Craving Dole Whip

Disney & museum obsessed, homeschooling mom of 3, parenting to focus on experiences, not possessions. Sharing Disney tips, educational adventures and 'been-there-done-that' reviews. Constantly craving Dole Whip.


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The Lancaster Sweet Shoppe and Stroopie Co.–Experience Adventure 7 of 100

I love to plant seeds.  Literally and figuratively.  The process of tending to a tiny treasure, watching it develop, grow and evolve, patiently waiting and working towards the moment when it transitions into what it was always meant to become–I find this metamorphosis fascinating and fulfilling–the fundamental process of my gardening, parenting and choosing to homeschool.

I love when one life experience leads to another journey which then plants a seed that leads to research which evolves into passion and results in action.  Essentially, this is why I do what I do and why I created this goal of 100 experience adventures for my two daughters.  The figurative “seeds” planted by this journey, might develop into something spectacular someday.  I just need to be patient.  Plant the seeds.  Tend to my tiny treasures.

This particular experience, 7 of 100, represents one of those seeds.

We met a lot of passionate people when visiting the Pennsylvania Farm Show last Saturday. (Read about that experience here.)  While walking through a crowded aisle of vendors, we sampled chips, dips, pickles, cheese and ghee, but the booth that grabbed my attention was the Stroopie Co.  As the woman handed me a sample of a freshly made Dutch Stroopwafel, she mentioned an interesting fact about her company–they hire and provide meaningful employment for refugee women.  I immediately asked her if she offered tours and she gave me a card so I could send an email to set something up.

For our 7th of 100 experience adventures, my daughters and I drove to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to visit the Lancaster Sweet Shoppe.

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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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World-wide, 60 million refugees are forced to flee their homelands and each year, the city of Lancaster invites approximately 1,000 of these humans to re-establish and begin a new life in Pennsylvania.  Before settling in a new city, some refugees endure living in refugee camps for 12 to 15 years.

Many refugees experience difficult challenges, painful tragedies and separation from family.  In a new country, the process of trying to find work proves problematic due to language and cultural barriers.

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!).

**Fun Fact:  The refugees are taught English by a certified ESL teacher.

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The gracious Jennie met with me and my daughters for almost two hours on the day we visited the candy shop.  (She is also the woman who handed me the Stroopie sample at the Farm Show.)  Immediately, Jennie’s dedication and passion for refugees and her love of all people shines through her peaceful and welcoming personality.

She is delightful.  Her genuine and honest charisma generated a magnetism–and without sounding too weird–I really longed to talk to her all day and be her new BFF. LOL.

Friends, this woman is a world-changer.  A mother.  A tranquil soul.  A peaceful warrior.  A seed planter.

She inspires.

I want to be her when I grow up (even though she is younger than me!).  The impact her company makes on this world can never be measured–it has the potential to not just change a few lives, but also to change this world.  Once a human is given the chance to live in a safe environment and the opportunity for meaningful work, the positive ripples continue for generations to come.  The seeds of this business transform lives.

I am reminded of the commonly quoted story of the boy who threw a star fish back into the ocean in the hopes of making a difference–even if that difference was only for one star fish.

Jennie explained that the Stroopie Co.’s dedication to social impact and public transparency practices opened the door for the company to become a Certified B Corporation.  A Certified B Corporation (“B” stands for “Benefit”) focuses on the human side of business–measuring what truly matters–social and environmental responsibility, legal accountability and the innovation to solve social and environmental problems.

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Jennie also gave us free Stroopies.  THANK YOU, JENNIE!

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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.  A mix of local flour, eggs and cinnamon create the dough and creamy, homemade caramel turns and blends in a large, electrical vat.

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An exposed work space and viewing area allows visitors to watch each Stroopie travel from raw dough to completed product.  Four dollops of Stroopie dough are placed in a waffle iron for about one minute.

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Stroopie cookie in raw dough form

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4 dollops of Stroopie dough on the waffle iron

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2 waffle irons cook the dough for about 1 minute

When the cookie comes out of the waffle iron, it is cut in half and made into a perfect circle.

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**Fun Fact:  Jennie’s husband, Jonathan, designed the machine used to slice and stamp out the perfect circle!

