Monday, December 27, 2010

Civil War message opened, decoded: No help coming

RICHMOND, Va. — A glass vial stopped with a cork during the Civil War has been opened, revealing a coded message to the desperate Confederate commander in Vicksburg on the day the Mississippi city fell to Union forces 147 years ago.

The dispatch offered no hope to doomed Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton: Reinforcements are not on the way.

The encrypted, 6-line message was dated July 4, 1863, the date of Pemberton's surrender to Union forces led by Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Siege of Vicksburg in what historians say was a turning point midway into the Civil War.

The message is from a Confederate commander on the west side of the Mississippi River across from Pemberton.

"He's saying, 'I can't help you. I have no troops, I have no supplies, I have no way to get over there,' " Museum of the Confederacy collections manager Catherine M. Wright said of the author of the dispiriting message. "It was just another punctuation mark to just how desperate and dire everything was."

The bottle, less than 2 inches in length, had sat undisturbed at the museum since 1896. It was a gift from Capt. William A. Smith, of King George County, who served during the Vicksburg siege.

It was Wright who decided to investigate the contents of the strange little bottle containing a tightly wrapped note, a .38-caliber bullet and a white thread.

"Just sort of a curiosity thing," said Wright. "This notion of, do we have any idea what his message says?"

The answer was no.

Wright asked a local art conservator, Scott Nolley, to examine the clear vial before she attempted to open it. He looked at the bottle under an electron microscope and discovered that salt had bonded the cork tightly to the bottle's mouth. He put the bottle on a hotplate to expand the glass, used a scalpel to loosen the cork, then gently plucked it out with tweezers.

The sewing thread was looped around the 6 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch paper, which was folded to fit into the bottle. The rolled message was removed and taken to a paper conservator, who successfully unfurled the message.

But the coded message, which appears to be a random collection of letters, did not reveal itself immediately.

Eager to learn the meaning of the code, Wright took the message home for the weekend to decipher. She had no success.

A retired CIA code breaker, David Gaddy, was contacted, and he cracked the code in several weeks.

A Navy cryptologist independently confirmed Gaddy's interpretation. Cmdr. John B. Hunter, an information warfare officer, said he deciphered the code over two weeks while on deployment aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. A computer could have unscrambled the words in a fraction of the time.

"To me, it was not that difficult," he said. "I had fun with this and it took me longer than I should have."

The code is called the "Vigenere cipher," a centuries-old encryption in which letters of the alphabet are shifted a set number of places so an "a" would become a "d" — essentially, creating words with different letter combinations.

The code was widely used by Southern forces during the Civil War, according to Civil War Times Illustrated.

The source of the message was likely Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, of the Texas Division, who had under his command William Smith, the donor of the bottle.

The full text of the message to Pemberton reads:

"Gen'l Pemberton:

You can expect no help from this side of the river. Let Gen'l Johnston know, if possible, when you can attack the same point on the enemy's lines. Inform me also and I will endeavor to make a diversion. I have sent some caps (explosive devices). I subjoin a despatch from General Johnston."

The last line, Wright said, seems to suggest a separate delivery to Pemberton would be the code to break the message.

"The date of this message clearly indicates that this person has no idea that the city is about to be surrendered," she said.

The Johnston mention in the dispatch is Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, whose 32,000 troops were encamped south of Vicksburg and prevented from assisting Pemberton by Grant's 35,000 Union troops. Pemberton had held out hope that Johnston would eventually come to his aid.

The message was dispatched during an especially terrible time in Vicksburg. Grant was unsuccessful in defeating Pemberton's troops on two occasions, so the Union commander instead decided to encircle the city and block the flow of supplies or support.

Many in the city resorted to eating cats, dogs and leather. Soup was made from wallpaper paste.

After a six-week siege, Pemberton relented. Vicksburg, so scarred by the experience, refused to celebrate July 4 for the next 80 years.

So what about the bullet in the bottom of the bottle?

Wright suspects the messenger was instructed to toss the bottle into the river if Union troops intercepted his passage. The weight of the bullet would have carried the corked bottle to the bottom, she said.

For Pemberton, the bottle is symbolic of his lost cause: the bad news never made it to him.

The Confederate messenger probably arrived to the river's edge and saw a U.S. flag flying over the city.

"He figured out what was going on and said, 'Well, this is pointless,' and turned back," Wright said.

The Associated Press.

The Diving Horses of Atlantic City

I was doing some last minute shopping the week before Christmas at the Friends of the Gettysburg Library. I believe this is one of the best kept secrets in Adams County for gently used books. I was very excited because I got my hands on a copy of "Letters to Mamie" by Dwight Eisenhower for my dad, as well as a books for my daughters-one of which was about something which I had never heard of before-the diving horses of Atlantic City's Steel Pier. I thought it was a fictitious story, but after doing some digging around on the internet, I found out some very interesting things. I found an amateur clip explaining this in greater detail-my advice while viewing the video is to use the mute button (so you don't have to listen to the music) and overlook the misspelled words:
It is pretty amazing!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pictures of the Day

The last part of this year has been quite a blur and it seems I strayed away from one of my favorite pasttimes which is blogging about neat little bits and pieces of information I am always learning about the Civil War here in Gettysburg. I have to approach it from an angle that I have some connection to; and my love of horses lead me to the discovery of some fascinating pictures (I think) I thought it would be fitting to share these as a reminder of how quickly we forget what so many that were here before us have sacrificed for us so we can enjoy the life we have today. My mare Dancer will balk at some of the silliest things; I can't even imagine her surviving as the horse of a civil war soldier!
This is a very rare photo (below)of Little Sorrel taken shortly after Stonewall Jackson was shot from his saddle with a mortal wound. The negative of this photo was destroyed during the fall of Richmond in 1865. The horse is identified as “Old Sorrel” in this photo and was called “Fancy” by Jackson himself. Historically, this horse has been said to be a Morgan but this picture reveals he was probably a type identified as a “Virginia Riding Horse”; mostly thoroughbred.

