Thursday, May 28, 2009


This is our last morning camping on Lake Michigan. It’s really peaceful looking out over the calm lake, although the weather is grey and 56 F. This Great Lakes Navy Station has been a good stop, where we could easily pop into Chicago for the day. It was also an ideal place to spend Memorial Day. We attended a solemn Naval ceremony overlooking Lake Michigan, where we stopped to remember all the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and for our country. It is important to Thom and me that our children grow up with these traditions to honor our service members.

Thom visited yesterday with a cardiologist at the VA Clinic. He’s had heart palpitations for many years, but they’ve increased over the past year and especially the last 3 months. When we were in Key West, FL, Thom saw a doctor also. He wore a 24-hour heart monitor there, as well as here. The good news is that both locations say these are not reasons for serious concern. The cardiologist explained to Thom that many people have palpitations, and they’re easily controlled by daily medications called Beta-blockers. Thom also had many blood work tests run, including cholesterol and thyroid. It’s good peace of mind to have these things checked out.

Last weekend we were thrilled to visit with Matt, Julia, Alex, and Sophia from California again! They flew to Chicago for 3 days to celebrate the 50th birthday of Matt’s Navy friend, Marty. It was also Matt’s birthday (not 50th yet!). Our reunion evening was spent at the Navy Pier where we had dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp. Thom surprised our waiter by answering almost all the Forrest Gump trivia, and Matt surprised us all with his talented dance moves standing on a chair for his birthday! Way to go Matt!

Last Sunday was our marathon day in Chicago with Julia’s family, where we packed in so many great activities from 10am to 10pm! It was a beautiful, sunny day. We went on an hour river cruise where we learned about Chicago’s architecture. I had no idea that the buildings here are world renown for design. After the Chicago fire wiped out thousands of buildings around 1870, the whole city was rebuilt. Did you know that Chicago is home to the first skyscrapers, and that there are plans in the works to build the world’s tallest building of 2000 ft. here? The Sears Tower holds the record here in North America at 1454 ft.

We went to the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building for the view, followed by lunch…. Chicago’s famous stuffed pizza. We discovered you only need half as much pizza as usual, since their pizza is over an inch thick. To work off the pizza, we rented bikes and pedaled north against the winds off Lake Michigan. There we walked through the Chicago Zoo, with some pretty amazing gorillas. We headed back to Julia’s hotel for a bit of a respite, followed by ice cream for dinner! We love seeing our dear friends, and the kids had a lot of fun catching up since our time together at Disney World three months ago.

The boys diligently continue their school work. Today, they’re finishing lesson 140, which is the big green test! They only have 20 lessons to go, which includes the final green test. Calvert is an impressive homeschooling program, and our children have benefitted, especially in the area of writing skills. If we keep up our same school pace, they’ll finish up at the end of June.
From here, we plan to head west to Colorado. Not only is it a beautiful place, but it’s also at or near the top of our list of choice places to settle down. Thom’s applied for a few jobs there, but we haven’t heard anything back. Colorado Springs is one of the key missile defense places in the country, which of course ties in with Thom’s last job in Alaska. There are no missiles in Colorado, but instead have radio and communications.

So we’ll take the boys to Colorado, and check out housing, schools, and the general atmosphere. Who knows? We all love to snow ski, and of course the boys want to jump back into hockey. We all like the idea of living in a less populated area. This is perfect timing as our year winds down. We’ve now been traveling for 11 months! Ideally, we’d like to settle down in July in order to have the boys start school at the end of August. So please keep us in your prayers.

When we enter Iowa later today, it will mark the 30th state we’re visiting this year. We’ve experienced so much, and met countless people who have made our trip memorable. All six of us realize this is the journey of a lifetime. God has been infinitely good to our family by keeping us safe and showing us so much. Now we’re all eager to find home and put down roots.

May 22, Michigan
From Nappanne, we drove north to Charlotte, MI where Spartan is located. That’s the company that built our motor coach chassis. So we came up to have them do a “44 Point Inspection.” The good news is they only found one problem, which was an oil leak that only took a day to fix. The bad news is that the oil pan needed replacing, and of course we have the most expensive oil pan made! So $3000 later, we were done and on the road again.

