Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

Enjoying the beauty of Ohiopyle


On day 2 of our two-day anniversary getaway we headed over to Ohiopyle State Park. Despite finding myself in this area of Pennsylvania every summer for girls camp, I never made it over to Ohiopyle.

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This weekend getaway gave Toby and I a perfect opportunity to visit this beautiful park and see what the hype was all about.

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It didn’t disappoint!

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This diverse park offered beautiful biking trails,

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Breathtaking waterfalls,

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Natural waterslides,

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Rocky crevices to explore,

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And stunning vistas.

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It was a beautiful park!

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It was a perfect day to soak up the beauty of the Laurel Highlands and enjoying some one-on-one time with my favorite person. Happy anniversary, my love. The last 23 years have been quite the adventure…

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Here’s to 23 more!


Celebrating 23 Years!


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This year Toby and I are celebrating 23 years of marriage.

Our original anniversary plans were killed by Covid-19 when the Alaskan cruise we had been planning for years was canceled. It turns out this year isn’t the year for a big celebration, but we couldn’t let the weekend pass by without celebrating 23 years of marriage in some way. Never has the need to get away and just be us been greater than this year. We have dealt with un-precedented amount of struggle in 2020 and Toby and I were both wanting to run away for a bit. Last weekend we decided that we would keep our anniversary getaway short, local, and safe by heading 90 minutes away to the Laurel Highlands for a few days.

Many of the local sites and attractions were still shut down, but this area of Pennsylvania offers an abundance of beautiful state parks and outdoor fun, so it was the perfect place to get away.

We stayed at the Log Cabin Inn and Suites. This motel boasts log cabin themed rooms with rustic charm, which made us feel like we were vacationing in the mountains.

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It also offered the added perk of being connected to Living Treasures Animal Park (Donegal).

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We love Living Treasures Animal Park in New Castle, Pennsylvania, but had never visited this location…and it was one of the few attractions in the area that was open!

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All overnight guests receive 1/2 off the cost of admission so we headed over there on Saturday to explore and enjoy the animals.

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This Living Treasures location isn’t quite as big as the one near us but it offered a wide variety of animals to observe and/or feed.

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We had so much fun interacting with all the critters that clambered near the fence, eager to be fed.

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It was a photographic feast.

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We especially loved all the baby animals!

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Can you spot the baby turkeys hovering near mom?

It was a zoo filled with prolific breeders!


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Babies, babies…everywhere.

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Day 1: Living Treasures Animal Park…

Day 2: Ohiopyle State Park!

Longwood Gardens


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Last Friday, following my graduation ceremony the previous night, we found ourselves headed east for another big event. In preparation for her upcoming wedding at the Philadelphia temple in October, Grace decided to receive her endowments at the same temple. This was a special milestone in Gracie’s spiritual journey as she prepared to make covenants with Heavenly Father in the House of the Lord that would serve as a strengthening force and great personal blessing to her throughout her life.

She invited me to escort her on her first time through the temple, and it was a joy to take that journey with my sweet girl on her special day.

When Gracie made reservations at the Philadelphia temple months before her July 27th appointment, it was our hope that Toby and I would both be able to accompany her. Our ability to slip away with Grace for the weekend hinged on making sure all the other kids were stable and ok to be left at home. It all worked out and God’s hand was in the details. Ozzie continues to be safely settled in at his trauma-care facility in Erie. Braden was invited by his Pap (His former adoptive father who is battling cancer) to spend a weekend with him this summer, so we made plans for that weekend to coincide with Gracie’s endowment ceremony. Molly and Rusty coordinated their work schedules so that Tyler would only have to be home alone for a minimal amount of time. And because everyone is in such a good place emotionally, we found that we were able to drive to Philly with no concerns.

Along with Toby and I, Grace was also joined by her fiancé, Zach’s parents, and sister, Andrea. Zach chose to drive out with us on Friday with his family meeting up with us at the temple on Saturday morning.

