Category Archives: Kids & Family

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Zip line your way to adventure and fun

Refreshing Mountain is a family-friendly, all-inclusive retreat facility with a large outdoor pool, sports fields, sand volleyball courts, indoor gyms, hiking trails, high ropes courses, zip line courses, a giant swing, archery, paintball, and more. While everything about this place is amazing, my goal was focused: to conquer the high ropes and zip line courses.

The Zip Line Canopy Tour at Refreshing Mountain has two courses from which to choose – the Challenge Adventure Course and the Aerial Excursion Course. The Challenge Adventure Course consists of five zip lines and the Aerial Excursion Course has seven zip lines, three sky bridges, and a surprise ending (you’ll have to experience it for yourself to find out). I went for the Aerial Excursion Course; I had to go big.

First things first, I signed the waiver and was fitted for a helmet and harness. Our tour guides seemed calm, cool, and collected… of which I was none. Though I love adventures, I always get nervous before hand… especially when heights are involved.

We ascended to the platform. The guides climbed like monkeys – like they were made to do this. Clearly this was second nature to them. Thankfully my harness and rope made me feel secure enough for my defenses to diminish. At all times the rope, securely connected to my harness, was attached to a pulley that road along the cable. I could pull the pulley along with me as I moved – like a dog on a leash. The pulley is key – because of that little piece of metal, we are able zip from platform to platform through the canopy of trees and not fall.

The first zip line was the scariest. Not knowing that to expect, I closed my eyes and with some hesitation, jumped. I went whizzing through the air like a flying squirrel. As I picked up speed, it wasn’t long before I saw the next platform quickly approaching. I extended my legs; my feet slammed into the wood platform. I made it. Safe and sound. One down zip line down; six more to go.

Later that day I tried my hand at the high ropes course. It was awesome! While at times I felt like I couldn’t conquer the challenge and sweat cascaded down the sides of my face, I stuck with it, and made it to the end. Nothing feels more gratifying.

My experience was incredibly exhilarating. I recommend that everyone try high ropes and zip line courses at Refreshing Mountain. If you’re afraid of heights like I am, remember, you are always strapped in and safe – so there’s no excuses.

To learn more about Refreshing Mountain or to book your aerial experience, to go refreshingmountain.com/ziplines.cfm.

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Dinosaurs, planets, bones and more

The North Museum of Natural History and Science, over 50 years old and located near historic Downtown Lancaster, allows children to explore everything from outer space to precious rocks to dinosaurs. Children are encouraged to touch and investigate what’s in the museum. Behind every nook and cranny there’s more to see and discover.

My daughter, Sophia, and I started out in the Living Animal Room. We saw lizards, snakes, turtles, and more. From there we went to the Discovery Room – Sophia’s favorite place – where she was able to touch antlers, hold hooves, and see a spider legs up close. What I loved most about this room was that Sophia thought she was playing… but I knew that she was learning. This room provided a fun and safe way to interact with life and science that would otherwise be nearly impossible.

Next we went to the planetarium where many enjoy exploring the galaxy. We chose, however, to see the National Geographic special, Sea Monsters. This featured film follows one prehistoric, ocean-dwelling dinosaur family from start of their life to fossilization. The planetarium features a variety of educational movies, but you can always count on the Night Sky Tour for an awe-inspiring look at millions of stars, fascinating constellations, and unusual planets. For a limited time only, younger viewers can watch Big Bird and Elmo take an imaginary trip from Sesame Street through the starry night sky to the moon in One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure.

Many exhibits in the North Museum  - such as the Dinosaur Gallery (you can touch and examine dino claws, teeth, and bones) – are permanent, others are temporary. When we went, the temporary exhibit on display was Race: Are we so different? The exhibit confronts the misconceptions of race and investigates how human variation has shaped our culture and what the future holds for our society. The exhibit explores racism, equality, diversity, prejudice, social justice, ethnic and cultural differences, and ways to make things better.

Cabinet collections are featured on lower level of the museum. We found birds of every type and size – more than we could count. There were also minerals and precious rocks on display. Sophia enjoyed the Dichotomous Cabinet the most. From snakes to butterflies, pulling out each individual drawer revealed more surprises. In this area there’s also a Lego play station – Sophia liked that, too.

