Monday, July 29, 2019

2 Weekends In July

Coming back from vacation can leave you in a lull. Thankfully we had family into town to keep us busy and going! After a long, but good, first week back from vacay we started our weekend with a cookout, followed by a day at the water park on Saturday. Sunday we did our usual Sunday Family Fun Day with a showing of The Lion King and family dinner with my side of the family.

We have played so many games this summer. Tenzi is a new favorite, along with the usual Clue and Game of Life.

Matt and I braved the water park with FIVE KIDS!! It was actually easier than just going with our three. The boys all went off together (the buddy system at its finest) while Hubs and I enjoyed some time with Elizabeth. I even had a few drinks because I felt I deserved it after surviving my first full week back from vacay!

Storm clouds moving in....

Me when I realized drinking before going on rides wasn't the best decision...but anything for the kids.

Just as we were getting ready for the ride to start, they shut all of the rides down due to the storm. Just as we stepped off the ride the skies opened, we were caught in yet another downpour (we seem to be really good at those lately. See our days in DC post for that one), and deemed it time to leave Adventureland.

Nerf gun wars with cousins before our night ended.

I couldn't stop laughing when I realized the oldest had caramel stuck to his butt from sitting on his bag of caramel M & M's. The giggles started again for the other minis when we passed by the fountain to see someone filled it with dish soap. Seeing this prank done again and again always brings a smile.

Brownies with a tan at Grandma's house.

The following weekend was our 24 hours kid free weekend!! My parents did their annual Back-To-School Shopping Day with the minis. They picked them up Saturday morning, bought all their school supplies, new school clothes, new shoes, took them for lunch, and then a sleepover at their house. Meanwhile, Hubs and I went to the Farmer's Market (without having to worry about losing a mini in the crowds), kayaking at Gray's Lake, a Whole Foods run for clean cashews, drinks on a patio, a nap, dinner, and a late movie. We fit in everything we wanted and proceeded to have a relaxing Sunday Family Fun Day at home that included two hour naps and Giordano's pizza.

Enjoying our late breakfast/early lunch on a quiet spot on the sidewalk. We also ran into a thunderstorm, however we avoided being drenched by running back to the car just in time and waiting the rain out.

Coffee in the car (rain free).

Kayaking with a view of downtown Des Moines.

I had never been kayaking before so I had to figure out paddling....but in truth, Hubs did most of the work and I soaked in the sun!

I belong to a Food Lovers group of Facebook that reviews local restaurants. One review I keep seeing is cheese curds from Sully's. Now, Sully's is a bar and for someone who always had her kids with her, this isn't a kid friendly place. So I took advantage of the kid free time to enjoy a gin and tonic and cheese curds on the patio. They really are the best cheese curds in Des Moines!

A late afternoon nap, followed by a phenomenal dinner at Simon's (I got the mac and cheese--this weekend featured a lot of cheese) and then a late movie at the Palms theater in Waukee.

The love seat style of seating at Palms is comfortable, but only if you know the person you're snuggling with! As we waited for a table at Simon's we were speaking to another couple who were also heading to see a movie at the Palms after dinner. They explained a rather uncomfortable movie viewing due to seating confusion the first time they went. 

All of the school supplies and new clothes! I feel like I was spoiled just as much as the kids because I didn't have to worry about getting any of it plus I got a day without kids!!

This girl has the life: sitting in the cart smelling candles, getting pushed around the store.

Watching Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure while eating Giordano's pizza. After everyone's 2+ hour naps.

Our next few weekends will be spent at cookouts with friends and family before the school year begins. I feel like a busy June and our vacation took up a good chunk of summer vacation, so now we're catching up with everyone we haven't seen since the beginning of the summer.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Few Days In Northern Maryland

Photo taken from Harper's Ferry, WV

If I had to live anywhere other than Iowa, Maryland would be it. We were already in love with the Maryland and Delaware coasts, but northern Maryland was just as amazing. There were still tons of produce stands and pick your own farms (something we're short on here in Iowa somehow), mountain views, and wonderful little towns. We stayed at a historic rowhouse in Frederick, MD, which served as base for our adventures the four days we were in northern Maryland. Our biggest reason for visiting this portion of Maryland was to see extended family and spend time with them. We also threw in some adventures during the days too.

