Smailholm Tower – Scottish Borderlands – Queen of Ordinary, 2014

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Smailholm Tower, built in the 1500s was not one of the most impressive structures we saw in our journey through Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales, but it was beautifully situated and served for inspiration as the backdrop for more than one famous writer.  This type of tower is referred to as a peel tower.  It is located in the Scottish Borderlands and sits atop a crag of Lady Hill, with a wide vista view of surrounding lands.

Sir Walter Scott visited his grandfather there when he was a child and spent a good deal of time at this location when he was young.  This tower provides the setting for Sir Walter Scott’s ballad, The Eve of St. John.    His sketch of the tower was include in Scott’s Poetical Works. 

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Margaret J. Anderson, who wrote the children’s novel In the Keep of Time, used Smailholm Tower as the location for the adventure in which four English children experience time travel both backwards and forwards.

One of the pioneers of photography, Fox Talbot, photographed Smailholm Tower as part of his collection, Sun Pictures in Scotland.

I particularly liked the lay of the land around the tower.  The view was stunning and peaceful looking out in every direction at land that gently rolled away.  I also found a beautiful door to photograph, which made the experience a well rounded one.

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This structure made me realize that inspiration comes from many things for writers, photographers, singers, and artists.  Smailholm was neither grand nor luxurious, but it has made an impact on people through the years.  If we are open to inspiration, it may come to us in places we least expect.

4,000 Years Old and Still Alive – Oldest Tree in Wales – Queen of Ordinary – November 24, 2014

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It is hard for me to imagine a living organism on this earth that is over 4,000 years old.  This yew tree, Llangernyw,  would have been alive 2,000 years BEFORE Christ walked the earth.  It was alive through all of modern recorded history.  It was around when the pyramids were being built.

We were there.  We touched it, we left our imprint.  It will probably still be alive long after we have passed from this life.  I have often thought about trees and the stories they could tell if they could but speak.  This one could fill a library.

Of course, my curiosity drove me to research other “oldest trees,” and I was stunned by what I found.  There is another known tree in Iran, the Zoroastrian Sarv, estimated to be about the same age as the tree we vised in Wales.  These two are mere children compared to the Mac Daddy of them all.

The world’s oldest known living tree is more than twice as old as Wale’s yew tree, and estimated to have sprouted sometime during the last Ice Age, roughly 9,550 years ago. The 16-foot spruce in the Dalarna province of Sweden has a root system that got started when the British Isles were still connected to Europe by an ice bridge.

The United States can lay claim to one of the oldest trees known to man on the planet.  Methuselah, as the tree has been affectionately named after the oldest man in the Bible, is a bristlecone pine tree in California’s White Mountains.  The tree is estimated to be almost 5,000 years old.  The location of the tree is not public knowledge in order to protect and preserve the tree.

It seemed that in our month long travels across the UK, God had ordered our steps to connect us with the ancient things of those places from the castle at Cashel, the Book of Kells, Giant’s Causeway, and even the oldest living tree.  I am in many ways still connecting the dots of those things most significant in our journey.  I am very thankful that our stops included a visit to this historic tree.

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Wood Carvings at St. John’s Cathedral – Oban, Scotland – Queen of Ordinary – November 23, 2014

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St. John’s Cathedral was a beautiful church we visited in Oban, Scotland.  I was struck by the many beautiful carvings at the ends of pews, on seats, on podiums and throughout the church.

How do you know when artistry is at work?  Take something practical and functional, then add incredible detail that doesn’t improve the practicality of the thing, but makes it more aesthetically pleasing and you will see artistry at work through the hands of the one who created it.  Below are some carvings on pews and woodwork we found in this church in Oban, Scotland.

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The intricate carvings in the woodwork were amazing.  They were not necessary by any means, but certainly added beauty, and allowed the artists creative expression in their work.  It is as if the person carving the wood turned each opportunity into a thing of beauty and gave it as an offering unto God.

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Our lives are like these pieces of wood when they were still only lumber.  We can live them out of necessity.  We can exist from day to day and get done what must be done, plain and simple.  Or we can choose to take care of the intricate details of living, and let the Master designer create His images in us to be works of beauty that reflect His attention to detail and His delight in us through the process.  If we all started as a piece of timber side by side, each one of us would turn out differently in the hands of the artist.  I am reminded of a poem I heard many years ago that expresses one person’s influence on another person’s life

I Love You by Roy Croft

I love you, not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you, not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you, for the part of me that you bring out. I love you, for putting your hand into my heaped-up heart, and passing over all the foolish, weak things that you can’t help dimly seeing there, and for drawing out, into the light, all the beautiful belongings that no one else had looked quite far enough to find. I love you, because you are helping me to make of the lumber of my life, not a tavern, but a temple. Out of the works of my every day, not a reproach, but a song. I love you, because you have done more than any creed could have done to make me good, and more than any fate could have done to make me happy. You have done it without a touch, without a word, without a sign. You have done it by being yourself. Perhaps that is what being a friend means, after all.

