Getting from Point A to Point B….Mapes Style!

Road trips are not my favorite thing. In my mind, vacation starts once we arrive at our destination. This year for spring break the kids and I headed “home” to Newfane, NY for the week. The drive is one that we have done lots of times over the years. We have developed a list our favorite stops….and not a chain restaurant or store is included!

Our route takes us from Virginia, through West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and finally arriving in New York. We were able to make it to West Virginia before we needed our first rest stop. We have a method to our rest stops. One person walks the dogs while the others head to the bathrooms. First person out switches with the dog walker. Dave denies it but I have seen him check the time. Goal: 5 minutes. Since Dave wasn’t with us we took time for a picture. You will have to excuse the clothes – we left the house before 6am!

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Route 15 (between Port Treverton and Williamsport) in Pennsylvania holds our favorite places to stop. Heading north we arrive first at Weaver’s Farm Market. This is a wonderful Amish store with a bake shop next door. We have been known to purchase gifts and veggies at the store but we ALWAYS get things at the bake shop! Just step inside and smell the fresh baked breads and cookies. The Amish women are busy shaping the cookies and the ovens are all huge and run on propane because this is truly an authentic Amish bake shop. We always get cinnamon-raisin bread (only $2.25 a loaf) and honey wheat bread ($2.00). The cookies are delicious and we usually grab a bag of one of our favorites. Today they had a plate of assorted whoopee pies. Who could resist this???

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A few miles up the road is Hilsher’s General Store. This store is run by Mennonites and boasts an inventory like none you have ever seen before. Hardware store, grocery store, gift shop, men’s clothing and diner all rolled into one!! How fun is it to be able to look at a wide selection of Amish hats & suspenders while picking up lunch. Lunch (or dinner) is why this place is a must for our family. There is a deli that also has homemade, hot food. We can choose what combination we want and it is priced per pound. Such delicious food and you can get a huge portion for the price of a meal at a fast food joint. Take a look at Clare’s lunch!!! Parking lot for cars is in the front….horse and buggies are out back!

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Since Easter is just around the corner we had to visit Purity Candy to pick up some of the best handmade chocolates around. There are all different kinds of chocolates in all shapes and sizes….including this 75 pound bunny. My mom gets a milk chocolate horse, Sean has a computer while Dave gets a power saw. So much fun to look at everything….and to try the samples at the register.
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There is one more place that the boys are particularly fond of. Bylery’s Meats! We didn’t stop there today but we will next weekend on our way back to Virginia. The reason the boys’ love it so much is their beef jerky. I am not usually a fan of the stuff that is in the grocery stores but this stuff is incredible. This isn’t just a butcher shop, it is also the farm where the meat is raised. They make their own special sausages, bacon and many other great things for the carnivore in your life.

Shop local doesn’t have be something that you do at home. Finding these small, family owned stores have been a highlight on our trips. Search out the special places on your next road trip….skip McDonald’s!

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Gearing Up

Now that spring has finally sprung, the Mapes family is in full vacation planning mode. Okay…really I am the only one doing any actual planning. My husband gives input once in a while and my kids just ignore all of my jabbering about what we are going to see.

I am in the process of finalizing the itinerary for our summer vacation….Montana, Wyoming and Idaho….but there will be a couple of closer adventures first.

Spring break will find us heading north. Counterintuitive, I know but Niagara County, New York is my home! Ryan is looking forward to taking care of the horses and getting a few trail rides in with his grandma. Sean and Clare are excited to play with, I mean socialize, the schnauzer puppies that their aunt has for sale. I am hoping for a quick trip to the Broadway Market in Buffalo to pick up an Easter surprise for the family that is joining us (in Lynchburg) for Easter brunch.

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Thankfully, Dave has volunteered to stay home and take care of my 10 new chickens. Well, he has to work but I am choosing to think of it as him being willing to sacrifice for the good of my livestock!

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All of us will be going to Washington DC for a weekend trip in late spring. The purpose of our trip? Monuments? Cherry Blossoms? History? Ummmm….we may see all of that but our real purpose is the USA Science and Engineering Festival. Yeah, we are one of those nerdy families!

Do you have any spring trips planned? What about summer vacations?

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Making memories into something special

Photos…now that you have filled you memory banks and a few memory cards, what do you do with all of those award winning pictures?

You post them to facebook, instagram or put them on your blog, of course! Digital cameras and computers have made it so much easier to take and store pictures than when everyone used film. (I hope that I am not the only one old enough to have shot innumerable rolls of 35mm film!) My computer has almost 20,000 images on it and I am glad that not they are not all printed. The majority of my photos are great for my memories but not worthy of going anywhere further. There are, however, some from every trip or event that I want to do something special with.