After all our exploring and discovering, we stopped at the onsite gift shop to check out souvenirs and science-related gifts. Sophia picked out a small dinosaur egg that, when submerged in water for 48 hours, will hatch. This inexpensive keep-sake will indeed remind her of her adventures at the Museum.

We had an enjoyable time and look forward to a return visit. Conveniently, the Museum is open every day of the week except Monday. For more information and pricing, visit www.northmuseum.org.

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Dairy Farming at Verdant View Farm

Summer is a wonderful time to take a trip to a dairy farm. My family did just that by taking the Farmland Fun Tour at Verdant View Farm in Paradise, PA. Located smack dab in the middle of Amish Country, Verdant View Farm offers visitors a chance to see what happens on a working dairy farm.

We met up with Patrick and Elise Fleming who give the Farmland Fun tours at Verdant View. It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday in July. Our tour was at 3:00 PM and it began right on time. Patrick introduced himself, shared the history of the farm, and then took us to meet our first animal friends of the day, the rabbits.

Another farm friend showed up around this time. We all got to meet Scooby, the farm dog. Scooby is a four year old Border Collie born whoon the 4th of July. Everyone fell in love with him. We learned all about his important jobs on the farm like keeping the goats where they belong and protecting the chickens from foxes.

Next Patrick took us on a tour of the barn where there was a special surprise - a hay maze for the children (unfortunately I was too tall to go through). The barn, built in 1923, contains no nails and all the beams were cut from just one tree. The kids learned why barns have two stories and got to feed some cows in the process.

Then Patrick handed out some corn and we went to feed the goats. We met two-day-old goat twins named Gilbert and Sullivan plus quite a few others that we were able to feed. As we were visiting the goats, the steam train from the Strasburg Rail Road puffed by. The railroad runs through the farm, so it is easy to get a good look at the train while you are visiting.

It was hard to leave the cute baby goats, but it was time to take the tractor-driven wagon ride around the farm (the wagon is wheelchair accessible so everyone can take part in the tour). We joined the folks in Elisa’s “Farmer’s Apprentice” tour as Patrick drove us to the highest point of the farm to see the “Verdant View.” Though Verdant View is not an Amish farm, it has Amish neighbors and some of the farm land is rented out to Amish farmers for growing tobacco. Patrick gave us an overview of the farm’s crops and answered questions about dairy farming.

Their Farmer’s Apprentice Program is wonderful. If your family wants more hands-on learning, you can sign up for one of four apprenticeships: cheese making, animal care, backyard chickens, and homemade ice cream. Our family did the Farmland Fun tour and not the Farmer’s Apprentice, so I can’t give lots of details about it, but I can tell you that the Apprentice group we saw got to feed the baby cows with a bottle!

After the wagon ride we met the chickens and ducks. The kids loved the chickens and even got to pick them up, but eventually we had to leave all those clucking hens to visit the heart of the dairy operation – the cows! Our kids were fascinated to see the cows up close and feed them. There was some “cow-licking” of hands, but since cows don’t have upper teeth there is no way for them to bite. (Don’t worry, there are hand washing stations at the farm so everyone can clean up real good before going home.)Our kids had so much fun feeding the cows that they forgot that Patrick said they could milk one. Down into the milking parlor we went. Anyone who wanted to try their hand at milking a cow could. Afterward, we went to see the baby calves.

After our farm tour, my daughter decided that she wanted to hold a rabbit (she was too scared the first time), my son wanted to swing from the large tree in the barnyard, and I decided to snap pictures of the Strasburg steam train as it passed by. We all washed our hands before leaving and said goodbye to Patrick and Scooby. The kids said their favorite part of the day was feeding the cows and the goats.

In addition to offering the Farmland Fun tours, Verdant View Farm is also a Bed and Breakfast. They’ve given people overnight experiences since 1967. If your family needs a quiet place to stay while visiting Amish country or Strasburg which is VERY close, this would be the place to do it. Lots of room options and a full breakfast every day except Sunday.

