Revisiting Colonial Williamsburg

It has been a blustery, cold spring so far, but I can still enjoy Spring Break. My friend, Leanna, was willing to come with me to visit Colonial Williamsburg for two days. We had both been as children, but going as an adult with a better understanding of history gave me a new perspective (though the little children running around in colonial clothing, asking questions, and even taking notes were adorable). As a teacher, I am thrilled to see them catching the enthusiasm for our country’s history. We made the three hour drive early in the morning so that we could maximize our two day stay. By the way, currently there is a promotion for Virginia residents that allows them to purchase an annual pass to Colonial Williamsburg for the price of a one-day ticket (info here)!

We toured the Governor’s Palace, the Capitol, and various houses of prominent citizens. I enjoyed the tour of Wetherburn’s Tavern, where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other prominent founders were known to stay while serving in Williamsburg in the House of Burgesses, as well as the tour of the Raleigh tavern, where the dismissed House of Burgesses continued to meet together, leading to the first continental congress.


Wetherburn’s Tavern

The grounds were beautiful and we were thankful for sunny weather, if not actual warmth. Some plants were starting to flower and green was coming back into the lawn. I probably took the most pictures of the adorable little houses and side yards.

I also really enjoyed going into the trade shops. The interpreters are all so knowledgeable, not only about the trade, but about 18th century life. It was interesting how each shop smelled so pleasant, not from a candle or air freshener, but from the work. The leather works, carpentry shops, tailors, apothecary, etc. each had a unique smell.

The most interesting moment for me was watching a tradesman in the foundry (the founder? not to be confused with the founders of the country, haha) pour liquid pewter into a mold and make a spoon in about ten seconds. He then demonstrated how the melting point of pewter was too low for cooking by dipping the spoon back into the liquid and letting it dissolve nearly instantly. I wish I had taken a video to show my 1st graders!

Leanna and I were also fortunate to catch an evening service at Bruton Parish Episcopal Church, which has remained a place of worship since the 18th century. The flow of the service felt familiar after learning to use the Book of Common Prayer at New Covenant. The choral music was also very beautiful and a pleasant, reflective way to end our day.


Photos are my own.



by Chelsea Barnwell


In quiet passion, he fell to one knee,

Gentle and reverent in his intent.

His suit was not spared a taste of the soil.

His very body for her would be bent.

Truly she was beautiful and worthy.


Down he bowed till his face was next to her,

She was the very first of spring’s bouquet.

He breathed deeply of her sweet, fresh perfume.

He smiled, and rose, and went on his way,

Unashamed to bow to the good and pure.


A poem inspired by a true gentleman


Photo by Stefanos Kogkas on Unsplash

The Third Wish

Once upon a time, there lived a man. He was neither young nor old. He lived in the country, far away from neighbors, and was usually quite alone. He had a few chickens and goats and kept a few acres plowed each season. He was hard working, but not beyond his needs. He liked to sit and smoke a pipe in the twilight hour with his dog, which he’d named Alexander.

One evening, not long after he’d lit his pipe, he saw a curious display. A brilliantly colored bird was being pursued by a bat. It sang out in distress, feathers aflutter. The bat was closing in on his prey when Alexander gave a terrific bark and snapped at the bat. The man was also standing ready. He’d taken off his worn hat and caught the bird in it. He cradled it close until Alexander had chased the bat away.

He could feel the delicate creature’s heart beating rapidly. He set the hat on his chair and let it fall open. While the bird perched on the edge of his chair, he admired the blue and green feathers. He could not remember having seen or heard of a bird quite like it. “I wish I knew what you were called, little fellow.”

“That I will grant easily. My name is Flean.”

Both the man and Alexander stood in silence, mouths gaping.

The bird continued in his musical, whistling speech. “In fact, to repay your kindness to me. I will be happy to grant you three more wishes. “

Stroking his beard, the man thought a minute. Then he said, “I would like to make my first wish now and save the other two for later. I sometimes get lonely living out here. I would like to marry the most beautiful woman in the land to keep me pleasant company.”

The bird chirped, “Your request will be granted at twilight. When you are ready to make your other wishes, whistle thus.” The bird demonstrated a simple, but elegant bird call. The man had no trouble capturing this little phrase for he had long been a quiet student of nature and had learned many bird calls as a child. After it was quite clear the man knew the song, the bird flew off.

The man looked at the position of the sun, then ran into the house. Being a bachelor, he had left some housekeeping unattended and he sought to remedy this before his new bride arrived. He put on clean clothes and trimmed his beard. He was putting away newly washed dishes when through the window he saw the sun dip below the mountains. He heard a gasp outside his door.

