Monthly Archives: September 2017

Day 26 – Places, Prayers and Peace

Today we passed the 5,000 mile mark for the trip and our little Dixie now has 120,000 plus miles under her belt. But, before we got that far, we packed out of the Louisville area (actually Brooks, KY) and made a few housekeeping stops before taking to the road. First, we found a car wash and gave our little Prius a bath. It was sorely needed after so many miles and we had been talking about doing it for days. All that work necessitated a coffee for my driver and while he was getting that I ran into the nearest Kroger and bought some more sparkling water. Now we were ready for the road.

First stop was the Abbey of Gethsemane where Thomas Merton lived most of his life as a Trappist Monk. I had never been to the Abbey, but had read so much about it I had always wanted to go. And, here we were on our way there today. It’s situated in the hills of Kentucky and well off the main roads. So, you must know, along the way we took a wrong turn and saw even more of the back roads of Kentucky. If ever you wanted to get lost in a beautiful place, get lost in the back roads of Kentucky. Emerald green grass and ripening corn and beans covered the hills and valleys. Small farms with geese in ponds and horses in paddocks dotted the roads. Some of the roads were so narrow we had to almost pull off in the ditch to allow some farm machinery to pass us. It felt like we were traveling back in time – into the back woods of Kentucky where the deer and bird song are common and expected. Indeed, we saw several deer, and heard the birds and the crickets as if someone had turned the volume up.

Finally we found the Abbey of Gethsemane and made our way to the welcome center. We watched the film that informed us about the Monk’s daily routine. Prayer, labor, and leisure are the three staples of a monk’s life. Interspersed throughout the day are various periods of prayer and at 12:15 the Monks would gather in the chapel for Sext. Anyone who wished was invited to join them. We definitely wanted to do that!

We made our purchases at the gift shop and walked in silence to the chapel. I did stop along the way to take some pictures. The chapel was stark, but simply beautiful. The monastery was established in 1848, but the chapel had been renovated in 1967 to reflect the changes that came about as a result of Vatican II. Interestingly, the monastic tradition of antiphonal seating was maintained in the renovation.

At 12:15 exactly the Monks who had gathered stood in their stalls and began to sing the psalms for the day. Their slow chanting, all male voices, and the resounding brick of the building made for a moving experience. I couldn’t always make out the words, but the phrase I captured and will remember is, “O Lord, my soul longs for you like a watchman waits for the dawn.” It was truly beautiful and I found myself feeling the vibration of their chanting all the way down to my toes.

After sharing prayer with the monks we went on our way to the next point of interest. Not far down the road was the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. We stopped at the one room log cabin where his family lived when he was 2 to 6 years old. Then we went on to the actual place where he was born. The monument that stands in the place houses a one room log cabin believed to have been the actual house where he was born. In 2009, however, it was scientifically determined that the cabin only dated back to 1849 and Lincoln was born in 1809. It still is a typical log cabin of the era and it still gives the modern person a sense of what life in the early 1800’s in Kentucky was like. I think my bathroom may be about as big as that cabin! Seriously.

While traveling on to the next point of interest we gained back that hour we lost last week. In Kentucky they ask “Are they on slow time, or fast?” “Slow time” is Central time and is an hour earlier than “fast time” or Eastern Time. We laughed as we heard that little colloquialism.

Mammoth Caves National Park lured us into its central Kentucky location and we found the Visitor Center. Mammoth boasts the largest system of caves in the world and we found the largest number of people in one place we had seen since the Air Museum in Dayton. We walked the museum and watched the informative film about the discovery and history of the caves. One statement in the film caught my attention: “Exploration is at the heart of the human experience.” I couldn’t help but think about our travels, this trip and all the exploring we are doing. Interesting to consider this journey we are on is at the heart of the human experience. Truly, it is exciting to think that one step into the unknown can yield so much in terms of possibilities; and sad to think of missed opportunities simply because fear inhibits exploration. Yet, we found most of the tours were already full today and since we had just been in Lehman Caves in the Great Basin last year, we elected to move on.

We had two and a half hours of driving to go before finding our place for the week in Canton, Kentucky. We rolled in with only 15 minutes to spare before the office closed, checked out our keys and started to relax. We have a little condo for the week that sits right on the Cumberland River off highway 68. It’s a small complex, off the main road, with everything you could dream about. A river front you can see from the screened in porch; birds and crickets chirping; squirrels frolicking; and the setting sun pulling the shades on a beautiful day in Kentucky.

We saw several places; we stopped to pray; and we arrived at peace. I look forward to the week here.

Pictures were hard to get to this point. The internet here seems to be affected by the relaxing pace.

