The Return Route

The Return “home,” it has become a lovely home, but what is ‘home’ when you live on the cusp of nomadic-ness with travel and military home roulette? 

The return home took much longer than the drive to Missouri because we only conquered about 4 to 6 hours a day and stopped for all the fun and memory making! Our first stop was Louisville again, but this time it was to tour the Churchill Downs. I found it to be very interesting, but the kids were bored. It was a long tour and had more of it been outside they would have enjoyed it a bit more, but it wasn’t and they were over it. They did however, really enjoy the museum.

Some of you know what my master’s degree is in, but almost no one ones the depths of what I was really studying. “Museum Science” is a vague umbrella of intensive exhibit design, organic material conservation, humidity levels, temperatures, different types of insects that cause threats to museum collections, loans, label font and size to cater to all levels of literacy and education. ANYWAY, my point, is that when I go into a museum I am very observant of the museum and permanent/traveling exhibit design. Now that I have children, the interactive aspects are becoming more important to me. The Churchill Downs museum has some incredible interactive displays for children. I apologize for the long windedness, but it is so incredibly important to expose your children to good museums when they are young so that they learn the joy of a well executed exhibit.


Our second stop was actually the Mary Todd Lincoln house in Louisville, but for lack of photos I won’t spend much time on it. Very affordable entry. An incredibly long and in-depth, personal tour of almost the entire home, which differs from most historic house tours. The tour guide was personable and answered all of the boy’s many questions. From the gift shop, I purchased a beautiful Caldecott award-winning book about Abraham Lincoln’s life that the boys and I just finished in school. 

Most of my return photos are from Dollywood. I have wanted to go to Dollywood for quite a while, but upon looking at prices, yikes, it has been pushed off over and over again. We finally went on the return trip, bonus it was decorated for christmas. It was beautiful, very christian oriented, family friendly park. BUT my children are adrenaline, roller coaster junkies and there were almost no rides that they were tall enough to go on. They still had a great time, but price to product evaluation and we won’t be going back until my children are all MUCH taller.


Our last, but never least, stop was the Biltmore Estates. I love this place so. Being one of the Curators on staff has been a dream of mine for a very long time. After my first exposure to the Biltmore a year ago May I said “we need to go back when it’s decorated for Christmas!” That we did! My dad has also always wanted to see it and never had so we went and took our sweet time seeing as much as we could. You see, hear, learn something different every single time you go. There are so many incredible things to do and see in and around the Asheville, NC area, but perhaps the best thing my kids saw was the faces of our beloved neighbors at the end of this month-long trip.


Playing Catch Up


Whew! It has been a fast, yet long, three months of almost constant travel. After our Pennsylvania road trip the boys and I were home for a week before we drove to Charlotte, NC for the Thomas the train engine close-up. I was skeptical about this event because our Thomas the train ride was at noon and our Percy the train ride was at 5:15 so I’m thinking to myself “what in the world are we going to do for 5 hours?? How am I going to entertain Lux whom has already made it very clear that ‘it’s for babies?’ ugh.”

IT WAS AMAZING!! There was so much to do that we ran out of time and didn’t get to do everything. It was nice and spread out so there weren’t 45 kids in any one area. I cannot wait to go back. Wonderful bang for the buck. DO IT!

Two weekends later, Greg finally home, we went to the North Carolina Hot Air Balloon Festival. It was over our 6th anniversary (the first year we have been able to see each other on the date) and though it was a low-key, low funded event it was good and worth going. I want these blog posts to be honest so in the name of honesty we RARELY purchase VIP parking or pay extra to be closer, but we did this time not knowing what to expect. THANK HEAVENS we did. Holy walk. If you find yourself going to an event similar to this do yourself and your party a favor and purchase VIP parking. The areas for these types of events are typically large to protect property (cars, people, trailers) from potential balloon hazards. We still walked quite a ways, but it was definitely worth the money. 


