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What We’re Watching, Reading, Listening To and Playing

    We’ve been on the road for just about three weeks and enjoying (nearly) every minute of it. I was just commenting to Ryan the other day that it’s crazy how quickly you can get into a new routine and have it feel normal. Living out of the trailer, hitching and unhitching, driving for long stretches – these have all become our new life and we’re taking to it quite nicely.

    Since most of our days are spent outside sight-seeing, its nice to have some downtime in the evenings, mornings and on drive days.


    I thought it would be fun to share what we’re watching, reading, listening to and playing every couple of weeks (or as they change) and perhaps it will spark an idea for someone in your family.


    We just discovered the Ken Burns documentary titled The National Parks – America’s Best Idea. It is free on Amazon Prime and so, so good. It’s really more about the history of how the National Park system came to be, but it still showcases the breathtaking scenery from parks across America.

    The kids have been watching a lot of old Looney Toon cartoons in the car (we have a hard drive with a gazillion shows and movies that they can access from their ipads/kindles). I’m not sure what the fascination is with Looney Tunes, but they’re all currently into it.


    I just finished my first novel of the trip. It was okay. I was about to stop reading it, but pushed through. I didn’t hate it, but probably wouldn’t recommend it.

    Next up is this one from my Spring Reading List. Or maybe this one.

    P.S. Anyone have a suggestion for a Civil War historical fiction novel?


    Besides a whole lot of music on Spotify, we’re listening to The Chronicles of Narnia on Audible. I thought I was purchasing the audio version of the series – you know, someone with a great voice reading Mr. Lewis’ poetic words to us – but instead, I bought the BBC Full Cast Radio Dramatisations. I don’t love it, but the kids (especially our 8 year old) are eating it up. The boys have all seen the movies and our oldest read the series a few years ago and even still, it keeps their attention for at least an hour at a time.

    I subscribe to my friend Anne’s Kindle Deals list and scooped up this audible book for super cheap. It’s next on our family-drive-listening list.


    Our friends gave us a new game as a send-off and it’s been a big hit around here. The game – called Tenzi – is super simple and fun for all ages. Each player has a set of 10 dice and you roll until you get the same number on all 10 dice. I know, that sounds kinda lame, but there are variations and we make up our own string of numbers to roll and it is the perfect game for the kids to play while we’re packing up or I’m making dinner.

    When they’re not playing Tenzi, the kids are playing their long-time favorites, Monopoly Deal and Sudoku

    So that’s what we’re entertaining ourselves with so far. Do you have any current favorites in any of the four categories? Please share!

    104 thoughts on “What We’re Watching, Reading, Listening To and Playing”

    1. Civil War Historical Fiction Rec: Jacob’s Ladder, Donal McCaig. Winner of the Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction, the John Eston Cook Award, and the Boyd Military Novel Award: “One of the best Civil War novels . . . McCaig’s prose is gorgeous . . . stunning.”—Houston Chronicle

    2. I feel sure you have read Gone With The Wind, but on the off-chance that you have not…YOU SIMPLY MUST. The book is so much better than the movie. We did a road trip with the Camp Nancy girls (my nieces name for the week each summer they would spend with us for 10 consecutive years) and I made them watch the movie. Jennifer asked me, “Is the movie just like the book?” I said, “No, in the book Scarlett has 3 children instead of 1.” Jennifer replied, “So who does Scarlett marry?” I said, “Rhett.”…long pause…”So she marries the Butler!?!”

    3. Oh, you might love the Focus on the Family version of the Chronicles of Narnia. I’m 45 and I adore them. Their radio theater is so so good.

    4. Civil War historical fiction – The Widow of the South. If you go through Tennessee you can tour the plantation from the book. It is in Franklin (near Nashville). You’d probably love the town of Franklin, it is just beautiful and there is a sweet little clothing/accessory shop called Philanthropy. They do amazing faith-based charity work.

    5. A Civil War historical novel? Hope you’re ready for some tragedy! :) One of my favorites: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.

    6. Loved “The Coincidence of Coconut Cake.” For your historical fiction Civil War book, I would suggest, “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy” by Abbot. It tells the story of 4 women who were spies during the war.