Day 25 – Inspiring Encounters

We moved away from Dayton and the history of aviation to travel South and West toward Louisville. But the day started by sitting in the breakfast buffet next to a couple of “Loomers.” They were waxing eloquent about all the presidential sites they had visited in their travels, each trying to “one up” the other. When we over heard the story about the locked fence around Lyndon Johnson’s grave site and how some Park Ranger had given this man private access so he could take all the pictures he wanted, I knew we were in the presence of a true “Loomer.” (The definition of “Loomers” came out of a dream my driver had the other day after a long day on the road. The people in his dream were called “People of the Loom,” “which means people who make too much of themselves, as in they “weave” stories which make them seem more important than they really are.”)

I knew for a fact this man was “weaving” a story because we have been to Lyndon Johnson’s grave site and there is nothing that obstructs pictures in any way! The result of our hearing all this banter was to wonder what WE look and sound like in the breakfast room in the morning. It inspired us to a higher level of tolerance and consideration.

Shortly after getting on the road I was reflecting how much I enjoyed going through Ohio on this trip. I had never really spent any time in this state or knew anything specific about the places or people who settled here. What I observed this trip is there is a lot of diversity in Ohio. We passed a Sikh Community Center; a couple of mosques; an Indian family operated the motel where we stayed; we passed St. Rita’s School for the Deaf – a very large institution; the National Museum of the Air Force had – I’m going to say hundreds, although it probably wasn’t THAT many – motorized carts for the elderly to enjoy the museum; as well as the requisite Baptist, Catholic, and churches of other traditions; with a good number of WalMarts and Dollar Generals as well. In other words, Ohio seems to be the middle of the melting pot of our country and it was inspiring and comforting.

The heart of the city of Cincinnati boasts the birth place of William Howard Taft. I knew little of this man, but I left the home where he was born inspired by his intelligence, demeanor, ability, accomplishments and the positive effect he had on our country. He was not only the President, but also became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court AFTER he was President. Inscribed in the lobby of the visitor center is one of his quotes. I had to write it down so I could reflect on it and share it.

“Individual liberty cannot exist unless it is modified by respect for the rights of others, and all obey the law.” William Howard Taft, 1916

These few words, spoken 101 years ago deserve some reflection for our day. I was inspired by Taft’s thoughtful level-headedness.

When we crossed the Ohio River we found ourselves in Kentucky and the landscape changed from rolling hills to distinctive hills and valleys covered fully with lush vegetation, both deciduous and coniferous. Leaves were just beginning to turn. The landscape changed so often it made it difficult for me to snap a picture. (I do have a terrible habit of taking pictures out of the window of the car while traveling at 65 mph.)

Driving on, we made our way into the city of Louisville and parked along what used to be Walnut St. I wanted to stand at the intersection of 4th and Walnut where Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton, stood in March of 1958 when he had a spiritual experience. The city was alive and bustling – nothing stopping for me – or anyone else. Trucks whizzed by; walkers ambled; workers scurried; shoppers moved with determination. It was a city intersection like any other in thousands of cities around the world. And, here – at this place – Thomas Merton had a mystical experience. I never expected to have a similar experience there, I only wanted to stand in the same place. To be where he was. To allow myself to be inspired to be open to the movement of God even in the most ordinary of places. Filled with noise; traffic and people moving in every direction. It was inspiring. I felt similar to what I have felt when finding some of my ancestors in the cemeteries we’ve walked. Then I realized, Thomas Merton is kind of like my spiritual ancestor. I have learned so much from his thoughts and writings.

Leaving the city center before Friday afternoon traffic, we made our way to a Starbucks where I had arranged to meet one of my first cousins I had not seen since 1977. We talked on the phone last night and both agreed that we would recognize each other from our common family resemblance. I got out of the car and saw her waving at me! We got closer and hugged as she said, “Oh my, how you look like your mother!” We laughed because I had told her last night when we talked on the phone that she sounded just like her mother.

We had a wonderful reunion and shared pictures of our children and began to catch up on the 40 years that have transpired. We vowed to stay in contact and we parted with hugs and more laughter. It was refreshing and inspiring to know that we could reunite after 40 years and not feel like any time had passed at all.

My cousin left to go home to her family and my driver and I needed to find nourishment. We walked the small business park/shopping area and settled on a little Mediterranean restaurant. It was delightfully fresh and refreshing. As I was sitting in the booth enjoying my dinner, I noticed there were words on the window of Zoe’s Mediterranean Shop. It read “Be in love with your life – every minute of it.” I was moved and inspired. What a motto to live by. We are enjoying every minute of this life! Every minute of this trip.

To top off our dinner we shared a lemon cookie. I’m here to tell you – it was the BEST lemon cookie I’ve ever eaten. (And, I’ve eaten my share, believe me!) We had to go back after we finished dinner and buy another cookie for an evening snack.

We took an after dinner walk around the shopping park to wait for the last of Friday evening traffic to lighten before we got back in the car for our final 45 minutes of the day.

