day trip · history · slice of life

Definitely Not a Marriott

Standing in front of a log hut at Muhlenberg’s Brigade.

This morning, the kids and I met Lynne and Ralph for brunch. (Yes, you can do brunch on a weekday!) Afterward, we drove to Valley Forge National Historical Park, where the Continental Army encamped from December 1777 to June 1778. After a stop at the Visitors Center, we walked Muhlenberg’s Brigade, the “site of the encampment of troops led by Brigadier General Peter Muhlenberg during the winter of 1777-78. Today the area consists of nine reconstructed log soldiers’ huts facing a gravel company street.”

We entered the first log hut, which Ari said: “wouldn’t be that warm in the winter.” It was filled with placards I read to the kids. In the next hut, we saw bunks that were “horrible beds,” according to Isabelle. A hut or two later, we discovered an officer’s hut, which the kids felt was nicer since it had mattresses, blankets, and a table. This allowed us to discuss the difference in accommodations between officers and soldiers.

The final hut we came upon had twelve wooden bunks. The kids couldn’t believe 12 soldiers (and possibly the soldiers’ families) would be cramped in that space. The kids were unimpressed with the soldiers’ accommodations at Valley Forge. That’s when I looked at them and asked, “What were you expecting, the Marriott Marquis?!” That garnered a chuckle from both of them.

Unfortunately, it began to rain, so we could not walk around Washington’s Headquarters. We plan to return in several weeks (since Valley Forge isn’t far from our house) to check it out. Visiting historical sites like this reminds us of what many people sacrificed to fight for our independence in the late 1700s.

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day trip · siblings · slice of life

Stops & Starts

I’ve dreamed of visiting Holland’s tulip fields in person. Thing is, the chance of me getting to the Netherlands in the next decade is small. (If you know of an international school in the Netherlands looking for a literacy consultant, drop my name to them!) So, I asked my husband if he’d be willing to drive nearly two hours each way to Holland Ridge Farms, which has over eight million tulips blooming each spring. Marc agreed and bought the tickets.

There were lots of kitschy photo props throughout the farm. This one reflects my affinity for tulips. Cheesy? Indeed.

Once Ari got the hang of twisting and pulling the tulips from the earth, he became a zealous tulip picker. Ari wanted red ones for himself, yellow ones for his sitter, and every other color combination for me, Isabelle, and Marc to enjoy. Therefore, Ari picked a LOT of tulips — some of which had to be discarded because he didn’t pull them off properly from the bulb. It was tulip madness!

Isabelle, who is nearly six years older than Ari, wasn’t into his let-me-stop-at-every-tulip-bed-to-pick-another-tulip antics. She grew frustrated with the stopping and starting, especially once we had been at the farm for 90 minutes.

After we bought some drinks, we took some photos. That’s when I made a deal with Isabelle. If she let me grab a few more photos, then we’d head back towards the car. Wisely, she took the deal.

One of the many photos to which I subjected my family. (Ari was INTO it. He even picked a new tulip for the picture!)

The thing is… we didn’t factor in Ari stopping and starting to pick more tulips on the walk back across the 300 acre farm. Isabelle grew irritated with him quickly.

We tried challenging Ari with timers. “Let’s set a five-minute timer,” Marc told him. “When it goes off you can stop to pick another tulip.”

The first time we did that Ari made it 2.5 minutes.

{Cue the exasperated tween.}

Next, I suggested a stopwatch. “This time we’re going to count up using a stopwatch. I want to see how long you can go without stopping to pick any tulips. Just admire them, but keep walking to the car.”

It worked. Ari made it one minute. Then two minutes. Then three minutes. Then four minutes.

Somewhere around four minutes, I must have said something like, “Aren’t those tulips beautiful?” Well, that’s all it took for Ari to run off to pick one of them for me!

Sweet, right?

Sweet for me. Maddening for Isabelle.

It probably took us close to an hour, but we eventually made it to the exit. Somehow, Isabelle survived. In the end, Ari’s stops and starts provided her with an excellent slice of life story. (Click here to read her slice of life story about her little brother’s antics.)

Posing by Red Tulips. (I’m sure he picked a few from this flower bed.)
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COVID-19 · day trip · slice of life

An Escape to King if Prussia

Back in February, I was living as large as someone who needed foot surgery could live. I traveled to Milwaukee to present at WSRA. We drove to Connecticut to spend a long weekend with my in-laws. I spent as much one-on-one time as possible with each of my kids since I knew I’d be laid up in bed for weeks. Marc and I went out for a date night. The next morning, with just a few days to go before surgery, he drove the four of us to King of Prussia so I could eat tacos at one of my favorite taquerias (Bartaco). I packed as much as I could into the month of February since I knew we probably wouldn’t go away until Memorial Day Weekend.

