getting to know Abe

“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.”
~Abraham Lincoln

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.

Travel details:

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).

the grand show may be just around the corner

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 Mississippi River
The Mississippi River

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 the Big 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?

Playing in Laura's yard
Playing in Laura’s yard

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 begging 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.

nothing but crumbs

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
  • Writing 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.

Grandma, Grandpa and the rest of us enjoying our evening story together.
Grandma, Grandpa and the rest of us enjoying our evening story together.

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.

When a RV fire is fun

Maybe you remember that time I recently stepped outside the RV and was met with the sight of a blazing fire licking the sky from the rooftop of a neighboring motorhome.

I rushed over to assess the situation and offered a consoling hug to the lady dressed in a teal robe who had just exited her flaming fortress. While we stood together in the dark evening, faces illuminated by the glow of her burning rig, all I could do was whisper, “I am so very sorry” over and over to her. It was a crazy, crazy thing to witness and it has been permanently burned into my memory.

Later that evening, after the firetrucks had come and gone and we were tucking our kids back into their beds, I thought to myself, “We need to plan a day to have a RV fire drill.”

Kids going out the exit windowThis week was the week for said drill. If you could have sat with us in the RV while we talked about how to safely exit the RV in the event of a fire, you would have felt the excitement. When we closed all the window shades and told the kids to crawl into their beds and pretend to go to sleep, they were giddy with anticipation. After they each had a turn to exit the escape windows and pretend to be the fire and mimic using the fire extinguisher, I was stifling giggles at how much fun the kids were having. I literally heard our youngest say that he wished we could have a real fire so we could have more fun like this again. Aaaaand that’s when I feared he’d somehow missed the entire point.

RV fire drill

Grocery store surprises

Moving regularly inherently requires a frequent reorientation of basic necessities. If visiting a new grocery store on a regular basis does not sound appealing, I’m in agreement. Rediscovering new store layouts as well as changing brands and prices has its distinct drawbacks. However, it also can be a little like a treasure hunt–mommy style. This week I discovered grass-fed organic yogurt and cashew milk (something not perviously available in my local grocery store) as well as eggs for just $0.77 a dozen. (I decided not to dwell on the fact that I am no longer getting deliveries of fresh farm eggs or raw milk and instead celebrate my new discoveries.)

Also, because our internet speed is not strong enough to stream movies, I had the opportunity to visit the video rental section of the store in preparation for our grandma/mother/daughter “girls movie night”. I was both shocked and saddened when I asked the young curly-haired employee to direct me to “Anne of Green Gables” and was met with a blank stare preceding the question, “Is that like an old movie?” “No, it’s more like a classic,” I replied.

Despite the fact that they lacked a certain quality of movie title selection, I was pleased that I could rent three videos for 7 days for just $1.04!  However, problem number two arose when I realized that they wanted an in-state drivers license to check out the movies. Thankfully, they were willing to work around this since I was visiting family who lived in the area. Phew, crisis averted.

Isn’t this an ever-changing adventure? Who knew the grocery store could be so exciting!