In Honor of National Cat Day - My Cat, Sophie

Wednesday, October 29, 2014
It would seem unnatural, and even wrong, if I were to continue with today's blog without taking a moment to talk about Ethan Van Leuven - the little guy who was the subject of my last post.  Little Ethan died yesterday morning after a long battle with leukemia.  Ethan may have only lived just short of five years, but in his short life, he touched the hearts of so many.  When I wrote the blog, I had no idea there was a fundraiser page for him on Facebook.  I'm sure that his family is facing a mountain of medical bills to contend with, on top of their immense grief.  At the bottom of this post, I will leave a link to Ethan's page in case you wish to contribute.  Godspeed Ethan and prayers for his family and friends.
It has come to my attention that today is National Cat Day!  Who knew??  And who makes up these days?   Well, I looked it up and here's the answer (from Wikipedia) "National Cat Day was founded by animal welfare advocate Colleen Paige. It is a celebration that takes place on October 29th every year in the United States. The National Cat Day website states that the holiday was first celebrated in 2005 "to help galvanize the public to recognize the number of cats that need to be rescued each year and also to encourage cat lovers to celebrate the cat(s) in their life for the unconditional love and companionship they bestow upon us." The day is supported by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a nonprofit organization which also works to encourage pet adoption. An international cat day was created in 2002 by the International Fund for Animal Welfare."  In honor of National Cat Day, I thought I'd take this opportunity to introduce you to my cat, Sophie.

Sophie was adopted as a kitten in October 2009 from the local animal shelter.  We already had an elderly cat, Taffy and a younger cat, Chloe. When Chloe died Taffy became despondent.  It seemed Taffy needed a new friend and after an exhaustive search for a tabby cat, we found our girl!  From the very beginning, Sophie was spunky and fearless.  It didn't matter that Taffy was older, larger and downright mean at times, Sophie made it clear that she was the new queen of the kingdom and made herself right at home.  Taffy quickly surrendered her place as 'Ruler of the Roost' and until she died a couple of years ago at 19 yrs of age, they were pretty good buddies.

Sophie was not shy about claiming Taffy's 'Spot'.
Sophie is not your typical cat, in fact, there are days when I'm pretty sure she believes she's a dog.  She became very much of a protector when Elena, our granddaughter, was born and would quickly hiss, scratch or bite when visitors got too close to Elena.  When we are away, people who come in to feed her are challenged when they try to enter as Sophie stands at the door hissing.  She even does this to our daughter and my mom who she knows well!  This obviously makes getting away difficult for us.  Sophie won't let anyone pet her except me and John, but when it comes to us, Sophie is extremely loveable and affectionate. She's a purring machine and is happiest when she's on a lap or somewhere nearby - such as on the computer desk in front of the monitor...which is not necessarily helpful, but accomplishes her goal of being Numero Uno and hogging all of  your attention.

 Like most cats, Sophie likes to 'help'.............checking out the new baby equipment for safety...

Yup....this basket works fine!

Even helping assemble her own cat tree!

 She also gets along with other pets.........

Sophie is a cuddlebug who brings joy and laughter to our lives everyday.  She is at my side all day long (even now as I type), follows me around like a dog, sleeps as close to me as she can get and insists on being brushed several times a day.  It's no wonder today is National Cat Day!  Cats are loyal and loving companions who bring endless joy to the humans who are fortunate enough to share their life with them.

Saying Goodbye to Superman

Friday, October 24, 2014
What's the biggest annoyance in your life today?  The gloomy, damp weather?  The fact your team didn't make it into the world series?  Your boss or co-workers are all idiots who plot to make your life a living hell?  (Yeah, we know that isn't true, even if some days it feels like it is.)  I think we all get caught up in self pity over some pretty menial things, convinced that they are making our life downright depressing and frustrating, even hopeless.  I'm here  to remind you that whatever is happening in your world today is probably not as bad as it might feel.  There are some, many in fact, who have "real" issues to face, some monumentally bigger than what most of us will hopefully ever have to face.

This morning on the Today Show, I watched a story about a little boy, Ethan Van Leuven.  Ethan is four years old and for the past two years, Ethan has been battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia.   Ethan's doctors have recently declared his illness as 'no longer treatable'.  They  told his parents he has two days to a couple of weeks to live.  I'd say that's a pretty big deal - much bigger than any of the annoyances I mentioned and probably bigger than just about any that most of my followers might also be dealing with.  I'd say we're pretty blessed.

