A Hershey's Chocolate World Christmas


Right after our Thanksgiving dinner, Lew, Little Lewie, and I packed our bags and drove for four hours to Hershey, PA--"the sweetest place on Earth."  We had been to Hershey Park and Hershey's Chocolate World before, but we thought it might be fun to "experience" it at this time of year. 

The park transforms into Christmas Candylane with festive decorations, colorful lights, and an opportunity to meet Santa and his reindeer.  (Plus, fifty rides are open.)  After a day at the park, Hershey also has a drive-thru light exhibit called Hershey Sweet Lights.  Here you can drive on your own or make arrangements with the Hershey Trolley Works company to tour the two miles worth of light displays.  (Our favorite was The Twelve Days of Christmas--there were actually twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords are leaping, etc. etc. all on display in a big open field.)

On that Friday after Thanksgiving, we chose to ditch Black Friday and go to Hershey Park.  At night, we took the trolley to see their Sweet Lights tour.  Then on Sunday, we did a Chocolate and History Trolley Tour along with a visit to Hershey's Chocolate World.  The entire town of Hershey was busy with visitors, but I didn't think lines were much longer than those during the summer.

When planning this trip, I made a promise to myself to do the historical tour again.  I was so inspired by Milton Hershey's story and his philanthropy that I had to hear it again.  (I would suggest a quick read here: https://www.biography.com/people/milton-hershey-9337133)  The man went bankrupt twice but succeeded his third time thanks to the financial help of his aunt and a loan officer.  His first fortune was in caramels, but he spent years trying to figure out a way to make chocolate less expensive, so he could sell it to everyday people--and not just the rich.  He succeeded when discovering he could use milk in his chocolate, which was the inspiration for his Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bars. 

Now, of course he would have been my hero just because he invented the Hershey Chocolate Bar and the Hershey Kiss; however, during his lifetime, Mr. Hershey spent his fortune helping others.  While rich tycoons of his time (early 1900's) bought mansions and hoarded money for themselves, he spent his money building "schools, parks, churches, recreational facilities, and housing for his employees."  Perhaps his greatest contribution was establishing The Milton Hershey School.  He put all of his money into a trust, so the school could continue serving orphans and/or students that come from poverty.  Today, the Milton Hershey School is a boarding school known for its academic rigor as well as its emphasis on teaching classic family values.  Students don't have to pay a dime to attend and live there, and they are given a stipend for college once they graduate.  What an incredible way to give back!  I'd personally love to work there and continue the mission!

While in Pennsylvania, we took a few more side trips, but I'll save those adventures for another post.  It was a fun four days, which ended as we drove home on Monday.  I'm almost certain I gained a few pounds off of eating one too many Hershey's Kisses.

Best Friends


Over the years, I've had the great privilege and stroke of luck to be reunited with my best friends from grammar school.  It's hard to describe our friendships other than to say that it's destiny that brought us together and destiny that helped us find each other after a decade (or two).

My bestie, Jen, came into my life during the summer of 1984.  We were both dropped off to spend a half day at summer camp (rec) each morning from 9 a.m. until noon.  There we did art projects and then reluctantly went to the field to play such games as kick ball, softball, Red Rover, and Steal the Bacon.  Neither of us had any athletic ability, which left us being the last ones to be picked for teams; we were a match made in heaven.  Our friendship blossomed over Elmer's Glue, beads, paint, and markers.  While making crafts, we often talked about our favorite subjects: music, boys, Barbies, dancing, and modeling. (For anyone growing up in the 80's, these were the days when models like Cheryl Tiegs and Brooke Shields were household names.)  Our friendship meant "play dates" of going over each other's houses to dress in costumes and pretend like we were famous dancers.  We'd twirl and leap all over my living room as Madonna's "Like a Virgin" blared in the background.

In high school, we rode the bus together, met up on Friday's at Roller Magic, and even had some double dates.  When boyfriends and love interests came and went, we consoled each other, and when some adolescent days were just too much to bare, we lifted each other up with compliments and compassion.  High school was a tough time, but our friendship made all the difference.

My bestie, Debbie, came into my life in middle school--sixth grade to be exact.  Our two elementary schools merged into one middle school, and soon new classmates were telling me I had a twin.  Although we didn't have any of the same classes together, Debbie and I spotted each other right away as we did look alike--tall, thin, long blond hair.  Although we both had different circles of friends, we'd often chat at recess, and Debbie came to my sixth grade bowling birthday party--my aunt still has pictures for proof.  This is when my cousin Vincent decided to embarrass me by giving me a "Nose Picker of the Year Award" as my birthday present.  When keeping score at the bowling alley, he'd also stick a pencil up his nose and taunt all of my friends with it.  Now, I think I know why this might have been my last friend birthday party...