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Then, homemade caramel is hand-spread between the two slices, creating a super yummy Dutch Stroopwafel right in the heart of Lancaster, PA!  Once cooled, some Stroopies are dipped in chocolate and other goodies or served in the original form.  Either way, I have been craving them since we left the shop.

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A deliciously warm Stroopie

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The master Stroopie maker shown in the photos is Mary.  Mary left Myanmar and moved to the United States in 2013.  She began working for the Stroopie Co. in 2015.

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The Lancaster Sweet Shoppe opened this location in 2016, after the Stroopie Co. won The Great Social Enterprise Pitch.  WOW!  That is AWESOME!  (Think ‘Shark Tank’ for local businesses)

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**Fun Fact:  The Stroopie Co. makes 3,000 Stroopies each day!

The Groff’s renovated the once barbershop space into a simply charming, farm-house style, sweets store, which stylistically benefits from Jennie being raised on an 100 acre Mennonite dairy farm.  HGTV should be envious.

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The Lancaster Sweet Shoppe

Jonathan Groff’s parents own Groff’s Candies and the chocolate morsels fill the glass display cases like tiny jewels.

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I love a family-owned business!  I also LOVE the reclaimed wood and white marble!

Pine View Dairy Ice Cream fills the space between the chocolate and the Stroopies production area.

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**Fun Fact:  Stroopies are sold in over 80 local shops and markets!

The relaxing back patio provides a wonderfully fun space to enjoy a warm Stroopie!

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Though the girls and I LOVED the delicious Stroopie cookies and will no doubt return for more, the take-away from our encounter with Jennie Groff was PURE inspiration and motivation.  This company’s innovation and shift toward social progress is creating a revolution of acceptance, diversity and transformation in small business/corporate America.

Since we returned home, the topic of social enterprise and being a mighty tool for social change continuously fills our family discussions.  My daughters are both naturally advocacy-minded, but this experience catapulted their awareness and triggered something that has yet to be realized.

A seed was planted and I look forward to the development and action it might create.

Thank you Jennie and Jonathan for being genuine.  For making a difference.  For generating change.  And, for planting seeds.

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“I am only one; but still I am one.  I can not do everything, but still I can do something; I will not refuse to do something I can do.”  Helen Keller

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”   Jane Goodall

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For more information and to order Stroopies online, visit www.stroopies.com

Seriously, order some online.  Now.

The Lancaster Sweet Shoppe is located at 141 N. Duke Street, Lancaster, PA, 17602.  Visit their website at www.lancastersweetshoppe.com or call 717-869-5955.

For more information about B Corps and social enterprise, click here

A video of my daughter signing in ASL about our experience can be found below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The National Watch & Clock Museum–Experience Adventure 4 of 100

Every day, since we settled in Pennsylvania, I watch the weather like an obsessed meteorologist.  Yesterday was the first day to bring above freezing temperatures and we took that as a sign to get out and do some more exploring!

The relief and freedom I felt while driving without the fear of ice or snow or sleet is indescribable.  Honestly, I enjoyed the drive more than I should–lol–it was absolutely delightful–no clinched teeth or white knuckle hands!

In preparation for our adventure, I visited the website of our #4 stop and printed reading material and vocabulary for my daughters to study several days earlier.  They each highlighted 5 items of interest to find–kind of a self-created scavenger hunt.  I also chose 4 Brain-Pop corresponding videos.  We began our morning by traveling about an hour from Carlisle, to the adorable town of Columbia, Pennsylvania.

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For our 4th experience adventure, let me introduce you to the amazing

National Watch and Clock Museum.

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With over 12,000 items, the National Watch & Clock Museum is the largest and most comprehensive horological collection in North America.  It is a beautifully organized and meticulously curated museum showcasing the history of timekeeping.

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The tour begins with an 8 minute movie featuring a condensed history of time.  From there, the impressive collection includes clocks, watches, tools and other time-related items.  All of the pieces are displayed in a way that allows visitors to immerse themselves in a very personal manner.

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Several interactive stations feature hands-on activities, such as building a large wood clock from block-like pieces, learning to use a water clock, pretending to be a watch maker and many more.  The connections bring the history of time alive.  The museum offers free activity booklets for children, too!