My family had a great time taking the Farmland Fun tour at Verdant View Farm and meeting Scooby and all his friends. We absolutely would visit again, but next time we’d like to do one of the Farmer’s Apprentice programs.

To learn more, visit www.farmlandfun.com.

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Tubing down the Pequea Creek

Myself and a few coworkers decided to check out Sickman’s Mill Tubing. Yes, tubing. Something that none of us had done in years. Let me say, we had a blast!

After driving on winding back roads through beautiful Lancaster County, we found our destination. The large, beautiful stone mill greeted us as we entered the property. The mill, adjacent barn, fresh country air, and the nearby creek – full and flowing – made us feel like we were stepping into one of the adventures of Huckleberry Fin.

We were greeted by Trina, whose family owns the property. She was kind and hospitable. Excited to go tubing, we signed the waiver forms and headed to the barn to pick up our canvas-covered tubes. There we were instructed on what to expect during our tubing adventure.

As we entered the creek, we felt the cool water surround our legs – it felt wonderful. Once we climbed into our tubes, the water did the rest. From calm water to mini rapids, we spent approximately an hour drifting along the two mile stretch of the tree lined Pequea Creek. We laughed a lot and enjoyed relaxing together. As we neared our exit, we jumped off our tubes and ascended up the small hill toward the meeting point. There the shuttle van conveniently picked up us (and our tubes) and returned us to the Sickman’s Mill property. I highly recommend wearing water shoes or old sneakers, sunscreen, and bug spray for this trip; and it would be good to bring a towel and a change of clothing.

We were pleasantly surprised by the other offerings that Sickman’s Mill has in addition to tubing. If you’re looking for a longer experience, you can sign up for their reservation-only kayak tube trip that lasts anywhere from 3-5 hours with a distance of about 7 miles. You can also enjoy a self-guided tour of the 4 1/2 story mill. Hungry? No problem. You can bring a picnic or buy food from their reasonably priced snack bar. If you’re planning a trip to Lancaster, you can rent their onsite, air-conditioned A-frame house which has 3 bedrooms and 2 full baths, and can up to 12 people comfortably.

Sickman’s Mill has everything you need for a getaway – lodging, water activities, and beautiful scenery.

For more information, hours of operation, and pricing, visit www.sickmansmill.com.

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Long Johns, candles, animals, and more

You don’t often hear about Leola, PA, but nestled in the heart of PA Dutch Country is a quaint town worth visiting. My sister, our two kiddos, and I decided to spend the day in this town, discovering it’s treasures.

We started our day at Achenbach’s Pastry. They are known throughout the County for their baked goods, but particularly for their Long Johns (a long, almost rectangular, filled doughnut, often iced). But beyond their Long Johns, all of their pastries are amazing and, best of all, they contain no preservatives and are served straight from the oven to the customer… can’t beat that! From cinnamon buns and breads to pies and cakes, this place has it all.

The kids gravitated to the chocolate covered doughnuts, I chose a peanut butter Long John and a chocolate Long John (don’t judge me), and my sister picked out a cheese danish. With pastries in one hand and drinks in the other, we headed outside to sit at a picnic table. If the weather is poor, there are a couple indoor tables at which you can sit. Otherwise, head back to your hotel room or to your favorite indoor spot to devour your goodies. If you’re looking for made-to-order cakes (birthday, anniversary, graduation, wedding or otherwise), this is bakery you must check out.

After our sweet and satisfying breakfast, we headed to Hayloft Candles & Petting Zoo just down the road. As soon as we pulled in, the kids spotted the petting zoo. It was larger than I expected. It was clean, well kept, and the admission is free. We gave quarters to the kids so that they could buy food to feed to the animals. They were so excited to meet, feed, and pet the animals. In the middle of the zoo is an beautiful pond surrounded by a walking path. We walked around the lake, fed the ducks, then met the another animals. The zoo has goats, birds, ducks, bunnies, chickens, donkeys, a Scottish Highlander (a breed of cow), llama, peacock, kangaroo, and more. We enjoyed feeding the Scottish Highlander most. His tongue was so large and unusual – the kids giggled with delight as the mammoth animal licked the food from their hands.

