Tag Archives: photos

How did you celebrate Christmas?

23 Dec

This has been one of my favorite questions for the past 50 years. I was chatting with a colleague at a holiday party after work recently. She said, I remember Bruce what you shared about your work as a Personal Historian? Yes, I explained, we record people’s life stories and help them to preserve and shared them with loved ones.

She then asked, you were telling me about how I could capture stories from my aunt. What questions should I ask her and how should I record it? I shared, “Well, first ask her about her earliest memories. To record, you can use the voice recording app on your smart phone, or buy a digital voice recorder.  These cost about $90 or so. You can download and save the recordings on your computer. So, when your aunt calls, you can receive the call on your iPad and then start recording. I shared several other sample questions, and then I shared one of my favorites – How did you celebrate Christmas?

As I shared earlier, I have used this one many, many times with personal history clients and with family members, some now long gone. The holidays or Christmas are a great time to share and record family memories.

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As I look across my living room I see my mother-in-law’s Christmas tree decorated with perhaps 100 ornaments that we have collected. Most have a special story – the pink one from Bermuda, the trolley from San Francisco, the round ornament with the great image of a bird we bought with my father-in-law at that birders’ shop on Cape Cod.

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The Christmas season is a great time admire an ornament and ask, “Is there a story behind that ornament?” Perhaps it is old, a child’s photo from an early Christmas or an ornament that has been passed down through the family for two or three generations.

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Some of the ornaments were presents from a lifelong friend. “Tell me about your friend, where did you meet?”

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While you are visiting friends during the holidays you may be offered cookies or other treats. “This tastes great, what is this cookie called? Do you have any special memories of making cookies with your mom? What did you make? What did it smell like?”

For me, music has always been part of my life. This is especially true during the Advent Season. As a teenager, I would go caroling with a group from my church. We would walk around New Freedom and stop and carol at the homes of shut-ins, people who could not easily get out to church. It was often cold, but it was joyous. Sometimes we just sang, received thanks, smiles and then we moved on.  Quite often though, we were invited in for cookies or a cup of cider or hot chocolate. We visited and warmed up a bit but had to move on, we still had quite a few stops and more carols to sing. “Do you have any special traditions that you and your friends did every year? Do you have a favorite Christmas carol?

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When I was growing up my grandmother lived nearby. My grandmother owned a farm going down the hill from her house. She lived in a regular house at the top of the hill, but there was a farm-house and a big barn down the farm lane. To the right of the barn, she, my dad and my uncles had planted a grove of pine trees to prevent a steep section of the hill from eroding.

One of my special memories was going down the hill with my dad and one or more of my brothers and picking out our Christmas tree from the pine grove. This was a big thrill.  My father still has the same saw, hanging in his shed, that we used to cut down those trees decades ago. I remember the fresh scent of the pine needles and the pine sap that would always get on our hands and our coats. We would help dad carry or drag the tree out of the wood to the car. We would also cut sprigs of pine boughs and holly that my mom would use to decorate our home. “How did you decorate your home for the holidays?”

We would go over to my grandmother’s house a week or two before Christmas and set up her Christmas tree, we got out her ornaments, the lights, perhaps some garlands and tinsel.

On Christmas Day, we would wake up early at our house. We would run down the stairs to get our stockings, they were hand-knitted by one of my aunts. We were allowed to open these early, before my parents were up and ready for breakfast. There always was a comic book or a classic comics book stuffed in the top of the stocking. Since I was one of four brothers, we would always read ours first and then trade them around.  This was a brilliant “delaying” tactic by my parents, to keep us quiet and engaged for a while so they could grab five more minutes of sleep, get a cup of coffee or tea, brush their teeth, and get a few special treats ready for Christmas breakfast. It also helped to distract us from those “other” presents piled around the tree. “What was it like when you woke up Christmas morning?”

We had a great time opening presents as a family, then later around eleven o’clock my parents would drop my three brothers and me off at my grandmother’s house. I suspect this was to allow mom time to prepare food for Christmas dinner and dad some time to clear away the debris from the unwrapping, hmmm… what did they do with those two hours while we were at grandmother’s? Perhaps this is a new question I need to ask my parents?

