Category Archives: Travel & History

This Coming Memorial Day: Time to Reflect

Army helicopter pilot Mark Clotfelter.
Today marks the final Friday I’m hosting a guest blogger from my writer’s group.  Susan Clotfelter Jimison, a full-time book store owner and part-time writer, is working diligently on a war-time family memoir. Her brother Mark, an Army helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam, and her cousin, John Donovan, a WWII Flying Tiger, paid the ultimate price for their country and coincidentally, were lost 1,000 kilometers from each other in the same country.
Jimison’s family story was first published in the October 2005 issue of Vietnam Magazine. She hopes to keep the memory of her two family members alive by telling their stories and preserving their legacy.
                Growing up, I think we take our siblings somewhat for granted. That is until something snatches it away from you. Your life is forever changed and you can’t get those “taken-for-granted” days back.
            I grew up in South Florida with three sisters and one brother. In the 60’s we didn’t lock our doors, we played outside until we couldn’t see anymore because it got too dark. We were not allowed to say “shut-up!”  and we were happy just having an A.M. radio!  Seems like a long time ago considering locking our doors is now not enough— we have alarm systems connected to people who will alert the police for you, if need be. Children don’t play outside as much anymore because of all the gaming and computers hooked up to wireless connections. No one listens to A.M. radio unless it’s talk radio with politics or classical music.
            It was a long time ago that I lost my only brother in a war that was fought in a country we had trouble locating on a map. Every night the war played out on out television through the news accounts of anchors like Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite, who told us the good, the bad and the ugly going on in Vietnam. At thirteen years old it is very hard to understand the why’s and where’s of war until someone comes to your door to tell you that your brother is never coming home.
            If only I had “said this” or “said that” has been with me for forty-three years — almost twice as long as my brother Mark was alive.
            On this Memorial Day, I hope you will take a moment out of your busy holiday weekend and remember our fallen from past and present wars. That really is the reason behind the three- day weekend, not sales and BBQs. Our war dead were all a member of someone’s family and there is someone still grieving at this loss, whether it was a year ago or forty three.
            And when you get to that family cookout, I hope you will look at your siblings differently and maybe not put off telling them how much you love them.

Filmmaker behind ‘Orphans of Apollo’ Film Shares Significance of SpaceX’s Historic Flight

This morning’s launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral marks a new era in space exploration. SpaceX’s bold move to rocket the first private spacecraft to the International Space Station brings new inspiration to space entrepreneurs around the world.
I had the honor to talk with one of those space visionaries – Michael Potter, a founding alumnus of the International Space University, who I recently interviewed while writing a story for Via Satellite Magazine.
“Orphans of Apollo” Filmmaker Michael Potter.
Potter brings a unique perspective to today’s events as the documentary filmmaker behind “Orphans of Apollo,” the extraordinary true story of a rebel group of entrepreneurs who seized command of the Russian Mir Space Station in what could be considered the boldest business plan the Earth has ever seen.
At the center of the film is ‘MirCorp’ — the very first entrepreneurial company to have a sole focus on the privatization of space with a fantastic vision of transforming the Russian space station into an outpost for what was intended to be the first phase of a trillion dollar business. The project was to include mining of asteroids, gravity-free laboratories, a space ‘hotel’, and a research facility. MirCorp was the ultimate start-up company.

“This film is an enthralling glimpse into space, and into the minds and hearts of people trying to get into it. Footage of rocket launches and of life on Mir is interspersed with interviews with the key players about the technical challenges, political wrangling, and business plans. We feel the excitement (and fear) of their project and get a sense of the mood in Russia and the U.S. after the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Janet D. Stemwedel, Ph.D., wrote on her blog, Adventures in Ethics and Science, soon after the film debuted.

