James Monroe did not live on a huge estate like Washington or Jefferson, but Monroe’s house definitely had its own uniqueness.

Monroe, being a good friend to Jefferson, wanted to move near Monticello so he bought some property about two and a half miles away from Jefferson’s estate. He had no sooner purchased it, however, than Washington appointed him minister to France. Happily, Monroe and his family left Virginia – but not wanting the land to just sit there, he asked Jefferson to find a good spot for the house and to make plans for its construction.  Jefferson did so. He chose a spot high on a hill so that Monroe could see Monticello in the distance.

Then Jefferson planned the doorway of the house, but instead of it being a normal door, he built it too small for a normal person to walk through – in other words, you need to bend over to go through the door – literally causing anyone coming out of Monroe’s house to “bow” before Monticello.

Monroe called the house Highlands. Later it was called Ashlawn and is now usually called a combination of the two.

Meanwhile, there were problems over in France – not that Monroe didn’t get along with the French, but that he was getting along with them too well. In fact, Washington called him home because of his friendliness, but sent him back again at which time he made the Louisiana Purchase. Monroe considered this his biggest achievement.

Monroe’s wife, the former  Elizabeth Kortwright, and his two daughters Eliza and Maria also became very Frencified. Eliza attended a school run by a former lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette and became good friends with Napoleon’s daughter. One thing the school taught her was to be a snob. Elizabeth herself was honored for adapting French culture instead of remaining a “stubborn American.”

When the Monroes came back to America – mom and daughters brought the rules of snobbishness with them. Elizabeth was soon nicknamed “Queen Elizabeth” because she refused to pay or return calls from anyone and wouldn’t visit the wives of the diplomatic corps as other First Ladies had done.  Often Eliza served as hostess because her mother was “ill.”  Some accounts think she had epilepsy. Others that she was just being snobbish. Eliza was also disliked because of her “airs.”

Naturally, furniture in the White House and at Highand/Ashlawn was also French.  The American people loved elegant, but down-home Dolley Madison and Elizabeth Monroe’s above-it-all attitude simply did not sit well. They didn’t like that she replaced Dolley’s White House furnishings.

When you tour Ashlawn, you see a rather small farmhouse decorated as a French chateau. (Only the white part in the picture above was the original house – the two story addition did not come to long after Monroes sold the house.) Objects on display include gifts from Napoleon’s daughter.

Unfortunately, by the time Monroe left the White House, he was $75,000 in debt and had to sell his beloved house. For the next several years, the house had several owners, but in 1863 was purchased by a Baptist minister named John Massey. (Hmmm … I’ll have to check into that.) He is the one who built the two story addition for the purpose of educating newly-freed slaves. Then in 1930, the Massey family sold it to a businessman, Jay Winston Johns who began restoring it and collecting Monroe furnishings. The home is now owned by the College of of William and Mary. One of the pieces of original furniture is a desk given them by James Madison, who was best man at their wedding.

We visited Ashlawn the same day we visited Monticello.


Authentic faith is a phrase that has found its way into sermons and seminars. Generally defined – it’s faith that’s part of your life 24/7, faith where you take what you believe out of the church doors and into your cubicle, your school and street.

I would say this about few people, but today I went to the funeral of one who exemplified authentic faith.

I went to the funeral of Craig Phillips.

Craig didn’t need sermons or seminars to know what it means to have authentic faith – Craig just lived out – as one person described it today – a Bible-based life.

Raised in a wealthy home on the North Shore of Chicago (complete with butlers and maids), Craig went on to land a successful job in a Fortune 500 company.  But he came to realize that money was not the answer to life’s problems. Christ is.

From that time on, Craig’s life became one of helping others –

And one of the areas were Craig helped the most was at the Wayside Cross Mission – something he did until just recently. This wasn’t a once a month trip downtown, or even once a week trip downtown – Craig was at the mission every morning, six days a week, being a friend to men who had hit rock bottom. Even in recent  years – in his late eighties – Craig made that daily trip to teach a Bible study called the Master’s Touch to the men at the mission.

Today’s funeral was filled with those men, some who read Scripture, some who gave their testimonies. They all said the same thing, “Craig was always willing to pray with me. Craig was the father I never had. Craig was a friend who really cared.” The funeral home was packed with guys, huge, muscular guys – who were crying at the loss of their friend.