Then COVID-19 shut down the world in mid-March.

By May, we canceled our summer vacation to North Carolina with our cousins, canceled a girls’ trip to NYC with Isabelle, and canceled our family’s season passes to Hersheypark.

While my kids visited my in-laws in Connecticut over the summer, I stayed home both times since I was in too much pain to handle a 4+ hour car ride. Last week, I realized I have only been to THREE COUNTIES (ie, Dauphin, Lancaster, and York) since the surgery. To say I’m feeling a little restless is an understatement.

But, this weekend, I left Central Pennsylvania for the first time in over seven months! We drove an hour east to King of Prussia to eat lunch outdoors at Founding Farmers. The kids begged to go to the mall (which they never would’ve done seven months ago!), but that felt like an unnecessary risk. We needed some things at The Container Store and Crate and Barrel so I made a deal that they could go into one of the stores if they didn’t touch much. They happily agreed to the deal I cut with them.

Montgomery County, which is where King of Prussia is located, was hit hard by COVID-19 this spring. As a result, all three of the places we went in King of Prussia today were taking safety precautions that are vastly stricter than where we live in Central PA. Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • Most people wear masks when they’re walking around outside.
  • Everyone I saw wore their mask properly. That’s right! I didn’t see a single person’s nose!
  • There are occupancy limits in stores. You wait outside, in a socially-distant line, for your turn to go into the store.
  • Everything is sanitized in-between customers without asking for it to be cleaned.

I felt much safer shopping in King of Prussia than back at home where fewer people are taking this deadly virus seriously anymore. As a result, on the way home, I remarked, “You know, we could probably get back to a semi-normal lifestyle if people back home would commit to masking-up properly all of the time like they did out there. Just think how much safer we’d be if all of the stores by us were cleaning like they were in King of Prussia.”

Isabelle was listening. She moaned about how careless people were being. To her, and to me, it feels like we are never going to get back to normal due to the apathy and indifference many people have about COVID-19. But, being in the Philly suburbs gave me a little hope for what could be if everyone tried just a little harder.

Isabelle kindly feeds Ari some pancakes. (That’s right, he left his seat several times and begged for more food like a puppy.)
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day trip · slice of life

Have car. Will drive (for homemade ice cream).

I was spoiled, when it came to eating ice cream, since I grew up eating Thomas Sweet‘s ice cream. If you’ve never eaten at Thomas Sweet, then you’re missing out on the best homemade ice cream out there. (Imagine having the ability to blend-in cookies, candy, and fruit to homemade ice cream create the perfect flavor. That’s what Thomas Sweet is about!)
There is nothing like Thomas Sweet here in Central Pennsylvania. There are a handful of ice cream places, but they all sell commercially-made ice cream. (The only good “homemade” ice cream I’ve found is at the Berkey Creamery, which is 90 minutes away in State College.) That’s fine if you didn’t grow up on Thomas Sweet, but honestly, mass-produced ice cream isn’t worth the extra calories to me. 

A few months ago I decided to search for better ice cream so I pinned an article about “Eastern Pennsylvania’s Ice Cream Trail.” When we had nothing to do this afternoon (since it was too cold to go swimming, which is what we thought we’d be doing today), I suggested we take a drive for ice cream. Marc and Isabelle were game. (Ari didn’t express an opinion.) 

Before we left our home, I called nearly all of the places listed in the article. Nearly all of them served commercially-made ice cream. But finally, at the bottom of my list, I came across Leo’s Homemade Ice Cream, an ice cream parlor 30 minutes south of our home in Carlisle, PA. A quick phone call revealed they made their own ice cream! I was giddy with excitement so I picked up the pace and got the kids ready to go. 

Leo’s ice cream was the real deal! Isabelle ordered Chocolate Marshmellow, Marc got Peanut Butter Cup, and I ate Snickers ice cream. All three flavors were delicious! Definitely worth the calories and the long drive! 

Next time I get the hankering for ice cream, I will hope in the car and drive to Carlisle! (Seriously.)

day trip · food · slice of life

Who is that friendly, curly-haired, blue-eyed girl?

It’s been over seven months since we ventured out to Central Market in Lancaster. However, we weren’t quite ready to head home after school today so I detoured out there for a quick lunch with Isabelle and my mom (who has been visiting for the past couple of days). My mom hasn’t been to Central Market yet so I thought grabbing lunch there would make for a fun excursion.

