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discovering a sunflower maze

August 31, 2012

Navigating through 350,000 sunflowers.

I have been to many corn mazes in my lifetime, but had never heard of a sunflower maze until last week. I certainly was intrigued by the idea of it. Imagine a field full of sunflowers…it just sounded so Provence. Not caring so much about the maze, but more about the sunflowers, I decided to make the trip to Middlefield, CT to check it out. It was my first trip to the 1,100 acre Lyman Orchards farm.

A photo of a sunflower at the Lyman Orchards sunflower maze in Middlefield, CT.

I had imagined a field of yellow. But, as I approached the field, I discovered that there were many varieties and colors of sunflowers that made up the maze. My favorites were not the yellows at all, but some of the varieties in the darker hues. They were all beautiful. It didn’t even bother me when I got so terribly lost in the maze… I was too busy taking in all the varieties of sunflowers and trying my darndest to avoid all the bees. (I felt lucky to only sustain one bite.)

A photo from the sunflower maze. The flowers are ‘sterile’ meaning there is no pollen…this discourages the bees from hanging around for very long.

I have included a very short piece of video at the end of the post that I took with my son’s GoPro camera, hoping to capture a little of the experience for you…needless to say, a very rookie job…what can

I say…it was my first attempt! It is very tough to take video without a viewfinder!

A photo of one of my favorite sunflowers at the sunflower maze. Lyman Orchards is the 12th oldest family-owned business in the U.S., operating since 1741 and currently run by the eighth generation!

My first visit to a sunflower maze was a wonderful experience. Please enjoy the photos of this truly lovely place.

Thanks for visiting, Jackie


blueberry sauce & trifle

August 28, 2012

Enjoy the last of the season.

At a recent visit to a farmer’s market in Westport, CT, one of the booths passed out a blueberry ginger sauce recipe.  I had a sample and thought it was great.  As I was speaking to the woman at the booth, we were both speculating on what a great trifle it would make.  Sure enough, I went home and gave it a try!

Blueberry ginger sauce

  • 4 cups blueberries
  • 1 cup agave
  • ½ tsp. peeled, finely grated fresh ginger
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Place ingredients over high heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.  Simmer until thick and shiny, about 30 minutes.  Let  cool.

For trifle

  • Combine 2 cups of ricotta cheese and ½ cup powdered sugar
  • Roughly chop ½ cup gingersnaps
  • Make or purchase a pound cake

Cut pound cake into small cubes and line the bottom of a trifle dish.  Cover the cubes with half of the ricotta mixture.  Next, add a layer of the cooled blueberry sauce.  Repeat once more, then top with the chopped gingersnaps.  I made mine in a 6” trifle dish (filled to the top – it really should have been made in a larger dish) and also made an individual serving in a mason jar as a taste for a special friend.

A photo of an individual sized serving of trifle packaged in a mason jar…perfect as a gift or a party favor.

Making an individual serving in a mason jar is also a great idea for a picnic, outdoor party, or as a favor…just make a mini version of your original dessert.

A photo of an individually packaged trifle in a mason jar…cut a small square of scrap fabric to place on top before screwing down the outer lid and add scraps of ribbon. Here I added a sand dollar as a symbol of summer :)

After making the trifle,  I had plenty of sauce leftover – a great topping for pancakes, waffles or a good vanilla or ginger ice cream :)

Enjoy!  Thanks for visiting, Jackie

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1,000 places to see before you die

August 24, 2012

field trip friday

This week’s field trip is to the bookstore.  Have you heard about the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die?

In my very wildest dreams I could not visit the 1,000 places listed.  Who could?!   Who has the time, or more importantly, the resources to accomplish it?  Flipping through the book certainly makes me feel inadequate – I have seen very few of the places even listed in the U.S….heck, I haven’t even seen one of the four places listed in my state!

We live in a global society and I have seen very little of the globe.  I am lucky to live in a time when technology affords me the opportunity to discover many places I can’t visit.  I know watching television documentaries or reading a book is not the same as actually experiencing a destination with all five senses.  This was very obvious listening to Patricia Schultz talk about her travels at RJ Julias in Madison, CT where I saw her promoting the second edition of her New York Times bestseller, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.  Admittedly, she hasn’t seen all 1,000.  Although, I really started to believe she may have while listening to her, almost breathless, excitedly sharing all her knowledge of faraway places. It definitely seems like she has been everywhere!

