Thursday, August 8, 2019

Brooks Road Trip 2019: Pennsylvania

Leaving D.C. with full bellies, we headed toward our friends, the Millers. We met the Millers while in Korea. They were in our court group and we hit it off right away. We met up several times over our two trips and have kept in touch since. Our whole family was so excited to see them again, and to finally meet their two older boys. The drive was pretty quick and we needed a to get out a bit of energy, so we stopped for some playground time in Mt. Joy, just a few minutes from our AirBnb in Manheim. After getting sweaty and tiring out our kiddos, we headed to our home for the weekend.

We were so lucky to have been gifted our stay at our Airbnb by our friend's parents, who own it. They were the most amazing hosts and the space was just what we needed. They live on a farm with goats and chickens, a trampoline, waterfall with fish, lots of grass to run around in, and the living space was huge and had it all. We especially loved the possibility of a bit of separation. The kiddos could play outside or in the loft, and Joe and I could sit on the patio or read a book in the bedroom. We were given fresh eggs, which we made for breakfast each day and Liam got a lesson in handling chickens.

Our first night there, everyone came to the farm for a delicious dinner of Korean chicken, rice and veggies. More importantly than the food, we were surrounded by our friends, their family, and another family we have connected with through the adoption process. I don't think we realized how much we needed to be around other people, until we laid down that night, raving about the time we had. While our family has been doing amazingly well being together 24 hours a day, for three straight weeks, being around other kids and other adults was a great change of pace.

The next day, we headed out to Bird in Hand, a small Amish/Mennonite town about a half an hour away from our AirBnb. We began our day at Abe's Buggy Rides, a small farm that has a playground, horses, chickens, doves and goats. We paid for a thirty minute buggy ride and explored the farm until it was our turn to head out. When it was time our driver, Ervan, helped us into the carriage and started to tell us about the history of the area. Throughout the tour, he would point out landmarks and historical sites, explain local traditions and beliefs, answer our questions and share the occasional joke. He was an amazing tour guide. He even let the boys sit up front with him and drive on the quieter roads. They absolutely loved it!

While on the buggy ride, Ervan mentioned that if we turned down a specific road, it would take us to the Bird in Hand Bakeshop, which he said had delicious baked goods- including soft pretzels. Knowing that soft pretzels are a family favorite, and Pennsylvania Dutch are known for their recipe, we had to give it a try. After finishing our ride and saying goodbye to Ervan, we headed that way.

The shop is adorable! It is surrounded by Amish Rocking Poly tables, a handmade pretzel cart, goats and chickens to feed, and a small playground. We went into the store first and found a couple of souvenirs and some baked goods to try. I could have wandered that store for hours. Then we went outside, got our pretzels and found a table so we could enjoy them while rocking in the shade. While the kids love them, soft pretzels are usually something I can say no to. This was not the case this time. They were the most delicious soft pretzels I have ever eaten, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to figure out how they make them. We fed some farm animals, then headed to our next destination.

We wanted to see a farmers market and had planned to go to City Market in Lancaster, but the day had gotten away from us and we were all pretty excited to enjoy the AirBnb, so we did a quick google search and found the Bird in Hand Farmer's Market. When we pulled up it didn't look that big, but boy were we wrong. There were several sections of the building, some housing gift shops and handmade crafts, but the biggest area of the building was packed with local vendors selling food either made or grown by them. We were a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of booths to look at and choices to make.

Eventually, we decided that we wanted to find items to make for dinner, so we could stay in again that night. We settled on fresh handmade sausages, peaches and asparagus. We also had the pastries from the bakeshop for dessert, which meant we would have a full Amish meal. We gathered our purchases and headed back to the house. That evening was just the best. We relaxed on the patio, ate a yummy dinner, played on the farm, then ended the night with a family movie night with shoofly pie and ice cream.

The next morning, we got up bright and early because we were headed to Hersheypark with the Millers! Other than Disneyland, the kids have never been to another theme park, so this was an extra special experience for them. Once we got into the park, Joe, Tim and the big boys headed off to ride the bigger roller coasters, while Tiffany and I stayed with the other four. We spent the whole morning walking right on rides, then moving on to the next one. Again, we met up with the other family who had adopted from Korea. We all met up for lunch, then headed to the water park portion of the park. We found the crowds there.