    7. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy Necessary Lies….I really loved that one! Fallen Land is a Civil War novel I read recently and loved…I’m not sure if its categorized historical fiction or not.

    8. We have the Chronicles of Narnia on CD from Focus on the Family. It’s a dramatic radio production, not just a book on CD, but it’s so, so good. You may actually like it better than the one you have. There is a narrator, so it’s the whole series, but with music and actors. My husband and I have listened to it on road trips more than once. We can’t wait until our kids are old enough to listen too!

    9. Jocelyn Green has some super good historical fiction reads!!! As does Micheal Landon Jr too! Definitely my two favorite civil war historical fiction authors

    10. I just finished Mr Lemoncello’s Library Olympics — it wasn’t as good as the first (Escape from Mr Lemoncello’s Library) but I still had a hard time putting it down to do important things like feed my children ;) It’s middle-grade (12 yr olds), but don’t let that deter you! I also just started watching Donna Reed on Hulu. I’m four episodes in and I love it.

    11. Civil War historical fiction novel recommendation: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith

      It is a YA novel, but still a great read. This was a Newbery winner back in the late 50’s, I think. I have read it multiple times for personal enjoyment and to use in class. It would be a great movie! It has drama, emotion, war, spying, romance, humor, and a traitor. Try it, you’ll love it!

    12. If the kids like it when you read aloud to them there is a wonderful book that I read to my family a few years ago. It is called “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” by Grace Lin. At the time my kids were 14, 12 & 9 and we all enjoyed every moment of it. The kids would make me promise not to read ahead. It’s adventurous, sentimental and full of beautiful life lessons. They still talk about how much they enjoyed it.

      Happy Travels!

    13. i know you love your civil war historical novels, but emily! you have to read “when breathe becomes air.” i just finished it and it is such a good memoir.

    14. Amanda @the Bay Bush

      Have you seen Mercy Street? It’s a Civil War series on PBS that I liked (also on Amazon) I think it’s based on a book called Heroines of Mercy Street.

    15. Did you check out your local library before you left? Many libraries have a subscription to Overdrive, which has plenty of e-books, audiobooks and some have videos that you can access remotely. You have quite a selection from that—all it takes is internet access.

      If you didn’t set up an account before you left, search for a library on your trip that might be cost effective to join as a “out of district” patron, that provides access to digital items. Worth the $$ alone for the audiobooks.

    16. Loved The Kitchen House so I can’t wait to get my hands on Glory Over Everything too! Also have loved The Paris Architect, The Red Tent, and (you probably already read this…) For the Love by Jen Hatmaker.

      And we are currently watching Downton Abbey on Amazon Prime… One of my favorite shows we have watched is probably Friday Night Lights :)

    17. Gilbert Morris is a fabulous Christian fiction writer. He has a Civil War trilogy called The Last Cavaliers. He has another series (4 books) set in American history called The House of Winslow. I have read some really good Civil War era Christian fiction, but I can’t remember the other authors. Sorry! My family love the C.S. Lewis audio dramatizations too! Hope your trip continues well!

    18. Oh, and you guys should watch “Long Long Trailor”!! It’s a classic Lucial Ball movie where she and Dezi buy a travel trailor and go on a road trip. :) it’s hilarious!!

    19. It sounds like you all are having fun!!
      BTW, we loved the “Focus on the Family Chrionicles of Narnia radio theater”. It’s really great and it has CS Lewis’ step son talking before each book and giving info about it. It may be too late for that now but maybe you could try it. :)

    20. We love Listening to books as a Family. I would recommend if you haven’t already listened to N.D. Wilson’s Ashtown Burials the first book is called the Dragon’s tooth. It’s adventure and very exciting! He also just released a new book called Outlaws of time. The legend of Sam Miracle. The Narrator on the second is excellent, one of the best I’ve heard.

      I love reading about your trip:) we recently have traveled around to some parks in Arizona and Utah and we would love to do what you all are doing. I find it inspiring! Thanks!

