Top of the Rock, Branson


In May, 2015, heavy rains in the Ozarks created a large sinkhole—40 feet deep and 70 feet across. This occurred at Big Cedar Lodge and Top of the Rock Golf Course, located a few miles south of Branson, Missouri.

The sinkhole created a beautiful landmark now known as Cathedral of Nature or simply Cathedral. It is awe-inspiring.

John L. Morris, owner of the property and founder of Big Cedar Lodge, is a conservationist. A big dig is underway.  Morris is exploring, hoping to find a secret passageway and a large system of caves.

Excavations crew have removed dirt and rock. The original 70-foot wide sinkhole is now 350 feet across. The depth of 40 feet has been expanded to 200 feet. Gorgeous!

Visitors can ride a golf cart through the Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail.

The Sunset Ceremony was a highlight of a recent family vacation for me. A bagpiper plays as the sun sets. A Civil War cannon fires as the sun dips over the horizon. Simply beautiful.

We visited the church next to the sinkhole. A floor-to-ceiling window on the main floor faces the valley. The view of the water nestled in a tree-lined valley was breathtaking at sunset.

My family loved this place. Consider adding this stop to your trip if you are in the Branson area on vacation.

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Welcome to the Top of the Rock,” Top of the Rock, 2018/06/18


Breathless: A Daily Devotional by Judith Rolfs

A Daily Devotional for Christians in a Hurry: One Minute meditations for women and men.

 What first drew me to this devotional is the “one-minute” daily read. I am one of those busy Christians in a hurry. I’ll bet you can relate.

This book wasn’t what I expected. Daily meditations are short. There is a scripture reference for each day.

The author writes in a poetic form, which is inspiring and different from other devotional books.

Each day’s topic can be read in about a minute as advertised. The author is transparent in her writing. I found it an easy read for busy folks.

-Sandra Merville Hart



Iced Blueberries Recipe from 1877

Flipping through the fruit section of a cookbook from 1877, I found a recipe for Iced Currants. The cook suggested that cherries and grapes can be substituted for currants.

So why not try blueberries this way?

Wash and drain ½ cup of blueberries on a paper towel.

Separate 3 egg whites into a mixing bowl. Beat them. I used a hand mixer for this easy recipe.

The cook suggests using a sieve for the next part, which I don’t own. I used a baking rack covered with paper towels.

Dip each blueberry into the beaten egg white mixture and set on the baking rack so that the fruit doesn’t touch. Sift a thick layer of powdered sugar over them. The cook didn’t mention waiting for the berries to set so the blueberries still had a frothy coating from the egg whites when I covered them. The froth kept the sugar from sticking.

I tried again, this time giving the berries an hour to set before sprinkling on powdered sugar. Still too frothy to hold the sugar coating.

What do they say about third time is the charm? The next time I dipped a batch of blueberries individually into the egg whites, I stayed away from the frothy part. I rolled the blueberries in powdered sugar to achieve an even coat. Perfect!

Tip: Don’t beat the egg whites. Give them a little whisk. Don’t sprinkle but roll the fruit in powdered sugar.

Delicious! A light, sweet healthy snack in about five minutes.

I’d try this with blackberries and raspberries as well.

I’d love to hear if you try this recipe with other fruits.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.




Eureka Springs, Arkansas–A Fun Way to Spend a Day

Christ of the Ozarks

A family trip to Branson, Missouri, led us to spend a day in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The quaint, historical feel of the older part of town made me glad we’d made the hour’s drive.

Folks had already discovered healing properties in the springs by the founding of the city on July 4, 1879. Using the spring’s waters, Dr. Alvah Jackson treated and cured his son’s eye ailment in 1856. The doctor also cared for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. After the war, a few Confederate soldiers recuperated near the springs.

Though the town started with tent dwellings and shanties, thousands visited Eureka Springs for the healing springs.

Visitors still flock to the city today. There are many specialty shops in historical downtown. We arrived around noon ready to dine at our favorite restaurant, Mud Street Café. Since it was closed that day, we enjoyed lunch at the balcony restaurant at the Basin Park Hotel. The hotel opened in 1905.

After lunch, we shopped before heading to Thorncrown Chapel a few miles away. What a beautiful spot! Built in 1980, the chapel has 425 windows—6,000 square feet of glass. Nestled in the woods, the chapel and its surroundings filled me with a serene sense of peace.


Then we drove to an area where the Passion Play is enacted from May to October. (Check the schedule for dates and times.) The Christ of the Ozarks is there, standing 67 feet high. Impressive sight!

We’ll have to return to attend The Great Passion Play. I’ve heard it’s worth the trip.

All in all, a fun place to spend a day.

