Decorating Lessons from the Biltmore Estate

One of the highlights of the holiday season each year for me is a trip to the beautiful Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.  Every year the mansion is completely decked out from basement to attic with festive trees (there are over 70 of them!), garlands, lights, and other delightful frivolities.  It’s truly a magical experience for everyone in the family.

After so many holiday visits to this lovely home, you can’t help but pick up a few things that you might want to add in your own home.  It’s only natural!

So, today I am sharing ten Christmas decorating lessons I’ve learned from the beautiful Biltmore Estate.  I apologize for the quality of photos; they have just now allowed visitors to take pictures in the house and I had the rely on my phone as my camera had the wrong lens on it for great shots.

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1. Deck it all.  Seriously, go all out!

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The beautiful view looking up the grand spiral staircase; trimmed out with live garlands and ribbon.

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2. Mantle decor doesn’t have to be symmetrical.

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3. Use a lot of natural elements.  biltmore-christmas-8-ohfiddledeedee-com

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Could you imagine over 1,000 scattered throughout your home?

4. Add bling and a lot of twinkle lights…  Everywhere!

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5. Multiple trees are highly recommended; maybe even throughout one room!

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The beautiful tapestry room had four trees all decked out, one representing each season!

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The “winter” tree in the tapestry room

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6. Dress-up everyday ordinary items or use unexpected items to decorate with.

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These books looked so lovely tired up in colorful ribbon

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Feathers and roses help make this a stunning tree indeed!

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7. Deck the bedrooms. After all, the children shouldn’t be the only ones nestled in their cozy beds.

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Mrs. Vanderbilt’a beautiful bedroom with not one, but two gorgeous trees!

8. Take your time.

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Decorating just one room in the estate can take up to ten hours!  We may not have a design team in our own homes, but there are no rules that say it all has to be decorated in one day!

9. Use your imagination

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The “naughty & nice” list running down the tree is such a cute idea for your children or grandchildren

10. Make decorating a BIG deal and a celebration itself within your family

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The grand banquet hall tree arriving at the Biltmore Estate

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of the Biltmore Estate at Christmas and found a little inspiration for your own home.  If you ever want a fabulous holiday get-away I highly recommend that you  slip away to Asheville and the Biltmore Estate.  We are all decked out here in the Jones home and are ready to kick off the month of celebrations with a Christmas caroling party this weekend!  I’ll be sharing our decor over the next few days and hope that you will stop back by.

Have a blessed day!

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10 Things: New Orleans

“We wander through old streets, and pause before the age stricken houses; and, strange to say, the magic past lights them up.”

~ Grace King, French Quarter Guidebook ~

I absolutely love New Orleans; not the loud, drunken partying New Orleans, but the cultural, culinary, historical and gracious New Orleans.

My husband knows this, so when he had to schedule a business trip to this grand old Southern City last week, he made arrangements for me to accompany him.

{He’s thoughtful that way.}

While Bourbon Street is clearly the most happening place in New Orleans, I tend to prefer the more subdued side of town.  You may ask what else is there to experience in this town known for its lively side, so let me share some of my favorite things to enjoy while traveling New Orleans.  I’ve included a few tips and links to help you plan your own vacation.

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1. Step back in time and tour the plantations on Louisiana’s old River Road.  From the stunning Houmas House and Gardens to the lesser known St. Josephs plantation (owned by the same family since 1877), these are still estates with working gardens or sugar cane crops!

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The Houmas House, also known as the Burnside Plantation or “The Sugar Palace”… The original portion of the house was built in the 1700s with  additions made by later owners completed in the 1840s.  The original portion of the home was built in the Federal style of architecture that was so common in the late 1700s, but the newer portion is obviously Greek Revival style which was used in many old southern homes.

We toured Houmas House first thing in the morning before the tour buses arrived.  It was still cool and quiet which made for a lovely and relaxing morning.

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The Houmas House guided tour is quite informative and well worth taking.  You will hear stories of several generations who lived there as well as a few details on furniture (Audley loved the 150 year old humidor) and accessories throughout the house.

 

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St. Joseph’s Plantation in Vacherie was built in the 1820s.  I love the French Creole architecture of the area and time.  The house was originally opened on the bottom as many Creole homes were, but was enclosed prior to the Civil War so that the home is 12,000 square feet!  My guide, Rae was full of information and facts including that the home was built from cypress wood since it was inexpensive to use, then faux finished to look like oak which was much more expensive!  Very interesting when so many seem to think faux finishes are a newer design concept. 

I visited St. Josephs later in the afternoon where I enjoyed a personal tour.  There were only a few other people around this time of day so I had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and really soak in the history.

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Sugar Cane (certified organic) is still grown and harvested here at St. Josephs.  