The day was inspiring on so many levels. We learned new facts about our 27th President; stood on 4th and Walnut in Louisville along with the spirit of Thomas Merton; and reunited a relationship that had drifted apart because of time and distance. All of this is what grace is made of.

Day 24 – The Perfect Vacation Day

We didn’t intend to get up late and miss breakfast this morning, it just happened. Somehow we didn’t get the word that in Dayton breakfast only lasts until 9:00 a.m. and not 9:30. No matter. We just took off for our destination today: Wright Patterson and the National Museum of the Air Force.

It was only about six miles away and we were there in a snap. As we walked up to the doors it became clear that we could be spending the whole day here. The place is huge! Stopping at the information desk, we oriented ourselves and then went directly to the 1941-1945 era displays.

Lost among the information, pictures and planes it was a couple of hours before we came up for air. My driver needed some sustenance, so we made the executive decision to stay in the museum and get a hot dog so we didn’t waste any time going elsewhere. The hot dog was hot and filled the empty spaces left from the absence of breakfast. And, it provided just enough fuel to continue on. We went back to the WWII hangar and picked up right where we left off.

About 3:30 our feet were complaining and we decided we would probably not see everything. But, I did want to go outside to the recreation of an air field in England during the war that I had seen as we were driving in this morning. My driver went back to get the car, but I took off across the prairie to catch some pictures in the afternoon light. Just as I was arriving at the door of the flight tower and realizing I could actually go IN and see it from the inside, a man came out with a key intending to lock up and go home. “Oh, no!” I exclaimed. “You’re not closing up right now are you?” He explained that, yes, he was as it was 4:00 and this part of the museum closed at 4:00. Obviously, I must have looked disappointed. “Oh, it’s alright,” he said. “Go on in. I’ll wait for you.” Delighted, I thanked him and went on a whirlwind tour of the flight tower.

Coming back down the stairs I came out to see him locking up the Nissen Hut that housed the briefing room and the Officer’s Club. “Oh no!” I exclaimed again. “You haven’t just locked up the hut have you?” He kindly explained that I could come back tomorrow. How I would love to come back tomorrow, I said, but we would be on our way to Kentucky tomorrow. “So, you’re not from around here?” Well, no, I told him. We are from Seattle. “Well, go ahead,” he said. “I’ll turn the lights back on.”

My whirlwind tour of the briefing hut and Officer’s Club took me about eight minutes, but I was so grateful this kind docent allowed me to see these two sites. It makes up for the less than agreeable docent guide at Garfield’s home the other day. I thanked him again as I left and assured him I would remember this experience for a very long time. It’s only taken me six years to get to Wright Patterson and already I want to go back.

It’s impossible to distill all that we saw and learned in this museum. We’re still thinking and talking about it. Certainly the war years were difficult for any who lived during that time. And, this museum has done a fantastic job of making some of the war experiences of that time come alive for those of us who were not yet born when it took place. If you are interested, a walking tour is available online. It’s not quite like being here, but it might be the next best thing. Here’s the link to the WWII hangar where we spent the entire day.  And, here you can go on a virtual tour of the entire museum.

So, filled with knowledge, images, and experiences from the excellently displayed museum pieces, we left the grounds happy to be sitting in the car. Even though we’d had a hot dog for lunch, we felt famished. Something Italian sounded good, so we found a little hole in the wall place and had a lovely dinner of chicken piccatta and seafood fettuccini. The Dairy Queen around the corner just sucked us into it before we got to the car and we treated ourselves to some ice cream for dessert.

My driver went back to the car and I walked back to the motel. He assured me it would be about a half a mile, so I was good with that . . . especially after ice cream. Turned out, it was really two miles. But it was actually the best walk I’ve had since we started our trip. At least I think I walked off the ice cream.

It was absolutely the perfect vacation day. A museum filled to the brim with fascinating facts, displays and memorabilia; the kindest docent imaginable, who compassionately allowed me to see all that I could, even past the allotted time; a hot dog; an Italian dinner; and ice cream. Who could ask for anything more?



P.S. For my own accounting (and for anyone interested): Shoo, Shoo, Shoo Baby is the twenty-third  B-17 I’ve seen.

Day 23 – Cars, Planes, and Cemeteries

I was afraid we might have to suspend today in favor of letting my driver recover from a surprise cold, but he woke up refreshed and ready to go. Maybe it was allergies. We did, however, opt for the shorter route today and bypassed three possible stops. They will have to be included in a future trip. These trips always call for some flexibility. And, they keep stretching us.

As we left the breakfast room of the motel, my driver said, “Wait. I want to get a coffee . . . Oh, no I don’t. I want to go to Starbucks.” The lady who was attending the buffet looked up and said, “Oh, can I go to Starbucks, too?” We all laughed. Motel coffee isn’t always the best and even the lady who made it seemed to agree.