A Lovely Poem to Share

It's the birthday of poet Thomas Gray, born in London (1716). He wrote Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751), which is considered to be one of the greatest poems in the English language:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, The
ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness, and to
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight, And all the air a solemn stillness
holds, Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight, And drowsy tinklings lull the
distant folds: Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower The moping owl does to the
moon complain Of such as, wandering near her secret bower, Molest her ancient
solitary reign.
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade, Where heaves the turf in many a
mouldering heap, Each in his narrow cell for ever laid, The rude Forefathers of the
hamlet sleep.
The breezy call of incense-breathing morn, The swallow twittering from the straw-built
shed, The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn, No more shall rouse them from
their lowly bed.
For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn, Or busy housewife ply her evening
care: No children run to lisp their sire’s return, Or climb his knees the envied kiss to
Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield, Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil, Their homely joys, and destiny obscure; Nor
Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile The short and simple annals of the Poor.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er
gave, Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour:The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Nor you, ye Proud, impute to these the fault If Memory o’er their tomb no trophies
raise, Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault The pealing anthem swells
the note of praise.
Can storied urn or animated bust Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath? Can
Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust, Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d, Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page, Rich with the spoils of time, did ne’er
unroll; Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage, And froze the genial current of the soul.
Full many a gem of purest ray serene The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear: Full
many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast The little tyrant of his fields
withstood, Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, Some Cromwell, guiltless of his
country’s blood.
Th’ applause of list’ning senates to command, The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land, And read their history in a nation’s eyes, Their lot
forbad: nor circumscribed alone Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbad to wade through slaughter to a throne, And shut the gates of mercy on
mankind, The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide, To quench the blushes of
ingenuous shame, Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride With incense kindled at the
Muse’s flame.
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.
Yet e’en these bones from insult to protect Some frail memorial still erected nigh, With
uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d, Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unletter’d Muse, The place of fame and elegy
supply: And many a holy text around she strews, That teach the rustic moralist to die.
For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey, This pleasing anxious being e’er resign’d, Let
the warm precincts of the cheerful day, Nor cast one longing lingering look behind?
On some fond breast the parting soul relies, Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
E’en from the tomb the voice of Nature cries, E’en in our ashes live their wonted fires.
For thee, who, mindful of th’ unhonour’d dead, Dost in these lines their artless tale
relate; If chance, by lonely contemplation led, Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,
Haply some hoary-headed swain may say, ‘Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away, To meet the sun upon the upland lawn;
‘There at the foot of yonder nodding beech That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high.
His listless length at noontide would he stretch, And pore upon the brook that babbles
‘Hand by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn, Muttering his wayward fancies he would
rove; Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn, Or crazed with car, or cross’d in
hopeless love.
‘One morn I miss’d him on the custom’d hill, Along the heath, and near his favourite
tree; Another came; nor yet beside the rill, Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;
‘The next with dirges due in sad array Slow through the church-way path we saw him
borne,Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay Graved on the stone beneath yon
aged thorn.’
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth A Youth, to Fortune and to Fame unknown;
Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth, And Melancholy mark’d him for her
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere; Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear, He gain’d from Heaven, ‘twas all he wish’d, a
No farther seek his merits to disclose, Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose,) The bosom of his Father and his God.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Take a Minute Today....

In Honor of Thanksgiving and all that is good and right in this world, let us practice being thankful and pass it on....

1. Open the door for another person.
2. Drive safely and be courteous.
3. When visiting a hospital spend a few moments with someone who doesn’t have any visitors.
4. Make a new friend.
5. Invite a child or teenager over for a cooking class.
6. Collect can goods for a food bank.
7. Hug a friend.
8. Clean up litter on a street in your neighborhood.
9. Drop off a plant or some home-made baked goods to your local police or fire department.
10. Say something nice to everyone you meet today.
11. Provide a neighborhood child with homework help.
12. Leave a kind note for a family member or friend.
13. Tell kids why you love them.
14. Clean graffiti off your neighborhood buildings or walls.
15. Organize a sing –a- long at a senior center.
16. Shovel snow for a neighbor.
17. Cheer up a friend.
18. Donate blood.
19. Hug a family member.
20. Smile and say "Hello" to people you don't know.
21. Offer to babysit for free.
22. Offer someone behind you in the grocery check out line to go in front of you.
23. Pat someone on the back.
24. Volunteer to read to students at school.
25.Open the car door for your passenger.
26. Pull out someone’s chair for them at the dinner table.
27. Wash a neighbors vehicle.
28. Take a neighbors newspaper laying out on their driveway to them or leave at their front door.
29. Tell the mail carrier thank you for all their work.
30. Let a neighbor know how much you value their friendship.
31. Let a manager know you compliment a sales clerk for their pleasant service.
32. Give your pocket change to someone who is needing it.
33. Pick up small florist vases at thrift stores or yard sales for about 10 cents and buy wrapped flowers, for a few more dollars, then arrange them in the vases. Get the local phone book, pick a few names and deliver them to their doorstep, early in the morning before everyone is awake.
34.Print up some inspiring signs and post them around town.
35.Leave your change in the soda machine for the next person. It's a nice surprise.
36. Purchase a meal for a homeless person.
37. If your a boss of a company - allow your employees to leave a half hour early as a surprise.
38. If your a boss - send employees an e-card letting them know how much you appreciate them.
39. If you see your neighbor hasn't set his trash can out for that mornings pick-up, wheel it out to the curb yourself.
40. Add some quarters to a parking meter you notice is getting low.
41. Pay for the persons order behind you when in a drive through line.
42. Leave change in the vending machine.
43. Leave change in the public pay phone.
44. Do as many things as you can by being anonymous.
45. Run an errand for someone.
46. Offer to pick up a friends or neighbors children from school.
47. Make an extra serving when preparing dinner and take to a homeless person in your area.
48. Take a parent out to dinner to their favorite restaurant.
49. Call a parent just to say you love them.
50. Take blankets or warm clothing to a homeless person.
51. Connect someone who is homebound to the internet.
52. Contact your community action program to find out of someone who is in need and provide them with the help they need.
53. Help an elderly person care for their pet(s).
54. Purchase a couple extra bags of dog food and take to the shelter.
55. Volunteer to help at an animal shelter.
56. Help someone you know with finding a solution for a dilemma your aware they have.
57. Watch someone’s children for a couple you feel needs some alone time.
58. Take a meal to a family you know.
59. Check in on someone you know is alone.
60. Offer to pump someone’s gas who looks like they could use the assistance.
61. Get your youth group together to pump everyone’s gas for an hour or two at the nearest gas station.
62. If you notice a neighbors lawn is becoming over grown that otherwise has been nicely groomed in the past, go mow it without them being aware.
63. Send a bouquet of flowers to a hospital and let the hospital know it should go to someone who doesn’t receive any visitors and is alone.
64. Stop into a nursing home just to spend a little time with the residents.
65. Drop off books and magazines to hospitals, nursing homes and doctors offices.
66. Sponsor an eye surgery for someone who is blind in an underdeveloped country.
67. Donate to local causes you hear about of families in need.
68. Volunteer at a hospice.
69. Volunteer at a homeless shelter.
70. Send flowers to a teacher who has dedicated their life to educating children.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Very Noble Event

