Family Vacation Fun

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We just got back from a week long vacation to Washington, D.C. Usually we visit family for our summer vacation, but this summer we decided to take our first nuclear family vacation. We have done weekend trips as the three of us, but never a full-on road trip and sightseeing trip.

It was a wonderful week and we hit most of the sights in our nation’s capital, along with a good portion of the eastern U.S. And I mean a lot of it. A road trip really drives home the size of our great country. It took us a little over fourteen hours over two days to get to Washington, via Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. On the way home we drove for another fourteen hours through Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Beautiful country, but it started to pall just a bit after delays for construction, rain and about the twelfth hour on the road. I think we’ll fly if we go again.

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The trip was a first for all of us. Not sure how Rich and I missed out on visiting the capital until now, but it was a great adventure to discover it all with Calvin. We feel like we did it all – or at least a good portion of it. And we did most of it on our own feet – our biggest day, according to the pedometer on Rich’s phone, clocked in at ten miles of walking. Count them, ten. We felt it just a bit, at the end of that day. And by a bit, I mean a lot. It was hard to walk without limping or groaning. In our defense, the ten-mile day followed two seven-plus mile days. Foot rubs and a little lie down were in order that evening. And we all slept really well.

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We worked our way through the Smithsonian museums, hitting American History, Natural History, Air and Space and Native American. We saw the Capitol, the White House, the Library of Congress and the National Archives. We walked the length of the National Mall, from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, stopping at the Washington Monument in the middle. And it is a long, long way from one end of the mall to the other, especially when it is hot and sunny. We also hit the not-to-be-missed Spy Museum and Newseum while we were at it.

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It is hard to pick out the highlights after seeing so many cool things. Tops on my list are seeing the actual Star Spangled Banner, Julia Child’s kitchen, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And the Spy Museum was a great combination of camp and intrigue mixed with a dash of real history.

I can’t forget the food. I polled a few foodie friends and former and current D.C. residents for restaurant recommendations before we went. We hit a few of those, and found a few gems of our own. We managed to find stellar cupcakes, wood oven fired pizza and calzones, burgers and shakes, house-made pop tarts along with a few salads to offset all the goodies. With all of our walking we didn’t feel too overindulged, but it was good to get back to home cooking. Somehow, most of our meals since we got back have featured vegetables, fruit and whole grains.

It was nice to have a break from cooking and baking, but by the end of the week I started to get the urge to bake something. Of course, with our vacation treats still a recent memory, I am more in the mood for fruit than cookies. But I think a few more days of healthy eating will have me in the kitchen again, flinging flour and creaming butter and sugar with abandon.

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Pie, Mashed Potatoes and Fireplaces

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The other day Calvin asked me about Thanksgivings when I was a kid. I realized I had never told him any of my memories. The conversation sparked a need to write them down. I have been working on this post since he and I had that conversation two weeks ago. I don’t know why it is so hard to get the memories down. I think it is difficult to get the words to mesh with the images and memories in my head. What I remember looks different once it is down on paper.

Thanksgivings when I was growing up were food and family. It is as simple as that. My grandparents lived close and we were at their house all the time, for Sunday dinners, just to drop by and for family card game nights. But Thanksgiving was different, somehow. No one was rushing off to finish chores or do yard work. Everyone was in it for the day.

Grandpa usually made a fire in the fireplace in the family room. The room really wasn’t really big enough for the table extended to its full length, three easy chairs, a crowd of people and the heat of the fire. Yes, it was cozy, but it was also warm, warm, warm. You knew not to wear your heaviest sweater to Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s.

Grandma would make her usual mountain of mashed potatoes. And she would offer them at the table with the zeal of a used car salesman, “Are you sure you can’t eat just a few more? There are plenty.” And there were. Lots. Always.

My Great Aunt Helen always sat next to my dad and asked him to serve her a nice piece of dark meat. She didn’t like white meat, or lean meat when we had roasts at Sunday dinner. She was old school and she liked her rich foods. She lived well into her 90s, so there is a lesson there, I think. Probably her health came from her attitude more than her diet – she was never without a laugh and a smile. And a dollar for each of the kids. Slipped clandestinely into our hands when we gave her a hug.

We ate the big dinner early in the afternoon and then sat around playing cards and visiting. My uncle usually took a nap in a chair in the corner. It always fascinated me that he could sleep right in the middle of all the hubbub. Now that I am an adult, I understand. I think I have had a few of those corner naps myself.

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Pie for supper was the highlight of the day for me. After our afternoon of cutthroat games of King’s Corner and Skip-Bo, we would pull out the leftovers. I usually made a token turkey sandwich on a roll and then ate just enough of it to get by. What I really wanted was permission to eat more pie. Once I had Mom’s blessing I would start on the pie – a sliver of pumpkin, a slice of pecan, a bite of apple. If there happened to be any other kinds, I would try those too. For me Turkey Day was, and is, more about the pie than the turkey.

