Duke Chapel in Christmas Dress

I darkened the doorstep of the Duke Chapel today expectant to see greenery, poinsettias, and bows. Sure enough, I saw greenery, poinsettias, and bows.

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A peek into the nave from the narthex revealed masses of poinsettias near the front (chancel).

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A panoramic view of the nave: Duke Chapel is a “cross-shaped church” with a long isle down the middle and perpendicular sections near the front that are called transepts. In this photo, the nativity is on the back wall of the left transept and is framed in pine garland.

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My favorite ‘ornament’ was the Advent wreath. For those unfamiliar with the Advent wreath (suspended from the ceiling in this picture), it is comprised of five candles. Four of the candles (often purplish in color) are lit one each week leading up to Christmas. The white candle in the middle is the Christ Candle, which is usually lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

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The circular evergreen upon which the candles rest represents the eternity of God.

Also on display in the Duke Chapel until December 30th is a collection of nine paintings by Robyn Sand Anderson that explores the visual interpretation of scared choral music.

Lake Norman Fall Cruise (2016)

Boating season has no end.

This axiom was put to the test Saturday, October 22nd, when I boarded the Jolly Roger (a.k.a. my sister’s family’s boat; unofficially named) for a fall cruise around Lake Norman. It was a crisp 46 degrees sitting still…and we weren’t going to be sitting still.

Approximately twenty boats—a combination of Benningtons and Cobalts—participated in Lake Norman Marina’s annual fall foliage cruise, and we had the pleasure of being one of them.

During the cruise, we passed locales like Sherrills Ford, Monbo, Long Island, and Buffalo Shoals. Translated, we went up the lake, turned around before it got too shallow, and came back.

Here are a few photos I took that day. Enjoy!

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Boats lining up at Lake Norman Marina for the fall cruise: There were a few pops of color along the shoreline, but the day was more about enjoying the lake with other marina patrons.


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The shoreline tried, it really tried, to impress us with some fall foliage, but it was a bit early for full-on fall color.


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A view of the Marshall Steam Station from the lake.


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When we reached the halfway point of the cruise, my nephew in particular enjoyed watching the boats turn around and face us.


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Adults, kiddies and canines, too, enjoyed the cold but sunny day boat ride.


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I took quite a few photos of the furry seafarers in front of us. Judging by their able footing, they’ve cruised Lake Norman a time or two  before and were clearly enjoying their sunny day adventure.

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The cruise ended back at the marina with a cookout and a promise that next year, the cruise would be a week or two later in hopes of more colorful foliage. Green or brown, yellow or red, the cruise was very enjoyable and Lake Norman Marina could not have been a more gracious host.

..But the day didn’t end there for the Jolly Roger and its crew. We set out later that evening for a cruise up river, er lake, to a waterfront restaurant. On the return trip, the sunset was the cream on the top of a very good day.

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Ayr Mount (Hillsborough, NC)

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There’s a big world out there, and sometimes you don’t have to venture too far from home to encounter something new in it. All that might be required is a slight detour; such as the one I took today after church to flee the I-40 bustle.

I took the Hillsborough exit (261), which promised a laidback route through one of North Carolina’s oldest towns. The historic borough was abuzz with activity near the River Walk and local restaurants. A brown sign for Ayr Mount that I’d never noticed before caught my eye. Intrigued by the name, I followed it. (Note to reader: If a sign said, “Jump off this bridge,” I probably would not follow it.)

I parked in a gravel lot. As I surveyed graceful, weeping trees and acres and acres (about 60 to be exact) of meadows, woodlands and gardens surrounding a brick plantation house, I wondered how I had lived in the general vicinity for eleven years and not known that this place existed.

Let me say this now in case I forget later: Anyone can walk around Ayr Mount or sit on the grounds any time they want to! Well, at least until closing, which today was 6pm. (There is a $12 fee to tour the house. Parking is free.)

Now for a little history, the rest of which can be found here. Ayr Mount was the home of the Kirkland family, whose patriarch, William Kirkland, immigrated to North Carolina from Ayr, Scotland, in 1789. Despite humble beginnings, William Kirkland became a well-respected merchant, amassing wealth and building Ayr Mount in 1815. The plantation remained in the family until 1985. In 1993, after extensive restoration, the new owner donated the house to the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. Today, thanks to the Trust and those who came before them, Ayr Mount stands representative of early American architecture, culture, and heritage.

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Ayr Mount was built in the Federal style. Its all-brick exterior was rare for the time–most houses in the region were wood frame. I found the rear of the house (shown here) to be just as pretty (prettier?) than the front. The interior, which I did not tour, possesses unique features for the time as well, such as 14-foot ceilings, intricate woodwork, and plasterwork.

A small garden edged the rear of the house. The most vibrant showing this time of year was a profusely laden yellow Angel’s Trumpet bush.

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Beyond the stone patio stretched acres of meadows and woodlands, with views like this one:
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Visitors can either walk through the grass and get their feet nice and wet (like I did) OR the grounds can be seen to their full advantage by traveling Poet’s Walk, which is a one-mile walking trail that loops around the property from the house down to the banks of the Eno River and back.

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Poet’s Walk at Ayr Mount

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Bird houses, plantings, and seats are peppered all along Poet’s Walk. I didn’t go down to the Eno River (which would have made for a nice picture) for fear of totally (as opposed to partially) ruining my good Sunday shoes.

The Kirkland family cemetery is right along Poet’s Walk (and is the first sight seen from the parking lot).

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Generations of Kirklands were laid to rest in the family cemetery on Ary Mount.

In my humble (and arguably morbid) opinion, the cemetery was one of the most striking sights on the property. The trees and plantings, along with the wrought-iron gate and stone perimeter came together to produce a sense of tranquility. Amidst this reminder of the end that we each face (if the LORD tarries), an epitaph rose high with this faithful proclamation: “Resting in hope of a joyful resurrection.” …And hope, believers in Jesus Christ know, does not disappoint.

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A Tour of the Tulips at Duke Gardens

I planted three dozen tulips in my garden last fall. To date, only one lonely stem-and-leaf has reached full maturity and bloomed a soothing orange on top.

Reportedly, Duke Gardens planted over 55,000 bulbs.  Although I haven’t counted, it would appear that 54,999 of them have bloomed. For the last two weeks or so, I have enjoyed each new wave with wonder.

Come and take a tour of the tulips!

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The Terrace in the Historic Gardens is tier after tier of tulips. I took this photo in the early morning hours, which I’ve found to be a gloriously peaceful time for passing through nature and marveling at the Creator’s hand before beginning my workday.

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Thanks to the time and talents of the Duke Gardens staff and volunteers, the Terrace is arranged in matching symmetry from left to right, with each row containing different kinds or color themes.

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Morning dew on a Terrace Gardens tulip.

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The midday sun shines through a mass of red tulips. — Historic Terrace Gardens.

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In the Rose Garden, tulips bloom in planters here and there around the 100-year-old Roney Fountain.

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Tulips aren’t the only beauties blooming in spring at the Gardens. The trees on the Terrace are canopies of complimentary colors.

OH, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
— Robert Frost; from “A Prayer in Spring”

Check back soon and I’ll show you what has come and gone but is not to be forgotten–such as the striking Cherry Allee by the main entrance’s Gothic Gate!