This Memorial Day, Mr Pict and I decided to go out for the day without the kids. They were invited to join us but declined so we thought we would take the opportunity to do something they would find tedious. We have been to Gettysburg many times since emigrating to the US. However, because Mr Pict is a Civil War nerd, our focus has always been on the battlefield. This time, therefore, we decided to approach Gettysburg from a different angle and visit Eisenhower’s home.
We arrived a little too early for a tour so we had a wander of the exterior of the property. We saw the limousine the Eisenhowers would take from the White House to Gettysburg and I was imagining this fancy car bumping along the uneven roads for two or three hours. Popping into the barn, I ended up chatting to one Ranger about Scotland generally and specifically about Eisenhower’s suite in Culzean Castle. It has been a long time since I visited Culzean so I had forgotten the Eisenhower connection. It is, therefore, pretty weird that I have ended up visiting two places where he lived given he is not exactly of interest to me. Adjacent to the barn, we saw the cramped cinder block hut that was the base of operations for the Secret Service Agents.
We lucked out when it was time for our tour as we were assigned to a very informative and engaging Ranger. I only possess general knowledge of Eisenhower so I found it all very educational. I learned that the farm house was purchased and extensively restored by the Eisenhowers as part of their retirement plan but Ike kept being called back to serve his country in one way or another so it took many years before they could use the property as their permanent residence. They did, however, use it as a weekend bolt hole and to entertain visiting Heads of State. Only one – Nehru – stayed overnight and we saw the guest bedroom where he slept.
My major takeaway from my visit was that, while Eisenhower was a man of extraordinary achievements in public life, in private life the Eisenhowers were massively ordinary. Since I am much more interested in social history than I am military or political history, this actually led me to engage with the tour much more than I anticipated because the home was a time capsule of mid-century taste rather than being a grand home. For example, the Eisenhowers loved to dinner eat off of tray tables while watching TV so we saw the sun room where they used to relax and their wonderfully cuboid TV cabinet. We saw the bedroom where Ike took naps and recuperated from his various acute health complaints and the master bedroom where Mamie would issue orders to staff while still in bed in her nightgown.
After leaving the Eisenhower farm, we headed into Gettysburg. The centre was packed because of the Memorial Day celebrations so we ended up parked a few blocks away. As it happened, we were near a brewery so we decided to pop in for a grown up lunch and some day drinking on my part since I had a cider. That repast then gave us the recharge required to do some extensive wandering in the blistering heat. Most of the historic buildings were closed because it was a holiday but we took in the exteriors and browsed in some fun stores. Mr Pict enjoyed seeing the house where Lincoln had slept the night before he delivered the Gettysburg Address and was also in nerd heaven in a store selling board games and another filled to the gunnels with Civil War antiques. We strolled back to our car along the route of the Memorial Day Parade so we could take in some of the festivities as we went.
It was a fun day out and we are hopeful for more day trips – preferably with our kids – now that we are officially in Summer.
One of the first American things we did upon emigrating just over four years ago was visit a pumpkin patch. It, therefore, became an important part of our annual traditions, so much so that the kids insist that we return to the exact same farm each year. This year, however, only five of us visited the pumpkin patch. At 14.5, our oldest son has outgrown the tradition and opted out. Sniffle.
We started with the horror barn. At night, there are live actors inside the barn who jump out at visitors and there are also moving parts and more special effects. I am a horror movie fan and totally cool with gore but I don’t imagine I would cope with the evening version of the horror barn. Mr Pict and I once visited the London Dungeon early in the morning which made us the first visitors. Mr Pict nipped to the restroom, leaving me alone in a dark room. When one of the models moved, I screamed very loudly and almost punched the poor employee. Anyway, the day time version of the horror barn contains the fixed props, some of which are very gory, and some sound effects. My kids love it but we did see a couple of kids crying, one hysterically.
The Alien barn is another favourite of the boys. It is all 3D paint effects, black light glowing, and disorienting strobe effects. And it definitely can be disorienting: in the pitch black, I walked smack into a wall that I thought was a door.
We also did a lot of the “country fair” type stuff that the farm runs during its Halloween festival. We shared a funnel cake, which is a must, and the boys used canon to fire vegetables at targets. A new thing this year was a range of sports ball activities. My very unsporty boys had a whale of a time measuring the speed of their baseball throws, getting balls through targets, shooting hoops, and scoring goals.
We also made another attempt at the farm’s corn maze. My children know nothing of the story and movie ‘Children of the Corn’ beyond the title but still decided to act out being spooky little ghouls among the corn stalks. The idea of the maze is to visit each of five stations within it in order to paint the fingers of one hand a different colour. For a bit of fun, the pattern of the colours on each individual’s hand then determines a funny little action each person takes – such as playing air fiddle or shaking your tail feathers. We have never yet managed to find all five stations. I think we are officially hopeless at mazes – though we did find our way back out again.