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**Fun Fact:  The National Watch & Clock Museum opened in 1977.

The exhibits range from early sundials and a replica of Stonehenge to modern marvels, such as the atomic and radio-controlled clocks.  A few displays include life-like figures in realistic settings.

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The most interesting exhibit features The Engle Clock.  Nicknamed ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World”, the Engle Clock stands 11 feet tall and 8 feet wide.  It is the first known monumental clock built it in the United States and it was completed in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

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It took the artist, Stephen D. Engle, 20 years to complete the imposing and ornate time piece.  He worked alone.  With 2 organ movements and 48 impressive moving features, it showcases Jesus, the 12 Apostles, the devil, 3 stages of life, death, justice, Orpheus, and Linus.

**Fun Fact:  The National Watch & Clock Museum competed against the Smithsonian to acquire The Engle Clock.

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The girls and I were lucky enough to be the only patrons in the museum when one of the friendly curators offered to wind up the clock and provide a thorough and interesting lecture, focusing on the history and mechanics of the Engle Clock.  (Side note:  This is one of my favorite homeschooling perks!  We typically only visit museums on a weekday and we have grown so accustomed to the personal attention, we avoid museums on the weekends, like the plague!  I cannot even count how many times my daughters have benefitted from knowledgeable and passionate curators and docents who give a little extra when the crowds are miniscule.  We are always so thankful and grateful.)

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The National Watch & Clock Museum also provides a fun gift shop and an impressive library and research center.

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A great museum features educational hands-on activities that appeal to all ages and offers an organized and complete collection.  In my homeschooling/museum-obsessed eyes, this museum hits all of the marks–excellent displays, friendly staff, and beautiful pieces.  5 stars all around!  The girls and I are already discussing the possibility of a return visit.  It is that good.

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The National Watch & Clock Museum is located at 514 Poplar Street, Columbia, Pennsylvania, 17512-2130.

I bought a Groupon ticket for a family visit for $8.40.

Days of operation and hours vary with the seasons, so for more information, visit www.nawcc.org or call 717-684-8261.

 

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Want to read about our favorite hands-on museum in Oklahoma?  Click here!

Curious about why we homeschool our daughters?  Read this!

Read all about our 3rd of 100 experience adventure here!

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George’s Furniture–Experience Adventure 2 of 100

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For our 2nd experience adventure in our attempt to complete 100 while in the great state of Pennsylvania, the girls and I visited George’s Furniture in Lancaster County.  Just like most activities, I found information about George’s by accident, while conducting one of my all-consuming Google searches of things to do in Pennsylvania…and oh, what a happy, happy accident!

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George’s Furniture is a second-generation and family-owned business located in Marietta, Pennsylvania.  Though George Martin founded the business in 1970, he unfortunately passed away several years ago and now his oldest daughter and her husband lead the company of talented craftsmen.

My daughters and I drove about an hour from Carlisle–in questionable winter weather–to tour and see this magical workshop–and it was worth it!  I love nothing more than learning about people turning a passion and talent into a business that provides other humans with handcrafted, one-of-a-kind treasures!

Located on a picture-perfect farm, outside of the historic village of Maytown, the showroom, museum and workshop offer free guided tours Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (according to the brochure).  The sign near the front door offers tours on Saturday and until 5:00 p.m.  I would go with the brochure to be safe or just call ahead.

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All furniture and pieces created by George’s craftsmen are made the old fashioned way and thoughtfully built to last for generations to come.  They work with kiln-dried hardwoods like oak, cherry, walnut and hard maple.  Almost all wood is acquired from local, in-state suppliers and sometimes customers even provide raw materials for custom pieces.

Our guide, Anthony, started working for Mr. Martin in the 1980’s, and most of the artisans have been there for 20+ years.  Each piece of furniture is made by hand–and each piece is made by only ONE person!

**Fun Fact:  The artist always signs the finished creation.  So AWESOME!

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Every piece of furniture is signed by the artist that built it.

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Particleboard and veneers are NEVER used.  Drawer bottoms and cabinet backs are all solid wood and quite honestly, even more beautiful than some of the exteriors!

