Of chestnuts trees and farmhouses, not cabbages and kings

When I was a little girl I lived with my mother and father and three sisters in a big brick farmhouse in south central Pennsylvania. The house was made of brick and American chestnut, harvested from the great chestnut forests of the East Coast. In 1904, when the house was built, 1 in every 4 trees on the East Coast was chestnut. But later that same year, the chestnut blight was introduced and decimated the forests. By 1950, only a handful of chestnuts remained. 4 billion were wiped out by the blight.

susan book

All words about the American chestnut are now but an elegy for it. This once mighty tree, one of the grandest features of our sylva, has gone down like a slaughtered army before a foreign fungus disease, the Chestnut blight. In the youth of a man not yet old, native chestnut was still to be seen in glorious array, from the upper slopes of Mount Mitchell, the great forest below waving with creamy white Chestnut blossoms in the crowns of the ancient trees, so that it looked like a sea with white combers plowing across its surface. Gone forever is that day; gone is one of our most valuable timber trees, gone the beauty of its shade, the spectacle of its enormous trunks sometimes ten to twelve feet in diameter. And gone the harvest of the nuts that stuffed our Thanksgiving turkey or warmed our hearts and fingers at the vendor’s street corner.   Donald Culross Peattie, 1948


Today the house is for sale. I copied some pictures into this post so you can tour it with me. I interspersed the pictures with the story of the glorious American chestnut. As Susan Freinkel writes, “How astonishing to think that a ‘perfect tree’ could dominate so much of the continent, suffer utter collapse in the space of a human lifetime, and then slip from historical memory as if it had never existed.”

from the road

We had a wide front porch and swing that creaked.


Windows wrapped around low and broad, you could slide them open and see the rope pulleys on the inside. I straddled a window ledge and read books in the breeze.

front side porch

Or you could lay on the roof under the branches of the fir trees in our front yard. My sisters sunbathed on the roof. I poured trashcans full of water on unsuspecting guests walking to the front door. I was that kind of kid.


The attic had dormer windows, slanting ceilings and a cedar closet. My dad waged war against the sloppy habits of his daughters by taking off our bathroom doors if we did not clean our rooms. If we still didn’t clean, he would take our toilet seat.


In the basement was a root cellar with a giant wooden door that said 1904 in a brass plate. It was at least 5 inches thick and sealed a stone chamber that stayed cool all the time. I liked to pretend my sister was Fortunato and I was Montresor and we were going to the wine cellar to sample the Amontillado, a’la Edgar Allan Poe’s story.


Behind the house, there are storm cellar doors leading to the basement. We don’t have a basement or a storm doors. My boys love to imagine a tornado coming and having to hide in the cellar. When we visit Pennsylvania we always find a house with storm doors and take the dark stairs to the cellar. I tell them scary stories and ask them to find sticks to put through the handles to keep the doors from flying off when the wind surges. ;)


Our backyard had a springhouse, we called it the Pump House. On hot summer days, I read books on the cold floor. I can still feel that coolness as I type this post 30 years later.

If you drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, look for the old stacked rail fences made out of chestnut. They are slowly replaced by pressure treated fences, but many old fences still remain.

If you drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, look for the old stacked rail fences made out of chestnut. They are slowly replaced by pressure treated fence rails made of poplar, but many old fences still remain. (Note: I’m a fence nerd. I love to see the old fences made by the CCC when I go camping here in AZ. I love the evidence of people that came before me and how their way of doing things persists or fades as time passes. This is a major reason why very few people read my blog. I keep writing about fences. Or trees. Or blight.) Thank you for visiting me.

The yard was lined with evergreens. Our backyard touched the Butler’s backyard. Mr. Butler played the bagpipes. Sometimes you would find my stepdad sitting on stump out back smoking a pipe and calling “Play Scotland the Brave” to Mr. Butler when he started droning.

this novel features a character obsessed with restoring the American Chestnut and lots of great natural detail. On my to-read list.

When my family bought the farm house, everything was painted orange. The orange covered the pocket doors and window frames and molding. Our family peeled the paint from all the wood using heat guns to bubble up the paint and a paint scraper.

