Land of Lincoln {and Other Men I Love}

After a week-long stay with Terry’s parents in Ohio, it was time to head home. I had briefly entertained the idea of swinging off our regular route to visit Springfield, Illinois, and the Lincoln Home and Museum, but after almost two weeks on the road, I didn’t think my man would go for it. But, I’m married to a great guy, and that’s exactly what we did! Thus began our journey to the Land of Lincoln.

We left Ohio around 7 AM and arrived in Springfield at noon. (It helped that we gained an hour in Illinois.) We got to eat lunch at a family favorite, Steak ‘n Shake!

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After that, we went to see the Lincoln Home. It’s free, but you have to pick up your tickets at the visitor’s center and get a reserved tour time. The visitor’s center had re-creations of the furnishings of the home so you could touch them and feel them. We could feel the horse hair chair cushion and the brass doorknobs. Obviously, the actual items were off limits on the tour, but this was a great idea! All museums should have this feature.

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One nice thing about the Lincoln Home, is that photos were allowed! I couldn’t use a flash, but that was not a problem thanks to Photoshop. Here are some of my favorites:

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The home is draped with black bunting in honor of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. The curators said they have to be careful because any extra weight – even just this bunting – can damage the structure.

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This the front parlor, or formal parlor, where Lincoln decided to accept the *first* Republican nomination for president. Children were never allowed in this room.

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More of the parlor. The chairs and sofa actually belonged to the Lincolns!

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This is the informal sitting room.

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Sorry for the small, poor quality photo. This was the actual hand rail that the Lincolns used! It was the only thing we were allowed to touch that they had touched.

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The original “Lincoln Bedroom”.

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The Lincoln’s had separate bedrooms, this one belonged to Mary.

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The boys’ room.

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The kitchen, where Mary Todd Lincoln developed a love of cooking. Growing up in a wealthy family, this was a skill  she had not perfected until she married a poor lawyer and moved to Illinois.

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Mary Lincoln’s stove!

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The dining room.

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The back yard.

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Laci wanted to make a donation. She was shocked last year when she read a book about Lincoln and heard he had been murdered.

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After our Lincoln Home tour, we decided to check out the other Lincoln-related sites in the area. We discovered that there were plenty! We could probably still be there exploring, but we decided that we couldn’t afford a move right now. Our first stop was the Lincoln Museum. It is probably the best all-round presidential museum I’ve seen so far. They had lots of realistic wax figures, like the ones below:

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The museum is divided up into his log cabin years, his lawyer years, and his White House years. In the White House section, you can see a huge display of critical cartoons and comments that the newspapers of his day wrote. He is a legend today, but back then, he was a hated President. You can also see several artifacts of Lincoln’s, including books, notes, and blood-stained gloves from the night he was assassinated. The museum also offers two excellent theater presentations: The Ghosts of the Library and Lincoln’s Eyes. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say if you can tour this museum you and your children (or grandchildren) will love it!

My kids’ favorite section of the museum was Mary Lincoln’s Attic, where they could play and dress-up in antebellum attire.

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This Lincoln Home dollhouse can be yours for $400! The little ones loved it!

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The museum closed at 5 PM, so after picking out a few souvenirs, Terry said he wanted to visit the State Capitol. You see, not only is Illinois the “Land of Lincoln”, but it’s also the “Land of Terry and Ron”. Terry was born in Mattoon, Illinois, and my dad was born in Murphysboro, Illinois. My Grandfather Courtney, who died before my parents’ marriage,  was also born in Illinois. My dad would often recall his dad’s words, “Illinois is the greatest state in the union!” Granddad had to move often due to his job as a railroad foreman and they ended up in Conway, Arkansas. But Granddad, and Dad, loved Illinois to the end.

It’s altogether fitting that I learn some history of  my dad’s birth state. Dad is the one who sparked my interest in history to begin with. He loved reading books about the Presidents to me when I was young and he would share historical tidbits of his own. I miss him.

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We were unable to tour the inside of the capitol because they had closed for the day, so Terry said we’ll just have to go back sometime. I took several photos and couldn’t decide which one to use, so I’m sharing all of them.

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Senator Douglas – famous for his debates with Lincoln – is honored right in front of the building.

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After the group photo, Matt discovered that the Douglas monument also makes a nice slide!

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Betcha didn’t know the Liberty Bell was in Springfield!