As I sat waiting for the evening to start, I was sure I would be depressed knowing how many of these marvelous places I haven’t been.  But, it did not take long listening to Ms. Schultz to realize her presentation was more a reason to develop a love for travel, rather than a motivation to create a checklist of places visited.  Instead, she provides a list of opportunities…hoping to whet the reader’s appetite to discover someplace new.  Her enthusiasm is contagious.  And, although I don’t have much of a budget for travel, I came home inspired to try and visit more places.

A photo of Patricia Schultz discussing her book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”…a signed copy will be Septembers giveaway selection.

Ms. Schultz decided to pick 30 of the 1,000 places from around the globe listed in the book and present them in the form of a slide show.  Yes, the photos were incredible….but, equally incredible was the knowledge and love Ms. Schultz has for travel..and her thirst for learning about other lands and cultures.  She tours the world extensively. ..a  far cry from the first journey she credits with the start of her love to travel…instilling a desire  for adventure – Atlantic City!  As a child, from her home in New York state,  she couldn’t wait for the annual family journey to the shores of New Jersey.

So, I didn’t come home depressed at all….I came home exhilarated.  Ms. Schultz was enchanting.  And her presentation left me with a feeling of wanting to experience so much more.  So, even if many of my ‘visits’ are merely reading from her book, I feel motivated to experience more of the world.

Like I did, I want you to share some of Ms. Schultz’s enthusiasm for world travel.  If she is in your area, be sure to see her.  A signed copy of her book will be the giveaway book for September…so you too can catch some of her love for travel.  It may just give you the inspiration to visit a place nearby that you were always meaning to visit….or you may just book that faraway place you always wanted to see – it will open your mind to 1,000 possibilities.

‘Like’ my facebook page, follow me on twitter, or leave a comment on a post anytime during the month of September for a chance to win a copy of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, signed by Patricia Schultz.  (During August is a chance to win Yes, Chef signed by Marcus Samuelsson)

Happy trails!

Thanks for visiting, Jackie

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diy nautical chalkboard

August 21, 2012

repurposing an old skim board

Creating a ‘beachy’ looking chalkboard from an old skim board was a lot of fun!  You can easily create one too…just follow my simple diy directions.  I completed this project spending $0.  I used all materials I already had at home.

When I saw my daughter throwing out her old skim board, it gave me the idea to turn it into a chalkboard.  (Is there anything that hasn’t been turned into a chalkboard lol!)  It would make the perfect birthday gift for my sister!  She lives on the beach and is a weather fanatic…I wanted to make a chalkboard that she could use as a tide chart.  She has an outdoor patio and I could picture the perfect spot for it in a protected area.  It would also make a great menu board… an option when she entertains.

Supplies needed for project:

  • An old skim board check tag sales, Goodwill, or a sports consignment shop for an old one.  New ones probably go for $35 – $40 dollars at Target…at this time of the year, here in the East, all the summer items are on clearance, so you many find one for much less
  • Can of chalkboard spray paint
  • Glue gun and glue sticks I used 4 or 5 of the small sized sticks
  • Old rope approximately 3 yards – measure around the outside of your skim board to come up with the yardage you will need, remembering to add some extra if you want to tie a knot at the end like I did.  I had intended to look for rope at a marine store, but when I found this old one in the garage I thought it had more character (and it was free)
  • Drop cloth or old sheet to put the skim board on while painting
  • 1 piece of white chalk

I did the spray painting outside…if you choose to, make sure it isn’t a windy day or you will have trouble with the spray paint.

A photo of the top detail on the skim board chalkboard. I knotted the end of the rope before glueing to add some visual interest.