The-American-Chestnut-Tree picture

Chestnut made things. You could rock a baby in a chestnut cradle and bury a loved one in a chestnut coffin. You could wear leather gloves cured with the tannins from chestnut bark. You could eat chestnut bread and chestnut-stuffed wild turkey and bear fattened on the mast. You could fall asleep to a chestnut-log fire. You could roast wild, pure-strain American chestnuts on it. –T. Edward Nickens

To restore the wood to it’s true glory, my father took each door off the frame. He mounted them on sawhorses in the living room (where the grand piano is) and stripped the paint with smelly paint thinner. He scrubbed the ridges with chemical soaked rags before polishing them with a glossy varnish. He could tell you exactly how many doors and windows we had because he stripped and finished them all. It brings back memories to see his hard work 20 years later in these pictures.


my best friend for a few years

The orange paint bubbled up and you could peel off ribbons if you were savvy about how you directed the heat bubble, expanding it to walk up the wood and then follow with your scraper, peeling the orange paint like ribbons the width of the scraper. I spent hours doing this, likely my parents spent weeks.

living room 2

The chestnut tree was called the Redwood of the East. This is a map of the chestnut forest range on the East Coast in 1914. When settlers arrived in Pennsylvania they said the trees were so thick, a squirrel could walk to the Mississippi without putting it’s feet on the ground.


Fig. 1. Showing the Natural Range of the American Chestnut. The cross hatching shows in a general way the extent of territory covered by the chestnut bark disease in 1914. By 1950 the blight consumed the entire territory.

Our dining room had pocket doors made of five panel chestnut and a built in china closet in the corner. The pocket doors are recessed in the frame, but if you reach inside you can slide the doors out and close off the dining room from the living room.

china cabinet

When we go home to Pennsylvania in the summer we knock on the door and ask for a tour. I’ve taken Brady once and my husband once, but Max hasn’t been yet.

  Donald Culross Peattie writes beautifully about the natural world. If you like trees, add this book to your collection.

Donald Culross Peattie writes beautifully about the natural world. If you like trees, add this book to your collection.


Pennsylvania is the prettiest place in the world if you like the four seasons.

dolly and billy

Dolly Parton’s Uncle Billy has spent 25 years working with the American Chestnut Foundation. The chestnuts are very special to the people of Appalachia.

The leaves turn red, orange and gold in the fall. We have beautiful white winters. In spring, crocuses come up from the frosty ground, robins chirp and in a few weeks after that first crocus, the trees are covered in blossoms. In the summer we stay up late, catch fire flies and wade in creeks.

mighty giants

There are creeks and shade trees and ferns and mossy rocks in Pennsylvania. Forgive me for romanticizing it, but the ground is not soft here in the desert, the leaves on the trees are like slivers compared to the broad glossy leaves in Pennsylvania. I hope you enjoyed a little trip down memory lane with me and found some new books to read.

To follow the story of the American Chestnut, join the American Chestnut Foundation. Or buy my old house. I wish I could!


NoteWhich of these books am I reading first? Susan Freinkel’s. The chestnut is a tree of the rural poor-especially of Appalachians, whose history is oral and bound to disappear unless passed down or recorded. And this, the recording of the mountain people’s stories, is one of the things that Freinkel does best….She conveys the deep emotional loss and financial hardship suffered by those living in the hills and hollers of Appalachia due to the decimation of their beloved chestnuts…These people were bereft at the loss of their forests and mourned the passing of particular trees like the death of a family member. Said one, “Man, I had the awfulest feeling about that as a child to look back yonder and see those trees dying. I thought the whole world was going to die.” Freinkel found these people eager to talk, seemingly grateful that someone, after all these years, wanted to know how they felt about losing their chestnuts.

