Craving Dole Whip

Disney & museum obsessed, homeschooling mom of 3, parenting to focus on experiences, not possessions. Sharing Disney tips, educational adventures and a few reviews. Constantly craving Dole Whip.


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Thoughts On Turning 45

Yesterday was my 45th birthday.  The number “45” does not cause alarm until I think about the 5 short years until I turn 50.  And…THAT number seems ridiculous.   🙂

Like most people, I assume, the arrival of my yearly birthday prompts a slurry of reflective thoughts and winding questions of direction–Where have I been and where do I want to go?

Looking back, my previous life events took some very interesting turns (to say the least), which I honestly–always and continuously–view as gifts and opportunities to evolve.  Like the vinyl stickers on one of the walls in our classroom states, “If it does not challenge you, it does not change you.”

So, for the past few days, I found myself thinking a lot about my unusual path and the significant events I used to form myself into the woman I am today at age 45.

 

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Pic of me, riding in an Amish carriage, on April 26, 2018–my 45th birthday

 

I was raised in a patriarchal dominated home, where individuality, progressive thoughts, and conflicting opinions were not tolerated, often resulted in severe punishment, and significantly stifled free-thinking, creativity and uniqueness–a pit of suffocating quicksand that I would spend 25+ years clawing my way out of to find, uncover and explore my original identity on unbiased solid ground.

A surprise pregnancy at the age of 19 started the growth and evolution.

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The life-altering minute I became responsible for another human being created the defining moment I chose to forge my own, unique path.

As a single mom, I completed college with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Studio Art and added an all-level, K-12 teaching certificate.  Studying and learning did not come naturally.  My son, on the other hand, taught himself to read at age 3 and understood simple algebra by age 5.

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I raised my son alone, except for three, not-so-awesome years when I accidentally married a drug addict.  I wish I could write a paragraph to explain those years…oh the enormous mountain of red flags and stupidity I ignored!  It is utterly embarrassing and I am literally shaking my head as I type these words.  Excuse the acronym, but seriously, WTF?

Honestly, I *think* I married him because he formed such a strong bond with my son, who desperately desired a male role model in the absence of his father (whose visits were sporadic and yearly, at best)  I also divorced him because of my son– I REFUSED to subject him to an unstable and unhealthy environment.

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The wedding was March 11, 2000.  By August, I learned about a hidden addiction and immediately went into action, contacting family members, staging an intervention, begging, pleading, blah, blah, blah…  I filed for divorce on October 17, 2002, which was ultimately finalized on April 1, 2003.  Good times, ladies and gentlemen…good times…

During those explosive days, I became the Secondary Teacher of the Year for the entire school district–a title never before awarded to a fine arts teacher.  One guarantee in my public school classroom–individuality was encouraged and celebrated, as was free-thinking and original thought, interpretation and expression.

And that was that.  Bam.  I was a single mom again.  Artist.  Teacher of the year.

 

Eventually, I plan to write an entire post all about my epic love story, but for today, a quick summary will have to pacify you.  🙂

I met my amazing (and current, LOL) husband in 2nd grade.  We were seven years old.  We rode the same school bus and we enjoyed the same awesome teacher that year, 1980. (She had a carpeted bathtub in her classroom for a reading nook!  Seriously, how cool is  that?!?)

We were interested in each other from the very beginning and all through elementary school, but his family moved away at the end of 8th grade.

Our paths crossed uncountable times over the next 16+ years, which resulted in several missed opportunities, a cherished photograph of him holding my 6 week old son and ironically, an encounter with my drug-addicted-then-fiance.

Life is funny sometimes.

Long story short, we finally married on August 29, 2003.  Reminder:  Divorce freed me from a life of heartache and addiction-induced instability on April 1, 2003.  Yes, I am aware that is an alarmingly short amount of time between the end of one marriage and the beginning of a new marriage, but honestly I should have married this man 25 years ago.  I never questioned the time line.

 

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Our wedding day

 

I will share this fun, little tidbit that will certainly be mentioned in my longer love story post:  Ironically, our first daughter was born on April 1, 2004–exactly 1 year after my divorce was finalized.  Internally and quietly, I celebrate that day each year as another significant, life evolving-freedom-granting event–AND I usually get to eat cake and ice cream!  HELLO!  Who gets to celebrate an escape from a suffocating marriage like that every year!?!  ME!  Pretty awesome, right?  🙂

 

If you are familiar with my blog, you know all about my extraordinary family.  But, for the new comers, I will share a few details and will attach some links at the bottom of this rambling if you find yourself interested with nothing else to do today.  LOL

My children are profoundly gifted–All three of them, though my son was never professionally tested.  He began college level classes at the age of 15 through the public school, dual-credit system and he is a mathematical genius and forward-thinker.  My daughters began taking college classes at the local community college at age 10 and 12.