Here, Potter talks candidly about the lasting dream of space born during the Apollo program, highlights while filming “Orphans of Apollo,” and the significance of SpaceX’s historic flight.
Q. Do you remember the Apollo space flights growing up? Was it a defining time, instilling in you a lifelong interest in space?
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface. Photo by Neil A. Armstrong, 1969.
I was eight years old when humanity journeyed to the Moon. I was definitely part of the Apollo generation. Kennedy sold the world on the need for space exploration and development. And when President Nixon shut down the Apollo program, and the U.S. government gave up on the space vision and dream, my generation became, “Orphans of Apollo.”
Q. Why did you decide to tackle this topic in the form of a documentary?
Because, I was one-degree of separation from all the key players in the story, I felt an extra inspiration and responsibility for curating the story and bringing the story to the world’s attention. I felt that it was such an important and iconic story it needed to be told.
Initially, I introduced the story to a well known documentary filmmaker, who was interested, but was keen that I do all the heavy lifting. So, I decided to embark on the film as a complete independent project.
Q. What was the most powerful moment for you personally over the course of making “Orphans of Apollo?”
There were a handful of moments of profound Epiphany in the making of the film.
  • The extraordinary openness and pride of the Russians. The great unshakable passion the Russians have for space exploration.
  •  The strong national security related issues connected to both the Mir space station and the International Space Station.
  •  An insight into the lack of sustainability and coherency of a great deal of NASA’s activities.
  •  Both the real and symbolic power that the new space companies have brought to the new race to develop space.
Q. This film has attracted quite a following in the academic world, within NASA and among space enthusiasts everywhere. What do you hope your documentary accomplishes?
Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO
One of the reasons for the following is because of the people who were included in the film, Elon Musk, Peter Diamanids, Richard Branson, Burt Rutan, Tom Clancy. Because of the media attention on the billionaires behind the project to mine asteroids, the attention on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and the news coverage of SpaceX, there has been a strong interest in “Orphans of Apollo.”
I was fortunate, because many of the people on Obama’s space transition team saw the film. The film makes a strong case for the importance of unleashing the commercial power of the marketplace in the development of space. While the Administration has not developed a powerful, clear, and compelling strategy for the development and exploration of space, they have taken positive steps towards broadening commercial enterprise as a driver in space exploration.
Q. What lesson/challenge did you glean from this experience that would benefit other budding filmmakers?
The critical importance of a meaningful and quite dramatic story. I consider myself to be a filmmaker who focuses on issues about the future of all of humanity – a new breed of humanitarian filmmaker.
The power of social network film distribution is really important for new filmmakers to understand and to develop.
Q. Are you working on any other film projects? Do you have plans to tackle any with a space focus?
I am an Executive Producer of the documentary film, “The University” about the Singularity University to be released later this year. (Based in NASA’s Research Park in the heart of Silicon Valley, Singularity University is cultivating future leaders who can harness the power of exponential technologies to improve the lives of a billion people within a decade).
Q. Lastly, how historic is the SpaceX mission from your unique vantage point as a space industry insider and documentary filmmaker?
Falcon 9 rocket lifts off at Cape Canaveral, Fla. (NASA / May 22, 2012)

The launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 is easily the most historic launch in 2012 and will probably be viewed as one of the most historic space launch events of the decade.

With the shutting down of the Space Shuttle program, and the reliance on Russians to taxi American astronauts to space, SpaceX is really the only game in town.Other than the Falcon 9, the U.S. has no clear, compelling, sustainable path for man-rated launch capability.
When I interviewed Elon Musk for “Orphans of Apollo,” very few people on the planet would have imagined that SpaceX would have the chance to become the centerpiece of the U.S. manned space program.
Today if you walk into the gift shop at the Kennedy Space Center, the very first prominent display is the SpaceX hats, shirts, mission patches and other space memorabilia. This was unimaginable three years ago.
If you work at Kennedy Space Center, own a restaurant or a hotel in Cocoa Beach you are probably a fan of SpaceX.
Through the most important American institution of all, private enterprise, Elon is injecting creativity, excitement, passion, ingenuity, challenge, into space enterprise. If SpaceX continues to succeed, both tangibly and symbolically, Elon will have to be viewed as one of the most significant space leaders of the decade.