There are so many printing options available to amateur photographers but two of my very favorite are Shutterfly ( and Winkflash ( Not only do both companies offer great quality, they also offer sale prices!!
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Traveling with a family is expensive so I try to save money throughout the year. I am one who’s always looking for a bargain or a freebie when I can get it.

For large photo books, Winkflash is my top choice. Generally, photo books have a base price for the first 20 pages and then an additional per page price. Numerous times throughout the year, Winkflash offers what they call a flat-rate sale. This means that you can get a 100 page photo book for the base price of a 20 page!! I take my time creating a book on the site and then just wait for a sale.

Shutterfly is my favorite for cards and other items. Their quality can’t be beat…by anything but their sales! I got all of the items below for just shipping costs. Not all at one time but every time they offered a special, I ordered it. One time it was 10 free notecards, another time a free 8×8 photo book (I made it a cookbook), a calendar, a mouse pad, 16×20 print and 10 Christmas cards.

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The trick is to make sure that you sign up for e-mail offers and “like” their pages on facebook. Be patient. But when the offers do appear make sure that you check on the expiration date because sometimes the offer is only good for a couple of days.

Have some fun with you pictures…and maybe make a few amazing gifts in the process!

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Looking for answers….

While I don’t homeschool, I was bound and determined that the kids would learn something on this trip. Of course, it had to be fun at the same time. I read an idea about having the kids do a faery hunt but I could just imagine the eye rolls from my teenage daughter and tween sons. I decided to make the world’s largest scavenger hunt.

I quietly compiled questions. Some I knew the answers to, some I didn’t. I printed out the questions and glued them in two blank artists’ books. I kept them a surprise until we were waiting at our departure gate. This was not a competition between the kids but rather the challenge was for them to work together to complete the task. It was meant to help them look more closely at things and to ask questions. It did that and so much more. We learned about traditional methods of smoking salmon from a man that truly loves doing things the old fashioned way. We learned that civil war occurred in other countries. We toured the Dunbrody and were shocked by some of the conditions and courage that it took for starving Irish to emigrate to the USA & Canada. We spent time talking to Irish families and learned that schools are structured differently in other countries. We had fun shopping for groceries and now have a new favorite ice cream (Honeycomb) that we can’t get here. We taught the kids to read a map and help us navigate from town to town…the kids think that Lynchburg, Virginia needs more roundabouts!

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The kids enjoyed having a reason to listen, to research and to learn.

I will post some of the questions that I used for our scavenger hunt but if you do make one for your family, customize it. Make some of the question personal for your family. If you want to know any of the answers that our kids came up with, let me know!

Find a sign with your name on it.
Why is there paint on sheep?
Your great-grandpa Ken came to America in 1925 from the largest emigration port in Ireland. What is its name?
Picture of you with a Tam O’Shanter.
Get a recipe for a dessert, main dish, breakfast or tea item?
When is typical tea time?
Picture of each of you doing an Irish jig.
Autograph from a musician.
Picture with a musician.
What is the significance of the claddagh ring?
How many counties are in the Republic of Ireland? Northern Ireland?
Was there any special reason that Peter Lyon Bowie would have wanted to leave Ireland in 1915?
Irish butter and cheese is better than Wal-Mart’s. What could be some reasons?
Find sea glass.
Why is turf or peat (from bogs) able to be used for heat when regular dirt can’t be?
Why are there so many round towers? Who built them?
How many roundabouts did we go through in one day? Which day?
Unique town name? Pictures.
What region of Ireland was hardest hit by the Potato Famine?
Picture of a post box.
Find a different kind of candy bar that you’ve never tried.
Are Irish biscuits the same as ours? Find them in the store.
What was your favorite hike?
Play an instrument.
Learn a new expression (and its meaning)
Top 5 pub/shop signs or names
What are two other words/names that also mean Ireland?
What is a Bank Holiday?
The shamrock is a symbol of Ireland. What is the original significance of the shamrock?
Play tag in a ruined castle.
Touch the sky
Find a Celtic cross taller than you. Smaller than you.
What are the names of some famous Irish poets/authors?
Find a poem by an Irish person. Write it here.
What is a limerick?
How many days was there rain?
What is another word for lake?
Ireland is full of characters, real and imagined, pick one and write a short story.
What was the pirate queen’s name?
What is your favorite Irish song?
What is the smallest car you saw?
How much did a gallon of gas cost? 1 gallon = 3.78541 liters
What do they call gas in Ireland?
Get a picture of heather
How long was the trip to American during the famine? Was it shorter when great-grandpa Ken came over?
What were some levels in ancient Irish society?
Who would have lived in castles?
What type of houses existed outside of castles?
Did most Irishmen in the mid-1800’s own their own farms?
Our tenant pays money for renting our house. What did tenants in Ireland in the mid-1800’s pay with?
Ireland is located further north than New York. Why doesn’t it get as cold?