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One daughter is fluent in French, is a 2nd degree black belt and runs her own charity.  Her passions include human rights and marine biology.  Our other daughter is fluent in American Sign Language and has completed 25 college hours. (She is 12.)  She plans to become an OB/GYN for Deaf and hearing women.

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We started a homeschooling journey almost 7 years ago to accommodate the need for our daughters’ extreme academic accelerations.  My son was already in college by the time our family initiated this evolution.

Sometimes people ask me about the origin of all of this intelligence.  The short answer is I have no idea.  The funny answer is that it skipped a generation, mainly me. LOL.  My husband likes to take all of the credit, but I like to remind him that does not explain my son.  🙂

So…the truth–if I am 100% honest–obviously the mega-brain power originated with some deeply buried DNA trait, which resides dormant inside of MY genetic make up.

And here is where my 45th birthday becomes a swirling, inner reflection, self-evaluating event.

I am surrounded by brilliant people.

My dad was a very successful attorney.  My niece is about to earn her master’s degree and she is married to an attorney.  My son’s girlfriend is an attorney. (There seems to be  a trend here.)  My sister has a master’s degree in special education and my husband will graduate in June with his graduate degree–having earned his undergrad from West Point.  My brother-in-law is an orthopaedic surgeon.  My daughters are geniuses and my intelligent, mature son was progressive in his bravity to walk away from a suffocating corprotate job to seek happiness over wealth.

Seriously.

That’s a tough crowd to compare yourself to.

I can’t help but wonder, at the ripe age of 45,  if I somehow missed the academic boat–am I just some sort of super under-achiever?

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My thoughts keep going back and forth, an internal conversation I regularly have with myself, but my annual birthday tends to highlight the significance.

Could I be more?  Should I be more?  What really is “more”?

I don’t have regrets.  I really don’t.  Even the botched marriage taught me life lessons that allow me to be a better wife to my wonderful husband.  Do I wish I could have learned those lessons a different way?  Sure.  Do I wish I was raised in a different kind of household?  Yes.  If my surprise pregnancy never happened, would my life have taken a different path?  Maybe.  Probably.  I don’t know.

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It really doesn’t matter.  I would not change it.

All of these significant events created the Jen I present to the world each and every day.  I am the glue that holds my family together when my military husband deploys and the fierce momma-bear that fights an age discriminating college system for my girls.

When my adult son needs something, I am his person.  When my husband’s work pulls him away, he never, EVER wonders or worries about how I will handle things.  My daughters both know that I will do whatever it takes to help them succeed–THEIR definition of success, not my own.

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I constantly seek a better way.  A better path.  A better understanding.  A better acceptance.

An evolution into better.

I **think** that is what 45 looks like for me.

 

 

Want to read some more random writings about my unique family?

Read this!

And this.

And this.

And this.

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8 Fun Food Adventures To Experience In Pennsylvania

DANG, y’all (spoken in my best Texas twang accent).  Pennsylvania offers some DE-LICIOUS food.  The restaurants, the desserts, the tours, the hands-on experiences…everything surrounding the PA food industry is top-notch.  For people who enjoy fresh, farm-to-table, innovative, vegetarian and vegan, wholesome foods and clean meals, Pennsylvania is the state for you, my friends.  Book a flight.  Now.

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My family and I are only here for a short time and I do NOT want to leave.  Who knew that PA would become my food mecca?!?

For the gastronomically adventurous readers, here is a list of 8 cool and fun food adventures (not just restaurants!) to explore and enjoy while you visit the super awesome state of Pennsylvania!  Click on the links for more info, details and locations!

1.  Cinnaholic

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What is Cinnaholic??!?  Cinnaholic is a nation of deliciousness–where an exquisitely handmade, heavenly dessert is created–tempting and luscious, indulgent and rich, melting and mouth-watering…and…and…and…It is a cinnamon roll!

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Cinnaholic specializes in high quality gourmet cinnamon rolls.  Each roll can be customized to personal tastes with a variety of frostings and topping options.

And, HELLO–it is VEGAN!

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2.  The Lancaster Central Market

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The Lancaster Central Market is the oldest, continuously operating, farmers market in the country.  WOW!

Inside a beautiful and historical brick building, the Lancaster Central Market showcases approximately 65 stands where local farmers, bakers, makers and shakers sell homemade wares, local vegetables and ethnic food from around the globe.

