Unexpected Delights--Giant City State Park

Posted by Sue Swinger-Ellbogen on February 23, 2015 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Giant City State Park located in Southern Illinois near Carbondale.

The road twists and turns with increasing woodlots turning into forests of towering trees with underbrush and fallen limbs and branches covered by snow. The winding road has a beauty that is stark and forlorn with a solitary wild turkey attempting to peck through the deep snow for food. Iccles hanging from the snow-packed roofs, trees coated with sparkling ice, grass covered with shards, bushes bent with hoarfrost, mounds of snow on sides of the road along the massive bluffs that hold evidence of human habitation from 10,000 years ago presents a lonely path through the Giant City State Park on the way to the Park Lodge for their famous Sunday fried chicken dinner.

My daughter and son-in-law always find interesting places to take me when I visit. Usually a remote park where we can hike and spot wildlife but when the temperatures are brutally cold like this month it is difficult to find the ideal hiking spot. I thought the drive would be the most interesting and picturesque part of our trip but not so. The rustic lodge at the center of the park is beautiful with original sandstone and white oak timbers being intact after various remodels since 1927. The lodge is big and airy with wildlife tastefully preserved and hanging from the timbered walls. A life-size mounted buffalo stands in the lobby of the lodge offering an exciting experience for children of all ages. Numerous tall windows on the main floor and on the mezzanine level provide light and shadows on the rough-hewn wood floors and stairs that cast the old lodge as the perfect spot for a mystery novel. The sandstone blocks, arched doorways and behemoth beams provide a medieval feeling that is appropriate given the history of the park and the lodge. How does ‘Mystery in the Old Lodge’ sound?

February 22 will always be a date that our family will remember in sadness but adventures like this one help to remind us that life is for living and exploring and discovering unexpected delights. I can’t wait to go back in the springtime. 

Announcement: Hodges Cousins Reunion

Posted by Sue Swinger-Ellbogen on August 3, 2013 at 9:45 AM Comments comments (0)



Hosted by: Sue Mays Swinger-Ellbogen

[email protected]

Home of Heidi Duckworth

125 Tumbleweed Pass

Jackson, MO 63755

RSVP: [email protected]

Please join me in recreating happy memories of chasing fireflies, eating homemade ice cream, and cousins playing together from years past. This is not limited to cousins, please feel free to invite anyone you think might enjoy this gathering.

We will have light refreshments and share pictures and memories. Hope to see you there.

Cousins Reunion

Posted by Sue Swinger-Ellbogen on August 2, 2013 at 10:20 AM Comments comments (1)

The Cousins

No matter how many years have gone by when cousins get together it is a time for pure delight. Hugging and squeezing and excitedly bouncing up and down with glee as those primal feelings rise in remembrance of a time gone by.

“Remember when we used to run between Granny’s sheets drying on the clothesline until she would scold us and chase us around the yard. We would run to Uncle Preston and hide behind him.”

“Does anyone remember that Grandpa Hodges taught Patti and Margaret and Sonnie how to drive his old Chevy pickup truck with a standard shift?”

“What about those sumptuous meals of fried chicken and dumplings that we scarfed down without a thought so we could dash back outside to play.”

“I remember the taste of salty ice chips that we used to grab from the bucket of the ice cream maker as the uncles cranked it until the creamy custard froze. Then the taste of the strawberries and ice cream melting on our tongue was pure heaven. But we still gulped it down so we could run back outside to chase fireflies and play tag in the dark.”

“I remember when I was homesick and wanted to go home from Granny’s house in Minor Switch. Aunt Mary said she would run me down the railroad tracks if I wanted her to.”

“Do you remember the big white house with the wraparound porch on Gladys Street?”

“The Easter egg hunts were the most fun with cousins tripping over each other to find the most eggs. That special egg was hidden in a particularly hard place to find. There was always some baby toddling around getting in the way.”

“We all must have made that trip to Duquoin, IL to visit with Uncle Bud and Aunt Pat’s family and Steve, Gary, and Cindy. We would go to the Duquoin State Fair. Who could ever forget that excitement?”