We hopped on the wagon which took us out to the pumpkin patch. The boys had wanted to select a small or medium pumpkin each but there were only large ones left so they agreed they would team up to pick and carve one communal pumpkin. Getting them to agree on a pumpkin was a whole other matter. Pumpkins were considered and rejected, argued over, discussed and dismissed. Finally they found one they could all agree upon. Now we just have to agree on a design and carve the thing.
We have had such a momentously busy summer as a family that we were tempted to just let Labor Day weekend be a sludgy three day break of chilling and preparing for returning to school and work. Obviously Mr Pict has worked throughout the summer months but the kids and I have been footloose and fancy free for the most part which means big adjustments and transitions. So the plan was just to stay home, sort things out on the home front, prepare for the school year, and relax. However, we could not let Summer depart without one last trip to bid it farewell.
We, therefore, decided to go fruit picking. It is peach season here. I adore peaches and scoff loads of them every season. We have, therefore, established a new tradition since emigrating which involves going peach picking each year and then making all manner of peach desserts – in addition to eating them fresh. Honeycrisp apples were also in season at the orchard. I had to have some. I had never had a honeycrisp apple before we moved to the US. Indeed, a quick google tells me that it is a variety that was developed in Minnesota and has only been available for public consumption since 1991 so it is a fairly new variety. I love them. I was always someone who ate green apples as I like my apples to be a little tart and definitely firm. I rarely ever ate red apples because I hate the floury, powdery texture that so many of them possess. Honeycrisps are like the best of both worlds – firm and the right balance between tart and sweet. So juicy too. Yum. But also very expensive when bought in grocery stores. They are so expensive, in fact, that I rarely ever treat myself to honeycrisp apples as I cannot justify the chunk of our food budget. My in-laws actually gifted me a box of honeycrisp apples for Christmas last year. At the orchard, however, the apples were a fifth of the per pound price it would cost me in the store. Yes!
So we picked peaches and honeycrisp apples until we had full pails of each. It was the perfect way to round of the summer – picking fresh fruit and baking cosy desserts.
Just over a year since our first ever peach picking experience, we decided to head back to the same farm and pick more peaches. The excuse was that my in-laws had never picked peaches before so we thought they would enjoy doing so with their grandchildren but our motive was collecting a gargantuan number of peaches so that we could indulge in pies, cobblers and crumbles for days on end.
Even though we knew fine well that the orchards were within easy walking distance of the farm entrance, we still hopped aboard the tractor pulled wagon, sitting on either benches or hay bales, because that is all part of the fun after all. In no time at all, therefore, we were deposited among the peach trees. September in Pennsylvania is really getting towards the fag end of peach season. The air was pungent from the alcoholic reek of spoiling fruit on the ground and the trees nearest the pathway were all denuded of fruit. We only had to wander a short way, however, before we found trees with branches that were still heavy with round, ripe peaches. They weren’t always easy to reach, of course, because people had gathered those ones, but the kids had fun ducking under the spreading branches and reaching up and under to pluck fuzzy, rosy peaches from the trees. The 7 year old even took to climbing trees to reach particular peaches he had his eye on.
After we filled two bushels full of peaches, we decided to do something new. Last year we had picked vegetables and beans in addition to the peaches. This year we decided to pick some apples. We had all been apple picking before, of course, since apples are grown all over Britain, but we had a) never been apple picking in America before (not that the experience is any different) and b) had never tried this particular variety of apple before, ginger gold apples. If we thought the peach trees had been almost picked clean, they were still lushly abundant compared to the apple trees. Despite the fact the apple season is surely longer lasting than that of the soft fruits, the pickings from the apple trees were pretty spartan. Nevertheless, with a lot of scouring, we managed to fill a bushel.
My Mother-in-Law made a peach crumble that evening and it was delicious. I think things taste extra scrumptious when made with such freshly picked fruit. Of course, that was the first of many fruit based desserts. I think maybe we need to go celery picking next year.
In what has become a Halloween tradition in the two years that we have lived in America, we headed to Shady Brook Farm this weekend to have some spooky themed fun and pick out pumpkins. Mr Pict and I had thought to take the kids somewhere else, change things up a bit instead of repeating the previous years’ jaunts, but the boys all protested and wanted to return to familiar territory. The Pictlings have determined the tradition.
The boys bounced on the giant trampolines, looked at the animals, played on the climbing frame, and ate pretzels, funnel cake and deep fried oreos. The middle two boys had a shot of a corn cannon, blasting corn cobs at various objects. Everyone guffawed when my 10 year old managed to hit the giant corn doll in its groin. Our 6 year old had fun blasting zombies with a paint ball through a rather too rapid fire technique.