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All sorts of things are available at the market, such as pickles, grains, dried beans, herbs, pasta, fresh juice, pretzels, farm-to-market produce, candy, bread, meat, pastries, seafood, milk, sauces, quilted goods and fresh flowers.  Shoppers find stands featuring delicious Amish, Greek, African and Middle Eastern food.

Fresh.  Organic.  Straight from the growers’ hands.  Fabulous!

3.  Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery

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In 1861, Mr. Julius Sturgis built the original ovens for his pretzel bakery in a 77 year-old building located in Lititz, Pennsylvania.  Today, pretzel lovers, visitors and crazy homeschooling families on sabbatical (like us!) can visit the site, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Guests can watch large, soft pretzels being made onsite!  The company still uses the same recipe from 1861!  AMAZING!

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A very informative tour and the opportunity to learn how to twist a traditional pretzel are must-dos.  All kinds of yummy flavored hard pretzels, souvenirs and hot, fresh soft pretzels can be purchased in the front gift shop, separate from the tour.  But, take the tour!  (And then shop!)

4.  The Lancaster Sweet Shoppe & Stroopie Co.

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The Lancaster Sweet Shoppe is an adorable and delightful place where the fresh goodies of three local treat makers–Groff’s Candies, Pine View Dairy Ice Cream and Stroopies–can be discovered (and eaten!)

 

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Established in 2008, the Stroopie Co’s mission sparks social change, the fundamental backbone of the company.  As well as making delicious, high quality cookies, the company exists to support and hire refugee women who, after fleeing their homes in countries ravaged by war, natural disasters, poverty and uncertainty, find a safe haven and a chance to start over in Lancaster.

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Husband and wife team, Jonathan and Jennie Groff, became co-owners of the Stroopie Co. in 2010.  Their focus on social impact centers around providing meaningful employment for refugee women (and creating an uber delicious cookie!).

Small batches of Stroopies are made fresh daily on site by the Stroopie Co., in a cozy and modest kitchen space in the back of the candy shop.

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Homemade caramel is hand-spread between two slices of warm cookie, creating a super yummy Dutch Stroopwafel right in the heart of Lancaster, Pennsylvania!  Fantastic cookies and social awareness…forward thinking in delicious action!

5.  The Accomac

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With a long, winding history, dating back to the early 1700’s, the Accomac Inn overlooks the beautiful rushing waters of the Susquehanna River.

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Offering visitors the opportunity to dine only by candle light, the Accomac hosts “Firelight Nights” on select evenings from November to early March.  Charming and über romantic, the tiny flicker of soft candle light and a roaring fireplace fill the dining room with a peaceful glow and calming warmth.  No light bulbs.  No lamps.  No electricity generating light. 

And the food…

Mouthwatering.  Fresh.  Unique.  Heavenly.

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The Accomac works with local Pennsylvania farmers and provides a list of menu food sources online, which I appreciate and rarely find.

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6.  The Wilbur Chocolate Store

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The Wilbur Chocolate Store features a tiny glimpse into the history of the company and the process of making yummy chocolate candies and goodies.

Visitors can watch an informative video and see historical candy making equipment and beautiful, antique tins and packaging.

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The aromatic space is a dedicated and delicious store filled with all kinds of chocolate treats!  A little hint:  Find some free samples in the back!

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7.  Caputo Brothers Creamery

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The amazing story of the Caputo Brothers Creamery began when owners David and Rynn Caputo decided to quit their corporate jobs to attend culinary school in Italy–a bold and exciting decision made while on their honeymoon!

After 6 months in Italy, the couple returned to the United States with a love for authentic Italian cheeses.  In 2011, David and Rynn opened Caputo Brothers Creamery, which is named after their sons, Giovanni and Matteo.

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Caputo Brothers Creamery produces the only fermented cheese curds that can be stretched into fresh (DELICIOUS!) Mozzarella–in the entire United States.  Go visit their retail shop in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania.  Better yet, get the Groupon for the awesome Italian cheese making tour and tasting!

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8.  Beiler’s Doughnuts

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Beiler’s Doughnuts is a family-owned, Amish donut store, with three locations in Pennsylvania.  30 years ago, Beiler’s Doughnuts was one of the first Amish merchants to begin selling homemade goods in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market.

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The mouth-watering doughnuts are made fresh daily, on site at each location.  FRESH baked and fried desserts taste so much better!  The heirloom doughnut recipe has been in the Beiler family for generations and each delicious doughnut is hand rolled and carefully decorated.

Traditional, creative, whimsical, sweet and savory toppings make the doughnut case look like a piece of yummy, edible artwork.