But Craig was more than someone we knew about. On the seventh day of the week, when Craig didn’t do his class at the mission, he came to church.

Often at the close of Ken’s sermons, Craig would stand up, “Pastor, could I just say one thing?” he would ask and then continue to share a verse  that went along with Ken’s message. Ken didn’t mind. He loved Craig. Every Thursday he would meet with Craig and some other men for breakfast.

And always, always when Ken came home from church and emptied out his pockets – there with the kleenex and the coins and all the other stuff – would be a crumbled note of encouragement that Craig would’ve written during the service and handed to Ken on the way out.

That was just who Craig was.


Craig planned his own funeral and one of the things he wanted was it to be at a place close enough to the mission so that his beloved men could get there.

They did.

We’ll miss you, Craig!

To read more about Craig Phillips – here’s an article that Joe Stowell wrote about him.


If you had the opportunity to visit just one presidential home – this isn’t it.

Though you might think it would be.  Like Mt. Vernon and Monticello, Montpelier is a beautiful estate. And Dolley Madison was certainly one of our more colorful first ladies so you’d  think the house she lived in would give you a feel for that personality.

James Madison inherited the home from his parents in 1809 – but he and Dolley had actually lived in it earlier. His father built it in 1760.  Dolley, of course, was a great entertainer and Montpelier was the site of the first icebox in Virginia. (Dolley was also the first to serve ice cream at the White House.)

Madison, in fact, thought that someday his home might be a tourist attraction and actually built on to it with future tourists in mind. However (and this is where the problem arises) after he died, Dolley sold Montepelier and the furniture was also sold or given away. For the next fifty years, the estate was owned by six different owners until 1901 when William du Pont Sr. bought it. He added a second floor, more than doubling the square footage. Besides the structure looking different from the original, the brick was covered with yellow stucco. The house stayed in the du Pont family until 1983 when the National Trust for Historic Preservation purchased it.

And as the National Trust for Historic Preservation is historically preserving it,  they’re paying as much attention to the du Pont history as they are to the Madisons’. Therefore, there just isn’t a lot of original Madison furniture (though there are replicas of furniture from the time period). So, it’s not the same color, it’s not the same size and there isn’t very much inside that James and Dolley sat on, slept on or ate on. I did not come out of there feeling as if I better knew the Madisons.

One part that is an original is the garden temple – although the temple is a piece of Roman civic architecture in the midst of a beautiful garden – it is actually covering the two story-deep ice well which allowed the Madisons to have ice cream and cool drinks all summer. A rarity in the 1800s.

We visited Montpelier a month after 9/11. Ken and I, Kelli and her oldest (and at that time only) munchkin and my mom took a roundabout route to a conference I was doing in Lynchburg. Indeed, the pictures in my scrapbook on the page before these photos are of the damaged Pentagon.

James and Dolley lived at Montpelier until 1836. He was the last living survivor of the Continental Congress an honor which inspired him to say …

Having outlived so many of my contemporaries, I shouldn’t forget that I may be thought to have outlived myself.


We continue on our not-a-very-good-start track here.

President #2 was John Adams and I haven’t been to Adam’s house.

President #3 was Thomas Jefferson who lived in Monticello.

We went to Monticello on our last just-the-four-of-us vacation.  Both kids came home from their summer jobs and we headed East. This was back before my good before-digital  35mm camera and most of the pictures on this trip I KNOW for sure were taken with our video camera – I know because the video were taken by Jeff in Jeff’s own unique style.Monticello is one of the most well-known Presidential homes, not only because it is considered an architectual masterpiece, but also because it is full of Jefferson’s inventions.  Monticello is on a mountaintop in Albermarle County, Virginia.

You walk into a dome-shaped entrance hall that’s actually a mini-museum planned by Jefferson himself. The hall has bones and a buffalo head and a 7-day clock which keeps track of the days and the hours.  He also built revolving service doors between the kitchen and dining room so the servants wouldn’t have to see the guests and had fourteen skylights built into the roof.

Other inventions include a revolving book stand where Jefferson could have five books open at once to help while he was doing research, a copying machine,  a concave mirror so he could see hidden corners and a solar microscope.

The grounds of Monticello are also magnificent. The plantation stretches for 5000 acres and includes gardens with 170 varieties of fruit and 333 varities of vegetables. The property also has many different varieties of trees.

