Pleasant Hill, Kentucky – “Whole lota Shakin’ Goin’ On”

We first saw these old Kentucky stone walls at Pleasant Hill.

“A cult is a cult is a cult no matter how benign,” said Alie.  We were visiting Pleasant Hill in Kentucky, the largest restored Shaker community, and the “shakin’” wasn’t what Jerry Lee Lewis had in mind.

Mother Ann Lee, born in Manchester England in 1736, founded The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearance, more commonly known as the Shakers.  She and her followers came to the English American colonies in 1774 and founded a community in New York where she died in 1784.

Seeking spiritual solace from a traumatic life, Mother Ann’s basic tenets included celibacy, a simple communal life, open confession of sins, and that Christ would reappear in female form.  Eventually, Believers were to accept she was the reincarnation of Christ.

In 1805, three missionaries from the New York community arrived in Kentucky and established a community which would become Pleasant Hill.

The community eventually covered more than 4000 acres, peaking at around 500 people in the 1820s and lasting until the last half of the 19th Century.

Men and women, even married couples, lived separately “as brothers and sisters” in five large communal buildings.  We saw the East House, the Center House, and the West House [named for their locations] and some of the out-buildings.  More senior Shakers lived in the center house. The members of each house lived, worked, worshiped daily and even played together during the week.  The entire community met one day a week for two worship services which were often attended by outsiders, “tourists.”  Elders watched through windows in stairwells to see if any of the faithful were inattentive and to see what the outsiders were doing.

A guide told us they engaged in “aerobic worship.”  80 percent of the service was dancing and singing.  The other 20 percent was what you might call “testimony” during which some of the Believers would stand and speak on what moved them or quote from scripture.  The vigorous dancing sometimes led to what was called “shaking” perhaps resembling an epileptic fit.

She has a beautiful voice and was an excellent guide.

Our guide had a beautiful voice and beautiful hands and demonstrated the music and dancing and led us in a few slow ones that she said the more elderly residents might have done.  The music started as chants but evolved into songs which were printed so all could follow the words.  One was quite beautiful.  She said it was adapted by Aaron Copland for his Appalachian Spring.

I was impressed that an 18th century religion was quite gender and race neutral.  In addition to many female leaders, our guide told us about one prominent African-American leader at a time when slavery was still common in Kentucky.  But Alie pointed out, the women still did all the cooking, sewing, spinning and washing, while the men worked at farming and crafts.

Inherent elements of the religion were simplicity, cleanliness and order.  They engaged in a continuous search for perfection in all aspects of their lives.  Shaker design is very simple and elegant, one would even say “modern.”  Pegs line the walls of the buildings.  Everything from benches and chairs to clothing and tools was hung from the pegs which made keeping the floors clean easier.  Candle and lamp holders had long handles with multiple holes so that the light could be raised or lowered depending on where it was hung on a peg.

The Shakers did not avoid the rest of the world.  They sold their food, crafts, honey and produce to wide markets.  They invented the “seed packet” now common for gardeners and are credited with inventing the flat broom.

People had many reasons for joining the Shakers.  Some sought spiritual solace, some sought escape from their troubles, some sought a utopia, and some sought a roof over their heads and food to eat.  But the requirement for celibacy limited recruitment.  Communal life does not eliminate leadership rivalries.  Finally, their “simple” ways could not compete with an increasingly industrialized world.  The community died out in the late eighteen hundreds.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 27 Aug 18

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Close to home: CFA Allbreed Cat Show

We are not feline fanciers, but we are curious as a cat.  So when we saw there was a show in Fort Myers, we decided to check it out.

We didn’t buy a catalog.  But that didn’t cause a cataclysm, and we were soon able to catch-up with what was going on.  The audience was always polite; there were no cat calls.  Although kittens for adoption were cute, I didn’t suggest we take one [or two] home for fear it would lead to a caterwaul; Alie might even become catatonic.  I’ll stop being catty and get down to business.

It was a two-day show put on by volunteers from the Platinum Coast Cat Fanciers, cat breeders who meet once a month.  Their 25th year, it featured over thirty confirmed breeds such as Siamese, Persians, colorpoint shorthairs, Maine cooncats, Burmese, and one of the most recent breeds to be confirmed, the Bengal, which has beautiful spots and stripes.

Vendors sold everything feline-related from toys to jewelry to furniture.

We attended a session of “Meet the Breed,” during which the breeder described the features a judge looks for in a Siamese and did her best to convince her audience they should go right out and buy a Siamese.  I was amused to hear her say they were the most “dog-like.” She said they were very social and could learn commands.

There are four judging “rings,” just a small booth or stage in front of a set of cages with the audience sitting or standing in several rows to the front.  There are different judges each day, so the entire show is said to have eight rings.