  • Assemble your supplies. 
  • Prepare skim board.  I lightly sanded the surface figuring the paint would adhere better.  I also washed it down with ammonia. 
  • Paint skim board.  Place the skim board on a large drop cloth or sheet.  Spray the top side of the skim board according to the instructions on the chalkboard spray paint.  Even though it suggested two coats, I did four – repeating the process a second time.  It was probably overkill, but it was hard to tell after the first coat if I had covered every spot with the second coat.
  • Prepare skim board surface.  As per instructions on the paint can, after waiting 48 hours, I took a piece of chalk on its side and covered the surface.  Then, wiped it off.

A photo of the skim board after I sprayed it with the chalkboard paint and put on and wiped off the white chalk. The rope is an old one I found in the garage that I glued around the edge for a finishing touch.

  • Glue rope around edge.  Just painting the skim board didn’t look finished to me, so I decided to glue a rope around the edge.  I knotted one end as a decorative touch, and glued it near the top of the board.  I continued using the glue gun to attach the rope all the way around.  I glued a small section at a time holding the rope firmly to the skim board until it dried.

Done.  THAT’S IT!  And, it looks great, right?  I chose to write on it before I gave it to my sister to show her what I thought she could use it for.  I love it.  And, I didn’t even spend one cent!  Be on the lookout for old skim boards!  There are plenty of ways you can add your own personal touches to it.  You can add shells, driftwood, etc. or stencil on an anchor or a personalization.  Happy skimming!

Thanks so much for visiting, Jackie

This project is being shared with Craftberry Bush Outdoor Linky Party and  Celebrating Everyday Life for their recycled & repurposed diy project link party.


dessert shooters

August 17, 2012

friday field trip

Target trips are very different with my daughter away and settled in her own apartment.  It had become a weekly routine when she was living at home for her and I to make a Sunday trip to Target.  Sometimes we would have a specific item in mind to purchase…most times, not.

So today I had a little gap between work and an appointment and decided to look around in Target without my daughter …and it wasn’t even a Sunday.

Walking through Target at this time of year is sad for me…no school supply lists to purchase from or dorm room items to choose.  Of course, most of the aisles are flooded with back to school items – I avoided all these aisles like the plague.  Instead, l looked at stationary products (love)…home items…then  finished up in the food section.

As I walked through the dairy aisle on this particular Target excursion, I was shocked to see a product I apparently totally overlooked – chocolate cream cheese!  What a great idea!  I know the stores carry many chocolate spreads now (thanks Nutella!), but I did not know about Philadelphia Indulgence chocolate cream cheese spread!

Target had a package of four individual tubs for $1.70…they had milk or dark chocolate.  I immediately thought of the strawberries back at home in my refrigerator.  What a quick and easy last minute dessert…to be able to just fill some fresh strawberries with this product.  Could I be this excited for a purchase that didn’t even amount to $2.!

I got home and immediately filled some strawberries with the chocolate cream cheese.  They needed more…I wanted to dip them in chocolate…well, wouldn’t adding that step ruin the whole point of being quick and easy?  Chocolate cream cheese on chocolate chip bagels….pretzels dipped into chocolate cream cheese…my mind wonders…okay, back to the task at hand!  Quick…simple.

Then, I had the perfect idea…’shooters’…I would make little shot glass-sized indivdual desserts.

A photo of  s’mores shooters.  A great single serving dessert made with Philadelphia Indulgence chocolate cream cheese spread.

As it turns out, this is the PERFECT way to use the package I bought since it comes in little cups that are the optimum size (1.25 oz. cups) to make this dessert.  It is a great way to indulge in a dessert without going crazy…a great dessert that is easy to create variations with little fuss.

I started with a s’more shooter – a nod to the Girl Scout’s  100th anniversary this year.  After that, I just couldn’t stop with the variations.  And, I went back and picked up the other two flavors.  Using the milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate product there really are infinite possibilities.

I started with a graham cracker crust.  I mixed a cup and a quarter of graham cracker crumbs with 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter.  (This will make about 12 desserts.)   I used this as my base and put 2 tablespoons in the bottom of a straight–sided clear glass shot/cordial glass.  Use a 2 ounce or 2 1/2 ounce size.  If you want disposable (Labor Day picnic?), 2 ounce clear plastic cups are inexpensive and readily available (this is the size used for jello shots).