 

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Inside a chest of drawers

 

 

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The back of a cabinet

Hardware, inserts, braces, and bars are meticulously added and used to strengthen pieces, such as dining room table leafs.

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George’s Furniture workshop is clean and organized and smells delicious–a cozy combination of wild, winter forest trees, crackling campfire, and an old-school wood burning kit.  I was in heaven and could have stayed in the workshop for hours.

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Anthony walked us through the workshop, pointing out different pieces of furniture actively being made by two craftsmen.  He showed my daugthers several machines:  a few saws, a large sander and a lathe.  No computers here!  Spindles, legs and finials are calibrated and carved by hand.

**Fun Fact:  Furniture from George’s is NOT sold in any stores!  They only sell directly to the customer.

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The tour taught us about the process of making furniture and how George’s craftsmen take extra steps to create heirloom-quality pieces.  They build dining room tables and chairs, desks, rocking chairs, coffee and end tables, hutches, mirrors, night stands, beds and dressers, buffets, jewelry boxes, bookcases and so much more!  Every single item is handcrafted in solid hardwood.  Everything is VERY heavy!

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**Fun Fact:  George Martin created a rocking chair design that cannot fall backwards.  For real–I tried it!  The chair was also the smoothest rocker I have ever sat in or touched.  This style rocker is still being made by his craftsmen.

The tour also includes time in the showroom, which is full of finished pieces, and a walk-through, museum-like area displaying a timeline of the company and some of George’s first creations.

If you find yourself in Lancaster County, I highly recommend a stop at George’s Furniture.

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George’s Furniture is located at 9 Reichs Church Road, Marietta, PA, 17547.  For more information, visit www.georgesfurniturepa.com or call 1-800-799-1685.

The tour is FREE, with a very small suggested donation.

PS–If you are Anthony (our tour guide) thank you for helping me with my car–and for not laughing too hard.  🙂

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Wondering why my daughters and I are in Pennsylvania?  Read all about our 6 month sabbatical here!

Check out what we did for the 1st of our 100 adventure experiences here!

 


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The Pennsylvania Farm Show–Experience Adventure 1 of 100

WOW!  As luck would have it, the 102nd Pennsylvania Farm Show began just 4 days after we moved to Pennsylvania.  As soon as I heard about this event, I knew it was going to be the first experience in our attempt to enjoy 100 adventures!

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102nd Pennsylvania Farm Show

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is the nation’s LARGEST indoor agricultural expo.  If you are from Houston, think about a farm-themed Nutcracker Market–add live animals, contests, and competitions–and then multiple the size by 200.  That *might* actually be accurate math.

Consisting of 24 indoor acres, housed in 11 buildings and including 3 arenas, the Farm Show represents just a tiny slice of the Pennsylvania farming industry.  There are 10,000 competitive exhibits, 6,000 animals and 300 commercial exhibits, as well as an enormous food court serviced by 2,000 volunteers.

**Super cool extra fact:  The first Pennsylvania Farm Show was held in 1917.

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Honestly, it would take me a month to write about all of the amazing events, animals, booths, shops, snacks, and people we encountered, so I will highlight just a few of our favorites.

The 2018 Historical Maker Scavenger Hunt immediately caught my homeschooling momma’s eyes.  Replicas of actual Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historical markers are placed around the enormous Farm Show complex.  Readable text on the markers provide information relating to agriculture and rural heritage.

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2018 Historical Marker Scavenger Hunt

**Super cool extra fact:  There are 2,000 authentic markers throughout the state of Pennsylvania.  We hope to find some! 

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Replica of a PHMC Historical Marker

Several booths are dedicated to the unwanted spreading and impact of the Spotted Lanternfly.  Native to China, India and Vietnam, this insect attacks grapes, fruit trees and pines.  The insects first invaded the United States just 4 short years ago.  Last year, only 5 Pennsylvania counties found infestations.  This year, 13 counties are aggressively fighting the invasive species.

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The Spotted Lanternfly was first discovered in 2014, in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

The vegetables!  The gourds!  The mushrooms!  The fruit!  Seriously, what can I say about the breathtaking beauty of these gifts from Pennsylvania farms?

Just look at the pictures!

