Saturday, April 25, 2015


Vandalia, Illinois was not even on our trip itinery when we passed nearby in late August, 2013, on the way to Arkansas.   We were in a hurry, trying to make a nearly 1,300 mile  (2,093 km) car trip in only two days.  But then, we found out the importance of this small city of 7,043 people to the history of the United States.

We were going to take another route home but circumstances forced a change - and, suddenly, we were traveling near Vandalia again. 

For V day at the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I want to talk about a road almost not taken, and what happened when we did take it and took the detour to Vandalia.

For example, we found the Madonna of the Trail statue.

I was amazed to discover that,by 1909, the old Santa Fe trail used in the 19th century for transportation purposes between Franklin, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico, was disappearing.   Eventually, a plan was formed by the Daughters of the American Revolution to both honor the old trails but also the pioneer women who traveled those trails, sometimes with young children in hand.

This is the Madonna of the Trail statue in Vandalia, Illinois, one of twelve such statues erected along the old "National Road".

Nearby, you find this sign.  Of course, being lovers of Civil War history, we had to spend some unscheduled time in Vandalia.
Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President and the President during the Civil War may not have slept here, but he began his political career in Vandalia, in the building that preceded this building.

No tours were scheduled on the hot afternoon we walked into this building, but a knowledgeable woman talked to us for some time, before we had to leave.

Lincoln, she told us wanted to move the state capital to a site more in the center of Illinois and eventually succeeded.  But first, Vandalia built this structure above, trying unsuccessfully to convince legislators to keep the capital in Vandalia.

For years, Lincoln was not a popular person in Vandalia, but all is forgiven.  Now, they honor their link with him.

I was so sorry to leave- I could have listened to her all day.
If only this staircase could talk,what tales would it tell us.

I highly recommend a visit to the Old Statehouse if you are in the area of Vandalia, or St. Louis, Missouri.  I wish I could let the woman who talked to us know how much I enjoyed listening to her.

Tomorrow, is my Civil War Sunday feature. Monday, the Blogging from A to Z Challenge resumes with W.  And, for W, I have a treat in store for you.

Friday, April 24, 2015


On U day in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I want to talk about a town in Kansas I passed through several times in the four years I lived there, but never stopped and investigated it.  Nor did I ever take any pictures.  But this town is part of America the Beautiful.

When I moved to Wichita, Kansas, after growing up in New York City (my husband was stationed there by the Air Force in the mid 1970's) I quickly learned about the power and terror of tornadoes.  I learned about tornado sirens.  I learned to recognize the signs of hail and possible severe winds in the color and look of a sky.

I learned this lesson well enough to warn co workers, back in New York State, moments before an F1 tornado touched down a couple of blocks from our office in 1991.  Fortunately, no one died in that small tornado.  But the tornadoes that hit the middle of our United States get much larger and powerful than an F1.  Sometimes they wipe out entire towns in a fury that is unimaginable except to people who have lived through like storms, or through wars.

Beauty isn't just in scenery or in artwork.  Beauty is within the people of a city, a town, a village. It is in their resiliency, the ability to pass through crisis and emerge stronger. 

I have no pictures of Udall, but I can offer you this video.  This man explains he survived a tornado in the small town of Udall, Kansas, on Memorial Day, 1955.  This tornado killed 89 out of the 610 residents, including one of his brothers.  It is rated an F5, and is considered one of the 25 most deadly tornadoes in United States history.

Why would I want to talk about Udall when my theme for this month is "America the Beautiful"?

Because Udall lived through their trauma, and came back better than ever.  They aren't the only town in Kansas to come back stronger from a tornado, either.  In fact, another small Kansas town, Greensburg (another town I was through a time or two) was hit by an F5 tornado and came back - green.

Perhaps, if green had been "in" in 1955, Udall would have gone "green", too.  And THAT would have been even more beautiful.

But, in my memory, those small Kansas towns built around large town squares survive in my memory - and, one day, I may be back.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Terra Studios

One day, a young glassblower and his wife moved from Colorado to a rural studio in Arkansas, and there they.....

...made glass bluebirds. Lots of bluebirds.  Little glass bluebirds of happiness.  And then they started to sell them, a few at a time, and, eventually, over nine million of them (here are a few hundred more).

For T day on the Blogging with A to Z Challenge, I bring you to Terra Studios, in rural Washington County, Arkansas.  Arkansas is not a normal tourist destination for many where I live in the Northeast United States. However, I lived in Arkansas for four years in the 1980's and  can tell you it is well worth a visit.

This post for my America the Beautiful series is about an art glass studio.

In 1982, while I was living there, the glassblower started to sell his Bluebirds of Happiness at the then-semi annual War Eagle Fair. Eventually, he expanded and opened his studio to the public.

Each bluebird is individually hand blown and dated.  I packed away the two bluebirds I bought in Arkansas in the 1980's - I'm not sure if I bought them at War Eagle, but by the time I left, they were being sold locally in some other places. 

Of course, nothing has prevented other people from making their own glass birds, and this has been a challenge for Terra.  So now theirs are called the Original Bluebirds of Happiness.

The original glassblower is retired, and his son runs the business now.  If you visit their 160 acre studio you will see sights like this.

And this.

And this.