After we left DC (which the minis were happy to do and I was ready for a break from the heat of DC, but the heat kind of followed us, so not much relief there), we headed to Damascus, MD for a family lunch. By this point in our sightseeing trip, the kids were just happy to have things low key and play. We all really needed that. The kids did everything from eating pizza to skate boarding, to playing pool and board games. 

Hubs and I even got a date night when my cousin offered to take the kids to see Spiderman: Far From Home. We had a relaxing afternoon with family, followed by a relaxing night exploring the town of Frederick. Sunday Family Fun Day at it's finest!
Kittens and games. How could it not be a great day!!??!

Sitting on the porch of the rowhouse. We did this a couple of times, but I was eaten by mosquitos so it didn't last long.

Being a Sunday night, there were quite a few restaurants closed. Our first choice was one of the many breweries, but as soon as I saw a Cuban restaurant we couldn't pass it up. Mojitos, veggie empanadas, and masitas de puerco for Hubs. We also got Cuban coffees to go while we strolled around downtown Frederick.

Clearly super excited to be kid-free for a couple of hours!

This place looked awesome!

So many old, cute rowhouses in Frederick! We particularly loved our rowhouse we stayed in. It had original woodwork and updated in just the right areas. We had plenty of room in the three bedroom, two bath rowhouse to stretch out, but the minis insisted on sleeping in the same bedroom. This is usually the case whenever we travel, so we had one bedroom that went completely unused (for sleeping. We kept everyone's suitcases in there to keep them out of the way). The boys slept in the bunk beds and Elizabeth chose to grab a sleeping bag and sleep in the kiddie tent. Everyone was happy and everyone slept great.

The next morning we woke up to heavy rains (flash flooding) across Maryland and DC area. We lounged around the rowhouse, made cinnamon rolls for breakfast, grabbed a quick lunch, and headed to Frederick Gymnastics for open gym. My cousin's wife kindly invited the minis to run and jump. They LOVED it! They spent most of their time doing an obstacle course.

Other than Royal Farms hazelnut coffee, Baltimore Coffee was my favorite!

In the afternoon, evening, and night, we went to my cousin's house. The kids had a fantastic time running around their house in the mountains barefoot, chasing kittens, grilling, making s'mores, playing with sparklers, and more. If you ask them, this was their favorite part of our 17 day vacation. It left us ready to move to the mountains!

Costumes and Nerf guns.

Looking at the fish. The funniest moment was when Hubs leaned down to pet the cat statue thinking it was real. I died. In his defense, it was dark out. But still sheer stupidity on his part!

Sending a Chinese lantern into the sky.

This girl's hair got wavier on vacation. I'm not sure if it was the constant humidity or what, but her hair is getting curlier and wavier for sure.

Our next daytime adventure took us to Gettysburg. I had never visited before and envisioned a large open field with canons. Imagine my surprise when I found out the battlegrounds led all over the town, in the mountains, and in farmlands. Not at all what I thought it would be like! We were there over five hours and while we saw all of the sites, we only scratched the surface of this battlefield.
One could easily spend two days fully exploring the cute town (plenty of specialty shops, wineries, and restaurants), hiking, horseback riding, etc. Regardless of how much time we could have spent, we made the most of our five hours there.

This is important to note because we had been carrying our hiking backpack around since the beginning of the trip. We filled it with the essentials: First Aid kits, water bottles (and extra water), protein bars, bananas, battery packs (for our cell phones), and maps. We had to park a good ways to walk to the visitors center (via a trail system). Luckily I noticed this sign before we left the car and left the backpack for the first time in days.

Driving through the town of Gettysburg. At the visitors center we received a battlefield map, which had all points laid out in the chronological order the battle was fought. This meant crossing several points throughout the day. I liked how it was laid out, but by the end it was a tad confusing and we were done with being in the car, since the best way to see everything is to drive from point to point.

There were several lookout tours we stopped to climb so we could get a better view of the lay of the battle. At the first tower, we asked the kids if they wanted to climb it. Elizabeth replied, "well, only if Max doesn't cry. I can't take that right now." She's referring to her brother's sudden fear of heights we discovered last fall in Itasca (read about that adventure here). She got a good dig in as we encouraged ALL of the kids to climb the tour (without being smart asses).