We caught part of one competition but only saw one entire session, the judging of “Household” cats.  The name says it all.  The judge explained that as there was no “standard” for a household cat, the judge could pretty well make it up as she or he went along, including “how I feel today.”  But the judge was excellent for us novices.  She not only explained what she was looking for with each cat, she took the time to talk about the basics of caring for your pet.  In the end, her favorites clearly were the more animated kitten-like cats, and the one that won was not only very playful, it was very pretty with an unusual colored fur the judge described as lavender.

Click on photos to enlarge.

An adorable adoptable kitten:

If we were to get a cat, it would be adopted.  It might be Siamese.  Dog-like?

Date of our visit: 22 July 18

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It is all in the marketing: Helen, Georgia

Our wanderings across the country have taken us to some pretty sad towns: towns where the mill closed, where the mine played out, where there are no more jobs.  In the early 1960s, Helen, Georgia was such a town.  Jobs were lost when gold mines closed.  Jobs were lost when the virgin timber was all harvested.  There was nothing left but empty store fronts, closed businesses, desolate concrete block buildings, a few houses and a church.

Helen did have something to offer.  The scenery is great.  It is in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills not far from Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia [4784 feet].  The Chattahoochee River, just a stream at this point, meanders through town.  Nearby are three beautiful waterfalls, and others are not far away.

300 foot Dukes Creek Falls

Three Helen boys served in the Army in Germany.  They had seen the beauty of Bavaria.  One of them was an artist.  They decided to create a new Helen in 1968 using his sketches which added trim and color to the buildings to make them look alpine.  Starting in 1969, all the downtown buildings were decorated to look like buildings the artist had seen in Bavaria.  The local government changed street names and passed ordinances that all buildings in Helen must look Bavarian.  They stuck to their vision.  When visitors began to come to Helen, new fast food franchises had to look Bavarian; motels had to look Bavarian; restaurants and shops had to look Bavarian.  Helen became Alpine Helen.

Today Helen hosts nearly two million visitors a year.  There are over 200 shops and restaurants and over 1100 rooms available.

Naturally, they have and Ocktoberfest in the fall.  But they also host a trout-fishing tournament, an annual hot air balloon race, and automobile rallies; there is something every month of the year.

Helen’s “sister city” is Füssen, Germany, but this is not the real Bavaria.  Our German blogging colleague Pit was less than thrilled with the “German” food.  I am sure more German is spoken in Lee County, Florida which hosts thousands of Germans every year.  But Alpine Helen is worth a visit the next time you are in Northeast Georgia.

Somewhat older and just south of town is Nora Mill, an nineteenth century flour mill still using the original 1876 French Bur grinding stones.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 1-2 July, 2018

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Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga, Tennessee:

It seems we always pass by Chattanooga and say we will return to really get to know it.  But once again we violated my rule seven and were driving with a destination.  This time we were to meet friends in Knoxville for an anniversary celebration.

We only had a few hours in Chattanooga and decided to see the Tennessee Aquarium, a beautiful collection of buildings in a park along the Tennessee River.  In April we were at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach which has a wonderful collection of ocean sea life, so this time we started with a freshwater exhibit.

I loved this creative public art.

There was so much in the “River Journey” building, we never made it to the “Ocean Journey” exhibits and missed their lemurs, penguin and reef shows.  Well, that is okay because we will return some day to really get to know Chattanooga.

Every fresh water exhibit I had seen before [decades before] was boring.  All I remember were a few forest scenes with a trout stream.

This aquarium featured lakes and rivers from Tennessee; it featured lakes and rivers from all over the country; it featured lakes and “Rivers of the World.”

We especially enjoyed the maps showing the general outline of areas but with few features other than river systems – no roads, few cities, no topography.  These uncluttered maps showed the river systems of the world to be truly amazing.

Click on photos to enlarge.

I knew the Mississippi delta system was elaborate but now could see just how elaborate it truly is.  We had no idea how many rivers drain into the Tennessee River.

I remember catching sunfish in Canada as a six year old boy. But now 68 years later I learned there are 30 species of sunfish native to North America from the three inch banded to the fifteen inch bluegill.

I never knew there was a freshwater sting ray.  I had never seen [not in books; not on television; nowhere] the truly ugly American Paddlefish, a very big fish.

We had seen South American toads in other exhibits; I am sure their bright colors make them popular.  But never before had we seen so many varieties of amphibians, frogs, toads, snakes, turtles and salamanders, in one place.  There were even birds and alligators.

Most of the 260 species of turtles and tortoises in the world live in tropical or sub-tropical areas except for North America which has an unusually large concentration of turtles.

It really isn’t a bad thing to say you want to come back for more; that just means you had a great visit.

P.S. Alie petted a jellyfish in Long Beach and a sturgeon here.

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Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum: Sanibel Island

Largest Horse Conch on record

Click on photos to enlarge.

Sanibel and Captiva Islands in Florida together are shaped like a hook or perhaps an Alpine horn,  ideally positioned to catch Gulf of Mexico currents and waves.  As a result, over 200 species of shells have been found on their beaches.