My grandmother would always have a few presents for us around her tree. Sometimes my aunt Mary would be up visiting with grandmother for the holidays, so she would be part of the celebrations. She liked to travel, so there might be a small gift, a toy from another country that we would enjoy throughout the day. After opening gifts, my grandmother served the best sandwiches, some type of tender melt-in-your-mouth beef on buttered bread with the crusts cut off.  I can still taste them. “Did you have other relatives and family living nearby? Did you celebrate together during the holidays?”

Later in day we would have a gathering of three families, our family, my dad’s brother’s family, my dad’s first cousin’s family and of course my grandmother and aunt Mary. We would rotate each year which family would host Christmas dinner. Each family would bring special dishes, the host family would provide turkey and dressing. The ten children would spend time together and the eight adults would gather, perhaps to share memories of Christmas’s past. This is when I wish I had my digital recorder back in the 1960s and 70s and perhaps a camera and a camcorder.

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The good news is that I have been actively recording the Christmas and holiday memories of my parents and my extended family in more recent years. Perhaps this season is a good time for you to ask your friends and loved ones, “How did you celebrate Christmas?”

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For us it is great to have our kids home from college and grad school. We did some shopping together, we saw a movie together, we catch up on each other’s news, retell stories from the past year, and chat about future plans – what’s next? My son played a few songs on the bassoon while I hummed a few Christmas carols. We will have a few upcoming holiday gatherings with friends and family… hmmm… I wonder when I need to put the ham in the oven tomorrow?
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I hope each of you similarly takes time to celebrate the holidays, to visit with friends and family, and to capture and share memories.

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a great new year.

Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian with Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com. He is a board member and serves as the Regions and Chapters Director of the Association of Personal Historians

Geese in a row

16 Jan

Today we went for a walk with a friend around Burke Lake Park in Northern Virginia. Driving in I commented that there was a gaggle of geese guarding the west end of the lake.

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Later I got some great photos on the gaggle on patrol.

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We have continued to have a mild winter so Burke Lake is free of ice and the gaggle seemed very content to congregate and guard their western border.

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Later, as we hiked around the northern boundary of the lake we saw an even more interesting group of geese.

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These geese seemingly we practicing some type of goose oriented military drill.

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They were sitting perfectly in line jutting out into the water in a southerly direction.

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Occasionally, one of the geese would float out line and then look back at his or her colleagues to see if they were still in proper array. Then this goose would ease on back and rejoin the rest of the military gaggle.

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It was a great day for a walk. I hope everyone is have a great start to 2016. When you get a chance, I hope you can take some time, and take a walk.  Maybe you too will get to see geese in a line in a lake.

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Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian with Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com

See also

When and Where: Interesting places to visit in the Washington, DC Area

How many reasons do you need – to write your life story?

1 May

I have been enjoying the Association of Personal Historians blog series 20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History: Association of Personal Historians Experts Weigh In.  Below are nine great reasons with more to come as we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Association of Personal Historians.

For each individual though the reasons will vary.  One of my clients had aging parents – he was 102 and she was 94 when I interviewed them.  Clearly it was time to capture their life stories and personal histories. For him – what was it like growing up on a frontier farm at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century? For her – what happened to your family when the Japanese captured Singapore during World War II?

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Many clients have great stories but they have never written any of them down. What was it like on Heartbreak Ridge during the Korean War?

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Sometimes you need to clarify the story. Your mother was playing basketball when the lights dimmed? “That was not my mother. That was me. Whenever the lights at our college dimmed, we were pretty sure it meant a prisoner had been electrocuted at the nearby prison.”

Many friends share, I wish I had recorded… my mother’s, my father’s, my grandmother’s, my aunt’s, my brother’s stories. To these I often remark, today is a good day to start recording your own memories or stories.  I take a digital voice recorder or use a voice recording app on my phone every time I visit with my parents.  We always have something to talk about. I am continually amazing how many stories my brothers and I have never heard. My best advice Ask the questions now, if you need help ask a professional personal historian to help.

Part of our value add is that we are skilled listeners.  We want to hear the story from the beginning. People often tell a more complete story to a fresh audience.  We know how to put stories in historical context and how to frame follow-up questions.

Most of us are also skilled writers and editors so we can help to enhance and weave together the stories, caption that box of photos, tie in those old letters and bits of written materials.  For one client I found in his file drawer, of bits and pieces of family history, his high school journal.  It was fascinating to weave this content into his personal history. It included entries about the weather (during the winter in Minnesota in the 1920’s), choring (what you do on a farm every day before and after school and on the weekends), school activities (finalized the essay on…), family activities (our family harvested all of the potatoes ourselves) and extracurricular interests (between studying, walking through blizzards, choring, school…).