So what do parents do with such devastating news?  Well, I'm sure they react like we might expect - shed tears, pray, rely on friends and family for support.....but this family took this news and turned it into something more.  They are making Ethan's last days something special.  The whole community of West Jordan, Utah, came together to celebrate Halloween 10 days early just so Ethan could take part in the festivities.  The town held a parade in honor of Ethan's 5th birthday - one month before his actual birthday.  In addition, the family and everyone on Ethan's block have decorated for Christmas and tonight the community will celebrate Christmas Eve.   All this for one little four year old boy - a boy who in not even 5 years has touched the hearts of so many!  This is that little boy............
This is Ethan - photos courtesy of the Today Show

I'd say that's a pretty appropriate costume, wouldn't you?
I know there are some of you with chronic illnesses that make life pretty unbearable some days, and some of you may be struggling with job loss or financial hardships.  You may have a family member who is battling cancer.  Maybe you've lost a family member or friend recently.  But many of us have very blessed lives, and yet we sometimes wallow in self pity.  We whine about silly things like the weather.  What I suggest is this - for the next week or so, whenever you find yourself about to whine or complain, turn your thoughts to Ethan.  Think about how his life was cut short.  Think about the loss his parents are about to experience and the tremendous heartbreak that they must endure as they grasp onto Ethan during his final days.  Remind yourself how very lucky you are - even with the hardships you might be enduring.  Someone out there has it even harder than you.  Take a moment to feel blessed and thank God for those blessings and please pray for Ethan and his family and friends.

It's easy to take for granted our blessings, but not all children are born healthy, or live to grow up and go to college.  Teenagers might be testy and trying, but I'm pretty sure if you had the choice, you'd choose to keep your hormonal, moody teen rather than lose them to disease or drug abuse or car crashes.  When we are not forced to face those terrible losses, we sometimes become complacent and take life for granted.  Don't!  Think about Ethan and remember how fleeting life can be and hug your kids, your spouse, your parents.  Life is a gift that holds no guarantees.  Everyday we have is one more we must take time to appreciate.

Godspeed Ethan.   Your are a superhero!

post script:  Little Ethan passed away on Tuesday, October 28th at 10:20 a.m. Rest in peace little man.

A Visit with the Shakers at Hancock Shaker Village

Monday, October 20, 2014
One of the benefits in being an avid picture-taker (I don't use the word photographer because to me that connotates professional) is that in our quest for the perfect photo ops we often come across some pretty interesting locations that we might not have otherwise discovered.  In addition, chasing places and things to photograph has enabled us to meet some very nice folks as well as become more aware  of the interesting history behind the part of the country we call 'home'.  The subject of today's blog is probably not unfamiliar to most of you, but if you haven't actually taken time to visit, hopefully this will encourage you to.

Most of you are probably familiar with the very popular Shaker-style furniture and have probably  also heard the quote, "Hands to work and hearts to God".   Well, that came from the Shakers.  According to the website for Hancock Shaker Village:

"Hancock Shaker Village began in the late 1780s, when nearly 100 Believers consolidated a community on land donated by local farmers who had converted to the Shaker movement. By the 1830s, with a great many more conversions and further land acquisitions, the community had peaked in population with more than 300 Believers and more than 3,000 acres."
So now you know how the village came to be, but who and what are the Shakers, you ask.....

  "The Shakers trace their beginnings to Manchester, England, in 1747. They called themselves The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing and soon became known as Shakers because of the trembling, whirling, and shaking that affected them during their spiritually ecstatic worship services. As Millennialists, they believed that Christ’s second coming was realized in their leader, Ann Lee, whom they called Mother Ann. Misunderstood and persecuted in their native England", in 1774, Mother Ann Lee made the monumental decision to lead eight Shaker converts on a journey to America, seeking the freedom to live, work, and worship according to their main religious tenets: celibacy, communal life, and confession of sin. The Shakers also believed in racial and gender equality, simplicity, and pacifism. They dedicated their lives to creating a working Heaven on Earth amidst the boundless opportunities presented by settlement of the New World.  Hancock was the third of what would eventually number nineteen major Shaker communities established between 1783 and 1836 in New York, New England, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana."

Even before the Shakers settled in Hancock, MA, Anna Lee and her 8 followers first purchased land in Watervliet, NY.  Don't you find it intriguing what took place here long before this area became a sea of shopping malls and restaurants?  I do!   If you read the previous paragraph carefully, you probably noted that the Shakers practiced celibacy.  How then did they grow followers you ask?  They adopted orphans!  Once the orphan turned 18, they gave them the option to stay with the community or go out into the world.   Another interesting fact.....the Shakers were the first people to put flower seeds in printed paper packets for sale!  As interesting as the history and details are of the Shakers,  I don't want to bury you in facts and stories.  Those are available using the links at the end of this blog.   Instead I prefer you take a few moments to wander the village as we did and imagine life back in the 1780's and beyond with this group of Shakers - and their life, dedicated to work and prayer and simplicity!