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After seeing the capitol, we decided to visit Lincoln’s tomb on our way out of town. It’s quite impressive!

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The top of the mausoleum.

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If there is a statue of Lincoln in the United States, it has a miniature version inside his crypt. This one is located at his birthplace, Hodgenville, Kentucky. It was interesting to see how many statues of Lincoln there are across the nation!

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On our way out, we met these reenactors. Across from Lincoln’s tomb, they fire a Civil War cannon and lower a flag to award to a member of the audience each Tuesday evening in the summer. We were unable to stay for that, but if you’re in the area, you might want to go. This man told us all about Civil War weapons and allowed us each to hold his rifle, which was actually used in the Civil War. It was very heavy. I can only imagine what it was like to carry it all day in battle, load it and fire it. I’m thankful those days are history, because they were awful. This lady answered questions about the clothing of that day. I’m glad that that, too, is history!

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Here’s to history, and to Dad.

With love,

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I Like Ohio

After our tearful goodbye to loved ones in North Carolina, it was a blessing to have something fun to look forward to. Our next stop was Ohio. We enjoyed seeing Terry’s parents and his grandma. Granddad made Matt three awesome guns. Grandma and Great Grandma took the girls shopping, and we all enjoyed lots of fellowship together. Terry was also able to preach for his dad, who pastors New Life Baptist Church in Plain City, Ohio. (I always love to hear my favorite preacher!)

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Matt with one of the guns made by Granddad. I didn’t know my father-in-law could do such fancy woodwork!

We also got to visit a place called “The Wilds” with my in-laws and several of their church members. It is a part of the Columbus Zoo and is located near Zanesville, Ohio. I would describe it as a “mini safari”. We rode in a bus that had the roof replaced with canopy. The sides of it were open so you could get a close-up look at a variety of animals. I snapped 300 hundred photos that day – but I’m only sharing my favorites.

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Here’s our entire group – minus Terry, who took the photo.

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Here’s the group with Terry.

My in-laws are blessed with a great church family! I felt like I was a part of it, too, and I hadn’t been there for three years!

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This is a Sichuan Takin, which until that day, I didn’t know existed.

Trivia: Can you guess which cartoon character Disney created in the image of this creature?

The answer is located in the comments. Let me know what your guess is!

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Matthew loved talking to Grandma…even though our tour guide was talking, too.

I can’t imagine who he gets that from.

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The White Rhino family!


rhino-babyThe baby started nursing while our group was there.


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Doesn’t this male ostrich look angry? He was ornery, too! He stayed by the gate for several minutes preventing our bus from leaving.

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He came right up to our bus, looking for something to eat. He nibbled at the window, and then swallowed, like he’d eaten something!

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I have seen bison several times because we live close to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, but seeing a newborn was something special! We saw this brand-new baby bison nursing, and our tour guide had to radio HQ that the American Buffalo family had grown.

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I liked this photo of the zebras. I think it needs a caption. Any ideas?

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He must not have liked my having a zoom lens pointed his way, because he did this and my allergies went as wild as the animals.

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“That’ll teach ya to git that thang outta my face!”sunset
I tried to capture a breath-taking sunset at my in-laws’ house, but alas, my skills as a photographer just aren’t to that level yet. It’s too blue. Or too dark. Too… something.

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 I like it though.

And I like Ohio.

Thanks for being here.

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Family and Friends

Hello, my name is Valerie. I’m a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mom living in Oklahoma. Oh wait – you remember me? I thought I should introduce myself since I’ve been away so long.

I began last week sharing photos for our family and friends of our two week vacation. I have gotten off track with posting since we’ve been home though. The older children are volunteering at our library this summer and there are plenty of projects at home to keep me hopping. However, I wanted to continue sharing the blessings God gave us during our travels.

One of the best things about this trip was getting to see so many friends around the country! As we traveled east on I-40 (through Memorial Day gridlock) I was so excited to get to stop for supper in Memphis, Tennessee, and visit with my friend, Ava, her husband, Robert, and their daughter, Gracie. I first became acquainted with Ava through a Christian ladies forum (in the days before Facebook really caught on). We met face-to-face in May of 2010 when Gracie was four months old and I was still expecting Matthew. Since then, we’ve kept a strong friendship going through email, Facebook, texting and a few in-person meetings. From the beginning, our hearts seemed to be knit. Whenever we get together, we pick up right where we left off. I do believe we could talk for hours and never realize that hours had passed. It was a joy to be able to see her. I used to be three hours from Memphis, and now I am nine hours away. I hope and pray our paths cross again, very soon!

