The stage is set. All of nature has been waiting with breath held for this, this moment in time, this blink of history. As the sun rises the show begins; grand in entrance, yet quietly dripping with elegance, she pierces through the curtain of foliage like a bugle sounding her battle cry.
Standing at attention with stately brilliance, row upon row of attentive trunks swell their breasts with pride as they lift their branches in unabashed arrogance against the backdrop of the pale sky. “Look here!” they cry. “Gaze upon me!” they plead.
And we do, we cannot look away, our eyes are fixed, our faces set against the sky, pulling the view close, attempting to etch it into our memory with frail focus. For we know that this moment is fleeting. Like a whisper it will come and go. Like the Smoky mist, it will slowly become obscured, crowded out by more pressing persuasions. Perhaps that is part of the lavish lure of it all. So we cast our longing glances, capture, click and sigh knowing that when the curtain closes on the day, we didn’t miss the show–we were part of it.
Some of the very best memories from my week thus far were so removed from the arena of exciting, that they actually hung out with lame and boring for fun. Are you ready to hear my top three moments?
Making apple brownies in my own kitchen
Last week we were WWOOFing at a ranch. For the entire week we cooked in their lovely kitchen and ate every meal in the ranch café. The kitchen was large, well stocked and filled with stainless steel. One day I made 8 batches of apple brownies for the weekend dessert (click here for the recipe). Sunday, after we’d pulled into a new campground and had settled in for the afternoon, I wanted to made dessert in my own teeny tiny kitchen. Standing between my sink and stove slicing apples felt cozy, like a wearing a favorite pair of sweat pants. I knew where every ingredient was (including the ones stored under my bed) and the only dishes I had to wash were my own.
Going grocery shopping with the whole family
After I made apple brownies, Trent needed to create his own version of kitchen comfort (chocolate chip cookies) and discovered we were low on butter. We explored another new grocery store together roaming the aisles and crossing items off of our list. Quinten pushed the cart. Hunter found the cereal isle. Ashlyn and I scoped out the frozen veggies and Trent and Tanner found the butter (which was also conveniently close to the ice cream). It was mundane yet, not. Fun new finds greeted us around every corner. The meat department had a lobster tank and offered stuffed crab. The dairy isle didn’t just have almond milk and cashew milk but also almond and cashew milk blended together! Even the cereal isle hosted new surprises (hello grits!). It felt like a family food field trip.
Visiting a local thrift store
When we decided to bring only a few changes of clothes for each child, we knowingly assumed we would be stopping from time to time to replenish or replace needed items. Yesterday we found a thrift store and meandered through a myriad of shirts until we found just the right long sleeve to come live in our dresser drawers.
None of these activities were special in their own right. But following several weeks of consistent events, it was the mundane that rose to the top as the richest part of the day. Isn’t it ironic that what we often crave is simply what we haven’t had enough of lately? I can’t live in a constant state of activity without wearing thin and craving routine, but I also can’t maintain too much sameness without itching for a new adventure. It’s the pull between the two that creates the needed tension of appreciation. It’s the attention to the moment that allows the thankfulness of the memory.
First things first, let’s clarify exactly what “WWOOFing” is. WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. As described on their website,
Visitors, or ‘WWOOFers’, spend about half a day helping out on a host farm, learn about the organic movement and sustainable agriculture, and receive room and board during their visit – with no money exchanged between hosts and WWOOFers.
When Trent and I first sat down to creatively carve out an itinerary for our trip, WWOOFing was a strong contender that we wanted to consider. We were intrigued by the potential possibilities that this kind of arrangement could offer us, particularly for our children. We liked the idea of exposing them to lifestyles that we have not had and opportunities for work that have not previously been an option. Free food and a place to park our rig would also be a helpful bonus.
First WWOOFing impressions
Last week Sunday we arrived at our first WWOOFing location nestled in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains entirely unsure what we were in for and hopeful that we would have a positive experience. Right out of the gate, we realized that our first error was assuming that because this ranch had RV hookups, they would also be in a location that was easy to access with our 40’ 5th wheel. I slowly followed behind my husband as he turned off the main road and inched along a narrow drive. Lined with beautiful deciduous trees bursting with color and threatening to baptize our home with branches, the one-lane road wound slowly toward our destination. With each turn I winced inwardly hoping he would not come to a low overpass or narrow bridge that would end our progress forward. Thankfully, we had been advised to arrive in daylight and the road finally opened up to our destination. Upon our arrival, our WWOOFing hosts exclaimed, “You just pulled that RV down that road? I am so sorry; we had no idea your RV was that big. We would have advised a different route had we known that!” Lesson learned: give more details about the size of our RV before assuming that it will be a perfect fit.
The upside to having a rough entry road for a remote ranch is fewer neighbors. For the first 6 days of our stay, only one little Class C motor home (another WWOOFing couple) shared our view. One additional pull behind RV arrived at the very end of our stay. Being in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains with this fall backdrop right outside our front door was an intense treat. Having so much breathing room around us was an extra bonus.