I found a spot easily on the street. Once I maneuvered the car 10+ times to parallel park, I turned off the car, and began looking for change. I gathered up enough nickels, dimes, and quarters for an hour and a half. More than enough time considering I needed to get home and do some work for a meeting and a presentation I have later this week.

After I fed the meter, I unstrapped Isabelle from her car seat. We reviewed the rules with the most important one being “hold on to my hand.” (That one needs a lot of repeating these days!) She dutifully held my hand as we walked away from the car. Once we crossed to the other side of the street, she began interacting with people she passed. “Hi!” she said in a loud toddler voice to a woman.

“Hi!” the woman said back with a grin.

“Aren’t you friendly!” I said.

She beamed up at me.

We walked down the sidewalk towards the market. “Hi!” she exclaimed to two men in business suits.

“Hi,” they said seriously.

I looked down at Izzy and found her smiling back at me with a goofy grin. What a ham!

Isabelle’s cheerful hellos continued as we went into the market. Every person she passed — man or woman, senior citizen or baby, worker or shopper — got an enthusiastic greeting. Most of the time each person got a smile and a wave too. And each time I said, “You’re so nice!” or “You’re so friendly!” she stared back at me and smiled as if to say I know.

In the end, her kindness paid off. There weren’t any empty tables left at Central Market when the three of us wanted to sit down for lunch. I noticed one table with three empty chairs. I walked over to the women at the table and asked, “Is anybody sitting here?”

“No,” they replied in unison.

“May we sit with you?” I asked.

“Of course,” one lady replied. “We’ve met you before.”

I looked at her quizzically.

“Your daughter said ‘hi’ to me earlier. I remember those eyes and that curly hair. You can definitely sit with us!” she said motioning towards the seats.

See, kindness does pay off!

day trip · food · slice of life

Farmer’s Market Field Trip

Isabelle checks out the meats at a grass-fed beef stand.  Beef: it's what's for dinner (tonight).
Isabelle checks out the meats at a grass-fed beef stand. Beef: it’s what’s for dinner (tonight).

I expected to be at my computer a lot today since it’s the first day of the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  I expected to spend a couple of hours perusing student writing for the new Classroom Challenge.  I expected to do these things ’til my daughter’s babysitter had to cancel.

I was unsure how to structure this day knowing I was supposed to be at my computer.  I have an iPhone, which allows me to moderate comments remotely.  However,  it’s hard to comment on blog posts, especially those written off of WordPress, from my phone (i.e., because of logins and captchas). Therefore, I did what any mom in my position would’ve done.  I went to Plan B.  Wake up early, do what you can do, and then focus on the kid.

We took a field trip today.  Since I’m her mother, there’s was no permission slip required.  We just hopped in the car and headed east to Lancaster, PA to visit the Lancaster Central Market, which is the oldest continuously operating farmer’s market in the country.  As soon as I pushed Isabelle’s stroller through the double doors to the market, I realized I was in an historic place.  I took note of the high ceilings and the way the vendors were spaced.  It reminded me of the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, but on a smaller scale.  Smaller, but cozy.

I squeezed the stroller the aisles, careful not to bump people or displays.  My mouth probably hung open as I passed the vendors.  I made a mental note of where the salad vendor was, but never stopped there for lunch.  Instead I was seduced by a beef empanada, which I haven’t had since I stopped working in Central Falls, RI three and a half years ago.

Checking out some cookies.
Checking out some cookies.

We sampled bread at Thom’s Bread and landed up buying a chocolate boule, which we’ll use for French toast this weekend, that Isabelle and I both adored.  I navigated our way way through the aisles, naming the vegetables, cakes, meats, and other treats we passed for Isabelle’s benefit.  We sampled chive goat cheese (didn’t know it existed) from Linden Dale Farms.  We stopped by Maplehofe Dairy to buy eggs from happy chickens and milk from happy cows (because you don’t explain the concept of cage-free eggs and antibiotic-free milk to a two year-old).  We weaved our way back and forth through the aisles multiple times, even stopping for cookies, which Isabelle’s slowly developing sweet tooth enjoyed devouring along with some flash pasteurized apple cider.

I set out to write a focused slice of life story today, but it isn’t happening.  You see, Isabelle fell asleep on the way home from the market.  (It is a 45 minute drive, after all.)  She’s been in her crib, fighting sleep, for the past half hour.  So now I will step away from the computer and go and get her.  A quality piece of writing will have to come from me another day.

Our farmer's market finds!
Our farmer’s market finds!

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