ever get a chance to go to Dubrovnik, I hope you take it, but whether or not you enjoy adventuring, I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing our adventure. I hope you’ve also learned a little bit more about this unique and lovely city in the incredibly wonderful world that God has given us! the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it” (Isaiah 41:20).

Enjoying our Italian Relations

With Michael (our second-born) and his wife living in Italy,  there’s been cause for super fun travel this summer!  First, Carleen (who is the wife of Aaron, our first-born)  went to visit with their kids for awhile.  These are two very brave women,  touring around with 8 children,  making home made pasta together,  and generally having a marvelous time catching up with each other!  Then, Aaron came to join the party.  The two families had lots of adventures together  as well as some double family touring. In Rome they were able to visit many historic sites,  including the Vatican and various museums,  and—of course—they feasted on some of Italy’s fabulous cuisine!  🙂 The day Aaron’s family left,  Alan and I went on a cruise with Michael’s family.  So, for the next couple of weeks you may be seeing lots of photographs  from Italy, Greece, Croatia, and the Dalmatian Coast of the Adriatic Sea… as well as hearing tales of travels with four little ones in tow!We had a truly delectable time,  and I hope you enjoy sharing in our adventures  as much as I’ll enjoy recounting them!  “Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart:
for consider how great things he hath done for you
” (1 Samuel 12:24).

(All photos used compliments of my wonderful sons and daughters-in-law…and mostly the gals, I think! Blessings! You kids are super!!)

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)