Today marks a turning point of the trip, since this morning we are moving back Westward which will eventually lead toward home. For the first time since Montana we were on interstate roads for most of the day. When we turned off of I-71 on to country roads to find our first stop, we saw a farmer picking his beans. Just a little farther down the road we saw another harvesting his corn. Everything is ripe in central Ohio and it’s time to bring the crops in. There were also farms selling pumpkins along the road. The landscape was beautiful rolling hills with lush growth around the streams and rivers. Fields were on the smaller side to accommodate the different elevations of the land. While it was a little hazy, we didn’t see any of the predicted cooling. The car still registered 91 during the hottest part of the day and we didn’t see a cloud in the sky until very late in the afternoon.

We found our first stop about 1:15 on Main Street in Urbana, OH. It was the home of the Champaign Lady B-17 Project. Here was another hangar where a dedicated group of people are reconstructing a B-17 to flying status. This looked like a much more organized endeavor than the Desert Rat restoration. The people were very welcoming and engaged us immediately. I was taken with their large display of women who had flown during WWII. Clearly, they are unsung heroes, but here was this little museum and a group of volunteers who were documenting these women pilots and their contributions. I love it.

The B-17 being reconstructed was taken from a crash site in Alaska. The work began with that wreckage and they added some parts from about four other planes to put together into one plane they hope will someday fly. The folks here say they are “reconstructing” the plane because almost 80 percent of it will have entirely new parts they have built in order to complete the project. They can’t “restore” something if they didn’t have the part in the first place. It was amazing to see guys working as we walked around – one guy actually working on constructing an engine housing he was building from scratch!

The nose of the plane was open, and we could see the bombardier’s chair just sitting there at about eye level. The fuselage was in two pieces and we could look in each side and see how small the interior actually was.  I have to hand it to these guys that just keep at this giant jigsaw puzzle! They’ve been at it for about 10 years and this is how far they have gotten. I hope someday their dream of flying this reconstructed B-17 will be realized. If you’re ever in Urbana and have the time, stop by the Champaign Lady Project. The folks there will welcome you in and inform you about every tiny detail associated with the plane. It was a wonderful experience.

Leaving the hangar at about 2:30 we went in search of food. While I had been taking a few final pictures my driver was looking up a place to go. He took me right to “The Farmer’s Daughter,” only about two miles away. The attractive restaurant was built to look like a barn – but inside were tables and chairs and some of the most delicious food we’d tasted since yesterday. I learned that in Ohio a Texas Tenderloin is none other than what Iowans call a Pork Tenderloin. My decision was made. And, it was fabulous. Love those things – and they are available no where else in the world but in the heart of the Midwest.

A couple more hours of driving and we made camp for the night. My driver elected to take a short nap and I took my walk along the highway and to a local Walmart – just for fun. When I returned we hopped in the car and made our other scheduled stop for the day in Phillipsburg, OH. There is a teeny tiny cemetery there where my 4th great grandmother is buried. Interestingly, many of the head stones were broken and in disrepair so some creative soul had taken all the pieces and made a stepping stone path with them that formed a cross. There in the cross lay the remains of my grandmother’s stone from July 1855. That was five years before the Civil War! My people were here and obviously homesteading. Imagine what life must have been like in those days.

We stayed in the cemetery until the sun set and we watched the sky turn rosy pink as the puffy clouds reflected the glowing rays. It was a slower day than usual because we had taken the fastest route. But, it was full and filled in all the right ways. I spent the evening talking on the phone with three of our four boys who had called to catch up with their wandering parents . . . and there’s no greater grace in the world than being connected with those we love – no matter where we are.

Day 22 – The Cuyahoga Valley

Today we stayed camped in one place and made a circle route around the area, returning back to our motel at days end. We are in the heart of Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley and in the late 1970’s, 33,000 acres of it was made a National Park.

Our first stop was close to the motel in Independence at the Valley Lock House. This was where there were locks along the canal of the Cuyahoga River that assisted shipping throughout the Midwest. Now it boasts a tow path that is something like 22 miles long and meanders through woods, by falls, marshes and wildlife habitats. Hikers, bikers, and walkers travel it and other trails through the park daily. 

Unfortunately, the Lock House was closed on Tuesdays. I took a little walk across the river and snapped a few pictures in the morning sun. It was already 88 degrees by 10:00 a.m. (and would reach 94 again for another record September day in the area.) But the river was gorgeous in the morning light.

We got back in the car and headed for an address in Cleveland where my great, great, grandparents lived before they moved to Iowa.  John and Carolyn Biggs lived here in 1880 and my second great grandfather was both a “trencher” and a bookkeeper. I assume a trencher was someone who dug trenches. (But, who would know?) Their former neighborhood in the city is now smallish, boxy houses set close to the street on small lots with little to no vegetation around them. Just blocks away it looks like a renewal project was implemented some time in the 1970’s or so. I’m sure there have been lots of changes since their days here. Still, it is so “grounding” to stand on the same soil where my ancestors stood.