If you love history and architecture, this is definitely a stop on your list of “to-do’s”.

2. Treat your sweet side with a trip to Sucre’ on Magazine Street for authentic French macarons, chocolates, and pastry.  Make sure you have left room in your carry-on for carrying a few delights home with you!

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Window shopping is quite sweet while strolling the streets of NOLA

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3. Enjoy the beautiful, historic Jackson Square in the French Quarter and take a tour of the stunning St. Louis Cathedral with her Renaissance & Spanish (which surprises me since Louisiana was such a large French colony) architecture, first completed in 1793 and added onto in 1850!

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The Andrew Jackson statue … Hence the naming of Jackson Square.

4. Enjoy a carriage ride through the French Quarter with a knowledgable and entertaining guide.  If you are limited on time, this is one of the best ways to take in a little of local New Orleans history and flavor.

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We took our tour at twilight and left from in front of the cathedral, where tours leave from all day.  We participated in a group tour so our ride was $20/each, Carriages for two run about $45/each.

5. Indulge your taste buds with delicious New Orleans flavor by dining at one of the many local restaurants found in the downtown area.  We thoroughly enjoyed dining at the Red Fish Grill located on Bourbon Street (near Canal).

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Start your meal with fresh, Gulf oysters shucked right in front of you, then venture into the dining room for a delicious meal showcasing traditional, local flavor.

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I highly recommend the shrimp and grits topped with friend pickled okra and pancetta, although Audley was totally suggest the wood plank grilled red fish with lump crab meat.

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No matter which you prefer, make reservations before heading out for the evening.  This is true for almost every restaurant in the area!

6. And while you are making reservations be sure make time for a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking.  

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Our demo and tasting class included Gumbo, jambalaya, and Pralines and was only $28 each.  We were so full when we left, so it is well worth participating in.

Here you can choose a demo and tasting class, or a full hands-on instructional class.  Either way, you are going to learn a lot about traditional French cooking from Colonial, Louisiana and how it evolved with Italian, African, and Haitian influences into the amazing flavors we enjoy today!

7. While I’m definitely not a fan of Bourbon Street, I LOVE strolling down it long enough to reach Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub.  A stop in Fritzels is like stepping back in time to mid-century France or Germany with their jazz clubs, long wooden tables and benches included.  It doesn’t take long for you to find yourself lost in the music, leaving the present day behind.

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There is not a cover charge for Fritzels, but there is a minimum one drink per set purchase required; bottled water counts as a drink!

8.  Tour an old historic cemetery as there are plenty to choose from.  The old St Louis Cemetery #1 is the most popular and requires a $20 admission and comes with a guide.  Audley and I enjoy exploring on our own and there are several which allow you to do just that.  One of our favorites in the Hook and Ladder cemetery (established in 1858) in Gretna.  It’s not too big, still lovely in a unique way, and definitely worth checking out.  If you want to make your tour a little more interesting, read up on how these family mausoleums work… extremely interesting!

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The Hook and Ladder is located next to fabulous restaurant, The Red Maple,  which I also highly recommend you visit for supper one night!

9. Take some time out to shop the market in the French Quarter. From local boutiques artisans to stereotypical gift shops, there is something to be found for everyone on your shopping list.

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10. Did you really visit New Orleans if you skip over Cafe du Monde?  Located next to Jackson Square in the Quarter, stopping in for beignets and a cafe au lait in this famous open-air cafe is a must-do on your trip.  Choosing from a very limited menu of hot chocolates, coffee, cafe au lait and beignets takes little time.  There is really no excuse to miss this cafe as they are open 24-hours!

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Have you visited New Orleans before?  What are your favorite things to do in this grand old city?

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48 Hours in Arizona

It is outage season in the world of boiler businesses which means Audley is on the road nearly every day each week.  Now that the kiddos are so much older and require less of my time, he really encourages me to take off at least once a year for a girlfriend’s getaway and a little down time to help maintain my sanity.  Last weekend I was able to take off and enjoy a little Momma vacay  in Arizona with my friend, Yvonne.  She is quite familiar with the area as she owns a condo in Flagstaff, so I knew it would an exciting, jam packed weekend. We were quite limited on time with just over 48 hours to enjoy ourselves so Yvonne wanted to make sure  wanted to make sure I enjoyed a real taste of Arizona.

So, what can you do with such a short amount of time in an amazing area?

Let me share some of our fun with you!

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1. Dine at Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon and Musical Review in Flagstaff.  Dinner out at Black Barts was so much fun!  This eclectic restaurant is staffed with a lot of talent who might drop what they are doing without notice and jump on stage to sing for you.  With performances of show tunes from old Broadway to recent Disney favorites you might even find yourself singing along!