“I remember when Gary fell into the burning trash and was injured."

"I remember the day I was twelve years old and visiting family in Texas getting a letter telling me about the terrible accident the Stafford girls were in."

I remember visiting Grandpa Hodges in the nursing home in Bell City.”

“What about Terre Haute, IN? A fancy name for a town in the north where two sweet red-haired boys lived—Dick and John.”

“Remember when Steve, Jane, Brenda Stafford, Sue,  and Brenda Mays would go to the movies on Christmas Day after all the festivities were over and we were bored sitting at Granny’s house? Twenty-five cents got us a great movie and some cartoons.”

"When our handsome Uncle Bill returned from the war and married a beautiful young woman to become our Aunt Joan, we were ecstatic. Pretty soon we had four more cousins running around, Mark, Michelle, Cherie, and Derieck."

"Steve remembers when Aunt Virgin came and sat with him every day for thirteen days when he had a football injury. Kitty remembers playing in Aunt Virgin’s front yard across from the church. I remember going to the drive-in movie where Aunt Gertrude worked. I remember Granny’s flowers and knickknacks that we were not allowed to touch. I remember Preston’s corny jokes. I remember Uncle Bud’s sweet smile. I remember Uncle Bill’s big laugh. And the stories go on and on………"

Time rolled on with speed and the cousins scattered far and wide. The family grew and became fragmented as the task of becoming adults overtook us. Some dreams were fulfilled; others cast aside. Childhood departed but never the memories of our cousins eagerly meeting and clasping hands and picking up where we left off.

In Loving Memory of those cousins that left us too soon:

Patti Gayle Stafford 1941-1959

Margaret Ann Mays Payne 1940-1986

Scott Glenn Kinder 1970-1995

John McGregor 1948-2008

Hannah Maree Park 2003-2009

Alex Preston Hodges 1993-2013

Stephen Foster (Tabby Cat Trails)

Posted by Sue Swinger-Ellbogen on August 1, 2013 at 7:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Stephen Foster was born in 1826 and from the start had an affinity for music more so than

traditional education. Foster sought to humanize the characters in his songs, to have them

care for one another, and to convey a sense that all people--regardless of their ethnic

identities or social and economic class--share the same longings and needs for family and


Popular songs by Stephen Foster included: Camptown Races, Old Folks At Home (also known

as Swanee River), My Old Kentucky Home, and Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair.

Mark Twain (Tabby Cat Trails)

Posted by Sue Swinger-Ellbogen on August 1, 2013 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in 1835 and later became known as the legendary

author, Mark Twain. Samuel grew up in Hannibal, Missouri and was inspired to write The

Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. By age fifteen Samuel

got a job as a printer and occasional writer for a local newspaper. When he turned twenty-one

he fulfilled his dream of becoming a riverboat pilot. However, the Civil War interrupted that

career. After his volunteer unit in the Confederate Army disbanded, Clemens headed west to

try to make money and help his family. Finally, Clemens took a job at a newspaper and starting

writing under the pen name, ‘Mark Twain’. Twain’s affable ways and satirical writing make him

one of the most popular writers in the United States.

Clara Barton (Tabby Cat Trails)

Posted by Sue Swinger-Ellbogen on August 1, 2013 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Clara Barton was a woman ahead of her time. Born in 1821, long before women could own

property or vote in the United States, she became an educator and a nurse. One of the first

notable things that Clara Barton accomplished was to open one of the first public schools in

the nation in New Jersey. Later she served during the Civil War to attend to wounded soldiers

and after the war to help reunite soldiers with their families. On a trip to Europe Clara worked

with a relief organization called the International Red Cross. This organization worked directly

in the battlefield attending to the wounded instead of waiting to carry them to a medical tent.

Clara was so impressed with the work of the organization that when she returned to the United

States she lobbied to get an American branch. In 1881 The American Red Cross was founded

and Clara Barton was the first president. Many changes has occurred since that time: women

can vote and own property and the American Red Cross is still in existence and is world-

renowned for their humanitarian efforts. All this because one woman dared to be different.