From the Biggs’ home on East 37th street, we drove East through neighborhoods that gradually grew into mansions and then gradually shrunk into more or less upper average sized homes today. The neighborhoods were wooded and manicured and we concluded that Tuesday must be “yard keeper’s day” as many yard services were working along our route. We were on our way in search of the David Berger National Monument located at the Mandel Jewish Community Center. David was one of eleven who were killed during the attack on Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic games in Berlin. The monument is simple but completely captivating. The base is made of eleven “legs” holding up the Olympic rings that are all broken. The monument stands as both a reminder of the violence that took place and the hope that one day all violence can be overcome. It’s quite moving. Look closely and you can see visitors have placed stones over each of the “legs” representing each of the athletes, in the Hebrew tradition.

Back in the car again, we went to find the home of President James Garfield in Menton, OH. It is located on his farm named “Lawnfield” due to all the people who used to come to hear him speak and then stayed to camp on his lawn before making their journey home. The huge house was open for tours and a park ranger introduced us to a volunteer named “Pat” who would be our tour guide. What we learned from Pat is probably not what she would have us remember. We learned the perfect way to avoid giving a tour. My driver and I were the only ones on the tour and at one point when we moved slightly to lean over and look in an adjacent room, she called us back saying, “We’re not looking in there now. That’s where we’re going next.” When we asked a question she responded, “I’ll get to that. You’re throwing me off. I may have to go back to ‘Hi, my name is Pat’ and start all over.” Horrified that that might actually happen, we silently followed her along.

She led us into the large dinning room and admonished us for walking on the carpet. “Stay on the wood. Stay on the floor.” Then she invited us to walk the length of the room looking at a picture on the far wall so we could see how the eyes of the person in the portrait would “follow you” and become younger looking as you approached. “Go ahead,” she encouraged, “You can walk on the carpet now. And if you don’t see it, I’ll make you do it again.” My eyes just about rolled back in my head, but we did as she instructed. I didn’t see a thing. “No reaction?” she exclaimed. I meekly went back to try again with the same result. My driver couldn’t “see” anything unusual, either.

Pat glumly led us into the next room. As we passed a painting in the hall, I exclaimed, “Oh, who is this?” because I knew it must be a saint or an official in the Church. “Oh,” says Pat, “That’s some saint or other.”

“I can see that, I responded. Which saint?”

Pat shook her head slightly, trying not to show her distaste, “Oh, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter to me!”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t help myself and blurted out, “Well, it matters to me.”

From that point on, Pat was less than informative (if she had been that earlier) and was eager to get us to the exit. We learned very little about Garfield and his life in this house, but we did learn about the wall paper; the additions; and the bank vault where his wife kept all his papers and sat and read them after his death.

I’m not sorry I went on the tour, because I did learn how NOT to give a tour, should I ever be in that position again! I learned to be ever more vigilant when trying to teach someone something. First, try to get to know my student; second, listen and answer any questions with the best of my ability, or admit humbly that I don’t know; and third, not to be a volunteer tour guide if I don’t want to engage with inquisitive people. There is grace in this learning. And, in addition, I did enjoy the beauty of this big, old house.

In the museum dedicated to Garfield’s very short presidency there was a very interesting fact. “Fake news” existed even in the 1880’s. Someone had written a letter about Garfield that was not true and news of it traveled so widely it was difficult for him to refute. It did the damage intended, but he still won the election.

The front porch of the house at Lawnfield is famous because Garfield did most of his campaigning from that front porch. He was the first candidate to have the people come to him instead of him going out to meet the people. I found this quite interesting.

From Menton, we traveled back into the Cuyahoga Valley and stopped at the Boston Store Visitor Center of the Park where we learned about how the canal boats were made, watched the instructional film and toured the grounds of what was once a small town in the center of the valley. It was quite beautiful on this very sunny, although hot, September day.

We left the park famished and went in search of food. I had seen a Texas Roadhouse earlier in the day when we were closer to Cleveland and had exclaimed, “I LOVE Texas Roadhouse! They have them here.” So, my darling driver found the closest Texas Roadhouse and we enjoyed a lovely and filling evening meal.

I took my requiste walk around the parking lot tonight, but the sky was not near as stunning as last night. Each day is so different; each experience a memory to be relished; and each moment one of grace.

Day 21 – Historic Places

Last night I was having problems with the wifi and the “me-fi” and so, the pictures got short changed. Hopefully I can make up for that shortfall today. It does get difficult when this is what my desk looks like these days; and every evening is a different desk with a different code and password. Some places are better than others, believe me. But, we keep trying.

We got a late start this morning as my driver forgot to download the “gopro” last evening. I shouldn’t say “forgot,” although I think that happened, too. But, if he had remembered he probably wouldn’t have had any success as the wifi was so terrible.

