How To Make Your Camping Trip With Another Family Awesome

How to Make Your Camping Trip with Another Family Awesome. Going camping with two families? Check out these six lessons learned that helped us have a great time! (Photo: Campfire in darkness.)

A trip with cabins, right?” asked my friend. She was responding to my message about a camping trip our family was taking in a few weeks with her husband and son.

“Hahahaha. No,” I answered. I thought it was a joke; it was not. Knowing her general dislike for the outdoors, I had assumed she wasn’t coming. I was wrong.

Changing my tune, I said, “Well, cabins it is then!”

That was just one of the many ways I learned to tweak our routine and expectations to accommodate our first camping trip with another family. Because of the following lessons learned, our family ended up having a great time.

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A Day Out with Thomas at the B&O Railroad Museum

Text: "A Day Out with Thomas at the B&O Railway Museum / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Photo: Life-size version of Thomas the Train, with eyes that move.

While Sodor may be a dystopia where no longer “useful” sentient trains are threatened with getting melted down, my kid really, really loves trains. And therefore really, really loves Thomas the Train. So when my mom and dad offered to bring us to the Day Out with Thomas event at the B&O Railway Museum, I knew I couldn’t say no. Which led to us driving through Baltimore and pulling into the museum’s parking lot this past Sunday, ready for a day full of Thomas and his perky train friends.

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How to Make Your Day at the National Zoo Awesome

Text: "How to Make Your Day at the National Zoo Awesome / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Photo: Zebra eating grass

Washington D.C. has never felt hotter than when sitting on a bench at the National Zoo, holding a baby who won’t sleep and wondering when the hell your spouse will show up with some water. This was me two years ago at our first trip with the kid to the zoo. Despite grandparental support, it was a disaster.

But since then, we’ve had many successful, fun trips to the zoo, both to see the animals and ZooLights, their annual December extravaganza. Thankfully, we learned from our experience. I’m going to share those lessons learned so you have a better first (or second or third) experience!

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Cooperation in Flight: The Cherry Blossom Kite Festival

Text: "Cooperation in Flight: The Cherry Blossom Kite Festival / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Photo: Multi-colored kite flying on a cloudy sky in front of the Washington Monument with other kites in the background

Kite-flying does not come easily to my family. In Ocean City a few years ago, my mom and I sprinted through the sand over and over again to be met with a diving kite on the end of a limp string. We fell over laughing, but we never did get it up in the air. Thankfully, we had a lot more luck in both kite flying and cooperation this past weekend at the Cherry Blossom Kite Festival in Washington D.C.

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Eating Ethiopian with a 2 Year Old

As a kid, my idea of adventurous eating was that I went to a deli that served tongue. (I never ate tongue, but the mere presence of it on the menu was enough street cred for me.) Admittedly, I didn’t live somewhere with a whole lot of options – all we had in my town for years was a couple of average Italian restaurants, a pub, and a Friendly’s.

But now, living in the D.C. suburbs, we are absolutely spoiled for choice. D.C. itself has a thriving foodie culture and our suburb has a number of immigrants who have brought their delicious food with them. So I’m dedicated to ensuring Sprout is exposed to all sorts of cuisine. So far, we’ve had Indian, Thai, Lebanese, dim sum, and authentic Chinese dumplings. But last weekend, we went a step more adventurous than we ever had before – Ethiopian.

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Not Your Grandma’s Craft Fair: Crafty Bastards Cabin Fever

Crafting is in my blood, even though I am not a Pinterest mom. My mom is High Mistress of Preschool Crafts and Perfectly Wrapped Gifts. When she wasn’t sewing my Halloween costumes, she loved dragging my dad and I around to craft fairs. Despite these fairs’ variable quality, I grew to appreciate beautiful hand-made things, from their creators’ unique vision to the ethics of buying small. So I love Crafty Bastards, DC’s annual professional-level craft fair supported by the local alternative newspaper. This past weekend, they held its first indoor winter edition (Crafty Bastards: Cabin Fever) in all of its hipster glory.

Buying stuff – even from small crafters – may seem contradictory to my simplifying goals, but I had a very particular focus: baby clothes and accessories. Although the new baby will inherit most of Sprout’s clothes and toys, I want him to have at least a few of his own things as well. Even though he won’t know the difference, I don’t want everything to be a hand-me-down. One of my worries is that I’ll compare him to Sprout too much and not value him as an individual. Buying a few things just for him provides a little bit of peace on that front.