Our second erroneous assumption was that we would be the only WWOOFers during the duration of our stay. In reality we shared the week with five other WWOOFers. Three of them were young single men and the other two were the before mentioned motor home couple. We were the only WWOOFers with kids, but we enjoyed the mix of consistent workers throughout the week. After a month of consistent traveling, getting to interact with the same group of people each day as we worked was nice. Everyone treated our kids with kindness with some even going so far as to let our kids borrow personal art supplies, play their guitar, share a saddle on a their horse and letting the kids help with cooking projects in the kitchen. We appreciated the willingness to let our kids participate whenever there was interest or opportunity.
The upsides of our family WWOOFing experience
The community feel created by the mix of WWOOFers seemed like a strange college déjà vu. We would all sleep in our own rooms at night but then see the same non-family faces for breakfast, lunch and dinner while also intermingling for work and downtime. Cooking, washing dishes and working next to others day after day creates a unique environment to visit and learn from each other and certainly makes what could be a menial task more interesting.
Aside from the other WWOOFers, our hosts displayed an incredible aptitude for encouraging learning throughout the week. Want to learn to drive a tractor? No problem! Want your son to learn to drive a zero-turn mower? Sure! Would you like to use our horses to go trail riding with your kids? Absolutely! It was obvious that their intent was to share the experience of their ranch to anyone who was interested in receiving it.
This particular location offered cabin or lodge room rentals, RV hookups, and room for horse trailers throughout the week, as well as a café that operated on the weekends. Having a professional, well-stocked kitchen was ideal for feeding our WWOOFing group. I’ve enjoyed our little RV kitchen much more than I thought I would, but having free rein to cook in a large space again was a real treat. In addition to having space to cook, having no food costs for the duration of our stay was a huge benefit.
It is my understanding that while many “RV friendly” WWOOFing locations may be able to provide electricity and water, having sewer hookups is not common. In light of that, having full hookups with sewer was also wonderful.
Despite the fact that we were the only WWOOFing family with kids, our hosts did have children. Each weekday after their kids returned from school, our kids had the chance to interact, play cards, chess, soccer and tag with new friends.
We appreciated that our kids could participate in several jobs around the ranch. This was after all, the primary reason that we opted to do this and something we discussed specifically on the phone with one of our hosts before coming.
Obviously it is understood that the intent of the WWOOFing arrangement is to trade labor for learning, room and board and (depending on the location) food. Exactly what you may be asked to do may or may not be something that appeals to you. In addition, the schedule of your day may vary from one day to the next. Because we only stayed for a week, we decided to let the experience take precedence whenever we had a conflict with school. This meant that we did school in the morning on some days and in the afternoons on others. Some mornings we got up earlier than typical and some days we worked late into the evening pushing the kid’s bedtime out farther than typical. Flexibility is important and something we worked to maintain. However, almost every night of our stay Trent and I went to sleep very tired and I believe that juggling our family needs with work needs with an ever-changing schedule played into that. We could have set school aside for the week of our stay but because we have had so many travel days packed into our last month (and we opt not to do school on travel days), we chose to work school into our routine this week despite the extra business it would create.
Internet service for us in our RV was dependent on what we could get through our phones. However, in the café area we were able to connect to the local Wi-Fi. It would have been nice to have access to this Wi-Fi in our RV because we had almost used up our monthly data when we had arrived. I imagine that this would vary at each WWOOFing location so if internet is important for your work or school, be sure to clarify this before arrival. Thankfully for us it wasn’t essential.
The work we did
Some of the jobs that the kids helped out with included:
Breaking down boxes for recycling
Assisting with building projects
Cleaning a hot tub
Jobs that I did included:
Meal prep, planning and cooking
Organizing the laundry room with labels
Jobs that Trent did included:
Fixing leaking toilets
Helping with the initial construction of an outdoor pavilion
Hot tub cleaning
Other WWOOFing details
Food: you may or may not have food included in your arrangement as that varies from location to location. Exactly what benefits are included are typically defined in the profile of each host on the WWOOF.org website. If you have special diet needs (vegan, vegetarian, etc) this may limit how may “matches” show up as options for you when you search for potential farms but there are filters for those diet requests. Some locations may cook meals for you, while others simply provide ingredients and expect you to cook for yourself.
Hours: While the WWOOFing website says you can expect to spend “about a half a day” working, this varies from location to location as well. As I read though different farm profiles, I noticed some expecting as many as 6-8 hours of work while others were much more laid back. Some expect work on certain days of the week with specific days off, while others may have lots of work on one day and little to none the next day.
As a family traveling in an RV, I do not believe that we fit the typical demographic in the WWOOFing community. In talking with our host we are the first WWOOFing family they have had in the three years they have been a part of the WWOOFing program. However, the WWOOF.org website does have filters allowing you to specify that you only want to be shown farms that allow RVs and farms that allow families with kids. (There is also a filter for those that have pets as well as filters for how long you wish to stay at a location).
As a WWOOFing couple with kids, we tried to clarify through our initial phone call “interview” that my husband would be doing most of the regular work and that the kids and I would be available to help out once school work was completed. I think it is important to decide ahead of time what your family is comfortable offering in terms of work and hours and discuss this ahead of time with your potential host to make sure that everyone has similar expectations. Because we like having flexibility in our schedule and freedom in our days, I don’t see us WWOOFing frequently or for long durations of time. However, we did have a very positive first experience and would be open to doing this again especially if the location or farm was unique and offered something we wanted to learn. Just like traveling, it is the people and the experiences that create the unique memories that make this lifestyle rich and rewarding. Our first experience WWOOFing was a success because of the people as well as the experiences gained. If you are considering WWOOFing in an RV with kids I hope hearing about our experience will help you decide if this might be a good fit for you.