A Conversation with Carolyn Poling Schriber, Author of Beyond All Price

Union nurse Nellie Chase was known by Civil War soldiers as the Florence Nightingale of her time — a driven young woman who overcame personal hardship to serve her country during its darkest hour.
In Beyond All Price, author and historian Carolyn Poling Schriber captures Nellie’s spirit and struggles, letting us experience what it was like to be a Union nurse and a woman during this period of our history.
Here, Schriber shares with The Writing Well the challenge of transitioning from biographical writing to historical narrative, the one insight she wish she’d had before she started writing historical fiction,  current books she’s reading, and what’s next for her in the realm of historical storytelling.
Q. What is the biggest challenge as a writer to go from crafting biographies to writing an historical novel of someone’s life?
Schriber: For me, the biggest challenge was transitioning from writing scholarly historical monographs to writing a novel based on historical fact. I was trained to look at every detail, to explore every source of information, to document every quote or paraphrase. As a historian, if I couldn’t prove something, I couldn’t say it.  As a novelist, if I couldn’t find out what happened, I had to be able to create a plausible alternative. The first few times I had to make an educated guess were painful. The guilt faded; however, as I discovered how much fun it can be use imagination when facts fail.
Q. I read that there was very little known about Nellie Chase’s life. Chronicling her life must have been a challenge.
Nellie M. Chase, March, 1862
Schriber: In the case of Nellie Chase, there were almost no factual details—only impressions and comments from the soldiers who knew her. So before I could accept their comments I had to find out something about each letter-writer to determine whether or not he was reliable.
 I couldn’t even be sure I knew who Nellie was. All I could document were the state in which she was born and an approximate birth year that would make her the right age, according to military records. Census records showed something like 137 people with her name, born in her state during a span of five years. Some of those I could eliminate because they died or moved away, or more important, left behind records that meant they could not have been in Pennsylvania or South Carolina when my fictional Nellie was.
Still, I didn’t pin her down exactly until I had written the whole first draft, complete with a made-up ending because I had no records of her after the Civil War. Then I found an obituary that revealed her identity, and I learned that I had been entirely wrong about her. 
Q. How far must a writer go to fill in the gaps of a person’s life (once he or she has exhausted the factual details known about a person?).
Schriber: Sometimes too far.  I ended up throwing away over a third of my first draft and entirely re-writing the ending of the book.
Q. How important is primary research to capturing the sense of place and history of a story? For Beyond All Price, what were your most helpful source materials?
Schriber: Luckily for me, I had already written a historical monograph about the regiment with which Nellie served during the early part of the Civil War. That book served as my primary source, and I was very grateful for all those footnotes in it. For that book, I used the Official Army and Navy records, contemporary newspaper articles, the resources of the US Army Military History Library, and an extensive collection of letters written by the members of her regiment, a historical goldmine now preserved at Penn State University.
For a sense of place, I was again lucky that the most of the events took place in South Carolina, a state that does a good job of historical preservation.  I was able to walk the battlefields and view the preserved plantations near Charleston.  And in Beaufort, I even got to visit the house that Nellie and her regimental headquarters staff occupied in 1862. The current owners let me explore the back yard where the slave quarters were and every room in the house. They even had some old photographs of the Union Army during the occupation of the city.
Q. What has been the most gratifying part of this breakout Civil War novel that has earned noteworthy acclaim among Civil War historical societies? What do you think the novel does really well?
Schriber: I’ve never been much of an outspoken feminist, but I’ve been most pleased with the way Nellie Chase has managed to open the history of the Civil War to women. All too often, I think, the Civil War is seen as interesting for men only. We tend to leave the topic to military historians and reenactors. I know of (and belong to) only one society dedicated to “Women and the Civil War,” but it is a small group and not well known beyond its own walls. So I’ve been pleased to find that women are open to reading about the war when the characters include both sexes. And I’ve found it particularly gratifying that some of my greatest fans have turned out to be men. There’s no question that the war had an enormous impact on the lives of all Americans. If some of the 47,000 people who bought this book now realize that both men and women played an important role in the Civil War, Nellie Chase’s story will have accomplished what it set out to do.
Q. What fascinates you about the Civil War?
Schriber: Actually, for most of my life, I wasn’t interested in the Civil War at all. Professionally, I was a medieval historian. My area of specialization was in 12th-century Anglo-Norman diplomatic dealings between church and state, which is about as far away as you can get from America’s Civil War.
What sparked my interest in the Civil War was finding a small collection of letters from my great-uncle James McCaskey, who served in the 100thPennsylvania Volunteer Regiment—a rather strange group of soldiers best known for their morality and religious fervor. As I read his writings, I began to see these soldiers as real people, not iconic stereotypes. Uncle James couldn’t spell, he suffered mightily from homesickness, and he had an innocence about him as he trusted God to keep the bullets from hitting him.