The 11 Best Pieces of Autism Parenting Advice

I googled for thousands of hours to uncover these gems, I hope they help you as much as they helped us! I wrote this article as a catchall to share with friends or friends of friends that are looking for our story of our success. I dare to call it success because at age 8, Brady is doing GREAT. He understands himself, he advocates for himself (sometimes), he is making friends and treating them like friends, instead of like interchangeable people that share a common interest. This is a very exciting year for us, because it is a validation of parenting off the map. There really isn’t a parenting map, but there is the illusion of the map. When Brady wasn’t keeping up with his peers, it was a scary time for us–and every horrible thing we read or heard sounded possible. It’s not scary anymore.

at the Phoenix Art Museum (free on Wednesdays)

at the Phoenix Art Museum (free on Wednesdays)

We began our autism journey when my son was a toddler and a teacher friend suggested he was autistic. I was distressed and in denial.  I was afraid of the word Autism and what it meant.


If you know one child with autism, you know one child with autism. Brady started talking at a normal age, he hit many of his developmental milestones.  He had an amazing memory. He had a large vocabulary. He loved ball drops, marble runs, rainbows, numbers, music, water and the phases of the moon. He had constant meltdowns, transition issues, sensory issues and was oblivious or overwhelmed by people. He did not play with other children and he used me as a buffer for almost every social experience.

I learned that there is more than one perspective. I chose to follow the perspective of autistic adults. They say “No about us, without us.”

Autism Awareness is a perspective aired by groups like Autism Speaks. These were the first voices I heard when I researched autism or sought services. They have a ton of information and material online, so this paper will focus on Autism Acceptance voices, wherein we have taken the most advice.

Autism Acceptance is the idea that Autism is a pervasive part of your person, it is the way you are wired. It can’t be turned off, medicated away and should not be regarded as an illness. You could say “different not less.”  Sometimes you might think “it is going away” or “s/he is growing out of it” this is not accurate. Autism is part of your identity.  Another word for this is Autism Positivity.

11 concepts Key Concepts for Parenting our child on the spectrum

Every child wants to feel Safe, Accepted and Competent. Bill Nason, Jennifer O’Toole of Asperkids and Mama Be Good are great blogs to help me keep that viewpoint at the forefront of my parenting.

  1. listening


2. Take advice from adults on the autism spectrum. Adults like Karla Fisher (Karla’s ASD page—invaluable, I follow her on Facebook), William Stillman (author of The Everything Asperger’s Book), John Elder Robison.

3. Read the  The Autism Discussion Page run by Bill Nason. He is compassionate and clear. I share his writing with my son’s teacher.

4. Learn the Token Management Theory. It is easier than it sounds. It does not require real tokens or charts. This helps us prevent meltdowns. This really should be number 1 as everything seemed to cascade from this.

from Karla's ASD page on Facebook...loads of great stuff in her albums. I save her images to my phone and Brady scrolls through them and reads her advice.

from Karla’s ASD page on Facebook…loads of great stuff in her albums. I save her images to my phone and Brady scrolls through them and reads her advice.

5. Introduce your child to Autistic Role Models. This was hard at first, we had to find people online or read children’s books. I told Brady he was autistic when he was 7 and in 2nd grade (this is when he asked about it). This is a good article about explaining autism to a child. “On Being a Hair Dryer Kid in a Toaster Brained World” by Mom Not Otherwise Specified.  We watched YouTube videos by Jacob Barnett (he’s a genius so we can’t totally relate but he’s charming and practices great self-acceptance, on autism he says “I just roll with it”)

6. We read stories about Joey Hudy and we practiced science experiments from Dr. Mad Science, a boy on the spectrum who loves science too. In 2nd Grade Brady led some science experiments in class acting like Dr. Brady and he decorated his bedroom to look like Jacob Barnett’s bedroom and wore a hoodie and a baseball cap backwards like Jacob for a while.

7. Remember that “All progress occurs through area of interest”. Brady had strong interests that I used to draw him out. This is also called “Affinity Theory” and Ron Suskind has an interesting book about how his son was able to make connection using his passion for Disney.

