October 31 – Halloween pales in comparison


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On 31 October 1517, one man took a single brave action and changed the course of western civilization.  After a series of significant events and after careful study of the Bible, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.  The wooden entrance of that church has since been replaced with bronze doors on which the Ninety-Five Theses are immortally engraved.


The door is on the bottom left of the photo. The script encircling the tower is A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

IMG_4405IMG_4407October 31 is Reformation Day, a day that altered the course of history more than any revolutionary war.  According to the journal HistoryToday, “it would be difficult to identify any other individual who, without wielding political power or leading armies, more decisively changed the course of history.” My purpose isn’t to list the innumerable contributions Luther made to society, which extend far beyond changes to the church and into the realm of economics, the arts and politics.  What I will suggest is that you absolutely visit Luther’s home town of Wittenberg (which since his time has added the moniker Lutherstadt – Luther’s city).  Because Luther became a notable historic figure during his lifetime, people knew every trace and remnant of his life needed to be preserved.  Luther’s home is still intact and well as many other historical sites in the city.  You can see the pulpit from which he preached and the books from which he read and annotated in the margins, including his personal Bible.  Luther’s home is part of the in-depth, extremely informative and fascinating Reformation Museum.

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The Parish Church St. Marien, where Luther preached.

We visited Lutherstadt-Wittenberg on a brutally cold January day.  (As I recall, most days in Germany in January are brutally cold.)  We were some of only a dozen non-locals strolling the slushy pavement.  Our industrial German stroller was certainly the only one leaving treadmarks on the sidewalk.  We easily reached the town by train from Leipzig.  Once in the medieval town, everything was within walking distance.

IMG_4376It’s been several years since we visited, so I have had time to reflect.  Of the entire city, the one place that made the greatest impression on me was the Luther family dining room.  The room, down to each floor board, has been perfectly preserved.  You can walk through, but only on a narrow boardwalk.  In 1712 a visitor touring the historic home carved his name on the threshold of the door in the dining room.  They have since installed plexiglass so current visitors don’t get any ideas.  Or maybe they’re just trying to preserve the graffiti from 1712 – it was written by Peter the Great of Russia.

But that’s not the aspect of the room that left me with the deep impression.  I could visualize Martin and Katharina sharing meals, breaking bread, with students and visitors as they graciously did every day.  They had an open home and impacted individuals on a personal level, not just through Luther’s published writings.  The illustration below of Luther in his dining room with students is from Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World by Paul L. Maier.  I recommend this book as a resource for those who are interested in learning more about – and sharing with your children – the significance of Martin Luther’s life.  If anything, it would provide a foundation for a good family discussion while you walk your neighborhood collecting candy.

Luther in Dining Room


In preparing this post, I discovered that Lutherstadt-Wittenberg is planning an expansive 500 Year Jubilee celebration for October 2017.  It’s not too early to plan your trip to participate in the historic church servicse and commemorations along with viewing the concerts, theatrical productions, period market and other events.  View the city’s website for more information.

Cast Out Fear – a post for autumn


Over the past two years, this post has become one of the most popular I’ve written.  WordPress allows me to see how people find my blog – through search engines, Facebook posts and other online links – and this is one post people find through various searches on children’s literature and Barbara Cooney.  Originally published in May 2012, I’m posting an abridged version in honor of autumn and the fabulous illustrations of the seasons by Barbara Cooney, as found in the Ox-Cart Man, by Donald Hall.  The broader topic of the post – teaching children through literature to not fear the unknown – is still relevant today.


No parent needs to be reminded of the importance of reading to their children.  I try to read to mine regularly.  Yes, it helps in their brain development and prepares them for school and all those things that are so important.  But I’ve also recently discovered that reading to my daughter is teaching her to not fear.  I’m not talking about the fear of monsters under her bed.  I’m talking about the fear of the unknown.  She doesn’t have that fear.  I think that fear in large part is a learned behavior.

Ox-Cart Man’s Autumn

Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney, is a book that draws in my daughter.  The ox-cart man and his family work hard through the seasons to make wares for him to sell in town.  “When his cart was full, he waved good-bye to his wife, his daughter, and his son and he walked at his ox’s head ten days over hills, through valleys, by streams past farms and villages. . .” (page 10).  Blue mountains and the flaming colors of a New England autumn spread across two pages as the ox-cart man walks a winding road.  “I wanna go there, mommy,” she says when we reach that page.  “Me too, sweety!”  Who doesn’t?

