Field Work Friday – Berry Hill Resort

It’s probably the last place you’d expect to find a bunch of kids – but the Berry Hill Resort and Conference Center is exactly where we went.Berry Hill

Berry Hill was part of a land grant from the British Crown decades before the American Revolution.  The estate was protected from destruction during wartime by the owner’s wealth and political clout and has a long and colorful history.

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Berry Hill has it’s own historian and tour guide, and this retired teacher gives a great tour.  He took us through the mansion, room by room, telling funny stories and sharing how the building has changed over time.

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The main hall is just as impressive as the outside of the mansion.  With twin staircases, this room highlights the original mistress’s favorite aspect of the building:  symmetry.  The downstairs also features marble baseboards from the same quarry as Michelangelo’s David.

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Our guide pointed out more of the unique symmetrical elements around the building – including extra doors that lead only to the wall.  Everyone was amused by that!

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Twenty years ago, the estate was purchased by a French corporation who renovated it extensively.  This beautiful pool was one of their additions!

After visiting the mansion, the pool, and the new on-site hotel, we ate lunch in Darby’s Tavern.  Situated in the old kitchen, we feasted on gourmet sandwiches and salads and played in the beautiful, spring sunshine.

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After lunch, we headed off to explore more of the grounds.  Now encompassing 650 acres, there are many trails leading to historic sites, and we made great use of them.

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We found these old stone remnants near a creek, and we had fun poking around, trying to see if we can figure out how it looked originally.

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The kids also had fun playing near the creek and catching frogs.  My Little Man couldn’t resist this one!

Berry Hill Resort and Conference Center is a beautiful place.  We enjoyed learning about its varied past, but this National Historic Landmark has a bright future.  Now often used for weddings, parties, and conferences, it would make a wonderful venue for any occasion. Should you visit southern Virginia, be sure to check it out.

Field Work Friday: Route 11 Potato Chips

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Sometimes it’s possible to stumble onto great educational experiences without really trying, and that’s what happened when we stopped in at the Route 11 Potato Chip Factory.

The Route 11 Potato Chip Company started out on its namesake road, but it has since moved to a newer, bigger location just off Interstate 81 in Mount Jackson, Virginia.  The warehouse is the home to the entire company:  offices, gift shop, and factory itself.

Route 11 welcomes visitors, but what makes the site really unique are the windows built into the walls of the gift shop.  From that vantage point, you can look into nearly every part of the factory and see how the chips are made.  On the day that we stopped in, the kind woman at the counter came out and explained the process to us.  We learned about how the potatoes are purchased from individual farmers across the Eastern seaboard and how they’re turned into yummy potato chips. 

The process is fascinating, and by moving from window to window you can see almost everything (the potatoes are washed and peeled in a separate room).  By moving to a second-floor balcony, you can see into the seasoning room, where we watched two workers salting a batch of lightly-salted chips and turning them by hand. 

The machinery that fries, flips, drains, and bags the chips were was fun to watch.  Conveyor belts move the chips throughout the factory in batches, and although they start with 100 pounds of potatoes, 75 pounds of water cooks out!

The gift shop area includes a sampling table, where you can try many of Route 11‘s unique flavors.  My Little Man loved that part the best!  My Big Helper spent her time in conversation with our tour guide and admiring the t-shirts, jewelry, and other items on display in the shop.

Route 11 employs sustainable business practices, and this was especially interesting to us after touring TS Designs last week.  They, too, recycle their frying oil.  We were particularly excited about the picked-out chips, though.  After frying, the chips are sent along a conveyor belt, where a worker inspects the quality of them all.  If chips are found that are slightly under- or over-cooked, they’re tossed into a bucket.  A nearly farmer comes by at the end of the day and collects those chips, and feeds them to his cows.  I never knew that cows like potato chips!

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If you’re ever driving through that section of Virginia, stop in and check out Route 11.

If Route 11 isn’t available in your area, you can try them out here:

 

Field Trip Friday: TS Designs Makes Revolutionary T-Shirts

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My husband has been fascinated with screen printing for years, and that’s why I was so excited to find that TS Designs would be open to having us come and tour their facility.

We soon learned more than we ever expected.

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Eric Michel, Chief of Tech and Logistics, kicked off our tour with a history of the company.  TS Designs started out as a standard screen-printing company back in the late 70s, and business was strong as they printed shirts for companies like Gap and Nike.  When these major companies began taking their business overseas after NAFTA, president Eric Henry knew he had to make changes.  He and fellow founder Tom Sineath changed their focus to what they call the 3 Ps:  People, the Planet, and Profit.  With this as their motto, they jumped on board the green movement.