Some of Uncle James’s experiences seemed so far removed from what the history books said that I started checking his words against the official records. The discrepancies I found made me want to point out that real people often get lost in the overwhelming clutter of military record-keeping. And the more I looked for the reactions of “real people” the more interested I became in the whole period. I’ve sometimes said that I did not discover my Civil War characters; they found me.
Q: Looking back on your experience writing about Nellie Chase’s life, what do you wish someone had told you before you began that would have helped you be more effective as a novel writer?
Schriber: Beyond All Price was my first attempt at writing historical fiction, and I didn’t know much about how novels needed to be structured. I thought I just needed to write down what happened. What I forgot was that life often does not make sense, but readers expect novels to have logical and satisfactory conclusions.  It was also hard for me to pick and choose among the thousands of details I had, so that I could weave a coherent story. I wish someone had introduced me much earlier to a writing guru named Larry Brooks, whose website,, has now taught me how to build the skeleton of a novel, so that its readers are carried on naturally into a plot that makes sense.
Q. Any advice for people who love historical fiction on how to write in this genre?
Schriber: There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the art and craft of writing historical fiction. A LinkedIn group of writers has been arguing about the need for research for weeks now. And most writers agree, as do I, that it’s not enough to love history and to set a plot in a historical period. The writer has to know that historical period inside and out, because there will always be readers out there who know more about the story than the writer does.
Personally, I’ve given up reading books or seeing movies that deal with the Middle Ages. All it takes is one absurd statement to discredit an author, and once I find myself mentally yelling, “No!” at an obvious blunder, it’s almost impossible for me to enjoy the rest of the story. So my bottom line for any would-be historical fiction writer is “Do Thy Homework!” Don’t get started on such a book until you’re well grounded in the historical facts.
Q. Which writers do you most admire? What books are you currently reading?
Schriber: Recreationally, I read all sorts of things. I particularly love a good English mystery, like those written by Elizabeth George or P. D. James. Lately I’ve been reading a series of books on World War II written by authors I have met through the Military Writers Society of America – Joyce Faulkner, Leila Levinson, Marcia J. Sergeant, and Kathleen M. Rodgers head that list. 
And next on my “to be read” list is Sharon Kay Penman’s new book, Lionheart. My favorite book of all time is Remembrance Rock, by Carl Sandburg. He managed to tell the entire history of the United States in chapters that trace one family’s generations, as they experience and influence the important events of their times. What do those books all have in common? They are written by authors who know and respect the history about which they are writing.
Q. Are you working on a new book? If so, can you share some details?
Schriber: I’m now working on another historical novel, The Road to Frogmore, which tells the dual stories of a slave woman and a Philadelphia abolitionist, Miss Laura Towne, who together faced and conquered the challenges of emancipation. Like my previous books, it is set in the Low Country of South Carolina during the Civil War.  With luck, it should be available in October.
Author Bio:
Carolyn Poling Schriber
Carolyn Poling Schriber received her PhD in History from the University of Colorado, where she studied medieval Europe and 19th-century America. She was a tenured professor at Rhodes College, specializing in medieval history and publishing extensively on relationships between Anglo-Norman bishops and kings in the twelfth century.  She established and edited an early (1995) resource website for teachers of medieval history.  ORB (The Online Reference Book for Medieval History) continues as a prime reference site under a new editor.  After retiring with Professor Emerita status in 2004, Schriber turned her attention to her second love, the history of America’s Civil War.
The books Schriber has published since retirement have moved away from scholarly fact-finding to human interest. A Scratch with the Rebelsand Beyond All Price have both been set in South Carolina during the northern occupation of the Low Country. A Scratch with the Rebels, although non-fiction, illuminates the depth and diversity of perspectives from ordinary soldiers — one a Pennsylvania backwoodsman, the other a Presbyterian minister’s son from Charleston, SC — on opposite sides of the Civil War. 
Beyond All Price, Schriber’s first historical novel, tells the story of Nellie Chase, who served as matron and nurse in the Roundhead Regiment from Pennsylvania. Nellie fought her own series of wars, against an abusive husband, against a vengeful Presbyterian minister, against nineteenth-century attitudes toward women who lacked the protection of family status, and ultimately, against a foe more lethal than war itself.
Schriber’s most recent book, The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese, originated as a series of blog posts written as Schriber struggled to find her own way through the “thickets of self-publishing.” The lessons she learned along the way helped her to win two separate book awards and to find herself listed among the top 100 Amazon bestsellers in Historical Fiction. The advice in the book is her way of paying it forward to other new authors.
Schriber now lives near Memphis, Tennessee, with her husband Floyd and five companionable but opinionated cats. 
Read Schriber’s Roundheads and Rambling blog at Katzehaus Books or her book-writing blog,  On the Road to Frogmore.

