Right next to the Ellwood House Visitor’s Center is the Little House.  Originally constructed by area carpenters as a float in an 1890s parade, this tiny home is in the Stick Style of American architecture.  Two young Ellwood girls were fascinated by the miniature home, so their father bought it for them. After several years the home was sold/given to other families – but the last owner donated it back to the estate.

The two little girls liked the house so Daddy bought it for them and completely furnished it down to miniature tea sets.

Miniature tea set at the dining room table
Miniature dresser
Even more miniature tea set at the bedside table.

This picture from the big house gives you a good perspective on the size. You can also rent out a room in the visitor’s center for children’s birthday parties – which include the Little House which I think would be all very cool to a little girl.


All because of barbed wire …

First he tried sauerkraut, then he tried gold – but it was barbed wire that made Isaac Ellwood rich. Very rich. So rich that more than a century years later, the Ellwood family is still one of the top 100 landowners in the U.S.

Isaac and his wife, Harriet, (which sounds very much like Ozzie and Harriet when a tour guide is guiding her tour) settled in DeKalb, Illinois and went to work on proper wire for proper fences. He invented one, but ever the good businessman – when his wife told him that his down-the-road neighbor Mr. Glidden had made a better barbed wire – he trashed his own invention and partnered up with the neighbor.

Smart move. This was all happening shortly after the Civil War and the country was expanding – causing farmers and ranchers to need good fences (no longer being able to allow their cattle to roam on the plain – well, at least not without parameters).

As the money came in, Mr. Ellwood built a home for his family – an elegant home with three floors, turrets and a ballroom … two bathrooms – the only indoor bathrooms in DeKalb at that time. And electricity – back in the 1890s when no one else had electricity. And a phone even though DeKalb proper was not wired for phone lines. And cars – both he and his wife enjoyed driving. And a separate building just for his wife’s souvenirs from their travels.

He also respected education and gave money and land for the construction of Northern Illinois University.

Once Mr. Ellwood had the barbed wire – he needed a place to put some fences so he started buying up ranch land in Texas. According to our tour guide, the Ellwood property in Texas is the largest single-family owned ranch to this day which equals 240,00 acres. (She explained that the King Ranch is owned by two families.)

The Ellwood House in DeKalb is a open to the public – the grounds have recently expanded to include another house owned by their son. (The most recent residents gave it back to the foundation.) The visitor’s center has a small museum which focuses on barbed wire (obviously), the house (obviously) and several sleighs and old cars.

Our tour guide was passionate and knowledgeable and I don’t think we could’ve asked her many questions that she couldn’t have answered. She talked about the family and the details of how they were restoring the house.

Patience, one of the granddaughters, died just two years ago – she had lived in the house as a little girl and worked with the foundation in restoring it as it had been. She was able to talk family members who still had furniture that was originally part of the house – into donating it to the restoration so most of what is in the house is authentic.

You might wonder how many people care about touring a house financed by barbed wire – but there were more people there than at many of the president houses we’ve visited and it included everyone from small children to older people.

Speaking of president houses – I almost made it to Teddy Roosevelt’s house out on Long Island this year, but alas, not going to happen. However, Teddy Roosevelt stayed at the Ellwood House when he visited Illinois.




Today I planned to meet up with P., a friend from church who is a high school teacher. Since I’ve been writing for teens ever since I was a teen – I have spent my life in teen research mode and P. and I had recently started a conversation that I wanted to finish and write up for our teen leader magazine.

So when I asked P. if we could get together and chat – she suggested we find a greasy hole-in-the-wall that we wouldn’t ordinarily try. I thought that was funny. She didn’t even know about my penchant for trying new and indigenous restaurants.

She found one.

This is the last paragraph of a very long review that someone had written on the web – a review that was all complaints, except for the sentence were the reviewer said “I don’t like to complain too much.”

Overall, I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to go here again. There are other places to get good food around here. Unless you’re heading southbound on __ and you plan to keep going that direction, and you really want a smelly diner full of old farmers and scowling medical staff with only one waitress and presumably one cook to whip up a pretty delicious omelet and some bland gravy to smother over delicious biscuits, then I probably wouldn’t suggest this place. Maybe once just to check it out, but that’s about it.

Let’s just say we knew what we were getting in to.

Funny – when we walked in the door – there was only one table full  – of farmers – or at least they looked as if they could’ve been farmers, but I’m OK with farmers. I’ve had good friends who were farmers. The second thing we noticed was the lack of ventilation – it was hot and the air was just sitting there. (However, by the time we left, quite awhile later – the air conditioning was on.)