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That’s when the Cotton of the Carolinas line was born. This new line features cotton from local farmers, and it’s processed into shirts locally, too.   Eric passed around samples of the cotton at each stage of the process so the kids could feel and examine it.  There are more steps than I had imagined!

This is a really fascinating process, and TS Designs works with experts.  Want to know more? Watch this clip of their UNC TV Special here.

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Now printing for a smaller customer base, TS Designs no longer needed to print hundreds of thousands of shirts at a time.  Instead, they needed to be able to keep a smaller amount of inventory on hand.  Since most screen printers print on the color of the shirt desired, this caused a problem, as TS Designs didn’t want to keep shirts in every color in storage.  Instead, they developed a new technology that would allow them to dye the shirts after being printed.  Even now, they’re the only printers they know of using this REHANCE technology.

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Then we were on the move:  out onto the factory floor, where we learned about how the giant screen printing presses operate.  In full production mode, each one takes several people to operate and can print a shirt every six seconds.  Wow!

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The kids were full of questions about the printing presses, the screens, and the large drying machines we saw on the floor.  Who knew screen printing required so much equipment?

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After that social media queen Jen Busfield took over.  She taught us about the variety of ways that TS Designs employs to keep their company sustainably minded. TS Designs not only prints t-shirts that are completely local, but they use their property to benefit the community in many ways.  They’re a drop-off station for fuel recycling, and they have a garden manned by the staff, too.  Outside of the garden area is a bench that becomes the home for several bee hives come warm weather, and they’re tended by local beekeepers.  The honey they share with TS Designs is then enjoyed by the employees.  While the staff has enjoyed fresh eggs from chickens kept on the property in the past, a new local law made the hens relocate, but they have hopes of returning soon.  They even have solar panels on the roof and an outside patio area for staff!  It is obvious that TS Designs is working hard to be friendly not only to their customers and to their employees, but also to the planet as a whole.

I’ve never heard of a business diversifying in so many ways to be friendly to their environment.  TS Designs might have started making these changes to stay afloat many years ago, but it’s obvious that it’s become a heart decision since that time, and we learned many things from them.  Seeing a business care about its employees and environment in such concrete ways was refreshing. 

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Of course, at the very end of our tour, we headed to the Breakroom Boutique, where TS Designs sells extras and overruns for $5 each.  We were able to find some great shirts – some designed by Mindful Supply, which are all super cute, and all featuring the REHANCE technology that makes even the printed area soft and pliable.  This company is definitely doing good, and we’ll be hitting up this shop again.

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Where have you field-tripped to learn something new?

While TS Designs is definitely the way to go to print shirts for your youth group, business, or special event, you can learn more about small-batch printing at home!  Check out these resources:

 

 

Book Clubbing in the Wild West: Climbing Mountains

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I love being able to make hands-on plans for book club.  I love that we’re not only about books and discussion but about really getting into the books with all of our senses.  That’s why I was so excited for the kids to read Missing on Superstition Mountain by Elise Broach this month, and just like Henry and his friends, we climbed a mountain.

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On a warm Saturday morning, we met at Hanging Rock State Park in Danbury, North Carolina for a mountain adventure.  After quickly discussing the role of the dangerous Superstition Mountain to Henry, we set off.

Although our group set a brisk pace at the beginning, it wasn’t long before we slowed down considerably.  While the park service ranks the main Hanging Rock trail as a moderate one, the first half is very steep, and the second half requires climbing up rough, rustic rock steps. 

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We paused for a picture before heading up those steps.  Where were we going, exactly?

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We were going to the top of this! 

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We stopped along the way to play in some neat rock formations.  The kids loved climbing into fissures, small craggy areas, and mini caves, then posing for pictures everywhere they went.  It was fun to see them enjoying it so much.

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After lots more climbing, we made it to the top!  We stopped for a picture before scattering to the far corners of the large rock on top of the mountain.

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So where were we, really?  My husband and My Big Helper ventured out onto Hanging Rock itself, but it was so crowded that they didn’t stay long.  They said that it felt too much as if a random elbow-bump could knock one off.  Given that, they didn’t hang around.  There were other places that were just as pretty ….

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Like these huge boulders just around the corner from Hanging Rock itself.  Even though we were far away from the edge, this made My Little Man nervous, and he went back to the mountain as soon as we were done.  We all enjoyed snacking on the rock and enjoying the views, though.

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Though the cliff side of the rocks were not his favorite thing, My Little Man loved the underside of the upper rocks.  How strong would one have to be to hold this one up?