Let's just say that after our bear scare in Shenandoah, we were bear aware in Gettysburg. We were so bear aware that we noticed all animals and insects, including lots of butterflies.

Standing in the spot where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. It's an unbelievable feeling when you quite literally stand on history and get to share it with your children. This is another moment I hope they'll be able to appreciate in a few years.

Another overwhelming feeling is walking through the National Cemetery and seeing row after row of Unknown names on grave markers. 

The best sign picture we could manage.

My kids ate at a Hibachi grill for the first time with our family. If I could have captured the oldest mini's face when he saw the fire, I would never stop looking at it. It looked like he thought that place was going up in flames! Harrison also spent half of the night in handcuffs from a cousin. Kids are weird and funny.

The next day brought us a couple more adventures in Maryland before we went on to Philadelphia. As we drove through Gettysburg the day before, Hubs and I agreed that we weren't quite ready for vacation to come to an end, so we added in a couple of days in Philly. We checked out of our rowhouse and went with cousins to Harper's Ferry. 

Harper's Ferry has been on my places to visit for years and it didn't disappoint. I loved the historic little town and it's gorgeous views!

Harper's Ferry reminded me a lot of Living History Farms here in Iowa. Tip if you plan on going: park at the Visitors Center and take the bus into the town.

Cooling down with ice cream. I had my first root beer float in years!

We said our final goodbyes to family in the parking lot of Harper's Ferry, grabbed lunch on our way back through Frederick, and settled into our 3 hour drive to Philadelphia. We had every intention of driving straight into Philly, grabbing Philly cheesesteaks for dinner, and swimming at our hotel. However, as we were driving through Baltimore we saw signs for Fort McHenry. It had been on our list, but we decided ahead of time we wouldn't try to fit it in. Our version of taking things easy. That is until we came to the final exit for Fort McHenry. It went something like this:

Hubs: "Final call for Fort McHenry. The exit is right up here. Anybody?"
Me (without opening my eyes): "Oh shit. Just do it."
Then I opened my eyes just in time to see my husband cut across two lanes of traffic and get on the exit ramp. The minis laughed at our last minute decision to go to Fort McHenry. Hey, you only live once!

And I'm sooooo happy I lived by my thinking! Fort McHenry became a favorite and something we'll be talking about forever.

Once again our National Parks Pass came in very handy. We would have paid $15 per adult (kids are free) to tour the Fort, but instead got in for free with our Pass. We got to tour the entire Fort and it's grounds, walk on top of the Fort, and the biggest highlight of all: help take down the flag at the end of the day!

To start the tour, we watched a short video about the history of the Fort and it's significance to American History. At the end of the video the screen lifted to reveal the Fort and flag. While the minis knew all about Fort McHenry, even they loved the video and seeing the flag (and then singing the Star Spangled Banner). Despite their disliking of museums, they loved exploring Fort McHenry and touring the museum and grounds. Unlike many of the Museums we visited on this trip, the Fort had short videos along our tour that explained what we were looking at and it's importance. This really helped the minis to stay engaged.

Baltimore Harbor

They had an old jail cell open to go in. I told the minis to go in and jokingly shut them in. When I went to get them out I realized how heavy those bars of steal were and could barely open it! Oops! Luckily no one panicked--including me!

One kid learning and reading while one kid goofs off. Usually it's the other way around with these two!

As we were getting ready to leave the Fort, a Park Ranger came up to us and asked if we could wait a few minutes because they were taking the flag down and they needed as many visitors as they could to help because they had used the HUGE flag that day. As we learned during the presentation of taking the flag down, they rarely get to use this size of flag because everything is a factor in getting the flag up and down from the weather, wind speed and direction, and most importantly, because it takes over 25 people to help with the flag, guest count for the day. So that's how the minis came to help take the flag down at Fort McHenry and end our time in Maryland.

Our drive into Philadelphia from Baltimore was easy. Even though it was a few hours later than planned, our first stop in Philadelphia was at Pat's and Geno's for Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, fries, and treats from King Cannoli. I'd say it was a successful first couple of hours there and a beyond successful final day in Northern Maryland.

I loved seeing the diversity and busyness of this park. There was a group doing Zumba, kids playing, parents and grandparents playing with their kids and talking to each other. We were focused on getting dinner or we would have stopped to play too.

Our feast. All five of us liked Pat's better than Geno's.