Knowing what a gift it was to have this alone time with Zach and Grace, we allowed Grace to pick a fun excursion for Friday afternoon, and Grace didn’t even hesitate. She knew exactly where she wanted to go.

Less than an hour outside of downtown Philadelphia, is one of America’s most impressive outdoor spaces: Longwood Gardens.

Last time Grace visited this historic Philadelphian landmark it was Christmas. Zach’s sister, Andrea, had taken her there and she was blown away by this place that was cloaked in Christmas magic. She loved it and took hundreds of pictures. She couldn’t wait to return and was eager to visit it during the summer months when the outdoor gardens were in bloom. She couldn’t wait to share this special place with the rest of us.

We arrived and stepped into a floral wonderland, laced with magnificent architecture, roving entertainment and timeless edifices of American History.

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The land that would one day become Longwood Gardens was purchased from William Penn in 1700 to be used as a farm. In 1798, twin brothers Joshua and Samuel Peirce began planting trees, and, by 1850, the land had become one of the best collections of trees in the country. Known as Peirce’s Park, the land was a popular destination for visitors. However, due to declining interest by the family, the trees came under threat of being cut down by a local lumber company. Pierre du Pont stepped in and bought the land to preserve it.

However, du Pont didn’t just preserve the land. In fact, he begun adding to it and created much of what can be seen today. When du Pont died in 1954, he left most of his fortune to the Longwood Foundation to maintain and improve the gardens. Today, more than 50 years after du Pont’s death, his gardens continue to delight visitors 365 days a year.

We arrived, purchased our tickets, and headed inside.

Once inside the gardens, we found there were several destinations worth checking out. The most impressive area, in my opinion, was the Conservatory, which features over four acres of indoor gardens.

Gracie was especially eager to show us the green hallway that leads to the bathrooms in the conservatory. This is one of Gracie’s favorite places at Longwood Gardens, as her favorite plants are ferns…the very flora that covers the walls of that hallway.

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While in the Conservatory, we stopped to check out the organ installed by du Pont. With over 10,000 pipes, this organ was one of the largest private pipe organs in the world when it was installed here in 1929. Visitors can walk around the organ to learn about its history and even get a glimpse into the inner workings through a window. We stayed her long enough to enjoy a few songs and soak up the beauty of the ballroom.

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We found the Conservatory composed of room after room of tropical plants from around the world.

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Outside was an amazing waterlily display with aquatic plants from across the globe. It was stunning, truly a photographer’s dream with its huge lily pads and colorful blooms.

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Other gardens on the 1,000-acre property range from roses and peonies to wisteria, conifers, and an allée of catalpa trees. There was a dahlia garden, an idea garden, an edibles section, and a long fence covered by clematis of many varieties.

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At the far side of Longwood Gardens, near the wooden treehouse, we found the Italian Water Garden, one of my favorite spots at Longwood.

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The water display in the sunken area was patterned after one at the Villa Gamberaia near Florence, Italy, with great care by Mr. du Pont to keep the perspective symmetrical – the water pool farthest away is 14 feet longer than the closest pool assuring that these would all look the same length.

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These fountains were not the only water display at the gardens. Located in front of the conservatory we discovered the main fountain garden.

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After a two-year, $90 million renovation, the Main Fountain Garden at Longwood Gardens has opened. The new fountain replaces the garden’s original fountain, and much of that original plumbing can be seen in a small museum next to the fountain.

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The new Main Fountain Garden features 1,719 jets that shoot water as high as 175 feet into the air. Standard fountain shows are performed 4-5 times each day and are 12 minutes in length. These shows are set to a variety of music from classical to modern pop.


While we were visiting, the Festival of the Fountains was going on. The timing of our stroll around the gardens resulted in us missing out on the nighttime show, but we did catch some of the daytime musical production as we were walking by.