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Climbing the mountain was a major adventure.  It was difficult and exhausting, with a few banged knees and racing pulses.  We were tempted to quit and worried about the danger from the uneven ground, 2500-foot drop, and the crowds at the top.  We realized, though, like Henry, that blazing a new trail was fun.  It made us feel strong.  That conquering the mountain made us more observant of the nature around us and the strength within our muscles. 

If you’ve never pitted yourself against a mountain, give it a try.  You might be surprised at what you’ll learn.

For more mountain-climbing resources, check out these:

 

 

Studying the Wild West: Going on a Trail Ride

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We’re studying the Wild West this semester, and it’s impossible to do so without noting the importance of the horse to this expansion.  From pioneers moving west to the Pony Express, stagecoaches, and cowboys, horses played a huge role in it all.  With that in mind, I scheduled a horse lesson and trail ride so that we could learn about horses firsthand.

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Our lesson took place at a nearby church camp that includes stables.  Chris Burtner, their equestrian director, met us on a beautiful fall morning and talked to the kids about some horse basics: anatomy, behaviors, and horse etiquette.  There’s a lot to learn!

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She also taught the kids about the frog, a soft, triangular part of the horse’s foot and how to care for it.  While she cleaned the frogs before the students came, an important aspect of horse care, she showed them how it’s done.

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Next, everyone learned about the tack necessary for basic riding: saddles, saddle pads, curry combs, bits, reins, and bridles.

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When they knew the basics, the students each retrieved a basket with the necessary tools for currying their horses.  Each was responsible for preparing his own horse to ride, and this gave them all time to bond with their animals.

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My Big Helper especially liked this part.  I think they all fell a little bit in love with their mounts during this part of the lesson.

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When there was no remaining dirt that might chafe the horse after being saddled, the kids were instructed individually about that process.  My Little Man was excited to learn each step of this process, and Burtner kindly walked him through it, checking behind him as he went.

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He was quite proud of his accomplishment!

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After everyone had curried, saddled, and mounted their horses, they headed out for a trail ride.  The forest was beautiful, and while several of the kids looked scared as they held the reins for the first time, they all returned with huge smiles on their faces.  Several asked immediately if they could head back out to the woods!

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Unfortunately, time didn’t allow another ride, and so the kids learned how to unsaddle their horses, as well.  They put away their tack and rubbed down the horses following their ride.

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Since this ride, I’ve heard the kids who attended ask for more lessons.  They loved it!

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I’ve heard more than that, though:  the kids have talked about the feel of the horse, the way it felt to ride so high from the ground, and about how it smelled and sounded.  They’re using proper vocabulary when talking about the horses and equipment, and I can’t wait to read the way that their experiences factor into their stories and ideas about the role of horses in the Wild West.

Have your children ever ridden a horse?

Check out these resources for more information about horses and the Wild West:

Horse Studies

Rolling Sculptures: Art Deco @ the NC Museum of Art

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My Little Man adores cars, so when I heard that the North Carolina Museum of Art was hosting a new exhibit of rolling sculptures featuring 14 art deco cars from the 1930s and 1940s, I knew we had to go.

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The exhibit opened on a Saturday morning, and we headed to the museum early to check out the car show happening in the parking lot that day.  I have absolutely no idea what sort of car this is, but I loved looking at the curvy lines of it.  It made me think of an old-fashioned Mickey Mouse car!

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That’s what I discovered about many of these – that while I don’t understand the ‘wow’ factor that car-minded people might get, the artistic quality of these vehicles when compared to modern-day ones was something I could relate to.

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Inside the exhibit, this was my son’s favorite.  He loved it – and while it looks small in the picture, it really wasn’t!  It reminded me of an antique VW bus.

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This Pierce Silver Arrow was really impressive.  I thought My Little Man would totally love it … and he was talking about them before we headed into the exhibit itself, ….

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but then he caught a glimpse of this one.  We couldn’t do anything else until we had thoroughly examined it.

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That’s where he spotted this Bugatti.  This is his favorite type of car, and the details were fascinating.  It was covered with obvious seams and rivets for the sheer beauty of the detail work!  I don’t suppose this Bugatti was ever an everyday sort of car, but you just don’t see these kinds of curves on our cars today.  While we know more about aerodynamics than in the ’30s, all models have very similar shapes.  The way that the rivets decorated the metal seams reminded me of the way that people use overstitching to decorate special shirts. 

My Little Man loved leading me to one vehicle after another, and I loved watching his excitement throughout the exhibit.  It’s definitely worth the exhibit fee.  If you’re anywhere near Raleigh, NC, in the next few months, go check it out.

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To learn more about art deco cars, check out these resources:

 

Learning Leatherwork with Tandy Leather

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Education can be found everywhere, and I love finding new avenues to learn – that’s why I was so excited to take the kids to Tandy Leather in Raleigh for a leatherworking lesson.