While in the area, we visited the Grand Rapids Art Museum in order to see Cousin Steve’s painting. Celeste, one of the curators who knows Steve, met us and showed us the painting. It’s a stunning huge canvas of Western Michigan with gorgeous colors and luminary warmth. Once again, his use of writing text within the painting is engrossing. Steve dedicated this painting to lovely Bridget, his wife who grew up in Grand Rapids and who we all miss dearly since she passed away five years ago.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Nappanee, Indiana

So much has happened since my last posting, so this will probably be a long journal entry. We love Nappanee! It was great coming back to the small town we explored 2 weeks ago. The best part was spending time with so many new friends, some of whom we met on our last visit. We returned to this area to have work done on our motor coach at Newmar (air conditioner, fix and paint 3 bin doors, satellite TV, and a few minor repairs).

Marlene and Larry Burkholder invited us to dinner, along with John and Sara’s family. These are Amish friends we met on our last visit. What a treat for our entire family! The Burkholder’s have two children, Michael (14) and Kari Jo (10). John and Sara came with two of their children, Jonathon (13), and Carry (19). We all sat at two long tables where Larry and Marlene served us a delicious home-cooked meal. Sara and I brought salads, and the food never ended! Everyone enjoyed the meal and conversation, followed by three freshly baked pies of Marlene’s including pecan, rhubarb custard, and peanut butter.

The kids harnessed up Princess, the white pony, to a small carriage and wagon, and went for rides all around the farm. The adults talked inside as the sun went down, sharing our very different lifestyles, but also finding out how much we have in common. Thom and I learned so much about the Amish religion, family upbringing, and daily lives. It was memorable. Before departing, John and Sara invited us to visit a farm where a wedding would soon take place. We jumped at the chance!

For five days straight, we visited the Nappanee library where we made good progress in school. The boys quickly learned that if they worked hard, they could take recess on the library’s computers! It poured rain on two of the days, so it was nice to be inside watching the Amish horses and buggies go by outside.

It was sheer coincidence that we met the Wahl Family, and we are so thankful we did! Tom and Mary Claire have 3 children, Joe (12), Anna (10), and Sam (7), and they are on a journey exactly like ours!! It’s unbelievable. Mary Claire retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the Air Force last August, and they decided to buy a Newmar motor coach and travel North America for a year with their children! They are home schooling, and trying to decide where they’ll settle down, just like us! They met our friend, Chris Miller, in Florida. Chris gave them our email address, since he figured we’d enjoy connecting. So we had emailed back and forth a few times over the last few months. We didn’t know they owned a Newmar or were in this area. They came to Nappanee to have work done on their Newmar also. God brought us together, and we had a fabulous time.

The kids enjoyed every minute playing together. Ben and Sam had a sleepover in their RV, while Joe slept at our place. The next night, their Sam slept at our place, while the 3 oldest boys pitched a tent and camped outside! All the adults had great conversations about our travels, lessons learned, military life, tips about driving a motor coach, home schooling, and settling down. Mary Claire’s last 4-year assignment was in German near Ramstein where we flew last Nov. We spent five days with the Wahl Family, using our home base of “Camp Newmar.”

Sara invited the Wahl’s along for our trip to see the wedding set-up. We went on a Wed evening, and the wedding was set for Friday. This is truly a community event, where everyone helps. The men set up all the benches, chairs, and tables for the wedding and reception, while the women prepared all the food. No catering needed here! The wedding was taking place at the bride’s neighbor’s home, while the reception was at the bride’s home. We enjoyed meeting everyone involved, and they welcomed us to see everything. The sense of community is wonderful. All weddings take place on weekdays, because no work is allowed on Sundays. That day is reserved for church, which takes place in people’s homes. We met Wanda and Steve, the bride and groom. They, along with many people toured through our motor coach.