Anyway, a late start. I walked over to a nearby Walmart for some more sparkling water for the cooler while my driver found the Starbucks around the corner from the motel. A taste of home was so eagerly welcomed!

Our first stop along the road was the Cosper Cemetery in IN where we found the grave sites of Eli Miller and Katherine Whistler who were settlers in this land in the 1850’s. They are Randy’s third great grandparents (on his father’s side). There is something so humbling about standing where these folks stood; in the fields where they worked their livelihood over 170 years ago. We love just having a “feel” for the lands that they loved and worked all those years ago. It’s one way for us to connect to the past. The land is the same; the sky the same; the location the same . . . only time has changed things. Technology has advanced; crops are perhaps less varied today; farms larger; and homes larger . . . but there is an essential quality of the land that remains the same. And, we have roots here.

We crossed into Ohio, and driving all “back roads” I had to yelp a couple of times because I wanted my driver to slow for photographs. He’s always willing to comply, but at the spot where I wanted to capture this old barn, I dropped my cell phone and it slid down beside my seat and I couldn’t reach it. Oops! That was a terrible mistake. There was no way I could reach it without having to stop the car. I was beginning to fear I would have to unload the entire back seat so I could reach under my seat from the back and get my phone out. There was no way I was going to be content continuing on with my phone out of reach. Since the car was stopped for the picture, I got out and, standing in the tall grass along the roadside, tried to reach my phone . . .  Several trucks passed, and I hoped they wouldn’t whisk us off the road. With my arm under my seat up to my elbow; my rear in the air; and my head on the floor mat, I finally got a tentative hold of my phone and managed to gingerly pull it out. I hope you enjoy this picture. I think it was worth it!

About 1:30 we found our way to “Fallen Timbers Battlefield” where a terrible war between American troops, Indian tribes and British troops took place in the 1790’s. The monument on the spot is very sobering and inspiring. The four faces of the monolith each have a different dedication. One side honors all the American troops who gave their lives in these battles. Another side honors all the Native Americans who gave their lives. The third side is dedicated to the settlers who’s lives were lost during this time; and the forth side is in honor of the Westward expansion that was made possible because of these battles. Lives were lost, but eventually peace was achieved and expansion was possible, although many sacrificed to see it happen. This marker was a reminder to us that nothing happens without some detrimental effect; and nothing is achieved or progresses if everything stays the same. There is honor and tragedy on all sides and everyone gives something in exchange for peacefully moving forward while honoring the past.

Maumee Public Library was our next stop so I could get the National Parks stamp for the Fallen Timbers Battlefield. It was a beautiful library with a fundraising book sale at the door. So, of course, after getting my stamp I also had to buy a book. One can never have too many books. I only brought along about eight – and I really needed one more! “An Irish Doctor in Peace and at War” simply would not let me leave without it. I can’t wait to see how it is.

Just a little farther down the road we stopped along the Maumee River to see the sight of Fort Miamis, which also played a part of the Fallen Timbers battle in 1790.

Somehow in this country the time simply evaporates. It was now 3:30 and we had miles to go . . . along the shores of Lake Erie and past Sandusky Bay to find our way through Cleveland and to Independence, OH where we had a room for the night.

Surviving on a banana and peanuts all day we were ready for a hot meal. Once we checked into our room we found Cozumel’s, a fabulous Mexican restaurant, just 2 miles away. It truly was fresh, and hot and deliciously satisfying. We both thoroughly enjoyed the meal.

As the sun was setting over the Comfort Inn on the hill in Independence, OH, I went out for a walk. I could see the Cleveland skyline in the distance and I watched the sky turn a September coral and purple as the minutes past. It was a stunningly beautiful prairie sunset and I simply watched and enjoyed as I said prayers of gratitude for the ancestors and settlers who lived in this area so many, many years before us.

Day 20 – Chicago to Indiana

We packed out of our hotel in Aurora, IL and left the Chicago area among a lot of traffic and 86 degrees at 8:30 in the morning. Today was actually the most difficult day of driving we have had so far along the trip. I guess Chicago is known for that, however, it wasn’t as fun an experience as the deep dish pizza or Portello’s sandwiches. But, since we can’t have one without the other, we persevered and made it to our first stop at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Lake Michigan was stunning on this gorgeous sunny day. The blue of the water was captivating; there were no winds blowing; and the summer-like sun made the whole lake sparkle. Sun bathers populated the shoreline and we enjoyed stopping at various points to appease my need to take photos.

From the lake shore we elected to move from the major roads and take state roads South and East to make our way to Ft. Wayne, IN. That move alone made the traffic more tolerable. The corn in the fields was lush and full, the lawns around farms emerald green, and interestingly, most barns were white, not red. All of this made the scenery delightful.