In college I drove 279 miles from Spokane, WA to Seattle, WA alone. I remember turning up the music full blast, rolling down my window and eventually pulling over numerous times to jump around on the side of the road in an attempt to wake myself up. In our early years of marriage, there were a few times that I offered to drive on a long trip to relieve Trent when he was getting sleepy. I never lasted more than 30 minutes before he needed to take over again for fear that I would be the one to fall asleep. Therefore, you may understand when I say I had a legitimate concern about driving the van on this trip. “We may die or at the very least, we may arrive a week later than expected due to frequent stops to wake myself up,” I reasoned.
At the beginning of the trip, I did struggle. Montana worked out okay, partially because I was on an adrenaline high from beginning our adventure. However, South Dakota was harsh. My mind was turning to mush out there on the prairie and was threatening to blow away my focus like the tumbleweeds. By the time we arrived in Minnesota, Trent and I were having serious discussions about leaving the van at his parent’s house and simply continuing together as a family in the truck. This option would be doable, but not ideal. Having a second vehicle gives us freedom and flexibility. We can easily leave the truck and RV at the registration desk at a campground, jump in the van together and scout out the best RV site without having to navigate the truck and RV around the countless loops. Once we are parked at a campground, we can use the van for day-trips. Should the truck (or van) have issues, we are not without a second back-up vehicle . . . However, none of these options matter if I can’t stay awake.
Somehow a little miracle happened. This last Thursday I drove 256 miles, stopping just one time so Trent could gas up. I could have kept going! My driving muscles seem to have slowly strengthened with each passing mile. Is that possible? Perhaps more probable is that the landscape has grown increasingly more interesting as we’ve traveled. Thursday was no exception. We left Indiana in the morning and arrived in Virginia by mid-afternoon. It was slightly mind blowing to leave the mid-west and arrive in the east-coast in a matter of hours. Driving through the state of Kentucky was a treat. The distant hillsides were filled with tremendous texture as the hardwoods heralded their splendor, intermingling color and shape and size. Closer to the road we were treated to picturesque views of fenced green meadows with grazing horses. Who could possibly fall asleep while seeing this for the first time?
As we arrived at our campground location in the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, we felt doubly blessed to be situated in such a lovely location for a portion of our trip designed for downtime.
After enjoying a slow start to our morning and completing our school goals, we ventured out to the ranger station for the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. After our three youngest finished their Junior Ranger booklets and received their new badges, we ventured up to the pinnacle overlook. From this location we were able to take in a breathtaking view of the Appalachian Mountains and see where the three states of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia come together at the top of a nearby ridge. We could also locate the Cumberland Gap where between 1175-1810, 300,000 settlers traveled after Daniel Boone helped clear a trail for their travels. The kids hurled countless acorns over the side of the viewing platform, but no matter how hard they tried, the acorns kept landing in Virginia.
Fact: I’ve now driven over 2,200 miles.
Fact: I’ve been the only adult in the vehicle.
Fact: I have had at least 3 of the 4 kids with me at all times.
Fact: We are all still alive.
Cumberland Gap National Historic Park has no admissions fee.
Camping is $20 for a site with electricity and $10 without. There is no water or sewer. Camping is first come, first serve with no reservations.
They have a lot of sites but many of them are too uneven or too short to work for our 40-foot RV so this was a time in which we appreciated having our van along to help us scout out where we wanted to go.
Despite the fact that we arrived mid-week, nearly all the sites with electricity were full. We ended up staying at a non-electric site. The public bathroom and showers are very clean.
The camp hosts were friendly, quick to welcome us and fill us in on the details of the park.
We spent about 1 ½ hours at the ranger station. If we were not helping kids with their Jr. Ranger booklets we would likely have been there 45-60 minutes.
There are Gap cave tours available for $8/adult, $4/child (ages 4-12). These book up early so plan at least a day in advance. We opted not to do a tour here as we recently did a cave tour in South Dakota (Jewel Cave) and plan to visit one again in a few weeks (in the Mammoth Cave area).
As we shimmy our way across the map with our little house on wheels, I’m struck by a strange reality: people live over here too. Obvious I know, but it stands out in my mind just the same. Perhaps I’ve been reading too many early American stories with my kids. But I feel like a pioneer traveling to new land only to discover we are not the first ones to travel here. Perhaps the trouble is that we are headed East instead of West? That must be it.
We are currently in eastern Indiana. What has previously only existed as an empty, orange-colored section on my laminated state map is now multi-dimensional and bursting with fall foliage, lovely landscapes and an occasional southern accent. Our little Idaho license plate is a lonely minority among our neighbors on Hwy 74. We are swimming in new seas folks. Countless times when we are asked, “Where are you from?” we are met with the response, “Oh, we don’t get many from Idaho around here.” We’ll do our best to represent you well Idaho!
