Fresh Air and Fresh Perspectives at Montreat: Little Cabin in the Woods

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(Written on Monday, July 6, 2015)…I am outside working in the MIDDLE of the day! I’m enjoying a summer escape to the peaceful Smokey Mountain village of Montreat, North Carolina where cool fresh air is the norm, and a morning mist or evening rain shower keeps everything lush and green. The sound of the creeks flowing over the rocks is your constant companion along walking paths, and the chirping of happy cardinals adds music to the day. This morning I enjoyed a nice quiet break by lovely Lake Susan while my children were having fun at “Kids’ Clubs” camp. I saw them paddle-boating from afar. I needed the break after 2 LONG days of travel with them in Mom’s mini-van. Let’s just say that confined spaces and tight quarters are not great for my relationship with Michael James. We both need our space from each other, as there were several times I felt like saying, “AGH, Go jump in a lake!”

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When we finally arrived on the evening of July 4th, we were too eager to get to our destination to remain in the town of Black Mountain where folks were gathering for fireworks. But later, as Ellie and I went on what she called a “midnight” nature walk around our “new” neighborhood (it was probably 9:30pm), we heard the fireworks – their booms echoing through the mountains, and smoke drifting through the forest trees, mixing with the mist and glowing eerily in the lights of neighboring cabins, but not a soul in sight. It was pretty magical. She was brave with her flashlight, and I squeezed her other hand as I held it – our 3 secret squeezes that mean “I love you”. She squeezed back, and then I realized how the smells, sounds, stillness and love would stay with me. I paused there on the forest path with her to kneel down and say, “Ellie, I will remember this midnight walk forever and always.” And she gave me a kiss! (Now THAT moment made it worth the trip.)

The kids come home for lunch for 2 hours in the middle of the day before returning for more camp fun, a “siesta”- type schedule I wish we could incorporate into our lives at home year-round. Today it involved PBJ’s, lots of stick collecting and breaking in prep for cooking hot dogs on the fire tonight, hot gluing moss on logs (MJ, of course), quiet drawing on the patio, and swinging! I always appreciate my children more after a little break from them!

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Yesterday was my 12th wedding anniversary to my wonderful husband, Dustin Manders, and not our first one apart. Since July is when the “new year” starts for residents and fellows, he has a tradition of being completely unavailable for our anniversary! But the great news is that he has just started his last and final year of our 15-year post-college journey to Dr. Dustin finally being out of training and in FULL PRACTICE!! Can I get an “AMEN”? So next July, I’m hoping we will be in Hawaii together to celebrate the end of a difficult era…we’ll see.

During the Montreat worship service that we attended yesterday morning, as both little kiddies lay in my lap asleep after a long walk from our cottage, I was reflecting on how 12 years ago I never could have imagined having produced and raised these 2 unique and wonderful creations with my husband. They were just a glimmer in my eye, a bright but unknown hope for our future! (Or, as Ellie has come to understand it, her babies are just in her eyeballs right now, but someday they will move into her tummy! Sorta…) In that moment, I felt thankful. Of course, a few moments later they started head-butting and fighting over my lap during the quiet organ offertory, but I have learned to take what peaceful moments I can get.

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Both offspring were happy campers discovering the favorite Montreat past-time of “ROCK-HOPPING” yesterday. And this engendered a care-free afternoon of my children exploring and playing nicely together. (Wonderful how the outdoors and time away from electronics can have this magical effect.)

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They cheerfully helped with dinner (“Tacos in a bag”, a “recipe” MJ learned at camp which involves crushing up a bag of Fritos, then adding the meet and toppings, shaking and eating directly from the bag).

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And they gave us an after-dinner show featuring their unique “umbrella dancing” routine – 10 parts with 2 “finales”! They even snuggled in bed together and I caught them making “ghost sounds” out the window to a neighbor playing basketball.

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Yesterday evening, Beffa and I were enjoying some relaxing time on the screened porch. She knitted and sipped wine while I read to her the history of the Gray Rock Cabin. Very cool to find out that the original builder/ owner was a woman about my age, Cora Augusta Stone. She left some very detailed journal entries that provide such an interesting glimpse into her personal past. She was a lifelong learner and teacher. Beginning at age 15, she taught in a one-room school-house in a rural town in New York state to save money for college. After graduating from Mount Holyoke Seminary in Massachusetts, she became a missionary and started a girls’ school as a missionary in Japan. But her health deteriorated, and she was told to move south if she wanted to live any longer (probably TB). So in 1898 she arrived by train to what was then just a tiny settlement here in the mountains of North Carolina, on the headwaters of the south fork of the Sawannanoa River. In this home which she built, she opened a little grocery store AND a tiny library that were open for 2 hours every morning. It was the only library within 75 miles, and she felt passionate about serving the underprivileged and undereducated families of nearby Black Mountain.

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“Over the next 5 years, my little home became a center of culture and commerce. I learned many lessons as I sold my vegetables, flour, sugar, and needlework…I learned that God is present even in a tiny grocery, and an even tinier library. I enjoyed the immense pleasure of helping many learn to read and come to love reading as much as I. I gave many lessons in reading, math, motherly skills and character, and found in each lesson my own education in the service of our Lord. I met many people who knew how to find God in the smallest miracle of nature- a salamander, a rhododendron leaf, a piece of glimmering mica!”

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Sadly, Cora passed away on August 29, 1904, in this little home, as her sister kept the fire stoked and tended to her comfort. Her body was buried in a simple wooden casket in nearby Black Mountain, carried in the back of a farm wagon surrounded by galax leaves and maidenhair ferns. Her grave is still there, marked by a huge mountain rock. From the same porch where I now sit, she managed to make this journal entry the day before she passed away:

“I feel the time is coming for me to join my Lord in the heavenly home He has prepared for me. The new experiences I wonder much about. I’m only sure they will be glorious and satisfying. I find I do not fear death at all. I am in my piazza today, observing the beautiful mountains across from my home. Warmly covered, as usual, I am merely waiting for my Lord to call me…Though I have spent only 36 years on this earth, I believe I have made the most of every minute. I never asked anyone to do anything I would not do myself, and I have attempted exclusively to follow God’s will for my life. Through Him I have positively touched many lives. I am at peace.”

WOW, Talk about an inspiration! An inspiration for me to live every day in service and duty to God and others; an inspiration to enjoy the beauty and wonder of God’s world in the little things; an inspiration to keep up the good work I’m doing for the “NorthPark Book Ark” Children’s Library; an inspiration to keep teaching children and parents; an inspiration to come back to this sacred place of retreat and renewal. If I don’t get much “work” done while I’m here, at least I read about dear Cora of Gray Rock Cabin, Montreat, North Carolina! May we all strive to work as hard and live as well.

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(Here are a few more pics I’ve taken since writing that a couple of days ago, and the temperature has warmed up. Wishing old Cora had installed an AC.)

Mommy made her famous "fruit pizza" fora treat!

Mommy made her famous “fruit pizza” fora treat!

 I scream, you scream, we all scream for ICE CREAM!

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Beffa and I hiked up a mountain to work off some ice cream calories!

Beffa and I hiked up a mountain to work off some ice cream calories!

Ellie stops by the nature center to meet a snake!

Ellie stops by the nature center to meet a snake!

Sleepy swinging girl...

Sleepy swinging girl…

View more posts in my series, “Slowing Down for Summer”.