Pie, mashed potatoes, fireplaces, card games and family – that pretty much sums up my Thanksgiving when I was little. What are your favorite memories of Thanksgiving?

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Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I’m taking the rest of the week off to enjoy the family time. I’ll be back next week.

A Perfect Mother’s Day Weekend


I wasn’t going to write a Mother’s Day post. But then I started thinking while I was cutting up strawberries for preserves, and I wrote the post in my head while I was working. When I had the berries on the heat I sat down to write before the words disappeared. As I type now, my fingers are a little stained and a lot wrinkled from the strawberry juice.

My Mother’s Day weekend started with Rich and Calvin picking up croissants from a French bakery for Saturday breakfast. They are giant croissants, and they are heavenly. Rich and I had almond paste-filled and Calvin had chocolate. We forgot to take pictures before we inhaled them, so you’ll just have to imagine.

Then, fueled with all those calories, we weeded the flower beds. That was my present from Rich and Calvin. And it was one of the best presents possible. I hate weeding with a passion, but three people made it go so much faster. We have a zoysia lawn, which we always say grows better in the flower beds than in the yard. In case you aren’t familiar with it, zoysia sends out runners, both underground and on the surface, and can invade a flower bed and make it part of the lawn in no time. We have been fighting this battle for the 14 years we have been in this house, and I think it will be never ending.

After our labors, and showers (it is amazing how dirty you can get weeding), we got to the fun part – shopping at the nursery for more plants. I restrained myself and we ended up with two new kinds of ornamental grasses and a rosemary plant. We got my mom a red rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), which should be spectacular when it blooms, and a rosemary plant.

After lunch we drove to my parents’ house for the afternoon and dinner. Dad had invited us out to celebrate Mother’s Day on Saturday for a more relaxed celebration than we usually get on Sunday. While Dad, Rich and Calvin cooked dinner; Mom and I went to my uncle’s house next door and picked strawberries from his garden. The weather was beautiful and it was nice to spend some time working together and talking about not much of anything.

Mother’s Day itself was rather low key around here. We went out for sandwiches for lunch after church and then went to Home Depot to buy mulch for our newly weeded flower beds. The sun was too fierce for this redhead by the time we got home, so we relaxed and called Rich’s mom in Florida. Rich and Calvin cooked Fettuccini Alfredo for me for dinner and did the dishes. An evening trip out for ice cream won out over finishing the yard work. The perfect topper to a perfect family weekend!

Musings on Sunday dinner

Sunday dinner when I was a kid was an event. Always after church, always at one o’clock and always a party. My mom’s parents lived just down the road from us and we often went there for dinner after church, or we hosted at our house.

The meal was usually roast beef or a roast chicken, cooked in the oven with vegetables while we were all at church. Grandma always made gravy, though Mom made it only sometimes. Grandma almost always had mashed potatoes and Mom usually put the potatoes in with the meat. And Grandma always had buttered French bread, heated in the oven. Not the healthiest, but when I was older I really liked to have a slice or two of that bread smothered in beef gravy. I can taste it now, though I probably wouldn’t eat it anymore. Though maybe one piece…

Usually it was my grandparents, my parents and my brother and I, my great aunt and my mom’s brother. We lived in a rural community about an hour south of St. Louis. My uncle lived in the city then, but came out to the country for the weekends. He had a cabin he built on land just down the road from us. My great aunt lived next door to my grandparents. I was impressed that she was born in 1900, and that she didn’t seem as old as she was. She always slipped us kids a dollar when no one else was looking. And she always whispered to us not to tell our parents. I never could figure out why it was supposed to be a secret, because everyone knew about it.

And we always had dessert. My brother, who is four years older than me, started that one. They were at Grandma’s for Sunday dinner when he was about five and when they had eaten, he was waiting expectantly. No dessert appeared and when he asked Grandma, she said there wasn’t any. He said, “But there’s always dessert!” And so the dessert tradition was born.

There was always ice cream, and usually pie, cake or cookies too. Grandma really liked angel food cake, so we had that often, sometimes with her special butterscotch icing, other times with sugared strawberries or peaches. I remember once she had vanilla ice cream and brought out a container of brown sauce with pecans and mysterious bits in it. She made us all guess what it was. My brother finally figured out it was pecan pie – the bits were pieces of crust. We never did figure out why her pie failed so spectacularly, but it sure made a tasty ice cream topping.

My parents still live in the same house, and my uncle now lives in my grandparents’ house. They share dinner back and forth, but suppertime dinner, not Sunday dinner after church. We live in St. Louis, and see my parents often, but Easter is about the only time we do Sunday dinner after church. Not sure how our Sunday dinner tradition went by the wayside. Probably distance as much as anything. But we always have dessert when we have my parents over for a meal. And I serve it with pride, even when the cake is lopsided or the pie doesn’t set like it should.