Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A non-traditional DC vacation

I'm just getting settled back home after what could be called a non-traditional DC vacation.

Or, a weekend in the Washington DC area as those who actually live there may wish to experience.

Because my little sister, Mary, actually lives there.  And if you've seen the Capitol Mall on a Saturday in June plastered with tourists and students from every state, then you too, may wish for a bit of an escape in the hills of eastern Virginia.  

Don't get me wrong.  Every single American should take at least one traditional Washington DC vacation.  Tours of the Monuments.  The Capitol.  The Museums.  A stroll by the White House.  (Unless you know people who know people who can you get a private tour of the West Wing.  Accomplished this on the DC trip three years ago.  The latest change in the administration means I no longer know people who know people.) 

We arrived in DC on a Friday afternoon.  Mary picked us up curbside in her new Volkswagon.  No taxis.  No tour buses.  We were among the locals now.

Mary suggested we spend some time strolling around Old Town Alexandria to avoid the mess of rush-hour traffic.  We stopped into a local coffee shop - I needed a little pick-me-up.  I ordered an iced vanilla latte.

"We don't have flavors, mam." 

Right.  It was now apparent I was a Midwestern tourist with limited urban coffee drinking experience.

"Well, then, just make it skim, please."

Sister Molly - also a big city-dweller - then gave me a few "coffee snob" pointers so I could order coffee without the stress of a barista looking down his nose at me the next time.  Sure wish she could have made those tips available before I perpetuated the (largely misguided) Kansas stereotype.

Moving on.  We encountered tiny bundles of lavender selling for $15.  (Mom has a beautiful plant in her yard.)  And expensive Turkish hand-painted dishes where the shop owner kept a close eye on giggling Midwest sisters.  Then got a glimpse of the wide Potomac.  (Makes the Smoky Hill River look like a babbling brook.)

Then back to Mary's apartment.  The third floor of a row house that overlooks the Library of Congress and is steps away from the Capitol.  Six hundred square feet at a monthly rent price that will make your mortgage and 1,400 square feet home seem down-right cheap.

Mom had a new scarf to wear.  And that meant we were going out for a nice dinner.  You've got to love logic like that.

We decided on a Mediterranean restaurant in Eastern Market. And I'm almost embarrassed to say that I ate lamb for the first time.  How's a farm girl live 32 years without eating lamb?  Good question.  But I liked it, and I will certainly eat it again. 

Pause.  Time for a mommy agvocacy moment.  Given the growing popularity of Mediterranean food, lamb market prices are on the rise.  I'm considering investing in some ewes (that's the mommy sheep), and some pasture, and a farmhouse, and a good sized barn for lambing, and a chicken house just because I like chickens...

Focus.  The lamb was good.  And so were the two drinks I ordered.  Which turned into a conversation about a few more things "mom was right about." 

A good day always begins with Good Morning America and good hairspray.

A handful of chocolate chips will make bad days melt away.

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a woman happy, healthy, wealthy and wise.  (mostly)

So we headed home.

And Mary had us out the door and on a six mile walk by 8:00 am Saturday morning.  (That's pretty early for vacation standards.)

We walked by the Capitol and down the National Mall, around the Washington Memorial, around the World War II Memorial, and down to the Lincoln Memorial.  And back. 

By then, the tourists were beginning to descend on the National Mall.  So we headed east.  Or south.  I never know what direction I'm going in that city and that makes me crazy.  (Type A personality.  Not surprising.)  We drove in the general directions of berries and vineyards in Virginia.


We climbed hills to pick strawberries and raspberries.  I had just picked strawberries the week before and made strawberry jam.  But the Middle Eastern family picking alongside us doubtfully picked strawberries and made jam the week before.  Therefore, we should all be thankful for the opportunities provided by Virginia's agri-tourism farms.  (Hand picked berries for the city-dwellers.  Premium prices for Virgina farmers.  I love free market capitalism.)

How about all these beautiful pictures?  Mary snapped these with her snazzy camera.

And then to the vineyards.  Along with never eating lamb, I've also never been to a wine tasting at a vineyard.  I know, I know.  I have lived a sheltered life.

The first vineyard, while picturesque, was a bit snooty.  And their wine was a bit on the yucky side.  (I'm not a wine snob, either.  Yucky is an acceptable adjective if you're not a wine elitist.)

The second vineyard was more my style.  Casual, rustic, comfortable.  And the wine was yummy.  Very yummy.  (I should be a food writer.)

So yummy, in fact, I napped all the way back to the city.  Where we made a strawberry and raspberry cobbler and had a cook-out with Mary's beau Tyler.  I had failed to give consideration to the challenges of having a cook-out when you live in an apartment in a city.  We hauled charcoal and a cooler full of food and sangria to a public park that had grills and picnic tables.  Tyler expertly managed the if he owned his own and cooked on it every night.

