Wednesday, September 22, 2021


Of all the places you could plop yourself to be totally immersed in the history, ambiance, and yes, romance of Scotland, you could do no better than Kenmore. Located 80 miles north of Edinburgh in the Scottish highlands, it’s neatly tucked in between misty mountains on one side and Loch (or lake) Tay on the other.

With Tom driving on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car, shifting with the wrong hand and Kay yelling, “Shift! Shift!” at every roundabout, we managed to safely leave Edinburgh and make our way to Kenmore. Kay had arranged for us to stay in a timeshare there, but none of us were prepared for how lovely it was. The white washed cottages surrounded by ancient looking stone walls covered in the red leaves of autumn was a photographers dream.

The walls of our timeshare in Kenmore.

With Loch Tay in the foreground, our timeshare is shown in its lovely setting.

This is the view of the courtyard from our balcony. On our first evening there, a lone bagpiper stood in the middle of it and played for us. It made the whole trip!

The ducks came every morning to be fed. We were more than happy to oblige.

Across the road from us is the town center of Kenmore, which has the boosting rights of having the oldest working inn in Scotland. 

Kenmore is also the gateway to Taymouth Castle, classically Scottish in all its entire brooding, fortified looking exterior. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me. When we saw it, it was fenced off, dark and rather gloomy. In the process of being renovated then it is now restored to the opulent dwelling it once was. One of the most famous castles in all of Great Britain, it was where Queen Victoria spent her honeymoon. It stands on the site of the much older Bullock Castle, which was built in 1552 as the seat of the Campbell Clan. Demolished in the 19th century by the Campbells, a much larger neo-Gothic castle was built in a rather imposing blue-grey stone. The exterior is lightened by soaring stain glass windows and the interiors are now bright and welcoming.  Lavishly decorated it is once again a resort fit for royalty.

Taymouth Castle then, fenced off, run down and rather spooky. With darkened windows and weeds as high as a man's thigh, chain-link fencing all around, it is too easy to imagine the ghostly vapor of headless Highlanders roaming the halls at night.

Taymouth Castle now, elegantly restored.
For more information: Taymouth Castle

The Taymouth Castle estate includes a championship golf course, formal gardens, and miles of walking trails. We frequently used this road on the property instead of the main one because the lush scenery was so breathtaking.

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Saturday, August 28, 2021



A few years back, my close friends, Kay and Tom Law, and I toured Scotland on our own. It was my first trip to the UK and it ignited a passion for this historic island that only grows with time. The following is the tale of our romp through the heathered highlands, visiting the haunts of Robert the Bruce, MacBeth, Robbie Burns, and eating our fill of steak and ale pie!

First stop, Edinburgh

Kay, Tom and I boarded our Continental flight in San Francisco with ear to ear grins. We were so high with anticipation that it didn’t daunt us in the least to know that between the time change and our stopover in Newark, NJ our flight to London would take 24 grueling hours. The only worrisome thing was the weather. It was late in August and Hurricane Bill had come up the Eastern coast of the US and then hung a right headed straight toward Scotland. We’d packed for nonstop rain just in case, but hoped for the best.

This was the Law’s third trip to Scotland (my first) and they had invited me to join them in exploring new places and places that merited visiting again. I was more than happy to let Kay be our tour guide and Tom our driver through this land of our ancestors, the Stewarts, Sutherlands, and McClarens. We planned to spend three days in Edinburgh to see the sights, but the main event was to attend the Military Tattoo, an annual extravaganza that culminates a month of citywide festivities. Afterwards, we would rent a car and drive to the timeshare they had booked for us in Kenmore on Loch Tay, 80 miles NW of Edinburgh. Kenmore would be our base camp while we toured the surrounding countryside. 