A Day of Remembrance

A view of the Twin Towers nine days before September 11th.
Photo by Anne Wainscott

Like everyone in my generation, I remember exactly where I was when the planes hit the Twin Towers 10 years ago today. I was at home preparing for my work day when my phone rang. It was a good friend who worked at NYU, urging me to turn on CNN. My sister and I watched in disbelief with the rest of the nation as the reality of what was happening in New York, the Pentagon and in the skies above a patch of Pennsylvania farmland came into shocking focus. We learned as a nation that we are vulnerable to attack.

My friend Rebecca and I at the 2001 US Open.

Nine days earlier I was in NYC for the US Open with a good friend from Mississippi. I remember how beautiful the sky was and how much fun it was to be visiting the Big Apple — a place I had come to know well while living in New Jersey.

On Sept. 2nd, my friends and I took the ferry to New York from New Jersey, and walked through the massive lobby of both the North and South towers to find where to stand in line to go to the top. As a group, we decided it was too beautiful a day to wait in line for two hours. Instead, we headed to Central Park. Who knew that was the last time we’d ever have a chance to see Windows of the World or to glimpse New York City’s skyline from the Towers? In retrospect, I am glad I didn’t go up as I would have relived the horror of the trapped people in those offices until my dying day.

A lot has happened to our country and to our view of the world in the decade since 9/11. We have seen many more Americans pay the ultimate sacrifice in the fight against terrorism. We have seen the mastermind of 9/11 brought to final justice. At the same time, the events on that Tuesday morning were a wake-up call that we cannot escape from. We will never look at air travel the same way as we did before 9/11. We are more cautious and more watchful. But the essence of our country is intact — the American spirit — to live our life — and to ensure our children can live their lives — in liberty and freedom.

I pray for everyone who lost a loved one on 9/11 and to those who continue to serve our country, whether as soldiers or as first responders. This is a day for us to pay tribute to those who lost their lives, to be thankful for our communities and our families,  and to renew our sense of unity and commitment to our country. God Bless America!

Road trip to Remember

Lake 26 from the Sargent family cabin deck. Photo by: Anne Wainscott-Sargent

3,000 miles.  Four states. Nineteen cousins. That’s what my family just completed – a Midwest roadtrip that took us from Atlanta up through Tennessee and into the Midwestern US to spend time with family.