Another favorite book is Read-Aloud Bible Stories Vol. III by Ella K. Lindvall with simple, full-page illustrations by H. K. Puckett.  On pages 74 and 75, the sun is rising across a vast, tan desert wilderness where a mass of Israelites are wandering.  When I reach that page while reading, she often says “I wanna go there, mommy.”   But she’s never been in a desert, so she doesn’t know that deserts can be fearful places.  I always say excitedly, “well, maybe we can go there someday!”  Really?  You want to go to that desert?

Is there any place she doesn’t want to go?  I don’t think so.  At least not at this age, until she’s learned – from me, or other people, or her own experience – to fear.  Fear of unfamiliar tastes, people, places, languages, smells and experiences.  My hope and prayer is that my daughters will love and desire to have new experiences and seek to know the unknown.

“Treasures” to toys


P1060051When we travel and stay with friends and family, we have time to do things I would like to do more often at home – like go on walks.  Few other house responsibilities call and, without their regular schedule of activities and toys, I have to ensure the children have things to occupy their minds.

In Germany last month we wandered the paths everyday.  How could we not?  The scenery was breathtaking, the wild fruit was plentiful and there were so many little treasures to gather along the way.  One afternoon we brought those treasures home and had a blast glueing them together into figurines.  I wielded the glue gun and each of the girls told me where to put the glue so they could assemble the figure from their imagination.  Much hilarity ensued.  When we were done and the figures had dried, the girls played with them until they fell apart, back into the pieces they had originally been – a simple acorn, leaf, twig or flower.  For this activity, the joy was completely in the process.

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Part IV: BRUGES, Belgium


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According to the venerable Rick Steves, Bruges is a “heavyweight, sightseeing destination, as well as a joy.”  And if Rick Steves says it, it must be true.  Over the course of two days my friend and I experienced this joy on bike and on foot, doing what we like to do when visiting any European city – find the thrift stores, drink coffee and people-watch.  All of these, in the words of Rick Steves, were a pure joy in Bruges.

In the thrift store, which encompassed several buildings in the old city, there was contained everything you might need to set up house and home.  It also hosted a small café where lunch was served – cheap.  At the café I bought a half kilo of Belgium pancakes (like crêpes) for 3 Euro.  What a bargain!  Where else can you buy Belgian pancakes by the kilo?  I’m fairly certain this store isn’t on the regular tourist track.

And the people-watching!  One morning I sat in the main market square (Grote Markt) and watched masses of tour groups with every major touring company I had heard of – MSC, Viking River Cruises, etc.  The tour guides held up their token of identification and their small entourage clung close by, not wanting to get mixed up with the wrong tour group.  There were tours in every language catering to every possible demographic.  Earlier in the morning this square had been nearly empty.  By midmorning, it was swarming, ripe for people-watching.P1050926 P1050915

Want great views of the city?  Climb the bell tower (pictured above in the Market Square).  At the top of the tower you’ll get views like these (pictured below).

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One thing I loved about Bruges were the small, postcard perfect vignettes around every corner.  Here are a few.


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And everyone wants to know about chocolate in Belgium.  We entered one shop off a main street and waited for several minutes while a local granny, apparently a regular at this particular shop, bought 80 Euros worth of handmade, gourmet chocolate.  They aren’t messing around.  The shop pictured below is one of the most well-known in the city.

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If you want tourist information or professional photos of Bruges, read Rick Steves and search the web.  It’s all there. What the web can’t give you is memories of actually visiting.  These are simply some of my photos and memories of my Bruges.  What was your Bruges like?


This series is brought to you by the letter “B” and pertains to our family’s recent three week stint in Europe.  If you want to be sure not to miss a post, sign up to receive the blog via email on the lefthand column.

If you missed the previous posts in this series, the links are posted below.

Part I: Surprised by BOUNTY

Part II: Beauty’s BOLLENE (or what it means to be French)

Part III: Fowl BRUTALITY in Lyon

Part III: Fowl BRUTALITY in Lyon


While perusing the wares at the weekly international textile fair along Lyon’s Saône River, Little Man (11 months) let me know he was overdue for a feeding.  Hubby took the girls exploring along the river walk while I found a bench in the shade.  I got comfortable and baby started eating. . . and then I saw it.  The “x” marks the spot near a notable bridge in Lyon where “it” happened.