 

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With 6,000 animals, the Pennsylvania Farm Show’s livestock exhibits rival the world’s most popular zoos.  Countless isles display hundreds of diverse varieties and species.  We enjoyed seeing and learning about unique hens, roosters, ducks, rabbits, cows, sheep, and alpacas.  My youngest daughter milked a mechanical cow and was allowed to pet a rabbit and a black angus.

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Almost all of the food vendors offer delicious samples.  We tasted creamy dips, spicy BBQ sauces, hot garlic pickles, sweet dessert pies, rich maple syrups, sour fruit drinks, mustards, ghee, cinnamon nuts, warm pretzels, and marinated chicken.  The best part of our indulgence of these mouth-watering samples was the fact that every vendor represents a Pennsylvania farm and local business.

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While we made our way around the sample offerings, I met many interesting, friendly and passionate people.  One woman makes stroopie, which is a Dutch cinnamon waffle cookie with caramel syrup hand-spread between two wafers.  The Stroopie Co. empowers and provides meaningful employment to refugees resettling in Pennsylvania.  We plan to visit where the cookies are made and hopefully take a tour of the Lancaster Sweet Shoppe.

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Spoonably Sweet is another interesting booth.  The chef told us how she “invented” her creation by accident, while trying to make something else.  I LOVE happy (and DELICIOUS) accidents!  Spoonable cookie dough can be used as a dessert topping, a pastry spread or eaten directly with a spoon!  She creates vegan options, too!  Um…yes, please!

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Last, but not least, there is a butter sculpture.  That’s right.

BUTTER.

SOLID BUTTER.

Everyone should experience butter artwork.

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I wish my writing skills flowed with lightning speed so I could tell you everything about the Pennsylvania Farm Show.  Hopefully, this little blog post will offer a tiny taste of an amazing experience that is available year after year, if you ever find yourself in the great state of Pennsylvania.

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The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center is located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, off of Exit 67 of Interstate 81.

Admission is FREE, but parking is $15 per vehicle.  Bring cash.

The 102nd Pennsylvania Farm Show runs January 6-13, 2018.

Plan to visit the 103rd show–January 5-12, 2019.

For more information, visit www.farmshow.pa.gov

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BIG changes! BIG adventures!

It has certainly been awhile since I have had anything worthy of posting in this blog.  I spent the last summer and fall semester shuttling my daughters back and forth to college and taekwondo, with not much time for anything else.

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Hurricane Harvey left behind complete devastation in Houston and the surrounding areas, but we were fortunate enough to only have flooding on our land and no damage to our home.  We were, however, in the beginning stages of some home renovations, so that put a kink in the scheduling logistics.

The extensive time I willingly dedicate to my children’s schedules and our extreme way of life is always time well spent, but the last 6 months drained my reserves and left my heart aching for an escape.

That crazy season has finally come to an end (for now) and a new adventure is on the snowy, and very chilly horizon!  My husband was offered and snagged one of the last available in-residency spots at the Army War College.  (He was enrolled in the online program when he received the call.)

My husband is super cool.

Located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the Army War College is a masters degree program for senior military leaders and International Fellow students and is a year long commitment.

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My awesome husband moved to PA and entered the Army War College in the summer of 2017, while I stayed behind and continued homeschooling and supporting our daughters.  The girls were already registered for fall college classes in Texas and we decided to stick to that commitment.

–Cue the time for home renovations, Harvey survival-mode and a stressed-out momma lifestyle.

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So, now that the fall semester, Christmas and New Years fun are all in the past, what is next for our extraordinary family?

I am glad you asked.

My daughters and I decided to join my husband in Carlisle for a 6 month sabbatical–an educational journey like no workbook or classroom can provide!

Our goal is to participate in 100 educational experiences–visiting museums, monuments, classes, tours, festivals and all kind of events.

That’s right.  I said 100.  

100

It might be a lofty goal, but guess what?!?  We have nothing but time–time and an intense desire to accumulate knowledge.

OH!  And did I mention, there will be a Walt Disney World vacation thrown in the mix, too?  Well, of course there will!  DUH!  Would you expect anything less from me?!?