The non-traditional DC vacation continued right on into Sunday.  We leisurely made our way to 10:30 Mass and then Sunday brunch at a popular, hip little joint.  And while I'm on a roll with "firsts," I'll add one more.  I ordered my first "cocktail before Noon on a Sunday."  The college-girl in me is so proud.

We walked off cocktails and brunch as we strolled through a flea market and farmer's market.  I picked up goodies for each one of the kiddos, and we bought Mary a way-cute dress for her birthday at a funky little second hand store.  (You're right.  We got off cheap.  I'll mail her a gift card.)

On the topic of Mary's birthday, we celebrated with frozen yogurt later that evening and a walk around our nation's Capitol, sans tourists.  Well, only a small group of crazies on Segways.  But otherwise, quiet and peaceful.

And sniff, sniff, it was time to drive Molly to the airport for her flight home to Detroit. 

But don't be sad.  Molly is considering a move to DC to be a potato lobbyist.  Mary - employed by the big beef lobby - told her about the job and Molly thinks it's a perfect fit for her.  She loves all things potato!

And we're not sad.  We're already planning the next trip.  We considered the vineyards of California; for a fleeting moment.  Decided we're not hip enough.  The casual, car-free atmosphere of Makinac Island sounds better suited for us.

You know, perhaps it seems silly to have flown all the way to DC to pick berries in the hills of Virginia.  But, there's nothing silly about spending a little time with your mom and your sisters.  Together.  It was seriously worth the trip.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mom was right...

Turns out, my mom was right about a lot of things.

She was right about Hamburger Helper.  That stuff's just not good for you.

She was right about plucking my eyebrows.  "Sometimes it hurts to be beautiful, sweetie."

And about chasing a college education and a career.  She knew I'd set it all aside to raise my babies one day.

She was right about reading books, never leaving the house without mascara and putting family first.

But the one thing she really had right.  The thing that put her way ahead of her time.  Our dinner plates.

About three weeks ago, the USDA released the new Choose My Plate visual aid, replacing the antiquated and complicated food pyramid. 

For at least the past thirty-two years, this is how the dinner plates at my childhood home have looked.  A fruit, a vegetable, meat, bread and milk.  But always, a fruit and vegetable.

I put up plenty of fuss.  I was certainly no angel!  I smashed peas under my dinner plate.  Forced myself to gag on hominy.  Preferred extra servings of meat and bread and milk. 

But, my mom made sure the fruits and vegetables were there.  Every meal.

And it only took thirty-two years for the USDA to vindicate her meal-time choices.  It took me about twenty years to get it right and really get serious about making fruits and vegetables a priority. 

I have said a word (or two) about the new USDA dietary guidelines, no need to repeat myself.  But I wanted you to see the new dinner plate.  It's simple.  Easy to understand.  Do-able.

And while it pains me to give credit to the current federal administration - much like it's painful to admit when mom is right - I should give credit where credit is due.

Thank you USDA, First Lady and super-smart graphic design folks!  This dinner plate thing deserves my sincerest "thank you."

(My mother said so.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Inaugural Camping Experience

We survived our first family camping trip.  And if you forget about the rain, the frightening gust of wind and collapsing tent, well then, you could even call it fun.

The kids definitely thought the trip was fun.  Dirt digging, crawdad hunting, hot dog eating, no bath taking fun.

We arrived at Wilson Lake with almost everything we needed for the weekend.  Except matches.  Thank goodness for friendly park rangers.

We then unloaded our gear and successfully put up our (massive, yet accommodating) eight-foot-tall-tent, and met up with Brent's cousin, Scott, and his son, Jack, for a trip around the lake on their boat.

While swimming in a cove, cloudy skies turned to rain.  Rain turned to wind.  We feared for our eight-foot-tall-tent.  We buzzed across the lake to see our campsite.  And a collapsed tent.  As the men climbed up to re-establish the tent, I could see towards the west huge swirls of dust blowing our direction.  Did I forget to mention that I was holding the boat in the water while four small children waited along the shore?

Now back to those swirls of dust.  That wind hit the water and what was happening before my eyes looked like something that should be happening in the middle of an ocean.  Not on a lake in the middle of Kansas.  That wind gust blew "spray" across the water and I watched the wind race toward us.

"Jack, hold onto Nell," I yelled as I braced the boat as if I could protect it from the nearby rocks.  The wind and spray lashed at us.  Tears and cries came from the four small children.  Two worried daddies raced down to the shore.

Well, that wasn't exactly something I had considered to be a part of our first camping experience.

Moving on.

Boat to the marina.  Set the tent up.  Again.  Cook burgers with Scott and Jack in the comfort of their cabin. 

Explore nearby ponds, caves and wildlife.


Watch the sun set on a beautiful, still evening on the lake.

 Patiently wait while Daddy starts a fire to cook Smores.

Get into the marshmallows while not-so-patiently waiting for Daddy to build a fire to cook Smores.