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Eureka Springs History,”, 2018/06/18

“Thorncrown Chapel,” Thorncrown Chapel, 2018/06/18

My Father’s Business by Eddie Jones

30 Inspirational Stories for Discerning and Doing God’s Will

This book was an encouraging read. I loved the examples from well-known people in leadership, ministry, entertainment, military, artists, and other walks of life who sometimes learned about God’s Will the hard way.

I can relate to learning the hard way.

There are chapters on sacrifice, gratitude, perseverance, imagination, endurance, and many other helpful topics for Christians.

Bible verses and quotes from Oswald Chambers, author of My Utmost for His Highest and other books, begin every chapter. These quotes were insightful and inspiring.

Scripture references for a time of reflection end the chapters.

The stories used illustrate the author’s point beautifully. I read this book in a couple of days, but it would also be an inspiring way to begin or end your day.

I’ve read books by this author and always enjoyed them. I will look for more!

-Sandra Merville Hart

Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas – Use coupon code SandraMHart for a 20% discount on Lighthouse Publishing books!

Blueberry Buckle Recipe

I go through seasonal cycles in cooking. Right now, I’m looking for recipes with blueberries. I’ve made this delicious blueberry buckle coffee cake from a 1950 Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book several times but it’s been a while.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare an 8 x 8 baking pan with cooking spray.

Rinse and drain 2 cups of fresh blueberries on a paper towel. Gently pat them dry.

Sift 2 cups of all-purpose flour into a medium mixing bowl. Add 2 teaspoons of baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt and stir. Set aside.

In a separate bowl thoroughly blend ¾ cup sugar and ¼ cup butter until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter. Pastry blenders work well for this. (The recipe calls for ¼ cup of shortening—I always substitute butter for the shortening.) Add 1 egg, ½ cup milk, and stir. Set aside.

Hint: Add blueberries to the flour. A gentle toss coats the fruit with flour. Remove the berries from the flour with your clean hands or a slotted spoon and set aside for a moment. This coating will prevent the fruit from all settling at the bottom of the batter during baking.

Stir dry ingredients into the sugar mixture. Once combined, gently fold in the prepared blueberries. Pour the thick batter into the prepared baking pan.

Next, prepare a crumb mixture as a topping. Mix together ½ cup sugar, 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. (The recipe calls for ½ teaspoon cinnamon—I’m always generous with this spice.) Then thoroughly blend in ¼ cup of butter with a pastry blender. Sprinkle this crumb mixture over the batter.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes. Enjoy!

This is a delicious blueberry coffeecake for breakfast or brunch.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, Macmillan and General Mills, Inc, 1950.


Battle of Gettysburg: Lee’s Long Line of Ambulances

Ambulance outside Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s plan to transport thousands of wounded soldiers after the Battle of Gettysburg was a daunting task. He ordered General John Imboden to lead them to Cashtown before heading south to Williamsport, Maryland. When they reached Williamsport, they paused for a break. Once men and horses rested, they resumed their journey back to Virginia.

The ambulance wagon train stretched for 27 miles.


And 7,000 Confederate soldiers, wounded too severely to travel, were left behind in Gettysburg. Characters in my novel set during the Battle of Gettysburg, A Rebel in My House, had to deal with this issue.

Conservative estimates for Confederate wounded number around 13,000. Other sources report over 18,000. Either way, 27 miles of ambulances means a distressing number of injured soldiers traveled south, groaning in agony as rickety wheels jostled them over rutted dirt roads.

I wondered how many ambulance wagons might have been required and thought it might be fun to try to figure it out.

Ambulance outside of Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg.

Many models in use at the time were 10 feet long or 10 feet, four inches. The heavier wagons required 4 horses to pull them while lighter ones needed only 2.

Some carried 10 patients—4 prone and 6 seated. The driver and 2 patients sat on a closed chest holding medical supplies.

A lighter model carried 5—15 wounded, depending on how many needed to lie prone for the journey.

It seems almost certain—with the number of wounded requiring transportation to Southern hospitals—that folks squeezed onto wagons meant to hold fewer men.

I confess that I got lost trying to figure the length of an average horse—it seems the larger horses are about 6 feet long. An ambulance 10 feet in length with a two-horse team might require about 20 feet. A four-horse team and wagon might need 30 feet.

Allowing 30 feet for each wagon to estimate how many ambulances might have been in this ambulance train … a staggering 4,752 wagons. The actual count was probably less because some patients with minor injuries walked.

Some ambulances held only 5 patients. If folks had to travel in a laying down, less patients could ride with them.

7,000 were left in Gettysburg. Going with the highest estimate of 18,000+, some 11,000 wounded traveled south. That means 2-3 folks traveled in each wagon.

If we allow 50 feet of space for each wagon, there are about 2,851 or 3-4 patients per wagon. If this is true, then lots of soldiers were in bad shape along the way. Possibly greater numbers of slightly injured weren’t included in the total count.