Demonstrating the construction of the 'oval box'

As you wander through the photos, keep in mind that all the buildings you see are open for touring.  Several staff are dressed in period costume, often demonstrating handiwork such as basket-making, chair weaving, etc... and narrating stories of the times.   The barns on the farm house heritage-breed farm animals, and the gardens are planted with plants from that period used for textiles, medicine and such.  A visit here is definitely a step back in time.

 To the left is the "privy".   What a pretty setting for a privy, right?   This was a "6-seater" - the only privy we saw on the grounds.  Keep in mind that at one point the village was home for 300 Shakers!  And you thought your bathroom was busy!  Anybody have any idea what the corn cobs in the photo below were used for ???

By 1959 the Shaker community in Hancock had dwindled to about 50 Believers - mostly Sisters, children and a few Brethren.  Unable to maintain their City of Peace, some of the outlying land was sold off and some buildings razed and finally what remains was sold to some Shaker enthusiasts who were committed to preserving the Shaker heritage.  Thus, the Hancock Shaker Village Museum was founded in 1960 and remains a living-history museum today.  Shakers still exist and a small but active community practices the Shaker religion in Sabbathday Lake, Maine. I lied, I couldn't resist telling you a little about this fascinating place and its people.  One of the most fascinating and picturesque things you'll find at Hancock Shaker Village is the Round Barn! Agree???

I think you'll agree - the view is beautiful, from inside and out!

Just a few of the animals you might meet when you visit..............

Aww....look at that - he posed for me!

Hancock Shaker Village  (20 buildings, 750 acres) is located in Hancock, MA, about an hour from the Albany area.  Admission is $18 for adults, ($17 for seniors).  Kids 13-17 are $8.00.    The village is open from 9-5 seven days a week, but closes for the season on November 2nd.  The village also features a small cafe where you can enjoy soup, salad and sandwiches, as well as a museum gift shop.  As of this moment, a reopening date for the spring has not been finalized, but will be sometime in mid-April.

More photos can be found on my Life As I See It Photography by Gail Welter facebook page.  Please use this link  to view these and many more photos like these:

As always, thanks for reading my blog.  Please share it with your friends, and let me know what you enjoy about my blogs by leaving a comment.  To read more about the Shakers and Hancock Shaker Village, use the link below:

Simply "Marbleous" (The Country's Oldest Marble Quarry)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Have you ever taken a drive with a particular destination in mind and something along the way turns out to be even better than the place you were headed?   That's exactly what happened the first time we stumbled on this wonderous and beautiful place.

The Dorset Marble Quarry, located on Route 30 in Dorset, Vt is the oldest commercial quarry in the country. Opened by Isaac Underhill in 1785, the marble from this quarry was used in some pretty famous buildings, such as the New York Public Library, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and the library at Brown University, just to name a few. 

The quarry stayed in the Underhill family for three generations, and although mining in Dorset has ended, remnants of the work done here are quite numerous.  Interesting note:  Isaac Underhill is the great grandfather of Bill W. - co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Bill W. was born in Dorset, VT. 

Since our first accidental visit to the quarry in autumn of 2012, we've returned several times and I can tell you the quarry is beautiful in every season.

This summer when we visited, we were surprised to find we weren't the only visitors..........the place was swimming with visitors (pun intended) of all ages and levels of courage.  I was definitely not there to dive or swim, but I was not alone spectating either.  This is a popular swimming hole.

 Sometimes what you think is your destination isn't and something even better is just waiting to be discovered.  Keep your eyes open and if you're lucky, destiny might just bring you to someplace magical!

Post Script:  The Dorset Marble Quarry is a privately owned piece of property.  As of September 2016, the owners who'd kept the quarry open for many years so that visitors from all over the country could enjoy this beautiful venue, were seeking to have the village of Dorset purchase the quarry for $1.  The reason.....the quarry has gotten so popular the owner this year had to increase the size of the parking lot, charge a $15 parking fee and install porta-potties.  In case you were wondering...the State of VT has a law which keeps the quarry owners liable for any injuries or accidents that happen on quarry property.  Today before visiting the quarry to swim, the owners require visitors to register online and be advised there are no lifeguards and swimmers swim at their own risk.

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