 Create a wonderful ending to a rough start of a camping trip.


About two hours later.  The wind came back.  Why am I not surprised?  Some really, really, really smart folks have built the largest wind farm in the state of Kansas just a couple miles south of Wilson Lake.  Guess they knew what they were doing.

The tent held up quite well.  I should know.  I listened to the wind beat against the tent all night long.  Waiting for the worst.  Around 4:00 am, the southwest support pole gave way.  Brent supported it with his feet while trying to sleep in Nell's pink sleeping bag.  (Hilarious.)  By 6:30 am, the entire southern half of the tent gave way, caving in on Brent, Tucker and Noah.

We got up.  Got dressed.  Fed the kids a hot dog and a bun for breakfast.  I'd like to meet the man who could have started a fire and cooked monkey bread and scrambled eggs for the kids in that wind.

One quick trip down to the water to hunt for sea shells, and the inaugural Goss Family Camping Experience came to an abrupt ending. 

Tired mommy + tired daddy = time to go home.

After a shower, a nap, and some time to reflect, I have decided there was just enough good to compensate for all the bad.  I'm not yet giving up on conquering nature and creating dirt digging, crawdad hunting, hot dog eating, no bath taking fun for my family.

Just as soon as we buy a camper...

Friday, June 3, 2011

I is for Ice Cream

Summer is off to a spectacular start around here.  And if I survive the weekend, I'm certain I'll be ready for fall.

Monday was Memorial Day.  Brats, hot dogs and margaritas (and Kool-Aid) with good friends.

Tuesday was our first t-ball game of the season.

Wednesday we broke in the new slip-n-slide and took a dip in the neighbor's hot tub.  (More like a "warm" tub...just right for the kids.)

Thursday we played at the park and had our second t-ball game.

And today, Friday, we've been preparing (packing, grocery shopping, testing the tent and stressing) for the inaugural Goss Family Camping Trip. 

Oh, and we're going to the swimming pool as soon as the kids wake up from a nap.

And we made ice cream.

By Sunday, I will be completely exhausted and ready for Noah to start kindergarten.

Or not.  My baby girl surely can't be big enough for kindergarten.  (A thought that will be running through my noggin until mid-August.)

But back to Friday.  And ice cream.  I is for Ice Cream.  I've already lost control of this entire post thanks to the emotions flowing through me as I prepare to send my baby to kindergarten. (And the pending camping trip.)

Yes, I is for Ice Cream.  Pause...I just checked facebook.  And you won't believe this.  It's Kansas Dairy Month.   Wasn't that just like getting a little extra hot fudge on your sundae?  Sweet!

Ice Cream comes from milk.  Which comes from cows.  Who live on a dairy farm.  Remember?  D is for Dairy Products.

I think we all - kids included - know where ice cream comes from.  But did you know...

that in order for a frozen dairy product to be labeled "ice cream," by law it must contain at least 10% milk fat and 20% milk solids by weight.  Otherwise, it has to be called something else.  Like ice milk, or something else snazzy that a food science wiz-kid came up with.

Or did you know that ice cream flavors must be labeled either natural or artificial.  For example, natural strawberry ice cream or strawberry-flavored ice cream.  (Meaning: they really used strawberries or they substituted with some strawberry flavored syrup stuff.)  Note to self: should have taken a food science class in college.

And did you know that a single serving of ice cream is about a half-cup worth.  Awfully chintzy, huh?  However, that half-cup serving contains 130 calories, 10% of your daily fat intake and 20% of your daily saturated fat intake.  (Based on a normal adult's 2000 calorie diet.)  Not so chintzy anymore, is it?

When ordering ice cream out, it's doubtful you get a half-cup serving.  Think at least three to four times that much.  However, Dairy Queen is picking up on America's need to slim down.  They are offering a new "mini" blizzard this year; and at a premium price.  Let me explain.  "Smart, financially comfortable, weight conscious consumers are willing to pay a premium to enjoy a down-sized DQ blizzard without all the guilt."


May I suggest you hand crank your own homemade ice cream in a cute and rustic ice cream maker your father-in-law picked up at a farm auction.

That way, when you over-indulge in a full cup serving, you won't feel as guilty because you've spent twenty-five minutes in the summer heat cranking your own ice cream.

Tucker gets a cup and a half serving.  It requires his entire body to turn the crank.

That's an intense look there, folks.  He's saving a couple bucks and burning calories to make his own ice cream.  This is a very serious moment for him.

Twenty-five minutes later - frozen dairy goodness.

Pour into recycled ice cream buckets.  (I'm so hip.)   Stir in frozen chocolate sandwich cookies.  (The store brand, of course.  Saved me a couple bucks.)  And freeze.

A few hours later, enjoy on the patio with some friends after a trip to the swimming pool.

This is where I should have a picture of Nell eating ice cream since she was left out of the other photos.  But I forgot.  Because I'm stressed about tomorrow's camping trip.