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An absolutely pathetic pigeon sat on the edge of the sidewalk, feathers in disarray, head tucked under wing, on the verge of dying, not five feet in front of me.  Well, all birds die, I thought.  I guess this is how it happens for some of them, right here on the bustling street.  But this bird’s last moments on earth were not going to pass unnoted.

After several minutes of meditative solitude, several younger, properly preened pigeons strutted over. And to say I was shocked is an understatement.  If my son had been watching and not immersed in his feeding, I might have shielded his eyes.  The healthy pigeons began pecking the near-dead pigeon.  Peck, peck, poke, stab.  They aimed for the eyes, back, wings, all over! The helpless pigeon hardly winced.  Maybe it was already in a standing coma.  I was appalled.  Here, on the idyllic streets of France’s culinary capital, I learned that pigeons may be cannibals.  But I now also know they’ll eat things much worse.

Later that afternoon we took this picture in Vieux Lyon, the old part of the city known for one of the largest concentration of Renaissance buildings in France.   P1060135 - Version 2Before Vieux Lyon we enjoyed gelato in Parc de la Tête d’Or, Lyon’s version of Central Park.

P1060130It was here that Lil’ P (age 4) initially mentioned her stomach was upset.

By the time we reached Vieux Lyon, she pointed to several spots on her stomach that weren’t feeling well.  But she’s a trooper and made little mention of the condition of her health as we continued through the city, posing for photos such as the one above in front of John the Baptist Cathedral.

Then, as the American colloquialism goes, she hurled.  She blew chunks.  Mostly chocolate gelato, but also real chunks of crêpe still digesting from lunch.  Over the course of 30 seconds, Lil’ P emptied the contents of her stomach across cobblestones that have probably been receiving such treatment for centuries.  And then those chunks joined the food chain as numerous pigeons instantly descended upon the scene, spying the half digested morsels of delectable Frenchness.  While Lil’s P was shocked at seeing the contents of her stomach no longer in her stomach (she has only thrown up once before in her memory), the pigeons piled on the mess like a rugby scrum until every last scrap disappeared.  We didn’t have to feel guilty about walking away from the mess because it was mostly cleaned up.  Just. . . like. . . that.

The girls got a great visual to accompany an important lesson.  They’ve always been told not to touch the pigeons, but now they know they true reason why.  Pigeons eat vomit!  When they forget that instruction, as they inevitably will next time we’re in a city with overly familiar pigeons, I’ll let them in on the deeper secret.  Pigeons are cannibals!


Looking out toward the bridge where the cannibal pigeons reside.


Roman ruins on the hill, one of the notable places to visit in Lyon.


This miniature cityscape in bronze is located at the overlook next to the Notre Dame de Fourviere Basilica on the hill. The children were fascinated by it.

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This series is brought to you by the letter “B” and pertains to our family’s recent three week stint in Europe.  If you want to be sure not to miss a post, sign up to receive the blog via email on the lefthand column.

If you missed the previous posts in this series, the links are posted below.

Part I: Surprised by BOUNTY

Part II: Beauty’s BOLLENE (or what it means to be French)


Part II: Beauty’s BOLLENE (or what it means to be French)


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Mention any small, provincial town in southern France and we’re game to visit.  The girls were content with our hotel in one such village, Bollène.  They were content until the morning after our night in the ancient structure when we told them this was actually Belle’s village – a poor, provincial town in France.   Then they were thrilled.  Belle’s village?!  Could it be?  As we walked the alleys of the old village, the sun peeking over Ventoux mountain in the distance, we imagined the baker pushing open a shutter and offering us a baguette.  We found a fountain where the girls posed, reading a brochure just as Belle read her book to the sheep in the opening sequence of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  They will always remember Belle’s village in Provence, quintessentially old French.

But Bollène is also representative of today’s France.  While tiny, this rural village brought to the forefront images of France’s vibrant history of colonialism, immigration and integration.  The narrow entryway of the hotel was flanked by a café and a kabob shop.  We arrived after dark and both storefronts were doing a brisk business, mostly patronized by French of North African descent.  A dozen café tables sprawled across the cobblestones, host to middle-aged and older men chatting the night away in French and Arabic.  The young men working the kabob shop where we took our evening meal were of North African heritage, but clearly French.

