When a family wedding (congrats, Tim and Ellen!) this summer inspired a trip to Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands, I wasn't sure what to expect. I think my only previous experience with the state was a long-ago fishing trip to Lake Erie with my former husband that was less-than-stellar. (It was freezing. It was raining. I caught nothing but a cold.) I was certain this time around would be different. Mostly because it was July and not February, but also because a couple of days before departure, my older brother asked if I might be interested in taking a little cultural field trip the day after the wedding. 

As it turns out, Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright creation that has been on my bucket list for years, was less than an hour away from the wedding spot. We made our way through thick forests, rolling farmland, hills of towering rhododendron in bloom, and winding roads to this architectural gem nestled in the woods. It was stunning and serene all at once: the rushing water, the misty, damp quiet of the wooded property, the preserved details in each room, from rugs and books to art and furniture. Even my 8-year-old was enthralled. (A few tips: make a reservation for the tour, enjoy lunch before or after, and wear shoes that will allow you to explore some of the surrounding trails.) What a treat to experience this beautiful place.

Later that afternoon, our family headed to the second half of our Pennsylvania adventure: Gettysburg. My mother has long been tracking down and documenting our family's history on Ancestry.com, a project about which she is incredibly passionate and enthusiastic. (Insert volumes, charts, piles of photos here...though I can barely keep all of the "greats" and connections straight past two or three generations.) It's amazing, really, what she's uncovered and discovered, and a story about our second great grandfather who fought at Gettysburg--and survived--brought us to the battlefield on a hot July morning for a guided tour.

We saw and stood where my ancestor likely camped during his time there (my older brother took the beautiful photo above of the spot) and despite the heartbreaking, awful stories, facts and circumstances surrounding this pivotal battle, it was powerful to hear, and, I think, important to know. We are who we are as both a people and a country because of the events and people who came before us. And, while my kids complained and picked wildflowers and really just wanted to get to the hotel pool, I was glad we experienced that place. 
Family vacations are never perfect, but we hit some highlights on our adventures in Pennsylvania...and I'm looking forward to our next trip. (Beach!)
  • Posted byEmily Maynard /


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