Yearly Archives: 2009

The Comic Store

Well into my college years, I collected comic books. Titles like Spiderman, Ironman, Captain America & G.I. Joe (Yeah, I was a Marvel guy) were purchased with the small amount of disposable income I had on hand at the time.   loved the art and the creative storytelling that was inherent with the medium.  hat’s why when Sarah needed someone to go down to the Comic Store in Lancaster for the 25 days of Christmas Shopping assignment, I was quick to volunteer.

Stepping into the store, I was filled with nostalgia from my collecting years. Besides having a wall filled with the week’s new delivery of fresh issues, the Comic Store has shelf upon shelf of graphic novels for every taste. I spent some time thumbing through some past issues in backers and bags hunting for bargains and also took some time to look at the wide variety of collectible figurines, toys, statues, collectible card games and board games.

They had something for every comic and movie lover on your list. From an eclectic selection of Star Wars comics, magazines and action figures, to toy replicas of the characters from the Rankin/Bass stop motion classic, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, there was a wide array of comic, tv, and movie memorabilia for sale.

I ended up buying myself a wind-up tin robot of URL from Futurama (in a fantastic looking two-color box no less!), a current G.I. Joe book, and a few younger-skewing comics as stocking stuffers for my boys. Hopefully, one day, one of them will take up my interest in comics.  If they do, we’ll have a great place nearby to go together in the Comic Store to look for the latest and greatest.

Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery

How do you like your history? I’ve always liked mine crackly and flavorful. How’s that, you ask? Well, just follow me to Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in downtown Lititz and you’ll quickly understand.

Established by its namesake in 1861, Julius Sturgis is the first commercial bakery in America and today still makes warm and delicious hand-made soft pretzels onsite, while also selling a wide selection of hard pretzels produced by Julius’ direct descendants at Tom Sturgis Pretzels just up the road in Reading.

The types of hard pretzels on offer include traditional Dutch and Thin pretzels, but it’s all the great flavors that really get me – Cinnamon Stix, Jalapeno Minis, Little Cheesers, Real Baked Chocolate . . . you see what I mean?

Plus, during the holiday season they’re featuring a fiendishly-delicious little concoction called the Pretzel Popcorn Pie, which is peanut brittle with pretzels spread over a mound of popcorn, topped with a drizzling of chocolate. Like I said at the outset – crackly and flavorful.

You can also buy stylish-looking Sturgis t-shirts and mugs or a shippable sampler box of Sturgis favorites. Combine your shopping with a bit of history by taking a hands-on tour of the original pretzel bakery in the same building, and you’ve got the makings of a wonderful experience.

Click here for more photos.

The Amish Lifestyle

Here at the Visitors Center, we receive a lot of questions about the Amish lifestyle, and how they are raised. I’d like to explain a little bit about that now, because I’m sure that it’s of interest to our blog readers as well!

At an early age, the Amish child is taught to worship God, to love work, and to love the land and farm life, as the Bible connects sin & wickedness with laziness. Amish children do not attend school beyond the elementary grades, although their “elementary” reaches knowledge far beyond our elementary levels. For this reason, they must decide on an occupation early in life, as after the eighth grade, they will work full time.

Sons in most cases follow the occupation of their fathers. The rural form of life is traditional for the Amish, and a lot of them are farmers, although the lack of land is pushing the Amish into other occupations, such as furniture making.

As tractors are not allowed, the Amish work their fields with horses and mules. The Amish were one of the first to realize the importance of rotating corps, and for this reason, their farms remain productive today. Their two-story barns provide storage for hay, grain, straw, farm implements as well as all of their livestock.

Farm work is shared by all of the members of the family. The women and girls keep house, cook, clean, sew, and assist with farming tasks. Using the horse & mule, the men & boys plant, cultivate and reap the crops. Skilled in the use of tools, they build and repair their homes, barns, and chicken houses. The practical training given to the Amish children allows them to assume these responsibilities by the time they reach their teens.