    21. Civil War historical fiction recommendation: Candle In the Darkness, by Lynn Austin. It’s the first in a 3 part series (The Refiner’s Fire series), although each book is the story of a different woman and don’t need to be read in order. They are a wonderful view into the beauty and darkness of life at that time.

    22. you asked about a civil war novel, one of my favorites is Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini. I am going to order the one you mentioned regarding the Coconut Cake, it sounds good It sounds like your family is having a great time!

    23. If you’re still looking for a Civil War read, check out Widow of the South by Robert Hicks. One of my favorites! Happy travels!

    24. If you haven’t read “March” by Geraldine Brooks you should check it out! It’s based upon the character of the father from “Little Women.”

    25. Have you read Gone With the Wind? Like you, I love historical fiction. I read it a few summers ago and wondered why I hadn’t read it sooner. Also, a guest on Anne’s podcast liked it and Anne recommended Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. I haven’t read it yet, but it sounds very interesting!

    26. I thought “May the Road Rise Up to Meet You” by Peter Troy was excellent! “An engrossing, epic American drama told from four distinct perspectives, spanning the first major wave of Irish immigration to New York through the end of the Civil War.”

    27. Outlander series is excellent. First one is verrrrry romance but the rest aren’t. It’s fantastic and lots of good trip reading!!

    28. Another audio book/book on CD to try is the Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School. We listened to it and all got super into it on our road trip last summer (kiddos were 11, 9 1/2 and 5 1/2). It was a great series perfect for our family!

    29. If you want a delightful love story with a foodie theme and a charming couple as its inhabitants, I recommend the Coincidence of Coconut Cake. I read it several months ago and thought it was a fun, light and feel good read. I was down with a raging cold when I read it, I thought it might be a good tonic, and so it was.

      Not necessarily a “civil war” novel, but still dealing with civil war themes, particularly slavery, I would recommend Yellow Crocus. I won’t share too many details, but it is a memorable story about the lives of two women, a most unlikely pair, and how their lives became inextricably entwined through enslavement and privilege.

    30. My favorite Civil War novel is The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, and retells the four days of the Battle of Gettysburg. It won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Don’t be surprised if it sucks you in and you come up for air hours later.

    31. We traveled all over Europe with our two children and we found hours of entertainment in a deck of cards…Kings Corners, Gin Rummy, Midnight Poker, Blackjack, even Memory. I would also like to recommend the CD set called Planet Earth…hosted by BBC. My kids were mesmerized with the visuals and the information was intriguing for all of us. This would be great when you all need a break but still want to be together and snuggle. One other tip I have wanted to mention to you is that I always had a clear plastic shoe holder hung over a door with clips that held everything BUT shoes when we traveled. It held keys, wallets, sunscreen, glasses, toothpaste, Legos, decks of cards, wine bottle opener and other essentials…you can pick one up at Walmart…look for the clear plastic one though so you can see everything! I really enjoy reading your blog and I’m rooting for you! I always felt like our family was an “island” while we traveled…bonding together so sweetly and making memories that are so precious to us. Your people are the perfect ages for this type of thing…Audrey will remember completely different things about the trip than the boys!

    32. I am old enough to be your mother, but have you ever read any of Eugenia Price’s historical fictions? She has a wonderful series of books on St. Simon’s Island, GA, and spans the civil war time period. Lighthouse is the first of that trilogy. Also, she has a wonderful set on Savannah. Enjoying your trip pics and praying for your safe travels!

    33. Song Yet Sung by Jamesi McBride is a great pre Civil War book about slavery.
      When we drove to Texas our family favorite was the Prairie Home Companion jokes on cd.

    34. Historical fiction…I have always loved the Cheney Duvall series or the ribbons of steel series by Gracie Peterson… And could read them all over and over again (actually, I have!)

      I’m going to have to check out that tensies game…games for the whole fam are the best!

    35. For games, we love Bananagram–kind of like Scrabble without a board. You don’t earn points–just try to spell words, linking the letters together like Scrabble. Even my 7 year old granddaughter loves it, so it’s great for all ages. We also enjoy Buzz Word Junior and 5 Seconds.