The s’more one was layered as:  1 tablespoon of the graham cracker mixture, 1 tablespoon of fluff,  1, 1.25 oz tub of milk chocolate Philadelphia Indulgence chocolate cream cheese spread.  I garnished the top with a marshmallow that was cut in half and toasted.  (You can toast this quickly under your broiler.  Don’t put the shot glass under the broiler if it is not oven safe – toast the marshmallow by itself and then add to the top of the dessert.)

A photo of a s’more shooter…a dessert made with Philadelphia Indulgence chocolate cream cheese spread, graham cracker crumbs, and marshmallow fluff.

 Some of my favorite combinations:

  • 2 tablespoons of crumbs, 1 tablespoon of coconut, 1 tub of milk chocolate Indulgence, almond garnish
  • 2 tablespoons of crumbs, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, 1 tub of milk chocolate Indulgence, peanut butter cup garnish
  • 2 tablespoons of crumbs, 4 or 5 raspberries, 1 tub of dark chocolate or white chocolate Indulgence, raspberry & mint garnish
  • 2 tablespoons of crumbs, 4 or 5 blueberries, 1 tub of white chocolate Indulgence,  blueberry & mint garnish
  • 2 tablespoons of crumbs,  2 or 3 banana slices, 1 tub of milk chocolate Indulgence, banana slice garnish

It is very easy to gauge how much cream cheese you need to purchase since each indivdual tub makes one serving or  ‘shooter’.

A quick, easy, and fun dessert…mission accomplished!


Thanks for visiting, Jackie



caviar nails

August 14, 2012

college girl style trends

My college student daughter and I are always trying to recreate the latest fad.  We love working together to find an easy and inexpensive way to figure out the latest trends.  We figured out how to find the materials to attach feathers to the hair without the assistance of a salon…and, yes, we tried out hair chalking…our most recent project was caviar nails.

While shopping at Sephora together, we saw a caviar nail kit that was selling for $25. It provided all the materials necessary to create one of these caviar manicures.  It is a 3-D effect where caviar-like beads sit on the nails.  The nail sample next to the product was really neat looking.  We loved the white one.  I thought it would be a great manicure for a wedding.  But, $25!  It didn’t look like something that could be that hard to recreate…we were on a mission!

We scanned the craft stores to find some type of small bead to use as the ‘caviar.’  At the third craft store we visited, we found something called microbeads.  They sell for $2 or $3 a bottle.  Wow!  They looked just like the ones on display at Sephora!   The beads were located in the scrapbooking section, so apparently they are used in scrapbooking.  They come in a huge assortment of colors.  Even though we really liked the white, we decided to buy a set so we could experiment with different colors.  The box of 6 bottles had an assortment of six colors and cost under $10.

A photo of microbeads used in creating a caviar manicure.

Well, our first attempt created the white manicure with very little effort.  It only required some nail polish and the microbeads!  Easy.  Since we already had the polish and used a very small amount from one bottle of microbeads, it probably only cost pennies to create the caviar manicure.

This is how we did it:         

FIRST applied white polish to nails.

THEN poured clear microbeads onto wet polish (putting a little bowl underneath to catch the extras – we just put these right back into the bottle) 

That’s pretty much it.  We put clear polish on top to protect the beads ( that changes the color a little bit).

We decided the caviar manicure was cool but should either be used for a special occasion, or just for one accent nail, since it doesn’t last more than a couple days before the beads start coming off.  For best results, use a color polish that matches the bead color you decide to use…then any gaps between the beads aren’t noticeable.  We tried black right away because we had some black polish on hand.

Caviar nails….conquered!  Our next project:  ombre hair!

Glad these trends are experimented on my daughter and not me ;)

Have you tried any trends with your daughter?   Would love to hear about it!  Thanks for visiting, Jackie


gourmet s’mores

August 10, 2012

friday field trip

August 10th is National S’mores Day!  This week’s Friday field trip is to the campfire to officially celebrate National S’mores Day!

No one can not dispute that s’mores are an American icon.  For so many of us, they bring back floods of childhood memories…for me, memories from throughout my lifetime.