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The food was good (my Prime Rib was cooked perfectly), but the atmosphere is what makes Black Barts worth the stop!

A couple of other great restaurant suggestions would include the fabulous Horseman Lodge Steakhouse in Flagstaff (features local fare, including some amazing Elk Chops) and El Rincon Restaurante Mexicano in Sedona.

2. Wake up before dawn and watch the sunrise as you travel through the desert to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

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Skip the initial first view of the canyon (you’re charged to see it) and travel to Navajo Point for a truly gorgeous sight!

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Check out the shops (especially the Kolb Studio… the home and photography studio of historic Canyon photographers and film makers, Emery and Ellsworth Kolb ) and then hike the Angel Light Trail.

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Just remember while it’s a fairly easy hike down, plan to double your time on the hike back up, and be sure to pack light!

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Whew!

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Utilize the free shuttle around the southern rim and visit different viewing points around the canyon. Also chat up the NP rangers for a bit of history and to answer your questions about the park.

3. Take a ride down Route 66 for a few unique shops and sights.

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4. Soak up the many views of Arizona’s ever-changing landscape.  From Prairies to mountain tops the scenery  around Flagstaff is amazing!

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We drove up to the Arizona Snow Bowl skiing area to see these gorgeous views!arizona-weekend-2-oh-fiddledeedee-com

And I do believe Arizona has enjoyed a much prettier autumn than we have in the Carolinas.

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5. Visit the unique Indian cliff dwellings built into rock at Montezuma’s Castle.

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Why build in the rocks?

 Protection from flooding, predators and MOSQUITOS!  Those pesky little insects like to stay low, so living high in the cliffs protected the native Americans from their annoying bites!

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6. Head off to the Sedona desert for a hike at Bell Rock and marvel at the breathtaking formations surrounding you!

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And on your way out, stop for some fun shopping with local artisans in Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village.  Sylvie & Bruno is a wonderful stop for locally designed jewelry (I picked up a couple of gorgeous turquoise pieces) and if you love photography you must visit the Eclectic Image Gallery.  Owned by the husband and wife team of Elaine and Duane Morgan, you will be enthralled (and a wee bit jealous) by their photographic eye for local beauty.

7. Take an evening horseback ride at the historic Hitchin’ Post Stables in Flagstaff.

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Dale was an awesome trail guide, and Sally was a fun horse to ride!

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8.  Leave a little early (and even drive off of your designated path) as you head to Phoenix to catch your flight out, and marvel at the swirly cactus on the way.

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Superstition Mountain in black and white …

While a long trips out west would be so much more fun, it is so easy to take in this fabulous destination and feel like you really got a taste of Arizona, even in 48 hours.

 FYI… If you plan to visit Arizona and especially its parks, purchase a National Park pass.  It’s good for a year and will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Also, If you fly into Phoenix and decide to take the Arizona Shuttle to Flagstaff… Don’t.

Just pay to rent a car.  It’ll save you so much trouble and your sanity as well.

Happy Weekend Y’all!

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Our Jamaica Mission Trip

My daughter, MacKenzie, and I just returned from a 9-day mission trip to Jamaica last week.  It’s funny because when you say that you are going to Jamaica on a mission trip people immediately think of the Sandals commercials and make comments on how difficult that must be.

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A glimpse from inside the Hilton resort in Montego Bay

Jamaica is very beautiful, but outside the resorts are lives and lifestyles that many of us only see on the news or tend to ignore.

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Visiting with Brother Lorenzo

Beyond the resorts are a people struggling day in and day out to make a living for themselves and their children, all the while, living in poverty.  There are families living in houses that will never be finished because they can’t afford the property taxes on a finished home.  There are children that hang out in bars while their mommas work every evening because they need a parent close by.  Children walk miles (even up Mountains!) to school on dangerous roads.

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Just one road we traveled

There are men and women who can’t afford medical treatment (because there are no decent doctors or medical facilities on the island) that go blind with cataracts or glaucoma.   There are parents who live off  drugs while their children beg on the streets for them and unable to attend school as they should.  This is a culture with no concept of proper dental and medical care.  If you can’t get to it or afford it, you’re out of luck.  And there are children who can’t go to school because their family can’t afford a school uniform for them.

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This is an island of people trapped in a socialist lifestyle just hoping for a break if not for themselves, but for their children, and not really knowing how to accomplish change.

To be honest, Jamaica doesn’t want you to see the island.  They only want you to see the beauty of the resorts and tourist attractions.

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Bananas growing in a local yard

But, there is so much beauty to be found outside of the resorts as well…  it’s found in many of the people we encounter, their loving hearts and their love for Jesus in a culture that doesn’t really live Christ.  Jamaica is beautiful, but you have to experience it to see exactly what I mean!