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We ended up spending 3 hours in the gardens but could have spent days. I was amazed at how extensive the gardens were. The entire experience was a feast for the senses. As it was, I left with my SD card filled with hundreds of photos. I simply couldn’t keep myself in check. Longwood Gardens truly is a small slice of heaven here on earth.

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Turkey Hill Experience


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On Tuesday, following Molly’s recognition banquet at the Downingtown office of her cyber school, we began our trek home. The initial plan was to stop in Hershey, home of Hershey’s Chocolate World. Ozzie decided he wanted to treat Molly to a special shared experience with his own money. He had decided on the “Create Your Own Candy Bar” experience at Chocolate World but when I called to reserve tickets we found out that it was currently closed for renovations. Quickly we scrambled to come up with a Plan B.

As I searched for things to do along our route back home I stumbled across a fun little gem near Lancaster, Pa. Created by Turkey Hill ice cream, the Turkey Hill Experience is a fun, interactive museum all about the creation of Turkey Hill ice cream (and their tea and lemonade drink line.) As I read about the experience online both Ozzie and Molly thought it sounded fun. When we read that there were unlimited ice cream samples offered at the end of the tour, they were sold…

So, off we drove toward ice cream heaven.

The Turkey Hill Experience is housed in a beautiful, old brick warehouse.

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As we walked in we were greeted by a giant cow…a whimsical clue to what the experience would hold.

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We were the youngest visitors there by many decades, with the only other visitors consisting of a senior tour bus.

The experience is set up to take visitors through each step of the ice cream creation process.

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The tour began with a short video about the history of Turkey Hill Ice Cream and an introduction to the ice cream making process.

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Then we stepped into the world of ice cream creation…

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Step 1: It all begins with the cow!

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Step 2: Making sure the milk meets the standards of Turkey Hill.

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Step 3: Getting creative…the “Create Your own Ice Cream Flavor” station.

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Step 4: Measuring and Mixing.

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Step 5: Designing the packaging for our new ice cream flavors.

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Step 6: Into the freezer…BRRRRR!

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Step 7: Filming a commercial for our newly developed flavors.

As Molly and Ozzie moved through the experience they scanned their entrance ticket at each station so the continuity of their work continued through the experience, building on itself until the commercial at the end.

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It was a really fun place that was created to be engaging for every age, from toddlers to retirees.

The climax of the experience came at the end with the tasting café where we were invited to taste different Turkey Hill ice cream flavors. There was no limit to the samples we could enjoy and there was no additional fee.

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This was definitely the highlight of the day for our crew.

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It was a great way to conclude our special sibling bonding trip…

Sweet memories made by all!

The Nutcracker Ballet


On Friday we kicked off the month of December and the start of the holiday season with a visit to the ballet.


21st Century Cyber Charter School planned a field trip on our side of the state to see a production of The Nutcracker Ballet. When we saw that it was in New Castle, at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, as opposed to downtown Pittsburgh and that the cost of tickets were only $3.00/person, we jumped at the chance to attend.

The girls were excitedly anticipating the show and the boys were excited to see their friends and teachers. Only Tyler was dead set against our trip to the ballet. He insisted he would not be attending and when I explained he had no choice and must go with the family he let me know he planned on keeping his eyes closed the whole time because, “ballet is gross!”

Even sharing the fact that some of the best football players take ballet lessons to improve their skills on the field only led to him deciding a football career in the NFL was no longer in his future and that instead he would be a professional soccer player when he grows up.

I told him that he would be going and that I wanted him to at least give the show a chance before making a judgement. The big kids and I coerced and teased a little with promises of sword fights, stunts and a big explosion.

Even with all the groundwork laid I knew how the whole thing would probably play out and made sure my cell phone was fully charged and open to the “Candy Crush” game before the show began…

You know, just in case!

On Friday morning we woke and got ready to leave by 9:00 am. Molly insisted that we dress appropriately for the ballet and ignore the casual business dress code on the invitation in favor of  nicer church dress.