We arrived 24 hours later and sure enough, it was pouring rain! After checking into our hotel, we kitted out in our raincoats and umbrellas and headed off with a vengeance to explore the city. Walking up Princes Street and King Stables Road, we stopped at St Cuthbert Church and graveyard, the oldest church site in the city. Majestic Edinburgh Castle towers over the site and seems to stand guard over the ancient graves. Over the next few days, we saw many of the romantic sites so iconic to Edinburgh—Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse Palace where Queen Elizabeth II stays when she’s in town, and Grassmarket just to list a few. (For a more in depth tour of Edinburgh, read my blogs, Edinburgh, published on March 10, 2013 and Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse Palace and Haggis, published on March 17, 2013.)

St. Cuthbert Church and graveyard with Edinburgh Castle in the background.

Tom admiring the city from Edinburgh Castle.
 Good thing this giant cannon isn't loaded!

Gotta love a man in a kilt with a bagpipe!

Kay and I before touring Edinburgh Castle. 

Statues of King Robert the Bruce and William Wallace (Brave Heart) are proudly ensconced at the entrance. Both national heroes to the Scottish people.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

What in the world is a “tattoo” you may well ask. Well, officially it is: "The term "tattoo" derives from a 17th-century Dutch phrase doe den tap toe ("turn off the tap") a signal to tavern owners each night, played by a regiment's Corps of Drums, to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would retire to their billeted lodgings at a reasonable hour. With the establishment of modern barracks and full military bands later in the 18th century, the term "tattoo" was used to describe the last duty call of the day, as well as a ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed by military musicians.” In modern terms, it has become an international extravaganza and the most exciting thing I have ever seen! Hundreds of plaid skirted men drumming in sync with the majestic torch lit Edinburgh Castle making a dramatic backdrop for the thrilling beat of the drums. People come from all over the world to see bands and performers from all the UK Commonwealth and the place was packed. 

Tom, Kay and I made our way to Edinburgh Castle for the Tattoo along The Royal Mile (Edinburgh's main street), which was packed with thousands of international visitors attending the annual festival and Military Tattoo. It felt like we had gone back 300 years and were attending a medieval fair. The street was lined with renaissance style tents stocked with wares and street performers drawing festive crowds.

Once inside the performance area of the Castle, we hunkered together to enjoy the show under blankets to try to keep the cold wind out, but there was no rain during the performance, thank heavens!

Click on the link to see a short clip of one of the Tattoo performances: 

Unfortunately these pictures can't come close to capturing the magic and majesty of the Tattoo, however they do show how effectively the Castle is used as a giant screen for the background scenes. It was an incredible sensory experience that I hope someday you will be able to experience yourself!!

Next time: Kenmore and Lock Tay

Wednesday, June 2, 2021



Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd on their wedding day, 1839

If I could recommend a place to visit anywhere in the United States, it would be Springfield, Illinois. If you are a huge fan of Abraham Lincoln (like I am!) then this is a must see. His home, his neighborhood, his old law office and the Capitol building—it’s all there as if he just left it! I almost expected to see him walking down the street at any moment, tipping his gigantic stovepipe hat to the long skirted ladies as he passed.

Abe Lincoln moved to Springfield in 1837 after six formative years spent in New Salem just a few miles upriver from Springfield. (See previous blog) It was the year it became the state capital and this young, self-taught lawyer rode into town to establish himself in the bustling heart of Illinois politics. He joined John Todd Stuart’s law office as a junior partner, eventually starting his own law practice with William Herndon. Two years later, he married Mary Todd, who was as politically astute and ambitious as he was. Together they started a family of four boys, only one tragically surviving to adulthood.


(Picture from the Lincoln Library) 
Lincoln often cared for his boys and let them play while he worked in his law office. His partner, William Herndon said that Lincoln "worshiped his children and he loved what they loved and hated what they hated."

Abe Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln's family home in Springfield. A portion of the neighborhood has been wonderfully preserved to capture the atmosphere of their time there. It is located just a few short blocks from his law office, the court house, the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Museum and Library.