About the time we found the town of Plymouth along Highway 30 we decided to stop for comfort and possibly some lunch. A Ponderosa Steak House jumped out at us and the decision was made. It was about 1:30 and we felt we had made good time. As my driver went back for another trip through the salad bar I looked at my phone and was shocked to find we had been enjoying our lunch for over an hour already! It couldn’t be! Then I realized we had passed into the Eastern Time Zone and lost that hour entirely. Well, we’ll gain it back in a couple of weeks.

We took a lovely tour through Ft. Wayne and located several points of interest, including the Allen County Public Library, which is known for it’s excellent historical and ancestral records.

A few miles farther East and we were ready to make camp for the night. That hour we lost was making us tired. So, we found our motel in Auburn, IN and called it a night.

Day 19 – Cantigny Park

Our day of sightseeing near Chicago began with meeting the rest of the family at Cantigny Park. One of our nephew’s in-laws joined us as well and we set out to see the grounds. The park is 500 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, lakes, golf course and the original house built in the late 1890’s. The entire spread once belonged to Colonel Robert McCormick, the owner of the Chicago Tribune. The 95 degree heat was unseasonably warm, but we enjoyed the grounds nonetheless.

Colonel McCormick had been in France in WWI with the First Division and he and his men helped to liberate the tiny town of Cantigny. When he returned to Chicago and inherited the house and grounds, he expanded the house into a mansion and named his home Cantigny in remembrance of his experience in France.

The kids had fun climbing all over the collection of tanks that the First Division had used through the years. The museum to the history of the First Division was intricately appointed and quite realistic. I love dioramas that are so life-like it’s difficult to remember one is in a museum. Unfortunately, some of our party also wanted to tour the McCormick house, so we had to leave the museum when we had only traveled half way through time.

Since I had opted to visit the house, I set off with the others to cross the expanse in order to be there at our appointed time. Tours were hourly, but one had to reserve a spot in advance. Thankfully, we had secured tickets when we first arrived at the park, so now we were ready to see this mansion that McCormick expanded in the 1930’s.

We were guided through about a third of the house. It was appointed with all the most advanced appliances and technology of the day. There was one of the first home televisions; a GE gas powered ice maker; a GE dishwasher; a Kitchen Aid mixer (that looked very much like the Kitchen Aid mixer of today looks, only with a larger motor!); an enclosed shower; and one of the first intercoms used to communicate with people in various rooms of the house. McCormick was not only a newspaper man, but also an inventor. He loved the latest technology and had his house constructed with the most modern elements of his day – perhaps before these inventions were even widely recognized as helpful conveniences.

Since it was 95 degrees outside, we were very grateful that McCormick had built air conditioning into the house when he remodeled in the 1930’s. It functioned nicely today! Once we admired the rooms, the artwork, the first editions on the bookshelves, the inventions, and some of the family heirlooms, we joined the rest of the family where the kids were cooling off in the spraying fountains.

Groups and groups of tuxedoed men and formal-clad women walked past us. There must have been at least five groups who were using the grounds for weddings or receptions. I don’t know who I felt more for . . . the men in their suits, or the women in their fancy hairdos and high heels. Walking through the heat and over the carpet of grass could not have been easy.

Since it was late afternoon, some nourishment was in order. Our hosts recommended Portillo’s, assuring us that no trip to Chicago was complete without a stop at this establishment. And, they were not wrong! My goodness – it was fabulously delicious. The beef sandwich with thin, thin, thin sliced meat, juicy and delicious, on a squishy bun and a chop salad with chicken, veggies and tiny macaroni with a tangy dressing were what my driver and I decided to share. They were both OVER the TOP good! Seriously! Others in the family had hot dogs; hamburgers; cheesy fries; or salads and there was ONE piece of chocolate cake that we all shared like good compatible family members.

Feeling like we needed to get some errands done to be ready for the road in the morning, we parted company with the family and found the nearest Costco. We filled the gas tank, had my driver’s new sunglasses fixed, and picked up some Starbucks bottled frappuccinos which are as essential for my driver as gas is for the car. Good thing we found the Costco.

Later in the evening, we returned to the home of our niece to say good bye and offer our sincere gratitude for their gracious hospitality. Once again, the whole family (save two of the kids) greeted us and we were enveloped in a blanket of love and acceptance. There was more laughing, sharing, stories and pictures. Slowly we began to feel a creeping sadness that we would soon be leaving this new extended family we had so recently met.

Yet we knew if we didn’t leave, there would never be another reunion. We invited everyone to Seattle and expressed our love and gratitude as best we could. Words seemed to fail, but we hope our hugs spoke loudly. Just as we approached the door, our niece gave Randy a small bag to open when we got back to the motel. We drove into the darkness, marveling all over again, how incredible this whole experience has been.

What was in the mystery package brought us both to tears. It will hang in an honored place in our home, reminding us of God’s grace and the precious gift of family.

Day 18 – This Feels So Normal

Needing to attend to the quotidian mysteries – in other words, the laundry – we accepted the invitation to use the facilities at our hosts’ home. We started a load in the washer and picked up Randy’s sister to go to breakfast at the recommended spot: Benny’s Place.