      Civil War novel– Gone With The Wind

      I am loving your blog and look forward to each installment about your trip!

    36. I recently found Lynn Austin’s “Refiner’s Fire” series. Christian, historical fiction based during the Civil War. I’ve loved all three of them and have flown through the series as I nurse our 1 month old.

    37. I’m a history and English teacher, so this is my sweet spot!! Here’s a list of some great Civil War historical novels

      –“March” by Geraldine Brooks won the Pulitzer in 2006 and imagines the story of “Little Women” from the perspective of March, the father and clergy member, who has left the family to join the Union troops.
      –“Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane is worth a re-read, even if you think that you didn’t like it when it was assigned to you in 8th grade English class. I re-read it recently and was completely amazed by the psychological portrait of a terrified soldier.
      –“Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier, which won that National Book Award, tells the story of a Confederate soldier returning home.
      –“Across Five Aprils” is a Newberry Honor Book by Irene Hunt which tells the story of the Civil War through the eyes of a boy in Illinois
      –“Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara won the Pulitzer and is held up as an one of the best examples ever of historical fiction. It focuses on Gettysburg, and there are 2 others in the trilogy.

    38. It is not fiction, but Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (by Tony Horowitz) is a great read about the Civil War. My mother and I loved it.

    39. For a Civil War novel I love Widow of the South. Maybe you have read it already though. Your trip sounds great.

    40. Hi! I’m enjoying reading about your trip! I recently read a great civil war book called Like a River: A Civil War Novel. I thought the story was well written, very engaging, and I learned a lot too! Hope this helps!

    41. You may love “May The Road Rose Up To Meet You” by Peter Troy. It’s about the lives of four characters: a young boy during the potato famine in Ireland, two slaves in America, and a Spanish immigrant, and how they end up intertwining during the emancipation. I seriously cried for 21 straight pages, but it was a great read!!

    42. Take a look at the historical fiction written by Eugenia Price. A bookstore owner in Savannah gave my mom her name years ago.

    43. Suzanne (princapecos)

      Wednesday Wars is a fun book that subtly teaches some great lessons along the way (without being didactic, as my kiddy lit teacher in college used to say). On Civil War fiction… if you’ve not read Gone with the Wind, you really should. The movie is pretty good, but you miss a lot of the detail that you get from the book, especially the post-war ramifications. I’d read it as a West Coast teen, I’m sure, but it really came to life for me when I read it while living in the South.

      You may have covered this in an earlier post, but are you using your local (back home) library as a resource for ebooks, audiobooks, and music? Many libraries now offer this as an online resource, so you could easily access new materials on the road.

      Thanks for sharing your adventure — we’re all just voyeurs along for the ride!

    44. Have you ever played Dutch Blitz? It’s a fun game of speed for all ages. Might be kinda hard to fun especially on the road :/

    45. I am very much enjoying reading about your trip. It’s a fantastic idea and with 4 kids as well who have been/are home schooled, seems like a great idea.
      ‘The Coincidence of the Coconut Cake’ was a fun, easy read. Cooking in restaurants in the past, it was easy to relate to. I loved reading the ‘Kitchen House’ and the sequel is on my reading list. Either would be a great choice to read next I’m sure.

    46. Emily,

      I just finished ” beyond the Kitchen House” I took it from your Spring reading list.. I really enjoyed it, it was a delight the characters are intriguing and the ending was very heart warming.. Reading historical fictions are my favorite type of book to read.

    47. I really love Tracy Groot’s historical fiction, and she wrote one called The Sentinels of Andersonville about a prison camp during the civil war. It was hard to read in some ways bc of the subject matter, but not gruesome and very interesting. We also just introduced our kids to the game Q-bitz and it’s a huge hit! It’s all about visual puzzles and is a great one for both parents and kids! Reading about your adventures has been fascinating. What a great adventure!