The Lincoln's bought a modest cottage in a thriving neighborhood close to his law offices in 1844. Their neighbors were a lively mix of tradesmen and professionals. And if you can imagine it, farm animals were allowed to roam around as they pleased! (Can't you just see them dodging the chickens and pigs on their way to town?) They soon added a second story for their growing family and for the next 17 years, it must have been a wonderful place for his boys, Robert, William and Tad to play. The marriage, however, according to historians, was not a particularly happy one. During this time, they tragically lost their 3 year old son, Eddie, and Lincoln would leave home for sometimes months at a time, serving the outlying areas of the new state with his law practice, which didn't help matters. However, these years away proved politically beneficial, making him a popular and influential figure statewide.

When Mr. Lincoln was elected President, he and Mary rented out their home, selling most of the furnishings and storing the rest. Most of the furnishings in the home has been donated and are true to the period of the house. Robert, his only surviving son donated the home to the people of Illinois in 1887.


The Old Capital building is beautifully preserved as well, a moving memorial to the years of Lincoln. This is where he gave his “House Divided” speech in 1858, and candidate Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the Presidency on the Capitol steps in 2007. Abe’s spirit is everywhere along these halls, having spent eight years in the Illinois House of Representatives before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846. He was also laid in state here for two days in 1865


I have seen two other Presidential Museums (George Washington and Ronald Reagan) and each have been fantastic—so worth seeing. But, this one has the added glamour of the original stage sets from a movie!  

Steven Spielberg and his DreamWorks Studio loaned the museum many of the sets and props used for his 2012 movie, “Lincoln”, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Dramatically staged within the museum, the story of Abe Lincoln is unfolded as we go from room to room. His personal belongings and those of his family is a poignant reminder of the man whose journey began in a one room log cabin in Kentucky to the highest office in our country.

During the Lincoln's years in the White House, their  adored son, Willie, died. He was only 11 years old. Mary Lincoln suffered acutely as this vignette depicts. She is shown sitting in front of a window as the rain, like tears, slowly drips down the panes of glass.

Of course, most moving are the depictions of his death at the hands of John Wilkes Booth, the long train ride from Washington DC carrying his casket, and his lying in state in the Hall of Representatives in the Old Capitol building. Draped completely in black, the Hall was opened to the grieving public on May 3 and 4, 1865. The Hall, which is so realistically recreated in the museum, is especially moving. I remember being by myself in that dimly lit and somber room for several minutes, feeling a shared grief for this great man. 



Bronze head of Lincoln is a recasting of sculptor John Gutzon Borglum's head in the US Capitol. He is the same sculptor of the Mt. Rushmore Monument. The seated figure of Mr. Lincoln is like the one in his memorial in Washington DC. It has him sitting on the American Flag.

The final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States is in Oak Ridge Cemetery outside of Springfield, Illinois. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln as well as three of their four sons is also buried here in this beautiful memorial to his life and contributions to his country. Constructed of granite, it is as grand as the esteem in which we hold him.


This trip has been quite an emotional ride and I feel that I know Abraham Lincoln better now, as a man and not as an icon of history. There is a saying, "To whom much is given, much is required" and in regards to Lincoln, it is so tragically true. In addition to his profound intellect, he was also extremely sensitive and empathetic. From the death of his first love, Ann Rutledge, to the loss of two of his four sons, to the slaughter of the countless lives lost in the Civil War, each etched a deeper crevice in his face. In addition, he suffered from debilitating depression all of his life, which he managed to rise above to function brilliantly in spite of it. This is a road trip you will never forget.

(*A new book released in June, 2021 entitled, An American Marriage: The Untold Story of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd by Michael Burlingame. It is a comprehensive look at the Lincoln's complicated marriage. I just received my copy!)

Michael Burlingame is a Lincoln historian and currently teaches at the University of Illinois.