To read more about the Amish lifestyle, click here.

A Trip to the North Museum of Natural History & Science

I had a chance to return to the North Museum of Natural History & Science with my family this past weekend.  The museum, located on the edge of the campus of Franklin & Marshall College near downtown Lancaster, is a fantastic, accessible way to introduce your school-aged children to the world of science.  My oldest son has shown more of an interest in math and science since he’s started first grade (much to the befuddlement of his English teacher mom and his book-loving Dad) so I thought a return trip to the North Museum might be in order.

The North Museum is filled with lots of hands-on activities and displays for kids.  Even my 3-year-old could get into the act.  Sure, he may not be gleaning any of the “science” from his exploits, but he was having fun which is a bonus for any parent who’s ever heard the phrase, “Can we leave yet?”

The first level of the museum contains a live animal room full of snakes, turtles and insects the kids can inspect through the safety of glass enclosures.  A helpful docent was on hand to clue my boys in on lots of interesting facts about the reptiles and amphibians on display.  We also spent a decent amount of time in the “Hall of Cosmos” which had all kinds of interactive displays geared towards those with an interest in space.

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The boys also enjoyed the “Light & Sight Gallery” where they got to see what kind of effect ultraviolet light had on their respective clothing.  Having already been in a college dorm room in my lifetime, I was somewhat less shocked and intrigued by the day-glow effect then they were, but it was great fun to see how excited they got nonetheless.

The current traveling exhibit was Attack of the Bloodsuckers, which focused on the science behind insects that… well… enjoy an opportunity to dine on you.  The boys particularly enjoyed seeing the world through a mosquito’s prism-like eyes and sitting on the giant inflating tick (no lie).

We hit pretty much everything in the museum, from the expansive Cabinet Museum on the lower level with a vast collection of birds and bugs and gorgeous geology specimens, to the Dinosaur gallery filled with fossils and a fierce looking T-Rex model.  We finished up our visit with the planetarium (south-central Pennsylvania’s largest), where we learned quite a bit about the stars we see in the skies here in Pennsylvania Dutch County, and got a primer on the different constellations.

All in all, the North Museum of Natural History & Science was a fun (and educational) way for the family to while away a brisk fall afternoon in Lancaster County.

Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve

One of my favorite Lancaster County hiking trails to conquer on a weekend morning is Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve, a nice moderate 2 mile loop in the southern end of the county. The hike is along a tributary in a ravine that ultimately feeds into the Susquehanna River. The Glen itself is part of the Lancaster Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Lancaster County’s open lands.

Walking along the stream, at points both peaceful and rushing depending on the time of year, is a perfect way to relax and unwind. The trail is heavily canopied by a variety of trees and rhododendron thickets. Towards the end of the trail the stream comes to a head and flows past several rock and boulder placements for some runs of spectacular falling water. The water in the tributary is usually very pristine and has been designated a Wild and Scenic Pennsylvania River by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

I like to get out to the Glen in the early spring to check out the various wildflowers in bloom and then again in the fall to see the spectacular foliage. It takes about 2 hours for me to hike the loop, but I usually spend the better part of the morning there, taking in the fresh air and beautiful scenery, not to mention taking a photograph or two.

Halloween in Lancaster County

I know tons of people who’s favorite holiday of the year is Halloween – it’s fun to get dressed up in costumes, and take your kids out to get tons of free candy – or to go trick-or-treating yourself!

Well, fall is in the air, and that means a lot of things, but one in particular – Halloween is coming! So I’d like to share with you a few traditions that our family has taken on and some great things to do at Halloween in Lancaster County! Here are my top 3:

1. Hersheypark in the Dark is a must for the Halloween season. Are you a person who loves amusement rides but hates the lines? Well, then this is for you. Not all the rides are open, but there’s plenty and the lines are generally shorter than they are in the summertime! Also, when you go, with your park admission, you can get into Creatures of the Night & ZooAmerica! Visit their website for more details!

