Friday, June 13, 2014

Ups and downs in Pennsylvania

Josh and I took Zoe and Ada to his parents' house for a 4 night visit. We pulled the kids out of school two days early and looked forward to hitting either Dutch Wonderland or Hersheypark for a day of fun before the summer break crowds descended.

Before things got ugly
We made it to Dutch Wonderland, but it turned out spending $120 on amusement park tickets did not buy us happy children. We left after nearly 3 hours of line-free rides, but both of the kids were a sickly combination of overstimulated, underfed and queasy from being spun around. Not a good combination. Our Amish meal at the tasty but touristy Good 'N Plenty was miserably tense and we spent the rest of the afternoon in Lancaster checking out the outlet stores in the pouring rain and telling our kids how disappointed we were in them.

Ironically, they were fantastic for the rest of the trip, which consisted of sightseeing at the more "grown-up" destinations I wanted to visit and checking in on their ailing grandfather, who moved to the memory ward of an assisted living home the day after we arrived. I think I learned a valuable parenting lesson: Do what you want to do instead of catering to your children's wishes.

Here's what we saw (and enjoyed) aside from visits to Grandpa, which would have been depressing if it wasn't for the patience, love and tenderness Zoe and Ada showed for him…

Colonial Plantation Pennsylvania
We visited Colonial Plantation Pennsylvania, which wasn't very far from my in-laws' house in West Chester. There we met all of the animals being raised humanely and sustainably on the farm and saw what an 18th century farmhouse was like. The girls figured out how to play with a wooden hoop and stick and we got a Revolutionary War era rifle demonstration from a guy dressed like a member of the Union army. Loading and reloading took a long time and a great deal of effort back then.

Eleutherian Mills, Du Pont home
We also spent a full day at Hagley, an enormous 235 acre property near Wilmington where E. I. du Pont founded a gunpowder factory and built his estate back in 1802. A tour guide walked us through the ancestral home and gardens and we got to see some of the other historical highlights (the machine shop, water wheels and workers' hill) before ended at the visitor's center museum, which had two fantastic exhibits. One was a temporary exhibit on the history of nylon (a DuPont invention) and the other is the permanent, hands-on exhibit of DuPont engineering. I had no idea that they'd created so many familiar synthetics--Kevlar, StainMaster, Dacron, Corian, Neoprene and Lycra. I also didn't know that some of their earliest innovations, like car and house paints, were based on their gun powder heritage.

National Museum of American Jewish History
On our last day, we headed into Philadelphia to check out the National Museum of American Jewish History, which was built in 2010, and had a fascinating collection that traces the paths and fortunes of the Jews in America from colonial times (1654) to the present day. The exhibits are a mix of artifacts, imagery, sound and video, and each floor has a hands-on area that appeals to kids. Mine dressed up as settlers in a Conestoga wagon, sat down at a Shabbat table like tenement residents in the first half of the 20th century, and watched TV in a 1950s rec room. They also discovered photos and pictures of OSRUI, where Zoe is headed in a few days, in a room dedicated to the role of sleep away camp to the American Jewish experience. And, appropriately enough, we stopped at a Famous 4th, a Jewish delicatessen, before heading to the airport.*

*We flew in and out of Trenton-Mercer, which may very well be the tiniest airport I've ever been to. One airline. Two gates. It's a bit less convenient for my mother-in-law, who picked us up and dropped us off, but it offered terrifically cheap fares and the novel opportunity to exit the plane directly onto the tarmac. Then it was up one flight of stairs from the baggage claim barn and there was Shirley's car.