After 45 minutes of free outdoor entertainment, we headed inside the store. It’s large! It has two floors filled to the rafters with home décor. From homemade candles of every size and scent to decorative wreaths, knick knacks, and postcards, they have everything. A shopping dream come true! They also have homemade ice cream and refreshments for purchase.

I would say that Hayloft Candles & Petting Zoo is a destination that everyone should put on their itinerary. The location is great, and the scenery beautiful, plus there’s so much to do… and buy.

Our stomach’s began to rumble, so we packed in the car and headed to The Back Page Restaurant, only a stone’s throw away. What a surprise! We didn’t know what to expect going there, but what we found was a casual sports bar with a great beer selection, a spacious family-friendly seating area, an adjoining game room complete with billiards, air hockey, video games, and a patio with a fully equipped Tiki bar. The atmosphere felt comfortable and welcoming.We chose to pile into booth near the game room. Deciding to give their appetizers a try, we ordered Garlic Herb and Mozzarella Crustini, Quesadillas, and Beer-Battered Onion Rings. Everything was absolutely delicious and reasonably priced. Between myself, my sister, and the kids, we devoured every last bite.

We had a blast together and enjoyed the treasures we found in Leola. Be sure to put this town on your “must do” list for the next time you visit Lancaster County!

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An afternoon stroll through Intercourse

One of my favorite places to visit in Lancaster County is the Village of Intercourse. Yeah, it has a funny name, but it also has some of the best little shops to visit, especially if you love taste testing great food and seeing beautiful handcrafts.

Kitchen Kettle Village is a huge draw to this location and, with over 40 shops, there is a lot to see. My favorite shop is the Jam and Relish Kitchen where they can, bottle, and jar jams, jellies, relishes, salsas, and more for you to take home. If you like to taste-test samples, this will be one of your favorite places since nearly every item for sale is open for you to try. Online ordering is also available.

A short walk from Kitchen Kettle Village is the Old Candle Barn. Don’t let the name fool you, they have much more than candles. There are tons of home decorations, lamps, and linens waiting for you to look through. The shop is changed seasonally, so no matter when you visit, you will find something wonderful to take home with you. The candle selection is marvelous and includes soy candles which are fragrance and dye free.

If you are a quilter you must visit Zooks Fabric Store. I’ve been getting my quilting fabric from them for over 25 years. They have a fine selection of popular commercial brands plus Kona cottons and the hard-to-find Amish solids you need to finish that Sunshine and Shadow quilt you’ve been making.

Not a quilter, but love quilts? Then visit Dutchland Quilt Patch to see ready-made Amish and Mennonite quilts for sale. Smaller sized wall hangings and quilted accessories are also available if your budget isn’t ready for a full size quilt. This shop is a great place to find gifts for birthdays and holiday.

Cross the street and you can visit the Intercourse Pretzel Factory. A free tour is offered when the factory is in operation; otherwise, you can sample and buy a wide variety of freshly made pretzels. Both hard and soft pretzels are made in the factory and all are delicious.

If taste-testing is your favorite hobby, then you definitely want to visit the Intercourse Canning Company. A huge selection of canned goods waits for you in a rainbow of colors and flavors. Previously housed in an older building, the Canning Company has moved to Center Street, but is still within walking distance of the heart of Intercourse.Cooking demos are offered at certain times and a video history of canning is also available.

Near the Intercourse Canning Company is Stoltzfus Meats and Deli. This is a great place to pick up a snack of some lebanon bologna and farmer’s cheese and a nice cold drink. Be sure to pack a cooler in your car to take home a pound or two of their great meats and cheese for later. They also feature Amos’ Place Restaurant if you need more than a snack.

I know you are curious… so here’s the scoop on the village name. The Village of Intercourse was founded in 1754 and the word intercourse at that time was used to reference fellowship or a social gathering. Since the village is also the place where two main roads cross it makes a lot of sense that it was named Intercourse. But if you’d like to think that this piece of history is all wrong and it means something else, well, there will be a lot of t-shirts to support your theory in the gift shops, so have fun!