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I focus on helping my clients record their stories first.  Sometimes they just want the audio files or the transcripts. The voice recordings can be later used to create books or videos. They can also be added to online family story archives that other family members can view or interact with.

It is crucial though to record the stories now since we never know when someone will have a life event that will prevent a friend or loved one from sharing their stories.  I have had several family members and friends who have struggled with loss of short-term or even long-term memory making it harder to remember or share key details of their stories.

How many reasons do you need – to write or record your family history?  Below are great blogs from amazing Personal Historian colleagues. We are ready to help.

#1. You’ll feel wiser (by Susan T. Hessel)

#2. First person narratives and family histories are important historical documents (by Joan Tornow)

#3. You are an important person. You have things to pass on, to your children, to your local history society, to unknown future generations (by Jill Sarkozi)

#4. You and your family are important to somebody, probably many somebodies (by Jane Shafron)

#5. Family trees are abstract. Stories add depth (by D. Fran Morley)

#6. Memories over time become fragmented and distorted. People may not remember the things you told them but did not write down (by Deborah Perham) Bonus post! (by Rhonda Kalkwarf)

#7. Writing your family history gives you the chance to depict your ancestors how you see fit (by Susan Terrill-Flint)

#8. There is a need for diverse family histories about those who have not been represented well in history texts (by Elisabeth Pozzi-Thanner)

#9. There is a need for more family histories documenting female lines (by Shannon Stallone)

This WordPress Blog is by Bruce Summers, Personal Historian Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com. Bruce is a board member and Regions/Chapters Director of the Association of Personal Historians

Why did I become a Personal Historian?

7 Mar

 

By Bruce Summers, Summoose Tales

Everyone has a story. In my experience  people have many stories. Some they have shared with friends and families, while others lie dormant for twenty, fifty, and yes even ninety or more years. By nature I am curious, I am a perceiver, I want to hear these stories, I want to put them in familial or historical context and share them with others.

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Sometimes it is easy working with a personal history client. I have done my research and my homework and all I have to do is get them started. I ask the client or narrator the first question, I use actively listening, a bit of nodding, a quiet smile, and the stories start pouring out.

After a while I add a timely framing question for context, tell me more… tell me why… what did the kitchen smell like… what were you doing when… was she on your father’s side or your mother’s side… what was the barn used for…?

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Sometimes we start down a new and unknown path that has not been explored… “he threw a penny out of the train window with a note wrapped around on his way to Europe during World War I…”;  “your Mom was the baton twirler,” to which each of her nine children respond… ‘No way!!!’)…”; (what does no one know) “I won the beauty pageant…”; or “I haven’t thought about that for years…”.

Sometimes there are surprises in the basement filing cabinets and boxes… a letter… “Lewis went up and helped him get the farm…” (no one know where the money for the farm came from).

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I often feel compelled to start mapping out the client’s family in Family Tree Maker… (you had four generations on your mother’s side that lived in Tennessee before they moved here)… “oh that’s why I kept getting invited to those family reunions in Tennessee…” or (your grandmother definitely came from… Ireland)… “we always heard she did, thank you…”.

I do digital voice recordings for most of my clients. Sometimes this is the most important product they want, especially after their parent or loved one passes away. I have over 100 hours of tape from interviews with my parents.  I may not write all of those stories now, but I have them for the future, for my brothers and our children.20141003_143141 Tom and Jane Summers on front walk - New Freedom

The following is a link to a great video provided by an Association for Personal Historians colleague Loretta Heindrichs. The video was produced by another colleague David Marshall.

I love the opening clip… if Abraham Lincoln had lived eight years more we could have heard a recording of his voice…

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I am doing a series of personal history interviews of early members and founders of my church as we start to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the church. The voice recordings are palpable today, but they will be invaluable 15 or 40 years from now as we celebrate the 75th and the 100th Anniversary.

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Some clients also want a transcription so they have a written record of the stories. They can use these to write their own family stories in the future. We will use these transcripts to write a version of our church story during its 60th year.

Some clients want a book. I admit to seriously enjoying looking through all those old photos and albums with my clients or their parents or grandparents. I think it is truly a gift to combine the photos with original context and with the stories that make them come alive.