At the turn of the 20th century, collectors displayed their finds on inn’s verandas.  Later, under the guidance of pioneer families, the Baileys and Mathews, a formal Sanibel/Captiva Shell Fair was organized.  The Baileys donated the land on which the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum now sits.  It is the only museum in the United States devoted exclusively to shells.


The museum has over 335 species of shells on display.  There are even fossil shells.  There also is a section devoted to Calusa Indians who lived along the Gulf Coast from about 4000 B.C. to the early 1700s before they were wiped out by war and European diseases.  Their reliance on mollusks for food and tools is still evidenced by huge shell “mounds”  on the southwest Florida coast, refuse piles that also became elevated home sites.

In addition to the shell displays, there are movies, an area for children to touch and explore, and lectures featuring live animals.  While we were there, one could make shell ornaments.

The museum seems to have everything until one realizes there are over 85,000 known species of mollusks around the world.  The purpose of the museum is to foster research and increase the knowledge and appreciation for mollusks.

“Sailors’ Valentines” were originally made by 19th century Carribean islanders to sell to sailors.

Mollusks lack backbones; their name comes from the Latin for “soft.”  They have a “head” with a brain and sensory organs [some have eyes], a “visceral mass” containing their other organs [some have tougues] and a “foot,” the muscular part of the organism.  The body wall, called the mantle, is what secretes the shell.  But not all mollusks have a shell.  Squid have a small internal shell and the octopus has none at all.

Displays described how some animals are carnivores with built-in drills to penetrate other shells.  Others harpoon fish.  Others are scrapers, strainers and scavengers.  There is a 507 year-old Arctic quahog.  A 100 year-old deep sea clam was only a third of an inch wide.

Mollusks are in trouble.  The Nature Conservancy estimates 70% of North American fresh water mussels are extinct.  90% of the 750 land snail species described in Hawaii are gone.

Yep, I didn’t know any of that before we visited the museum.

Older readers may remember Raymond Burr [1917-1993] of Perry Mason and Ironsides television fame.  He spent time on Sanibel, collected shells and was a benefactor to the museum.


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Aquarium of the Pacific: Long Beach, California

Leafy Sea Dragon

Our cruise returned to Los Angele early in the morning, but our plane home did not leave until much later.  We made a short visit to Long Beach.  Without much time, we chose to only visit the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Without planning to do it, we have spent a lot of time looking at sea life.  In our younger days we enjoyed snorkeling and diving in the Virgin Islands.   We have been to aquariums in Baltimore, Maryland, Tampa and Orlando, Florida, Bergen, Norway and Copenhagen, Denmark.  I probably have forgotten a bunch.

Basket Star

We agreed, however, that our few hours at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach were probably the best.  Covering five acres, there was more than we could see.

They had more jellyfish that we had ever seen before.  Growing up on the Atlantic coast, we associated jellies with getting stung while swimming.   I never realized how beautiful they could be.   Alie now gleefully says “I petted a jellyfish!”  It turns out you can handle the tops of some varieties without hurting yourself or them [although disinfecting lotion was available before and after].  With no brain, heart or lungs, these creatures have been around for over 500 million years.

Unfortunately, on a Friday at the end of the school year, the place was packed with elementary school children and all the noise they bring.  However, it did provide one highlight.  I was pushing Alie in a wheelchair as she cannot walk long distances or stand for long times.  As we were working our way through one particularly crowded spot, a boy about eight years old shouted: “Make way; make way; old lady coming through.”


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Our last port in the South Pacific: Moorea, French Polynesia

Our final port in April was Moorea.  While it isn’t the mythical Bali Hai from South Pacific, Moorea is certainly beautiful and exotic enough to be so.  Close enough to Tahiti that residents can commute to Papeete [last week’s post], it is much more laid back.


Our ship anchored in Opunaho Bay.  Tenders took us into the island where we took a 4×4 tour that wound its way up a steep trail on Magic Mountain to a parking spot from which we walked further up short path to spectacular views of the island, lagoon and motu [islands on the reef].

As on Tahiti, we visited marae, ceremonial complexes with stone platforms used by the ancient Polynesians where the chiefs and elite met to worship and discuss community issues.  There were several at one location, however, so we enjoyed a “walk in the woods,” the phrase Alie uses for a chance to get away from crowds.

Then we proceeded to Belvedere Lookout, another overlook, but this one was more accessible and crowded with buses.   A young woman on our “jeep” took advantage of a vendor selling fresh coconut milk while we just enjoyed the views.

Driving back a dirt road and across a couple streams, we found ourselves in a large pineapple plantation surrounded by the rugged mountains.

On the way back, we stopped at an agriculture school that gave us samples of the jam and preserves they taught students to make.  We bought a couple jars to take to friends, sat in the shade and enjoyed their excellent sorbet.

Resort with over the water rooms.

Our final stop was touted as a “juice factory and distillery,” but we were not shown the factory, only a large gift shop.  On the positive side, they did give us a sample of their liqueurs.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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