In honor of National S’mores Day, I am sharing some ‘gourmet’ s’mores combinations my family has enjoyed over the years at campsites throughout New England.  I hope you will try them and get inspired to come up with some of your own creations!  S’mores to me are all about camping and Hershey’s chocolate bars.  Both of these things bring back so many great memories from my childhood.  I am a second generation camper.  I camped my entire childhood; as did my children.  There are many traditions involved with camping…that’s what makes it such a treasured family experience.  Making s’mores has always been one of our traditions.   As my children got older and schedules became more complicated, we gave up our annual camping trips…but, not making s’mores.

A photo of one of my family’s ‘gourmet’ s’more flavor – adding peanut butter to the traditional s’more combination.

A photo of our ‘gourmet’ s’more….adding peanut butter.

Of course, the most important component of a s’more is the Hershey’s chocolate bar.  When I was a kid,  I got the chance to visit the Hershey’s factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania…it was a trip I never forgot…who could forget an entire town that smells like chocolate?!  The Hershey’s kiss shaped street lights in town gave an immediate sense of whimsy to the visit.  In the days of my childhood, it was still possible to view the huge vats of chocolate as part of the Hershey’s tour – very impressive…the image (and smell) are still very vividly etched in my memory!  Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Hershey’s if you are ever in the Hershey, PA area. ( I am not only in love with the Hershey’s products, but also in the great works they are involved in.   Check out their website to learn more about Hershey’s social responsibility and the Milton Hershey school.)

A photo of my family’s ‘gourmet’ s’more…in this version a Cookies ‘n’ Creme bar replaces the regular chocolate Hershey’s bar.

A Hershey’s bar, a couple graham crackers, a just-cooked marshmallow…the components everyone immediately recognizes as a s’more.

A photo of creating the traditional s’more.

A photo of the Peppermint Pattie ‘gourmet’ s’more. A York Peppermint Pattie replaces the chocolate Hershey’s bar.

Now, I am not knocking all the traditionalists out there, but over our many years of camping, my family has  come up with many different variations of the standard s’more.  I would like to share some of our favorites with you…they are affectionately referred to by my family as the ‘gourmet’ s’mores.

My favorite is to substitute a Cookies ‘n’ Creme bar for the chocolate.  We also substitute the chocolate with a Peppermint Pattie.  Both are great variations.  The other popular combination in my family is to add peanut butter to the traditional combination of marshmallow and chocolate.

So, go find your perfect toasting stick.  Celebrate National S’mores Day.

Create a s’more…create some memories :)

Thanks for visiting, Jackie


3 best ways to serve watermelon

August 7, 2012

3 recipes included

1. plain & coooold

You really can’t beat a piece of cold watermelon in the summer, come on!  My family prefers it cold and all on its own.  I recently tried to serve it to them grilled and it didn’t go over at all.

2. with feta cheese

My favorite way to eat watermelon is with feta cheese…what a combination!  I like to make what I call watermelon salad.

This is when I combine watermelon with feta cheese.  I really love the taste of the two together.   Just combine 1 part feta to 3 parts watermelon.  It is delicious.  If you want to punch it up a little, you can add red pepper flakes, or add a drizzle with a little spice…

Watermelon salad

  • 3 cups seedless watermelon, cut in chunks
  • 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • Black pepper (or use red pepper flakes if you don’t use the optional drizzle and want some punch)

I sometimes also add fresh basil (or a fresh herb on hand)

Optional Drizzle:

(I wish I could remember where I orignially got the recipe for this drizzle.  I think it was a recipe from a hotel, but I can’t remember which one..if anyone recognizes it, please let me know so I can give proper credit.)

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tablespoons vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 1 small shallot
  • 1 serrano chile
  • Season with salt

I have served this salad in a watermelon basket for a party.  On Memorial Day or 4th of July, cut the watermelon into star shapes with a cookie cutter to add a patriotic flair.  Watermelon stars can go on skewers to decorate your table.  A piece of watermelon and a piece of feta on a skewer make a great appetizer….they can be drizzled with the optional drizzle or you can provide drizzle in a little ramekin on the side.

A photo of cookie cutter watermelon pieces…a great way to add some fun to a watermelon salad!

3. in a drink

Watermelon is great as a drink component.  If you want a frozen drink, freeze chunks ahead to use in your blender.  The frozen chunks also make great ice cubes for wine.