Ten days later, the kids, Dog, Poppy and I, hit the long road from Coastal North Carolina to Boonville (Mid-central) Missouri. 17 hours, that goes by rather quickly with good conversation, but has some pretty horrendous moments with 3 kids squished into a mid-sized suv with no movies or electronics of any kind. I have a few rather pious and also boring normal reasons for this. 

  1. I have an older vehicle, no built in fancy things.
  2. In the past I have tried portable dvd players. one person couldn’t hear, then it wasn’t fair, then they didn’t like the movie. I put them away never to reemerge.
  3. Maybe the biggest reason, the only way we went on vacation growing up was via road trip, this is how I saw a good portion of the midwest. I LOOKED OUT THE WINDOW, or I read, played games, many many other things. I learned all of my initial assumption about the world by viewing it and you miss out on so much of the adventure by not looking out the window and asking questions.


On the other hand, I completely understand a mother’s want to hand out the electronics, typically everyone is happier (kids and mom included). Too bad for my kiddos, I won’t budge on this one. A movie here and there if the equipment exists is enjoyable, but I’d rather they count cows :).

All of our attempts to sight see on the way to Missouri were a bust due to winter hours except at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Bat Factory. It was a last minute decision to go there and we loved it! Very kid friendly, great little museum, wonderful factory tour. It surprised me and now I’m recommending it far and wide.

Our trip back was immensely more fun, stay tuned. . .


Carter Mountain Orchard


Friends, I am behind!! Of course, I’m behind due to some very fun travels that you’ll hear about soon 😉 Here in North Carolina, apple orchards are like mythical unicorns. You really want to believe they’re right down the road and not 5 hours away deep in the swerving mountains of Virginia, but alas, Charlottesville, VA is where we went. 

I was first introduced to this beautiful, mountain top orchard back in 2013. Desperate to find a quiet place in the craziness of Washington D.C. HOV lanes, we traveled south with our then 14 month old and pregnant with Mr. Rhodes. We fell in love with the drive and the views. We would come back two weeks later and then proceed to miss this special place for the next 4 years. 

This time was exceptionally chaotic and fun because we met our previous neighbors there (now stationed near Washington D.C.)

When homeschooling/travel schooling, I tend to pack books that aid in our learning and bring a little tiny bit of structure to something that could otherwise be a crazy fury of apple cores. The orchard as a facility helped me greatly has they had interactive trivia boards everywhere and fun visuals for the kids. I brought a book about apple orchards (a girl who goes on a field trip to one) and we worked on our variety identification and based on what we learned we tried to pin down what varieties of apples we would be allowed to harvest that day at Carter Mountain. 


Due to the steepness of the mountain, a person cannot leave clean. You have to hike quite a bit and reach taller than you thought your arms capable, but the fruit is perfection. If picking fruit is not something you find necessary, Carter Mountain Orchard is still worth your time for history’s sake. Thomas Jefferson gifted the Mountain to, his then neighbors, and in 1912 the mountain opened as a public orchard and has been open ever since. Get out there and enjoy the beauty friends, it’s worth the drive.

Amish Country and Mount Pocono

IMG_1871When you begin the drive from Gettysburg, PA toward Lancaster county (Amish country) and Intercourse, PA do your whole car a favor and fill up with fuel before leaving Gettysburg. Though you will see many cars, primarily tourists and Mennonites, driving around there are a scarce few gas stations and the prices are astronomical. Supply and demand is thriving in Amish country. 

Our first stop was to a beautiful quilt store where everything was hand stitched by the Amish. Photos were not allowed and we had to put white gloves on upon entering. I have been to a lot of quilt stores and that was a first, but for good reason. After the quilt store our goal was to catch a buggy tour. Rhodes (middle child age 3) loves horses and all things that go. Therefore, pairing the two became a very important must do mission, despite it’s blatantly touristy ambiance. 

IMG_1849The ride was quite comfortable, though packed with people. We toured an Amish dairy farm, had homemade Amish root beer and lemonade before re-boarding the buggy. 