Hecht Warehouse Crafty Bastards

Hecht Warehouse Lobby

Unlike the summer event that’s held outside, Crafty Bastards Cabin Fever was in a warehouse. But it wasn’t just any warehouse – a development company is in the process of turning into swanky condos. It was the most hipster place I’ve possibly ever been, both the good and bad of that term. From the food trucks outside to the distinctly steampunk lobby, it oozed cool. The lobby simultaneously made me think “Well, this is a bit much” and “This is really cool.”

In contrast, the booths were in the unfinished part, a veritable wonderland of interest for a kid. The organizers used the unpainted wall as a canvas, commissioning an artist to spray-paint a mural. Sprout enjoyed pointing out “pink flamingos!” several times. The uneven floor, especially one place where there was a gap between two concrete slabs and another where it sloped dramatically, were also big points of interest. Sprout walked up and down, back and forth, feeling how the changes in the floor felt and affected his balance. Most importantly, the large, open area created wide aisles to run down. Sprout usually did a good job holding our hands, but I let him wander where it wasn’t too crowded. (With me close behind, of course!)

Flamingos at Crafty Bastards 2When we weren’t chasing our child, Chris and I did manage to find some adorable clothes for the new baby. Mirasa Design had lion-patterned pajamas and supported literacy programs in developing countries. I couldn’t pick just one, so we bought two screen-printed onesies from Earth Cadets. From Stronge Designs, we not only picked up a onesie, but the seller talked us into getting a matching shirt for Sprout. It was on sale! I particularly liked that all of the vendors had great gender neutral clothing. It’s easy to find adorable stuff for little girls, but clothes for boys often shift abruptly from overly babyish to bizarrely aggressive. (Or worse, outright sexist.)

There were also a number of displays with items we loved that just didn’t fit our needs at the moment. Sprout was drawn to the booth of an artist who did huge, colorful paintings that he then nicked up like graffitied school desks. He spent several minutes looking at a painting of a garbage truck and two different ones of whales. The person at the booth (who I think may have been the artist’s wife) explained to us that the trash truck picture was actually inspired by one of her toddler son’s favorite books, Trashytown! Definitely one we’ll have to check out at the library.

Sprout also liked the handmade wooden cars at Christina Boy Design, which I may purchase later for the little one when he’s older. Zooguu’s mounted dragon heads were fantastic, but Sprout had his eye on the smaller dinosaurs. All of the artist’s items were particularly neat because she made each one with fabric scraps, making them both envi
ronmentally sustainable and totally unique. I came very close to purchasing a print of a raccoon under the stars for the baby’s room from Small Doses of Wonder, but I wanted to settle on a definitive theme first. As Chris said, if we ended up going with the jungle theme over the forest, the print would be like a raccoon on vacation.

We even sampled a few of the food vendors, with Harper Macaw handing out pieces of chocolate. Much to my surprise and delight, Sprout enjoyed the 74% dark chocolate (or at least he didn’t spit it out), a far cry from the milk chocolate most kids prefer.

On our way out, we hit up a couple of the non-buying opportunities for fun. A craft table with patterned paper and shaped hole punches held Sprout’s attention for at least 10 minutes. He sat on my lap as he happily punched out a bunch of hearts and airplanes. The photo booth – which I was more excited about – was less successful. He refused to wear a hat – not even a fireman one – and protested when I wanted to put on oversized sunglasses. While I wasn’t going to make him wear anything, I’m also trying to teach him he can’t dictate others’ choices, so ignored his directions on the sunglasses. As a result, he’s vaguely frowning in all three photos, while I’m making odd faces or trying to fix my hair because I couldn’t figure out when the camera was going off. At least the pictures were free!

Crafty Bastards Cabin Fever offered a great opportunity to get out of the house after almost a month of focusing on tidying. I’m glad that we have the chance to browse and buy from such great small artists and crafters on a regular basis.

Ferris Wheels and Cherry Tomatoes: The Montgomery County Fair

Giant cows, sheep in coats, neon Ferris wheels, huge wheels of cheese, racing pigs and deep fried everything – just a few of the wonders found at our local county fair. Except for the pig races, which we sadly missed, we experienced all of these last Sunday at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair. But the thing I cared about the most was one little ribbon in one little pavilion on a plate full of cherry tomatoes. To be precise, my cherry tomatoes.