I love it with citrus…like watermelon lemonade…try this recipe for a refreshing watermelon drink:

Watermelon lemonade

  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 8 cups cubed seedless watermelon
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 2 cups crushed ice

Blend all ingredients in a blender.

A photo of watermelon lemonade…a refreshing summer drink.

Enjoy your watermelon :)  Thanks for visiting, Jackie


ending with ice cream cake

August 5, 2012

happy twenty-four!

I sure did have an exciting week.  I went to my first BlogHer – a conference designed for women who blog and other social media professionals…over 4,500 of them!

During the course of this three day conference, I … took a dance class with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall…was addressed by the President of the United States…sang Happy Birthday to Martha Stewart… admired Katie Couric in person…and, listened to Soledad O’Brien, Christy Turlington Burns, and Malaak Compton-Rock discuss their great nonprofit works.  No wonder I am so tired!

It was an exciting three days…I was able to meet some really interesting people and attend some great social media classes.  The best part of my week?  That would be today, when my first born turned twenty-four years old and our family was all together to celebrate.

So, I will not be posting the photos I took of all the celebrities I saw in New York City…I am posting a photo of my first born son taken this weekend by his sister, documenting him doing one of his favorite activities on his birthday weekend.

And, I am posting instructions on how to create my son’s one-of-a-kind birthday cake…since, per tradition, he dreamed up the cake he wanted…

 Twenty Fourth Ice Cream Cake Recipe

  • 9 ½ “ springform pan
  • package of oreo cookies (you will use appoximately 10 oz.)
  • half gallon chocolate chip ice cream
  • half gallon coffee ice cream
  • 8 oz. bag Heath Bar bits
  • 1 container Reeses shell topping

Put a little coating of cooking spray or butter in the bottom of a 9 ½ “ springform pan.  Crush up  10 ounces of oreo cookies and spread on the bottom of the pan (you don’t need butter since the white filling provides moisture).  Soften the chocolate chip ice cream slightly and pack over the crumbs.  Next, spread the bag of Heath Bar bits evenly over the ice cream.  Your next layer will be softened coffee ice cream.  After arranging that into the pan, drizzle Reeses shell topping over the top of the cake.  Store in freezer.

Happy twenty-fourth, my son :)

Thanks for visiting, Jackie


butterfly habitat

August 3, 2012

friday field trip

Do you like butterflies?  I’m not a big fan.  I could never understand the attraction.  I never ‘got’ the ‘releasing them at the wedding thing’ or why someone would tattoo a drawing of one on their butt!   Of course,  if it were a shell or a starfish, I might understand ;)

Raising butterflies as a kid was solely an accident.  I would capture a caterpillar in a jar…taking it out periodically to let it crawl up my arm.  I would soon loose interest.  Coming across the jar in the garage much later, I would find the caterpillar had transformed.  Sometimes I would end up with a butterfly – most times, with a scary looking moth.

Even though the idea of visiting the Butterflies! exhibit at The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia was met by me with lukewarm enthusiasm, I actually enjoyed it.  Probably because the coolest butterfly in the habitat landed on me!  The tropical garden that houses the Butterflies! exhibit is filled with colorful plants and a multitude of live butterflies from Central and South America, East Africa, and Southeast Asia.  There are an estimated 60 to 150 butterflies and 20 to 40 different species on any given day.  Adult butterflies usually live one to two weeks (this I didn’t know) and the museum receives new butterflies from around the world each week.  I honestly didn’t think any of my photos would come out since a misting of water was constant in the environment, creating a hazy look.

At first, I was really more interested in the plants than the butterflies.  Instructions were given upon entering the (very hot and humid) habitat to ensure all the specimens were treated gently.  All that enter are instructed to ask for assistance if a butterfly should land on your person, because a museum worker is required to remove it.  I had to seek someone out to remove the one that planted itself on my hand.

It wasn’t until that one butterfly landed on me that I became interested in really looking at them…aren’t they attracted to sweet things? ;)

 If you are ever in Philadelphia, check out The Academy of Natural Sciences.  It is located at 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Thanks for visiting, Jackie

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