For the last three days we have crossed over the Ohio river and dipped down into Kentucky. Two days were spent at the Creation Museum and one at the Ark Encounter. While its difficult to summarize the past three days into an encapsulated description, I can touch on some of the highs and lows from our kid’s as well as our parent’s perspective.
The Creation Museum: kids perspective
At both locations we discovered that the enjoyment went up proportionally with the kid’s ages. After the first day at the museum, Quinten (age 7) exclaimed, “Well that was a waste of money.” At the end of the second day however, both he and his younger 5 year-old brother were more optimistic, partially due to the fact that they were allowed to play longer with the plastic dinosaurs in the gift shop before leaving. For our youngest three kids, the highlight was the petting zoo which featured a variety of animals such as goats, chickens, sheep, alpacas, a cow, camel and even a zorse and zonkey (yes, you read that correctly). At the top end of the age scale, Hunter (13), was so enthusiastic about his visit that he begged to stay longer on the first day and was first to be ready to leave for the museum the next morning. He was like a sponge soaking up all the information the displays had to offer and summarizing some of his favorite discoveries. Borrowing my phone and ear buds, Hunter also found the audio tour a great way to learn additional details as he moved through the museum. At the end of the day we ordered the first Answers book for Teens (affiliate link) because his interest was spiked so high to learn more.
The Creation Museum: Parent perspective
As a parent, I enjoyed that many of the displays were created interactively with kids in mind. Asking Noah questions or helping to build the ark by answering questions via a computer touchscreen drew them right in, as did a little museum scavenger hunt page offered at one of the first displays (bring your own pencil). I noticed rooms for nursing mothers, changing stalls in the bathrooms and easy ramp and elevator access if you are using a stroller (provided it wasn’t too crowded). However, may areas of the museum, while impressively designed, relied heavily on reading and attention inevitably waned soonest with the littles.
Final thoughts on the Creation Museum: Definitely worth our time, however very pricey for a family of 6. Everyone over the age of 5 requires a ticket and kids 13 and over are charged the adult rate. Our ticket did allow us to return a second day which proved to be helpful in seeing everything with younger kids in tow. I would really love to see lower prices for the kids and I’d like to see the adult rate match adult ages.
Some tips if you plan to visit:
Be aware that there are several “add on” attractions (zip lines, camel rides, special talks, planetarium shows, etc). I’d recommend looking these over on their website ahead of time so that you can decide what you plan to do while there. A few weeks before our visit we informed our kids that a $5 camel ride would be optional if they wished to save up their money for it. Two of our kids saved and enjoyed their bumpy ride.
There are a few free 60 minute lectures offered a few times a day. They are interesting and worth it for teens and up however, because of the labyrinth design of the museum, it is not easy to exit quickly once you have begun touring the displays. Should you wish to attend a lecture, plan accordingly.
We saw two videos while there. The Last Adam contains some images of the crucifixion that may upset younger viewers. The Men in White video was appropriate for all ages and included some sound/light/water effects that were fun for the audience.
Both days we found that the crowds were heaviest before lunch. I’d recommend avoiding the weekends or holidays if at all possible.
You can purchase your tickets ahead of time online. While standing in a long ticket line, we regretted not doing that. However, it did appear that your online purchase might be scannable on your smart phone so you could possibly even purchase your ticket while standing in line if you forget like we did.
There are nice outside picnic tables. We brought our lunch to save money. However, there is a café on site if you prefer to go that route. They also have an ice cream stand as well as fudge made on site that smells divine.
They have free (very fast) wi-fi so be sure to look for (or ask) for the password to use that as it wasn’t prominently displayed and we could have easily missed it.
The Ark Encounter
By faith Noah, after being warned by God about events not yet seen, constructed am Ark in great reverence for the saving of his family. In doing this, he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. ~Hebrews 11:7
Located about 45 miles south of the Creation Museum is the Ark Encounter. Here a life-size full-scale replica of Noah’s ark stands. 510 feet long, 85 feet across and a total of 110,540 sq feet (with three levels). It is the largest timber-frame structure in the world and is astounding to behold. As we approached the ark my kids could be heard saying,
“I know its going to be huge. . . oh my!”
“It so big!”
It’s difficult to articulate what it was like to walk beside and then into such a structure. Awesome seems appropriate, yet it is an overused statement, that has unfortunately been watered down in our culture. It humbled me and made me feel small in light of the powerful God that skillfully directed its construction. The interior displays were both impressive and informative while also being incredibly intricate in detail.
I’ve previously spent a good deal of time on the Answers in Genesis website so several of their displays contained content familiar to me. I’d highly recommend checking it out for yourself if you have any questions related to how the book of Genesis (the first book of the Bible) relates to the topics of origin, evolution, the flood, aliens, fossil layers, carbon dating, age of the earth, etc. They have a very extensive database of articles so you can easily search for any topic you have questions about.
After our visit, I asked the kids to rate their impression of the Ark Encounter on a scale of 1 to 10 and what could have made it better.
Hunter (age 13): rating of 10: nothing could have made it better.
Ashlyn (age 10): rating of 9: could only be better if the animals in the cages were alive and could be played with.