The dairy farm was very interesting. Apparently batteries and solar panels are exceptions to Amish rules of no electricity. Every religion has their loop-holes, but the part that was truly interesting was that numerous generations of family lived in separate homes on the farm. The father identifies as Amish, the son that actually owns the dairy portion of the farm is not Amish. The father, who is pictured, actually owns the land and crops that feed the dairy cows. They work together and thrive together. The son’s milk production is purchased every two days by Land O’ Lakes. The co-existence was everywhere. There were Amish and Mennonites working side by side using different techniques and yet honoring each other’s choices and businesses. There were some overwhelmingly tourist trap type areas. In theory, we thought we would love the “square” full of shops, but there were dozens of tour buses, thousands of people, we kept driving. If we are going to shop, I want it to be authentic. I want to see the faces our money is feeding and we were back on the road. . . 

From Amish country we traveled to Mount Pocono, PA. Gorgeous! We were blessed with a beautiful lake house to stay in that had perfect water access and all the amenities we could possibly want. We enjoyed a beautiful three days there, relaxing, no t.v., no rushing, just enjoying the company of friends and celebrating the life of a mutual friend. We played so very hard, packed 11 bodies into a 3 bedroom house, cooked together, drank together, laughed and cried together. We will definitely be back.

The boys got some extra, unexpected freedom due to the lack of lake depth off of the dock. You could walk about 20 yards out before it got any deeper than 2 feet so they were able to play and play and play essentially unsupervised and with little risk of drowning. The paddle boat was tied to the dock and they would paddle it out and back in practicing their pirate siege techniques and pretend playing for hours.

Though a good portion of our schooling that weekend came from play I did try to incorporate some more structured learning. We worked on tree identification and forest classifications as the trees and resources for this lesson were in plenty around us. We picked our favorite leaves (red maple and yellow birch mostly) and waxed them together with an iron. They are still adorning my kitchen windows a month later. 

Though Amish country left some things to be desired, it was very easy to see the enticement of Pennsylvania. Rolling hills, pristine farms frozen in time, nature in perfection. I feel as if we only saw one facet of a Gem. I suppose we will have to go back.

A Kiss to Build a Dream on

IMG_1828.JPGHershey Pennsylvania. The brainchild of Milton Hershey, a local boy with a fourth grade education would buy enough farm land in Lancaster PA to obtain enough milk to develop his milk chocolate recipe, which would debut in 1900 as the milk chocolate Hershey Bar. In 1907 he developed the Hershey Kiss, which would be hand wrapped until 1921. In March of 1903 he would start construction on what would become the world’s largest chocolate factor a real life Willie Wonka.

IMG_1794Once you arrive at Hershey’s Chocolate world you are given a plethora of touring options ranging from Free to costing a Fortune and even developing your own candy bar! We of course opted to try the free tour first, which was AMAZING! You get on a little car that takes you through the different processes of developing Cocoa Powder, Hershey Chocolate bars with and without Almonds, Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, Kisses and chocolate syrup. During this little tour you learn about the almond and cocoa bean sourcing. They have signs on the almond conveyor belts telling you where the almonds and cocoa beans from that day are sourced. Then they walk you through the roasting and grinding process to make cocoa powder before introducing you to their more famous products. 

IMG_1792Occasionally, there are large windows over looking the merchandise floor, which is essentially a warehouse full of chocolate. Nothing more exciting for the kids or me. Let’s be honest.

Throughout the tour you see all of their products being packaged and flying down conveyor belts. There are fountains and white and dark chocolate flowing, chocolate bars and animated cows talking to you and of course at the end there is free chocolate.

IMG_1838 The Chocolate World tour is just the tip of the Hershey empire. There was a whole amusement park that was closed for the season. The entire town exists because of Milton Hershey and his dream. He built the post office and school district for his employees and their families. In the 21st century the Hershey industry owns many other products to include (twizzler, Jolly Rancher and Reeses) they also have a Hershey ice cream line and are continuing the traditions and quality of where they started. This portion of  Pennsylvania is definitely worth your time if you ever find yourself within a reasonable drive.


Hallowed Ground

IMG_1704Gettysburg. At the very top of my list of things to do in Pennsylvania was to stand where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address and read it aloud. The solemness of the grounds is loud and overwhelming and peaceful, except for the screaming and crying of my three year old who only wanted to see the first cannon in the park not the other 50. . .