So…hold on tight my friends–we are taking you along for the ride!  I plan to blog about ALL 100 of our excursions and adventures and you get to experience the evolution of our homeschooling journey as it unfolds.

Stay tuned!  We are just getting started!

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If you aren’t familiar with my family, feel free to read about our extraordinary journey here.  And here.  And here.

 

 

 


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Morian Hall of Paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

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Ranked as one of the most-visited museums in North America, The Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) showcases a plethora of traveling educational exhibits and features an impressive assembly of permanent collections, worthy of topping any must-see lists for Houston, Texas.

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Permanent exhibitions include a comprehensive Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife, an extraordinary Hall of Ancient Egypt and the stunning Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals, just to name a few.

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With 30,000 square feet of modern, clean lines, chalky white alcoves and chronological classifications, The Morian Hall of Paleontology houses the extraordinary and one of the most monumental permanent collections found inside the HMNS.

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World-renowned paleontologist and author, Robert T. Bakker, Ph.D., curates the substantial exhibit.  The collection walks visitors through prehistoric eras and human evolution, presenting predators and prey in active, natural poses.

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450 exquisite fossils and authentic replicas narrate the story of the flora and fauna that dominated our Earth for 200 million years.

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Descriptive and informative labels, comprehensive explanations and epoch timelines guide museum visitors through thought-provoking and educational displays.

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Several realistic-looking representations portray early humanoids and Neanderthals.

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The Morian Hall of Paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science presents a thorough and breathtaking view into a prehistoric and extinct world brimming with unusual biology, enormous dinosaurs, massive tress and an ever-changing environment.

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Put this museum and specifically, the Morian Hall of Paleontology, on your “Things to do in Houston” list.

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The Houston Museum of Natural Science is located at 5555 Hermann Park Drive, Houston, Texas, 77030.

Hours of operation:

Monday-Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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Ticket pricing for all permanent exhibits and collections:

Adults–$25

Children ages 3-11–$15

Seniors ages 62+–$15

College students with ID–$15

Military with ID–$8

Members are always free.

Parking is available in the museum parking garage.

Parking for non-members–$20

Parking for members–$5

Discounts, Groupons and CityPass cards are sometimes available.

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Dining options while at the museum:

McDonald’s is in the museum’s Grand Entry Hall and several restaurants exist within walking distance.  I recommend the MFA Café, located inside the Museum of Fine Arts, just a few blocks from the Museum of Natural Science.

Visit www.hmns.org or call 713-639-4629 to purchase tickets and for more information.

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Do you love museums?

Click here to read about my favorite museum in Oklahoma.

Click here to read about the Salvador Dali museum in Florida.

Traveling to Houston soon?  Check out Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios, currently performing in Houston, Texas.  Click here to read a full review of the amazing show!

 


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44 years and 1 day

Yesterday, I turned 44 years and one day old.  I wrote a blog post (read it here!) all about my birthday and what my actual day looked liked, but I woke up this morning with more to share.  So, what did 44 years and 1 day bring?

On Thursday, I woke up at 6:30 a.m. as a 44 year and 1 day old woman.  Constantly, for the last 24 years and 21 days, at least one person calls me “mom”, meaning I happily put my desires on the back burner…a deliberate, daily action for more than half my life.

So, I’m up at 6:30 a.m. to begin my day because Tuesdays and Thursdays are college days.  Not for me…I graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in 1997.  Tu/Th means college classes for my 11 and 13-year-old daughters.  Read 5 reasons why we homeschool here.

In true modern-life fashion, the first thing I reach for in the morning is my phone.  About 3 months ago, I finally started to flip my ringer off at night.  Since my son left for college in 2011, I worry about him constantly and always keep the phone on my nightstand, ringer on full-blast.  Now that the ringer is off at night, I check the phone first thing, just incase.  Full disclosure:  He graduated from college in 2015 and I still have my phone on vibrate (just incase).  Baby steps, people.  Baby steps.

I typically spend 10 ish minutes looking through Facebook, maybe Twitter, and seldomly Instagram.  Come on, I am 44.  Facebook is my jam.