My husband and I had planned for this vacation for weeks and were excited to be underway.  Our van was loaded to the gills – I had healthy snacks and plenty of DVDs packed to keep the kids entertained in the car, as well as my own cadre of books to read during the long drive. My husband serves as volunteer chauffeur during our road trips – preferring to drive than having to deal with incessant demands and chit-chat from the backseat – “Can I have a drink?” “I want something to eat.” “Ryan hit me.” “Are we there yet?”  “I need to go to the bathroom” (usually about 10 minutes after giving in to the first request).

In spite of the interruptions, I welcome my time in the passenger seat because I get to sink into my favorite pastime – reading – and can finally make a dent in the pile of neglected books that sit on my nightstand at home. For this trip, I brought an eclectic mix of non-fiction and fiction, including Manhunt: The 12-day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson; and Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen’s historical novel about life on a circus train during the 30s.

The first weekend of our journey was split between my two brothers, who live about 5 hours apart – one in northern Ohio, the other in Chicago. Both my siblings have three children – including new infant sons, 9 and 6 months of age. In Ohio, our kids played together in my brother’s backyard; in Chicago, they swam in a heated outdoor poor on the fifth floor of my brother’s condo in MuseumPark. The pool was warm but the air was brisk as we felt the wind from surrounding skyscrapers buffet us from all sides.

Cousin Kristen and her dog, Lizzy, with Sarah, Ryan and Jeff.

From there, we visited cousins in Indiana on both my and my husband’s side of the family, picking up a speeding ticket along the way while driving through a stretch of highway surrounded by Indiana corn fields and other farm land.  It was fun to meet Kristen, my husband’s cousin – a free spirit and animal lover, who took us to a nearby lake and took time out to color my hair! The kids fell in love with her dog, Lizzy.

The trip culminated with a visit to a northern Wisconsin lake-side cabin that my husband’s grandfather built in the early 40s. There, we reconnected to my husband’s two cousins – Brian and Stephanie — and met their families. Jeff hadn’t seen them in nearly 30 years!  It was Friday, the start of the fourth of July weekend.

All day during our push into Wisconsin – my first to this beautiful state of lakes — temperatures were in the 90s – too hot to spend the night in a cabin that lacks air conditioning. We decided to stay in a hotel at St. Croix Casino in Danbury, courtesy of Brian and Stephanie’s mom, who had a room voucher.  After a brief visit with Brian, we first drove to Johnson Yellow Lake Lodge for dinner. Unbeknown to us, a series of fast-moving storms were brewing. The storm system spawned supercell thunderstorms and tornadoes as it moved from southwestern Minnesota northeast across the state and into Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.


We had a 30-minute wait in the crowded pub known for its view of the lake. We had just started eating dinner when the first cell hit – winds created a whirlwind of lake water that was blinding. The wind was so fierce that large trees overlooking the water blew down like matchsticks. The crowd in the bar uttered a collective “ahhh” when the trees went down. Then, a tree hit the deck just to the right where we were seated and the restaurant went dark. We spent the next 40 minutes in the pub’s dank basement along with other locals and vacationers. My husband kept trying to reach his cousin, knowing that his house did not have a basement. We connected later, and were immensely relieved to hear everyone was okay.

We had to wait for trees to be cleared before making a run for the casino, which was running on an emergency generator when we arrived.  As we drove away we saw the sky behind turning black again and were glad to be going in the opposite direction!

The Georgia and Wisconsin Sargent cousins.

The next day we made the decision to go to the cabin – even though there was no electricity. Jeff had come too far not to see the place. Brian met us at the hotel, cracking a joke, “Welcome to Wisconsin,” as he picked up supplies on our way to Lake 26. The devastation from the storm was evident everywhere – trees were blocking part of the roadways and in some places, there were downed power lines. We made our way slowly until we arrived at the driveway leading to the cabin, which was blocked by several downed trees.

Not long after we pulled off the road Brian’s neighbor arrived with a chain saw and other equipment to clear the tree logs. His only payment? A Bud.
Everywhere we went we saw devastation and the hands-on helpfulness of neighbors and volunteer road crews, who worked tirelessly to clear the debris and help stranded travelers. Brian’s wife, Dawn, was called into work as a spokesperson for the county, where she fielded press calls from CNN and other news outlets throughout the weekend.
 Catching a fish on Lake 26.

