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Tiny Stone Churches


"Have you seen the stone churches?" she asked. 

Phil and I both shook our heads no, and then asked the inn manager to explain.

"Oh, you've got to see them," she said. "There are 5 of them, scattered through the mountains here. A man named Bob Childress built them, all from stone quarried locally. They're still being used today."

"In fact," she continued, "there's a book about him. It's really good; I need to keep buying copies, because I never seem to get them back, when I lend them out! It's called The Man Who Moved a Mountain."

Turns out that Phil had seen the book when we were at the information post the previous day, and he'd nearly picked it up, so we now knew just how to spend our day.  We headed back to the information post, bought the book, and picked up a free map plotting out the location of the churches.

As we wound our way up and down, around bends in the road, through miles of tiny isolated towns, I read the introduction to Richard C. Davids' book.

"Then a man named Bob Childress came to live there. He had grown up a mountain man with mountain habits. He drank. He fought ambush-style, with rocks and pistols. He was scarred from many brawls and twice wounded by gunshot. But something happened to change Bob Childress, and the change in him shook and transformed Buffalo Mountain."

Continuing through the introduction, Mr. Davids notes that he sat on hundreds of front porches, listening to hundreds of memories, some of which seemed unreal at first. Visiting the churches, we learned the memories continue to run strong.

We arrived at the first tiny church just before services began. Trying to remain unobtrusive and respectful, we hung in the background as much as we could. Chatting quietly with Phil, I looked up, and thought, "Oh - Johnny Cash!"

A tiny older man ambled down a mountain road toward the church. Obviously dyed coal black hair slicked back just so, a black shirt and tight black jeans on slightly bowed legs, he sported a huge  bel buckle. Tucked into one hand was  a well worn, well read, and obviously treasured Bible.

Wishing us a good morning, welcoming us to the area, he asked where we were from. We explained that we'd just learned  about the 5 churches, and we hoped to visit each one throughout the day.

With a huge grin, he began to talk about Bob Childress and his beloved churches, and he asked if we knew the story of how it all began. 

"Well, Bob, you see, worked at the quarries...hard, difficult work, and there's wasn't much to do here to break up the boredom. One day, Bob looked around at all the rocks and decided that the workers should have a "Prettiest Rock" contest." 

And, so they did, because if it was one thing they had, it was rocks! Everyone for miles around brought their best rocks, some that were crystals...


...and even a few treasured sea shells.


My want-to-be Johnny Cash continued. The contest, it seems, was a huge success, but when he was done, Bob did not know what to do with all the rocks. Praying on it a bit, he figured that the good Lord wanted him to build a church, and so he did.

The story didn't make complete sense to me (Who, after all, would leave their best rock behind?), but I loved listening to it, as much as "Johnny" loved telling it.

Sounds coming from within the tiny church signaled the beginning of services, so we shook hands and thanked him for his time. He grinned back at us and told us that he loved telling folks about his church.

Back into the car, we again drove through mountains and tiny towns, heading toward the next church. This time, we arrived just as services ended.

Trying again to be unobtrusive, we hung back a bit, but a tiny wisp of an elderly woman opened up the door to an SUV,  and smiled. "Oh, you just missed services! We would have loved to have had you."

As we began to once more explain what we wanted to do, a slightly less elderly man walked over, and smiling, he joined us.

Eventually, he grinned, pointed to the frail, wisp of a woman, and said, "Well, you've got a great source here. She's related, you know."

With a twinkle in her eye, she told us that she, Anna, was 91, and that Bob Childress had been her father-in-law! 

Phil and I shared the "prettiest rock" story, and the gentleman, grinned, and smiled. "Well, you know, that Bob came to the ministry later in life. He'd gone to Richmond, VA, to study, well after he was married and had 2 children." Turns out there was obviously more to the prettiest rock story, and of course, he loved to share it.

So, we settled in for a good visit, and within just a few minutes, Anna and her companion, offered to unlock the church and take us inside. How could we have refused?

They went on to explain what a good man Bob had been, and that he really did end up working himself to death, always there for whatever a parishioner needed. We wandered through the tiny church, looking at photos of Bob and his sons, all but one, continuing the work of ministry. In fact, a few of Bob's descendants, preach at the churches today.