We arrived at the beautiful venue with twenty minutes to spare and enjoyed seeing all of our co-op friends as well as the school teachers in attendance.


When the doors opened we filed inside to find the seats reserved for our school group. We joined hundreds of other school students from local schools for this performance of New Castle Regional Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker.


The show began and we were pleased by the impressive caliber of talent found in this regional ballet troupe. The majority of the dancers were children with the exception of some of the professional lead dancers. The littlest preschool aged dancers were particularly delightful dressed as mice, scampering around the stage.



Tyler made it about 30 minutes into the show before I had to pull out Candy Crush… which means he lasted about 28 minutes longer than I expected.


He did look up when a canon fired on stage and Ozzie asked it that was the “big explosion” we were joking about the day before.

After intermission Ian, the friend that Ozzie made while at the Sky Zone outing, found Ozzie in the crowd and asked if he could come sit with him and his mom for the second half of the show. Ozzie was thrilled!

The show was wonderful and the kids (with the exception of Tyler) were glad that we went. After the show we gathered our co-op group in the lobby for a group picture for the yearbook before we all headed home.


We had to be home by 2:00pm to meet a school phycologist that was coming to the house to reevaluate Grace for the last and final IEP update before college.

We are so glad we attended. It was a beautiful performance and a great way to kick off the Christmas season!


A Stroll through History


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Yesterday we went into historic Philadelphia to spend the day exploring some of the most significant places in our nation’s history. The entire experience left me feeling profoundly humbled and grateful for the freedoms I all too often take for granted. To walk the grounds where our great Nation was born and to stand in the very room where our story began affected me. It was a powerful and even spiritually touching experience which left me feeling emotional.

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Since this was our first time visiting historic Philadelphia I did some research before we left on what sites were in the area and which were most recommended for someone only visiting for the day. In my research I came across “The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia: Take a free self-guided walking tour through America’s most historic square mile.” I downloaded the free walking tour guide and we used it to guide us through our day.

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(On a side note the entire day was free of charge with the exception of our delicious dinner at the City Tavern.)

Here is a look at our day (with descriptions from the self-guided tour.

We began our day at the Independence Visitor Center.

“Visitors to the Independence Visitor Center will discover a range of services and amenities that provide a warm welcome and all of the information you need to plan your visit to the Philadelphia area including Independence National Historical Park.  Get your free timed tour tickets for Independence Hall on the morning of your visit, on a first-come, first-served basis. Throughout the day, you can watch two films: Independence and Choosing Sides “

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Molly stamping each of our tickets with a national park passport stamp.

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My children: American heroes. 🙂


The kids had fun assembling the United States floor puzzle at the Visitor’s Center.

. Then we walked (well everyone else walked while Toby pushed me in the wheelchair) over to Independence Hall. The kids were excited, having recognized this historic building from the movie National Treasure. With our free timed tour tickets in hand we waited for our 11:20 tour to begin.


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Independence Hall


“Independence Hall, the birthplace of America, was built in 1732 as the Pennsylvania State House. Within this hallowed hall, the Second Continental Congress met in May 1775, and The Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. Independence Hall is also where the Constitutional Convention met to draft, debate and then sign The United States Constitution on September 17, 1787.”

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The historic hall that gave birth to a new nation.


Then we moved into the adjoining hall to view three historic documents, including George Washington’s copy of the constitution and an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation.



The next stop was Congress Hall:

“Constructed between 1787 and 1789 as the Philadelphia County Court House, Congress Hall served as the United States Capitol, the meeting place of the United States Congress, from 1790 to 1800, when Philadelphia was the Capital of the United States. The House of Representatives met on the main floor, while the Senate assembled upstairs. From its earliest days, the Senate thus came to be referred to as the “upper chamber.” Among the historic events that took place here were the inaugurations of President George Washington (his second) and President John Adams.”

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Sitting in the room where John Adams was sworn in as our second president.