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Cars, motorcycles, buses… and a Kissmobile

My husband and I recently made a trip to the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum and were totally amazed by the themed areas and the variety of transportation vehicles on display there.

I should say up front that I am not a car person. I like them as well as the next person I guess, but I’m not crazy into them (I prefer trains actually), so I was a little worried that I’d spend a couple hours being bored while my husband “the car guy” enjoyed the museum.

Let me tell you, I had no reason to worry. The AACA Museum has plenty to keep anyone fascinated. From a replica Drive-In theater (can you find the bathing beauty?) to a full size diner, the museum is full of the history that everyone can find something to enjoy.

The AACA Museum opened in 2003 as a separate entity from the Antique Automobile Club of America, but the two organizations work together to expand the knowledge and enjoyment of antique automobiles, motorcycles and buses. The museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute; it changes exhibits throughout the year and includes special activities for Halloween and Christmas.

On our trip we were lucky enough to see the Indian Nation: Indian Motorcycles & America exhibit and the Motoring Mysteries of the Far East – A Curious Collection of Asian & Pacific Vehicles display. Yes, you read that correctly, motorcycles and non-American cars! The AACA Museum prides itself on variety and wants to offer something for everyone. The special collections change several times a year so there is always something new to see.

The exhibit called From Sea to Shining Sea features a changing collection of American vehicles from the 1800′s to the 1970′s with dramatic scenery, a gas station reproduction, a drive-in, and the Floinn Cafe Diner. There are interactive features in many of them with sound and video recordings, and they are adding iPads to certain exhibits to provide even more interaction and information.

The museum doesn’t just feature cars; they also have motorcycles and The Museum of Bus Transportation. They have twelve full-size buses on display… it’s so fascinating to see how buses have evolved over the years. Also featured is a model train display of O Gauge trains, many with buttons you can push to make the scenery move and light up.

There is a children’s play area downstairs where toy trucks and cars are set up for kids to play with, and there are two antique cars they can have their picture taken in. Refreshment machines and rest rooms are available which make this the perfect place for families to take a rest before heading out to explore more.

The museum is planning several future exhibits such as 100 Years of Dodge beginning in September 2014, Lotus: The Art of Lightness coming in January 2015 and A Family Affair: Station Wagons coming in May 2015, but the real excitement is brewing over the Cammack Tucker Gallery being opened late in 2014. The AACA Museum will be home to the largest collection of Tucker automobiles in the world when this exhibit opens.

The museum has a gift shop full of items for every age and budget. From t-shirts to travel mugs, puzzles to postcards, and models to magnets, you can find it with a car or a bus on it.

I have to admit I highly enjoyed my trip to the AACA Museum and would recommend it to anyone. If you’d like to visit, the AACA Museum is open daily, but please check their website for hours, pricing and special events. Group events can be held at the Museum, and it is also a popular spot for weddings and car club events.

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Dinosaurs in Lancaster County?

Every year my family takes several trips to Dutch Wonderland, but this year we were doubly excited to make our first trip – we were going to see dinosaurs!

Dutch Wonderland is a 48-acre amusement park tailored for families with children under the age of 10. The park is themed around a princess named Brooke, the Knight of Safety, Merlin the Magician, and Duke the friendly Dragon. Built in 1963 the park has 34 rides including two roller coasters.

We normally ride the Wonderland Express train when we first arrive, but the thing my family couldn’t wait to do this year was visit the new Exploration Island. My children, ages 4 and 6, wanted to head there first, so we made our way to the back of the park. We couldn’t believe the changes Dutch Wonderland had made to the island which used to be a decorative garden area until last year when construction began.

They ran for the Dino Dig area which has three large sand pits with buried “fossils” for the kids to uncover. Shovels and brushes were there for them to play with as well as some digging machines my son fell in love with. Two of the areas were covered with shade which made nice spots for the littlest kids to play.

Nearby we could hear some prehistoric sounds, so we dropped our shovels and made our way to the Prehistoric Path. Here we met over a dozen dinosaurs that moved and made sounds as we passed them. The dinosaurs had signs which explained their official names and a little about them. There was even a dinosaur you could control yourself and a dino egg to climb in!