I know the girls and I will be participating in this.... Volunteers will gather at the Gettysburg National Cemetery Dec. 3 and place more than 1,600 Christmas wreaths on the graves of veterans.
The project is an extension of one started four years ago by John and Susan McColley and the Sgt. Mac Foundation, according to a news release. The McColleys are parents of Gettysburg native and U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Eric McColley, who was killed along with seven other Marines and two airmen in a helicopter crash in the Horn of Africa on Feb. 17, 2006.

Last year, the foundation placed 2,100 wreaths on graves at Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia were Eric is interred. It also placed approximately 800 wreaths in the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

This year, the group will expand the number of wreaths to include all of the headstones in the original section of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, with the financial assistance of local and other veterans organizations, private and business support. The group also received and is seeking assistance from anyone wanting to help.

The group will meet at the Giant food store parking lot on Route 30/York Road in Gettysburg 8 a.m. Dec. 3 to tie the bows on the wreaths. At 12:45 p.m., volunteers will meet at the Taneytown Road entrance to the Gettysburg National Cemetery and place wreaths on more than 1,600 graves.

The following day, the group will meet at Quantico National Cemetery at 9:30 a.m. and place wreaths on 2,500 gravesites. Volunteers and donations are welcome.

The cost of the wreaths is $ 7.50 each. To participate, contact Stan Clark at 717-337-1728 or e-mail at

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Quote for the Day

"Remember that NOT getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck."

-Dalai Lama

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sometimes the Simplest Things To Do Are Really The Hardest.....

I have been wanting to take a picture of this barn for years and my youngest finally convinced me one day to just pull over and do it. What have you been putting off? Like the commercial says, "Just do it!"
I have been running past my computer now for over a month with the best intentions of updating the blog. "It will just take a minute to post," I keep telling myself, but then the phone rings, the bickering starts, my dog is whining to be let outside, and all of a sudden I have a pounding migraine and like the tide, life crashes in like a wave and swirls away all evidence of my organized thoughts into somewhere I can only name (very uncreatively I might add,) "THE DEEP UNKNOWN".
I realize, in the grand scheme of things, that posting on a blog is very minute on the list. However, it somehow helps me get centered and I have this romantic notion that somewhere out there, in the wild frontiers of the internet, I am striking a chord with someone. And with everything bad and scary in this world, it gives me a chance to focus and be aware of all that is good and positive around us.

I am starting to feel better already, as I am writing this. Winter is not a very good time for me-I secretly think I suffer from SAD-that thing where you don't get enough sunlight. It seems to me in the summer I feel better, I think I look husband says it's just that I'm getting older, but I refuse to listen, lol. Winter is a time that reminds me of my mortality-all the more reason to try to live in the moment. Try to remember to do something special for yourself today (or very soon) We all need a little more love and happiness, don't we? Why is it so hard for most of us to be good to ourselves? Try to look at it like this: The Lord made us with all His love and attention-we need to honor this extraordinary gift He gave us by taking care of ourselves. I know it's so easy to get caught up in the daily stuff. Believe me, I am saying this as much for myself as I am for anyone. Moving forward, I am going to try my best every day to do better by Him-I hope you will too!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You Learn Something New Everyday

Each day I continue with working with my kids in our new cyber school environment, I am amazed at how much we are all learning. One of my oldest daughter's assignments this past week was to complete a scientific timeline which had to include discoveries and inventions spanning the last 500 years. I had to chuckle at one of her choices-it was about the invention of the hot air balloon: "On September 19, 1783, in Versailles, the Montgolfiers flew the first passengers in a basket suspended below a hot-air balloon—a sheep, a rooster, and a duck. The flight, which lasted eight minutes, took place in front of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the French court, as well as a crowd of about 130,000. The balloon flew nearly 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) before returning the occupants safely to earth." Our first reaction was, "those poor animals!" But then the visual settled into our brains and gave us all a good laugh. We talked about how we wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for all the crazy things people have tried over the years and how clever some of them have been. The human mind is an amazing thing, isn't it? Celebrate how brilliant you are today, and may you learn something new and fascinating!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I'm getting in the mood for Fall!

