Valley Forge National Historic Park

Valley Forge is another of our favorite historic places in a beautiful natural setting, here in the mid-Atlantic region. Set among small rolling hills, meadows and woods, it boasts preserved and restored buildings, cannons, redoubts, an excellent museum and beautiful statues and monuments, including the impressive National Arch, commemorating soldiers lost at Valley Forge. The park is entirely free.

Start at the Visitors Center, which is also the museum. Here you can pick up literature, see life-like displays of soldiers and colonial life, collections of weapons and medical devices (yikes), and read about the struggles of the continental army in the 1770’s. You can also head up to a building just outside the main one to see a well-done film about Valley Forge, explaining why it can be referred to as the birthplace of the American Army. The diseases and violence described may be mildly scary for young children, but most likely not nightmare-inducing.

From here you can follow signs in your car for the encampment tour, which will allow you to enter the soldiers barracks and see a glimpse of how they lived, and check out the redoubts with their accompanying cannons. The third stop is the National Memorial Arch, which is quite beautiful. Take time to read the moving words engraved on the monument.

As you move along the tour you will see other monuments, statues, and living quarters of various figures who were significant in the war, such as Lafayette and Steuben. It’s worth getting out of your car again at Washington’s Headquarters, and perhaps taking a short trail to the Schuylkill River. The last stop you may want to make is at Washington Memorial Chapel, which is in use today. There is a cabin behind it where you can stop in for some coffee and snacks or hot dogs before you head home. There are clean restrooms and picnic areas throughout the park.

We found our oldest child was fascinated by the military history of the place, how the army was trained by General Stueben in ways that are still used today, and the various weapons and strategies that were used. Our second oldest child was fascinated by the diseases suffered by the soldiers, and the intense programs ordered for sanitation and even innoculation long before this became common practice. As for the two little ones, getting to run around in the sunshine in a new and interesting setting was all they needed to have a good time. So, we highly recommend a visit to Valley Forge, where there is something of interest for everyone.

A Reflection on the Easter Holiday

I know I usually keep it light on here, but today I’m venturing a little deeper.

It’s Spring Break season, and many of us are taking vacations to connect with family, and pursue our personal interests and enjoyments. As the weather grows warmer and the flowers bloom, this is also a beautiful time of year to reconnect spiritually, focusing on the Author of Life.

The Easter holiday falls on April 9th this year, which is a meaningful date for me as it was my brother’s birthday.

My brother was a navy veteran who, after a sometimes excruciating battle with serious mental illness and substance use, took his life at the age of 31. For me, that year was a time of anxiety, fear, and intense grief.

It was not the only time in my life I have faced the sting associated with addiction, hopelessness, death, or despair. I have felt the sting of loss, the sting of inadequate love, the sting of shame, of not being enough.

Haven’t we all?

But it is in the midst of those times that the meaning behind the Easter holiday is most precious.

1 Corinthians 15:51 asks, “Oh death, where is thy sting?”

I have been fortunate, in the midst of my own personal trials, to experience hope. To know, in my heart of hearts, that I and my loved ones redeemed (yes, even those lost to suicide, those in addiction and illness) are completely, entirely known; loved just as we are; and forgiven, made new. This is why we ask, “oh death, where is your sting?”

Here on earth, the sting remains; But the hope conquers.

Hope conquers because the Author of life chose to submit to the sting of death, the shame of sin, this mud in which we wallow for a time, to let us emerge clean and free, and at peace with ourselves and our Creator.

Hope conquers because of the One who conquered death and rose from the grave on the third day.

“Oh grave, where is thy victory?”

Titus 3:5 says, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”

As we watch new life spring up around us in this season of regeneration, we are reminded of our spiritual renewal that allows us to move forward with hope and abundant life. We can be thankful for the sunshine, the delicate new blooms, the soft breeze, and further, the renewal of our selves, day by day.

It’s National Library Day: Let’s Talk about Armchair Traveling!

(Photo is a candid picture of our kids reading at one of our favorite local places, The Hockessin Library.)

While we usually write on this blog about real-life, local travel, we don’t want to miss the opportunity to mention that armchair travel (by which we mean reading), is vital to our family!

Today is National Library Day, and we wanted to celebrate our libraries here on the blog, because they have been such a fabulous resource throughout our lives.

Reading can take us to far off places we may never see in real life, or teach us about the history, context and highlights of places we do visit. I love to read up on the places that we go – everything from travel guides to novels set there, or memoirs by authors who lived there. All of these can help to deepen the experience of traveling.