I think we must have visited for nearly an hour, gaining bits of information. Bob didn't build the churches himself; there may or may not have been a contest, but the congregants did haul rocks in from near and far, all of them coming from the mountains. Bob arranged for two men, experienced in building with stone, to come and construct the churches.

As we left, the gentleman pointed out where valuable pieces of quartz crystal were chipped from efforts to remove them by folks in need of the money. One church lost its best stone completely. Our guide seemed matter of a fact; some of the mountain residents were dealing with hard times. He seemed to understand why it might have been done.

Tiny Anna hauled herself up into their vehicle, grinned and waved. 

"Come back again, " she implored us. "Come back. We're a tiny congregation, only about 25 of us, and we'd all love to have you."

And, I'm pretty sure we'll do that on one of our next visits.

We hugged our good-byes, and then we left to visit the remaining churches, with stories swirling through our heads, chatting about how much everyone wanted to share their stories, and in Anna's case, her family stories about Bob Childress. We all shared our stories, each of us genuinely interested and wanting to make connections.

All of us have stories, and we all need a chance to tell them, and a chance for someone to truly listen to them.

P.S. The book is filled with stories of mountain folks, their towns, and their churches. The stories are told simply and with great love. As we wandered our way through the area, chatting with local residents about our wanderings, everyone stated..."What a good book! I have several copies, you know..." If you're in the mood for real life stories about real life, ordinary folks, get yourself a copy and settle in. The mountains, it seems, loves a good tale or two. 

Old Men Talking

Brunswick, MD 021

Puff, puff.

Chug, chug.

I think I can. I think I....

Well, maybe if I just stopped to admire this porch, a wonderful wrap around porch, the kind you sit on and watch the world go by, well, maybe I could. Brunswick, MD's hills provided quite the workout.

Just then, a quavery voice rang out. "Hello there, it's a beautiful morning."

I grinned at the elderly man rocking away this February day.

"Hello," I answered. "Hello. I'm just admiring this wonderful porch: I love it. " I didn't go into the specifics of needing to catch my breath.

"Yes, I've been here 8 months now. When I was looking for a place to stay, I saw this porch. And, I thought, this will work. Yes, this will work." He continued on, sharing a bit of his story, and I listened contentedly, whispering a pray of thanks for this elderly man wanting to talk.

At the end of it all, he wished Phil and I  a good day, and we responded likewise. I love small towns for this reason; everyone enjoys a good visit.

Making our way up the rest of that dratted hill, and loving the fact that the return trip would be downhill, Phil and I reached Beans in the Belfry. We'd found quite by accident one winter's day, hoping to visit a nearby rail museum.  Despite its website stating it would be open, we found the building shuttered and dark. In search of things to do, we'd found this coffee shop. Intrigued by the name, and the obvious fact that at one point in history, it had lived its life as a church, we wandered into an eclectic mix of various tables, sofas, chairs, and the most wonderful aroma imaginable. Sounds of a blue grass band mingled with conversation and the clanking of dishes.

And, here we were again, hoping for more of the same.

Phil grabbed a menu, and just as we began to figure out what we'd eat, another elderly voice inquired, "What sort of photos do you take?"

I looked up into steel blue eyes and a very wrinkled face. Leaning against a walker, he went onto tell me he photographed all sorts of things, but mostly trains. He collected them, you see, and he'd been a worker on a train once.

I happen to love old people, and full disclaimer, I happen to be well on my way to being one. Despite my 60 plus years, this gentleman obviously had at least 20 on me.

Phil and I put down our menus, both being well trained in manners, respect, and both of us, lovers of stories. We didn't have a firm agenda, and well, how long could a man, dependent on a walker, stand and talk?

It turns out to be a very long time.

I saw my dad in him - the somewhat rumpled mish mash of clothes, funny tufts of hair in odd places, and the crazy meandering threads of conversation.

Where were we from? Did we come here often? He came every Sunday; he'd been coming for years now, ever since the place opened.

Gesturing toward a chair, he explained he'd written most of his novel there.

What trains had we ridden? He'd been on one that traveled across most of Alaska, a special train just for his group. It reminded him of when he worked on a train, supervising the dining car. He had to get there early, to begin breakfast and have it ready. The bosses got to know him, let him ride in the engine, but he couldn't stay too long. So much of his help was teenagers, you see, and they required close supervision.