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Sometimes there are just two or three people alive who know where a picture was from, what was going on at the time, why was it important, and who were these people… the client/narrator and the personal historian, until they are shared with friends and family. This is one of the powerful motivators for personal historians… helping individuals and their families capture, share, and preserve their life stories, their photos, and their memories.

I am still learning every day, from personal historian colleagues, from clients and their loved ones, from research related to the milestones in their lives… what was it like to plow 300 acres with a team of horses… to milk 12 cows every morning and every night by hand… to work with German prisoner’s of war during World War II… to create a new church during times when segregationists were powerful opponents.

Each story is fresh, each story is interesting, each narrator has a unique context to share. Not everyone will write and record their own stories. It is a privilege to facilitate capturing and sharing life stories.

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Please let me know if you have stories that need to be captured and shared. If I cannot help you, perhaps I can refer you one of my Association of Personal Historian colleagues. I also post blogs about my experiences and share family stories. I hope these are helpful examples. Everyone can record a family story, but sometimes it helps to have a personal historian to make sure you “get around to it.”

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Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian for Summoose Tales. He is a board member of the Association of Personal Historians (APH) and serves as APH Regions and Chapter Director. Contact: Summersbw@gmail.com

Thanksgiving – Show and Tell

17 Nov

By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian – SummooseTales

Thanksgiving is getting closer day by day. Trader Joes already has turkeys — sell by December 5. Last week I bought the requisite bag of cranberries remembering back to when they used to sell out before Thanksgiving perhaps 20 years ago. I picked up an orange and a red pepper yesterday, these are the additional ingredients for cranberry salsa. I also picked up a quart of low-sodium chicken stock, just in case we needed it for the stuffing recipe.

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We are hosting the Thanksgiving meal this year, so we also worked this weekend getting the house ready. I moved the Personal History client files, archives, and albums from my dining room office, where I can spread them out, review, edit or scan, back to the guest bedroom office.

This all started me to think about starting a new tradition, trying a Thanksgiving – Show and Tell. Building on my successful experience with Show and Tell for a recent Family Reunion, I reflected that the primary element needed for a successful Show and Tell are Family and Friends who share stories which are recorded.

So this is my Thanksgiving – Show and Tell checklist:
• Equipment – have a digital voice recorder, charged and ready. Many smart phones also have a voice recording app if the digital recorder is not available.
• For some of my Association of Personal Historian colleagues – video recording is also a good option.
• My children will be back from college for Thanksgiving so they can share their unique stories about recent or past adventures.
• Family and Friends have also been invited to join us for the Thanksgiving meal.
• Similar to Show and Tell for Family Reunions I will need to cordially invite everyone to bring an object, a photo, or and album and especially one or more stories that they will talk about for 5 or so minutes.
• An object or photos are not required but they give us an opportunity to share a bit of family history and a story or two or three. Example: What’s the story behind the display case of N-Gauge trains?

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• The Thanksgiving Table may display a unique table-cloth or dishes and serving bowls. Does anyone know the story behind the salt and pepper shaker, the HOC glasses, and what about the table itself? What are the stories and what are the origins of these items?

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• Then there are the unique foods and side dishes. Why do we have sauerkraut, and why does the pot need to stay in the kitchen and not on the table?
• Is there a tradition of sharing what we are thankful for? How did this start?
• My favorite questions for my mom or my dad or my in-laws – what was Thanksgiving like for your family when you were growing up? Where did you celebrate? Who participated? What foods do you remember? Example: my mom was a finicky eater. So as a youth she always got one of the wings from the turkey with lots of skin.
• Were there any special traditions for Thanksgiving Day? Examples: When did the turkey go in the oven? Did you watch the Macy’s Day Parade? In my family growing up, there was the tradition of the annual Thanksgiving project. Since I was one of four boys, perhaps this was a way my dad could keep us busy and out of the house while mom was busy getting things ready – the food, the table, straightening up the house so at least temporarily it did not look like four rambunctious boys lived there with gym bags, books, papers, and toys spread around.
• Remember the time we helped tear down the old barn on the back farm? Was that really a Thanksgiving Project?
• Sometimes it is good to ask about smells and tastes? For me there was the smell of the turkey roasting. I wanted to watch my mom baste the turkey, but really I just wanted to take in that heavenly smell. With my own family, for some strange reason I look forward to the smell of lemon pledge, endust or other anti-dust spray. I like to walk around dusting, mind you this is only once or twice a year, all the wood surfaces, the chairs, furniture, cabinets, and tables on Thanksgiving Day. Well maybe I will share this joy with one of my children this year, or maybe not.