Quinten (age 7): rating of 3: the ark was ‘too big’ so it took too long to walk through (i.e. if God could have made the ark smaller, it would have been a lot easier on him today).
Tanner (age 5): rating 5: he was ready to leave at lunch time but had a good attitude when we returned for a few more hours.
We unanimously agreed that if had to choose between visiting the Creation Museum or the Ark Encounter, we would choose the Ark. Our reasoning was based on our opinion that both offered great content but being inside the ark was an experience that you can’t get any other way.
Some tips if you plan to visit the Ark Encounter:
We spent about 6 hours total at the Ark Encounter including our time returning to the car to eat lunch. Be aware that you are shuttled to the ark from the parking lot, so if you bring a lunch and leave it in the car it will take you longer to get to it.
Again, the crowd was much smaller after lunch. Some of the displays that required more reading had a line. We skipped them and returned after lunch when the lines were slower. We visited mid-week on a Wednesday. I suggest avoiding the weekends or a holiday if possible.
You can purchase tickets online (including parking which is $10 if you can park in one spot, $20 if you take up two spots).
There is a petting zoo and zip lines at this location as well as camel and donkey rides. We did not visit the petting zoo here but I assume it is free while the other activities likely require an additional payment.
Tomorrow we will venture into new territory as we retrace Daniel Boone’s steps and stay at the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. For the first time on our trip we have NO planned activities for a solid three days! We are looking forward to some downtime that hopefully includes the beautiful outdoors.
The trick is to enjoy life. Don’t wish away your days, waiting for better ones ahead. The grand and the simple. They are equally wonderful. ~Marjorie Pay Hinckley
For some, this idea of perpetual travel brings about mental hives. For others, perhaps the thought encourages wistful wonder. Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, there is a possibility that the images conveyed by my Instagram account shout, “amazing fairytale life”. In the interest of reality, I’d like to bring a little balance to the table. I will be the first to agree that we live amazingly blessed lives. We consistently make efforts to remain mindfully grateful of the opportunities we have been given.
That said, this fulltime traveling gig is not for the faint of heart. There are downsides. There are difficult days. Currently the change/consistent ratio is super skewed in the direction of change. We can hardly keep all 6 of us accurately knowing which state we are in before the answer changes. We don’t always know in the morning where we will be sleeping that evening. When we think we know where we will be sleeping, there’s always a chance we could be wrong. Today is a great example.
As we pulled out of Trail’s End campground ((silent moment of thankfulness)) we confidently continued on our way, happy to have a short 2-hour drive before us. The thought of a short drive day with lots of downtime afterward seemed just the ticket to decompress from our busy week. However, upon arrival, we realized that because we had previously decided to stay an extra day in New Salem and an extra day in St. Louis, our schedule had shifted forward and what previously was a weeknight arrival was now a weekend arrival, and a holiday weekend to boot. Surprise! People like to camp on holiday weekends. The one available site was at an awkward angle that was too tricky to back into. Lesson: don’t assume you will have room to stay on a weekend just because summer is over. Pay a little more attention to the holiday calendar. Call ahead to check or make a reservation.
We abandoned plan A and carried on down the road. Because plan B involved boondocking in a Wal-Mart parking lot and decompression at Wal-Mart is an oxymoron, the vote was to keep driving until we were ready for bed. However, not all Wal-Marts allow boondocking. When we were ready to call it quits for the day, the one we first stopped at was not interested in hosting us for the evening. Lesson: Call first before pulling into the parking lot. Some parking lots are tight and tricky to navigate through.
Wal-Mart #2 was a go however and thankfully it was only another 15 minutes down the road. Because I’m learning as I go, thankfully I had a quick and easy “plan B” dinner option to fall back on when at 8PM we finally opened up the house and were ready to call it a day. After the kids were tucked in bed, Trent and I had a little “date night” activity. The lights hanging above our kitchen island had come loose during the drive and together we dismantled and repaired the problem.
As I reflect on the day, I can also remember a period of 10 solid minutes of reckless crying in the backseat when Quinten’s apple fell onto the floor and more than one emergency potty stop on the side of the road. However, that one quirky town in Casey, IL where we parked the RV, everyone piled into the van, got ice cream cones at McDonald’s and took a side trip to see a handful of “world’s largest” items comes to mind as well. There was also that moment when Tanner confidently declared from the back seat that when he grows up he is going to own a campground and charge $1/night (actually at first he said he wanted to “be” a campground but we soon figured out his full intent). In addition, the seemingly endless fields of corn finally gave way to forests of trees tempted to turn the corner into brilliant color. And now, as I lay in bed with the bustling city’s sounds and sirens around me, I can hear the soft, silent breathing of my favorite person, asleep in bed next to me. This life isn’t glamorous or easy. Neither is marriage or parenting or homeschooling or any other number of things that add value and meaning to life. I’d rather wrestle through a challenging day, than surrender to a defeated life.
What about you? What challenges in your day bring you down? What do you do to refocus yourself?
I’ve visited places where the locals say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes.” In other words, if you can be a little bit patient, change is sure to come. I’ve been thinking about this concept of frequent change as it has a strong application to our lives right now.