But there are even greater benefits to reading. Reading puts us in another’s shoes, and teaches us to see life from someone else’s perspective. As such, it makes us more empathetic, more understanding, and wiser in the ways we relate to others. Not to mention that it’s great for your brain! These are just a few of the reasons why it’s so important to encourage children to read.

Our local libraries have done such a wonderful job helping to instill a love of books in our kids. They create a bright, cheerful environment that includes opportunities for imaginative play alongside loads of books. They have tons of creative programs that encourage reading and creative thought. They draw us in to the world of reading and keep us engaged and using our brains (as opposed to the passive, mindless process of scrolling on a screen that tends to occupy too much of our time!)

Reading in the car makes me carsick, but did you know that most libraries also have audio books you can rent on CD or digitally, and listen to on your next road trip? If you don’t want to take up room in your suitcase don’t worry – your library most likely has books available that can be downloaded directly to your cell phone or tablet. We pack a few thin bedtimes stories and the rest come on our screens.

So thank you to our libraries, and tell us in the comments about your local library, your favorite books, and what you like to read while traveling!

Visit Harper’s Ferry for a Taste of History in a Beautiful Natural Setting

Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park is rich in history, with it’s preserved buildings including John Brown’s Fort and St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. But it’s also part of the Appalachian Trail, and sits along the confluence of two might rivers, nestled amongst mountains with sweeping views and vigorous hikes available inside and beyond the park.

To visit Harper’s Ferry, park at the Visitor’s Center and check inside for maps and information. Then take the short ride on the shuttle down to the historic town. You can walk from the shuttle drop off point along the street and see various historical stores, a boarding house, and small museums along the way to John’s Brown Fort. Brown and his small army of 21 men invaded the town and took over the federal armory, arsenal, and rifle factory, in an attempt to disrupt the violent system of slavery in our country. It was a turning point that contributed to beginning of the Civil War.

Go a bit further, and you will see The Point, where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers intersect, creating the border of West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland – fun for all geography lovers! Go further still, and walk across the Potomac River on the pedestrian bridge. You may find a train rolling along by beside you. On the other side of the bridge, you can access the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park towpath.

Turning back in the opposite direction, and heading upwards along the mountain in which the historical town sits, you will see St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, the only church which survived through the Civil War. It’s a pretty building with a gorgeous view across the Potomac, and out to the Point. The road you walk to get to the church also happens to be part of the Appalachian Trail.

Continue upwards past the church, and you will come to Jefferson Rock, from which Thomas Jefferson claimed the view was, “worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” Deciding whether or not you agree is one more reason to visit Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park.

Interesting Roadside Stops in New Jersey

If you’re looking for a way to break up a long drive in New Jersey, there are plenty of options to get a quick breath of fresh air or stretch your legs at a free or cheap attraction not far off the highway. Here are a few ideas:

Visit a Giant Lightbulb in Edison, NJ

The world’s largest lightbulb is located in northern New Jersey near the intersection of I-95 and Rt 287, on top of a tower and next to a tiny but interesting museum at Menlo Park. The Center is open only Thursday to Saturday, but there is a nature trail at the park, and of course, it’s always fun to pose in front of a tower with a 13 foot lightbulb on top, even if you can’t go in.

Burlington County Prison Museum

Located in Mt Holly and quite close to the New Jersey Turnpike, this historic prison (complete with gallows) is a good place to get your ghost hunting on, and also contains some interesting historic information and touching displays. Some of the original graffiti can be seen on the walls behind glass plates. Open Thursday through Sunday, $5 per adult.

National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey

If you’re near the shore in northern NJ and looking to spend a little time indoors (maybe a half hour to an hour), visit National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey. Our son is into weapons and military history at the moment so he enjoyed it, and there was actually a submarine called the Intelligent Whale that you could take a look inside – so that was really interesting. It is free, and right on the base, but you don’t actually have to enter the base to go in.

Take a Lake-side Walk

New Jersey has a ton of lakes, and many of them are near the highway and have restrooms and playgrounds – the perfect combination if you need to stretch your legs and burn some energy. Crystal Lake Park and Etra Lake Park are two good options near I-95 with nice little walking trails, and we were even able to spot a bald eagle at Etra Lake once.

Historic Smithville

Coming or going from the South Jersey shore? Take a short detour off of the Atlantic City Expressway, and visit this interesting little retail area full of unique shops and cafes in a variety of historic buildings. Walk across the lake, visit the carousel and the train, and have a meal in one of the many unique eateries.