Neist Point Lighthouse, Scotland – Queen of Ordinary – November 20, 2014

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I borrowed the lighthouse image of Neist Point because I wasn’t able to make the hike all the way out to the point due to knee issues.  While our group made the lengthy trek, I enjoyed photographing the shore line, sheep, and an incredible ocean view.

I’ve always wanted to do a lighthouse tour of the New England Coast.  It was very frustrating to be so close to a lighthouse and not be able to see it.  However, sometimes common sense should prevail, even when we want to do otherwise.  Down about 100 metal stairs in a howling  wind, rain threatening on the horizon, and at least a mile hike out to the point, I chose to stay behind.

I still had a lovely day.  Give me my camera and turn me loose.  I’ll never be bored.  I followed the sheep paths to the top of the cliffs, walked along a path recently featured in  a Keanu Reeves film, listened foreigners talk about “crazy Americans,” undetected, and had a great time walking and talking with God.

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When I was a student at the Univeristy of the Cumberlands (then Cumberland College), I had a group of friends that formed a gospel group.  They called themselves Young Witness. They were young, extremely handsome, dedicated Christians who loved the Lord back then and I’m happy to say that they are honorable, godly men all of these years later. One of their most requested songs was “I Thank God for the Lighthouse.”

The Lighthouse
By Ronnie Hinson
(c) 1971

There’s a lighthouse on the hillside
That overlooks life’s sea.
When I’m tossed it sends out a light,
Tis a light that I might see.
And the light that shines in darkness now
Will safely lead us o’er.
If it wasn’t for the lighthouse,
My ship would be no more.

And I thank God for the lighthouse,
I owe my life to Him.
For Jesus is the lighthouse
And from the rocks of sin;
He has shone a light around me
That I could clearly see,
If it wasn’t for the lighthouse
Tell me where would this ship be.

Everybody that lives around us
Says tear that lighthouse down.
The big ships don’t sail this way anymore,
There’s no use of it standing around.
Then my mind goes back to that stormy night,
When just in time I saw the light;
Yes the light from that old lighthouse
That stands up there on the hill.

And I thank God for the lighthouse,
I owe my life to Him.
For Jesus is the lighthouse
And from the rocks of sin;
He has shone a light around me
That I could clearly see,
If it wasn’t for the lighthouse
Tell me where would this ship be.

If it wasn’t for the lighthouse,
Tell me, where would this ship be?

McCaig’s Tower – Oban, Scotland – Queen of Ordinary – November 19, 2019

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McCaig’s Tower is located on Oban, Scotland and sits on a hill overlooking the city.  It was built by a wealthy banker in the late 1800s to commemorate his family.  That was it’s purpose, although the view out of every portal is breath taking.  I can imagine that his family must have enjoyed strolling through this beautiful monument and looking out to sea and over the city.

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Mr. McCaig had plans to build a structure within these walls to house an art gallery and statuary of his family, but died before the project was complete.  The walls were already standing when he died and his family chose not to continue building his vision as a memorial to them.

IMG_8961 IMG_8962 IMG_8963 IMG_8964  The view from each portal is completely different.

This monument left by one man to honor himself and his family made me start thinking about what ordinary people leave behind to keep the memory of their family alive.  Photographs?  Diaries?  Letters?  The home place?

Most of us don’t have the means to erect beautiful architectural structures to commemorate those we love.  Yet the legacy we leave behind is as important to our generations as McCaig’s Tower is to his.

I like what author Ray Bradbury quoted from his grandfather, ““Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

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“Our days are numbered. One of the primary goals in our lives should be to prepare for our last day. The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. What preparations should we be making now? The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.”   – Billy Graham

“The songs of our ancestors are also the songs of our children.” – Phillip Gomm

“Are we being good ancestors?” – Jonas Salk

Who Believes in The Loch Ness Monster? – Queen of Ordinary – November 19, 2014

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This is a funny photoshopped picture created by Coty Sloan.  We were having a bit of fun teasing each other about the possibility of seeing Nessie while we were at standing on the shore of Loch Ness and he created this photo for a laugh.

Opinions have always been divided about whether there is such a thing as the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot, or mermaids.  When I was a child, my best friend, Diane Paulk, and I were always working up our imaginations about something.  We had BIG imaginations.

As an adult, I still have an imagination that runs on high throttle, but I believe there have been enough eye witness accounts to take them seriously about Nessie, Big Foot, and Megalodon Shark.  I just don’t think that many people are deliberate liars.  They know that the very moment they tell their tale, they are subjecting themselves to ridicule and scoffers. They must be seeing something they can’t explain.