The artists of the Bluebrick Gallery will put their artistic creativity to work during a pumpkin-carving event to be held as part of Gettysburg’s upcoming First Friday celebration. The event will be held at the gallery, located at 18 N. Washington St., Gettysburg, from 6:00 to 9:00 P.M. on Friday, October 1. Fresh local hot cider and other refreshments will be served.

The Bluebrick Gallery has become known for its unique and popular First Friday events, which have included artist trading card swaps and artist demos. Gallery director Lisa Harman hopes visitors will enjoy the creative designs the seven Bluebrick artists will carve into their pumpkins – and that the event will become an annual tradition. “We’ve been open over a year now, and we always look forward to the fun and excitement of First Friday,” Harman says. “There’s a certain energy in the air around town that’s really fun and inspiring.”

Most of the seven Bluebrick member artists are also educators in local school districts, so during the school year the gallery runs on an altered schedule. “Since school is back in session and we are all involved in education in one form or another, we are now open only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays,” says Harman. “But we’re also very flexible and would be happy to open the gallery at other times. Just give us a call or message us on Facebook.” Harman encourages interested people to connect with the gallery on the social networking website to keep abreast of upcoming events.

The Bluebrick Gallery artists include Harman (watercolor and acrylic paintings, handmade glasswork jewelry, melted-bottle cheese trays), Wendy Heiges (custom-made jewelry and artistic frames), Shawn Heiges (raku and ceramic pottery), Sarah Maclay (acrylic landscape paintings), Amy Dreves (fine silver jewelry), Deborah Yargar-Reed (photography), and Jill Rakowicz (paintings and jewelry).

For more information about the Bluebrick Gallery and its upcoming First Friday Pumpkin Carving event, call (717) 420-0103 or visit

Thank You, Facebook! I Would Never Have Known About This Otherwise....

Yet another reason why I love bringing up my children in this town. We will definitely be attending this-I can't wait!!!!

Next Wednesday September 22 - Battlefields and Beyond Book Shoppe - 777 Baltimore St. - 6:00pm Our group will be taking a walking tour of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Park Ranger Bert Barnett will present some of his extensive research on the poetry written by Civil War soldiers buried there as well as other poetic elements of this historic venue. All are welcome, it is a free program.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thaddeus Stevens

"I hate school!" My youngest announced last week, stamping her foot emphatically-her arms folded tightly across her chest. "Why do we have to go to school anyway? It's just a big waste of time!"
I knew she didn't mean it-she was just overtired and had been working diligently all afternoon on a rather difficult lesson.
"You better be careful of what you say," I advised. "Thaddeus Stevens might hear you and he won't be happy."
The girls and I had had a discussion over the weekend about Thaddeus. (His picture hangs in the tavern at the Fairfield Inn where I work as an Innkeeper. My girls often have the wonderful opportunity to accompany me there on the days I go in to prepare breakfast and ready rooms for the guests.)
Her eyes got wide and her hand flew up to her mouth. "I didn't mean it!" she quickly added-looking around nervously. We had also heard lots of stories about ghosts haunting the inn, and because Thaddeus had frequented the Historic Fairfield Inn quite a bit while constructing the "Tapeworm Railroad" between Frederick, Maryland and Gettysburg, PA, in the mid 1800's, there was always the slight possibility he might decide to come back for one more cup of delicious 1863 Ham and Bean Soup or to confront a little 10 year old girl who often acts too big for her britches.
"I'm sure he wouldn't be upset with you," I said, trying to ease her concerns. We talked a little about some of the notable things Thaddeus Stevens had accomplished in his life time. Not only did he play an important role in inventing the public school system, he also built two local furnaces, one of which resides at the Inn currently. He was also a staunch Republican and advocate for the abolishment of slavery. While he never married, he did share his home with two of his nephews and his "housekeeper," a lovely woman named Lydia Smith. Her portrait hangs next to the Maria furnace at the lovely Historic Fairfield Inn.

A Tough Decision

Sometimes in life, some pretty difficult decisions have to be made. I hit one of those milestones this week, when I had to pass on a wonderful opportunity to adopt another beautiful thoroughbred named Hayley. It broke my heart to do it, but unfortunately, something as mundane but also a necessity had to take priority. In the end, our furnace won out. I wish there had been a way to make it all work, sigh!
Now Hayley needs a home quickly, as the farm where he has been calling home needs to make room for an unexpected emergency situation of another horse. I am praying that Hayley will find a forever home soon. I only wish that it could have been with me.

To find out more about Hayley, click here.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

I love this!

The following is an excerpt from Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist (Zondervan).



"The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life.

Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a sliver of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich when it contains a splinter of sadness.

Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul.

Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, earthy.

Nearly ten years ago, my friend Doug told me that the central image of the Christian faith is death and rebirth, that the core of it all, over and over again, is death and rebirth. I'm sure I'd heard that before, but when he told me, for whatever reason, I really thought about it for the first time. And at the time, I didn't agree.

What I didn't understand until recently is that he wasn't speaking to me as a theologian or a pastor or an expert, but rather as a person whose heart had been broken and who had been brought back to life by the story God tells in all our lives. When you haven't yet had your heart really broken, the gospel isn't about death and rebirth. It's about life and more life. It's about hope and possibility and a brighter future. And it is, certainly, about those things.

But when you've faced some kind of death — the loss of someone you loved dearly, the failure of a dream, the fracture of a relationship — that's when you start understanding that central metaphor. When your life is easy, a lot of the really crucial parts of Christian doctrine and life are nice theories, but you don't really need them. When, however, death of any kind is staring you in the face, all of a sudden rebirth and new life are very, very important to you.

This an ode to all things bittersweet, to life at the edges, a love letter to what change can do in us. This is what I've come to believe about change: it's good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean that it's incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God's hand, which is where you wanted to be all along, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be. So this is the work I'm doing now, and the work I invite you int when life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Little Hair Raising....