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Get a dozen.  For real.  You will regret it if you don’t.  🙂

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I am kind of a donut snob.  If you know me personally, you know I have a favorite donut place in Austin, Texas, and I rarely (almost NEVER) eat donuts from other shops.  Sub-par donuts are just not worth the extra calories.

Friends, these donuts are worth the extra time at the gym.  Beiler’s Doughnuts are the BEST Amish donuts EVER!  I do not see how they can be improved.

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Put all of these cool places on your Pennsylvania bucket list and ENJOY the experience!

Looking for other cool things to check out in Pennsylvania?

I recommend:

The State Museum of Pennsylvania

The National Watch and Clock Museum

The Harley Davidson Steel Toe Tour

George’s Furniture

Dutch Apple Dinner Theater

 


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The Dutch Apple Dinner Theater in Lancaster, PA–Experience Adventure 31 of 100

For holidays and birthdays, my family and I typically forgo traditional gifts.  No chocolate bunny on Easter.  No huge red heart on Valentine’s Day.  We focus on gifting educational items (books, kits, crafts, DVD’s) and experiences everyone can enjoy (tickets to a lecture, concert, museum).

In celebration of Valentine’s Day 2018, I bought my family tickets to see Ring Of Fire at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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The Dutch Apple Dinner Theater features Broadway-worthy productions and performances, enjoyable concerts and fun children’s shows.  As a popular, live entertainment establishment, the Dutch Apple Dinner Theater captivates audiences of all ages, sharing a love of music and talent for more than 30 years in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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Venue doors opened at 6:00 pm for dinner and the program began at 7:30 pm.  We visited on a Friday evening, with a prime rib buffet offered before the show, which was included in our ticket price.  The buffet featured traditional American, (what I would call home-cook’n) style food, with a decent salad bar and a variety of homemade desserts.  For those interested,  The Dutch Apple also offers a full service bar.

Tables, assigned by the tickets purchased, designate seats for dinner and the show.  My family enjoyed meeting and sharing our ‘section A’ table with a friendly, older couple.  Most tables seat 4, our table sat 8, but I also saw a few smaller tables with only 2 chairs and some floating 6 toppers.

The friendly servers and staff were attentive and personable, consistently checking if drinks needed refills, which is always appreciated and often overlooked in a buffet-dining situation.

About 7: 15 pm, the buffet closed and the tables were quickly and efficiently cleared and cleaned to prepare for the beginning of the show.

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The production of Ring of Fire chronicles the extraordinary and challenging life of legendary singer Johnny Cash through entertaining musical theater.  The talent, the music, the performance and the professionalism blew us away!  WOW! 

Every scene captivated the audience with a phenomenal cast of über talented  performers who joyfully danced and played multiple instruments while singing over 30 Johnny Cash songs.  The show created an engaging timeline of the musician’s troubled life with stand out, brilliant performances by Emily Woods and Candice Lively.

Act 1 focused on Johnny Cash’s boyhood years, Opry and fame, with Act 2 showcasing the dark years, redemption and celebration.

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The level of talent and entertainment found at the Dutch Apple was extraordinary and charming–live theater at its BEST!

Put The Dutch Apple Dinner Theater on your “Must-Do in Lancaster” list!  

Celebrating their 32nd season, future shows for 2018 include Showboat, Grease, The Wizard of Oz, Swing, Sister Act and A Christmas Carol.  I wish we could stay in Pennsylvania long enough to see all of these performances!

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We hope to visit again soon to enjoy at least one more production.  🙂

**The Dutch Apple Dinner Theater will also feature 6 concerts and 5 children’s shows during the 2018 season.

The Dutch Apple  Dinner Theater is owned by the Prather family and is located at 510 Centerville Road, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 17601.  For more information, call 717-898-1900 or visit their website (and purchase tickets!) at www.DutchApple.com

Ticket prices vary by type and performance day.  See ticket pricing below:

Tuesday & Wednesday: $59 per person

6:00 Dinner and 7:30 Show

Thursday–Served Dinner: $61 per person

5:30 Dinner and 7:30 Show

Friday & Saturday–Prime Rib Buffet: $65 per person

6:00 Dinner and 7:30 Show

Sunday: $59 per person

5:30 Dinner and 7:00 Show

Matinees: $55 per person

11:45am Lunch and 1:15pm Show

Students 13-18: $29 per student

All performances for dinner and show

Children 12 and under: $25 per child

All performances for dinner and show

Show Only Tickets: $40 for adults

Show Only Tickets: $22 for children

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For other fun things to do while in Lancaster, click on these links!

Lancaster Sweet Shoppe

Lancaster Central Market

Burning Bridge Antiques