After high school, we all went our separate ways.  Jen married her high school sweetheart, Chris, and moved to a military base in Germany.  Debbie went off to college, and I went off to a different college.  Years went by without a single phone call or letter (and there was no such thing as Facebook or social media to keep in touch).  If Divine Providence didn't exist, we all would have lost each other--for good.   Losing each other, however, was not in the cards.

Jen and I reunited when she returned back to our hometown--now both a wife and a mother!  (I was in grad school at the time.)  Then, when Jen moved to another town, she reunited with Debbie.  Debbie and I rekindled our friendship when we both started teaching writing at the same college.  (Not only do we look alike, but we both earned our graduate degrees in English!)  At this time, all three of us were married with children. 

The goal, now, was to schedule a time for our three families to meet.  If our husbands and children liked each other, we'd be able to schedule "family play dates."  We'd celebrate birthdays together and holidays together and maybe even go on a vacation one day...

That first meeting time was eight years ago...  Our three families have become a family in itself.  Our children act like cousins, and my two girlfriends are like the sisters I've never had...  We share "mommy tips," "wife tips," our feelings, and our secrets.  While our children (and our husbands) keep us busy, we are there for each other, and our hearts feel renewed when we meet (even if it's only for a few hours...)

Last Sunday was one of those days that was good for the soul.  We planned a last minute get-together and decided to all eat at one of our favorite restaurants and then take a walk afterwards.  It was a cold, gray November day, but spending it with friends gave it warmth and color.  Jen, Debbie, and I did what we do best. We laughed, we played, we inspired, and we made more plans...  The time together is just what I needed.

Jen, Debbie, and me

Our "family"


Fall Stuff...


This fall we spent most of our weekends traveling instead of our typical hiking and farm trips.  Still, the weekend before Halloween, my mom, Little Lewie, and I did get a chance to go pumpkin picking.  Our first stop was to a farm I visited once when Lewie was four.  I remembered they had a great selection of pumpkins, but I forgot how popular they were.  There were hundreds of people taking pictures, waiting for hayrides, and buying fresh produce...  It was fun, but it felt a little too commercial.  I wish we had considered going on a weekday.

After visiting the more popular farm, we decided to check out a second one that we researched on the internet.  The second farm had no visitors.  As it turned out, this farm makes its profits at night with their "Legends of Fear" attraction.  They do both a haunted trail and a haunted hayride.  The farm owners kindly let us view their decorations during the day; their gift shop selling Legends of Fear T-shirts was open, too.  After taking a few pictures, however, we decided to head back home.  We weren't ready to purchase tickets, yet--maybe when Lewie turns eleven or twelve.


I'm glad we saw the "Legends of Fear" attraction during daytime hours.  I read some reviews, and it sounds scary.

A Nintendo Inkling Halloween


One of Lewie's favorite video games this year is Nintendo's Splatoon, home of the Inklings.  In it's most simplistic form (which I'm all about simple), the object of the game is to shoot your ink color to cover your environment and the opposing players' environment.  So, if your color is blue, then you try to splat as many things with the color blue by using "ink weapons" such as "Inkguns," "Splat Rollers," "Inkbrushes," and "Inkbuckets."  (It reminds me of paintball.)

Courtesy of Fantendo.
In early September, Lewie decided he wanted to be this male "Inkling."  It's not a common request, so I quickly went to the internet to search for ideas.  Thankfully, some talented crafters were selling Splatoon hats and shirts on Etsy.  If I were one of these talented folk, I'd probably try my own version, but since I know my limits, I quickly purchased a male Inkling hat for Lewie and a female Inkling one for me.  Then I bought a shirt for Lewie and an iron-on decal for me to make my own shirt.
Lewie getting ready to leave for a kids Halloween Party!

Posing outside before going onto the school bus.  (His "ink weapon" was left at home.)

Vising Grammy at her place of work (our annual tradition).  She's a devil, and we're both Inklings.

The kiddos that came to my mom's place of work.  Two of them, Evan and Julian, are Lewie's friends.