A friend sent me a Facebook message asking about the mesh laundry baskets we use to protect, raise and house our monarch caterpillars.  I wanted to verbally describe the containers, but felt a picture would be better.  In my pj’s and clunky old-lady Vionic house-shoes (plantar fasciitis, remember?), I went to the garage to grab an empty habitat for an outdoor photo shoot.  I took the pic, put the basket back into the garage and stepped down onto the drive way.

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Well…I sort of “stepped down”.  The clunky house-shoe on my right foot slipped off as I stepped down from the garage doorway.  I twisted my ankle and fell directly on my rear, jarring my spine from my tailbone to my skull on the not-so-shock-absorbent concrete.  Of course, I used my left hand to brace myself, which in reality, only added to the list of injuries.  I laid on the driveway for a few minutes, accessing all damage, and laughing/crying at my old lady self…so thankful we live in the country, where neighbors are few and far between.

Besides my pride and ego, the other injuries are minor, mostly bruising and sore muscles.

Gingerly, I returned to the house, made oatmeal and negotiated two peace treaties between the conflicting ideals of my two daughters–at least I was not naked this time.  It’s a miracle.

On April 21, my family made the excruciating decision to help our beloved 13 year-old family dog cross the rainbow bridge.  A cloud of sadness and emptiness lingers over our house and hearts these days.  It has been tough on everyone.  For me, added misery stems from her absence in my daily routines.

Having a dog is like having another child.  Her needs always came before my own.  If she needed to go out and I needed to pee, I always took her first.  In fact, most mornings, I walked her outside before I barely opened my eyes and I always served her breakfast before I fed my children or myself.

As I was getting dressed, her absence overwhelmed me and I cried.  Cried in the shower, cried brushing my teeth, cried until it was time to leave for school.  I miss her.

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Part of my daily routine is calling my husband while I drive to the first college campus.  (My girls take classes at two different campuses this semester.) (And, since you might not know me personally, I use my car’s Bluetooth just to be safe.  I never speed and I never text while driving.)  I am a rule follower.

The phone call is a quick opportunity to check in with my man while my daughters are plugged in and watching a DVD in the car.  Movies create a much-needed quick escape for my girls from their very active brains.  What do they watch?  Well…let me just say, my daughters display an eclectic taste when it comes to films.  I am going to walk out to my car (slowly and carefully) and take a pic of the movies just for your viewing pleasure.  Here you go:

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Yes, all of these movies are currently in my car and yes, we spend a lot of money on DVD’s.  Someone should set up a GoFundMe account.

So, back to the chitty-chat with my husband.  He always asks about my morning first–even if I protest and ask about his day, he refuses to answer until I share my stuff.  I gave an overview of everyone’s morning emotions and a recap of my graceful, old lady fall and waited for his summation.

He starts by causally mentioning his name made the Colonel promotion list–a SUPER big deal.  We have waited AND waited AND waited for this amazing news.  As I am giddy with excitement and congratulations, I bounce in my driver’s seat (as much as humanly possible) and proceed to twerk my neck and back even more than the morning’s tumble on the concrete.  Damn this 44 year and 1 day old body.

Seriously, my husband is so humble.  Green Berets are called “The Quiet Professionals” for a reason.  He is a rock star, but he keeps it a secret.

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LOL.  I am just kidding.  That is not my husband.  This is a picture of my daughter at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  I wanted to throw a little Disney love into this post.  Who needs more Disney in their life?  This girl.  Yes, me.  Duh.

THIS is my man, leaving for deployment in 2010.

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He is an amazing soldier and an amazing husband.

If I made the rank of Colonel, it would be the first thing I blurted out when I answered a call.  But, not my husband…he is always more concerned and interested in what I have going on in my world.  I am a lucky gal.

First college stop every Tuesday and Thursday is yoga class for my 11 year-old.  I am happy to report it is not an easy, blow-off course.  Though the focus is yoga and health, the professor spends a lot of time lecturing about yoga philosophy, morals, ethics, and practices.  My daughter continues to learn about Hindi culture, vegetarianism and historical traditions.

During yoga, my 13 year-old and I sit at tables outside of the classroom–she works on geometry, French or marine biology while I answer emails, make calls or write blog posts for you guys.  After yoga, my daughter changes into regular clothing and we drive to the next campus.