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Me and my friend, Ava! We met up at Chick-Fil-A and time sprouted wings.

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My younger children loved playing with Gracie in the play place.

From there, we drove to Nashville, spent the night and hit the road early the next day for North Carolina. We were able to stay in a missions house at my sister’s church. The house was gorgeous: four bedrooms, two bath, full kitchen, complete with a washer and dryer! Thank you, Gospel Light Baptist Church, for this blessing!
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Melanie made us a welcome sign and knitted this decoration. She is amazing. It is now adorning my own home, a treasured reminder of our visit.

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On Sunday, I was an honored guest in my sister’s Sunday school class. Here’s one half of the class. They made me feel like a VIP. I hated to tell them I was really a nobody. Ha!

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Here’s the other half. I miss those cute, funny girls!

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Matthew was pretty worn out by the third day of our visit. He rallied though and managed to stay up late at his first sleepover. According to Melanie, he showered her with hugs and kisses, and regaled her with many stories. Her favorite was the story he told her about “Happyland” and the boy named “Toxic”. (Don’t ask me, I just work here.) The girls loved spending time with their cousin, Stephen.

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I was so excited to get to meet my Facebook friend, Laura, for the first time! Laura started reading my blog eons ago and commented that she knew my sister. I had just missed meeting her when we last traveled to NC seven years ago. I made sure to schedule a meeting with her this time, and yes, she still wanted to meet up after all these years! She even made me and Melanie some delicious peanut butter chocolate fudge, which was delicious. Thank you, Laura!

After a heart-rending farewell to my sister and her family, we headed north to see Terry’s parents in Ohio. (More on that in a later post.) Lauren was really looking forward to seeing her friends, Morgan and Claire. They all chat often via Facebook and the phone, but nothing beats “in person”! Claire and Morgan have been friends with each other since they were tiny, so the fact that they both opened their hearts to Lauren means a great deal to us. Lauren doesn’t have any close friends here, so she definitely had the time of her life. They got to go shopping, eat out and even have a sleepover. They made a lot of memories – and took a lot of photos! – together. Thank you, Claire and Morgan, for your kindness!

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Lauren, Claire and Morgan at The Wilds in Zanesville, Ohio. Lauren sent them each an “Oklahoma” tee shirt last Christmas.

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Claire and Lauren wanted to do this popular pose together. I can’t tell you how many times it took to get a photo of Lauren not smiling. But I’m glad she couldn’t stop smiling. 🙂

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Leslie and Laci with Claire’s older sister, Paige.

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I missed the chance to get a picture of Morgan and her sister, Allison, the Sunday we were in Ohio. I did get a pic of our kids with Claire’s family. L-R: Quinn, Paige, Mitch, Lauren; (front row) Laci, Leslie, Claire.

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It was an extra-special treat to get to fellowship with my friend, Stephanie. I first met her when we visited my in-laws at their church in 2009. Stephanie and I have grown closer over the years through Facebook and the old-fashioned post office. She is a blessing and encouragement in so many ways. To the ladies in my church: this is the artist behind the birthday cards you receive from me! Stephanie is a fabulous scrapbooker/card-maker. I started buying cards from her last year to send to the ladies in my church. At first, a few ladies came to me, astonished, asking, “Did you make this card?” For about two seconds I thought about taking the credit…but, I didn’t. They would have soon figured out that I do not have an artistic bone in my body. Fortunately, I have a friend who does! The above photo is our serious pose.

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Then, we decided to be like our daughters and took *this* pose! 🙂

Because my siblings are several years older than me, I spent a lot of time as a child alone in my room reading or writing, or out on my bike. The person with whom I spent the most time was my dad. The Lord took him home suddenly in 2004. But God did not forsake me. He has blessed me exceedingly, abundantly, more than I could ask or think. I get a little choked up when I consider that I, who once was alone, have been given a wonderful husband, five children, a loving sister and these sweet ladies whom I am blessed to call “friends”.

To Melanie, Ava, Laura and Stephanie –  thank you from the depths of my heart.