We are winding down toward Tennessee in a rather quick fashion hoping to meet the fall colors in the Smokey Mountains sometime in mid-October. Currently, we are in St. Louis, Missouri. The last two weeks have seen the bulk of our forward movement–every few days moving another few hundred miles.
Making decisions about where we will park the RV while in-route has been interesting. While the Internet often has a wealth of information to offer, (spoiler alert) it’s not always accurate. A few days ago we were parked in New Salem, IL as the only RV in a cul-de-sac type row surrounded by trees and quiet beauty. While we didn’t have an electric hookup, we were close enough to connect to water and the $10/night price was just right.
Upon arriving to the St. Louis RV park we’d planned to stay in, we discovered that Google had neglected to mention that they were closed for the season. A quick internet search and a few phone calls later, we decided to stay at the only place we could find with full-hookups that wasn’t in the $50/night range. Plus the online reviews stated things like, “The new owners are really great” “So clean and peaceful. . . we will make this a yearly tradition” “Safe, clean and family friendly” and “Very clean and close to town” so we entered the address into our phones and off we went to Trail’s End.
Now let me preface all that I am about to say with this: I am not an RV park snob. As long as we feel safe, I have no problem staying in ‘cheep’ establishments in order to save some money. However, based on the nightly price and many 5 star reviews, I honestly had a different expectation set in my mind than what I saw when we pulled into Trail’s End RV park. “Oh my” is all that came out of my mouth. Someone was clearly tickling the online reviews for this place.
Thankfully, my husband is becoming a master at backing into tight spaces because there was no room for error. I was hardly much help in directing him because the neighbor lady had my full attention. She was yelling and shouting at her kids and the closest nearby adults. I am pretty sure she was yelling at me at one point in which I simply responded, “I don’t work here.” Despite my husbands fantastic rear navigation, the sites are so short that there is hardly any room to park our car and truck without jutting out into the circular dive area of the park. This should be fine provided no one needs to drive by pulling anything long while needing to turn. . . Once we were situated, I began to open up the 5th wheel by extending the slideouts. At first we were a little concerned if we would have room to do this without hitting our truck which was wedged between our RV and the next one over, but all was fine. However, the weather was pretty warm so I decided to extend our awning to provide some shade. Oh, there’s the neighbor’s side right there. . . never mind about the awning. We also step carefully as we walk to our vehicles (which are parked conveniently close) as to not trip over our neighbor’s sewer hose.
Tonight it became apparent that there was some sort of motor raceway located nearby as a sound like that of a swarm of bees swept over the campground ebbing and flowing throughout the evening. Trent and I keep exchanging looks and teasing comments. Its comical especially given the stark contrast to our little New Salem spot just a few nights ago.
As I lay in bed with the unique hum of engines revving outside my window, I am reminded that we always have something to be thankful for. Here I have electricity, which means I can freely run my washing machine as well as the air conditioning and microwave (all at the same time if desired) without overloading our batteries or generator. Here it is still $20/night cheaper than the other options in the area that offer full hookups. Here there is no hurricane hurling toward us with powerful destructive intent. Here is only “here” for a little longer and then we will shake the dust of this place off our feet and march forward to something new. In our family, “if you don’t like your view, just wait a day or two.”
“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” ~Abraham Lincoln
You can’t even cross into the border of Illinois without becoming immediately aware that Lincoln is a pretty big deal here. “Land of Lincoln” is proudly declared from every license plate, while cities and streets claim his name and murals of his liking adorn the side of buildings. As Idahoans I must confess that our knowledge of Abe was sparse at best briefly bolstered by the fact that we had a recent reintroduction in South Dakota upon seeing his likeness carved into Mount Rushmore. We are no longer ignorant. Our hearts and minds are now bursting with a love and deep respect for this man who shouldered more in his lifetime than most can ever imagine.
“The promise being made, must be kept.” ~Abraham Lincoln
Our visit began in New Salem, Illinois at the state historic site where we strolled the streets of the recreated 1830’s town that Lincoln lived in as a young adult. It was here that we discovered how lye is made, saw the kind of boat Lincoln floated down the Mississippi River in and stood in front of the store he once owned. It was also here that we learned of several early failures that he experienced such as lost elections and failed businesses. I love living examples of perseverance. The peaceful atmosphere as we meandered the streets allowed our minds to wander and imagine what it would have been like to live in that time. I was struck by the fact that women routinely gave birth to 10-12 children and most commonly died of childbirth, infection from a fireplace burn or fatigue (in that order). It was also not uncommon for those who lived outside of town to go years without seeing another woman. How much I take for granted in this time of information, travel and communication.
“To be fruitful in invention, it is indispensable to have a habit of observation and reflection.” ~Abraham Lincoln
The next day we drove into Springfield where the kids earned their Jr. Ranger badges as we toured the home that Abe and Mary Lincoln lived in before Abe was elected president.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
The decor replicated what it looked like in 1840’s thanks to photographs that had been taken and many pieces of furniture were originals. I was amused by the whimsical wallpaper and astonished at the ornate carpets found throughout the home considering the muddy streets that would have been right outside their front door. One story our tour guide told that I especially loved was that of a eleven-year-old girl named Grace Bedell who wrote Mr. Lincoln suggesting that he grow a beard. He took her advice and later met Grace in person and asked how she liked his new look.