There are two barns that get decked out spooky style for Halloween. In the evening, folks can wander through the dark interior while real life “ghouls” terrorise them but by day it is equally fun to wander around and see all the grotesque and fun decorations. The kids love the alien barn. Donning 3D glasses makes paint jump off the walls and models of aliens seem to vibrate. The kids think it is massive fun. My 12 year old and I then had a wander through the horror barn. It’s grotesque in places with imagery lifted from gory horror movies but it’s the room full of clowns that freaks me out the most.
Then it was time to head to the pumpkin patch so that each of the boys could select a pumpkin for carving. I guess the pumpkins were nearing the end of their season as there were many rotten and smashed ones littering the ground. It, therefore, took a while for the kids to find the pumpkins they wanted. We set them a size and weight limit which was not an issue for our 10 year old who wanted the smallest, roundest, most orange pumpkin he could find.
We then did some freestyle carving to turn the pumpkins into a My Little Pony, two vampires and Jack Skellington. With that, the pumpkins were ready to be transformed into lanterns for Halloween.
This weekend we decided to do something that none of us have done before: we picked peaches.
Pick-Your-Own was a staple of my childhood. Scotland is renowned for its soft fruit growing so we would pick berries throughout the season, gorging on them until we swore we would never eat them again. Other times we would head to the farm to pick up vegetables or to root around and find free range chicken, duck and goose eggs – fingers crossed for a double yolker. Peaches, however, were not part of my landscape growing up*. There were apple orchards and pear trees, plums and apricots but no peaches. So peach picking was a new experience for us all.
We headed out to a farm near Pennsylvania’s border with New Jersey. Once there, we collected some plastic bushels** and hopped on the trailer attached to a tractor to be taken out into the fields. We were assured that it was too far to walk but actually everything was within easy walking distance and we ended up walking back even though we were carrying full buckets by then. It was, therefore, possible to wander around and collect all manner of seasonal produce.
The kids and I are all huge devourers of peaches and Mr Pict is quite fond of them as ingredients in pies and cobblers so we devoted most of our time on the farm in the peach orchard. As an aside, thanks to my husband being a Civil War nerd, I can never not think of body strewn battlefields when I see the phrase “peach orchard”. Anyway, there were yellow peaches, white peaches and nectarines all ripe and available to be picked. Our preference is for juicy, fuzzy, fleshy yellow peaches so we wandered far down those rows and started picking. The fruit was abundant and easily plucked from the branches. We were looking for peaches that had a nice red bloom on them but were not so ripe that they would need to be eaten immediately. My 8 year old found some peaches were the silhouette of a leaf or of the curve of an adjacent peach had been caught on the red part of the skin which was quite interesting to see.
Having filled two bushels with peaches, we decided to head over to the vegetable patches. My personal aversion to aubergine means that my kids have little or no experience of eating those beyond their appearance in ratatouille. We, therefore, looked at two different varieties of aubergine (or eggplant as they are called in America), the regular bulbous ones and the longer Italian ones. My 9 year old selected an almost spherical, deeply purple aubergine to try. We then headed to the area where beans were grown and in no time at all we had filled an entire bucket with green beans and yellow wax beans. I tried in vain to find the okra and the boys were beginning to melt in the afternoon son so I had to give up that quest.
We all thoroughly enjoyed our first peach picking experience and it saved us so much money to buy the fruit and veg through pick-your-own that we definitely think we will return to that and other farms again to enjoy collecting more delicious seasonal produce. Now I need to go and make a peach cobbler.
* I believe peach trees can be grown in the UK but I have personally never seen them.
** We collected our fruit in bushels but I couldn’t resist the alliteration of peck for the title.
The farm runs a whole Halloween event. In the evening, adults – or at least adults who like a thorough scare and have strong bladders – can explore various barns, fields and corn mazes in the dark while people dressed as various horrific things terrorise them and they encounter horrible props. In daylight, it is still possible to wander through the attractions but, of course, there are sources of light and there are no actual human horrors lurking in corners, just grotesque props. We, therefore, started our afternoon at Shady Brook Farm by heading into the Horror Barn. I went in first with my 11 and 7 year olds. Later Mr Pict went in with the 5 year old. Our 9 year old didn’t want to do it at all, which is fine. Getting the creeps is not for everyone. The thing that unsettles me in the barn is actually the claustrophobia. The narrow corridors created by hoarding and the darkness creep me out far more than corpses dangling from a ceiling and vampiric girls chewing on pet cats. However, this time around, the first room was filled with clowns. I have a proper, deep-seated fear of clowns. Even happy clowns give me serious chills so horror clowns really make my flesh crawl and my spine judder.