He quickly went to open it. Standing on his doorstep was a lovely dark-haired, green-eyed young woman. She had been looking about her but started when the door opened.

“Please, sir. Where am I? What has happened?” A tear sparkled in her eye.

“Don’t be afraid, my lady. Come in out of the dark.” He swung the door open wide and she cautiously entered.

“But who are you? Where am I?”

“My name is Christopher. We are a few miles from the village Shepford. Today I spared the life of a magical creature and he granted me wishes. I wished that I could marry the most beautiful woman in the country and you appeared. I can see that he fulfilled my wish just as I asked.”

The woman showed no sign of satisfaction at this complement but turned away from him and began to cry. He was quite shocked by this and tried to comfort her. “I promise that I am a very gentle man. I know that I am not rich, but I have always been happy.”

She stopped crying haltingly, “You misunderstand me, sir. I am not crying for fear of you or of a poor life. I’m crying because not long ago I was enjoying the evening meal with my family and had walked out to fetch more firewood. Now I am in a place I have never heard of and I do not know how to get back to them. Even worse, I don’t know what Edwin will do when he hears that I am gone. He will surely think I have been untrue to him. Oh, I love him so.” She broke into tears again.

Embarrassed, Christopher left her alone for a while. Should he have specified that his bride was to be unattached? Apparently, one must be very careful how to formulate a wish. What to do now? He went outside and sat down for another smoke. He sat until his pipe went out and he noticed the chill in the air.

Late into the night, the woman lay shivering on the bed, despite the fur blankets Christopher had given her. From where he lay on the hearth, he could hear the repeated pattern of her crying and lulling herself to sleep, only to begin weeping again later after waking from a dream with her lover’s name on her lips. Even after she was quiet, he listened to the crickets in the meadow and the wind blowing through the trees. Finally, he let out a long sigh of decision and closed his eyes.

When morning came, Christopher rose and began his usual chores. When he returned to the house, she was still in bed and seemed to be sleeping peacefully for a time. He made a simple breakfast and even got out a tablecloth, one of the only delicate things he had inherited from his mother. He ate and left her breakfast on the table. Going outside once more, he repeated the bird’s special call. With a few moments delay, the blue and green feathered bird flew into sight and landed on the top of the old wooden chair.

“How is your bride this morning, Christopher? Are you ready to make your second wish?”

“She is very beautiful. You did just what I asked. Though she is not well this morning. She misses her family very much. I was senseless not to think of that, and so, I would like to make my second wish. I wish you would take her back to her family so that she can marry her lover and live happily.”

The bird cocked its head and looked intently with one eye at Christopher. “Are you sure, friend?”


“It is your choice if you want to use wishes to undo other wishes. Your request will be granted at twilight.” The bird flew away.

Christopher went back inside to find the woman just rising and looking about the cottage. He immediately told her of his second wish and she thanked him with tears and a smile and looked even lovelier. The rest of the day, Christopher went about his usual work. The woman cleaned his little cottage, dusting away cobwebs, tidying the hearth, and even gathering some flowers from the meadow to adorn the table. They ate dinner together then fell into an uneasy silence while Christopher watched the glow of the setting sun slowly pass over the woman.

“Christopher, I hope you always treat others as you treated me. Loving people always seems to make them lovelier, even if before they did not seem so extraordinary. In fact, it is usually the most ordinary that become the loveliest with a little care. I hope you are loved one day.” Then she was gone. He cleaned up from dinner, smoked his pipe, and went to bed.

Several days past and the flowers wilted and died. The days continued as they had before. Each day work was accomplished, and each evening rest was enjoyed. The only difference perhaps was that Alexander had to frequently nudge his master to return indoors when the night was far gone. “I’m sorry, old boy. I was just thinking.”

Finally, one clear afternoon, Christopher called the bird once more. It arrived in a burst of song, “Are you ready for your last wish? Choose wisely. There is no way to undo this wish.”

Christopher quietly related his wish and was not dissuaded by the surprised look of the bird. “Your request will be granted at twilight.”

All was ready. At the twilight hour, Christopher heard a noise at his door. A girl crouched there, thin body trembling as she sobbed. Her clothes were ill-fitting and patched. When the door opened, she raised her arms over her head, as if to ward off a blow. Christopher could see one of her hands was crippled.

He knelt down and placed his hand on her shoulder. “What is your name, my dear?”

“Molly,” she stammered. “Who are you? Where is… he?” She stopped crying as she looked around her in amazement.