So far, nothing too earth shattering to report on the cyber-school homefront. Yesterday was our first day and, wanting to start of on the right foot, we got up early and dove right in. I am trying to keep some order in the house and am attempting to keep up some sort of a routine, so, I woke the kids up at 6:30 a.m. E and M made their beds, got dressed and had breakfast. ( Right there is a big plus, because M would never eat a decent meal before she headed out.) M finished all her classes without a hitch, with her trusty australian sheperd Ella resting at her feet.

E began her day with her dog Kaylee sprawled out next to her. Sigh! (One of the many pluses of having the girls at home-the dogs are in 7th heaven.) Surprisingly, E had some pretty in depth material to cover for a fifth grader (she is in the gifted and talented program,) but I have to admit I was a little surprised with it being the first day -typically in the brick and mortar school she attended the first day usually consisted of meeting teachers, students and it was pretty easy. I am proud to say my youngest handled her first encounter with cyber school with a lot of grace, but we all had a good laugh at the end of the day when she emerged from her work area. Her hair and been neatly pulled back in a ponytail in the morning, and now she appeared looking wild, with her eyes glazed over, wisps of hair out of control, framing her face. I doubled over with laughter when she said her chair had an imprint of her derriere' on it because she had been sitting so long, and she informed me she needed to complete an essay on Johann Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in the 15th century by the end of the day. I glanced at the clock, which told me it was way past the time for a 5th grader to be working this hard and told her it would be okay if we tackled that tomorrow.

The child who gleefully yelled out the front door last week to all the school buses transporting students to their first day of school shouting, "So long, suckers!" was now eating her words.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Whenever I Need Some Inspiration.....

Oh my goodness......My poor front door is going to go through another change, I can just see it now!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gearing Up For Something New....

The end of summer has always symbolized change and the days leading up to the first day of school become filled with errands and long lists of back to school supplies and school clothing needs.
This year is a bit different for us; we decided to enroll the girls in a cyber charter school called We are very excited because it will offer more flexible schedules and the ability for accelerated studies. E will be able to take a language this year and M will be able to tailor her program to focus on Environmental Science which she has long been interested in. There is no cost to us; this is a state approved public school with certified teachers. We just received our new computers and textbooks this past week.
We have been researching home schooling and cyber charter schools for a while now. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with the public school system in our area, we felt strongly that E was not being challenged. M struggles with Math and needs some extra attention, and we wanted her to be able to focus on her studies without being distracted with the social obstacles that are all too familiar with middle school. Yes, I know she is now a teenager and I can't shelter her forever, but, Rick and I would have liked to been the ones to enlighten her on certain topics, including some rather adult issues. And, it would have been nice if her $200 eyeglasses hadn't been twisted beyond recognition while she was in gym class this past year. (No one ever came forward to claim responsibility.)
Add to this both kids attendance issues-they were sick with strep quite a bit (we were on a first name basis with all the staff in our doctor's office as well as the schools,) and they missed a whopping 25 days of school each.
The up side to the new school is of course the flexibility, and, unless they are deathly ill they have no excuse for not completing their daily work. We also don't have snow days like everyone else does, unless,we decide not to. This only means we have to make up the hours missed on another day. And, there is also a lot of opportunity for socialization, including weekly field trips, outings and clubs in our area.
I also feel this is a good choice for M because she is not sports oriented, and, in our school district, I have come to the conclusion that if you aren't playing a sport, you don't quite get the full benefit of the total school experience. In cyber charter school, she can branch out and explore her own interests without feeling pressured. Growing up these days is hard enough, and I want to make it an experience both of my daughters can look back on and feel really good about. While a brick and mortar school may be the right choice for some kids, we would like to at least explore this new opportunity and see if we can positively impact our children. After all, we are their best advocates.
I am sure we will have our share of good days and bad days, lol! I look forward to sharing my experience with all of you and hope you will follow along as we begin our new endeavor. The first day of school is on September 1.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Inspiration for the Day....

"Aspire to Inspire Before You Expire"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Inspiration of Helen

Have you ever seen that commercial where this young man sees his life flash forward in 15 seconds? Well, I wish I could figure out a way to share my own version of that with you here-but oh, well-we will just have to settle for a story and some pictures, :)

But first-don't you remember when summers were full of long days with your face turned up to the sun,sitting on that tire swing under a huge tree-the drone of locusts buzzing; what little there was of a breeze lifting the damp hair from your face? And one of the best sounds of the day was of the icecream truck winding it's way down your street?

Oh, to have those days back.....

"Where have you been?" you ask. Let's see,where to begin....

I should probably go back a little, maybe about four years ago now, I think. I have this dear friend who has three little boys and she lives down the street in another part of the neighborhood. She is a beautiful, kind person and is a professional photographer by trade. One day, she invited me over to her grandmother's pool which is about a block away. Of course,the girls and I were thrilled to have a place to swim.

This was how I met Helen.

Helen is my friend's grandmother, and is quite an amazing person. Beside the fact that she will be turning one hundred this year, which is incredible in and of itself, she is funny and clever to boot. And of course, we immediately fell in love with her. My daughters and I treasure the summers because we know we will get to see Mrs. Hauser and have some fun splashing in her pool. I often times will take along my art stuff and paint while the kids swim.
Her pool is such a calm and beautiful place to reflect and get centered again. We don't get to enjoy it often with our busy schedule, and I treasure these times very much.
Two years ago, Helen and her family made the landmark decision to share the bounty of their orchards and vineyards with the people of Gettysburg, and they constructed a spectacular winery.
I am not exaggerating at all when I make the statement that it could rival and possibly surpass any similar operations on the West Coast.
It boasts a gorgeous view and the luxe interior of the tasting room transports you instantly into an atmosphere rich with the aroma of the fine wine and hard cider they have become so well known for.