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• Show and Tell works best if you block or designate a specific time for formal sharing. Perhaps during that hour gap between finishing the main meal and serving desserts. On the other hand you may also need to schedule a bit of an interlude for clearing the table, putting the food away, and washing up. In our family we may also need to shoehorn it in between the annual Scrabble game and watching a movie together, sometime these go on concurrently.
• If possible gather in one room, have people bring out their objects or photos. Note some people will keep these secret until the designated time to share.
• Designate ahead of time someone to take pictures during the Show and Tell.
• The role of the Personal Historian or facilitator is to start and stop the digital recorder to capture each unique story. Make sure people say their name, make good eye contact, and nod encouragingly. Be a good listener and ask follow-up questions, if needed.
• Be prepared to kick things off by showing an object or a photo and telling your own short story.

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• Be prepared for surprises, that others may want to embellish the story or provide context, also that spontaneous stories will pop up that are not connected to a picture or an object. Perhaps a story about little Ralph and the missing silver spoon.
• At the end thank everyone, and think about how you will share the recordings and pictures with everyone, and how you and other family members can combine these stories into your family history.
• Bonus: You may find a quiet time during Thanksgiving or the Thanksgiving weekend to…
o Do a one on one interview with your mom, dad, aunt, uncle or family friend. You might find out about why your mom was afraid of mice.
o Surreptitiously wonder down to check out what’s in the basement or the attic.
o Walk around the house and take a few pictures of unique family objects that may have additional stories.

I hope everyone has a story filled Thanksgiving. Please consider trying Show and Tell.

Our Trip to Paradise – Part 4 – The Road to Paradise

1 Oct

The Road to Paradise

We stopped to view glacier fed rivers

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Beautiful Waterfalls

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Majestic valleys

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And stopped to see and admire views of Mount Rainer as it loomed larger and larger as we climbed the mountain to Paradise.

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This waterfall seemed to have a permanent rainbow in the spray as it cascaded down the mountain.

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See also:

Our Trip to Paradise – took 25 years

Our Trip To Paradise Part 2 – Northern Virginia to Longmire

Our Trip to Paradise Part 3 – The National Park Inn

Our Trip to Paradise – Part 5 – Arrival in Paradise (Wildflowers were everywhere) (New)

Our Trip To Paradise Part 2 – Northern Virginia to Longmire

29 Sep

Day 1 – We traveled from Northern Virginia to longtime, Mount Rainier National Park.

Excited we got on an early morning flight at Washington Reagan National Airport, changed planes in Denver and we were on our way.
About 50 miles from the airport my wife points out of the airplane window. There it was – Mount Rainier in its snow-capped 14,410 foot glory.

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We landed at the airport, picked up our rental car, checked our directions and started driving towards Mount Rainier. Even 30 miles away we would see house development campgrounds and even a winery named for Mount Rainier. It dominates the landscape for many miles in many directions as well as providing the source for a dozen rivers and the primary water source for Seattle and many other parts of Washington State.

We stopped in a small town about 10 miles from the park entrance to buy a few groceries and a case of water. Drinking water is great prevention from getting altitude sickness once we get into the park and especially as we prepare to hike and explore the mountain.

We saw railroad themed murals…

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A “Caboose Hotel”…

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And a railcar pizzeria…

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We were tempted by beautiful lakes, and intrigued by signs warning that the water level could rapidly go up or down 25 feet due to flooding from the mountain run-off. “Look out for floating logs and submerged stumps!”

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We continued on, entered Mount Rainier National Park and immediately noticed the old growth forest and huge trees, and something like Spanish moss covering the ancient evergreen trees.

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We passed the park road repair crews but luckily we were only delayed a few minutes since it was late in the day. Finally we come upon a clearing and there we found our first destination the National Park Inn in Longmire, Mt. Rainier National Park.

See also:

Our Trip to Paradise – took 25 years

Our Trip to Paradise Part 3 – The National Park Inn

Our Trip to Paradise – Part 4 – The Road to Paradise

Our Trip to Paradise – Part 5 – Arrival in Paradise (Wildflowers were everywhere) (New)

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