His books include: Abraham Lincoln: A Life, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln and the Civil War, An American Marriage: the Untold Story of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd

Monday, December 14, 2020


New Salem, the town that changed Abraham Lincoln's life...

As Timothy, Thomas and I cross the 200 plus miles from the Lincoln’s farm in Indiana to Springfield, Illinois, I wonder how Abe Lincoln managed to settle in an area so far from home. A bit of investigation gave me the answer: it was chance. Pure chance. For 14 years Abe worked side by side with his father, Thomas, on their farm in Indiana until one day they received a letter. A relative had settled in Illinois and described the vast prairie lands as if they were another Garden of Eden and encouraged the Lincolns to move. And just like that, Thomas loaded his family and belongings into an ox cart and left the rich forested land of Indiana for the prairies of Illinois. It would be a move that would change the fate of Abe Lincoln and the nation forever.

Abe would soon turn 21 and could have struck out on his own long before this as most men did; however he chose to help his family make the arduous 225 mile trek over the rutted and sometimes nonexistent trails. They settled near the town of Decatur on the north bank of the Sangamon River, a river that would play a major role in Lincoln’s destiny. After helping his father build a cabin and with the family settled, he went back to piloting flat boats this time on the Sangamon, Illinois and Mississippi rivers, making more money than he’d ever seen. And, on one fateful day on the Sangamon River, his life would be forever changed. (The Conestoga wagon transported thousands of settlers across the western lands.)

A new town and new opportunities

This map shows how the Sangamon River connects the Lincoln's farm (lower red circle) to New Salem (upper red circle) and the Illinois River and beyond. Springfield, the capitol, is a short distance away.

In 1831, as he and his companions piloted his flatboat down the Sangamon River with a load bound for New Orleans, their flatboat got stuck on a mill dam next to the newly settled town of New Salem. He drew a crowd as he skillfully maneuvered his boat over the dam. Impressed by his ingenuity and competence in getting his boat unstuck, the town invited him back with an offer of a job.

(Reproduction of the gristmill.)

Something very profound happened that day. Was it just the welcoming spirit of the town that encouraged him to settle there or did he just happen to catch the admiration in a pretty young lady’s eye as well? A promise of what may be...Whatever it was, Lincoln would make the long trek back from New Orleans, 180 miles of it on foot, to make New Salem his new home. Perhaps he saw that here he could start a new life as a man standing on his own two feet.

The town of New Salem has been carefully reconstructed and is now a heritage site.

Over the next 6 years living in New Salem, he grew confident in his abilities. He bought an interest in a general store, but instead of sufficiently attending to it, he preferred to socialize with his customers and keep them in stitches with his funny stories. He had partnered with a man by the name of William Berry whose poor management coupled with Lincoln's inexperience eventually forced its closure.

However, the failure of the store cemented his aspiration for a career in politics. He read constantly to improve himself. He learned the proper use of grammar and read and memorized every law book he could get his hands on, all while working a variety of jobs. He became the Postmaster, and worked as a surveyor, finally winning election to serve in the Illinois legislature. His hard work paid off and after six life changing years in New Salem, he moved to the Capitol of Illinois in Springfield to begin serving his first real term in office.

This is how Abe Lincoln's store may have looked like. We can imagine Abe doing
more chatting than selling!

Abe's partner in the store, William Berry, obtained a liquor license by forging Lincoln's name.(Abe didn't drink.) The cost of the whiskey and poor management made the whole investment "wink out" according to Lincoln. 

Lincoln in love?

There are many reasons why New Salem was remembered so fondly by Abraham Lincoln. One reason, I believe, is that he fell deeply in love for the first time--with Ann Rutledge. Historians argue to this day whether Abe had a relationship with her or not. Past biographers interviewing some in Ann's family quoted them as saying, “Yes, they were a couple.” and others said they saw no evidence of it. So what is the truth?

