Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens

The lovely Robin and I accompanied our kids Kevin and Aubrey and grandkids Miles, Mia, Calleigh, and Ryder today to the Cincinnati Zoo, the second oldest zoo in the U.S. (it opened in 1875, fourteen months after the Philadelphia Zoo). 
In addition to the animal exhibits and habitats, it also features beautiful botanical displays throughout the grounds. 
We had a wonderful time with the grandkids. Mia (who broke her arm yesterday, received a splint and wrap this morning after an x-ray in the emergency room, and let none of it slow her down or dampen her spirits) and Calleigh took turns posing like statues (above) after a late lunch in one of the zoo's picnic groves. 
Miles (above) absorbed everything, exulting especially in the reptile house and the bug exhibits. He posed happily for a photo with a new friend, the ginormous tarantula spider over his left shoulder. 
We did so much, including the cougar show, where we met "Joseph" and "Tecumseh" (named for the Nez Perce and Shawnee leaders, respectively); the bird show, which we joined in progress; and the giant tortoise display (above), where we got to pet the monstrous creature above. 
One of the last sights we stopped for was the giraffes, which enchanted us all, even at the end of a long day. 

It was a great time, a joy to share with our grandkids (two of whom--Miles and Mia--will leave in eight days for their new home in California), and though the zoo was certainly packed, the crowds were manageable and the lines (except for the line to ride the train) not too bad. I'm so glad we could do it together. 

Saturday Walk on Gethsemani's Trails

There are many walking trails on the grounds of the Abbey if Gethsemani, where I spent my latest prayer retreat this weekend. Some are sunny, some are wide, and some are grassy. But my favorite is the woodland path that leads to "the statues" (there are numerous statues on this and other paths, but in this case "the statues" has a particular meaning.
It winds through the woods, across a wooden bridge, past a fish pond (above), and up a wooden staircase, before arriving at the striking statues in a small clearing that depict Jesus' agony (and Peter, John, and James's slumber) in the Garden of Gethsemane (below).
Those are just some of the things I love about this walk, which I take almost every time I come here. It feeds my soul and renews my gratitude, every single time.

The Abbey of Gethsemani

I began taking annual (or twice-annual) prayer retreats at the Abbey of Gethsemani, south of Bardstown, Kentucky, about fifteen or sixteen years ago.
It has ever since been a place of rest and renewal for me. It was here I first experienced unceasing prayer, and entered into a new joy, depth, satisfaction, and faithfulness in my prayer life.
Last year I was thrilled to introduce my son Aaron to this experience (I've shared it with more than twenty people over the years). This past weekend I was there with Aaron's friend Nick (who's almost as cool) and my thirty-plus brothers who live and serve there year-round (they seldom talk to me...but neither do my biological brothers).

Pinch Me Places: Nook Farm (Clemens and Stowe Houses)

For a wannabe writer like me, there is not much more hallowed ground than Nook Farm in Hartford, Connecticut, the site where once lived two of American letters' most revered authors. The northwest corner of the grounds holds the sprawling, unique home built for Samuel Langhorne Clemens, or Mark Twain. When Clemens and his wife, Olivia, moved to Hartford, they settled in Nook Farm, first renting John and Isabella Beecher Hooker's house and then building their own, into which they moved in 1874. In addition to raising their three daughters here, Clemens wrote his most famous books while living in this house, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The family sold the house in 1903. Today, it is a museum and is open for public tours (though the last I knew, the hours were somewhat eccentric--which seems appropriate).
Just a short walk across the lawn at Nook Farm is the Stowe house, where Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, lived with her husband and children from 1873 until her death in 1896. Several of Stowe's later works were written while she lived here. The Stowe and Clemens families were friendly and often visited each other.

It is a unique pleasure to have been able to visit these two homes in one visit, and see where these giants of American literature lived and worked.

Ridgecrest Nature Trail

What a lovely walk (it wasn't nearly taxing enough to be called a hike) I had last evening on the nature trail here on the grounds of the Ridgecrest Conference Center in Black Mountain (near Asheville), North Carolina.

The well-tended path took me to a recreation area with several volleyball pits, a miniature golf course, a disc golf course, a shelter, and a snack bar. I could have continued all the way to the top of the mountain by taking the route below from there, but took the road more traveled, and turned back.

Wilson Prayer Garden

Last evening I set out from my room here at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in Black Mountain, NC, for a short walk to the Wilson Prayer Garden on the grounds.
It is located down in the valley from the impressive Rutland Chapel (which I wish had been open), near a charming covered bridge that spans the creek.
The prayer garden is beautifully kept and has a lectern (I presume for small prayer meetings) and a half dozen benches. With the music of the babbling brook that runs by, it offers a idyllic setting for prayer and meditation, one I will return to at least once more before I leave this place.

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Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference

I arrived at the sprawling Ridgecrest Conference Center in Black Mountain, North Carolina, Sunday evening for the 2014 Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference . It's a sylvan setting and a lively group of 400 or so.
I'm booked solid with classes to teach and writers to meet with. In between meals, that is. First things first, don'tcha know.

It's an honor to be on this incredible faculty. They may never invite me again but I'm here until they kick me out on Thursday, if not sooner.

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Treaty Line Pioneer Village

What a treat the lovely Robin and I (and most of the rest of our family) enjoyed yesterday as we attended the wedding of Keturah Hughes to Ryan Thornton at Treaty Line Pioneer Village in Quakertown, Indiana.