We tried out the Sunoco Turnpike at its new home on Exploration Island as well. Even my 4 year old was able to drive the car (with a little help, of course). We enjoyed the lengthened route around the island which went by the dinosaurs and along the water where the Gondola Cruise boats travel.

We spent a good hour on Exploration Island, but then went in search of something cold to drink. Dutch Wonderland offers refillable toddler cups which are a great size for smaller hands. We keep these cups all year long to use on car trips. They are a great value since they also come with reduced price refills – or you can get water refills in them for free.

Some of our favorite rides at Dutch Wonderland include: the Monorail where we love to sit up front with the driver or in the very last car, the River Boat which is now themed like a Jungle Cruiser and is a great place for the little ones to settle down if they are overexcited, and the Dragon’s Lair which takes you on a ride in a log through the lake near Duke’s home. There is a special surprise waiting there in the cave so be looking for it!

If you have never been to Dutch Wonderland before you will be surprised by the many things to do in addition to rides. There is Duke’s Lagoon water park open during the summer, many games with great prizes, panning for gems, pony rides, tiny buildings to explore, rabbits, chicks, a shooting gallery, and a silo slide. Oh, and don’t forget to milk Bossy the cow and get your picture taken with the giant pretzel!

On top of all those activities the park features many entertainment options. There are strolling musicians, Storytime with Princess Brooke, the music-filled Decades of Dutch Wonderland, and the not-to-be-missed Adventures of the Frog Prince in the Aqua Stadium. Not too many places offer high dive shows, so it is very likely your kids will be amazed by the antics of the divers – just be prepared to get wet if you are in the splash zone!

Dutch Wonderland is also a place to get lots of great treats to eat like Dole Whips, Potato Patch fries with cheese and bacon, Nathan’s hotdogs, Dippin’ Dots, and lots more. There is even a full service restaurant called Merlin’s which includes gluten free items on their menu.

We spent a full day at Dutch Wonderland and can’t wait to go back in the fall for Happy Hauntings when the park is all decked out for some not-so-scary fun and trick-or-treating. We’ll go one last time around the holidays for Winter Wonderland when we can meet Santa and do some Christmas shopping.

If your family includes smaller children and you’d like to visit an amusement park, I suggest you give Dutch Wonderland a try since everything is child-size and tons of fun.

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Come here to learn more about the Amish

Did you know that the Amish have a horse-drawn trailer that contains benches, hymnals, and all the other items necessary for Sunday church services at one another’s homes? Or, did you know that the Amish are often bi-lingual, speaking English, German, and “Pennsylvania Dutch?”

For those inquisitive and curious minds who want to learn more about the Amish lifestyle and culture first-hand, a great place to check out is the is the Amish Experience. Located on route 340 in the heart of Amish country, this educational destination is the only location of its kind in Lancaster County to be named a “Heritage Site” by the Lancaster County Historical Society. And, unlike other museums or destinations, The Amish Experience is surrounded on all sides by farmland beauty; rural, rolling farmland, horses, cows, cornfields, and even a fruit market that set the scene for what guests will enjoy during their visit. The Amish Experience is also a perfect option for your Sunday itinerary because many other Amish destinations are closed.

So, on a sunny Sunday in June, I surprised my out of town guests with a visit to the Experience. As we toured the grounds, we enjoyed walking through rows of vegetables and herbs which are part of the museum garden. We learned that many guests had never seen what a beet, sweet pea, or potato plant actually looked like, and we enjoyed listening to the excited laughter of children when they saw a real tomato growing on a vine. We enjoyed seeing (up close) a laundry line of colorful Amish clothing, fresh from the wash, and hanging out to dry in the warm summer air. And, yes, even an Amish phone booth!

The homestead tour was fascinating. Even as a resident of Lancaster, I learned numerous things about the Amish that I had never known before. Our favorite part of the tour was the Schoolhouse, where we were able to learn from our tour guide while sitting in authentic desks donated from an actual schoolhouse in the neighboring town of Strasburg. We also got to browse through a real Amish Hymnal and see workbooks that Amish children would use.

