One more place.

Across the river from Starved Rock and down the river from Buffalo Rock, is the Starved Rock Lock and Dam. I had been there before – and I had been to other locks before, too. For some reason I enjoy watching boats going through locks. The power necessary to get those gates opened and locked and to raise the water level is amazing.  I’ve actually been on a couple boats that have gone through locks – but none as huge as the barges that go through locks such as this one.

This one was built because the water level in the river drops from 140 feet as it flows from Lake Michigan past Starved Rock.  Unfortunately, the level goes down another 20 feet before it reaches the Mississippi.  That meant that in some places the river was only eighteen inches deep – plus an over abundance of rapids made barge travel impossible.

So a lock and dam was constructed causing there to be a 19 foot difference between the lock side and the dam side. Interestingly, this lock has no pumps, but the water level increases simply because of gravity when the valves are open.

Anyhow, enough of that.

We went to the visiting center and immediately this became the favorite place of the day – mostly because a ship bow is reconstructed inside the building, giving kids opportunity to pull levels, move a light and check out their position on a longitude/latitude grid. How excited can you get? Mostly they were sailing to McDonalds in some unknown place.

Kelli and I sat in the “boat” and then wandered around looking at exhibits.

The visitor’s center stretches along the lock itself with a two-story viewing tower which allows you to be extremely close to the action.

Usually, there is a white board somewhere within the building that lets you know when the next ship is coming, but I saw no sign of a schedule.

I walked out onto the second story deck and saw two men with elaborate photography equpment – all ready to take a picture.

“Do you know when the next boat is coming?” I asked.

“Boats?” they seemed puzzled. “Boats come here?”

“Well, yes …”

They were taking pictures of eagles across the river on Plum Island.

So, I went back inside and tried to find the ranger/worker/army corp guy that I had seen when we first walked in. He was nowhere in sight. I nosed around on the counter, seeing if I could find some kind of schedule. Nothing.  Meanwhile the munchkins were still happily playing in their boat.

Finally, the ranger/worker/army corp guy once again appeared.

“Do you know when the next boat/barge is coming?” I asked.

“Nope. They come through all the time, though.”

“But you don’t know the schedule?”  (Usually, the people at the lock need to know the schedule to get the gates opened.)

He walked over to the window and looked down the river. “Nothing coming,” he informed me.

“Ah … thanks.”

I gave up. We let the kids play for another 15 minutes and then Kelli told them they had two more minutes and we would go.

So, once more I walked out to the deck and TA DA!  A barge was coming!

The five of us went back out and watched as it slowly moved down the river. This was a LONG process. When the barge finally floated into the lock, they had to separate the engine/boat part of it from the barge itself. Otherwise, the whole thing wouldn’t have fit.   This was a double, long barge.

Our wandering day did not stop there, we drove back home, stopping at The Red Geranium – a cool store in Sandwich. Our last stop was for supper at Savanna’s. At this point everyone looked just a little bit of day-in-the-fresh-air-tired.


After lunch, Kelli suggested we go to Buffalo Rock State Park to see the Effigy Tumuli.

Since we were right there.

“You won’t be able to see anything,” she said, “but you can say you’ve been there and that’s enough.”

She was there before during a past April – with my brother, sister-in-law and beautiful niece  –  a day when they were able to walk around over piles of dirt that represented frog legs and catfish fins.  According to Roger’s blog, which I checked when I got home, it’s not worth going to even if you’re there.

This is a park that’s on a piece of land that used to be an island,  that used to be  the home of some Native Americans, that used to be a trading, military and missionary post, that used to be a strip mine. Most of this happened back in 1673 when Father Marquette was around.

But then in 1983, an artist was assigned to honor the Native American burial site which he did by doing five huge sculptures in the ground. He chose a snake, a turtle, catfish, frog and water strider because they’re common to the area. These are huge sculptures – hundreds of feet long.

