My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Catching Up: Lancaster County "Plus"

Okay -- it's early October, y'all think that maybe I should wrap up my posts about the trip we took back in August...?

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.

But not heading home -- nope, we were in Pennsylvania Dutch country, so pretzels were calling! After a pleasant drive through a series of picturesque small towns, we reached the 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 were shown & taught about the various types of equipment used and some of the history behind pretzel-making, which left me thinking that from that day on I'd feel guilty stuffing my face with something that took so much hard work & care to produce. Suffice it to say we were all very, very glad that the ovens that comprised the entire back wall of the room were no longer used!  After the tour ended and we picked up our pretzels (unfortunately not quite baked all the way through), it was back on the road again after a few photo ops with the giant (plaster) pretzel out in front of the building.

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...?

Of course, we hadn't made a wrong turn all day, so now it was one "oops" after another (and it took our folks just a little while to figure out what we were doing).  We drove through downtown Gettysburg at least twice during the back-and-forth to find the National Park Service Museum & Visitor Center -- which we've not only been to several times in the past but is also almost too large to not be found. Eventually we pulled into the suspiciously empty parking lot to discover it had closed a little over half an hour earlier, but at least there were pretty flowers to shoot in the golden late afternoon light. We also found a (new for us) life-size statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting on a bench, so we had fun taking photos of Honest Abe and the Pipsqueak. (Dude, that sounds like the title of a new sitcom!)

After a few more oopses -- the traffic patterns have changed since we were last there -- we finally pulled into a parking spot directly opposite Devil's Den and we all enjoyed watching Miri enjoy being "taller than all of you!" after I'd helped her up onto one of the smaller boulders. After creating a few more new family memories, and adding Pipsqueak photos to the big stack of photos of Grandma, Grandpa, Mommy and Uncle Brian standing by the same sign over the past six-plus decades, we headed to a nearby Friendly's for dinner and then headed for home at long last.

For me, that marked the end of the latest family trip; I could only take so many evenings off from work, so it was back to the usual craziness for me on the 5th. AJ was a little luckier with her timing and was able to stay out for an extra day, so she & our folks took Miri to see another old family destination: 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.

And now I'm finally caught up with the first half of August, so I'm going to try to get some sleep so I don't end up snoring during Yom Kippur services. I'll catch up on the rest of August soon, I promise!

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