Oh, I forgot to mention that since Sara had been so kind to give us a ride in her buggy, we gave Sara and her family a ride in our motor coach! Many Amish people work or have worked in the RV business, but rarely get a chance to see the inside of an RV. They know more about our motor coach than we do! The kids, including Joe, Anna, and Sam Wahl, played together with the Amish children and had a ball.

We drove Sara, John, and their two boys back home and once again, they showered us with kindness by giving us 3 dozen eggs and frozen ground beef. After a beautiful prayer, we said our good-byes. They have been one of the most special families of our entire trip this year, and we will keep in touch!

Newmar finished working on our coach, but we didn’t want to leave. So we stayed an extra three days! It’s great having full hook-ups and being with other Newmar owners. We met people from all over the US, Canada, and even Germany who brought their Newmars in for work.

One afternoon, I drove over to meet my high school friend, Sheryl Walsh (Garlit), and her two sisters Lori and Sue. We all went to high school together back in Lakeport, CA, and their family returned to Indiana in 1979 which is where they originally were from. Sheryl and I got together 2 weeks ago for pizza with both our families. It was great seeing her for a second visit, and wonderful to catch up with Lori and Sue. We talked about our families, parenting, work, travel, and how important God is in our lives. Sue and her husband Pat have a beautiful home, and we all sat on the back deck overlooking a huge pond. It was a lovely visit!

Marlene suggested we attend an Amish horse auction on Saturday, so we went along with the Wahl’s. As we pulled up, we saw signs for Buggy Parking with at least 100 buggies! There were just as many bikes, since many Amish use that mode of transportation. I’d say 300 people were gathered to view the sale of at least 50 horses. The excitement was under a huge tent, where the auctioneer loudly called out the bids. The kids asked what he was saying, since it was hard to make out the fast, musical words. One man walked or ran each horse as it was auctioned, while at least 4 or 5 other men orchestrated the bidding process. They’d watch the crowds for bids, which was extremely subtle. No paddles were used. Only the blink of an eye or tip of a hat were the gestures used to place a bid. Hundreds of men, women, and children sat on hay bales to watch the auction. Most horses sold between $1500 and $2500. On our way out, Thom placed Sam high on a post to take a picture of all the horses and buggies in the parking area…what a unique sight!

More fun followed when we took all the kids to the theater to see Planet Earth, the new movie by Disney. What a great film. They must have shot thousands of hours of footage to capture these incredible moments in nature. We’ve seen much of it on the collection of Planet Earth DVD’s given to us by Leanna, and now it’s great to see “the best of the best” in one movie.
Following that, the Besch and Wahl Families rejoined our friends Marlene and Larry for a fish fry at a local auction building. It was a fund raiser for an Amish school, and hundreds of people attended. I truly felt privileged to sit amongst so many Amish families, sharing delicious food and good company. People stopped by to say Hello to Marlene and Larry, and we were then introduced. What fun!

Marlene invited both our families over for one last visit. The Wahl’s had the chance to shop in their store, and found the perfect pair of croc’s for Anna (shoes). The kids played outside for hours as the sun set, while the adults visited inside. We met Larry’s mother, Anna May, who is 76 years old and walks a mile a day to keep in shape! She visited Alaska 14 years ago. Marlene gave us asparagus from her garden, and sausage. The generosity is overflowing! It was hard to say goodbye, but we were all leaving the next morning. Again, this is a special family who we will miss, and definitely keep in touch with.

The Wahl and Besch kids enjoyed their last night of sleepovers, and then it too was time to say goodbye. They’ve spent most of their last 8 months in the west and south, and are now heading to Washington D.C. and the northeast. They hope to catch a Space A flight to Ramstein, Germany just as we did! We’re heading north to Michigan for a couple days, and then back to Chicago.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


May 9
We’ve spent the last week in Chicago where Thom attended the AWEA Wind Convention (American Wind Energy Assoc). Over 20,000 people attended the event held at McCormick Place. He spent 4 full days at the huge convention center where he listened to seminars, attended their job fair, and visited hundreds of exhibitors’ booths. Thom hopes to work in this growing field for his next career, now that he’s retired from the Army. In 2008, when most other industries took a huge hit due to the poor economy, this field continued to grow. Our country is finally waking up to realize we can capture wind energy through modern wind turbines, thereby generating electricity from our own backyards. The technology exists. Our government’s RES (renewable energy standard) has determined that we must produce 20% of our electricity from wind by the year 2030. After attending the conference, Thom believes our country can produce more than that, even sooner than 2030. The Midwest and Texas are the most promising wind areas.