    48. I’m not usually one to comment because I’m usually behind the times, but a few things came to mind so I thought I’d share.
      Read: I just finished Where the Light Gets In by Kimberly Williams Paisley (of Father of the Bride fame). It’s a memoir of her family’s experience with her mother’s diagnosis with a rare form of dementia at a young age. I’m part of a caregiving team for my grandmother who has Alzeimers so I could relate to so much of the book. It was a quick, easy read that made me think a lot about my relationship with my own mom.
      Play: A fun, portable game we recently discovered is Pictureka. Each player gets a card with two phrases and has to collect three picture cards (which are silly drawings that occasionally contain potty humor which always delights my daughter) that go with one of the phrases. You collect cards by drawing/discarding or by trading with another player. When you have a match, you present it to the group and the group gets to decide if they agree or not. There are several variations of it, too and it gives us a nice break from endless Uno games!
      Listen: Another new discovery is Librevox which is a website that has a ton of public domain (free) audio books to stream. We’ve been listening to the Burgess Animal Books (which might be a little young for your crew, but I genuinely enjoy listening to them so maybe your older boys would tolerate them-they’re pretty short and sweet.) All Librevox recordings are done by volunteers so some are better than others. If you try one that’s hard to listen to, don’t give up on the site as a whole because many of the readers are truly fabulous.

      I’m enjoying these posts about your trip!

    49. My apologies (not really) for the Looney Tune Cartoons. We grew up watching Looney Tunes and I decided that all the grand kids deserved to see good cartoons so they see them on sleep overs. It seems that’s all they want to see, every time they come over now. You are currently in their favorite, Road Runner and Wiley Coyote country so it seems entirely appropriate. Their other favorite is Tweety Bird. Just be glad they aren’t asking for “Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”. Or John Wayne…

    50. How lovely to learn that those radio plays are still around. My siblings and I listened to them in England as kids, on cassettes! Most especially when we were sick. I’m so glad your kids like them.

    51. My Name is Mary Sutter is a great historical fiction novel that takes place during the civil war. It’s about a midwife who wants to be a doctor but can’t because she is a women. Really fun and enjoyable read for a vacation.

    52. I read The Killer Angels and thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it was a page turner, and it was especially poignant as I finished right before a trip to Gettysburg.

      Are you stopping there? I hope so!

      Love-love-loving your trip by the way. I did something very similar in my 20s (without kids)!

    53. If you like Tenzi then you should try Qbitz! It’s a pattern based game and is loved from 5 years old to 50 years old. It’s a great educational and fun game.

    54. Are you familiar with Adventures in Odyssey? It’s been an old radio show since I was a kid, but theyre still producing new episodes. I would start from Season 1, Episode 1. I’m sure you can find it online somewhere! It’s all audio, but they’re full of great lessons and fun stories! I highly recommend!

    55. Good Civil War Reads: The Good Lord Bird, March, My Name is Mary Sutter, Killer Angels, Alice’s Tulips

      Other Good Reads: Behind the Scenes at the Museum, The Whistling Season, Lost in a Good Book, The Princess Bride, These is My Words


    56. Emily, I’ve just started reading your blog fairly recently. I am so enjoying reading about your travels with your family. It is so inspiring and informative. Thank you so much for sharing it! I just loved reading about your time in Yosemite.

      This is not a book recommendation, but did you catch the recent PBS Masterpiece series, Mercy Street? It’s a civil war drama and the main story follows a young nurse in a military hospital in Alexandria. It’s pretty good. Season 1 just finished airing this spring.

    57. A couple things…we CANNOT figure out or learn to love Monopoly Deal. What is wrong with us? Also, I’m interested in this following this person for super good deals on audiobooks but it looks like she’s only highlighting Kindle deals? Our current favorite family game is called SET. It’s a small deck of shape cards and is great brainwork! Also, I’m reading The Royal We which is supposedly loosely based on the coupling of Kate and Will. It is very entertaining.

    58. How about a Civil War nonfiction that reads like fiction? Havent read it myself, but it’s on my list. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott. Are you on Goodreads? Would love to stay updated on what you are reading and enjoying! Happy traveling!

    59. Could you explain how your kids access the hard drive to watch shows from their devices? We are ready to be done with portable dvd players and are looking for the next option. They have iPads, but don’t want to use all of our data plan or buy tons of videos from iTunes/Amazon.

      And my kids love looney toons, too!