Yesterday, however, she realized she forgot her regular bra and reacted with a full, emotional meltdown in the women’s restroom.  Have you read about my life with profoundly gifted kids?  Click here.

I calmly suggested the sports bra was sufficient, but she shot that down pretty quick.  Next, I offered a switch–she could wear my bra and I would gladly wear the sports bra…anything to minimize her anxiety.  Apparently, the thought of wearing her mom’s bra was mortifying enough to make the wearing of the sports bra acceptable.  That is a parenting win, my friends.

We drove to the next college campus, where my 13 year-old takes Acting I and my 11 year-old attends two different ASL classes.  I create a home base–what I call our “nest”–and I sit there for the next 9 hours while my daughters come and go to the rest of their classes.  I read, watch entirely too many Netflix shows and I do research for this blog.  Yea Wi-Fi.

On campus, the Deaf and ASL interpreting college students were interacting with visiting Deaf junior high students.  One of the professors introduced my daughter and the students asked a lot of questions.  She confidently signed and communicated with several of the kids, which was exciting because these students were her age.  That NEVER happens.

One fascinating facet of Deaf culture is sign names.  A Deaf person MUST give the sign name to a hearing person.  Until a sign name is given, names are finger-spelled using the ASL alphabet.  My daughter has studied American Sign Language for 6 years and has waited 6 years, hoping someday to receive her sign name from a Deaf individual.

The sign name is an act of acceptance into the Deaf culture.

I was writing a blog post when my daughter RAN up to our nest, all out of breath, and almost cried as she told me that a Deaf student bestowed her a sign name.  It was the best day of her life!

Through happy tears, I watched my daughter walk into her Visual and Gestural Communications class with a sign name.  It was like she was a new person.

For Christmas, I gave my daughters tickets to see Alton Brown Live:  Eat Your Science.  When I purchased the tickets, we thought my husband would be in Qatar, so I only bought three.  Life is funny sometimes, right?  Plans change constantly around here.

So, we skipped my 11 year-old’s last class (Yes, she told the professor in advance.) and we met my husband for dinner before the show.  My husband loves Alton Brown and since he is not in Qatar, I gave him the chance to take our daughters on a date.  I REALLY wanted to go, but I was thrilled to give up my ticket for my awesome husband.

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Alton Brown is so cool, isn’t he?

After dinner, my husband took our daughters to see Alton Brown Live and I started the long drive home.  I made a last minute decision to visit my fabulous sister because Google Maps sent me right by her house.

I love spending quality time with my sister, my nephew and one of my nieces.  (The other one was out for the evening…bummer!)

They gave me some super awesome birthday presents, like this Haunted Mansion (my all-time favorite Disney ride!!!) plate.

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And, I got this adorable dress to wear during my next Walt Disney World vacation!

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I am sooooooo excited!!!

Last May, I was diagnosed with skin cancer.  Ugh.  Too many years using baby oil in the sun and too many trips to the tanning bed in my teens and 20’s…use sunscreen my friends.

Anyway, I had some fun basal cell carcinoma removed from my shoulder and the scar is YUCK-Y.  I call it “my third nipple”, which my husband hates, but I think it’s funny–it is a sick way of coping…

My 4 year old nephew (He is the love of my life!) told me to take off my jacket, revealing my shoulder because I was wearing a tank top underneath.  He immediately started asking questions about my scar and poking it with his finger.  He said it looked like gum and I could not stop laughing.

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I guess calling it “gum” is better than “my third nipple”.  lol.

This is my nephew.  I could look at his precious face all day long.

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It was dark by the time I arrived home and I immediately felt the absence of our Pepper Dog.  Last night marked the first time I was home alone without her.  The house was too quiet and too empty.  I could not stop thinking about her.

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I decided a melatonin made the best nighttime snack and I snuggled into bed, watching a few episodes of “Scrubs”.

At 11:30 p.m., my husband (a new Colonel) and daughters (one with a sign name) finally came through the door, exhausted from a long day of school and Alton Brown.

I feel asleep with sore muscles and tight joints from the morning’s fall, but I have this chunk of gum on my shoulder and it kind of makes me laugh.

Here’s to being 44 years and 1 day old.