“He won’t hurt you anymore. You don’t need to be afraid. Come inside.” He helped her stand and enter the cottage. A warm fire was burning, dinner was on the table, and the whole place shone from a fresh cleaning. “My name is Christopher, and this is my house. I’ve been thinking of you for a while now. You see, I was granted a wish by a magic bird and today I wished that you would come. Molly, I want to ask you to marry me.”

The woman looked at him, “You want to marry me? Why would you wish for me?”

“I wished for the loneliest woman in the land, the woman most wanting love and the one who had been the most hurt and neglected. I knew that way I could do some good and perhaps you could love me back.”

The happy couple stayed up late into the night talking by the fire, laughing and crying and learning each other’s hurts and joys. From a tree outside, the bird watched them. “Odd folk humans are. Now I suppose they will live happily ever after without the least possible human reason. They’ll get no more of my wishes,” a satisfied glint appeared in the bird’s eye, “though I don’t think they’ll be wanting any.” He was right.


Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash

Mexican Culture in Pixar’s Coco

I finally watched Pixar’s Coco this past week (because it finally got to the discount theater). It is set in Mexico and focuses around Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a Mexican holiday in November. Here is a good article if you would like to know more about Día de los MuertosWhile some aspects of Mexican culture are easily recognizable to most of us gringos (a creative and somewhat bizarre Frida Kahlo, Mariachi bands, and the beautiful papel picado opening sequence), other things are more subtle, but will make anyone who loves Mexico give a little sigh of contentment.


Here is what you may have missed or what you should look for if you haven’t seen it yet.

In one of the first scenes as Miguel runs through the pueblo, he passes a small stand with brightly painted carved figures of fantastic mythical creatures called alibrijes. This was the first clue to me that the movie is more specifically set in the state of Oaxaca. These figures are made and sold all over the country, but originate from Oaxaca. They also make figures of more realistic animals. Visiting the alibrije workshops was a big highlight of my trip to Oaxaca (blog post here). I had not specifically heard that they represent spirit guides, but this very well could be a folk tale passed around. I think it was very clever of Pixar to incorporate live (or perhaps “real” would be a better word) versions of the alibrijes in the world of the dead.

The beautiful marigolds are said to guide ancestors back to their home. They are used every where for Día de los Muertos! They are used to decorate altars, as well as trail through the streets. The bridge made of the petals in the film was a great touch. Skeletons, often in old fashioned dress, are called catrinas and are also in abundance during the holiday. Do you recognize Frida Kahlo on the right?

The Rivera family also wore wonderful Mexican clothing. The more traditional embroidered clothes worn by Coco, Miguel’s mother, Frida Kahlo, and Tia Victoria (the skeleton with the blue top) are accurate, beautiful examples of the textile work of Oaxaca and neighboring states. On the modern side, the bright make-up on one of Miguel’s aunts was spot on and the green shirt his uncle wears looks suspiciously like a popular futbol jersey. The simple style of the apron Abuelita wears is sold on every street corner and is often used by older women or house help.

I was so happy when I saw the red paint on the lower half of the walls in Miguel’s pueblo. I don’t know the specific purpose or tradition behind this, but it is common in many of the smaller towns in Mexico. Towards the beginning, Miguel is trying to play in the talent show being advertised and performed in el mirador (gazebo). Though many American towns likely had a gazebo in the park a century ago, just about every Mexican town still has one, often a beautiful iron-wrought structure used for festivities, shows, etc. in the main plaza.

It was so refreshing to not only hear the expected Spanish (abuela, gracias, amigo), but also some of the regional, casual expressions used in everyday conversation in Mexico. Miguel at one point exclaims “¡Que padre!” which doesn’t translate correctly, but means “How cool!” Hector refers to Miguel several times as chamaco, an expression which I heard often in Oaxaca, which means “kid”.

While Abuelita hitting the Mariachi man with her sandal is humorous, it is not just a cartoon gag. Hitting a child with a sandal (la chancla) is a traditional form of discipline (especially coming from the mother or grandmother) in Mexico and other Latin-American countries. It would be similar to threatening to use “the belt” in the U.S.

Overall, the movie shows the importance of family in Mexican culture, including the elderly and even deceased. It was interesting that though the movie is very spiritual (in a literal sense), it does not really address religion. Day of the Dead is celebrated by Mexican Catholics (and mostly avoided by the much smaller percentage of Protestants) and is a combination of Prehispanic traditions and Catholic beliefs. In the world of the dead, there are a few clips that show the base of the world being the Aztec pyramids similar to those found near Mexico city, perhaps hinting about the Prehispanic origins of the holiday.