This is where my story begins with Hauser Estate Winery (and explains what I have been busy doing for the past month.....) As part of "giving back" and strengthening their bonds within in the community they recently started to display art work from local artists. I am honored to say I have been invited to hang some of my art work for the month of August in their Tasting Room on the square in Gettysburg.
(Do you think I caught these tourists by surprise as I captured this photo?) I can't imagine a more fitting personal thank you and tribute to Helen, the "grand matriarch" of the Hauser Estate in all it's splendor. How fitting to be able to share some of the paintings I completed while enjoying the lovely surroundings of Helen's backyard.
I can't tell you how honored I am to have this opportunity. I am a self taught artist and I know I will never aspire to anything more than this, but still, it is something that I had written down on my "Bucket List" of things to do in this lifetime. So in all my recent spare time , when I haven't been taking care of my family, or been at the barn with my rescued, retired DC Police horse, or spending afternoons in a summer marketing job with a cyber charter school, (or mornings innkeeping at a lovely local B&B), I am painting like a madwoman, lol!

I thank the Hauser Family for their kindness and support in allowing me to realize this very special moment in time. They will be participating in "First Friday" on August 6th-sponsored by the Gettysburg Area Retail Merchants Association. Each month Gettysburg businesses join forces to offer special events and refreshments. Approximately 25 businesses throughout Historic Gettysburg participate by hosting special receptions, guest artists and authors, sales and later business hours (until 8:00pm).

As part of the First Friday at The Hauser Wine Shop located next to 17 on the Square, there will be music by Sharon Knowles of Fynesound, and light hors'doevres provided by the Fairfield Inn. I would be so honored if you would mark your calendars and come out to celebrate all that is wonderful about summer with me on August 6th!!!! I realize my work is very naive, some will say it's primitive, but I promise you will be viewing a lot of my passion and heart that has gone into these pieces.....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Picture of the Day....

This almost looks like what I imagine judgement day might look like, but no, it was a Fourth of July event in the midwest somewhere. I think it has a very ethereal quality and is quite beautiful.

Quote of the Day....

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Quote of the Day....

Things are more like they are now than they ever were before.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Friday, June 25, 2010

It's Official!

I am honored to announce I have joined the staff at the Historic Fairfield Inn.

This beautiful home is located right on Main Street and was built in 1767 by Squire William Miller and his wife Isabella Henry Miller. The Inn was completely renovated to include large private bathrooms for each room. Some baths have old fashioned claw foot tubs and free standing showers while others have whirlpool tubs. The six suites and guest rooms are decorated with antiques, some with four-poster beds, others with private balconies overlooking the quaint, historic town of Fairfield. All of the guest rooms and suites have private baths, air-conditioning and cable television.

In addition, to compliment the Inn's fine accommodations, there is the Mansion House Restaurant (a favorite dining spot of President Eisenhower), and Squire Miller's Tavern serving a wide selection of classically prepared and artistically presented dishes. The hotel's two chefs and their team offer an imaginative menu of grilled and roasted game, pastas, seafood and mouth-watering steaks. The restaurant opens onto a delightful front porch perfect for spring through autumn dining; open log fires blaze in the hearths during the winter months. There is an inviting parlour for a quiet nightcap and a banquet salon for business meetings and exclusive receptions, luncheons and dinners.
Did you know the Inn holds the oldest Tavern License in Gettysburg and the surrounding area dating to 1786? It is the oldest, continuously operated Tavern in the area and one of only five serving since the 1700's in America.

A wonderful touch is the self guided tour which is open to the public. Joan and Sal (the owners) thoughtfully compiled this delightful journey which showcases the historic significance of many areas of the house. See where President & Mrs. Eisenhower enjoyed their dinners; you can see (or sleep) in the room General J.E.B. Stuart stayed in or where General Robert E. Lee ate, view the room where Statesman Patrick Henry (1736-99), famous for the quote: "Give me liberty or give me death" conducted meetings, as well as many other historically interesting sites and stories including the hidden Underground Railroad room.
Walking to the back of the home on the first floor and turning to the right there is also what used to be a courtyard (which has since been enclosed and is now another room and dining area); this is where generations of guests have been placing coins in the cracks of the "Wishing Walls". Similar to the idea of a "wishing well" or throwing a coin in a fountain, wishes are made with the hope that they'll come true-the tradition has continued through the entire place, as you travel to the second floor there is evidence of this above the entrance to the grand ballroom.

I would love to have you drop by for a visit sometime and maybe we can place a few coins in the wall together and make some wishes! See you soon!

Today Would Be a Good Day To...

One of the books I checked out this week was 365 Things to Do With Your Kids Before They're Too Old to Enjoy Them. I knew it was going to be good because as I thumbed through the pages, I rested on suggestion 104: "The next time your child asks you to come and see something right away, don't say you're busy, even if you are. Stop what you're doing and go see whatever it is your child is brimming over with enthusiasm about."I think we all need to do this more often. The time we have at this very moment, we will never have again. Try to remember that today on your journey.

Love, Andi

Friday, June 18, 2010

Getting Centered

Ah, beautiful Broadkill Beach, where we have been migrating every year for a week each June; kids and dogs in tow. This year, we were blessed with my grandmother and aunt for a couple of days. It's not often we get to spend time with them, and my grandmother's health has not been the best. We all just wanted to hug and touch her alot and tell her how much we love her. My aunt is equally as dear-she is so kind and thoughtful-it was all incredibly special and will make for some lovely memories for a long time to come.

Part of my time is spent catching up on reading material which has been piling up since Christmas, I'm embarrassed to say, but I am glad to report, I plowed through most of it. In these quiet moments, perusing through pages and pages of books and magazines, I am convinced that God is trying to send me a message. I promise to go into more detail in the coming days, but for now, I will leave you with a lovely passage from Hope Rising which I finally finished the last chapter of!