I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. ~Abraham Lincoln
That afternoon we drove to the site of his tomb where we were able to walk around inside and see the place where he was buried next to his wife and three of his sons (two of which died before his assassination). His fourth son is buried in the Arlington Cemetery.
“Unless the great God, who assisted him [George Washington] shall be with and aid me, I must fail. But if the omniscient mind and the same almighty arm that directed and protected him shall guide and support me, I shall not fail–I shall succeed.” ~Abraham Lincoln
The following day we returned to Springfield and spent over four hours at the Lincoln Presidential Museum. The caliber of interactive displays was astounding and the two hologram movies that they showed truly amazed us (some of us even opted to watch one of them a second time). A highlight was seeing one of the three remaining hats that Lincoln owned on display. The brim was worn thin in two distinct places where his fingers gripped it to tip to passers by and the inner band was stretched (mostly likely from storing speeches and notes inside). Many things were new to me as we toured the museum. I was shocked to learn that Lincoln let his kids run amuck playing games with the ink wells and stacking books into towers before playing atop them while he sat idly by. Outside of the White House, I never realized the amount of mixed support and outright opposition that Abe was up against during his time in office especially from the media. Most felt he was either not doing enough to end slavery or pushing the issue of emancipation too far, too fast. It was not until after his assassination that people truly came together in support and admiration of his leadership. Also new to me was the realization that his second son to die did so while Abe was living in the White House, one year after the Civil War began. I cannot fathom the weight of grief that laid upon Abraham at this time in his life. That said, the number of tragedies that Mary, his wife endured was beyond imaginable. After losing two of her sons, her husband was shot and six years later a third son died. It’s quite honestly beyond my comprehension.
Before coming to Illinois, I purchased a small pocket sketchbook for myself and each of our kids with the idea that we could jot down info we may wish to remember from what we see. I’ve never used a tool like this before. However, I found it to be so useful to keep record of some of my favorite bits of information. One area I used for quotes that spoke to me and on another page I created a timeline of Lincoln’s life. As we visited different areas and learned more I simply added additional details. Now I have a personal record of our time here that I can reference and add to later but because I wrote it down with my hand, I am of course more likely to remember it in my heart. Which happens to remind me of one of the quotes I recorded today which said, “Writing is the great invention of the world. . . ~Abe Lincoln”
Should you ever find yourself in Illinois, I encourage you to take some time getting to know Abe. I think you will find it worth your time. For the rest of you looking to dig a little deeper into the life of Lincoln, I can recommend two wonderful living books to check out from your library or purchase to own. The first, Abe Lincoln Grows Up, is well suited for middle school through adult ages. This is one we plan to read together later this year. The second, Abraham Lincoln by Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire is a 1940 Caldecott Award winner and for good reason. I LOVE the illustrations in this book but the words are also dripping with beauty. Although it is considered a picture book the length (64 pages) makes it perfect for a multi-sitting read.
Tomorrow we head to St. Louis where we plan to stay for a few days before heading East to Kentucky.
–Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site is open 7 days a week 9-5 with free parking and admission (suggested donation of $10 for a family). Plan on 1-3 hours depending on how much time you want to take reading about each house and the history who lived there. They also may have an interpretive costumed worker on site who can explain in more detail and answer questions you may have.
-We camped in their RV park for $10/night (no electricity). Water is not at every site but if you stay during the week you might have your pick of spots like we did and can position yourself right next to a water source. They do have a dump station on site. The grounds are quiet and beautiful. Sites with electricity are $20/night (prices are higher on holidays).
–Lincoln’s tomb Free (Plan on at least 15-30 min to walk around both outside and inside).
–Lincoln’s home was free to visit/tour. Parking was $2 and hour unless you have a National Park pass in which parking was $1 an hour. Plan for at least 1 hour (maybe more if you wish to have time for completing your Jr. Ranger booklet).
–The Lincoln Presidential Museum (Located just down the road from Lincoln’s home) We opted to purchase the annual family pass for $85 which will allow us to use the Time Travelers Passport granting a free or discounted admission to many other places we may visit as part of a reciprocal relationship. We parked in the library parking lot for $0.75/hour. Plan to stay at least 3-4 hours (we stayed about 4.5).
I hear periodic bursts of Canadian Geese honking as they begin their travels South. In my van I follow their cue. The mighty Mississippi River moves effortlessly beside the road winding its way southward as well. It stretches its banks grabbing the shores of Minnesota with one hand and Wisconsin with the other. In some places it seems to tug tight enough to flatten the horizon like a sheet laid out on a freshly made bed. In other areas, its grip is relaxed enough to allow some grand wrinkles in the landscape tapestry.
The almost-but-not-quite mountains in the wrinkled tapestry are dressed in an impressive showing of trees. They seem to be listening to a silent autumn countdown that hasn’t yet allowed their colors to change. A few impatient and over zealous leaves are early to arrive, but the grand show is still around the corner.
My eyes are thirsty and coming to the fountain to drink as I drive down the road seeing things I’ve previously only read about in books. A passing lock and dam belong on the pages of Paddle-to-the-Sea and Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn belong on a raft in the river. I feel privileged to step into the pages of time and space and link hands with others who have made their own relationship with these hills, waters and land.