      1. Yes – except I’ll have to have Ryan explain it :) He is going to do a tech post coming up and he’ll share what we’re using. It is so over my head, but I’m thankful he figured it out!

    60. Any of the Jeff Shaara books are great Civil War novels. They are a series but I can’t remember which is first. And my kids like the game Spot It, which is nice because it’s super small and can be taken anywhere.

    61. Candle in the darkness by Lynn Austin was excellent civil war reading. There are three different novels and I enjoyed all, they don’t build on each other but rather tell different sides of the war. We love tenzi as well. Bandits is a fun card game if you can find it and farkle is another fun dice game. Enjoy your time in Zion, we were there this February and had a blast with our littles!

    62. I have dreamed of doing a trip like this and am so enjoying following you along! As far as Civil War books, I really enjoyed “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara. It looks like it’s the second book of a trilogy, but I haven’t ready the other two books. This one is about the Battle at Gettysburg. Fascinating stuff and absolutely made me want to visit Gettysburg one day!

    63. Civil War historical fiction? There’s nothing better than Gone With the Wind. (Seriously, don’t judge it by the movie). It is 1037 pages, which could be perfect for your road trip. Or could be the worst suggestion I’ve ever given anybody!

      Another option? Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.

      1. Yes. To my thinking it is a Civil War novel though it does take place after the fact. Maybe Emily wants more battles, action, etc that happened during the actual war, now that I think about it…

    64. I love Tenzi. Farkle is another great dice game. I am envious of your trip. We took a road trip with our kids from California along the Oregon coast up to see my Sister and her family in Bellevue WA. Greatest trip ever. Sea lion caves, sand dunes ride, and it snowed on us a Crater Lake! (Middle of June). Have an awesome time. Enjoy your kids while they are young. Mine are in their 20s now.

    65. So fun! I just discovered Hoopla which is available through my local library for free (!) and I can download audiobooks to my phone without waiting like I normally through my library’s Overdrive system. Love that – instant gratification! My kids (ages 10 and 7) are into the Sushi-Go card game. I’m starting to figure out the strategy. Tenzi is also one of our favs!!!

    66. I LOVED Glory Over Everything! So good! I also liked Necessary Lies. I thought it was sad but liked the ending. Secrets of a Charmed Life is excellent

    67. I love Lynn Austin’s historical fiction. She has several Civil War era books, and the Refiners Fire series look at with characters from both the north and the south. She writes beautifully.

    68. I always love your reading recommendations! I am currently debating between getting a kindle paperlight or an iPad mini with the kindle app. I was wondering what you use?

      1. Amy – I know you didn’t ask but I happened to see your comment. I have a Kindle Paperlight and love it. I have read on my iPad before but if you have any sort of bright sun or light, there is a lot of glare for reading. The kindle is also way less money and I don’t feel the urge to check email on it when I should be reading because I can’t!

    69. Loving the chronicles of your trip!
      Two great historical civil war series:
      Lynn Austin’s “Refiner’s Fire” trilogy. Each book is written from a different perspective…one from a northerner, one from a southerner and one from a slave.
      Also, Eugenia Price’s “Savannah Quartet.” Meticulously researched and a great read.

    70. I just binge-read all of your travel posts and I am begging you to please, please, please make a book about this. Think full color, tons of photos, like Myquillyn Smith did with The Nesting Place. It’s coffee-table beautiful and your fascinating travel stories would be an incredible addition to any adventurous family’s collection.

      For audio books, I’d love to recommend the Anne of Green Gables series. Even my husband laughs out loud when we’re listening and it’s the perfect summer read – we listen every year on our back porch and never tire of the stories. (Also, we’re huge CS Lewis fans here & reading through the Narnia books right now!)

      1. Ah, thank you so much! A coffee table book is a must for our family and I’ll definitely think about publishing it for the public! Thanks for the suggestion.

        Thank you also for the audio suggestion. I adore Anne of Green Gables and have never read the books. I’ll add it to our list!

        1. I am 60-something and had never read Anne of Green Gables but started about a year ago (I’ve read the first three and will soon start the fourth). They are excellent and they get better and better!

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