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Our Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife publicly says there are no black panthers in Kentucky, but I have seen them myself and have heard countless stories from others who have been eye witnesses.  I haven’t seen Mammoth Caves either, but enough other people whom I believe have seen them to make me know they are real.

So, is there a Loch Ness Monster?  People have been trying to figure that question out for decades.  Yet scientific discoveries are unveiling new species all the time.  The most uncharted species live in the depth of the oceans.  Is it possible that some prehistoric life form has survived through the centuries and one such creature has managed to survive in Loch Ness?  I don’t know.  Maybe yes and maybe no.

My friend, Sarah Boggs, requested one thing from my big trip to the UK.  She wanted a photo of Loch Ness and a stone.  We first saw the Loch in the evening light from the roadway across a field, circling around a bend.  I never realized it was such a huge inland body of water.  It was a beautiful place to take a photo for her.

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I’ve spent a lifetime wishing I could see Nessie, if she really exists.  Though we didn’t get a glimpse of anything out of the ordinary this day, I knew I was as close to seeing the Loch Ness Monster as I probably ever would be in my life time.  I stuck my shoes in the water and gathered a few pebbles from the beach for Sarah and Darla, who had asked for them.  I was happy just to have been there and seen a place filled with so many possibilities.

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As mortal men/women, do we really think we know all of what God has created in the depth of the oceans, in the heavens, or in galaxies beyond?  Who can unravel the creative beauty, the diversity of God’s infinite expression, or the countless secrets unknown to man that still reside in the depths of the heart of God?  How foolish are we to try to define an infinite God with our finite minds and limited knowledge.

Genesis 1:21 – “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly,”

Psalm 104:25 – “There is the sea, great and broad, In which are swarms without number, Animals both small and great.”

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Eilean Donan Castle in the Scottish Highlands – Queen of Ordinary – Nov. 18, 2014

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Eilean Donan Castle is in the Scottish Highlands.  It is reported to be one of the most photographed Scottish castles, and no wonder.  The setting is straight out of a novel and every angle reveals a different aspect of the castle, moat, bridge, lake, and mountains.

As one of the most iconic images of Scotland, Eilean Donan is recognised all around the world. Situated on an island at the point where three great sea lochs meet, and surrounded by some majestic scenery, it is little wonder that the castle is now one of the most visited and important attractions in the Scottish highlands.  (From the Eilean Donan Castle website)

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In color or black and white, this castle is impressive.  The first occupants lived there in the 6th century.  It was added on to and fortified in the 13th century and stood guard over the surrounding lands until the 17th century when part of it was destroyed in a Jacobite uprising.   “Eilean Donan lay in ruins for the best part of 200 years until Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and proceeded to restore the castle to its former glory. After 20 years of toil and labour the castle was re-opened in 1932.”

I am still overwhelmed with touching, breathing, feeling history in every pore rather than reading about it in a history book.  Seeing a place with your own eyes draws a person in and enters their footsteps alongside those who loved and lived and breathed there through the centuries.  It is perfectly situated where three lochs come together, a strategic masterpiece over 1400 years old.

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We were there in mid day when the tide was out. I photographed it from as many angles as I could get in a short time.   I would have loved to see it when the water was in.  I’ve also imagined it at sunrise, sunset, in the spring, winter, and late fall.  I’m sure those who have easy access return many times.

So, what did I learn from this beautifully situated castle?  It reminded me of a vision God showed me once about a diamond.  Many people can be looking at the very same stone, but depending on where they are standing and which angle they see, the stone may look very different to one and then another.  The classic round topped solitaire that has graced so many engagement rings looks flat from the top, conical from the side, and spiked from the bottom.  Every facet of a diamond refracts the light in fire and ice, different colors from different directions.  Eilean Donan was like this as well.

In a bigger picture, we are the diamonds that others see through different eyes.  We have many facets and that allow people know us in different capacities during our life.  We are the castles, the temples of God, who change in seasons and lighting, yet we stand solid in the life in which God placed us.

When we look at other people and try to decipher who we think they are, we need to remember that each human being is a multi-faceted beautiful creation, made in the image of God.  There is more than one side, more than one perspective, more than one season in each life.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

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Clan Cottages in Scotland – Queen of Ordinary – November 18, 2014

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Clan Cottages – Scotland

Sometimes things happen in such an amazing way, it is unprecedented.  I loved the movie Brave Heart when I saw it, but I really never wanted to see it again because it broke my heart.  After visiting the William Wallace Monument in Edinburgh and climbing all the way up the 250+ stairs, seeing the real sword that belonged to William Wallace, and over looking the city from the tower built to honor him, I reconsidered.   I would definitely watch the movie again because it had become personal.  I had been there in the Scottish Highlands, seen the people and lands that he loved and was willing to die for.