This is France, particularly in the south near the Mediterranean Sea.  People have been emigrating across the Sea for millennia, both directions.  You can see visions France in Algeria and images of Morocco in Spain.  It’s the Med region.  After our French breakfast of coffee and pastries, while the girls saw Belle’s village, my husband and I saw the kasbah.  Women walked the narrow alleys, heads covered in the Muslim head scarf.  Our daughters sat at the fountain reading, just as Belle did in the movie.  We read the plaque next to the water feature, noting the location where Jews were deported to Dachau during World War II.  Another monument stood in the village honoring the Africans who fought in the war.

Despite what images your 2014 Provence calendar might display on your wall – fields of lavendar or stone ruins on a hilltop above an olive grove – the culture and influences in this region are much more complex.  For now our girls see a scene from a Disney movie, but some day they will return and see so much more.  P1060191 P1060193 - Version 2 P1060207 P1060211 P1060213******************************************************************

This series is brought to you by the letter “B” and pertains to our family’s recent three week stint in Europe.  If you want to be sure not to miss a post, sign up to receive the blog via email on the lefthand column.

If you missed, Part I: Surprised by BOUNTY, you can view it here.


Part I: Surprised by BOUNTY



The first time I experienced this bounty I was hiking an ancient trail alone in the hills above Genoa, Italy.  The trail started near my youth hostel and I simply happened upon it while taking a walk that balmy fall evening before sunset.  I was surprised when I espied numerous ancient Roman ruins in the distance, but more surprised at the prickly bushes that covered the hillside and spilled over the edges of the trail.  Among the prickles, hundreds of blackberries were in a perfect state of ripeness, waiting to be plucked.  But no one else was stopping to pick them.  I couldn’t help myself and paused again and again when ripe bunches presented themselves.  A decade later, after having spent several years in Europe, I came to understand that blackberries in the fall are as common as snowflakes in winter – they become unremarkable and pedestrian, barely worth stopping to appreciate. When I returned to Germany last month with my young children, it was the height of blackberry season.  We went on numerous strolls and always stopped to reach for the perfect berry and stain our finger tips with the dark juices.  Little P would pop a fruit in the baby’s mouth and he would screech for more after barely taking the time to chew it.    Every walk became a treasure hunt that always reaped rewards.  At one point we determined to actually save enough to take home and bake.  The girls were excited about the prospect of cooking in the kitchen with something they had picked from outside and were not disappointed when, later that evening, we partook of a warm, blackberry crumble.  Thank you Germany!  We don’t take your bounteous berries for granted. P1050825 P1060047 P1050824 P1050689 P1060065 ****************************************************************** This series is brought to you by the letter “B” and pertains to our family’s recent three week stint in Europe.  If you want to be sure not to miss a post, sign up to receive the blog via email on the lefthand column.

Happening Upon Solidarity – Stuttgart, Germany


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One Saturday last month we walked down Koenigstrasse – King Street – in Stuttgart, Germany.  Koenigstrasse is Stuttgart’s Michigan Avenue or Champs-Élysées of shopping and people watching.  We were reliving memories of years gone by, years when we had only one baby.  Now we have three children and they each needed a fresh German pretzel while browsing the wares at Butlers, one of my favorite stores.  We paused to watch the ever-present Saturday summer street performers and kept a sharp eye out for women with Euro purple red hair.  This was very special family time.  It was a dream realized.

The crowd in the castle square brought me back to reality, a reality I’m reminded of every day at home when I listen to the news while I prepare dinner.  News of war, rumors of war and more news about religious persecution.  The demonstrators were vocal but peaceful.  Riot police stood at the ready, but there was not a riot.  People wore black T-shirts with the Arabic “N” emblazoned in gold across the front.  These were refugees and immigrants, families with children, from predominantly Muslim countries carrying red crosses, demanding intervention from the West on behalf of Christians being persecuted.  Unlike myself, these people probably knew casualties of war.  Unlike myself, many of these people would not be going home soon – perhaps not ever.

This area of downtown Stuttgart is the approved place for demonstrations – Green Peace, Free Tibet, end the war in Iraq. . .  We’ve seen them all.  But this one was different.  I seen the “N” as people’s profile photo on Facebook.  I see it in the news.  But these people were living solidarity by showing up in a public place with their families, singing songs, making speeches and urging intervention on the part of the government.  It was encouraging to see people exercising their right to gather and demonstrate when, where I come from, people, including myself, mostly just post Facebook status updates on how horrible the situation is.