His voice often got lost in the din of cutlery, the sounds of nearby conversation, and the live music. My mind kept flitting back to my dad and his love of stories, to all the times he'd converse with anyone and everyone. He wanted to make someone laugh, often reminding us that if you made someone laugh,  you'd done good work.

Most of all, I knew this man needed to be heard; Phil and I took delight in obliging.

A worker walked by, asking where he would like his order. He pointed to the chair he mentioned earlier, explaining that the person seated nearby would be sure to watch it for him.

I think the conversation continued for a half hour before he left us, stopping promptly at the next table with another opening conversational gambit.

Phil and I just grinned at each other; I pointed out that he would be that same type of old man, talking to everyone.

His response? "I already am!"

As we ate, I'd turn around now and then, to check on our new friend, always finding him engrossed in conversation with someone. As we left, Phil reached out to shake the old man's hand and thank him for his conversation with us.

With a twinkle in his eye, he smiled and reminded us that he'd be here every Sunday and would love to talk with us again.

Much to Phil's delight, we found the train museum open, and lo and behold, volunteers wandered about in the form of little old men, anxious to share the place. They firmly corralled us, along with a few others, and new conversations began.

I have to admit, after a few minutes, I excused myself.

I can talk cameras and photography. I can also talk train rides.

Scale and layouts baffle me, and headaches follow as I try to make sense of it all.

So, I left Phil happily engrossed in it all, followed around by said volunteers, chattering away.

Instead, I wandered the second floor, admiring bits and snippets of the past and indulging myself in playing dress up in the kids' corner.

And, I thought a good bit about the elderly and their love of stories, their wanting to be seen, heard, and valued. It costs so little to sit and listen, a bit of time mostly.

I thought about all the wonderful folks who'd given my father that time, and I said a quick prayer for all those who had no one to listen to them.

Old Men Talking.

Probably Old Women as well, but for some reason, I seem to come across the men more often. I've heard wonderful tales told of days growing up as a slave, and how proud one man was to be a house slave after growing up picking cotton in the fields. It brought history home and made it real.

Old Men Talking.

Stop to listen; they tell the best stories.

IF you and I are lucky enough, we'll be the ones telling the stories someday.

And, hopefully, someone will stop to listen.



We Had A Plan

Oct14 031

We had a plan yesterday; indeed, we did!

And here it is:

  • shop for remaining groceries
  • visit Barnes & Noble
  • do laundry
  • edit photos
  • work on chopping the tree that fell down last winter into pieces

The plan seemed do-able, and we did get off to a great start


  • completed the grocery shopping
  • visited Barnes & Noble

And, then Mother Nature intervened; if she hadn't gifted us with such an outstanding example of Indian Summer, I know we would have completed our plan. We had "PURPOSE!"

Truly, it's all her fault, and we are never ones to waste a gift.

So, we:

  • drove to Delaplane, VA
  • visted Barrel Oak Winery and completed our tastings
  • bought two bottles of wine
  • shot tons of photos
  • drove to Stribling Orchard
  • bought Stayman apples to dehydrate
  • backtracked to a second winery that we passed on the way to Stribling
  • completed another tasting
  • bought 2 more bottles of wine
  • shot more photograps
  • relaxed in the late summer sun
  • drove to Marshall Diner
  • consumed the greasiest and most awesome patty melt
  • meandered home

Wow! I just realized that we actually accomplished about 3X more than the original list.

Go, us!

P.S. Just so you know, laundry is in progress today, and I am editing photos. I also spent over an hour photographing the shadow patterns created by our laundry basket. Got some pretty cool shots, too!






Why do I journal? For that matter, why does anyone journal?

Reasons vary, and I suspect there exists as many reasons as there are types of journals.

For me? It's to remember moments in time, good or bad. Sometimes, it's to make sense of moments I'd rather forget. Somehow, when I write, I tend to be more honest with myself. The putting it into written form gives weight to the words, and if I get uneasy in my gut I know that I'm trying to rationalize or to delude myself. If it's too private for anyone but me, I can - and do - cover up the words. I still know they're there; I know the essence of what I wrote, if not the exact words.

As I type this, I realize I know far more stories about my dad's growing up and growing up than I do of my mother. And, really, I don't know many about my dad. My parents didn't tend to talk about that sort of thing; I think that maybe they just simply got caught up in the making of a living, the raising of 4 children. The everyday stuff never seemed to be anything worth recording, but that's what I miss knowing. The record exists of the big moments, the weddings, deaths, births, and so on, but not much of the little moments of their lives, of what they were thinking or enjoying.

