Yeah, me too -- so here goes...!
The morning of the 4th presented a now-familiar scenario: my sister and niece were in the bed next to mine, with all the extra pillows on the floor in between. It's pretty much the way we've covered ground since those momentous days in China back in 2010. The main difference is that the nearly bald, usually quiet little baby from the China trip was now a very active and independent young lady -- thus all the extra padding on the floor between the beds just in case gravity got in the way of all that activity.
We planned to make a couple of stops and then head home, so after braving one particularly impolite family in the hotel's small breakfast room we cleaned up, packed up, and then I gave my niece a ride on one of those big luggage carts down the hall & out to the car. (Another constant from our family travels -- she's loved riding the things since her first trip to OC.)
We spent some time at a nearby outlet mall (where I found a model train store that made me glad it was too far for me to visit regularly or I'd be in hock up to my eyeballs), and after a few phone calls across the parking lot to figure out who'd ended up in which store, we hit the road for real.
Julius Sturgis Pretzel Factory in beautiful downtown Lititz, PA. (All joking aside, it's actually a very pleasant & very walkable "downtown" with many interesting small shops.) We placed an order for a batch of pretzels -- we had to wait because they were still being baked! -- and then after a few minutes of wandering through the various displays in the old house that comprised the gift shop, museum and waiting rooms the entire waiting group of about 20 people was led through an unassuming door into the original factory in the back of the house.
The first activity was for everyone to be lined up on either side of a long, narrow table to get a taste of what it was like to be a pretzel folder. (It was a virtual taste only -- the dough we were using was by law inedible & never saw the inside of an oven.) Everybody, including the Pipsqueak, got to roll out a "snake" of dough and then twist & tie & flip it into the proper shape. I figure the average time was about 1-1/2 minutes per pretzel... some of which were kinda sorry lookin' examples of the species. Our slightly hyper guide then pointed out that the highly-paid (for the day) professionals who'd had that job could whip out artfully twisted pretzels at the rate of 6-8 per minute... and they did it standing over that table all day long in brutal heat, six days a week.
|the JiuJiu didn't do half bad... but that's still one ugly pretzel...|
|Miri got a little help from Mommy but made her own pretzel!|
We didn't go too far, though -- just across town to the Wilbur Chocolates Factory. The smell was wonderful even in the parking lot across the street, but the "museum" was a bit less of an actual museum than we'd hoped. Various hygiene laws prevent visitors from going onto the factory floor, but since it's directly overhead while you're in the building the presence of big, thumping & humming machines is obvious. There are several rooms absolutely packed with old candy molds, ads, containers, recipes, etc., and the back wall is made of glass so the ladies making some of the company's hand-dipped products can be seen at work. Unfortunately it felt more like a giant gift shop than small informal museum (although there's a TV up on one wall running an interesting & actually entertaining educational video on the history & preparation of chocolate), so after a while we all grabbed one last handful of the free samples (YUM!), purchased a couple of small bags of goodies, and hit the road out of town.
At this point, AJ & I conspired to hijack our folks for a short time (not too difficult when everyone is riding in the lead conspirator's minivan with her driving). The Gettysburg National Military Park has been a fixture in the family's travels for years, going all the way back to when our folks stopped there during their honeymoon -- it was even the site of our last pre-China family road trip. Of special interest is Devil's Den, where Mom & Dad had an interesting experience during their honeymoon trip, and as we left Lititz their offspring decided it had been a long time since we'd been there with them, and we were kinda-sorta in the neighborhood, and we might not get back again 'til next year, so why not...?
Luray Caverns. Despite some trepidation over taking a nuclear-powered 5 year old into an enclosed underground space, everything worked out nicely. The glitches were few and minor, and there was plenty for everyone to do & see because the entrance fee for the caverns themselves now (apparently) includes access to nearby automotive & folk life museums.
I was thoroughly bummed at missing this part of the trip, but I was happy that Miri could share it with her Grandma & Grandpa. Catching up with everyone a couple of days later, I was quietly shocked to hear Mom say that she thinks it was probably her & Dad's last time ever in the caverns; the long walk, uneven surfaces and steep stairs at either end have become too difficult for them to handle. Despite that more-than-slightly scary reminder of the passage of time, the entire trip allowed us to create a boatload of fun family memories that I think the Pipsqueak will be able to smile about for many years to come.