Over the next three days, we made the best of things and got to know each other, talking late into the night by lamp and candlelight. The lake was a godsend – it was clean, serene, beautiful. My son and daughter caught their first fish at Lake 26; they took their first kayak and canoe rides; and they enjoyed picking blueberries and roasting marshmallows by fire.

Fourth of July in Webster, Wisconsin.

The cabin slept 13 in total – and we all got along remarkably well given disrupted sleep schedules, a baby, and toilets that needed an infusion of water from the lake in order to flush. All of us from Atlanta got a healthy appreciation for Wisconsin flies (they bite), and the state’s voracious mosquitoes who take over outdoors during the witching hour of twilight. On the fourth of July we drove into Webster and enjoyed a small-town parade, fire hose water contest, ice cream social and bingo.

The time flew by and concluded with a sunset cruise on Brian’s boat through the lake, with the children taking turns in the captain chair. I’ll never forget the last morning in the cabin being awoken to the sound of loons on the lake. If you have never heard their unique call, check out this YouTube video shot in Minnesota in 2006.

Two hotel stays and four books later, I found us rounding the turn into our subdivision in northern Atlanta , happy to be home with our functioning but empty refrigerator, air-conditioned house, running water and our Goldendoddle Missy.  I am thankful for the time we spent with all our family this summer, especially my husband’s cousins on Lake 26 – where we now share much more in common than just a last name — but have a collective experience of being together in the aftermath of Wisconsin’s summer storm of 2011.

Places that Inspire Your Inner Writer: Callaway Gardens

Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, Callaway Gardens
Pine Mountain, Georgia 

According to Callaway’s website, “nature’s beauty floats gracefully through the air at this glass-enclosed conservatory.”

Home to 50 species of tropical butterflies, this center offers the perfect venue to linger along paths surrounded by exotic tropical plants and fluttering butterflies, or to sit quietly, taking photos and journaling.

I’ve been to Callaway twice — first on a wedding anniversary getaway weekend after Christmas, where my husband and I enjoyed the warm glow of Fantasy in Lights®. These photos were from a second trip –a women’s retreat through my church held in the spring. A major highlight was a stop at this beautiful butterfly oasis!

There is a lot written about butterflies and their symbolism, including this Welsh website devoted to the Butterfly House in Aberystwyth, Wales.

Interestingly, the butterfly symbolizes change, resurrection, transformation, celebration, young love and the soul.

Ron Gagliardi, in his thesis on butterfly and moths in western art and design, wrote butterflies and moths are ‘nature’s canvases with the gift of flight.” 

An apt description of these unique gifts of nature.

Places that Inspire Your Inner Writer: Denali National Park and Preserve

Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska.
Photo by: Thanh Cat

Few places match the majesty of Denali National Park and Preserve, created in 1917. Located near the top of the world, Denali National Park is home to more than six million acres of extreme wilderness and the tallest mountain in North America: Mount McKinley. This magnificent sub Arctic area is slightly larger than the state of New Hampshire, reports Frommers.  Many have found this unique place an inspirational setting for writing. On July 26, a group of K-12 teachers will gather at the park to explore science and writing through a unique professional development program offered by the Alaska State Writing Consortium and Murie Science and Learning Center.

Revolutionary Speeches to Remember

Whether it’s to inform, entertain, unify or defend, speeches are a critical form of communication. Good ones  know how to grab and keep the audience’s attention, and great ones change thinking and inspire action.  This Memorial Day, I share examples of great patriotic speeches delivered here and abroad that made a lasting impact on the public during times of trial and times of healing.

Winston Churchill was among the great orators whose war-time speeches rallied both his country and the world. In his Suite101 post, Churchill’s Greatest Speeches, blog contributor Michael Rowland noted that Churchill’s “ability to motivate entire nations through the spoken word proved crucial in guiding the Allies to ultimate victory in World War II and saving Western civilization from Nazi tyranny.”