The manner Pixar presents the deceased in this film is not frightening for children, but it definitely could raise some questions about what happens when someone dies. It left me a little sad remembering that many people believe what they do on earth somehow affects those who have died. The idea of second chances after death is also deceptive. Each person must make their own choices about their actions and beliefs while living, which will determine whether they spend eternal life in heaven or hell. No amount of being remembered or honored will ease the pain of hell. Neither will any dishonor or forgetfulness lessen the joy of being in the presence of God.

Photos are my own.



Is Guarding Your Heart for Girls?

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”- Proverbs 4:23 (NIV 1984)

As a single woman, I recently reflected on this verse which I have often heard used in the context of dating relationships. It is usually addressed to young women in purity talks as a kind of feminine counterpart to telling young men to guard their eyes.

However, Solomon wrote this passage, not to women, but specifically to his son. Maybe we need to look at this passage a little closer before applying it to modern situations. In the ancient Hebrew context, the heart was not just the seat of emotions, it was the very being of a person, the source of emotion, will, character, etc. Solomon says that the instruction to guard your heart is “above all else”. This is not a gentle encouragement to be careful about emotional intimacy; this is a vital command. How can we effectively guard our heart (being)?

Wisdom– Looking at the context, Solomon is talking about the importance of wisdom. He also gives specific instructions to his son for avoiding what is evil and doing what is good. Following these wise instructions will protect us. Note that in other passages in Proverbs (7:25 and 23:26), the son is warned not to let his heart be inclined toward an adulteress. This is technically a relationship, but I do not think Solomon is forbidding his son from feeling affection for a woman. He clearly wants him to stand firm against temptation (sexual temptation being a good example because it is so powerful).

Armor– I have recently been studying the armor of God as described in Ephesians 6. Which part of the armor covers the heart (your being)? The breastplate of righteousness. Doing what is right will guard our character and our conscience. How can we do what is right and keep a pure heart? By guarding it according to the Word of God (Psalm 119). Notice again the imagery of guarding or protecting. We can only effectively guard something when we are alert to what is attacking it. Ephesians tells us we are fighting against (and guarding against) the spiritual forces of evil. Be prepared!

Prayer– Philippians 4:7 tells us that when we pray, the peace of God will guard our hearts (and minds). We can seek God’s help in living a pure life.  We can pray for wisdom, we can pray for a better understanding of the Word and the battle we are facing, and we can pray for spiritual protection.

Repentance– Even when we have not kept a good guard up, and the enemy has broken in, God is able to restore our hearts.  After David committed adultery and murder, he wrote Psalm 51 and prays to God to give him a clean heart. We know God answered this prayer and David was still called a man after God’s own heart.

As a single woman, I do want to guard my heart, not against emotional attachment, but against sin. (And yes, for those considering the typical interpretation of this passage, I do see the wisdom in being careful in intimacy and I do want to have self-control over my emotions. I simply do not want to limit the passage.) I definitely want the men around me to be guarding their hearts. I want it to be said of the man I marry “young man, … you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (1 John 2:14) Stand strong, brothers and sisters in Christ. Put a vigilant guard over your heart, that the enemy cannot sneak in and destroy you.


Photo by Henry Hustava on Unsplash

The Past Made Young

100_2841What kind of evidence do previous generations leave to show that they lived?  I sometimes find myself thinking of them as characters in a book. Pictures add some life, but still portray them as one-dimensional beings. Did they really live in the full sense of the word? Did they have experiences we may still have today or share the same feelings? We cannot brush against them in time, but may find a connection in place or through writing. When we walk the halls of an old home or school (though the building has changed hands many times since) we can sometimes imagine them walking in the same hall. Our life somehow intersects with theirs. If we read the teasing post card sent to a younger brother (delivered decades ago, yet not so different from the text we just sent our own little brother) we start to see what made their life meaningful.

The other week at a yardsale, I found a 1939 yearbook from Lynchburg College. I loved finding a piece of local history, but was even more thrilled that the yearbook was filled with personal notes from friends and faculty beautifully written in the margins. Dorothy Dancy’s name was on the inside cover.  By the time I got to the back cover and had pieced together the little notes to her, as well as her official mentions in the sophomore class and various clubs, I felt that I could envision her in more than one dimension. She was from North Carolina, but had moved to Lynchburg. She was a thespian and had starred in The Importance of Being Earnest that year. Most people referred to her as “cute” or “little”. She had worked at the library and many teased her about how she had made them all be quiet. One girl joked about the time they had ended up with two cute senior boys in the gym. Yes, she underlined “cute”, not me. Others gave fatherly advice, some offered clichés.