The we walked across the road to The Liberty Bell Center. This was the stop most of my kids (especially Ozzie) was most excited about,

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“As the official bell of the Pennsylvania State House, which is today called Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell rang many times for public announcements. It may have rung on July 8, 1776 to announce the first public reading of The Declaration of Independence. The Liberty Bell, which weighs about 2,000 pounds, was silenced by a crack in 1846. Its inscription reads: “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof” – Leviticus XXV, v.10, The Bible. The new Liberty Bell Center features exciting exhibits on the history of this world-famous icon of freedom.”

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“Proclaim Liberty Throughout all the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.”

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Then it was on to Franklin Court and the Ben Franklin museum:

“Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s Founding Fathers, was a very accomplished author, diplomat, inventor, philanthropist, political pundit, printer, statesman and scientist during his 84-year life. Franklin’s house once stood in Franklin Court, however it was razed in 1812. Today, the Robert Venturi-designed “Ghost House” stands depicting the frame of Franklin’s home. Below Franklin Court is a museum which is filled with paintings, objects and inventions; the museum also continuously shows The Real Ben Franklin movie.”


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Tyler learning about the printing process.


Ben Franklin was a great lover of chess, we learned, just like our Russ.


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Traveling in style…Ben Franklin style!


Located on this same plot of land is the print shop.

“Years before his little kite-flying escapade, young Benjamin Franklin was making quite a name for himself as a printer. Progressing from apprentice to master printer, he took over publication of The Pennsylvania Gazette, and it soon became the most successful newspaper in the colonies.
 An 18th century print shop is recreated here on the site of his original property. Independence National Historical Park (INHP) rangers give demonstrations of the labor-intensive process of turning out a daily newspaper. Leather daubers stuffed with cotton are used to apply the ink. Then it’s onto the hand-operated 18th century printing press. The final product hangs from the drying racks along the ceiling. Typesetting desks and the tiny little letters and numbers are also displayed.”
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The park ranger demonstrating the 18th century printing process.

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Molly purchased one of the printed papers that were for sale for 25 cents.


Our final stop before stopping to eat was the  B. Free Franklin Post Office & Museum:

“B. Free Franklin Post Office & Museum is the only Colonial-themed post office operated by the United States Postal Service. It is a living portrayal of a bygone Colonial lifestyle, and it is the only active post office in the United States that does not fly the American flag (because there was not yet one in 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was appointed Postmaster General). The postmark “B. Free Franklin” is still used to cancel stamps. The museum on the second floor features displays of postal history and memorabilia.”

The kids had each purchased a post card at the visitor’s center to mail home to themselves from the oldest post office in America. They got a kick out of it!

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Mailing their postcards.

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Then we ended our day with a 4:00 lunch/dinner at the City Tavern:

The City Tavern is the tavern where delegates of the First and Second Continental Congresses met, as well as where delegates of the Constitutional Convention met. The City Tavern played host to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Today, the restaurant serves lunch and dinner, and it offers visitors the chance to enjoy a taste of the past.

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Homemade bread, including Thomas Jefferson’s sweet potato biscuits.



It was a fun way to end our historic walk through Old Philadelphia. The atmosphere was delightful as we were served by waitresses in colonial dress and ate off pewter dishes. The food was delicious!! It was a little more costly than what we would normally spend on a meal out, with most dishes averaging $12.00 on the mid-day menu, but it was so worth it! The food was incredible and uniquely reflective of that time period:

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This was what everyone ordered:

Toby- Applewood Smoked Pork Chop

Katie- Paillard of Salmon

Grace- Chicken Breast Madeira

Molly- Colonial Turkey Pot Pie

Rusty- Veal and Herb Sausage

Tyler and Ozzie- Fish and Chips

The entire day was enjoyed by all and left us all feeling reflective and all the more grateful for the simple, humble men who did such a brave, unprecedented, and extraordinary thing 240 years ago.