One such place that unlocked time and space this week was Pepin, Wisconsin. It was here that Laura Ingalls Wilder was born and lived her early childhood days in her Little House in theBig Woods. What a treat it was to stop and stand on the same ground and watch my kids romp and play in the same yard that she once played. Isn’t it amazing to think of the layers of lives that intersect over the same land with the passage of time?
After reflecting on the age that Laura was when she began her writing career (sixty-five), I was struck by the impact that might not have been made had she never shared her experiences as a child through story. I learned that Laura was surprised by the success of her first book and told an interviewer, “I thought that would end it. But what do you think? Children who read it wrote to me betting for more. I was amazed because I didn’t know how to write. I went to little red schoolhouses all over the West and I never was graduated from anything.” Did you catch that part where she said she “didn’t know how to write?” Yet she continued to do what she felt she was not particularly gifted to do because children were begging for more. Now we all receive the blessing.
How many of us have been given a gift that we don’t feel equipped to properly use? This week Laura taught me that it is never too late to start something great–the grand show may be just around the corner. The children who wrote her begging for more taught me that even those who have extreme promise often require those around them to reflect encouragement and support to continue down their path. May we never shrink back from doing what God has put inside of us and may we never keep silent when we could instead speak life to those around us.
Starting down this traveling road excites me. There is so much to see and learn. My eyes are open and I’m anxious to write my own story on the landscape.
As much as I love freedom and the call of the open road, I thrive on routine. Schedules are my friend. Goals and I are besties. Therefore, when we pulled into my in-laws driveway 2 1/2 weeks ago, I was looking forward to having consistent room in our routine to establish our new normal. I’d spent some serious time during the 1,230 mile drive from Idaho to Minnesota really pondering my priorities. It is so easy to say that ______ is important with my mouth, but do my actions prove it? I don’t want to live a hypocritical life. I had to honestly ask if what was most important to me was leading the way in my schedule and routine or if it was fending for scraps of time and attention. To be completely honest a lot of “priorities” were getting nothing but crumbs but were expected to thrive. It was time to turn the boat into the wind and start making headway in the most critical areas.
What were my critical areas?
After some soul-searching, I identified the following areas of personal importance that needed scheduling attention:
My relationship with Christ
Family read-aloud time
This is not to say that these three areas are my “top 3” in importance overall (although I could say that my relationship with Christ would certainly qualify). Instead, these are areas that I say are important but often get pushed aside by other things.
What has changed?
I don’t have any shocking secrets or hidden tricks that will wow you. However, I can say that the first step to making a change was simply to identify the changes needed. Secondly, I had to decide how to rearrange my routine. Third, I needed follow through and set a goal.
To start, I decided that despite the fact that I am a night owl, the honest reality was that I needed to put my most important activity at the beginning of my day to ensure it did not get pushed aside. I also needed a reading plan. So for the last 2 1/2 weeks Trent and I have been getting up an hour before the kids need to get up. I begin with my bible reading in bed and Trent goes to the living room for his own quiet time. From there he goes for a run (one of his new routines) and I get ready for the morning. My initial goal was to finish reading the book of Acts (which I’d started a while back and never finished). Last week I completed Acts (exciting end by the way) and now I’ve begun 1 Corinthians.
For our family read aloud time, we began with a book that we all had an immediate interest in due to our recent visits to Plum Creek, Minnesota and De Smet, South Dakota: Little House in the Big Woods. Then we pushed back the kids’ bedtimes by 30 minutes in order to allow for more “cushion” for reading in the evening between dinner and bed. Lastly, we included grandma and grandpa in on the fun and made it a goal to finish the book before our departure so they could enjoy the entire story with us. We all fell instantly in love with Laura, Mary, Pa and Ma and found that a chapter a night was a “just right” fit for our time slot. Last night we completed the book and everyone voted to continue reading the series together. I feel that having a successful, regular routine established for these past 2 1/2 weeks will really help us continue the momentum moving forward.
Last on my list was writing time. I didn’t have a specific goal (such as to write everyday) because I knew that probably wasn’t realistic for this period of time in my life. However, I did decide that I needed to grant myself the freedom to write for the sake of writing and not “save up” my writing for special times of deep internal processing. In the past I’ve allowed a lot of “white space” to develop on my writing canvas. Unless something profound was stirring me, I kept mostly silent. While this is effective for processing sake, it isn’t realistic for writing sake. While I do have lots of thoughts, not all of them are deep and profound or worth flushing out publicly. I decided I’d rather continue to share those deeper thoughts as God lays them on my heart, but feel free to share our lighthearted adventures in the meantime. Therefore, as you may have noticed in the past few months, my writing will be more frequent, but not always serious or “spiritual” in nature.
What about you? Do you have areas of your life that are important but not necessarily implemented into your routine? Do you struggle in this area as well? I’m saying a prayer for you now as I write this that if there are areas that you want to change, God will give you not only the clarity to identify them, but also the courage and ability to enforce them. Today we hit the road to begin a few weeks of fairly consistent travel from Minnesota to Tennessee. Perhaps you can say a prayer for me as well that these goals that have been developed and practiced will not fall by the wayside in the new changing routine. Thanks.