Life Animated by Ron Suskind

Life Animated by Ron Suskind

  1. Practice Bill Nason’s article “Stretching Comfort Zones” we have a long summer vacation on the East Coast staying at my mom’s house. I constantly challenge Brady’s comfort level. It helps that I’m a little disorganized and thus he’s never been able to count on me to be prompt and predictable the way he longs for me to be.  It also helps that Brady read the article and is on board with the plan. Now that he is older he reads things too.

rocks69980182_o9. Cognitive Therapy is recommended for kids on the spectrum. The kind we use is based on the work of Dr. Abraham A Low in his book, Mental Health Through Will Training.  These techniques are a foundation of our parenting both of our children. I added a list of “spots” to the end of this passage. You train yourself to recognize when you are losing your temper and practice a spot to get your temper under control. You can click on spots here too and cycle through them. Practicing self-leadership is our way of helping Brady become aware of his temper as a manageable symptom and his perspective as partial. This was key to helping him recognize the viewpoints of other people. Because Brady is skilled at practicing self-leadership he’s made great strides socially.

I will never forget the scary things people said to me about Aspergers when he was a toddler. The reality is much different. He's happy. He has friends. He loves school. Life is good. We worked hard to help him understand himself and others. I hope our journey helps you.

I will never forget the scary things people said to me about Aspergers when he was a toddler. The reality is much different. He’s happy. He has friends. He loves school. Life is good. We worked hard to help him understand himself and others. I hope our journey helps you.

10. Learn about how play develops; learn about instrument play v. relationship building play—I remember reading about his in a child development textbook. Learn about pragmatics and expressive language. If you understand the mechanics of play, social expression and these child development milestones that most kids acquire intuitively you will be able to articulate what you are trying to teach your child. If your child does not learn from watching other people (social blindness) then you have to find another way to make that connection. Brady had huge delays in these areas but I did not even know the words for it to understand why he could not do certain things. He had clear and beautiful speech, yet speech therapy is essential for him.

in the beginning, playdates were really hard, Impossible. So we just did other things. We spent lots of time at parks and museums. And you know, that was not a waste of time. It was just another way of hanging out with my little guys.

in the beginning, playdates were really hard, Impossible. So we just did other things. We spent lots of time at parks and museums. And you know, that was not a waste of time. It was just another way of hanging out with my little guys. Now we have lots of play dates, but it didn’t come easily until he was 7 or 8.

11. The idea of narrative psychology. Read: “This is Your Life And How We Tell it” We use this idea to build a positive story to help him grow confidence. This is not the same as a social story, it is a narrative. It helps me offset undermining remarks about autism. For example: ”Autistic Children don’t like PE.” No doubt this is true—but that attitude can turn the child off from activities altogether. An ongoing positive narrative within the home that supports the idea that he loves and excels at sports.  Sometimes I think of the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote about “the Man in the Arena” Autism has such a strong stigma about what you do/are/like/can be, that I need to fight that in the home. My son already is hampered by rigidity, anxiety, fear of novelty, transition and new people. Why add to it with dire predictions?

We played with lots of tracks, dominoes, ball drops and loved kinetic sculpture. He loved predictable, orderly toys and structured play. So that is where we started, with what he liked. And then we stretched and stretched. Now he likes so many things.

We played with lots of tracks, dominoes, ball drops. He loved kinetic sculpture. He loved predictable, orderly toys and structured play. So that is where we started, with what he liked. And then we stretched and stretched. Now he likes so many things.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. –Theodore Roosevelt (THE MAN IN THE ARENA Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910download PDF of complete speech )

What it was like for my in kindergartenby Brady K. My son wrote this post  with help when he was in 2nd grade. He attends a charter school and is mainstreamed. Today he has many friends and loves school.

my Listmania list of my favorite Autism Books (fiction/nonfiction/YA and adult).

best friends

best friends

Cognitive Therapy: The following is a list of Cognitive Therapy Prompts we use to manage fear and anger in our house—these are excerpted from Mental Health Through Will Training. We say this stuff like a broken record in our house, because nervous and angry temper ebbs and flows with the day. I realize it is a long and cumbersome list, but it was incredibly useful for us. I include this because many people I know asked me to forward the list when they hear me talking/explaining temper to my children. In a moment when he has temper or is worked up, these are pithy statements that I can use to move us passed an intractable moment. With practice it comes to the tip of the tongue and helps control temper. The easiest book to try the method out can be downloaded on your kindle for .99.