I’ve always loved county fairs. We frequently attended the Saratoga County Fair when I was a kid, home of many animal exhibits and at least one absolutely terror-inducing ride that clearly didn’t meet any reasonable level of safety standards. When we moved to Montgomery County, which has an entire agricultural reserve, I knew it would have a worthwhile fair. With three years of gardening experience, I thought it would be fun to enter my tomatoes in the fair last year, but it directly overlapped with our trip to Disney World. So I held off until this year.

While I do think of them as “my tomatoes,” gardening is really a family affair. We picked cherry tomatoes because it’s the one crop that we always have plenty to spare. This year, I was particularly proud of them because I raised the plants from seed I had saved, so they were fully mine. But they would have died long ago without Chris’s regular watering and pruning. Even Sprout helps out, using his little can to water (mainly his shoes) and picking red tomatoes (that usually go from the branch right into his mouth). I wasn’t able to pick the tomatoes for the fair myself without a small person trying to steal half of them, so Chris did it for me and even dropped them off for judging. It was the perfect job to tap his fine dining training – as he said, “I’m actually really good at small, repetive motions to make things look just perfect.”

Table of tomatoes

So walking up to the vegetable table at the Farm and Garden and Flowers Department was exciting for everyone. Spout was already thrilled that we got to ride a school bus from the parking lot, so this was yet another amazing thing of the day. I stopped breathing as I looked for our plate. First place was literally a five dollar prize that they probably haven’t increased since 1950, but it was the pride of it that mattered.

Our entry turned out to be pretty easy to find because it was the only one with the stems still on the tomatoes. Although person accepting the entries recommended to Chris remove them, but he was worried about bruising one in the process. While none of the stems fell off – which would have disqualified us – they were a little wilted, which detracted from the tomatoes’ deep red just a bit.

Awardwinning tomatoes

All of that considered, we received – an honorable mention ribbon. But hey, it was something! I was a little disappointed that we didn’t place in the top three or even five, but it was a solid showing for the first year participating.

It made me feel validated as a gardener. Even though I’ve grown pounds upon pounds of food for my family and raised enough seedlings to give away to others, this outside recognition of my skill was special. It felt like entering an exclusive – albeit quirky – club. It was a similar feeling to the first time my writing was published in print. Like the connection I feel to my neighborhood while gardening, it was the sense of contributing to the history and larger whole of the county’s Agriculture Reserve. As someone relatively new to gardening in the grand scheme of things, it also reminded me of how far I’ve come. Only four years ago, my neighbor was betting to her friend against my garden being successful. She’d be so proud to see my ribbon now.

We celebrated our recognition by looking at all of the animal exhibits. Many of the animals at the Fair are owned by 4H students, who raise them as projects. Sprout’s favorites were definitely the chickens and bunnies – they’re more his size and less overwhelming than the cattle.

From there, we abandoned all pretense of sustainability or “local food” and headed to the Carnival. Filling up on fried chicken on a stick, fried green tomatoes, mutant-large corn on the cob, and watermelon, we tried to prevent get-away attempts from an excited small child. Fortunately for him, the next stop was a Funhouse in the style of the one in Grease. Starting with the rickety stairs to the slide at the end, he ran through with a smile.

Ferris Wheel

We ended our night with the county fair classic – the Ferris Wheel. I have a necklace with a picture of an old-fashioned Ferris Wheel on it, which I’ve been telling Sprout about for months. After 20 minutes of waiting, we stepped into the car. As the wheel rotated, it lifted us up high above the fairgrounds, each step up revealing a little more landscape. The other rides glowed blue, red, and green, lines and curves of neon. The exhibits we had been at earlier retreated in the distance, dark as the animals started to bed down. The pop music from the rides and the chattering of the crowds lessened to a low background accompaniment. Once in a while, I would glance over at Sprout, who was in Chris’s lap across from me. His eyes were wide, his mouth parted just slightly, not a smile, but his signature look of concentration. He just watched, as he always does.

Viewfrom Ferris Wheel

And tonight, as all nights, he was watching Chris and I. He was watching our pride in our handiwork, just as he watched and helped us tend the plants. He watched our participation in the larger community, engaging with the 4H students. He watched as we enjoyed simple pleasures like the Funhouse and Ferris Wheel. While I rarely do things just to “be an example,” I hope that my whole life is one, on that night and all of them.