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There is something special about the name Clare….

I love my daughter and I love her name…Clare. My sister likes to joke that we named her after some dirt (land) in Ireland. There is a little bit of truth in that we did spell her name without the “i” because of County Clare but the real reason is because of its meaning…clear and bright…and because it feels strong and feminine all at the same time. I’d like to think that County Clare, Ireland isn’t all that dissimilar.

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My beautiful Clare at Clare Abbey

My beautiful Clare at Clare Abbey

The time in Ireland went by quickly. One last car trip across Ireland’s green hills. County Clare is our final destination.

Co. Clare was there to give welcome us to Ireland. She was kind and understanding with a bunch of tired Americans who had flown all night and were trying to figure out how to drive on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road in a stick shift!! Now 2 weeks later, it was the fitting end to our trip.

There is a large, international airport there (Shannon) but within minutes of leaving the airport property you encounter the real Ireland. Clare has beautiful old castles, scenery, peaceful lakes, quaint towns and yes, narrow roads and roundabouts. But in my opinion what makes Co. Clare special is part of what makes my daughter Clare special. The residents are friendly and want you to enjoy being with them. They are proud of where they live and want to share it with new friends.

We got turned around in one little town and ended up stuck at the end of a narrow dead end street. A shop keeper noticed what happened, came out and managed to drive our car out for us without so much as a scratch! It was a cold and rainy day but I had promised my son that he would have a chance to go horseback riding before we left Ireland. We didn’t know how to get where we were going so a lady called the stable and got directions and then drew us a map so we wouldn’t get lost. The people make all the difference!!!

A statue like this is a sure sign of a fun town!

A statue like this is a sure sign of a fun town!

Never enough Irish potatoes

Never enough Irish potatoes

On that horseback ride through a drizzly bit of Clare countryside, we got to ride through a faery fort! My son, being a 9 year old boy, came back to the stable and proudly announced to his dad (and anyone else around) that his horse pooped on a faery! What a magical way to spend our final day.
Ryan finally gets to ride his horse

Ryan finally gets to ride his horse

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I wish we could have stayed in Clare longer. I wish we could have stayed in Ireland longer. For now all I can do is look back with fond memories and look forward to more possibilities.

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Pots and Rocks

Sorry this is so far behind the actual trip. I was working on a project when I realized my negligence!

We had admired some pottery that was in our self-catering cottage. It was made locally so we decided to go by the studio of The Bridge Pottery ( It was a small shop but Mark and Caroline make wonderful things. I had wanted to get a cream pitcher and sugar bowl for my mom and to find a little something for my wonderful neighbors who were chicken-sitting for us. We left with so much more!! I found pitchers and sugar bowls, Sean got a small bird ornament, Ryan got a bowl for his grandma and Dave chose handmade ceramic knobs for our kitchen cupboards. Mark then showed us the studio where Caroline was working. It was great to be able to watch her turn the base of a plate. We got to ask questions, see pieces in various stages of completion and take a look at a new wood-fired kiln that he had just built.

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I have my eye on a tea pot that I hope will somehow make it to America for Christmas!
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After we left the pottery, we took the back roads to Rock of Cashel. It is an impressive (cathedral) structure with so much history. We wandered through the building, recognizing some of the carvings of the saints that we had seen earlier at Jerpoint Abbey. When we stepped out of the building the wind caught us by surprise. So did the sight of the Hore Abbey in the distance.
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Time to hit the city!

We had been doing pretty good at avoiding cities but on Thursday (June 13th), it was time to tour Kilkenny city.

Sean woke up with a stomach bug that morning. Yuck! I never want the kids to get sick at any time…let alone on vacation. Thankfully the sickness was short-lived and isolated to one child.
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We spent the morning wandering the grounds of Croan Cottages ( getting some fresh air and allowing Sean so time to recover. I was so thankful that we had the flexibility of changing or cancelling our plans for the morning. I want the kids to experience everything possible but I don’t want to be militant about it. I would rather let the sickness fade in Sean’s memory than to add another abbey to the list of sights that we saw.
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We did manage to make it into Kilkenny city for a few hours in the afternoon. My grandfather’s name was Kenneth (He was born to Scotch/Irish parents in America but spent his kindergarten year in Ireland). Sean’s middle name is Kenneth so we wanted to make sure to tour “his” castle.
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It was an absolutely beautiful day to enjoy the grounds of Kilkenny Castle.
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We had a quick supper at Kyteler’s Pub and returned to the cottage to enjoy our desserts and to let Sean recover further.
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Guinness Beef Stew. Think I may have to try making this at home!

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One vital thing that I learned that day…I mean absolutely life changing….is that I loved warm Sticky Toffee Pudding!!! I am so making this once the summer is over. (Too hot in Virginia to properly enjoy such a luscious creation until fall)

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