While there were a lot of people in this part of the park, the actual water areas were large and gave a lot of space to play. We started at the wave pool, then once again, split up so the bigger boys could do bigger things. It was absolutely wonderful to watch the kids bond and form connections immediately. Everyone got along so well and enjoyed being together. After a couple of hours in the water park, we were getting ready to head out when we heard an announcement over the loudspeaker. A storm was on its way, so the water attractions were being closed temporarily.

We were so lucky that we had planned to leave before the announcement, because everyone was heading to the changing rooms or out toward the amusement park portion. The crowds were bonkers! It was interesting to see/hear the impact of thunderstorms in the area. Initially the announcements were only saying that "due to inclement weather the water attractions would be temporarily closed". After a few minutes, the line "seek shelter" was added. Our crew walked toward the exit as quickly as we could. We were in the cars less than 5 minutes before the storm hit. It was a close call, for sure.

After the park, we headed to Troegs Independent Brewing a restaurant and brewery nearby. Again, the food was so so yummy. Joe and I shared pork belly lettuce wraps that were to die for. There were more soft pretzels, this time the size of Maylee, and some tasty drinks. When dinner was done, we headed back to the AirBnb for some final playtime and the hard goodbyes. Each of our goodbyes were hard, but they seemed to get harder with each one. We, once again, ended our day with shoofly pie, which helped us cope with our sadness.

The next morning, we started our day with an Amish Apple dumpling, then started packing up for the final leg of our trip. It was surreal to think that today would be our last driving day, that our road trip was nearing it's end and that we had just had our last goodbye. We will never forget the memories made or the hospitality shown to us by the Millers and their family and we hope to return it to them some day, when we can get them all out to Oregon.

Details and Links:
Borough Park, Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania
Colebrook Cottage
Abe's Buggy Rides
Bird in Hand Bakeshop
Bird in Hand Farmer's Market
Troegs Independent Brewing

Friday, August 2, 2019

Brooks Road Trip 2019: Washington D.C.

It was an absolutely lovely drive from Williamsburg to D.C. We passed so much lovely landscape, tiny towns and farm houses. It was a lovely way to spend the last longer driving day. We arrived in D.C. about an hour before check-in, so Joe went into The Mayflower ahead of the rest of us, to see if we could have an early check-in. It worked out, so we unpacked our car and left it with the valet. As we headed into the hotel, we were all pretty excited. We had passed the White House on the way in and it didn't seem that far, so planned to take a quick rest then head out for some exploring. Our hotel room was lovely, as was the rest of the hotel.

We had a quick rest, but realized almost immediately that we were all hungry. We decided to walk towards the White House and find a restaurant along the way. We got less than a block from our hotel, when we ran into my friend and past co-worker, Cristina, and her husband! It was so random to see them here, as I had no idea they were in the area and they had no idea we were. Imagine that! Two families from Sherwood, who just happen to be walking on the same street in the same city at the same time, across the country from their home. Amazing!

After a quick recap of both of our trips and shared amazement at our chance meet-up, we parted ways and continued on toward the White House. On the way, we walked through Farragut Square, where many food trucks were lined along the edges of the small park. We found several that sounded yummy and decided to divide and pick a few things to share. Next stop, the White House. On one side of the building there was a great deal of construction, so it was difficult to see. There were also a lot of people gathered in protest, voicing their frustrations with immigration policies in place.

We continued walking around the block and could see the Capitol building in the distance. The other side of the White House was easier to see, so we got a couple of family photos. We then went on to the Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. All of these sites are so close together and were easy to see. It did end being about a four mile walk round-trip and we were starting to get a little tired, so headed back to the hotel. We were all still full from our big late-lunch, so we grabbed some frozen yogurt on the way back to the hotel instead of finding dinner.

The next day, I got up early and walked down to the nearest coffee shop, Gregory's Coffee to find some breakfast. After eating and getting ready for the day, we headed out to explore as many Smithsonian museums as we could. We started with the National Museum of American History. We spent over three hours wandering through the museum. We realized, about halfway through, that there was no way we could see it all and we would have to start picking and choosing which exhibits we wanted to see most. It was huge and there was so much to look at!

