The Magnificent Magnolia: Baobab of the American South


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When we moved to this region of the United States, considered part of “The South,” I discovered the magnolia tree.  Magnolia trees are the baobab of the American South.  Distinctive and unique to this region, the massive blooms and richly colored foliage can be found in backyards and botanical gardens alike.  The colors of the leaves that float off the branches are the quintessence of autumn hues – alabaster, pumpkin, dusty bronze, saffron and bisque.


This, of course, is a baobab tree, a classic in Southern Africa.

My local magnolia tree, which sparingly drops thick, glossy leaves.

My local magnolia tree, equally iconic in this region, sparingly drops thick, glossy leaves.

Noticing colorful collections of these leaves along fence lines and barriers where the wind had blown them, I recently thought they would look attractive arranged in a wreath.  I appreciate a seasonal wreath hanging on the front door as a warm welcome to guests.  A circle of locally scavenged leaves from the southern beauty seemed a novel idea, and particularly fitting while we live in a region where it is accessible.  I wonder if this has ever been done before?

If you are from the South, you are chuckling quietly at my naiveté.  I google search ‘magnolia leaf wreath image’ and find thousands of photos and ideas for a magnolia wreath.  Apparently they’re a staple around here.  I am reminded of a foreign friend to whom my family introduced peanut butter.  They loved it and called several days later to ask if we’ve ever tried it with jelly, because ‘peanut butter is delicious with jelly.’  Indeed.

My research on wreath creation suggested items such as foam and floral wire.  We’re a cardboard, paper sack, tape kind of family, though I did recently buy a glue gun.  Those supplies are plenty sufficient to create a wreath.  With my trusty assistants who helped collect, then trimmed stems and sorted leaves, we created this seasonal décor with a nod to our “Southern” locale.  We won’t always live near magnolia trees.P1060608




Part IV: Cochem Castle, Cochem, Germany


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Cochem Castle is a neo-gothic castle located along Germany’s Moselle River.  It is superbly preserved and worth the winding detour off the autobahn.


The joy of such an architectural highlight is in the details.


The end of the handrails on the path up to the castle.


On an exterior door.


Do you have a photo you would like to share as part of the Eye-Catching Architectural Detail series?  Email it to me at willtravelwithkids @ along with a brief explanation of the location.  Please only submit personal photos of which you own the copyright.  Thanks!  Looking forward to sharing what catches your eye.

Part III: The Biltmore, Asheville, North Carolina, USA


The Biltmore, Asheville, North Carolina, USA




Read more about the stately Biltmore mansion here.


Do you have a photo you would like to share as part of the Eye-Catching Architectural Detail series?  Email it to me at willtravelwithkids @ along with a brief explanation of the location.  Please only submit personal photos of which you own the copyright.  Thanks!  Looking forward to sharing what catches your eye.

Part I: The Winterthur, Wilmington, Delaware, USA

Part II:  Al-Baleed, Salalah, Oman

Part II: Al-Baleed, Salalah, Oman



Boat at Al-Baleed World Heritage site, Salalah, Oman.P1030387


Read the blog post from the trip to Oman here.


Do you have a photo you would like to share as part of the Eye-Catching Architectural Detail series?  Email it to me at willtravelwithkids @ along with a brief explanation of the location.  Please only submit personal photos of which you own the copyright.  Thanks!  Looking forward to sharing what catches your eye.

Part I: The Winterthur

Eye-catching architectural detail Part I: The Winterthur

The last few inches of an elegant stairway bannister.  A manhole, covering a storm drain, plastered with floral filigree.  The ruffled ridge of a five foot clay pot.  These architectural details catch my eye and I can’t help myself.  I have to capture it on camera.  Some artisan, skilled in his trade, has left his mark.  Over the next few days I will be posting some of these photos – artistic detail from around the world.  Join me on the tour!


At the Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware, USA.



We originally visited the Winterthur early in 2014 to see the Fashion of Downton Abbey exhibit.  You can view a blog post of that visit here.


Do you have a photo you would like to share as part of this series?  Email it to me at willtravelwithkids @ along with a brief explanation of the location.  Please only submit personal photos of which you own the copyright.  Thanks!  Looking forward to sharing what catches your eye.

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)



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