  • “I cannot” means “I care not”.
  • All I know is that I don’t know.
  • Angry temper is temper turned outward toward another.
  • Anticipation of an event is usually worse than the realization of that event.
  • Approval of others is a want, not a need.
  • Avoid self-importance. Others don’t sit around and think about what I did or said.
  • Be group minded.
  • Be self-led, not symptom-led.
  • Calm begets calm, temper begets temper.
  • Change your thoughts and impulses and your feeling and sensations will follow suit.
  • Choose peace over power. Don’t go for the “symbolic victory”! (See, I told you so.)
  • Choose to hope rather than “gloom, doom and despair.”
  • Comfort is a want, not a need.
  • Comparison temper is a form of fear temper. (comparing yourself to others)
  • Decide, plan and act.
  • Discomfort can be patiently borne, bravely faced and humbly tolerated. (we use this one all the time, “tolerate the discomfort”, we never say “it’s ok” we say “bear it”)
  • Don’t blame, complain or explain.
  • Don’t give outer expression to my inner environment when temper is involved.
  • Don’t let the trivialities of everyday life work me up.
  • Don’t take your own dear selves too seriously.
  • Drop the danger, diagnosing and judgment.
  • Drop the excessive need to control outer environment. (Outer environment is outside of us, inner environment is our feelings)
  • Drop the judgment on others and myself.
  • Drop the need to be exceptional.
  • Drop the use of temperamental lingo. (this means working yourself up and saying things like, I’m going to die, or it was the worst thing, etc.)
  • Drop the vanity of always knowing better and best.
  • ENDORSE for the effort, not the outcome.
  • Endorse like an ever flowing river…
  • Every measure of self-control brings a measure of self-respect.
  • Every day is full of frustration and disappointment. That’s average.
  • Everyone is entitled to their initial flare, (reaction).
  • Excuse yourself and others, don’t accuse.
  • Failure to practice spotting is Sabotage and so is failure to practice muscle control.
  • Fear is a belief and beliefs can be changed.
  • Fearful temper is temper turned inward, toward ourselves: self-disgust, embarrassment…
  • Feelings are NOT facts.
  • Feelings call for expression, temper for suppression.
  • Feelings rise and feelings fall.
  • Feelings should be expressed and temper suppressed.
  • Focus on what you Can do, Do have and Do know, not the opposite.
  • Get out of duality. A firm decision will steady you.
  • Go about my mental health with a strong aim, not a lose wish.
  • Have I endorsed today?
  • Have the courage to be wrong in the trivialities of everyday life.
  • Have the courage to make a mistake.
  • Have the will to “humility”.
  • Helplessness is not hopelessness. There is no hopeless case.
  • Humor is our best friend, temper our worst enemy.
  • I can act my way into right thinking. (Action produces motivation.)
  • I can always share my feelings with an understanding party, without using “temperamental lingo”.
  • I can bear discomfort and do hard things.
  • I can command my muscles to move.
  • I can control my speech muscles.
  • I can do the things I fear and hate to do.
  • I can do things in part acts, (baby steps) and then endorse for each act.
  • I can feel guilty without being guilty.
  • I can move my muscles as needed. Then endorse.
  • I cannot control outer environment, only my inner environment.
  • I don’t need to be a saint, hero or angel.
  • I have choices. (agency)
  • If you can’t change an event, change your attitude towards it.
  • Interpret securely, don’t exaggerate insecurely.
  • It’s okay to be average.
  • Lower your expectations and your performance will rise.
  • Mistakes are a healthy and valuable part of life.
  • Most symptoms are NOT dangerous, only distressing.
  • Nervous people have a passion for self-distrust.
  • Objectivity terminates panic.
  • Our feelings and thoughts can lie to us.
  • Our self-worth does not depend on our performance.
  • Outer environment can be rude, crude and indifferent.
  • Peace from outer environment is temporary and isn’t really peace.
  • People do things that annoy us, not to annoy us.
  • Refuse to sacrifice inner peace for trivialities.
  • Reject bad thoughts!
  • Remember, peace over power.
  • Remove the danger from a situation.
  • Replace an insecure thought with a secure thought.
  • Resist impulses that are not good for your mental health.
  • Secure your racing thoughts.
  • Some things happen by chance and not by choice.
  • Spot and see if your “imagination is on fire.”
  • Stop, Drop (the danger) and Spot
  • Take a “ho-hum” attitude toward a distressing task or symptoms.
  • Take the total view of a situation, not just the partial view.
  • Temper blocks logic.
  • Temper is a luxury I can’t afford.
  • Temper is the intellectual blindness to the other side of the story.
  • There is no right or wrong in trivial matters.
  • Thoughts produce symptoms & thoughts let them go.
  • To be simple is to be great.
  • Treat your mental health like a business, not a game.
  • Trust in your own validity.
  • Unrealistic expectations bring disappointment.
  • We feel better in proportion to the amount of discomfort we are willing to bear.
  • We want to be exceptional, but fear we aren’t even average.
  • Wear the mask. (behave in a socially agreeable way)
  • When we express ourselves in temper we end up with self-disgust.