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This was our fifth visit to the impoverished island, but it’s a trip we truly look forward to.  Santa Cruz, Jamaica (which happens to be quite a distance from the coast) has also become a place we cherish dearly and hold close to our hearts.

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We had a taxi driver in Montego Bay tell us if we had friends in Santa Cruz, we were considered Jamaicans ourselves.  I like that idea.

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Santa Cruz Church of Christ

The people in the church at Santa are some of the most loving and caring individuals you can find.  They welcome us with open arms and hearts each time we arrive and cry with us as we leave.  It is a congregation of mostly women; strong, powerful women who worship with all their might.  They are women who are striving to serve and grow, while raising children and grandchildren to do the same.  It’s a congregation with many children who love to sing , listen to Bible stories and color. Brother Lorenzo, with his clear singing voice will bring you to tears with his words of wisdom and fierce independence as he is a blind man living entirely alone.

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MacKenzie talking with Brother Lorenzo

Then there is Everton, a man who has dedicated his life to God instead of a family because he feels that is most important.

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Everton chaperoning MacKenzie and I in Montego Bay the night before we left… those are non-alcoholic beverages as we dined at Margaritaville; a meal that Everton kept calling “luxury”

He leads worship every Sunday as well as driving to pick up every member before services.  It can take a couple of hours to accomplish that.

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The young preaching student with his wife, daughter and two brothers who came over from Montego Bay in a taxi to hear him teach Bible class on Sunday.

And now there is a young preaching student from the School of Preaching who travels each week to share the word with this small congregation.  He has the sweetest wife who is trying so hard to be a support for him in this ministry he has chosen.  It’s a congregation of people who I pray for daily.

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Beautiful faces at Vacation Bible School

We worshipped with the church on Sunday, and held a Vacation Bible School each night we were there.   We also visited several homes of church members, singing and praying with them.

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Singing sweet gospel songs

And one of my favorite parts of the week with the church members was the home-cooked suppers before Vacation Bible School prepared by several of the ladies during our stay.

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Our trip this year was spent more in the community than normal as we worked with four different schools; visiting with children and helping with some things the schools needed.

The little preschool in the New River district is a block one-room building with minimal light and up to 42 children at one time!  The teachers arrive early each day to clean up the school yard and bathrooms for the day.

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They are fortunate to have a church building right next door where they are allowed to have space for group activities and morning assembly.

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Praying babies at New River 

We had so much fun singing and interacting with these babies, and they had fun entertaining us as well!

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At Aberdeen High School (an hour from Santa Cruz) we were introduced to an older group of kids who made me realize just how easy my kids have it despite all that American culture throws at them.  These young people have heart and soul but are totally conflicted on what direction their lives will take.

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While talking with a teacher, he told me that less than 70% of the children in the school will stay until graduation; maybe 30% of the remaining will attempt higher education, and the really smart ones will do whatever they can to leave the island of Jamaica for America and better opportunities for their lives.

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Sobering thoughts indeed.

At Schoolfield Primary School, some of our young people and the students kicked off the school day with an entertaining game of “football”.

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Personally I enjoyed watching the smaller children play on the little playground.

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playground fun

After their morning devotional, we painted the ceiling and trim in the common room since it had just recently been replaced.

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Our final school visit was to Marie Cole Primary.  From the vender selling prawns in baggies to the kids for breakfast to the childrens fascination with a Nerf football (American version), it was an interesting morning watching the children arrive.

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There are no school buses in Jamaica (except the one that has been turned into a classroom at Marie Cole), so children walk quite a long distance, or if they can afford it, take a taxi.  Momma and Daddy generally don’t walk with them.

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After morning devotion at Marie Cole, the teenagers in the group went to the classrooms to read to different age groups.  I use the term classrooms loosely as the school is a large block building with each classroom separated only by carefully arranged chalkboard partitions.

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These children that we encounter on our trips are why I return to Jamaica time and again.

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If there is just one child whose life we can touch and change, helping them overcome the status quo, then we have done something good.

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Several of the children that attend church at Santa Cruz are the reason we are allowed in the schools.  They have taken the initiative to bring together a mission team from the US and principals to form a bond of friendship and trust.

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While it’s sad to say goodbye each trip, I’m always glad to be back home in my comfortable air-conditioned home and drive on roads we really have no right to complain about.  But, that first Sunday back in our home congregation with its elaborate building and organized worship assemblies, is alway sad.  With 300 people in attendance, the heart and soul of 75 Jamaicans in worship can blow away our singing.

The Christians in Jamaica are passionate about their worship; not worried about entertainment and politics in the church.

They come together to praise God with all of their heart and soul, truly fellowshipping with one another, thus humbling me and teaching me a lesson when I thought I was teaching them one.

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