It is named for the Treaty of Greenville, which in 1795 attempted to establish a boundary between Native American lands north and west of the line and settler lands east and south of the line. The line runs north and south through this area.

Many of the buildings in this assemblage of historic structures were rescued from destruction by Keturah's great-grandfather just before the creation of nearby Brookville Lake. Others were transported there piece by piece and reconstructed on the site.

The village is still in use today for family reunions, weddings, and other gatherings.

The whole thing is delightful and impressive, and includes an amazingly outfitted and preserved general store.

There is also a museum on the grounds, with even more historical artifacts, but we weren't able to gain entrance to that building. Still, the occasion couldn't have been more beautiful and the discovery of Treaty Line Pioneer Village couldn't have been more delightful.

More information about the village can be found here.

Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame

I was excited yesterday to attend my first Cincinnati Reds game of the 2014 season, against the San Diego Padres. With rain in the forecast and tornado warnings, however, it didn't look like we would get the game in, but my son-in-law Kevin and I headed to the park anyway, because that's what fans do. Turns out, however, the game never even got started.
After a delay of game (and before we heard the official word that it was cancelled), we decided to see the Reds Hall of Fame. Kevin has toured the HOF before, but this was my first time.
I did my best to contain my excitement. Then I gave up. It's just too cool to see the players and records and moments and games and memorabilia and history I've followed all my life--most closely, from the beginning of the Big Red Machine in 1970, when I was twelve years old (yes, I am that old).
The "Wall of Balls" is a dizzying three-story display representing Pete Rose's record 4,256 hits. It faces an outdoor rose garden (get it?) that marks the physical location where (in Riverfront Stadium) Pete's record-breaking 4,192nd hit landed in left-center field. 
I got to confer a little with Sparky Anderson. I think he appreciated my insights. 
The museum offers all kinds of things to see and do; I could easily spent a whole day there, I think. There's an area devoted to hometown heroes, Reds players who were originally from the Cincinnati area. There are scale models of the Palace of the Fans, the Reds' park prior to 1912, and Crosley Field, the park where I first saw the Reds play. There are interactive areas that are perfect for kids (like me, and even younger): Kids' Clubhouse, an area where you can pitch from a regulation mound, an "outfield wall" where you can catch a ball at the wall, and more. There are exhibits honoring Reds broadcasters and highlight films and baseball cards. And, of course, the  team's world series trophies are on display:
The final stop, at least on the route we took, is the actual hall of fame, a reverential display of Reds greats from every era in the team's history. 
The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum opened in 2004 (though the "hall of fame" was started in 1958, it had no physical location until the completion of Great American Ballpark on Pete Rose Way in Cincinnati. You can learn more about the hall of fame and museum at

MIA in Oxford, Ohio

Yesterday (for Mother's Day) I got to enjoy Sunday brunch at the (relatively) new MIA restaurant in The Elms Hotel in uptown Oxford, Ohio. 
MIA is the latest in a line of upscale establishments on this site, and I think this one is our favorite yet. The buffet (below) is fresh and extensive, featuring everything from eggs and bacon to salad, entrees, and side dishes. A dessert bar, soup tureen, omelet chef, and several cuts of meat round out the menu. 
The ambiance was great, the service efficient, and though the price is high it was a fine way to treat my wife and daughter to a memorable Mother's Day meal. 

Great Strides Walk 2014

Today was the long-awaited day of the 2014 Great Strides Walk to benefit the efforts of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. It started out as a drizzly day...and turned into a deluge! At the instant the walk started, the rain started pouring down on the intrepid volunteers and participants, turning Oxford, Ohio's uptown parks into a soggy mess (the photo above is of our team, McCane's Miracles, one of ten teams who signed up to participate). 
The rain, however, didn't stop the kids who were there from having fun and collecting balloon animals. 
The band Weedle (below) volunteered their music and MC talents for the event, and did such a great job. Please show them some love on their Facebook page and show up to hear them play whenever you can! 
And, though the sound of thunder ended all our efforts around 11 a.m., the day still netted over $15,000 toward our site goal of $30,000 (with some teams and many donors yet to report). McCane's Miracles (the team of family and friends who love and walk and raise funds on behalf of my grandchildren, Calleigh and Ryder) reported over $9,000 raised for the event--and that's not even counting the amount turned in today. We plan to top $10,000 for our 2014 efforts, which will be more than a 56% increase over last year's total! See our team page here for more info--or to help us out! 

Thank you to all who participated, whether by walking, donating, and spreading the word! Calleigh and Ryder are blessed to have friends and family like you!

Cafe Mineiro

Directly across the street from the International Palms Resort, where I am staying while at the EQUIP Conference here in Orlando, is Cafe Mineiro, a Brazillian steakhouse.
As I approached it on foot, I wasn't sure it was open. Sure, there was an "Open" sign in the window, but with the parking lot in back and no other signs of life that were immediately apparent, I feared I may have had to walk an extra few steps to one of the other dining establishments in the area. But my fears were unfounded. It was open; I apparently arrived ahead of the post-7-p.m. dinner rush.
I opted for the buffet (no surprise there) and had (believe it or not) a salad plate with mixed greens, red beets, and watermelon slices, and then went for the meats (pork, chicken, beef, and sausage) and sides. The meat (except for the sausage) was a bit overcooked, but otherwise the meal was well done (see what I did there?).

Cafe Mineira is located at 6432 International Drive, south of Orlando.