With love,

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The Graduation

We returned last week from a wonderful vacation visiting our families. Terry and I were both able to see most of our family on our two-week-long journey. We began by heading east, to North Carolina, to see my sister’s oldest son graduate high school. Even though Melanie and I have always lived hundreds (and now over a thousand) miles from each other, we are very close. I am so thankful for telephones, email and Face time! It’s been a great way to keep in touch. I can remember when she began homeschooling her first son thirteen years ago. I had a three year old girl who I was hoping to homeschool, so I was watching Melanie’s every move. We discussed the books she was buying to teach him Kindergarten, and every subject every year after that. I can still recall standing in my kitchen in Topeka, Kansas, phone on my shoulder, paging through the Abeka homeschool catalog long distance. Two years later, I embarked down that same path. It was exciting to be there when Melanie finished what she began over a decade ago. David Allen graduated with his homeschool group on May 23, 2015, and will enter Pensacola Christian College in the fall, majoring in Sports Management.

I have to tell you that I got a lump in my throat when I realized how much of my nephews lives I’ve missed out on due to the distance. We have kept in touch, yes, but, it’s not the same as being there. I don’t know their friends, their church leaders, their favorite candy or ice cream…little things like that. I can’t dwell on it too long or I become very melancholy.

Melancholy for Melanie.

*sigh*

Well, on to something happy! It was a wonderful graduation! After we saw him “walk the plank into adulthood”, as Terry put it, we all ate at Golden Corral. This, for the kids, was the highlight of the evening. 😉

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I found out the day of the graduation that I was the “official” photographer for David Allen. This is one of the photos I took while he was on the stage receiving his diploma from his parents. I’m not a professional, but thankfully, these people were easy to please. *phew*

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The family who holds my heart so far away. L-R: Walter, David Allen, Melanie, Andrew and Stephen.

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Here is the “Courtney” side of the family. My mother and Aunt Kathleen (far right, beside Mitchell) flew in from Arkansas to be there. I appreciate Terry taking this photo for me. I look at these smiling faces and I can’t help but miss my dad. I know he is proud of his daughter and son-in-law and the job they are doing with their family. They have put Christ first and tried to raise their family for Lord. But oh, how I wish he could have been there! I also love the way Laci is holding Melanie’s hand. Laci wants to be just like Aunt Melanie. I want her to be, too.

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It was great to have some of Walter’s family there. L-R: Diane & Bobby Pledger, Walter, David Allen, Tammie McKenzie, Stephen, Melanie and Andrew. Walter’s dad is in bad health right now so his parents couldn’t be there. They, too, were missed.

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I was so excited to be there! I appreciate my wonderful husband driving so many miles, spending so many dollars and enduring so much fatigue to get us safely there and back. I do not take this gift of his time and energy lightly. He loves my family as much as I do. I am blessed.

DA Graduation - Laci Whoa! Not yet, little lady! 😉

I was there for about 5 1/2 days, which wasn’t long enough.

But then, ten years wouldn’t be long enough either.

With love,

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Prayers Answered

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Matthew at the Lincoln Museum.

We have made it home from a two week long family vacation! We began by traveling east to see my nephew graduate high school in North Carolina, we then proceeded north to see my in-laws in Ohio. Our trip back to Oklahoma included a visit to Springfield, Illinois, and the Lincoln home and museum.

My heart is full. So many wonderful memories and blessings to share. I will be posting some photos from our travels for our loved ones in the days to come.

Today, I just wanted to share with you that God answered many prayer requests:

1. Pleasant weather. A few weeks ago, we were in a terrible storm while driving. I understand that God is in control, but I cannot help feeling fear, and a lot of it. It was an intense storm but the Lord saw us safely through it. While were away these last two weeks, our home town endured a terrible flood, but we drove through not one drop of water – plenty of cloudy skies, a few patches of fog, but no rain while traveling to or from home. What a great gift from God!

2. Good health. We have had many times of sickness while away from home and it was so hard. I’m so thankful for this blessing from the Lord. Not one of us (seven people!) was ill on this journey.

3. Safety. God blessed us with His protection across 3,700 miles. No vehicle break downs, no car accidents. We were stuck in a lot of traffic on I-40 eastbound in Arkansas, and a bit more near Nashville, Tennessee, but no major delays.

Up until the last minute, I was prepared not to go on this trip. I had asked God for guidance, and I knew the that He might tell us “no”. I would have been disappointed, but I know the “One who holds tomorrow”, and I trust Him. I am so grateful that He allowed us to go on this vacation, and that He poured out His blessings upon it.

With love,

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