But the star of the show is still the bluebirds.  Now, they've been joined by birds of other colors - pink Bird of Hope, rainbow, green (some of these are limited edition colors) and birds with candle holders, but my favorite is still the bluebird.  They come in various configurations, now, and I purchased this little guy in 2013.  I hope I can return one day.

Tomorrow - what will I pick for U?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sanibel Shell Show

For my S post in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I couldn't resist the opportunity to keep blogging on my theme of America the Beautiful, and work in three, not just one, word beginning with "S" into today's title. (AM pats herself on back while catching breath from writing run-on sentence).

Sanibel Island is an island off the west coast of Florida, near Fort Myers.  It is oriented east and west, instead of north and south, and for this and other reasons is considered one of the best if not the best shelling beach in the United States.

Beautiful indeed.

Every March, Sanibel holds an Annual Sanibel Fair and Show.  I've been fortunate enough to be able to attend twice, in 2009 and again in 2013.    A large part of the show consists of some of the most beautiful art you have ever seen - all featuring shells.

These pictures were taken at the 2013 show.
Just think of how much skill it took to create this award winner. (Incidentally, although I usually don't take pictures at art shows, everyone was snapping away - so I am assuming this was permitted.)

I loved these.
An orchid.  Remember, these "flowers" are really shells.

And, an award winning bouquet.

Oh, this makes me want to go back.  It's too late for this year's show.  But, maybe next year.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ravenel Bridge

The Blogging from A to Z Challenge is a challenge for many bloggers. But, in 2012, I faced other challenges.  A body flirting with obsesity.  An arthritic knee that was limiting some of my mobility.

I vowed that, one day, I would walk across the Arthur J. Ravenel, Jr Bridge, which connects Charleston, South Carolina with Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. 
Taken from our car, March 2015
Today, on R day in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I want to blog about that bridge, the bridge I lost weight for, the bridge I conquered in 2014, the bridge I walked on (although not all the way this time - I just didn't have enough time in a short trip to Charleston) again this year.

This is what it looks like when you are walking the bridge, if you look up.

If I could, I would fill my phone with pictures of sunset near the Ravenel Bridge.
If I could lasso the moon, I would lasso it from the Ravenel Bridge.

I know there are more beautiful bridges.  I know there are more most-photographed bridges.  But, for some reason, I just can't get enough of the Ravenel Bridge.  And neither can many other people.

Some people fear bridges, but, for me, they are a source of delight.

What part of the Americas will I visit for the letter "S"?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Queen (Street)

Today is Q day at the  Blogging from A to Z Challenge, and I continue to blog using the theme of America the Beautiful.  My personal challenge is also to use photos on my phone, and on my computer, and not let them languish any longer in cyberdarkness.

Today, I return to Charleston, South Carolina to show you a little of Queen Street. (If you are wondering - yes, there is also a King Street.)

Queen Street is located in the historical French Quarter neighborhood in Charleston.
I love the street signs installed in the curbs of some intersections in Charleston.

Queen Street is indeed a royal street, full of history, restaurants, ghosts, and architecture.

This is the Mills House hotel (picture taken in 2011) on the corner of Queen and Meeting Street. And this building has a little secret.  (Some say it is also haunted).

You would think that, looking at this lovely building, it was one of Charleston's historic buildings.  You would only be partially correct.

The site is quite historic, but the building(for the most part) is a duplicate of a building that was there for many years.  The current hotel's website states the building was built in 1853 but another site says it was demolished in the late 1960's.  There are elements of the old building within the newer building, however.

There is a restaurant across the street that is also said to be haunted.
Here is another building on Queen Street - Queen and State street, to be exact.  I love those palm trees.  So many old, historic buildings in Charleston - I don't know the history of this particular building.  But, you can take a self guided tour of the historic French Quarter - including a portion of Queen Street - online.

So, what will I blog about for the letter R?  If you guess Charleston again you will only be half right.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Civil War Sunday - Will the Nation Survive?

April, 1865.

One hundred fifty years ago, the United States was in the midst of an April it would long remember.  The first major Confederate surrender on April 9 signaled, to many, the end of the war (although, that really wasn't true.).  The April 14 assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the first President of the United States to be killed in office, stunned the nation..

Lincoln's killer, 27 year old actor John Wilkes Booth, became the subject of a nationwide manhunt.  After shooting Lincoln in the back of the head while Lincoln was watching a play at Ford's Theatre (just six blocks from the White House), Booth jumped onto the stage, breaking his leg.

Before fleeing, he shouted either ""Sic semper tyrannis" (thus ever to tyrants) or"The South is avenged.".  Eye witness accounts vary.

As a point of trivia, one eyewitness to the 1865 assassination lived long enough to appear on an American game show in 1956, shortly before his death.

Now people were afraid.  The last four years, our country has been at war, with well over (estimated) 1,100,000 casualties (dead/injured/captured). If we used the same percentage of today's population, this would have been over six million people. 

Additionally, recent evidence has come to light that the generally accepted casualty figures were understated - some of this research done locally, where I live (Binghamton University).

Parts of the nation were in ruins. Our President was dead, our Secretary of State seriously wounded and Lincoln's assassin was on the loose. (As part of the plot, the Secretary of State was also attacked in a different location, but survived.)  People asked: Will our government, will our nation survive?

The New York Times, a major New York City newspaper that still publishes today, said YES.  And the newspaper was right.

But the month of April, 1865, was not yet over.