In doing a little more research online, I found out whom she later married (to my disappointment, he was not another student mentioned in the yearbook). In the index of students, it listed the street addresses of the local students. I know the family that now lives in Dorothy’s house. Five or six other students lived within just a few blocks of me. I am trying to imagine the people in the yearbook walking around my neighborhood. They probably passed in front of my house regularly and maybe even had been in it. I wonder if they rode to school together, or went fishing on the James River, or went dancing down town. I wonder how many of them died in WWII not long after those yearbook photos were taken. I wonder if there is any student from that yearbook still alive, maybe still close by in the city of their alma mater.


At the same yardsale, I also found a scrapbook a mother had made for her son (Proctor Hoskins) in the late 30s and 40s. School supplies lists, handwriting practice, and coloring pages were stuffed in the book. A record of birthday gifts and a small account of his 4th birthday (at a local address) gave me a picture of life back then. Childish drawings showed fighter planes taking out planes emblazoned with the Nazi swastika. In doing some research online, I found out that the boy’s father had been serving in the Navy most of the time the scrapbook was being put together.


I also have one other local scrapbook that I got as a Christmas present several years ago. These two new finds made me pull it out again. It was put together by a teacher at Madison Heights High School who was also the secretary for the Virginia Education Association. The book includes personal mementos, a church membership card, WWII era newspaper clippings, local political slogans, and funny hand-sketched cartoons.  It also included many items about her students. She included several book reports which had been beautifully illustrated by the same boy. It turns out that the boy became a professional artist and even wrote a book about art (which I, of course, had to get).  Many play bills and programs were also included.


100_2864I will probably never be able to fully satisfy my curiosity about these people. However, the wondering makes them more real to me, which I hope honors their memory. It is also a reminder that I will probably not be remembered many generations after my death. I hope my possessions and words that do survive after me reflect the kind of life I want to have. Live life with purpose and know it is only a spiritual legacy that lasts forever.


Photos are my own.

My One-of-a-Kind D.C. Tour

You never know what you might experience while traveling, especially if you put the planning in someone else’s hands. This could be awful, or wonderful, or make for an outrageous story (ask me about the time I accidentally ended up with accommodations at a nude beach). My time in D.C. this past week fortunately turned out to be a wonderfully memorable long weekend when placed in the hands of the friends I was going to visit.

My first day in D.C., it poured just about all day. My friends Will and Abenaa had a doctor’s appointment for their 1-month old so we drove across the city for the appointment and then got cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes (featured on TLC).  We were out 6 hours and that’s all we could do against the combined forces of the record-breaking rain and the horrible traffic. The good news is…the appointment went well and the cupcakes were worth the hype. I also had plenty of time to catch up with Will while we drove around/stood in traffic. When we made it back home, we had a time of prayer and then went to a house warming party for one of their African friends. Party started at 7pm, we arrived around 9:30pm to enjoy amazing African food and a cut-throat game of Mafia (even the Mafia members turned on each other!)

The next day, I had nothing planned. I called up a friend who recently moved to D.C. to see if he wanted to do anything “touristy” with me. Little did I know. We met up at Ebenezers (a coffee shop with a great purpose) and took the metro to his workplace, one of the many news networks in the area. I got to see the studio, tech rooms, make-up room, offices, etc. We got lunch at District Taco next door. =) It was authentic enough that I could order “tres de barbacoa, …tortillas de maiz, …pues estilo mexicano, gracias”.


I’d never been to the capital building so my friend (who shall remain nameless lest he be hounded with requests for similar services) took me on a very special tour, complements of his “staff” badge. We went down halls labeled “Authorized Personnel Only”, walked the subterranean passages to get to the Senate building on the other side of the street, and rode the “Senator’s only” elevator. It was a Saturday so we hardly passed anyone and our voices echoed down the hallways. I felt like I was in a movie. We joined a group of the average population for a few minutes to see the rotunda and the center of the city before we departed.

Sunday, I joined my friend Bev on an excursion to Mount Vernon for the day. This was our first time being together on US soil since we met three years ago. I have made it a goal to visit the presidents’ homes, especially those in Virginia. I went to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in high school, James Monroe’s Highland this past February (blog post here), and finally made it to the home of the father of our country. The mansion was very impressive, but the grounds were my favorite part. Bev and I talked and caught up while we walked through the gardens, orchards, and woods on the property. We had a delicious lunch and then sat down in the shade of the garden for a few more hours to talk theology and memories.


I am back home now, getting ready for school to start again. Time to plan next summer’s travels!

Photos are my own.