Thom met many people and exchanged business cards. Now he’s following up by sending his resume to many of these contacts. Most companies aren’t hiring at the moment, but are poised to hire as soon as loans are available again. The general feeling is that within six months, they’ll be putting in machines (turbines) all over the country and hiring again. Thom learned much about home turbines as well, which is growing rapidly. Maybe we’ll have one in our backyard one day! Thom thinks many people will be interested in having them soon, and there may be a market for selling, installing, and maintaining them.

Our hopes are that NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) will hire Thom. They’re based in Golden, Colorado and have many job openings. It’s run by DOE (Dept of Energy) and is one of their several labs that work to make renewable energy more efficient, practical, and accessible. Thom met many people from NREL at the convention. So please keep us in your prayers as we continue our job search.

Photo: sunrise over Lake Michigan from our campground at Great Lakes Naval Station, north of Chicago.
While Thom was busy in Chicago, the boys and I did school, school, and more school (as they like to say). We’re now on lesson 134 of Calvert. There are 160 lessons, so the end of our school year isn’t too far off. I think we’ll finish near the end of June. I’m proud of all of them, because homeschooling is a lot of work and requires self-discipline. This, along with improved writing skills and all the knowledge they’ve acquired will benefit them throughout their lives.
I drove the boys into Chicago on the final day of the convention so we could attend the 2-hour opening to the public. Wow! The McCormick Place is huge, and the wind convention only took up a portion of the place. We met Thom who toured us up and down the aisles of exhibitors. The boys were impressed, and Robby in particular asked many questions. He enjoyed talking with the company reps about their products. The other boys quickly discovered that each booth had goodies, such as candy or pens, flashlights, nerf balls, etch-a-sketch, Japanese fans, measuring tapes, key chains, and all sorts of other things. Since it was the final day, most exhibitors were delighted to give out goodies even if we weren’t potential business clients. Everyone I spoke with sounded upbeat and positive that the convention had grown from 13,000 last year to 22,000 this year. One lady came by and “hired” the boys to haul out her 3 luggage pieces by paying them $2 each! While we exited, she told us that her company hauls freight, and she wrote up all kinds of new business here. She said everyone there builds huge things and needs to have them delivered from Point A to Point B. So she was thrilled. Our boys were thrilled when we arrived at the limo awaiting to take her to the airport, and she invited them in for a tour!

I also treated the boys to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. They just opened the Harry Potter Exhibit, which will run for four months. Here we saw hundreds of props used in the movies, of which we’re all big fans. We saw Snape’s potions, the marauder’s map, Prof Umbridge’s pink dress and shoes and detention quill, Harry’s wand and glasses, Tom Riddle’s diary, Creature and Dobby, Lord Voldemort’s robes and wand, along with moving pictures from the walls of Hogwarts, to name a few. The museum had an electric car, a huge pendulum, a German WWII submarine called the U-505, and the Idea Factory where the boys played with water toys. They also had an area called “Petroleum Planet” where I learned the average American uses 1000 gallons of crude oil/yr. I was disappointed to read a big sign that said enthusiastically, “Our National Reserve has 150 billions of barrels of crude oil – enough for another 70 years!” We need a new plan…like using wind energy!