"...with the tenderness of an angel's kiss, I crooked my index finger and touched the space between her nostrils. It was as soft as a butterfly's wing. It was the first time that she came to me actually searching for the comfort of my hand. That moment flooded my heart with warmth. From then on, each day built upon the last. She allowed me to touch her muzzle, her cheek, her forehead-and finally her neck and body. Working with her was like stringing a precious necklace, one pearl at a time."
This was a much different account than the first time the author, Kim, had laid eyes on this little filly-"she was like every other child I'd ever known, starving for all of the physical and emotional sustenance that gives hope to live another day. Time for her was running out. Like a battered child, she wouldn't raise her head or even lift her eyes to look at me. My presence seemed to inspire only more fear in a heart that had already been tattered by more sorrow than she could bear....she reminded me of many of the children I work with-conditioned by long periods of rejection, they learn to fall back into the shadows, to say nothing, to think nothing, to be nothing.In full view of the world they gradually wither and disappear".

God spoke to me this week, and I actually took the time to listen. I vow to you Lord, I am going to try harder from now on.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Long Ago, But Not Forgotten....

The High Tide at Gettysburg
by Will Henry Thompson

"A cloud possessed the hollow field,
The gathering battle's smoky shield:
Athwart the gloom the lightning flashed,
And through the cloud some horsemen dashed,
And from the heights the thunder pealed"

You can read the rest here.
Will Henry Thompson served in the Fourth Georgia and took part in Pickett's Charge on July 3, 1863

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Another Beautiful Sky and Babies Everywhere!

I have a thing for purple clouds and pink skies and lately, that's what we've been having in our part of town. I just had to share! I also can't resist showing you our little duck family that has decided to take up residence in our lilac bush. Mama proudly takes her babies out for a walk in the cool air of the evening, across the big expanse of field to the right of our house. I hold my breath every time I see them, praying that the neighborhood cat doesn't discover his next meal. I am also getting lots of extra gray hairs watching them waddle across the street to the neighbor's where there is a small fish pond. A couple years back, we had another pair of ducks who called our backyard home and to our shock and dismay, we discovered mama hit by a car one day. Nature can be so stressful-it's just one more delicate thing in the circle of life that we humans have disrupted in our ongoing development of the world around us-I just watched Avatar and am keenly more aware of how destructive and greedy mankind can be.

On a lighter note, my husband Rick pointed out some other special guests who have decided to call two of the trees in our yard home for a time. The girls cleverly named this one "Peaches"-can you figure out why? And this one Mabel, (although she should theoretically be named Maple-because of the maple tree, get it? Mabel sounded much cuter!) Actually, before I could capture Mabel on film, she flew away. But she is quite a beautiful little robin. I will be sure to share more pics with you as I find those perfect photo-op moments. Until then, happy trails!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tips for a Visit to the Battlefield....

Alfred R. Waud, artist of Harper’s Weekly, sketching on the Gettysburg battlefield. July, 1863

I can't even imagine what it must have been like to be there, I mean right there in the middle of it all, and undertake the incredible task of trying to express this part of the Civil War in such a way for those of us in coming generations to understand.
One can't help but be overcome with all that happened when you stand anywhere on the battlefield-each one of us chooses to comprehend it in our own way to help our minds to make sense of the magnitude of this page in time. The beauty mingled with such strong emotions that drove men to battle years before....
It's hard to say the best way to experience such history-if you are like me, it's hard for my brain to absorb all the details in a short period of time-I need to take it all in slowly and in a way that will resonate with me so I will be able to remember important details in the future-I want to know everything, but yet I realize the limitations of my mind and I try not to set such high expectations. It never ceases to amaze me when I am standing near people when I visit the Battlefield who can easily spout off a multitude of facts-I will never be able to do this. But, I feel that if you can interpret things in a way you can retain easily in your mind, do whatever works best for you.

For first time visitors, if you can muster up the admission fee, it's always great to visit the Vistor's Center on Baltimore Pike, route 97. I would recommend visiting before 10am (you also have the best chances of immediately booking a tour guide at this time, too) or swinging by after 4pm when it's quieter to plan your trip for the following day. The Visitor Center is open daily 8-6pm and summer months until 7pm. The info on admission can be viewed here. In addition, you can now book a tour guide online by clicking here.
Another suggestion for families with children is to print out some points of interest in advance-you can find some great suggestions to the bar on the right on my blog right here, and if you have your own car, you can have fun finding them at your own pace, as well as parking and seeking them out on foot. I like to give each of my kids a blank notebook, and I ask them to make journal entries-i.e. write about their emotions, their thoughts about what they are seeing, even a poem or what they are hearing or smelling, along with making sketches-nothing has to be perfect, and it's always fun to look back on what they logged at a later time.

I also like to pick one person that was involved with the battle and follow them as far as we can through the battlefield-some suggestions are Robert E. Lee, Lt. General James Longstreet, Major General George E. Pickett as well as Jennie Wade.
It's always a big hit to bring lunch or a snack-we always go to Subway or KFC (on route 30) across from the Walmart-it's relatively cheap), and have a picnic at Devil's Den, sitting on one of the huge rocks, taking in the spectacular views. Everyone loves exploring around this area-just remember to do your part and clean up afterwards!

The National Park tour roads are open from 6am until 10pm in the summer months and it is free to roam the park. For Park updates, visit their website. Just remember to be flexible, try to bring a hat or cap and drink plenty of water.

Don't forget to have fun and make your own artistic moments in history!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Dear Dancer...

