Our first (of hopefully many) Renaissance Faire was a blast yesterday! Accompanied by our Foley friends, we set out for Manheim, Pa around 10:30. The Faire grounds are only 15 minutes from here, and we're seriously considering a season pass. Christie worked Saturday night, so she didn't make it until a little later in the day, but even a whole weekend is crammed with more than you can see or do. Next year, we'll be more prepared and have costumes to wear.

We were greeted at the entrance by characters in period costumes speaking the Queen's English - they stay in character the whole time, interact with the crowds, and even give impromptu music performances at times. Several times we saw them leading a family through the streets while proclaiming loudly, "MAKE WAY FOR THE FAMILY MARTINEZ, BOUND FOR THE PRIVIES" or running back and forth yelling messages from one person to another. Hilarious! At one point, one of them freaked out because our "iron chariot" (my wheelchair) was empty (I was walking since the path was level). "You've lost someone! They've vanished!" When we explained, they marveled at my miraculous healing and announced it to everyone within earshot.

The festivities began with the Queen's processional. We were taught to bow and curtsey, and yell "God Save The Queen!" anytime someone prompted us throughout the day. The Queen set herself against an famous Irish Rebel, Grace O'Malley, beginning a competition that ran throughout the day involving a human chess match, and eventually a joust. You could hear characters discussing the odds and who they favored on the streets throughout the day. There were rumors of assassination plots and other intrigues peppered throughout the entire Faire grounds. Each weekend is different - sometimes the theme is pirates or Shakespeare, or any other number of Renaissance-based stories.

 Rich was pulled on stage at one point and announced to the be secret love child of the town hag and the Queen's sheriff. Keep in mind that a LOT of what happens on stage is improv, and the actors seemed to be trying really hard to crack each other up. The Queen totally lost her composure several times as the pranks were usually aimed at her.


The food was mostly Renaissance themed as well - Turkey legs, Knight's Ale, Tiger Pies, etc. Lots of pub-type places to sample the local ales and brews, and shows throughout the day. Lots of kids activities as well - sword fighting, mazes, craftsmen exhibits, and tons of shops to buy Medieval and Renaissance-era clothes, weapons, and jewelry. There was a bit of a steam punk theme this weekend as well, so the attendees costumes were brilliant as well.

Later, Brennan was called up to play a Prince on the kid's stage. I'm not sure anyone knew what was going on, least of all him, but he was happy to be up there all the same.

The human chess match was awesome - The Queen and the Irish rebel called out the moves and the human chess pieces had to battle it out for the spot on the board. A nice mixture of sword play, staff fighting, fisticuffs, and taunting, with the crowd cheering on either Ireland or England.

The kids got to sword fight in leather armor. The winner had to pop all three balloons on their opponent. Brennan had trouble with the weight of his armor, but Rich and Kate battled it out for a good five minutes. A crowd gathered to cheer them on, and eventually Kate won. Rich wants to come back and just sword fight.

The Joust was without a doubt the most spectacular part of the production. The squires whipped the crowd into a frenzy, then we got to see some authentic jousting. The Irish champion cheated, and chaos broke out. There were large scale sword fights, explosions, and all together too much to watch all at once. Total spectacle!

 Of course at the end, Irish and English made amends. The day ended with a huge cast music and comedy act at the main theater. The characters all lined up at the exit to bid us farewell on the way out. Exhausting, but the most fun we've had in awhile. We'll be going back in October if we can bear to stay away that long.


Earlier in the day, the kids were given Wish Rags by a beggar, who told them if they ever met the Queen, they should have her kiss the rag and whatever they wished for would come true. Which they did as the last thing before we left.


Final Destination

It's been a turbulent few months in the Johnson household, to say the least. We've picked everything up and moved once again, one final time, to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where the weather is mild, the trees are green, and the dairy is fresh. I won't torture you with the tale of woe concerning the buying of houses, the changing of jobs, the unreliability of moving companies, and so on. I would rather talk about how well the boys are doing, how generous our friends have been, and how we finally feel like we've found our home after nearly eight years of bouncing around, wondering where we were supposed to be.

When we left the ministry in 2006, we felt a bit lost, but we also had a new purpose in getting Christie through nursing school. When she graduated in 2009 we toyed with the idea of traveling, simply to see if there was a place out there that fit our family better than Arkansas. As much as we love the Ozarks, especially Bentonville and Rogers, we felt like we didn't fit in. We had made good friends and found a healthy homeschool community, but we were restless. If you've followed this blog, you know we hit the road in early 2011 to see what the world had to offer.