And there was one waitress and one cook – a very, very shy young girl and a lady who sat at the counter and read a book when she wasn’t cooking – although when she came to check on us, she was quite friendly.

We both got scrambled eggs and hashbrowns, sausage (P.), bacon (me), English muffin and iced tea. The eggs, bacon and iced tea were good. The hash browns were super greasy (very rarely do I not finish hashbrowns, but I didn’t finish these) and one half of my English muffin was too burnt to eat.

But we had a great conversation about high schoolers and the experience was unique.

Isn’t that what trying something new is all about?

Cause, seriously, if you go the same place all the time and don’t try new things,  you are missing some great adventures.

And with that – here’s some final curb appeal …


This is not an official, medical review of Lyme disease. This isn’t even an unofficial review.

This is just about some of the things I already knew and some of the things I have recently learned as I’ve very uncharacteristically slept my way through the past couple days watching reruns of House Hunters International and a documentary on Ride the Divide – the bike race that goes from Banff, Canada to Mexico.

Back a generation or so, no one had heard of Lyme disease – but it was around. In fact, Reverend Walker, who lived back in the 1700s on an island off Scotland, wrote a detailed description of Lyme disease – except, not having heard of Lyme, Connecticut, he  wrote instead of being bitten by a tick-like bug and developing all the symptoms of Lyme.

During the early 1970s, however, an outbreak of sickness in the Lyme, Connecticut area caused researchers to research and figure out what was going on.  Lucky them, they now have a disease named after their town. (That must help the tourist market.)

Lyme disease is just one of several tick-borne diseases and the most common. The scary thing about this disease is (like most diseases), if you don’t catch it in time, it can be quite serious with ongoing fatigue (some people never quite shake it), neurological problems, heart problems and even total paralysis (in a few cases).  Let’s just say, you don’t want to ignore the symptoms.

When I went up north a month ago, I knew about Lyme disease because my son and daughter-in-law are experts on the subject – being that their daughter – #2 up-north grandchild, contracted it a few years ago. They didn’t catch it right away (she was bitten in her ear – a common place for a bite), but did catch it quickly enough for it to be cured by antibiotics.

And so I did all those things you’re supposed to do – poured on the tick spray, watched for ticks, wore jeans and socks when traipsing through the woods, etc. I also kept checking my hair and my ears – no ticks.

I was already home when I felt a small bump on my lower back and when I scraped it, a tick came off in my hand. I didn’t panic because …

Not all ticks transfer Lyme disease, so just because  you pull a tick off of you, that doesn’t mean you’ll get Lyme. Also, the tick has to be attached for several hours (up to two days) before it affects the “victim.”

So, I watched the bite (I couldn’t see it without looking in the mirror).  After a few weeks, it went away and I figured I was disease free.

If you find a tick embedded – the advice is to have a doctor pull it out.  (In fact, the doctor  that treated me told me a very gross story about pulling out a tick on someone. You can be thankful I’m not sharing it.)

Still, I knew the next thing to look for was a red, bulls’eye-shaped rash – a circle with a clear spot and then another circle or a circle rash that is consistently red. Sunday morning, when taking my shower, I felt something weird – looked in the mirror and there was the bulls-eye!  (This took about 30 days to show up, which is common.) Other early symptons are flu-like – fever, muscle aches , etc. (The doctor told me that he sees a lot of ticks in the upper thigh, lower back area – because they crawl up people’s jeans – I know that sounds creepy – but it’s common to check out the hair and ears and not to pay attention to exposed skin.)

I knew I needed to get on antibiotics as soon as possible. So I headed for the walk-in clinic. The doctor instantly confirmed my self-diagnosis and put me on antibiotics for the next three weeks with a warning NOT to stop taking them early (which both the doctor and Jeff and Cindy told me is a common mistake).  I don’t take well too medicine so I’m thinking the meds are making me as sick as the Lyme’s,  but I know I have to do this.

Then on Monday morning when checking out the first bite, I realized I had a second inflammation on the other side of my body – another “bulls-eye.”  Not sure if the second is a manifestation of the first or a completely different tick bite. However, I figure the antibiotic “good guys” don’t know which target to hit,  so I’m fine.

So, I’m tired and the meds are making me feel weird, but I’m OK. I’m thankful I knew what to look for and what to do when I saw what it was I was looking for. If you do have a tick bite – keep a close eye on it. As soon as you see the red target rash – get to the doctor’s. Early detection and antibiotic treatment make all the difference.

Now, Jeff tells me that they’ve discovered that some people attract ticks more than others.

Not sure that makes me feel all that good –

That I’m attractive to a tick.