2. Dutch Wonderland has Happy Hauntings. It’s a family-friendly event where kids are encouraged to dress up in their costumes and enjoy themed rides & attractions, trick-or-treating, magic shows, and much more! See their website for more details!

3. Cherry Crest Adventure Farm has a Pumpkin Madness Festival. Throwing, launching, hurling, rolling, and dropping are all part of the festivities. Bring your own pumpkins or use some of their left over stash. See their website for more.

Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord

I’ve been visiting Lancaster County for over 30 years and most of my time has been spent in the village of Bird-in-Hand. The Amish family whom I’m friends with have a farm there, and I’ve eaten more meals at Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord than probably any thirty-something south of the Mason-Dixon Line. People often ask me what my favorite Lancaster County restaurant is, and my answer is always Bird-in-Hand. There are other restaurants in the county that do a few things bigger and better, but overall I find Bird-in-Hand to be the best. The food is always fresh and made from scratch (more on that later). I have many fond memories of eating there with my parents, my wife, and my Amish friends. On top of it all, they have some of the nicest and friendliest servers I’ve experienced in any restaurant in any place. Several of them know my wife and I and always make us feel at home with lively conversation. The servers are very competent and many have worked at the restaurant for 15 years or longer. They provide a level of customer service that is second to none anywhere in the United States.

Paul Smucker built the restaurant in April 1968 as a coffee shop/snack bar for his adjacent Family Inn (then called Bird-in-Hand Motor Inn). In 1970 it was expanded to a 145 seat restaurant called the Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant. In the 1990s, after Paul’s sons John and Jim took control of the Bird-in-Hand Corporation, a buffet was incorporated. In February 2005 the restaurant expanded and a very large buffet was installed. The dining room now holds 350 and the banquet and conference facilities can accomodate and additional 300. The restaurant features many historic photos of the village as well as the evolution of the Bird-in-Hand Corporation, which owns several hotels in the area (including the adjacent Bird-in-Hand Family Inn), a bakery, a deli and some other local ventures. The Smucker family homestead sits across Route 340 from the restaurant and the restaurant and bakery serve many dishes from old Smucker family recipes.

Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant specializes in family meals and traditional Pennsylvania Dutch recipes. The restaurant features buffet and a la carte dining, and the a la carte portions are large. The restaurant is sizable and is popular among both tourists and locals. There is typically a short wait at lunch and dinner and also during breakfast hours during busy seasons. During peak tourist season the waits can be much longer depending on the time of arrival. The restaurant also features banquet services for meetings and special events. Many of the more popular dishes such as cold salads, ham loaf and desserts are available to take home in large quantities.

OK, so here is my list of must haves at Bird-in-Hand. These are some of the dishes that I think they have perfected:

Scrapple– a big, thick deep fried or grilled slab that is served with two eggs, toast, syrup or ketchup. If you’re especially hungry, get some of their excellent home fries. By far, the best scrapple I’ve ever had.

At breakfast I highly recommend the hot chocolate with whipped cream- it takes me back to my childhood. They also have outstanding coffee (we always stock up on bags of their coffee to take home).

Creamed Dried Beef over toast with home fries and French Toast with link sausage are my wife’s breakfast favorites, and they are delicious.

At lunch or dinner I always typically order at least a cup (sometimes a bowl) of Chicken Corn Soup: it is fantastic, the best I’ve ever had, and that includes home made from an Amish kitchen. A great pairing would be a chicken salad sandwich on a pretzel roll or a broiled crab cake on a pretzel roll. Also watch for their daily features and daily Pennsylvania Dutch specialties; a particular favorite is Pennsylvania Dutch Chicken Pot Pie (aka Bot Boi-known as Chicken and Dumplings in the South). It is typically served all you can eat with a trip to the salad bar, but I can never manage more than one platter. Their vegetable selection varies daily and all are great tasting and fresh, however, since they are made from scratch daily by different people, taste varies. Some days the buttered noodles are better than others, I guess it depends on who is doing the cooking. If you are feeling a bit hungrier I highly recommend the smoked pork chops, the breaded veal cutlet,  the Salisbury steak, the baked ham loaf, beef pot roast, and the Lancaster County baked sausage. These are all great and very filling.