A unique part of the Amish Experience is the theatre show “Jacob’s Choice,” which brings to life the story of an Amish teen who is struggling with his decision to join the church. The show boasts surprising special effects, and a story that is certain to touch the hearts of all who see it.

As we got in the car to head home, I couldn’t help but think of the “Jacob’s Choice” story, and ponder the similarities that we, as human beings, share, regardless of what lifestyle we choose or what path we walk. We all experience joy, sorrow, and the pursuit of happiness – whatever that may be. And while sometimes we have our differences, the more we learn about other ways of life, the more we realize that we’re all in this together.

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A different mode of transportation

Since moving to Lancaster a few years ago, I have gotten accustomed to seeing Amish horses and buggies. I have often looked at the little faces staring out the back of the carriage as I drive past and thought “I wonder what it would be like to live a slower pace of life?” I got a small glimpse into this world recently when I hopped aboard a buggy for a private tour of the Amish countryside.

I met up with my group at Aaron & Jessica’s Buggy Rides in Bird-in-Hand. As we waited for our driver, we got an up close and personal introduction to the horses that pull the buggies and wagons. Most of them are Draft horses which weigh about 1,000 lbs and can pull about 3 times their weight. They are much larger in person than I realized, but they were definitely relaxed and docile around the crowd of people who had congregated around them to pet them and take photos.

Our driver, Levi, arrived and helped us into the buggy and introduced us to Kate – our horse. We were even allowed to have Teddy Bear, our friend’s dog, join us on our ride. (Yes, this tour is pet friendly!) With that we were off on our journey through the country. The first thing I noticed about riding in a buggy was how cool it was. In 80-something degree weather with no air conditioning and a partially enclosed buggy, I expected to be a little warm, but it was cool and comfortable as Kate trotted along at a mere 8-10 miles per hour. As we heading to our first stop on the tour, Levi gave us some information about the Amish. I was surprised and slightly embarrassed at how little I know about them. Levi explained that Lancaster County is home to the oldest and largest community of Amish in the state of Pennsylvania. The Lancaster County Amish are “old order” and are traditionally more restrictive about modern technology than other groups such as the Mennonite. I was surprised to learn that there is a new group of Amish who drive and use some modern technology. Levi also explained to us that most of the local Amish are big into using solar panels so as not to have electricity in their homes.

We saw the solar panels in use at the first stop on our tour, a working dairy farm. The Amish family who owns the farm does everything by hand or with non-electric tools. We walked through the barn where the dairy cows were all lined up in their stalls and relaxing. We also saw the huge tank where the fresh milk is stored before it is picked up by truck and shipped off for processing by a larger company. I couldn’t believe how much milk the farm produces each day. The cows are milked twice daily and the milk is picked up by truck every other day, that’s a lot of milk!

After our farm tour, we piled back into the buggy and rolled along more beautiful back country roads to the Countryside Road-stand. This is a nice stop for groups to stretch their legs a bit and get a snack.  Of course when I saw a sign reading “Homemade Soft Pretzels” I jumped right in line. They also had homemade root beer which I had to try. Both were delicious! Since we had some time to look around, I wandered around to check out the playground, petting zoo, and gift shop. The Road-Stand sells a lot of items that would make nice gifts to take home such as quilted items, crafts, and homemade apple butter. My souvenir was a pretzel to take home for later!

As we traveled back to Aaron & Jessica’s, Levi talked about growing up and working on his uncle’s dairy farm, his children and grandchildren, and Amish life in general. He was open to just about any question and curiosity our group had about Amish life and culture. He even joked about silly questions some visitors have asked in the past. (One that made me laugh was a lady asking him if Amish wear undergarments since she’d never seen any hanging out to dry!) I feel like I learned a lot about local Amish culture and people during my buggy ride. It was nice and refreshing to leave my fast-paced and busy life behind for one morning. Mind you, I won’t be converting to Amish any time soon, but I definitely left Aaron & Jessica’s feeling relaxed!

Aaron & Jessica’s Buggy Rides offers several types of tours through Amish towns and farmland.  If you’re visiting them any time soon, check out their website for discount coupons!

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