Calamity Jane (Tabby Cat Trails)

Posted by Sue Swinger-Ellbogen on August 1, 2013 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Martha Jane Cannary was born in 1852 and orphaned when she was twelve years old. As an

adult she lived in Deadwood, South Dakota, one of the roughest towns in the West. She

learned to shoot and hunt just like a man. Her gun slinging and rough riding as well as her

loud and obnoxious nature is likely how she got the nickname ‘Calamity Jane’. She dressed

like a man, which was unusual at this time. She also worked like a man and could handle

pretty much anything that came her way. She was truly one of the first American

Frontierswomen. Many things said about Calamity Jane could not be determined to be the

truth. However, it was well-known that she was an expert at shooting and riding. In 1893 she

started appearing in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show as a trick shooter and horse rider. It

was rumored that Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok were married. The only fact confirmed is

that they were good friends. Calamity Jane died at the age of 51 having survived the rugged

pioneer days of the new frontier and becoming a legend still talked about

Buffalo Bill Cody (Tabby Cat Trails)

Posted by Sue Swinger-Ellbogen on August 1, 2013 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (0)

William Cody was born in 1846 and joined the Pony Express at age 14. The year was 1860

and the newly formed Pony Express had a goal of delivering mail from Missouri to California in

ten days. William thought he fit the required advertised "skinny, expert riders willing to

risk death daily." The riders rode in relays of 100 miles stopping every ten to twenty miles to

change horses at one of the 190 stations along the way. Cody served in the Civil War and then

started buffalo hunting to supply railroad workers with food. He was credited with killing over

4,000 buffalo in a year and a half. Today that would be unconscionable but at that time it was

used for food. Cody’s next exploits took him to Chicago to star in a Wild West show that toured

for ten years. In 1883 Cody founded his own troupe and called it “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West”. In

1893 he changed the name to “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the

World. Visitors could see horse-culture groups from all over the world with their distinctive

horses and beautiful costumes. There were feats of skill, staged races and guest visits from

national heroes. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show toured Europe eight times making Cody an

international celebrity. Cody was a progressive and innovative young man as evidenced by all

he accomplished world-wide during his lifetime.

Backpacking For Kids (Campfire Kids)

Posted by Sue Swinger-Ellbogen on July 31, 2013 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Campfire Kids

Backpacking 101

Nothing is more fun than a backpacking trip with your family. Everyone knows that

camping and residing with nature is an awesome experience. No one is too young to

participate as long as they can walk for about two hours at a stretch and carry a small

backpack. If that is too much for you, then maybe you need to wait another year or two. One

mistake to avoid is for the adults to do all the work preparing for the trip or setting up camp

without help from the kids. There are plenty of chores the kids can do so they get to experience

camping and backpacking from start to finish. Call a family meeting and ask everyone to bring

a pencil and paper. Start with making a master list of supplies and assign tasks to each child to

accomplish. In addition to learning about what is needed for a backpacking overnight trip you

will start to set expectations for the trip. Doing some research prior to your trip will help raise

awareness of basic needs, safety, and survival skills. Learning these things will increase the

kids’ knowledge and sense of self-reliance. At the same time it is an opportunity to start

teaching them an appreciation of nature. Have fun!

Missing In Tuscany

Posted by Sue Swinger-Ellbogen on July 29, 2013 at 11:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Missing In Tuscany

Look for a new book being published called "Missing in Tuscany". This is a young adult novel that is part of the Cousins Series (Campfire Kids being the first). Cousins encounter adventures while backpacking in Italy with their Aunt and help her solve an art theft mystery.

You will enjoy reading about the delicious food in Italy, the majestic architecture, and the wonderful historic aspects of the country. The cousins meet a couple on the train from Florence to Cortona and immediately form a bond. When the couple go missing later in the backpacking trip in Tuscany, the cousins are enlisted to help find them as well as solve a crime.