My dad tells so many stories now, but they are garbled bits and pieces of things, fact mixed in with fiction. His dementia robs him of making much sense. The bits that come through tantilize us, but, most likely, they're lost.

So, part of what I do is to put it all down, to preserve the memories for my kids and grands. Maybe it won't matter much to them in the long run, and maybe it will.

I finished the piece above yesterday; the words at first glance don't speak of anything significant, but then again...well, maybe they do. They record memories which otherwise might be lost forever. I'd like to think that at some point in time, someone will sit down and get lost in my journals. Who knows?

Note: The journal pages above are a mish mash of things, or as the ever present crossword clue would say, an "olio" of things. I enlarged a photo of the pumpkin patch trip, and then went over it with Neocolor II crayons, blending it into the background. And the background is in itself another olio of materials from the studio desk, most of it underpapers, the papers that catch (well, mostly catch!) the spills of paints and inks. Pulling it all together reminds me of doing jigsaw puzzles; you think a piece is going to work, and then it doesn't. So, you try another piece until you get one that works. And, so it goes with all the scraps and pieces littering the table.

We're off tomorrow to Bedlam Farm  in New York, to meet Jon Katz, Maria Wulf, and other online friends; to visit Simon, the donkey, and Red, the dog...among others!

I Carry...

Sept 14 173 copy 2

I carry with me...

  • memories of playing hide n go seek with a magnificent white egret
  • salty kisses
  • sand encrusted toes
  • the call of the loon
  • late night talk fests
  • the taste of a perfectly made crab cake
  • conch shells tumbling to shore
  • mirrored sunsets in the marsh
  • running the mosquito gauntlet
  • nibbling cheese, sipping wine
  • tiny crabs scuttling along the shore, playing catch me if you can
  • the siren song of the surf
  • basking in autumn sunshine, just watching life
  • golden afternoon light among the pines
  • percolating bubbles left behind by receeding waves
  • dreams of powder blue typewriters waiting to go home with me

I Didn't Even Kill Them


In these here parts, they call me "The Rose Killer."

You see, I am known to kill them dead. Annihilate them. Slay them with tremendous powers. And, all it takes is for me to plunk them in the vase.

Yup, just plunk them in a vase. My powers are legendary.

Within an hour, each and every rose that I have lovingly ministered to, hang their heads in defeat.

I've used powders and potions.

I've cut off the bottom parts of the stems just so.

Doesn't matter; they're gone off to rose heaven.

Growing up, my daughter whisked her boyfriends' offerings right past me, as quickly as possible.

"Don't touch them, mom, ok?"

"In fact, could you stay out of my room for the time being?"

I shamefacedly nodded my head yes.

Phil brought me daisies, tulips, daffodils, sunflowers, anything but roses. Buying roses equaled money down the drain.

At our wedding, my bridesmaids carried roses. I carried daisies.

So, as we wandered through Lewis Ginter's rose gardens this past weekend, I admired. I shot photos, getting right in their faces, but not quite touching them. In fact, I held my breath whenever I was near them.

And, the last I look, they still stood proudly, their heads blowing gently to and fro.

Not a one of them looked like it was ready for a trip to the ER.


Note: I shot the photo above last Sunday at Lewis Ginter Gardens in Richmond, VA. The rose gardens seem to be enjoying these crisp fall days; the gardens at their peak. I added the words for another project I'm involved in.

Story Catching

June14 020 copy

"Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that to go on living I have to tell stories, that stories are the one sue  way I know to touch the heart and change the world."

                                                                                                            - Dorothy Allison


We are born to be story tellers, I think...all of us with stories to tell, to share, to enjoy. My husband thrives on telling his stories, some of them over and over to where we roll our eyes and walk away, off to do our own thing.

His whole body tells the story - eyes flashing, hands gesticulating wildly, laughing, chortling, emphasizing various words.

"Oh, did I tell you this one?" he asks, knowing full well that he's told it many a time.

Yes, he's a story teller among story tellers.

But - better yet, he's a story catcher, and while most of us are story tellers, few of us are story catchers.

We're far to quick to interrupt with something like, "Oh, yeah, that happened to me. Let me tell you..." and off we go, now wrapped up in our own story.