We grabbed a quick snack from a food cart, then headed to the National Air and Space Museum. While it was very cool with many interesting things to see and learn about, it was packed. I don't usually have anxiety in groups, but wow. I struggled to keep track of our kiddos so much so, that I didn't really get to enjoy the museum or pay much attention to the exhibits. Also, overall, this museum was a tad disappointing. It reminded us of a mix of the Evergreen Air Museum and OMSI. It was neat to see the Wright Brothers original plane and touch a piece of the moon though. Because it was so stressful for Joe and I, we spent far less time there than we had planned and decided to head to the Museum of Natural History next.

The kids LOVED this one! It was filled with exhibits on animals, their habitats and history of their survival (or extinction). We made it to the Ocean area, Dinosaur section and a portion of the Mammal exhibit, but there was so much more to see. Because it was getting later in the day, we didn't get to see a fraction of this museum and will definitely make it a stop next time we visit D.C. We could have spent hours in the dinosaur section alone. All of the Smithsonian Museums are free, as well as everything we saw the day before.

After pulling the kids away, we headed out to find a place to eat. Just a couple of blocks away was a Hard Rock Cafe, so we went there. The walk from the restaurant to the hotel took about 45 minutes, so we encouraged the kiddos to keep going with another stop for fro-yo. Once back to the hotel, we looked into options for the next day. We had decided to spend three nights in D.C. rather than our usual two and it was one of the best decisions we have made on this trip. While we are all still going strong, we are getting tired quicker and need more rest time between activities. We decided to stay three nights at our last three stops, so our slower pace won't be a big deal.

I knew I wanted to see Fords Theatre, so I ordered our $3 tickets online. Yep, I said that right, just $3 a person! I am so glad I did! When we got there at our allotted time, the line was down the block. Without a reservation, there is no way we would have been able to see it. This stop was a highlight for me. The entire museum was filled with information about Lincoln. Not just his death, but the history of his rise to greatness, the several attempts to take him from power, his final days and the days, weeks, months, and years following that were affected by is life and death.

The museum was informative and interesting, but being in the theater where it all happened and hearing the events of the day from a park ranger, was beyond words. After the park ranger's talk, we headed across the street to the Petersen House, where Lincoln was taken after being shot and later passed away. Once again, it was powerful to be in the last place our 16th president was alive. Through the boardinghouse, we entered into final exhibit, which focused on the aftermath of Lincoln's death and his lasting legacy in our country.

After the museum, we headed back to the hotel for a mid-day rest, then on to the Shake Shack for an early dinner. From there, we headed to the Natural Geographic Museum, which was just one block from our hotel. This was the only place we went in D.C. that had an entrance fee, but it was well worth it. They were featuring an exhibit focused on the Queens of Egypt and everyone loved it. Maylee started getting a bit tired, and with it her independence and fire was showing, so Joe took her back to the hotel and Liam, Nolan and I stayed. We closed the place down and only made it through one of the two buildings.

Knowing we had a pretty short trek to our next stop and a late check-out at our hotel, I did some research to find a good place to have breakfast the next morning. I found several fantastic reviews for a restaurant which was a 15 minute walk from our hotel and made reservations. Once again, I am so glad I did! When we got there the next morning, it was packed. Founding Farmers is one of the best breakfast restaurants we have ever eaten at! It is a farm-to-table restaurant and it shows in every bite. We shared beignets, Liam had his new favorite chicken and waffles, Maylee and Nolan shared a typical eggs, bacon and toast breakfast, Joe had eggs Benedict and I had vanilla stuffed french toast with banana fosters topping. We stuffed ourselves and didn't regret it.

After breakfast, we walked back to our hotel, finished packing and loaded up for drive to Pennsylvania and the Miller family! We absolutely loved D.C.! As much hospitality as we experienced throughout the south, D.C. blew us away with the continuous kindness people showed us. Strangers stroke up conversations and offered to help us carry things, take our picture, or offer us directions when we looked lost. A secret service agent even gave the kids presidential jelly beans just for saying hello to him! It happened over and over, every single day we were there. We saw the best of our country, right here where it matters most. We can't wait to come back!

Details and Links:
The Mayflower Hotel
Farragut Square
DC Food Trucks
National Mall
Gregory's Coffee
National Museum of American History
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
Hard Rock Cafe
Ford's Theatre
Shake Shack
National Geographic Museum
Founding Farmers