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Little did I know just how kind and generous the store manager, Aubrin Rhem, would turn out to be.

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Rhem gave the kids large pieces of scrap leather to practice with, and the first step was to dampen the leather.  We took it outside and used spray bottles with water to prep it.

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Rhem taught everyone how to put their leather on stone slabs so that the metal stamps could leave clear, distinct impressions when pounded with mallets. 

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Then the students practiced for a long time, learning how much pressure to use and at what angle to get good marks.

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After stamping and staining their leather bracelets, Rhem gave the kids a tour of his shop.

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They were amazed at the variety of leather available.

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The same was true for this python skin!  Everyone loved touching it and seeing just how long it was.

After the stain dried, Rhem sealed the leather with sealant and the bracelets dried in the sun again.   

All told, we spent several hours at Tandy Leather, and I had no idea how much we would learn in that time.  My kids came home, chattering about all of the new things they wanted to make with leather next.  They were using new terms that they had learned that day and bouncing with excitement.

Aubrin Rhem was extremely kind and patient with our students, and Tandy Leather places a high emphasis on leatherwork education.  If there’s a Tandy Leather near you, check out their class schedule.  Working with leather is a relaxing, fun, and practical hobby.

Want to know more?  Check out these leather resources:

 

Touring Penn State University

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A few months ago we traveled to Pennsylvania to visit my grandmother, a natural-born teacher.  Although she was quite sick at the time, she sent us on several field trips while we were there – and one of them was to her alma mater, Penn State University.

 

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 Penn State is a huge, land grant university, with the main campus located in State College, very close to where I grew up.  In fact, while Pennsylvania has only 500 institutions of higher learning, supposedly you’re never more than 30 minutes from a PSU campus.  Penn State is big – it’s football, it’s Blue and White, it’s food science and ag and 4-H and intense study.

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The kids had never been there before, and since Penn State plays such a large role in the life of a central Pennsylvanian, it was exciting to take them there.

Our first stop was at Beaver Stadium, home of the Nittany Lions football team.  Of course, being early summer, no games were happening – but if there had been, the traffic would have prevented us getting in the proximity.  As it was, we parked nearby and walked around the stadium, admiring it’s sheer size.  We have yet to see a college football stadium that compares here in the south!

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Our wandering took us to the Pattee and Paterno Library next.  In both middle and high school, I researched my history day projects in these libraries.  I spent hours looking for obscure information about Elizabeth Blackwell and the Massachusetts 54th in the stacks.  My Little Man was excited to see such a huge library and wanted to search for old books, but … we got there 20 minutes after it closed.  Summer hours – bummer.  We’ll definitely be headed inside when we’re in the area again.

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Nana wanted us to see Old Main most of all.  The original building of Penn State University, it’s big, old, and very impressive. 

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Penn State University is spread out all over State College, but one edge of campus faces College Avenue.  The other side of the street sports lots of shops and eateries.  We hit up the Student Book Store for magnets and t-shirts, and now we happily match in our blue and white.

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The Allen Street Grill is a landmark in downtown State College.  I’ve always wanted to eat there and never have – maybe someday we’ll make that happen.

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We found beautiful fountains and old clocks all over campus and had fun taking pictures with them.

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Our last stop was our favorite:  Berkey Creamery.  It’s moved and expanded since I was last there, and the new set-up is wonderful.  Penn State’s ice cream program is world famous, and people like Ben & Jerry have gone there to learn the science and art of making ice cream.  They have the usual flavors like chocolate and vanilla, but there are variations on those, as well as specialty flavors like Peachey Paterno.

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Servings come in only one size – enormous.  You can get any flavor in a cone or a cup, and they wisely ask you to pay at the beginning of the process – because you can’t manage your wallet while juggling all that ice cream.  It was absolutely delicious, and we all wanted to go back for seconds (but we refrained).

We visited Penn State on a cloudy, drizzly Saturday evening, and we made the most of every minute.  There are lots of other attractions in State College, though – there are shows at Roosevelt Auditorium, many sporting events, shopping, tours, wonderful restaurants, and PSU attractions like the deer farm, dairy farm, and many more.

If you’re ever near State College, head over to the Penn State campus.  You’ll find a beautiful area with lots to see and do.

Want to know more about what makes Penn State great?  Check out these resources:

 

Meeting “Lemoncello” Author Chris Grabenstein

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Recently My Little Man and I traveled to a nearby city to meet New York Times’ Best-selling author Chris Grabenstein.  It was everything I ever thought meeting a famous author could be.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer.  I used to sit at my desk with stacks of paper and all the office supplies I could find gathered around me, trying to be the next Carolyn Keene.  I’d still like to write an exciting book someday, but for now, lately, I’ve really wanted to meet my favorite authors.