But, this man I love so dearly, is a true story catcher. He listens, eyes focused on the other person. He asks questions, and then follow up questions. The other person knows that someone is hearing the story he or she is telling - and really hearing that story.

There are so few story catchers in this world.

Yesterday, these two men stood as the tiny train rumbled and shuddered along its tracks, winding its way through trees and along a creek. They shared stories; they asked each other questions, both animated in their discussion.

And, as we waited for the train personnel to switch the engine from one end of the train to the other so that we could begin the journey back, the conductor quietly took my husband aside and asked, "Would you like to ride in the engine car on the way back?" not knowing he was fulfilling a life long dream.

As we clambered aboard, others watching, and I'm sure wondering how we got to be so lucky, or whom we might know.

And, I wanted to tell them, "Be a story catcher. Just be a story catcher."

It's as simple as that.

Photo Heart Connection - February 2014

Feb 14 254 copy 4

Where did February go????

I almost missed the photo heart connection...almost, but not quite. I'm sliding in under the wire, so to speak.

The worst part of it? So many photos to go back and edit; I haven't seem to have had time to sit and play. I really need to get this, and so much else, back under control. was still fun to wander back through some shots. Our gypsy shoes put on many a mile last month; we never seem to lack for ideas of where to go explore.

President's day weekend found us in one of my childhood summer haunts, Rehoboth Beach. It looked a bit iffy at first; snow had blessed us with a few days off from school, and luckily, it all cleared up well enough so that we could go inhale some delicious salt air, inhale some seafood and salt water taffy, enjoy the funkiness of this wonderful little beach town, and simply enjoy ourselves.

Beach fences have always captivated me, and trying to get a shot that was a "bit different" than the norm kept me busy for quite some time over the course of several days. The winding lines, the patterns in the it all.

Of the few that I've had time to work with, this is one of my favorites. Not the best shot, not an awesome shot, but still, it makes me smile. It takes me right back into childhood and hours on the sand and in the water. Memories of my dad convincing me to take a big drink...that salt water was just the best. BLEAH!!! I think I can still taste the stuff.

I love these fences...simple, weathered, a bit wobbly, just like me. Scraggy in places, falling apart in others, but still doing their jobs. Just like me.

I need to go back and keep at it until I get the shot right. I think I've got a few keepers, but,'s such a good excuse to go back!

Be sure to clickety click and go explore some wondeful photos!

Life Is Good

October 2013 202 copy

We hoped to see the dance of the monarchs; instead we watched the rain pour from the heavens. White caps danced on the channel, mocking us, and the beach? Closed due to the government shutdown.Money to spend? None, really...the paycheck, what there was of it, reflected the shutdown.

And, it's all okay. We'd prepaid for our condo, so, we simply went for it, bringing along homemade applesauce, stuffed cabbage rolls, and a bottle or two of wine. Some books to read, a place on the water, and new places to explore.

We even managed to catch a glimpse of the Atlantic from Assateague State Park, and with the wind whipping up the waves, and sand stinging our faces, the glimpse was quite enough!...but long enough to snap a shot or two.

Long conversations into the night, and antique shops to explore. Berlin, MD, home of "The Runaway Bride" with its wonderful old architecture and people to chat with, offered a wonderful old shop packed with antique toys. While we couldn't buy any, we could laugh and giggle over what we'd owned as kids.

Yes, the beach was closed, but with this weather, we wouldn't have been on it for long anyway. Would we have liked to be able to a few things? Absolutely. But, we had a choice to make...dwell in our misery or simply enjoy life as best we could. Dwelling in the misery didn't offer anything but misery.

Instead, we grabbed the cameras, catching bits of magic here and there. A cobalt blue bowl reflected in a countertop. The blessing of the antique toy store owner, who said, "Yes, photograph what you'd like." Chatting with a beader about her native American heritage and the owner of the Boston Bull Terrier about our own childhood memories of Lucky, another Boston Bull. The loaf of rye bread didn't cost much at all, and slathered with butter, offerend its own bit of heaven.

So, it poured, and my hair resembled a brillo pad. Water dripped off my nose. But, boy did I rock my Johnny Depp hat. (Picture to follow, although you can find it on Instagram!)

Life didn't deal what we expected, but life still dealt a pretty good hand, as long as I could remember to focus on what I had rather than what I didn't.