Now we’re on our way back to Nappanee, IN to have some more work done on our motor coach. They ordered parts for satellite dish, bin doors which need smoothing and repainting, and a few minor things. After that, we don’t know our exact course. We’re hoping opportunities open up after this last week in Chicago, so we’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Nappanee, Indiana

May 2
Last summer on a day’s drive, we headed south from Wisconsin along Lake Michigan, through Chicago, briefly through Indiana, and up along the east shore of Lake Michigan to visit Cousin John and Laura. I’m so glad we returned this week, because now we’ve spent four days and discovered how beautiful Indiana is. We came to Nappanee, the RV capital of the world, to have work done on our motor coach by Newmar. Its headquarters are here so we’ve had a chance to meet other Newmar owners.

Thom pulled our RV right up into the “campground” at Newmar where they provide free electric and water hookups. At least 20 other Newmars were already parked. Everyone camps in their RVs and then the workmen arrive at 6am to drive the RVs to their work areas. They work on the rigs until 2pm, and then have them back by 2:30. So we visited in the waiting area with many other owners, comparing notes on RVs, the economy, good places in town to eat, and this is when we learned that Nappanee is the third largest population base in the US for the Amish and Mennonite communities.

So three days in a row, we woke the boys up at 5:30am, went inside to say hello to our neighbors, and then headed into town for a hearty breakfast at the Corner Café. Our waitress was Amanda, a sweet teenage Amish girl who has 5 siblings, rides her bike the 7 miles from home, wakes up each morning at 4:30, and treated us like family. She told us her family makes all their own clothes and she made the dress she was wearing. She wore a small, white bonnet which is part of their daily attire.

From there, we went to the public library three days in a row, hauling quite a few books along with us to do our home schooling. Nappanee has taken an especially hard hit with the economy since it is the RV capital of the world. Many RV companies have closed their doors, and their supply companies in the area have struggled as well. The unemployment rate in these small towns ranges from 18 to 25%. Many people were in the library using computers to job search, including many Amish men. Over 50% of the local Amish men had worked in the RV industry, so they’re especially feeling this downturn.

While we were there, we visited my high school friend, Sheryl Walsh and her family in South Bend, IN. It was great seeing her after 22 years! We went out for pizza together with her husband, Ron, and daughter, Lindsay. Lindsay is a sophomore in college studying to be a teacher. We caught up on family, the past, and the present. They’re doing well, and have a son who is engaged to be married this summer. We said our goodbye’s, and then made a small tour of Notre Dame University since we were in the neighborhood. We walked past the famous football field, and then drove around campus, stopping in to browse through the huge bookstore.

Now, back to studies at the Nappanee Library. As we read and did our schoolwork, I enjoyed hearing the “clip-clop, clip-clop” of horses’ hooves out on the streets. The Amish travel by horse and buggy, and we saw them everywhere, even at nighttime. We decided to visit Shipshewana, about a half hour away. There we visited Mennohof, a big house open to visitors to teach about the history and customs of the Amish, Mennonites, and Hetterites. It was informative! The three religions can be traced back to the Anabaptists from the 1500’s in Switzerland. Much like Martin Luther, they were dissatisfied with the Catholic Church and wanted to start their own church. They met resistance, which caused their people great suffering and torture. Years later, they came to America in search of religious freedom, and settled initially in Pennsylvania. Oh, here comes a horse and buggy pulling a small open cart right in front of where our RV is parked! What a lovely sight on a sunny, Saturday morning.

William Penn welcomed many religions to Pennsylvania centuries ago. When we lived in Maryland, we visited Lancaster, PA in order to see and learn about the Amish people. The boys don’t remember, so I’m glad we’re here now where they too are learning so much.
There aren’t any remaining Anabaptist religions to speak of in Switzerland and other parts of Europe today, but their communities have grown in the US.

On our way back from Mennohof, we stopped in the cute little town of Emma at an old fashioned soda bar. We sat at the soda bar speaking with Colleen after she’d served us huge waffle cones, which turned out to be our dinner that night (true story!). She introduced us to her husband, Ron who runs a dairy farm nearby. Wouldn’t you know it….they invited us to come visit! Ron showed us the small barn with 10 calves, 2 of which loved sucking on the fingers of our boys! This reminded us of our visit to a dairy farm in South Dakota with Marchell DeLange’s family last June.