So, now you go there to see the sculptures which are huge and dug in the ground. Which means you can’t really see them unless you’re flying over in a hang glider or something, looking down.

But to make Buffalo Rock State Park worthy of its name, there are a couple apathetic buffalo lying around.

Well, if you can’t see much in April, you see nothing in February (except for those buffalo.)

Some of the trails were closed, but we made our way to the first lookout.

This is what we see.

The 7yo and 10yo read the explanation in an attempt to figure it all out, but to no avail. But the day IS beautiful and we’re the only ones there (not that many people interested in braving the icy cold to see ancient 1983 sculptures and apathetic animals).  But we are having lots of fun and enjoying the beauty.

And this is what February wandering days are all about – wandering and doing things you don’t ordinarily do with people who are important to you.


We continued on our way up Starved Rock itself, though the key word here is “up.” Some of the steps on the trails were also snow-filled which made them level with the next step.  But we made it and at the top a small group of people were gathered at one of the lookout points excitedly pointing to an eagle posing in a tree down below. (Think how many pictures and home videos he’s in?)

A friendly man who was there with his wife had a pair of binoculars and let the 6yo get even a better look. Cool. After about five minutes of ear-piercing cold, we went to the higher lookout spot – this one overlooking the Starved Rock Lock and Dam (more about that later).  Then we walked along the board walk which oversees Plum Island. If you look closely, you will see a mature eagle and immature eagle on the island, although some people were saying they saw six. I might see another one in this picture, but I’d be stretching it to say I see six.  Maybe you can find six!

We gingerly made our way through the ice, back down to level ground.  We decided we didn’t want to try some of the even-less cleared trails and headed for the car to drive around for awhile. Which we did.

Then, since the troops were hungry,  we began thinking “food.”

Kelli had done some prior research (since a rule of a wandering day is to to eat somewhere out-of-the-ordinary), so she headed for Utica and The Nodding Onion. We almost missed it – and you can see why.

The 6yo kept saying: “This is someone’s house.” And we would say, it’s not a house, it’s a restaurant, but it used to be a house.”  Still, it was difficult for him to imagine it NOT being a house when you had a living room with a fireplace, a dining room, a deck and obviously a kitchen.

The Nodding Onion’s claim to fame is that they cook everything from scratch – which, our guess is, includes even the ketchup.  Two of the kids really liked the homemade fries, but the other one didn’t. The 6yo ordered corndog nuggets and kept saying, “This is the best restaurant ever,” but the 7yo wasn’t so sure.

If you’re ever at Starved Rock and looking for a place to eat, I’d recommend it, but I wouldn’t make a special trip JUST to go there.

(More pictures in Part 3)


I’ve done posts before about the traditional February wandering day.

Well, another very fun wandering day is now complete.

First, we thought about going to Chicago, but after sitting through two meetings at work  yesterday with my chair facing the beautiful, sun-filled woods behind the building – I decided I was ready for something outdoors.

So, this morning we (Kelli, munchkins and I) headed south to Starved Rock. The sun (yes, there really is such a thing) shone brightly on the snow-covered woods. Our thought was to do some hiking and see if we could spot some eagles. (Eagles are prevalent near Illinois waterways especially throughout the months of late winter.)

We wandered around the visitor’s center for a few minutes, spending the most time (about 1 minutes and 7 seconds) learning how to be good fur traders – just in case we ever need to put that sort of thing into practice.

But mostly we wanted to get out on the trails. Unfortunately though we were dressed for the cold, we weren’t dressed well enough for the cold. However, an even worse problem were the trails themselves. I think if they had been covered with newly-fallen snow, they would’ve been fine. But, they had been covered with snow and then the snow had melted and then the snow had frozen again which left the paths covered in hard, icy ruts.  On the level paths, not a problem, but since where we wanted to go was up –  a big problem.

A slip was understandable or maybe that should be underfallable.

(To be continued.)