Has anyone run across this in their research?

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Battle of Gettysburg,” Encyclopeadia Britannica, 2018/06/15

“Battle of Gettysburg,” HistoryNet, 2018/06/15

“Battle of Gettysburg Facts,” Stone Sentinels, 2018/06/15

“Civil War Ambulance Wagons,” Civil War Home, 2018/06/17

Compiled by Editors of Combined Books. The Civil War Book of Lists, Da Capo Press, 1994.

Edited by Kennedy, Frances H. The Civil War Battlefield Guide, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990.

“Gallery: Field Medicine,” Trans-Mississippi Theater Virtual Museum, 2018/06/17,

Long, E.B and Long, Barbara. The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac 1861-1865, A Da Capo Paperback, 1971.

Sheldon, George. When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg: The Tragic Aftermath of the Bloodiest Battle of the Civil War, Cumberland House, 2003.


The Civil War Book of Lists Review

Compiled by the editors of Combined Books

I was happy to find this book of lists in a Civil War battleground museum store while on a research trip.

This book contains many fascinating lists. Here are just a few: Union Regiments of Foreign Born; Six Weapons Used for the First Time in the Civil War; The Ten Best Commanded Battles of the War; The Generals Listed by West Point Class and Rank; and The States in Order of Men Furnished for Confederate Service.

There are a few unusual lists as well: Occupations of Union Soldiers; Four Battles with Four Names; Eight Generals Who Had Served in the War of 1812; and Top 10 Strangest Hairstyles.

 As an of Civil War romances, these lists often pique my interest, leading me to more research.

 Even Civil War historians will discover new facts from this book, sparking discussions.

A great find for lovers of American history!

-Sandra Merville Hart

Barnes & Noble


Miss Kay’s Banana Pudding Recipe

A couple of years ago, one of my Christmas gifts was a cookbook that I’d placed on my wish list—Miss Kay’s Duck Commander Kitchen by Duck Dynasty’s Kay Robertson.

Miss Kay dedicates chapters to favorite recipes for her husband, her sons, her grandchildren. She has chapters on Louisiana cooking, Christmas, and cooking wild game. I love reading her introductions and her tips. She allows cooks to get to know a bit about her and the family she loves to cook for. It’s one of the best cookbooks I’ve used!

My favorite recipe so far is for banana pudding. Delicious! It’s the best banana pudding I’ve tasted—and coming from a family of Southern cooks, that’s saying something.

This pudding is not difficult to make but it is time consuming. Allow at least an hour and a half. Gathering and combining like ingredients ahead of time will help as you need to stir the pudding the whole time it cooks. The pudding becomes very thick and creamy from cooking slowly in a double boiler. (I don’t have a double boiler … a metal mixing bowl over a simmering pan of water works well.)

Just before serving, I add dollops of whipped topping. I used the kind from a can because it looks prettier.

I recently attended a funeral. I doubled this recipe and brought this to the gathering afterward. One guest told me it was the best pudding she’d ever eaten—“and I’m old so I’ve tasted a lot of puddings!”

Blessing a member of the grieving family made it worth the time.

This is a great dessert to take to summer picnics and family gatherings.

This is only one of the wonderful recipes found in Kay Robertson’s cookbook—well worth having on your shelf!

-Sandra Merville Hart



“Ms. Kay’s Banana Pudding Recipe,” Louisiana Culinary Trails, 2018/05/15

Robertson, Kay with Chrys Howard. Miss Kay’s Duck Commander Kitchen, Howard Books, 2013.



Fireside Talk Radio Podcast about A Rebel in My House


Cathy Krafve of Fireside Talk Radio interviewed Sandra Merville Hart, author of A Rebel in My House, a Civil War romance set during the turbulent Battle of Gettysburg. Cathy is a talented host and made Sandra feel a warm Texas welcome!

Here is Cathy’s introduction to the interview:


Outside the Box. Her Wisdom, Translating Compassion into Fiction Writing with Sandra Merville Hart

“Award-winning Author Sandra Merville Hart joins Cathy Krafve to talk about her wonderful Civil War era book, A Rebel in My House. Both sides of the conflict receive tender grace from Sandra in this engaging, action-packed story. With compassion, Sandy creates characters to love. Cathy asks questions about her inspiration and decision-making when it comes to handling history respectfully.  With five books out by this time next year, Sandra is a rising star in publishing circles. For Sandy, climbing out of the box means creating stories that reflect compassion for people and respect for history.”

Here is the podcast for those who’d like to download and listen:  Fireside Talk Radio A Rebel on My Land Interview

Thank you for a fun visit on Fireside Talk Radio, Cathy!

-Sandra Merville Hart