Ron then showed us 100 dairy cows, and the milking area. He gets up at 3:15 every morning for the morning milking, and then they’re milked again in the afternoon. Our boys think this is so cool, and would love to live on a farm. We keep reminding them of the early mornings, and extensive chores, but they still claim this is what they want to do! The highlight of the tour came with the tractor ride. His tractor is enormous, with tires taller than me! The boys all squeezed in there and headed out for a 10 minute ride. They each had a turn driving. We thanked Colleen and Ron and headed home.

Yesterday was really special. I was at a laundromat in Nappanee and noticed an Amish woman talking with the female manager. By and by, I meandered over and introduced myself. Sara, the Amish woman introduced herself and the three of us had a lovely conversation. I told her about our visit to Mennohof and how we enjoyed learning about the Amish and Mennonite people. Ben and Sam were helping me, and she invited us over for a buggy ride! I was thrilled. She said they had an appointment with the local Ferrier, a man who shoes horses.

So two hours later, all six of us drove to her farm south of town and met her husband, John. Once again the boys enjoyed being on a farm. John asked them to let the chickens out, which Will happily did. Sam hung out with the baby calf, and the boys all noticed the many dogs and cats as well. We watched as John and Sara harnessed up their horse, Boots. Soon, the four boys and I climbed into the buggy with Sara and off we went! She drove Boots along the lush green back roads and waved at many neighbors. The familiar clip-clop, clip-clop was rhythmic and musical as we went. Sara happily told us about their lifestyle, and we all asked many questions. This was like a dream come true!

Thom joined us 4 miles away at the Ferrier’s home and we all observed as he adeptly changed out Boots’ horse shoes. Jonas was the ferrier’s name, and he lives there with Rosemary and their 7 children (ages 13 to 1). Our boys were soon running all around the farm with their kids. Ben rode a pony, and the boys visited the goats. Will went to our car, grabbed his Wave (his funky new skateboard), and taught their 8-year old how to ride it! Jonas finished the job on Boots just as the next customer pulled up in his buggy. Jonas shoes 10 or 11 horses a day.

We said our farewells, and this time I drove while Thom rode in the back seat of the buggy. We all stopped at an Amish store on the way home and met the owner, Marlene Burkholder. She sold everything from shoes, to hats, to toys, to books, to intricate clocks. This is where the ladies come to buy their fabric and sewing materials since they all make most of their clothes. As a gift, we asked if we could buy a new bonnet for Sara. She was surprised and very grateful, and accepted politely. We told them how happy we were to share this afternoon together, and then mentioned we’ll be back in about 10 days for parts on our RV. Marlene invited our two families to dinner upon our return trip. We gladly accepted….something to look forward to!

Back at the farmhouse, John served us his freshly baked cinnamon muffins, and homemade red wine! We exchanged addresses, and Sara packed up fresh eggs, muffins, and wine to go. I shared with them the boys’ comments from the Mennohof. As we learned about their religious beliefs regarding Jesus Christ, baptism, and his resurrection, the boys said, “Well those are all the same things we believe.” Sara loved it. The more we talked, the more we realized how similar we all are. We look forward to meeting the Hochstetler Family again soon for dinner!

Before we arrived in Indiana, we visited Abraham Lincoln’s Museum in Springfield, IL. It’s one of our favorites. Ben is standing next to Tad Lincoln in the picture! There are two outstanding presentations, one of which took place in the Ghost Library and still has us guessing as to how they did it. Our beloved 16th president was quite a man, a humble leader who accomplished great things. What struck me as I toured the museum was the minimal support he had. He obviously was despised by the South, and surprisingly, the North was never happy with most of his actions and decisions either. They either felt he wasn’t doing enough to stop slavery, or they didn’t think it was worth going to war over. Many said, “Let the South go and start their own country. Who needs them?” I was glad to see the museum was packed with school kids on field trips. Our youth especially need to learn this important part of our history, and this was the ideal place for it.