In June 1940, Churchill told his people and the world, “Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!” offers these top 10 U.S. Presidential Speeches that transformed America that were given in times of war and peace. Topping the list is of course President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which was delivered on Nov. 19, 1863, four months after the bloody battle, and was intended to honor the fallen on both sides, who “gave the last full measure of devotion.” The president also hoped to heal the country and unify it. Lincoln’s conclusion resolved “that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

FDR’s famous Pearl Harbor speech following Japan’s premeditated attack on our naval forces in Hawaii rallied the country in a way that few speeches by U.S. presidents have before or since.  President Roosevelt words, carried over radio, began with, “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

Toward the end of his speech, FDR declared, “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered during the March on Washington D.C. in August 1963 was a defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1999, it was ranked the best speech of the 20th century in a poll of scholars of public address.

Rev. King urged America to “make real the promises of democracy,” saying, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I conclude with a lesser known speech given on Memorial Day 1884 by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who survived the Civil War with three wounds as a member of the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry. Holmes would serve 30 years as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. He captured the spirit of Memorial Day in these words of remembrance for fellow soldiers gone but never far from the hearts and memories of those left behind:

“But as surely as this day comes round we are in the presence of the dead. For one hour, twice a year at least–at the regimental dinner, where the ghosts sit at table more numerous than the living, and on this day when we decorate their graves–the dead come back and live with us.

“I see them now, more than I can number, as once I saw them on this earth. They are the same bright figures, or their counterparts, that come also before your eyes; and when I speak of those who were my brothers, the same words describe yours.”

Places that Inspire Your Inner Writer: Hampton Court and Gardens

The Gardens at Hampton Court, Herefordshire, England.
Photo by Jeff Sargent.

This is my second Friday post themed around “Places that Inspire Your Inner Writer.” Three summers ago my husband and I vacationed in England. Hampton Court, Herefordshire, is a castle on the meadows of the river Lugg, backed by a steep wooded escarpment and surrounded by woodland and grounds of 1,000 acres. Founded by King Henry in the early 15th century the castle has been completely restored.

The Gardens at Hampton Court are spectacular. Along with St. James’s Palace, Hampton Court is one of only two surviving palaces out of the many owned by Henry VIII. The renaissance garden, which Henry VIII made here in the 1530s, was converted to the baroque style between 1660 and 1702.

According to, Henry VIII spent three of his honeymoons at Hampton Court, as did his daughter Mary I when she married Philip of Spain. It was at Hampton Court that Henry VIII was told of the infidelity of Kathryn Howard, which would eventually lead to her arrest and execution (and according to some, why her ghost inhabits the Haunted Gallery.) Henry also married his sixth wife, Katherine Parr, in the Holyday or Queen’s Closet at the Palace, adjoining the Chapel Royal.

The beauty and peace of this setting make it an ideal place to journal.

Photo by: Jeff Sargent.


Fun Friday – Places that Inspire Your Inner Writer

Every Friday, The Writing Well will showcase places that inspire creativity and ‘your inner writer.’ Enjoy this visual journey of destinations designed to give you pause from the daily grind, think outside yourself and reinvigorate your spirit. 

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

Lilburn, Ga., USA

I journeyed this week to this beautiful BAPS Hindu Mandir in Lilburn, Ga., with a group from my church. Mandir is the name for a Hindu place of worship and prayer. The components making up the word, Man and Dir, mean mind and still. Therefore, a mandir is a place where the mind becomes still; a place where we experience peace from worldly problems. For centuries, it has remained a spiritual, educational, social and physical cornerstone of Indian society. The ornate carvings found throughout this structure are breathtaking. The mandir is open to the public and people of all faiths are welcome to visit, learn about this sect of Hinduism, and take in the incredible architecture and stone carvings of gurus and deities of the Hindu faith. I recommend this mandir as a destination for anyone seeking a change of pace and a peaceful respite where you can journal or just rest.