Let’s start with the facts: When Abe met Ann, she was engaged to a wealthy New Salem merchant, John McNamar. McNamar left town to attend to business somewhere in the East and as time went on, it became apparent he may never return. He had even stopped writing to Ann. Ann did not want to break off her engagement until she could confront McNamar in person. Abe, as a boarder at the Rutledge home, was also a close family friend. It was during this time I believe he fell desperately in love with Ann and would have married her, but was restrained from overtly courting her because of Ann's continued commitment to the engagement. The most telling observation came from one of Ann's aunts, Mrs. Wm. Rutledge. She thought that Ann’s heart really belonged to McNamar and would have married him if he ever came back. She never had that chance. She died at the age of 22 from typhoid, and Abraham Lincoln spiraled down into a suicidal depression for months.

They may not have had a mutual love relationship, however I think she liked the tall, gangly young man and appreciated his attentions. As for Lincoln's feelings? They are best expressed by the answer he gave to his good friend, Isaac Cogdal, when he asked whether it was true that Lincoln had fallen in love with Ann. Lincoln replied: "It is true--true indeed I did. I loved the woman dearly and soundly. She was a handsome girl--would have made a good, loving wife...I did honestly and truly love the girl and think often, often of her now."

To have lost someone we love is heartbreaking, but to never have had that love returned is devastating. Abe, like so many of us, was a victim of unrequited love.

New Salem Recreated

Like Brigadoon rising out of the mist, New Salem only existed as long as Lincoln lived there. It’s as if once it served its purpose of shaping a young man into a great statesman, it disappeared. The hoped for use of the Sangamon River as a major river passage to the Mississippi didn’t pan out and the town was virtually abandoned by 1840. By that time, Lincoln had relocated to Springfield to become a lawyer and a rising star in politics.

The town has been painstakingly recreated and during the summer months is alive with docents clad in period clothing and fun activities. We arrived in New Salem on a snowy November day, so we had the town all to ourselves. The docents had gone home for the winter and a spare 2 or 3 people manned the visitor’s center. One of which was the curator who was more than happy to answer all our questions.

We have William Randolph Hearst to thank for purchasing the land and then conveying it in trust to the Old Salem Chautauqua Association who oversaw the rebuilding and preserving of the town.

In 1931, 12 log buildings were reconstructed forming the heart of New Salem. Originally there were around 24 buildings including a tavern, general store, gristmill, doctor’s office and various residences.

For more information on Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site:

To see while in the area:


In Illinois, just east of St. Louis, Missouri are remnants of a sophisticated Indian culture. The structures are huge spanning several acres of land. The main mound rises several stories. (See the tiny white car on the left?) When we were there, the day was very cold and rainy and the wind strong and icy, so Thomas and I stayed inside the visitor's center while Timothy braved the weather and climbed to the top. (If you look carefully, you can see the steps leading to the top.) He said the view made it all worth it. It really is worth seeing. I only wish it had been a better day!

The largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico, the original mounds covered about 4,000 acres and included at least 120 mounds. It is now a U.S. National Historic Landmark and is worth the visit!

For more information:


Monday, November 16, 2020


 Oh, Starbucks where art thou?!

We began our third day of following in Abe Lincoln’s footsteps with a desperate search for a decent cup of coffee. No offence to our friends in Kentucky and Indiana, but your coffee is to our Western tastes utterly awful! At first I thought it was the motel coffee that was to blame. Percolated sawdust could be excused as a cost saving measure, but as we found out, everywhere we stopped the coffee had the same horrible taste. We were reduced to eating chocolate covered coffee beans in desperation!

Now, we come from a land where there’s a Starbuck’s on every corner so we are used to the luxury of a $5 brew of gourmet coffee beans picked at the peak of perfection and then caressed into heavenly sensations upon the tongue. So we were completely baffled as to why whole states seem to prefer this ghastly taste! We stopped at every likely cafĂ© along the way, hoping against hope for something at least resembling the aromatic caffeinated pleasure we are accustomed to, but nooooo. It was in Illinois that our frantic search was finally rewarded with steaming cups of Seattle’s Best, which we sipped with heightened appreciation of life’s little pleasures.