Sometimes when life gets overwhelming (and life seems to do that a lot), it’s easy to start feeling sorry for myself – but then I go back to all the things I have for which I’m thankful and I know self-pity doesn’t get anyone anywhere – and that includes me.

Mom and I were talking about that today because of the lady.

I took Mom to the eye doctor. As we were walking in, I noticed the lady in a wheelchair – she was quite heavy and I wondered if she had the chair because of her weight, but of course, I had no way of knowing. I did notice she was wearing a plain, pink cotton dress – noticeable in it’s unchicness. Most of us wouldn’t even stick it in a garage sale. She was wearing no shoes, but instead had on thick, wool socks. I noticed all that in a passing glance, more concerned about making sure my mom (who, at ninety, has some weakness in her legs) got to where she was supposed to get.

We sat in the waiting room and then saw a nurse and then were ushered to another waiting room. At this point, I needed to run out to the car for something and on my way, I noticed the lady in the pink dress sitting outside the clinic. The sun was growing hotter and even in my short-sleeved shirt, capris and sandals, I was hot – and there was the lady in h long dress and wool socks. I willed her to look at me as I walked by – I wanted to at least give her a friendly “hi.” I wondered if someone was supposed to pick her up, but he or she had forgotten.

But she didn’t look up and I needed to get back before the doctor called my mom.

Quite awhile later my mom was done and I ran out to get the car so she wouldn’t have to walk across the large parking lot. The lady was still there – the heat was now permeating every pore of my body and I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be unmovable while wearing such heavy clothing.

When my mom got in the car I said, “That lady is still there. I wish I could do something for her. I would offer to take her wherever she is going.” But I knew that wouldn’t be right.  And,  I don’t think I could’ve gotten both the lady and the wheelchair in the car.

As I drove my mom to the grocery store, we talked about loneliness and how hard it is to not have people who care. (Obviously, no one was helping this lady look nice or making sure she dressed in appropriate clothing.) We talked about family and how good it is to have family … and friends.

Mom said, “She probably lives in a place where no one cares, no one takes the time to be aware of where she is and when it’s time to get her. No one knows she’s been waiting in the heat for an hour and a half.”

We went to the store and when we came out, we decided to run through the drive-thru for salads. “We should buy the lady a salad,” I suggested.

“We can go back to the clinic if you want,” Mom agreed. “We could get her a cold drink.”

I did want to go back. And so we did.

And she was gone, but I think maybe “just” gone because I saw a transport van pulling away from the curb.

John wrote that we are not to love with words, but with actions. (1 John 3:18)

I am sorry I didn’t stop and give her a cheery “hello.”

I am sorry I didn’t at least get her a glass of water from inside the clinic.

I am sorry I didn’t make her day a little better.

Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we need to remember not to forget the forgotten people.


The last night I was up north, the weather turned calm enough for a canoe ride. We paddled across the lake and through a narrow channel which eventually ends up in Pine Lake – but that was quite a distance off.

As we paddled, the sun moved slowly toward the horizon, sending a glittering sheen over the water. Yellow water lilies dotted the lake – their reflections elongating the stems and thickening the leaves.

Oh, and reflecting on reflections – here’s a photo composed of trees reflecting in the water …

And of the sky in the water …

Beavers had entire apartment complexes in the lake.

So, they invited the heron to come visit.

We floated through the narrow channel …

And off across the lake.


The day we went to Paul Bunyans started out beautiful and exploded into one of those days you wish you could bottle and pull out in small doses on cloudy, hot days. But alas …

We headed out to a different disc golf course, but they hadn’t yet opened it for the season so we went to Plan B – walking along the Bearskin-Hiawatha Trail out of Minocqua. Although we only walked a mile or so, the Bearskin part of the trail actually goes for 18 miles and through four towns.

The trail was originally a track of the Hiawatha Railroad which brought timber from the Northwoods to Chicago. The trail covers an area the size of Rhode Island.

We hadn’t walked very far before we saw an historical marker that we were passing the home of Dr. Pink. Except Dr. Pink’s house burned down and now there was another Dr. Pink house. The person who wrote the copy didn’t seem to know Dr. Pink’s first name so I found it difficult to discover more about him except that he was one of the first people to move to Minocqua and he lived on Dr. Pink Drive – which was serendipitous – though true serendipity would’ve been if he lived in a pink house.

Just a great day.


One of the reasons I went up north the week I did was to see the munchkins perform.

Eight year old munchkin is playing on a ball team for the first time this year. This is a munchkin who spends most of his time thinking, playing or listening to baseball. He has wanted to be a baseball player since he was about seven weeks old. His parents patiently waited until this year to put him on an organized team and he is totally into it – everything he had dreamed.