If you like to read or follow blogs, this is a list of Autism Positivity blogs representing many different voices (click CTRL+Click to follow the link or move your mouse over the link to see the URL in a tooltip). I copied and pasted the blogroll from this page, Life his Way):

  1. An interview with Karla, Dr. Arnold and me
  2. Our “less is more” IEP story
  3. It’s Not Hate: on advocacy
  4. Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism
  5. ThAutcast
  6. An autistified habitat!
  7. A hair-dryer kid in a toaster-brained world
  8. Mama Be Good
  9. Autism and Empathy
  10. The Third Glance: A peek into my (Autistic) mind
  11. Just Stimming…
  12. Tiny Grace Notes (AKA Ask an Autistic)
  13. Emma’s Hope Book
  14. Autistic Hoya
  15. Why “autistic person” and not “person with autism”?
  16. Another post on person-first vs. disability-first
  17. Wrong Planet
  18. On writing about autism science
  19. New Leaves Clinic: neurodiversity support in Beaverton, OR


Connecting with a Magical Author through song

My students love Shel Silverstein–they love his poetry and his music.

I have 4 copies of The Giving Tree, and the groups of friends will check out all four books together and read them together.


One of my students learned to read with The Giving Tree.


Some kids are Green Eggs and Ham Kids but she was a Shel Silverstein girl.

I like knowing that about someone.

Some kids found about about him through the Wimpy Kid books.

shel_wimpy kidig

My husband is from a Shel Silverstein loving family.

When we combined libraries, his books were college textbooks, sci-fi fantasy and autographed from family member Shel Silverstein.

we lost

This post is dedicated to Aunt Dianne, who we lost this year. She had great humor and loved children. 

I can’t dream up a better book to start a new library. Do you have a favorite Shel Silverstein memory?


Could you make new tunes or pictures to go with these poems? Try it and see!


Steve Spangler Science: Static Flyer

My husband visits Brady’s classroom periodically to lead science projects.

Last week it was Electromagnetism.

hard to tell, but look above the balloon for the floating disc...that's the science!

hard to see in this light, but look above the balloon for the floating disc…that’s the science!

If you want to try what he did at home, or in a classroom, it worked for us!


The kids also built electromagnets as teams. He brought in four kits, one for each table.

This is the experiment he used. He spent evenings testing it beforehand and I recommend you do the same.

brady and a 55_o

The magnets were hot! be careful!

Super fun day!

Visiting San Xavier del Bac on a winter’s day

9 miles outside of Tucson is the prettiest Spanish colonial mission of them all.

I took this poorly framed picture with my cell phone. Beautiful.

I took this poorly framed picture with my cell phone. Beautiful.