Located in a nearby neighborhood, we found the parking lot full when we arrived. Always a good sign at an eating establishment. Indeed, the little restaurant itself was full as well. We couldn’t be seated right away, but we found the wait was well worth it. We ate and talked and laughed; remembered and shared stories; this brother and sister together again for only the second time in their lives.

Ancestors, family trees and computer programs entertained some of us, while others of us folded laundry, packed the car and took a walk around the neighborhood. While the first day of Fall, Chicago reached 93 degrees and felt like mid summer. Yet, the trees are turning, giving warning of chilly winds soon to come.

When the remainder of the family gathered after work: nieces and nephews and their children, the real fun began. Last night there had been a challenge to us “out of towners” to taste test the three top choices of Chicago’s Deep Dish Pizzas and select the best of the best. Three different pizzas arrived at the house. We had to avert our eyes so as not to see any boxes or toppings that might give away information that would make one more recognizable than another. We knew nothing. Even the slightest bit of information would not have swayed us. We were ready for the test! We were given a small slice of each brand of pizza. We tasted. We tested. We enjoyed. And, we tasted some more. The whole family waited for our response. Finally, they could wait no longer and requested we make a decision.

The results: Randy ranked his first choice as Giordano’s; second choice as Gino’s East; and third choice as Lou Malnati’s. I ranked my first choice as Lou Malnati’s; second choice as Gino’s East; and third choice as Giordano’s.  There were comments and laughter throughout our testing. Randy had to conclude that statistically, they all averaged the same if our results were combined. Then, as we continued to relish this regional delight, Randy changed his mind and agreed with MY first choice. But, we both concluded, all of them were worthy of eating and enjoying; nothing could be rejected, and nothing would be wasted!

As dessert was brought out we were commenting on what a wonderful “reunion” this has been, although it can hardly be considered a reunion as we had never met anyone before yesterday, save Randy’s sister. Reflecting on the evening Randy commented,”This feels so normal.” And, we all laughed. Whatever normal is, this is certainly it! What a grace to feel so close to people we had only met yesterday.

Dessert was another unique Chicago treat that we had never heard of: “Nothing Bundt Cake” Our hostess couldn’t decide what flavor to select for our dinner, so she asked for “one of each” in the mini size, and planned to divide them so we each could have taste tests of a variety flavors. They were extraordinary! Look out Seattle. Chicago has you beat on deep dish pizza AND delicious, tasty, flavorful bundt cakes.

Truly, whatever normal is – this is it! Loving, accepting, gracious, hospitable, filled with humor, laced with stories, wrapped in laughter and sealed with hugs. That’s how we felt during the great pizza tasting contest at Randy’s sister’s daughter’s house in Chicago tonight. It just feels normal. And full of grace.

Day 17 – New Found Family and Friends

A little bit later start this morning had us on the road by 10:00 a.m. moving toward Marengo, IL. What would be the attraction to Marengo, Illinois you might ask. Interestingly, just before we left Seattle I read about a small group that was restoring a B-17 in the country outside Marengo. And, we would be driving very near there on our trip. My driver encouraged me to make contact with these men so we might be able to see the work they are doing. I hesitated. He insisted. So, contact them I did. Long story short, after several exchanges, we made arrangements to stop by their air hangar in a cornfield to see the massive restoration project they are undertaking. They bought a B-17E – disassembled – from some junk yard in Maine in 1989. And ever since, they have been working to put all the puzzle pieces together. Imagine what kind of a project that would be! We can hardly handle an Ikea bookshelf! What would putting a B-17 bomber back together be like?I have to hand it to them – they have a shed full of pieces and proudly showed us the progress they have made. It’s astounding. Someday the B-17E Desert Rat / Tangerine will be flying again if the dream of these two men comes true. We were so grateful they were kind enough to take time from their day to show us their most unique hobby.

To the left see the tail piece right in the middle of the photo; to the right see the section of the wing that will eventually house engines number one and two. Below see an engine with the prop shaft sticking up set against the fuselage with the rear waist door showing. It really is the most massive puzzle I can imagine.

Following that experience we drove on to Aurora, IL to find the home of family members we had never met before. Randy’s new sister’s children live in the area and we were on our way to meet them for the first time.

The door opened after we rang the bell and we were enveloped in hugs and laughter; hospitality and welcome. It’s like we were arriving home after a long absence. There was so much warmth and love it was not hard to feel comfortably at home. More family arrived and the children, siblings and cousins, filled the empty spaces. We shared stories and food and history while getting to know each other. There was such grace in the experience it’s hard to find the words to describe. Suffice it to say that love overcame any hesitations and it was hours before we left for the night.

Tomorrow we will reunite. And we are so looking forward to it. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the gift of family – including those we are just getting to know.