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Riot police at the ready

Riot police at the ready

Street performers near the demonstration

Street performers near the demonstration

Discovering Museum Reciprocity


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When we moved to a new town with unbearably hot summer weather, I knew my pregnant self with a two and three-year-old could not count on the beach for free entertainment every day.  One child would chase a seagull along the surf and the other would walk into the surf toward the vast expanse of the ocean, drawn by a floating bubble just beyond the next wave.  And all I wanted to do was sit in the shade of the umbrella, fanning my belly and sweat-drenched legs.  Some days, our adventuring just needed to be moved indoors with quick access to clean toilets and air conditioning.

Public libraries were always an excellent option.  You could find us playing and reading stories at our local library about once a week.  But, I have also come to appreciate the payback that comes with owning a family museum membership.  Shadow boxes with butterflies, dinosaur fossils, space capsules, interactive water exhibits – toddlers love museums, even if just to run up and down the climate controlled corridors.  We have a family membership at the Virginia Air and Space Museum, thirty minutes from our home.  I’d like to say we’ve been more than once.  We haven’t.  But looking back over the past year, the membership has paid for itself several times over because I discovered reciprocity.

Baltimore waterfront across from the Science Center.

Baltimore waterfront across from the Science Center.

Last fall we found ourselves wandering the waterfront in Baltimore, looking for a bathroom.  Casting a large shadow across the pavement stood the Maryland Science Center.  Aha!  I bet they have clean bathrooms.  I dug through my purse, shuffling through extra diapers, a bag of crayons, two-year’s worth of outdated Moleskin day planners, junk mail I grabbed on the way out the door, a crusty pacifier, a broken cracker, fifteen various sundry writing utensils and finally espied the holy grail of a clean bathroom pass – a reciprocal museum membership.  Within ten minutes we were able to pass through the lobby, tickets in hand, and use the exclusive restrooms.  We spent a few extra minutes exploring the exhibit at the entrance before leaving the building and continuing our outdoor excursion.  With prices like that, you can afford to stay only as long as necessary to complete important personal business.

Our family membership in Virginia allows free entry into over 250 museums worldwide.  While visiting family in Atlanta, our membership granted us free access to the Fernbank Natural History Museum.  Our membership is worth more than ten times its weight in new diapers.  It has also presented us with options for kids activities while on vacation, options we would otherwise have discounted because of price.  Going to Chicago?  Use your membership to visit the incredible Museum of Science and Industry – for free.  Visiting New York City?  Explore the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum along the docks.  Find yourself traveling with kids on a rainy day in Manila?  Duck into the Philippine Science Centrum.    These museums are all part of the museum Passport Program sponsored by the Association of Science-Technology Centers (www.astc.org/passport).

As we travel with our growing family, looking for inexpensive adventures around the world, you won’t find me without possession of a family museum membership pass.  Finding the pass in my purse is a completely separate matter.

Loving Place


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Be a student of your region, your city, your neighborhood.  This has helped me learn to love where I am living, no matter where that happens to be.  We rarely have the option of living where we love, but we can always choose to love where we live.

There are things one can learn about a place to appreciate and value its culture and people, though it can take some serious initiative.

The last few weeks we’ve had the opportunity to explore our region more in-depth and visit places on our Hampton Roads bucket list.  Next year we’ll be crossing the pond, as they say, so there’s no time like the present to keep learning about  – and learning to love – this region!

First up, I cannot speak highly enough of the newly renovated, world class Chrysler Museum of Art.  Always free to the public.  Go there.  Now.


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The Norfolk Botanical Garden is a favorite year round.  We could spend all day here and still not walk every path and appreciate the different regions (or spend enough time partaking of all the children’s activities).  Watching the planes take off at Norfolk International Airport from the viewing point adjacent to the botanical garden parking lot is also probably not an experience you can have at any other garden in the country.  Doesn’t get much closer than that.


P1050345 P1050350 P1050361 P1050362 P1050342 P1050578Fort Monroe is a national monument maintained by the National Park Service.  The fortress, originally built from 1819 to 1834, is the largest stone fortress in the U.S.  It covers a large area of land and people still rent the homes and live within the fortress walls.  It’s very unique.  The Casemate Museum located inside the battlements is free of charge and filled with fascinating  exhibits highlighting the history of the region.

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