1. If you’re an Olympic person, you might enjoy this blog written by a speed skater who is a Christian from Wheaton. She talks about what it’s like to be an Olympian in Vancouver  http://nancyskates.com/ Interesting.

Maybe you heard her interviewed on WMBI

2. I enjoy old friends (old as in how long they’ve been my friends, not age), but it’s fun to make new friends, too. Today a new friend from work took me out to lunch for my birthday. What a great time we had talking and I couldn’t help but laugh when she whipped the birthday napkins out of her purse.  We’ve been out to lunch before and enjoy talking about a lot of things we have in common – including writing!

3. So sad. Max and Erma’s closed. No more tortilla soup. No more watermelon fizzes (the best on summer days).

4. I got a birthday card from my dog today. Hmmmm …


127_2778_2 A few springs ago, Kelli and I met Roger, Sally and Lindy at the Town House Books and Cafe in St. Charles, Illinois – a place to read and eat. What better combination than that?

Instead of appetizers, main course, etc., the menu is divided into Chapter One and Chapter Two. The build-your-own-sandwich section is a Writer’s Workshop. You choose your main 127_2781_2character (main ingredient), develop the story (what you want on it) and thicken the plot (add an extra).

The food was great – I had quiche, the others had sandwiches and chips – which were made from different kinds of potatoes, giving them a variety of colors.

127_2786From there we went to Bellevue Place in Batavia which is where Mary Lincoln was confined because her son thought she was insane. Presidential scholars have debated whether or not she really had mental difficulties or whether her behavior was a 127_2790_2 result of migraines and depression. Mary was able to talk herself out of her  confinement in three months. While staying at Bellevue, Mary wrote many letters, letters that the Lincoln’s son, Robert, supposedly threw away. He admitted he wanted to get rid of anything that had anything to do with that time of his mother’s life.

Surprisingly, the letters have recently reappeared – and they are compiled in a book. (Not sure how that happened, if he threw them away.)  I personally have read a lot about Mary Lincoln, and I truly don’t know what was up with Mary. Some of the things she did seemed strange, yes, but at the same time, she lost three of her four sons – and her husband. Her much loved husband was President, but the northerners didn’t like her because she was a southerner and the southerners didn’t like her because she had married a northerner. All those things combined would’ve distressed anyone.  I just don’t know.

Nearby is the Batavia Depot Museum and Mary’s “room” is actually there – well, the furniture from her Bellevue room.127_2791

Just think, once upon a time, Mary Lincoln looked in this mirror.127_2792

After that we bought some ice cream and wandered along the river where we saw some umm … interesting signs. I mean walking your bike doesn’t sound like a lot of fun!

128_2802128_2803_2 And here is my happy brother happily having fun with some rather stone-faced children.

128_2805 A good time was had by all.


In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated each other in seven towns across Illinois. Their goal? Being elected to the U.S. Senate. The debates were widely publicized and texts were copied in newspapers. Democratic-leaning newspapers would edit Douglas’ words, but leave the stenographer’s misspellings and grammatical errors in Lincoln’s. Republican-leaning newspapers would do the same, cleaning up Lincoln’s words, but leaving Douglas’ misspelled.

After the lost, Lincoln took all the texts and edited them and had them published into a book. Because of the book, Lincoln came to national attention and was eventually nominated for President.

The main theme of the debates were slavery, especially whether or not it should be allowed into the new territories.

One of those debates was in Galeburg, Illinois at Knox College – a college still standing today with this historical perspective: And it was on our campus that Abraham Lincoln chose to denounce slavery on moral terms for the first time, during the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debate.

During the Galesburg debate, Lincoln stated: Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man-this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position, discarding our standard that we have left us. Let us discard all these things, and until as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.

The building below is the only debate location still standing today. Once again, we visited this on one of my birthday wandering days.

(Once again the building slant is because it’s in my scrapbook, not because it’s falling down from age.)