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We live near Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte, and big names often come to those areas – but somehow it’s never worked for us, so I was super excited to head out to meet the author of the “Mr. Lemoncello” series and “The Island of Dr. Libris,” Chris Grabenstein.

The signing was held at Barnes and Noble, and while I knew that they were experts in this sort of thing, we weren’t.  We didn’t want to miss out, so we headed over there several hours before it was slated to begin.

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We found the signing spot and hunkered down to wait, hoping we would end up with good seats.

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Since we were there for so long before hand, we took turns wandering the store and admiring the fun displays set up for the event.

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Grabenstein has a series out for middle-grade readers that I really want to read, but alas, B & N didn’t have any copies that night.  🙁

One might worry that such a popular author would be stuck-up or snobby, but we found the exact opposite to be true with Chris Grabenstein.  He arrived quite early and talked through set-up with the B & N employees, and promptly came over to greet My Little Man, talking with him even though it was hours before he was ‘on.’  While the B & N crew were obviously trying to make sure they had met his every need, escorting him around the store and offering him refreshments from their Starbucks Café, Grabenstein gravitated right back to the event scene and continued to talk with his readers.  He repeatedly asked if it was time to start, continually engaging with fans, when he could have stayed out of sight and done his own thing.  I was most impressed with his kindness and attention to the kids.

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Finally it was time to begin.  Grabenstein shared some exciting news about upcoming stories, recent releases, and awards that some of his books have gotten.

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Then he read a selection from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics.  He is an amazing actor!  His voice, inflections, and eyebrow wiggles totally put new spins on the story – even though I’ve read it over and over again.  He chose a hilarious scene to read and had everyone in stitches.

After playing a quiz game, passing out prizes, and answering myriads of questions about the life of a writer, upcoming projects, and Fred (his dog), his stage time ended.

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We quickly lined up for autographs and pictures.  Grabenstein was kind and talked to each person, posing for pictures when asked and generally making each person feel important.

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Even My Little Man, who loves Mr. Grabenstein’s books but is extremely shy when meeting new adults, warmed up quickly.  He hopped right up for this picture and talked more than he typically does about the whole encounter.

Chris Grabenstein’s books are hilarious and exciting for kids, but they’re also well-written and chock-full of opportunities for learning.  I love when we can have a blast learning about something new.  Because we think his books are so wonderful – and with Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library ranking on the NYT’s bestseller’s list for 88+ weeks, I’m not the only one – I’m writing unit studies to accompany each one.  Two are currently available, and your kids will love designing their own car, making Mr. Lemoncello’s birthday cake, and much more.  Click on the pictures below to purchase the books or my accompanying unit studies.

Have you ever met a big-name author?  Who?

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Field Work Friday: The Lancaster Central Market

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While on a recent trip to Pennsylvania we had the opportunity to visit Lancaster Central Market, the world’s oldest continuously running farmer’s market.

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It had been years since I visited downtown Lancaster, and while we found parking easily, these maps and historical markers made our journey over to the actual marketplace much simpler.

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The market is in an old building right in center-city Lancaster.  It’s open three days each week and while it began as a farmer’s market, and still carries many fruits and veggies, you can now find cuisine and handmade goods from cultures originating all over the world.

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My Big Helper and My Little Man were particularly watchful for local, Amish-made goods, and we found some great ones.  There were several bakeries, some farm stands, and at least two stands with handicrafts.  I was hoping to find crafty things, and we all left happy.

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My Big Helper was thrilled to find this dishcloth made using a pattern she had recently found online.  She’s even more eager to try making her own now.

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To me, it wouldn’t be an authentic farmer’s market if there wasn’t a dairy present, and this one had everything.

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Every Thanksgiving for years my grandmother has purchased a special, organic celery at the Lancaster Central Market and brought it to share at dinner.  I’m not sure if this is the stand she visited or not, but it still an exciting find.  It would’ve been loads of fun to be able to visit this market with her and hear her stories!

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We meandered our way through the market, spending hours checking everything out.  After that, we went back to make our final purchases, and we decided that we couldn’t leave without trying these doughnuts.  They were amazing!

Should you ever find yourself near Lancaster on market day, you should make the journey downtown to visit.  The Lancaster Central Market is a wonderful place full of all sorts of fresh, handmade goods and farm products, and you can learn a lot about the area, too.

What sorts of things do you look for in a farmer’s market?

For more fun, farmer’s market resources, check out these links: