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 grill...as 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.