My mother visits us in January to see the boys, enjoy a little late Christmas celebration and the good weather.

the inside of the church is ornate. I especially love the block painting on the walls.

the inside of the church is ornate. I especially love the block painting on the walls.

Here is a close up

mission blocks_o

tiny craftsmanship details abound. This is a wonderful place to go with children who like to build or design.

this is what Max liked best

this is what Max liked best

Ask them what they like best.

Have you ever had fry bread? Buy some here. It's delicious!

Have you ever had fry bread? Buy some here. It’s delicious!

The mission is free to visit. Click the visitor links to check days and times. It is also an active Catholic parish. You can also attend Mass here.


The Wak Pow Wow is held annually at the Mission. Mark your calendar for 2015 Pow Wow.


So you want to visit the Gettysburg Battlefield? A local perspective

I grew up in Harrisburg, PA.  I love visiting the battlefield.

visitor center808_n


I take my boys to Gettysburg every summer for multiple visits.

Looking at Little Round Top from Devil's Den

Looking at Little Round Top from Devil’s Den

Our visits are built around the energy level and attention level of our kids.  This post is written for a busy family that may not know very much about the Civil War.

Climbing Devil's Den

Climbing Devil’s Den

Come on boys! Let’s give ‘em the cold steel! General Armistead –Pickett’s Charge

The fastest place to get your little ones to like the battlefield is at Devil's Den. At first, this was the only place I went. Then I just drove around when they were tired and satisfied my own agenda.

The fastest place to get your little ones to like the battlefield is at Devil’s Den. The rocks are AWESOME. This never gets old. We play here for hours and then squeeze in a little on the side gradually covering the battlefield. But this is the reason they cheer when I say we are going to Gettysburg.

Before you go, buy this auto tour CD. It can stand alone, listen to it even if you are not at Gettysburg. Wayne Motts makes the battle come alive, he’s amazing. This title is not in print anymore, but you can find it used if you look for around 15.00 or less.

Gettysburg Field Guide by Wayne Motts

Gettysburg Field Guide by Wayne Motts

We go to the visitor’s center, parking is free. We skip the museum and interactive exhibits. It’s too tempting to head to the battlefield. We drive using the map the guides marked for us. I also have a copy of  Colonel Jacob Melchoir Sheads’ guidebook.


I’d rather invest that time at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg. Call and ask about their community free days. ((866) 258-4729).

If you go in the summer the hills are covered with honeysuckle. This is Brady sipping the nectar. A happy summer memory for me!

If you go in the summer the hills are covered with honeysuckle. This is Brady sipping the nectar. A happy summer memory for me!

Ask a park employee to mark a map. These are my favorite destinations for a quick visit that does not overwhelm. It is so easy to get overwhelmed at Gettysburg!

we buy foam swords and squire guns at a drugstore. in the spring/summer they are stocked in this sort of thing. if you visit in winter you might have to order online.

We buy foam swords and squirt guns at a drugstore. in the spring/summer they are stocked in this sort of thing. if you visit in winter you might have to order online. We like popguns too.  

A couple of great DVDs to add to your Gettysburg experience are:

This is on my wish list, it's expensive. I hope it's worth the price.

This is on my wish list, it’s expensive. I hope it’s worth the price. Have you seen it?

of course the Ken Burns documentary about the Civil War (links to IMDB review).


and the movie Gettysburg (links to review by Roger Ebert)


There are thousands of books about Gettysburg, if I had to choose a few to read before you came, it would be The Killer Angels or Hallowed Ground, a Walk at Gettysburg (short!) or for the kids I survived the Battle of Gettysburg.

After a busy day on the battlefield, we always go to Friendly’s. It is a three minute drive from Devil’s Den. On certain days, kids eat free. Another place to call ahead about.

look up the ghost stories online to give yourself a chill

look up the ghost stories online to give yourself a chill

of if a crowded kid restaurant is not to your liking, picnic at the Sach’s Covered Bridge. It was built in 1852, it’s haunted and very pretty. Directions to the bridge link here. Trip Advisor comments here.

I hope you love visiting Gettysburg as much as we do.