Perhaps Jefferson himself summed it up the best when in n 1809 he wrote to  friend …

Within a few days I shall bury myself in the groves of Monticello and become a mere spectator to passing events.

Easy to see how he could do that.


First ladies are one of my many interests and hobbies. (First ladies rather than presidents because by reading about First Ladies, you learn about the human-side of the president. Often reading about presidents teaches you about wars they fought or lists of all the people who were part of all their meetings, but doesn’t really talk about THEM.)

And one aspect of that hobby is visiting as many presidential homes as possible. I had been to a few as a kid since I come from kind of a history-loving family.  But I had many more to visit – and still have more to visit.

One day I found a coffee-table-type book about president homes on sale at Borders. So I bought it and we started recording the dates of our visits to the homes.

A few people have asked me why I haven’t done an “online” tour of the homes we visited, so I thought I’d do just that. (But not all at once or even all in a row.)

Unfortunately, this will not be getting off to a good start.

I thought it made sense to start with Washington (duh!) and I’ve actually been to Mt. Vernon two times – if not three.  Yet, I can only find a few pictures and those aren’t even good ones.  Somewhere I have great photos of Mt. Vernon.

If I find them, I’ll upload them later.

Mt. Vernon is near Alexandria, Virginia and sits on the banks of the Potomac River. The white, wooden mansion is elegant and homey at the same time.  The estate was a working  plantation when Washington lived there and it has been owned by the family (although no one particularly wanted to make the effort to keep the estate in working order) until the mid 1800s. In 1858 The Mount Vernon Ladies Association bought it and they’ve been operating it ever since.

(I actually corresponded with the dear sweet, genteel and elegant ladies of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association because I wanted to use something I saw at Mt. Vernon in a kid’s story I wrote. They were very dear sweet, genteel and elegant in their response and did give me the necessary permission.)

Anyhow, the first time I was at Mt. Vernon I was in second grade. The last time I was at Mt Vernon was for my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. Ken and I took a trip out East with them and Mt. Vernon was one place we stopped. (You will notice in the picture of Ken and me in front of a tree – planted by George himself – that Ken is holding our video camera which might account for the lack of photos – but I still think there are some more around.)

Several other people were on the tour with us through the house. One lady stood out as asking intelligent questions which showed she knew something about history. I appreciated what she was asking because nothing can ruin a tour more than someone asking dumb questions and nothing can help a tour more than questions from someone who knows about what we’re viewing.  She was there with an older daughter and my guess was she was a history teacher.

On the way back down the lane to the parking lot afterwards, we just happened to be walking by the lady and the daughter and I asked her if she taught history. If I remember correctly, she did. But then my dad asked her where she was from and she said Minnesota. As we continued chatting we learned that her daughter was a student at Northwestern – which was interesting because Jeff was at Northwestern at that time. I don’t know how the conversation went from there – whether Ken or I said we had just been through Minnesota on the way to camp in Montana or what, but we then discovered that her other daughter had been a counselor at Clydehurst that summer. Ken and I were junior camp speakers that year and knew her other daughter well! Small world.

In conclusion – as George himself said about his house –  I have no objection to any sober or orderly person’s gratifying their curiosity in viewing the buildings, Gardens, &ca. about Mount Vernon. (I have no idea what &ca is – I must have missed it.)

I promise I have better pictures of most of the other houses.


My dad gave me a lot of things like the necklace he bought me from a copper mine giftshop when I was in sixth grade.

Or, the set of wooden scoops he sanded from five different types of exotic hardwood.

Or, the table he made out of an old pew or something.

But I think I would have to say this is one of the most unusual gifts from my dad. In case, you don’t have a set of these at your house and therefore, don’t recognize them – these are bear teeth.

My dad knew someone that went bear hunting in Alaska or somewhere and my dad asked if he could have the teeth. I’m not sure why he wanted the teeth: I guess he just wanted to know what a bear’s tooth looked like.

Anyhow, at the time this all happened, I was teaching preschool so when my dad was done studying the teeth, he gave them to me to impress the preschoolers. Every year I’d pull them out (you’ve heard of pulling teeth, right?)  and all the little boys would say “Ooooooooooooooooo” and the little girls would go “Ewwwwwwwwwwww.”

So, I still have them and I they still make an appearance every once in awhile when I’m teaching a lesson or want to impress any little munchkins who are hanging around.

I just can’t “bear” to get rid of them.