After the horror barn, we went into another barn that is a 3D Alien experience. It’s pretty lo-fi but really effective. We were each handed a pair of 3D spectacles and then we entered the darkened barn where the walls of the corridors had been painted with fluorescent paint that vibrated and sprung forward from the walls. There were also dangling dayglo threads and the odd alien figure lurking in a corner with its big eyes and long fingers. There was also a walkway through a rotating cylinder that was dizzifying and the exit was via two large inflatable pillows that we each had to squeeze between. It was exactly the same as last year but none of us minded because it was a ton of fun.
The boys then played on various items of play equipment: an inflatable assault course, a bouncy slide, giant bouncing pillows to trampoline on, wooden play equipment with slides and fireman’s poles and a rope spiderweb. They also snacked on pretzels because we cannot take those kids anywhere in Pennsylvania without them eating pretzels. After the snack stop, we decided to undertake one of the mazes. Last year we had attempted the large corn maze and became terribly lost and bewildered and then panicked as one by one the kids all needed to pee. In desperation, we actually exited via an unofficial gap, having entirely failed to discover each of the designated stations and the exit. This year, therefore, we stuck to the weenie haystack maze and the kids had fun playing hide and seek among the haystacks and crawling through and inside the corn tunnels and the corn wigwam.
A tractor-towed wagon ride delivered us to the pumpkin patch where the kids selected and rejected and selected again about half a dozen pumpkins each. A couple of them were even set on taking home pumpkins that were too heavy to lift. They were told to scale back their ambitions. With carving designs in mind, they finally chose pumpkins they felt were the perfect size and shape for what they wanted to create and construct and two were even green instead of the traditional orange.
It’s rather nice to be cycling through things again as it means we are establishing new traditions in our new country.
*PS I am unsure as to why some of my photos are appearing so small. I have just moved to using Flickr to host my photographs for the blog and I clearly have not got the hang of it. Hopefully it is not too visually annoying.*
This past weekend, we decided to embark on a seasonal family trip and went for a jaunt to a pumpkin patch. We had seen a lot of publicity for Shady Brook Farm’s Halloween events so that was the one we plumped for.
I have to admit that at first I thought we might have been ripped off. The entry price was not cheap and every ticket booth had a large sign declaring that no refunds would be given. Was this because some people might find it all too scary and want to immediately leave or was it because the whole thing was a bit sketchy? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes, so we decided to risk it. At first it looked as if our cynicism was valid: in front of us lay a whole area of what looked like sideshows and fairground food places requiring more money to exchange hands. However, once we explored a bit more, the whole farm area opened up and we could see that there were far more activities than we had anticipated at no additional cost and actually a good few of the fairground things (bouncy slides, for instance) were also included in the ticket price.
Our four boys had a blast! They found the pig and dachshund races hilarious, enjoying the puns and jokes made by the commentator as much as they enjoyed seeing animals racing around a track. The 3D Alien Encounter was a lot of fun simply because it was unlike anything we had experienced before, wandering around with 3D glasses on so that scenes from painted walls jumped out at us. The Barn of Horror was a massive hit with the kids. We wandered around the interior of a very dark barn, tight walls creating a maze and limiting our field of vision, fomenting fear of the unknown. At almost every turn, the narrow rat-run would open up to reveal a creepy scene. Thankfully during the day the scenes are just inhabited by mannequins and props whereas at night they have real people jumping out. Initially some of our kids found it too creepy and disturbing but sibling competition and an innate love of the macabre rallied them and eventually all four of them did a tour of the barn. For me the creepiest bit was actually an audio recording of a voice whose direction could not be accurately placed talking in hushed tones as we weaved our way along one particular corridor. We also attempted the Giant Corn Maze (they really missed an alliterative and punning opportunity by not designating it the Maize Maze) but were defeated in the end. The boys also munched on soft pretzels (which they had had in Scotland) and funnel cake (which they had not), declaring both to be delicious and devouring every morsel.
The object of our visit, of course, was to visit a pumpkin patch and select some pumpkins for carving. We, therefore, hopped aboard some rough wooden wagons being hauled behind a tractor and chuntered past a field decorated with zombies before arriving at a pumpkin patch. And there they were, those symbols of an American Fall, all orange and plump, lolling among the dry grass on the ground, among green tendrils of recent growth, just waiting to be selected and carved up as a Halloween decoration. This was a first pumpkin patch for both myself and the kids so they scattered and scampered and I bounded after them, camera in hand, capturing this first experience for posterity. Eventually they had each selected one they felt was appropriate for them – my non-conformist second son obviously choosing an odd shaped pumpkin – and we clambered back aboard the wagon to take our pumpkins home to be stabbed and skewered and scooped and carved to form lanterns for Halloween night.
We now have an American family tradition under our belts and it has certainly whetted our appetites as a prelude to Halloween itself.