IMG_1673My five year old on the other hand is at the perfect age for first exposure to such a huge topic. He understood the mass, not to its fullest, but to some degree. There were moments when I could see him calculating what exactly happened in his head and still not understanding the hatred behind it. I hope he never does. We studied the civil war in depth back in June, he knew who was fighting and why, but this, this was big. 

If you haven’t been to Gettysburg, or are planning a future trip, there is so much to see. I cannot wait to go back and explore more of the town. The National Park portion is vast, you need a car or tour bus. The battle fields are spread out over 25 miles of road surrounding the center of town. IT IS ALL FREE!!!!! Nothing better than putting history in the hands of the people for FREE! GO! 

Everything is hands on, child friendly, open spaces, historic (all the restaurants, shops and hotels are original to the 1790s). But. . .My favorite part was the covered bridge.

IMG_1734 I’ve seen Sach’s Bridge on post cards of Pennsylvania my whole life and boy did we go on a wild goose chase looking for this guy. It was so worth it. It has also been published in five books as being one of the most haunted structures in Pennsylvania. Considering the 10’s of thousands of people that were killed at Gettysburg, that’s really saying something. It was beautiful and full of locals fishing, which was a nice change from the tour buses of the battlefields.
IMG_1769We climbed to the top of the observation tower and there you can see exactly how the battles of Gettysburg unfolded on July 1, 2 and 3 of 1863. I was able to point to different sections of fields and peach orchards and show Lux exactly where the armies approached and flanked and clashed. That was a surreal moment for me. A moment that fueled me to continue this journey with my children. On the days that homeschooling seems impossible I can reflect on this memory of what middle school, high school could look like with an engaged child learning in the place it happened.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate

we can not consecrate

we can not hallow this ground.

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln Gettysburg Address



Virginia Views

IMG_1567We recently went on a little road trip. We did not cover much distance in mileage, but we saw so much! We drove from North Carolina to Virginia, Virginia to Pennsylvania and back again. When you pass through Natural Bridge, VA the natural bridge and natural bridge caverns are worth your time. A land full of natural beauty, millions of years in the making. Some words of advice if you decide to visit and stay in the area; the hotels are limited, the available food resources are almost non-existent so stock up when you go through Lynchburg. 

IMG_1539The Natural Bridge Caverns were a great “first exposure” cave system for my budding scientists. The cave system is well lit and your guides are local college students, most of whom have been working in the caverns since high school. The Natural Bridge and the Caverns are about one mile apart in a small town with almost nothing else around.IMG_1939Carter Mountain Orchard. An old favorite of mine from when we were stationed in Quantico, VA. This was my third visit to the orchard, the last time I was pregnant with our second son. We met our old neighbors here for some much needed friend time and apple picking. My dear friend and I wrangling 8 children 9 and under up the side of a mountain was an entirely different view. . .

*Fun Fact: Carter Mountain was gifted to the family from their neighbor Thomas Jefferson and has been open to the public as an orchard since 1912.

Monticello. Thomas Jefferson’s architectural masterpiece and land where his, over 200 slaves, made all of their own bricks and nails for all the buildings once on the property. In previous years I have toured the house, which is worth it, but this time with only two sets of adult hands and 8 children we opted to run the grounds instead. The grounds are littered with exotic flowers and vegetables sowed from seeds from the 1790s. It is incredible to see a legacy as expansive, in ideas as well as children. 

Virginia has so much to offer. If you don’t mind crowds you can travel closer to Washington D.C. and stop at hundreds of civil war sights, battlegrounds and plantations. If you prefer a Shenandoah Valley view head toward Western Virginia, Jefferson did. 

With all the evil rearing its head in our country, particularly in Virginia lately, showing my children where it all started (slavery, plantations, Gettysburg) and what it meant to be a slave in this area during that time, helps set the stage for the tough conversations I have to have whilst raising children in this society. I do not hide truths from my children, I expose them, so history doesn’t continue to repeat itself.