For dessert, be sure to try the wet bottom shoo fly pie (best I’ve ever had- comes from the Bird-in-Hand Bakery right down the block) and the red velvet cake. Another favorite is the Apple Dumpling served with ice cream or milk- it’s big enough to be a meal in itself. They also have to die for berry cheese streusels during the spring and summer. All of their desserts can be found at the Bakery and many of them can be purchased in the restaurant to take home from a refrigerated Bird-in-Hand Bakery to Go case.

For more on the history of the Bird-in-Hand Corporation and an interview with Jim Smucker click here for an article from the Amish Country News.

Fun Down on Cherry Crest Adventure Farm

Wholesome. I kept coming back to that word on my recent visit to Cherry Crest Adventure Farm in Paradise Township in Lancaster County. For people in my age group (I’m a Gen-x’er if you must know) wholesome wasn’t always what you were looking for in your entertainment dollar, but these days when it comes to my family activities, I can’t get enough of wholesome. For something special this past holiday weekend, my wife and I took our two boys to Cherry Crest for the day. Their web site describes their operation as “agri-tainment” and I would have to agree with that unique assessment. When you live in Lancaster County, although you experience the beauty and bounty of farm life all around you every day, you don’t necessarily get to be a part of it first-hand. Cherry Crest packages some of the best aspects of farm life in Lancaster County and lets you dive right in and experience “farm fun” activities that ARE fun for the entire family.

Incorporated within a real working Lancaster County farm, Cherry Crest Adventure Farm offers 36 different activities ranging from pedal cart races, to something they call the Barnyard Jump which is a giant open-sided moon bounce. I have a nearly 6 year-old (Noah) and a 3 year-old (Jacob), so their interest and abilities levels can be quite different. While Noah is a little bit braver and throws caution to the wind, Jacob is a bit more reserved and takes some time to ease into things. In this aspect, Cherry Crest Adventure Farm was a perfect fit for us. While Noah and his Mom were sliding down the giant hay chute slide or tackling the hay bale obstacle course, Jacob and I could hang out in the Lil’ Farmers Playland which had a corn bin filled with toy tractors as well as a lot of other little houses and playsets he could explore.

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There were also plenty of things we could do together as a family, from the Farm Animal Center where the boys each got to hold a baby chick and feed and pet a variety of barnyard animals, to the amazing corn maze where we could collect clues and gather map pieces to find our way through the corn labyrinth. This year, Cherry Crest’s corn maze is shaped like the great state of Pennsylvania and is broken down into 7 distinct Pennsylvania regions so you can literally visit all of PA in just one day!

We packed our own lunch and ate at one of the many picnic tables, but it looked like Cherry Crest had plenty of food available on site including their own roasted sweet corn. We sat, ate and watched the train from the Strasburg Rail Road, which makes stops at the Farm for drop offs and pick ups, pass through. In the end, we did end up getting some fudge, kettle corn and ice cream as we were leaving, so it was a good thing the farm activities kept us moving!

All in all, we really had a blast. Cherry Crest Adventure Farm is a unique place that, to me, truly represents some of the greatest things about our area, and yes, it grows “wholesome” just about as easily as it does ears of corn.

Cherry Crest Adventure Farm

Prince Street Cafe

With what finally felt like some summer weather, last weekend involved a nice, refreshing mix of activities for me that reminded me how thankful I am to be home in Lancaster. Saturday morning started off with a successful trip to Central Market with a close friend of mine. The market bustled with people taking advantage of a nice morning to be awake and downtown. Some fresh asparagus and deep purple flowers for the house in hand, we perused the market aisles, finally deciding that bread samples failed to suffice after a good work-out earlier in the morning. All I had to do was mention Prince Street Café’s baked oatmeal, and any notion of a debate concerning what to do for lunch was gone.