He’s on a tee-ball team. Kids change positions every two innings and the side is out when they make three outs or everyone has had an opportunity to bat. I got to see two games – the munchkin’s team lost the first one and won the second.

Parents take turns bringing snacks, but instead of actually bringing food, most give each kid a dollar to spend at the snackbar.

My very favorite moment was after the game when one very excited 6yo began yelling, “It’s time for the barsnack! It’s time for the barsnack!” having no idea he had mixed up the word.

I also got to see the other munchkin play at her piano recital. The teacher has a great idea – the recital is actually held at a nursing home and residents are invited to attend. That gives the performers a bigger audience and joy to the residents.

Fun. Fun.


A friend passed away this weekend. A friend who had the gift of encouragement.

Merlin Dummer – Awana team member extraordinaire.

Sometimes you have friends and you don’t remember the moment or the place where you met them – but I clearly remember when and where I met Merlin and  Bev Dummer.

Back in 2001, I was headed to a Tennessee conference for the first time – going to an area where I knew no one.

That conference was in Knoxville, Tennessee and that’s where I met the Dummers. My plane home wasn’t leaving until Sunday afternoon, so I stayed over Saturday night and went to church with the ministry team members who were driving me to the airport. The Dummers (up from Alabama) did the same. So on Saturday during the conference, the next morning at breakfast and then as we attended a church very different from the ones we usually attended, we got to know each other.

I saw them again when I went down to Tennessee to present the new T&T program.

And again at Summit.

As T&T progressed, Merlin would call me. (He would always begin by saying, “Linda, this is Merlin Dummer” and that would make me smile because I would instantly recognize his voice and it wasn’t as if I had a plethora of friends named Merlin. He’d  ask me questions about the program and tell me how much he liked the books and tell me he was praying for me.

Saturn V moon rocket taken at the Space and Rocket Center the last time I was in Huntsville and Merlin and Bev drove us over the evening after the conference. I like this picture because the moon is in the background.

And then he told me he was working on doing something special for Ken and me – when we came down to the Huntsville conference. He asked that we drive down a day early – which we did. He and Bev took us out to breakfast at a “indigenous” Huntsville restaurant (anyone who knows me, knows I like indigenous restaurants) and introduced us to a a rocket scientist.

As in – real rocket scientist: Luther Powell, a man who literally helped engineer the first moon rocket.

“With the first T&T book about space, I thought you might like a tour through the U.S. Space and Rocket Center by someone who truly knows about space and rockets.” Merlin told us.

What a privilege that was!  Mr. Powell got us into the center on his pass and gave us a detailed, personalized tour of the center. I spent a lot of time in the gift shop getting books on space (to help with T&T) and Mr. Powell also took us over to the education center where we got even more literature. Later I wrote about him in KidsPrint.

Merlin continued to call or to occasionally stop by Headquarters (while visiting his son who lived nearby), always chatting about how much he appreciated what we were doing with T&T. And I continued to see Merlin and Bev at conferences (as I  made a habit of going to Tennessee/Alabama area). Always encouraging, he would stop by my workshop room and make sure I had everything I needed.

I admired and respected their passion for reaching kids for Christ and their enthusiasm and creativity in doing the job with joy and love. You knew they cared about the kids whether they were the well-behaved kids from good families or the squirrely kids with no home encouragement. They took their jobs as Awana leaders seriously.

The last time I went to a Huntsville conference was in 2009 – Arlene (from work) went with me. Of course, the Dummers were there. Arlene said she had never been to the Space Center, so that evening, a beautiful August evening, Merlin and Bev drove us over. The buildings were closed, but we wandered around the grounds, taking pictures of the rockets in the evening light as the sun set.

I saw Merlin one more time.

A couple months ago I heard Merlin had cancer. I’ve unfortunately learned enough about cancer in the last several years to know when to be concerned and to know when to be hopeful.

I was concerned.

I got the Dummer’s address and was thinking about what to write, when I received  a voicemail one morning – Merlin had called and wanted me to call him back.

I did. He didn’t actually say it was a “good-bye” call, but I knew that it was. I am so thankful for that 30 minutes or so we were able to say thanks to each other for friendship … and to be assured that we would see each other again in heaven.

This post is about my friendship with the Dummers, but I know I am just one of many.  I know countless people were recipients of Merlin’s encouragement. I know he will be missed by Bev,  his family, his church and the wide network of Awana missionaries and leaders who were influenced by his enthusiasm and willingness to serve.

As Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica: We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

So true.