Well, girl, it's been a whirlwind of a couple of weeks. I traveled to Texas,came back to jump into work, and have been focusing on wrapping up the year with my students, as well as trying to rack my brain for ideas on how to keep the girls busy for the summer. School is out now, and we look forward to the fall and our first year of homeschooling with mixed emotions of relief and anxiety. I hope I do well by them, Dancer. I love them so much and want the world for them. I am hoping by doing this we can strengthen their foundation and reinforce all that is good and wonderful in this world. They are already such good kids, but I feel the strong need to get back to basics.

Anyway, we get ready to go away to Broadkill Beach next week-I feel pretty good leaving you because I know you are in the capable hands of my two best friends, Monica and Sharon. I desperately wish we could take you with us-it's always been a dream of mine to go horse back riding on the beach-splashing in the surf. I'm not sure you would enjoy all those flies, though. June can be a tough month for that.

I can't believe how fast the time passes-I am trying to focus more than ever on living in the moment and celebrating all that we are blessed with. I have a constant feeling that big changes are right around the corner-I am not good with change, but I am praying every day for the grace to handle all of it. My mom, the huge inspirational presence in my life that she is, has given me a mantra to repeat everyday: "with God all things are possible. ...." Philippians 4:13. I know this is true because of all the blessings I have been given.

After all, I have you, don't I? Looking forward to seeing you later today, my dear friend. I love you so much and can't wait to wrap my arms around your regal neck.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Quote of the Day....

"There is no end to that journey, only the next great voyage. We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make." Ted Kennedy

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day, Everyone!

How fitting that I write a post on of all days, Mother's Day! It has been incredibly busy here, with barely enough time to breathe, but I love nothing more than being able to update here and give everyone a little glimpse of what life is like in our neck of the woods.

It's a beautiful day, although a bit windy and the kind of day where you aren't sure how to dress- (we optimistically packed away all our winter clothes with the warmer weather last weekend.) And,while I'm not a fan of cooler weather, the fronts coming through have provided us with some spectacular sunsets!

Because I have been running around like a madwoman this week, I have discovered I am desperately craving some down time and the need to reflect quietly on my life. I suppose you could call it "getting centered"- I yearn to focus on all that is beautiful and good in this world and appreciate all that God has created-and the books I am currently reading this week are a wonderful remedy for this. One of my absolute favorites is Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Here is a brief description of the book: "A sturdy individualist and a lover of nature, Henry David Thoreau was the epitome of the Yankee spirit. In March 1845, he set out to live life in a new way. Borrowing an ax, he built himself a wooden hut on the edge of Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachussetts, where he lived until September 1847. Walden is a record of his experiment in simple living....Thoreau decribes his...existence, bare of creature comforts but rich contemplation of the wonders of nature and the ways of man."

I am also dreaming of beautiful english cottage gardens and searching for my new favorite flower, the ranunculus, to share my home with. And, while doing this, I have the hair brained idea to pursue one of my favorite past times, the hobby of flower arranging, and try to incorporate it into a career. I love the look of the rustic and the delicate all wrapped up into one package. I have always loved making people happy and feel this is one sure fire way to bring a smile to someone's face-through beautiful bunches of hand tied flowers! Stay tuned for future announcements on when I will be offering some guaranteed smiles for local delivery!
Until we meet again, I leave you with some words from Henry David Thoreau and Walden-"A slight sound at evening lifts me up by the ears, and makes life seem inexpressibly serene and grand."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Quote of the Day....

"Remember,there are two ways to spread happiness,either be the light who shines it, or the mirror that reflects it; every moment counts."

As quoted by my father, Pete Duke, the wisest man I know. I love you, Dad!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fancy Girl!

I recently had to spring for a light turn out sheet for Dancer-all I had in my possession was a heavy blanket which would have had the poor girl dying of the heat;(with the way the weather has been yo-yo-ing this time of year.)

Quite the fashionista, don't you think?

A Brief Photo Essay of a Recent Drive Thru Gettysburg

We drove thru Wright Avenue to Devil's Den and I felt compelled to take a few shots of the beautiful spring palette of colors....

The landscape makes me want to pick up a paintbrush and start painting...

I can't help but feel so honored to live so close to the park and be able to enjoy it's beauty everyday.My favorite monument on the battlefield. The 69th New York used the Irish Wolfhound as the regimental mascot. (The wolfhound is depicted on the regiment's coat of arms.) Two Irish wolfhounds were adopted by the unit and were clad in green coats bearing the number "69" in gold letters. They would parade immediately to the rear of the Regimental Color Guard.
My favorite tree-Sickle's Witness Tree.

Captain Bigelow of the 9th Massachusetts Battery described the scene in July over a hundred years ago: “A spirited military spectacle lay before us; General Sickles was standing beneath a tree close by, staff officers and orderlies coming and going in all directions…” Bigelow continued “…at the famous ‘Peach Orchard’ angle on rising ground along the Emmetsburg Road, about 500 yards in our front, white smoke was curling up from… the deep-toned booming of [Union] guns…while the enemy’s shells were flying over or breaking around us.” Charles W. Reed later wrote: “at the foot of the hill…were Maj. Gen Sickels headquarters under a tree. we halted…a few minutes giveing [sic] me time to take a scetch [sic] of him. one of his Aids was already wounded by a piece of shell in the back and the surgeon was doing it up.” Confederate artillery shells flew toward the Trostle Farm. The 9th Massachusetts Battery retreated back to this location. As they were preparing to pull out, they were ordered to stay and sacrifice themselves so that a new line could be formed behind them on Cemetery Ridge. The 9th Massachusetts (Bigelow’s) Battery fired from left to right against Confederates attacking from the high ground near the Emmitsburg Road. The Confederates shot the horses on purpose so that they couldn’t pull the cannon back to Cemetery Ridge. The Confederates did finally capture Bigelow’s Battery. Bigelow’s guns were later recovered in a countercharge by Union infantry.