From Abe to Mary …

A few years back, my friend Sue drove with me down to Chattanooga. I was speaking at a conference there and we decided to take an extra day and meander. We knew we had to be in Chattanooga around supper time and we had a few hundred miles of highway in front of us. We decided our stop-on-the-way destination would be Berea.

So we woke early and headed south. Sue was my navigator and she was looking at the map and reading the names of the towns we passed, etc. As we headed into Lexington she said, “Mary Todd Lincoln House.”

“What?” I asked.

“The Mary Todd Lincoln House is in Lexington.”

Usually, I am alert to anything presidential within a 100 mile radius of wherever I am, but because our focus was on other parts of the trip, I simply didn’t realize we would be going right by the house.

“Oh, Sue, I have to go there,” I told her. “Roger has told me over and over that I need to visit this place.”

Sue also likes historical houses so we headed into downtown Lexington. When we arrived at the house, we discovered we had to wait a half hour for the place to open, but there were several regular cars in the parking lot and several police cars, too. Almost as if they were preparing a security route for Mary Lincoln herself.  I pulled in and stopped. Immediately, one of the laides came out of the group of people and walked over to the car.   She told us someone had broken into the ground floor restroom the night before thinking they could get upstairs into the house which they couldn’t. (Very well secured, the lady assured us.)  Still they trashed the restroom.


We wandered around awhile. Lexington has many architecturally beautiful older homes. You can see that at one time the city was elegant (still is in many places) and you can imagine what life was like. Actually, Lexington was called the Athens of America because of Transylvania College (still there) and because so many educated people came from the area.

Dscn0475One of the places we walked by was the First Baptist Church – now an inner city mission – which was built in 1786. The church was across the street from the Todd home and so, obviously would’ve been there during the time of the Todds.

We walked back to the house and did the tour …Dscn0473

WHAT IT IS: The Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington is where the Todd family lived from 1832 to 1849. Mary came back to visit the house with her husband and boys after she was married.

SHOULD-I-GO-THERE-IF-I’M-IN-THE-AREA FACTOR: If you like historical houses and if you especially like anything-presidential historical houses – you would enjoy this.

Dscn0474Some facts –

1. Mary’s father was a businessman involved in banking and politics and was considered one of the VIPs of Lexington.

2. The house has 14 rooms.

3. This was the first site restored to honor a first lady.

4. A unique piece of furniture is the “barrel desk.” When you close the desk, you have a barrel sitting in the corner of the room – open it and you have a beautiful desk.

5. Sugar was so expensive that it was kept under lock and key.

6. Children slept sideways on the bed so more could fit – and had a potty chair in their room.

7. Mary had a difficult life. She was raised a southern belle – daughter of a distinguished businessman, then married a “northerner.” You would’ve thought she’d be a natural White House hostess – but when she got to the White House, she was ostracized by both the north and the south. The northerners saw her as a southern spy. The southerners saw her as a traitor. She stood 100 percent behind her husband, but her beloved brothers were fighting for the south.

8. Three of her four sons died before they were 18 – and she lost her husband.

9. The Lincoln china has an eagle in the center. Although Mary was known for her love of flowery decorations – this was a statement that she sided with the north.

10. The people in charge of Mary’s house loaned a chocolate pot to Springfield – and didn’t even get a thank you. (So we heard when we said we were from Illinois – as if we had the clout to get the chocolate pot back for them. I mean, I truly hope Illinois gives the chocolate pot back to Kentucky, but I really don’t take the blame for that personally.)

KID FACTOR: Kids aren’t all that excited about houses – but there are a lot of great kids books out about the Lincolns. I would get children’s books out of the library, read them to your kids and then go for it. Some of the stories the tour guide told were fairly entertaining and kids would enjoy them.

COOL FACTOR: Tour was well done – and then the guide told us we had to go up the road to the cemetery and I immediately KNEW that was our next stop. As much as I’m into presidential houses – Sue is into walking around cemeteries.

And so we went