It brought us first to Harrisburg/Hershey, Pennsylvania where we immediately found friends in the homeschool community, and developed a lasting friendship with the Foley family. We hated to leave, but we felt that our adventure must continue, plus we needed to be closer to Boston. Two years later, we find ourselves back in Pennsylvania, five minutes from the park where we first got to know so many wonderful people, and eight minutes from the Foleys. This also puts us in proximity to a ton of farmer's markets, local dairies, great restaurants, Penn State (where Christie now works full-time and I will eventually have my heart transplant), libraries, shopping, bike trails, parks and so many other great things I can't list them all here.

Not our house - the view from the front porch nearly every day

As soon as we get a few more boxes unpacked, I'll put up pictures of the actual house. We're taking our time because there's a lot of furniture to buy, but one of the first things we did was paint the boy's room. I figured they've barely been able to hang a poster on the wall in years, so even though there are more pressing things to be done, I was anxious to finish this. Here's a small teaser, more to come:

Brennan wanted penguins and Rich wanted turtles, so we're making that work together, sort of...

More than the house, there's a sense of belonging, and permanency that we haven't had in so long that Brennan doesn't even remember it. Now he's immersed in a world of friends, playing, and a place he can call his own. At 8, it's about time.

Brennan with his buddy, Sean

It was clear that we belonged on moving day. Jilted by our movers, nearly 21 different people showed up to help us unload our van, including two neighbors whom we'd never even met!

Kirsten Waldron in typical non-plussed mode. Ron Ratcliffe considers stealing Dave's CD's, and Avery and Kate goof off for the camera.

Kristie Waldron, Stacy Foley, and Jen McCurdy. Triple Trouble.

Jake Waldron mugging.

Kirstin and Kate realize there are more of these shelves than any sensible person could ever use...

Mark is probably sick of Dave's books at this point, but soldiered on valiantly in the 97 degree heat.

The best thing is that we feel like we're finding our feet again as a family. The boys are happier than I've ever seen them. We've spent a lot of time playing games, at home and at the mall where a local bookstore sponsors a game night once a week. The boys even won some prizes there by participating in a Where's Waldo scavenger hunt that spanned the whole Lebanon county area.

Brennan wipes out Kate and the Ratcliffe girls at Snake Oil

Maxim teaching Rick to play Magic: The Gathering

At Infinitos at Rich's early birthday party

Brennan loves Eleminis

Rich killed everyone at Flame Wars

They found Waldo! Rich, Brenna, Kate & Maxim. Brennan won a $50 gift certificate to the game store, and Rich won a basket full of pet goodies for Blitz.

We've spent time in the park, read together at night, had game night, devoured the new season of Master Chef, eaten at our favorite restaurants a few times, and spent time with friends. It's the way life is supposed to be. The Foley's housewarming gift sums it up:

It goes to show that life never turns out how you expected. Here we are in Pennsylvania, in a beautiful old house that's a bit like us - a little beat up from the adventure, but still strong at the core. A little older, hopefully a little wiser, certainly richer for the experiences we've had. The hills of Pennsylvania, downtown Little Rock, a ski resort town in northern New Hampshire, a stone's throw from Long Island Sound in Norwalk, Connecticut. The metro area of Springfield, Massachusetts. And all the places we explored in-between. The coal-mine towns of Danville and Sunberry, the Poconos, Dallas, St. Louis, Raliegh North Carolina, the visits to Delaware, Baltimore, NYC, Hartford and of course, our beloved Boston. I am hard pressed to not cheer for the Red Sox and compare all seafood to Boston cuisine. Boston, small and over-crowded, opened its arms to us so many times when we were worried and despairing. Our first experience there involved a woman we'd never met giving us her phone number and address if we needed a place to stay. Boston opened its doors and its heart to us and will forever be "our" city. It's where our kids learned that people are the same, no matter what they look like or what language they speak. It's where they learned to explore food. It's where they rode a subway and a taxi for the first time. It's where we all learned that the world is so much bigger and wondrous than we'd ever thought. The doctors, transplant coordinators, and nurses that held our hands, patiently took our phone calls, and loved and embraced our boys call Boston home. It's because of their concern for us that we are where we need to be now. And of course, the friends and family along the way that have encouraged us so much. The Johnsons, Bostics, Foleys, our incredible cousins, friends like Lisa and Smitty who quietly pray and hope for us. For all this we are truly thankful. 

The fall brings new things - an attempt to cyber-school, new clubs and activities for the boys and our family, new friendships, and inevitably new food. These things that are the essence of life, more so than careers or money. We've believed that for a long time, but were often forced to re-arrange our priorities to get to this place in time. Now, it's time to live. And hopefully to laugh a lot more.