We were scheduled to stay in the Clan Cottages after having been to the William Wallace Monument on our first day in Scotland and after driving through the Scottish Highlands.  I had always wanted to stay in a stone cottage with a thatched roof.  Imagine my surprise when we pulled in to our new lodging for three days and it was exactly that!  They were recently built, but in keeping with the landscape and the traditions.

What did we do that first night?  Our tour guide had bought the movie Brave Heart and had it ready for us to watch, on a foggy evening at the foot of a rocky mountain, beside stream that lead to a Loch.  It was mind boggling to be there, having heard the history or William Wallace, seen his actual huge broad sword, and the monument the people erected in his honor.  It was almost as if we could step out the door and into that other place in another time.

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The stay in the clan cottage was a joyous one.  Beyond the Brave Heart experience, it was in a beautiful setting with sheep in the pastures, swans on the lake and sunsets on the loch that would steal your breath away.

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Our stay at the Clan Cottage was one of my favorite parts of Scotland.  From the photos, I hope the reasons are obvious.  It was a place where I could walk at the end of the day or early in the morning before our day’s tour began and talk to God.  I had many questions about why Scotland had been in my heart and prayers for so many years, and why I was there at that particular time.  Scotland had just voted to remain part of the UK – such a parallel event in keeping with William Wallace’s struggle to free Scotland.

Many times among our destinations and activities I felt like the whole thing was a dream.  God’s blessings in my life to bring the trip about were too many to number.  I was sure I was there for a purpose more than to be a tourist and take photographs.  I’m still asking God those questions about having been there, and every day probably for the rest of my life I’ll still be giving thanks for the journey.

The Abbeys of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales – Queen of Ordinary – November 17, 2014

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Even though most of them are now in ruins, the beauty of design, the layout of the structures and the locations compared to the lay of the land are stunning.  Some are more memories than reality, and some are still in tact, but most are somewhere in between.

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I could only imagine what these places were like in their full glory days.  I was fascinated with the stone work, the precision, the beauty, and the endurance of these structures that are hundreds of years old.  The fact that this incredibly beautiful places were built and consecrated to those in ministry who had given their lives to serve God says something about the value set on relationship with God in that time frame.

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Most of these ancient abbeys are currently under historic protection and the grounds are maintained through government programs.  In these photos were The Abbey at Cong, Creevelea, Kylemore, Dryburgh, Jedburgh, and Melrose.  The buildings may be crumbling, but the sense of being in a holy place is still very strong.  But then maybe the buildings put is in such a reverent frame of mind that we were more acutely aware of the Spirit of God within us.

Facing the Fear of Heights and More – Queen of Ordinary November 16, 2014

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An Irish View of the Ocean

On this day in Ireland we were heading to Slieve League along the Sky Road and to walk across the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.  We took a wrong road somewhere, but just look what we found by mistake!

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I don’t know who took the time to write “I love you” with the rocks at the bottom of the cliffs, just beyond the ocean’s reach, but I’m so glad they did.   When I saw it, it felt like it was a message from God to us on our journey.  We thought we had made a wrong turn, but perhaps it was just because God wanted to share this unscheduled beautiful view with us.

We did make it on to our adventure at Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.  It was one of the toughest things I made myself do on our whole trip.  I have a deep rooted fear of heights.  Just looking at photos of things at a great height make my liver quiver!  Looking over the edge of something, even if I’m behind a railing, makes me woozy.  But I made myself take the long hike out to the rope bridge stretched between two cliffs about 100 feet above the ocean surging against the rocks below, and forced myself to face my fears and walk across anyhow.

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For someone as afraid of heights as I am, it’s a miracle that I ever crossed the bridge in the first place.  I kept saying to myself, “Help, me Lord…” and “Look at her back, and don’t look down,” about the person in front of me from our group.  But on the way back, there had been children jumping up and down to make the bridge sway and bounce, so the fear was doubled.  I had a death grip on the ropes on both sides and was only able to make my feet move about six inches at a time.  I was too afraid to be embarrassed about holding up the people behind me!  I truly thought I had made a mistake by crossing over in the first place.

Our tour guide, Coty Sloan, had crossed way in front of us and positioned himself on a cliff overlooking the bridge to get a group photo of us crossing together.  It surely didn’t happen.  Karen went on ahead of me and left me far behind with blank space, bride, and ocean staring up at me.  Sandy was behind me waving at Coty, and I was too terrified to look anywhere besides at the boards in front of me.

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Sometimes we question the path that we are on and wonder if we are on the wrong one.  At times fear may paralyze us when the gulf between where we are and where we need to be is so great.  But, if we ask Him to go with us, God is there every step of the way across that divide and to the safe place we are heading.

I didn’t think I was going to make it back across that bridge without fainting, but I kept reminding myself of Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.”