Map of our journey on Day 2

Before driving to the Lincoln Boyhood Memorial, we planned to see as many of the other interesting sites as we could along the way. After a quick hop across the border into Indiana from Kentucky, we stopped in New Albany and marveled at a fabulous street of meticulously restored Victorian homes, then on to an eye-popping resort out in the middle of nowhere called The French Lick Resort, built to take advantage of natural hot springs. We then headed south, stopping in Ferdinand and toured a lovely Monastery. Being the only visitors, it was nice to just wander around and have it all to ourselves.  Finally, our last stop of the day was the Lincoln Boyhood Memorial Park. (More on these sites plus links at the end of the blog!)


 “My childhood-home I see again,

And gladden with the view:

And still as mem’ries crowd

   My brain,

There’s sadness in it too.”

Abraham Lincoln, 1845

After losing his court battles to save his Kentucky farm, Thomas Lincoln, his wife Nancy and children, Sarah and Abe, packed up their belongings and headed to Indiana to a 160 acre claim near Little Pigeon Creek. Here in Indiana, he would have clear title to his land and the slavery he abhorred was prohibited. Abe was 7 years old and would spend the next 12 years helping his father turn that acreage into a productive farm. The first two years went smoothly until his mother Nancy contracted milk sickness while helping a neighbor with the disease and died on October 5, 1818. It took physicians years to understand this deadly disease that took so many lives. They discovered that cows eating a plant called “white snakeroot”, which contained a deadly toxin, passed it on in their milk. It somehow didn’t hurt the cow, but was fatal to those who drank their milk. Abe was only 9 when he had to help bury his mom. It was a huge loss to the little boy who was as sensitive as he was intelligent. “All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. God bless her.”

Thomas married again a few months later to Sarah Johnston, a widow with three children he had known in Kentucky. That may sound a bit fast by our standards, but without a helpmate, life would have been impossible in that sparsely populated and raw land. Thankfully, she was a kind and loving mother to Abe and encouraged his love of reading. He read constantly from the crate of books she brought with her. It proved to be an education in itself since he only had one year of formal schooling during the 14 years he spent in Indiana.

In 1828, when he was 19, his beloved sister, Sarah, died, inflicting more scars on his heart. It was time for him to strike out on his own and that same year got a job piloting a flat boat down the Ohio River to New Orleans. Seeing a slave auction for the first time, it was something that greatly disturbed him and he never forgot the sight. However, his piloting experience would lead to a huge turning point in his life just a few years later when the family pulled up stakes and moved to Decatur, Illinois.  (Next blog!)

Abraham Lincoln's Boyhood Home and Memorial, Lincoln City, Indiana


Founded in 1813, New Albany’s wealth built quickly in this beautiful setting along the Ohio River, starting with ship building and furniture making to producing power. William Culbertson became the wealthiest man in Indiana with his utility company. His mansion, which is beautifully preserved, is the crowning jewel on a long street of Victorian jewels. (Culbertson mansion upper left)


This place will knock your socks off! It is something so unexpected and opulent. Besides golf and mineral spa, there are acres of scenic beauty to wander in and enjoy. I don’t know anyone who has ever heard of it, and yet here it is, in the middle of nowhere, serenely tucked into the trees like a surprise gift under the Christmas tree!  For a relaxing get-a-way, this would be top on my list!

Video of Lobby. You have to see this!

Tim and I in their vast lobby. They were just setting up for Christmas.


Founded in 1867, the Sisters are one of the largest communities of Benedictine sisters in the US. Dubbed “The Castle on the Hill”, the monastery grounds cover 190 acres of peaceful Indiana landscape. We were invited to wander around and marvel at the beauty and peace.