One thing I have always appreciated about Prince Street Café is its large windows that let in the daylight. I tend to get a lot of my studies and work done in coffee shops, what with the regular caffeine kicks, warm environment, and periodic study breaks consisting of quality people-watching as conversations and interactions transpire. I always like to study by windows, and with the high-top tables alongside those of Prince Street Café, I have gone there several times to get schoolwork done while home on break. The free Wi-Fi is yet another reason to visit. I also value the incorporation of art into the space, pieces of local talent against the warm hues of the café’s walls. I have a lot of respect for local businesses who embrace and support the arts, serving the community beyond their primary purpose.

There is always a sense of youthfulness at the café, perhaps due to its fresh style and the many local students and young adults who frequently visit this relaxing and creative environment, much like myself. Just around the corner from Central Market, we found ourselves there in no time with cups of hot coffee, a medium roast from Ethiopia. I recently learned that Prince Street seeks to find fair trade coffees, in addition to buying their foods locally, what with all their pastries, gourmet desserts, soups, salads, and sandwiches.

On this particular visit, the café was naturally busy. My friend got her usual, a bowl of blueberry baked oatmeal and milk, while I decided to try their yogurt parfait. The baked oatmeal was delicious as always, and the parfait was a hit amongst the two of us. With fresh berries, baked oatmeal, and rich yogurt from Pequea Valley Farms, we found ourselves raving over our new find. It’s hard to find a healthy treat that remains too good to classify as anything short of a true indulgence. I’m sure I will be making my way back to Prince Street Café for a cup of coffee and a stroll through Downtown Lancaster sometime soon. And when that just doesn’t seem to be enough and a pick-me-up is necessary, I’ll know just what to get.

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Verdant View Farm

This morning was unlike any other for me. Although I have lived in Lancaster my entire life, I never had a hands-on, personal experience with the farming lifestyle that has surrounded me for the past twenty-one years. While I am probably more of a city girl, there is something about living and working on a farm that I truly appreciate, so much that I think I could easily get used to this way of life.

There was something comforting about Verdant View Farm Bed & Breakfast – the smells, the food, and the people I encountered during our visit – that made me feel at home, despite me being completely out of my element.  Everything there is a direct product of hard work. To me, it is a clear and beautiful portrayal of creation, the way we interact with it, and the way it is intended for our use, given that we respect it. Owners Don and Ginny Ranck could not paint a better picture of this concept through the way they run their farm and share it with others.

I knew the morning started once I stepped out of the car and realized how cold we would be. I had missed out on my cup of coffee before heading out, but the temperature certainly kept me awake and ready for the morning events.

We were immediately welcomed by the farm’s tiny dog, Rosco, a Wishbone look-a-like that followed us everywhere throughout the morning. Ginny came outside right as we pulled up and greeted us with a big smile. It was milking time, and she explained that we would be accompanying her and the other workers and family members in their routine chores just like any morning on the farm. Although I am normally a huge ditz with things I’m not comfortable or familiar with, my first attempt at milking the cow proved to be quite successful. As more guests joined us in our visit, the morning continued with various other chores such as feeding and letting out the animals.

Even Aaron, one of Don and Ginny’s sons, shared a new hobby of his with us as he explained the art of cheese-making and allowed us to sample some of his homemade cheeses. We were joined by other family members and some guests who had stayed overnight for a wholesome breakfast, and my favorite – meadow tea made just that morning. It was just what I needed to warm me up a bit for our wagon ride around the farm.

My visit to Verdant View Farm left me feeling thankful for the people I had just met and appreciative for the sense of community I experienced within just a few hours of being there. Not only did the Ranck family welcome us into their home, but they shared with us a huge part of themselves and what they know so well. It was a morning well spent, and that says a lot considering I missed my morning cup of coffee.

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