Our first house for trick-or-treating.  The entire neighborhood decorates for the kids.
For a Halloween party, Lewie wore a black mask for the Inkling's eyes, but on actual Halloween Day, my husband and I drew a mask around his eyes with makeup.  (My hands are not steady at all, so I enlisted Daddy's help.)  Since I was an Inkling too, I ditched the complicated makeup idea and went straight for using a mask.  After all, I had work in the morning, which didn't leave me much time to get ready before trick-or-treating.  In fact, my day was to work until 1:30, arrive to Lewie's school Halloween Parade for 2 p.m., go home to get ready in 30 minutes, pick up Lewie from school at 3:15 p.m., bring Lewie to my mom's place of work for 3:45 p.m, make dinner for us at home at 5:30 p.m.. and then head out to go trick-or-treating for 6 p.m.  (I am a HUGE advocate for making Halloween land on a weekend...)

To sum Halloween up in one word, it was FAST.  I'll be honest; I enjoyed more of the spooky events we did leading up to Halloween, such as going to the Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, visiting the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and going to a haunted house and theatrical graveyard tour at The Glebe House.  Maybe next year, we'll add a haunted hayride into the mix.

The Haunted House at the Glebe House

Be prepared to get scared!  It was scary... One room had a bunch of fake and "live" dolls coming to grab us!

The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


I learned about The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze five years ago when I stumbled across a blog from someone in the Historic Hudson Valley (NY) area.  I always wanted to go, but each fall I always waited too late to get tickets.  (This attraction sells out quickly.)

This September, I made it my mission to get tickets and schedule the trip.  Surprisingly, even when buying the tickets in September, I found myself with limited dates to choose from.  This event is popular.  Nonetheless, I bought tickets for Sunday, Oct. 15th (which was still available) and convinced myself that it would be okay if Lewie missed school the next day.  (Family time is valuable around here, and sometimes it doesn't come to us in neat little weekend packages.)

As the date grew closer, I started researching the Historic Hudson Valley area for things to do and then learned that the town of Sleepy Hollow (the original home of Washington Irving) was right next door to our hotel.  Score!  I bought tickets to go on a daytime graveyard tour of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, the site of "The Old Dutch Graveyard" where Irving's story about the Headless Horseman takes place.

Although our trip was a quick two-day jaunt, it was fun!   The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze is a walking tour, which has over 7,000 glowing pumpkins on display.  The Jack O'Lanterns are so perfectly carved, I found myself touching a few of them to make sure they were real pumpkins.  I touched the outside and even stuck my fingers in a few of them and learned they are real.  I'm not sure how many people donate their time into carving 7,000 pumpkins (pumpkins they have to replace every few weeks because they rot and need new ones), but I was amazed.  We had a beautiful 66 degree night with light wind.  The tour lasted an hour, but the weather was so comfortable, we could have stayed all night.

We stayed overnight at the Tarrytown House Estate on the Hudson (what a beautiful place for weddings), used their indoor pool and treated ourselves to their super-delicious breakfast.  Then, we packed up and left to go to Sleepy Hollow, which was literally the next town over.  

We soon learned many historic places and attractions are closed on Monday, but we did get to book a tour of the cemetery.  We saw Washington Irving's grave and learned about how he used to play at The Old Dutch Cemetery when he was a child.  (Evidently, he was supposed to be in church instead.)  As he played and visited the cemetery regularly, he learned about some of the people buried there, and he used several of their names in his "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" story.  This cemetery was the backdrop for his story and so was the bridge (now dubbed The Headless Horseman bridge).  The real bridge no longer exists, but we saw a replica in the rear of the cemetery.
Breakfast at the Tarrytown House Estate on the Hudson. 
Who doesn't like chocolate chips in their oatmeal?

Their indoor pool and Jacuzzi.

I wish we could have stayed longer.  Who wouldn't love chilling with a book and cup of coffee out here?

I'm assuming this is where most of their weddings take place...

I'd like a replica of this patio in my yard please.

Our tour guide in front of Washington Irving's resting place.

Washington Irving's grave.

This is how close we were to the Hudson and the Tappan Zee Bridge.

The Old Dutch Church and the graveyard Washington Irving used to play in...

The replica of the famous Headless Horseman Bridge.
Now that we've learned all about Washington Irving, the Old Dutch Church and Graveyard, and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," we'll be watching the short Disney film and maybe even listening to the audio book.  (We would get the book, but I'm not sure it's Lewie's reading level yet.)  

By the way, they are still selling plots in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (there are 44,000 people buried there with room for more), and you can have your wedding there too.  Our tour guide told us that there were numerous weddings there on this past Friday, October 13th.   I'm sorry we missed them!