"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Of Family, Adventures, Coffee and A Beast

Last weekend, the in-laws came up to visit from Florida. If you guys remember, last November Charles and I flew down to visit them for Charles's cousin Bea's wedding. And if you remember, Charles's family are experts at having fun.

Case in point: Charles's family at Bea's wedding last November.
They arrived Friday afternoon. We took the Metro down into DC to meet them at the airport. Charles and I tend to be punctual to 5 minutes late when meeting up with our North American friends. When it comes to meeting up with fellow Hispanics, punctuality is not quite as important as we all tend to run "fashionably late". (Remember this for later.) So we made it onto the Metro about 15 minutes later than originally planned and ended up arriving at the airport about 30 minutes later than originally expected...which worked out perfectly: the in-laws were renting a car and they had just finished all the paperwork by the time we arrived.

Charles notices the randomest things.
Charles took the wheel of the rental and we took them down to National Harbor, where we gave them the tour of the piers and the stores.

One of the piers. There was a flag for every US state and territory.
I just love the whole idea of the giant coming out of the sand!

Photo is NOT enhanced and it was taken with my cell phone! This is how gorgeous this area is!
The new Capitol Wheel

We then had dinner at Rosa Mexicano, which is now my favorite Mexican restaurant. Seriously worth the long drive to National Harbor just to dine there again!

Now, FIL is as much of a coffee fan as I am, and he had said when he first got off the plane that he had given up on any notion of having any good coffee while visiting us. Remember he is Cuban and Cubans like their coffee hard-core, just like Puerto Ricans do. We ordered the espresso at Rosa Mexicano (it is driving me batty that that "Mexicano" should end in an "a"!) They served it extra dark with a tiny rind of candied orange that I dunked into the coffee. It was amazing and FIL approved. We were off to a good start!

We had gelato at a place called SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier. They carry chocolates from the Dominican Republic that looked way too pretty to eat. The gelato was absolutely amazing. Charles had the triple chocolate and I had the butter pecan.

As usual, we ate too much with the in-laws! 

We walked around until traffic had died down and then drove back to our part of Maryland. One of the things on the agenda for the weekend was to look at trucks. Charles's truck died back in the spring and we had been functioning with only one car since then. Thankfully, public transportation is awesome in this area, so having only one car is totally doable, especially if you live close to work like we do. However, we were worried about winter + public transportation. The winter forecast for the NE and Mid-Atlantic this year is pretty awful. We wanted to have a second vehicle before them...preferably 4WD so we could get through snow...and since we were looking at 4WD vehicles, why not just look at things that could tow a horse trailer? So we saved up money and did our research. By the time the in-laws arrived, we had a List of Potential Used Trucks lined up. There was one in particular that we really liked, that had all the specs we wanted, and was within our price range. 

Charles's dad works in the auto industry and knows everything there is to know about cars. We told him what we wanted but not necessarily why...they haven't always understood the horse craze (though they try very hard to understand) and deep down inside we were afraid they wouldn't be supportive if we told them the main reason why we specifically wanted A Giant 4WD Truck (V8, 5.3L+, back seat so we can both sleep inside the truck if we need to...or shove bags of feed...or crewing equipment that we don't want to get wet, etc...) was so we could pull a horse trailer. Oh and so we could get through snow. And camp out. And stuff. :)

FIL decided we should drive around some of our area's used car dealerships to see what trucks they had with the specs we were looking for. We basically just drove to every dealership (there are several spread out over a couple of blocks not far from the apartment) and walked around the lots looking at the cars without talking to anyone. Everything was WAAAAY out of our price range and it really put things in perspective for FIL (he always has contacts from whom he can purchase cars inexpensively, but he's in FL and bringing a car into MD from out of state will cost you an arm and a leg in taxes. Ask me how I know). We didn't want to buy from some stranger (which would have been oh so much cheaper but you never know what you're going to get), we wanted to buy from a reputable dealer (so we could have warranties and such), of which there are a couple in our area. FIL didn't understand why we wanted something so big and kept pointing out smaller cars that also had 4WD. 

As we were driving out of the last dealership, Charles's dad suddenly asked, "Wait a minute...you guys want to tow a horse trailer?" He figured it out on his own. The way he said it, it was almost like some spirit had whispered it in his ear.

"Ummm...yeeeahh..." we said sheepishly.

"OH! That explains it!" He completely switched gears. FIL has towed boats so of course he knows about the kind of truck needed to pull that weight, and he had a bazillion helpful suggestions. (Lauren's post on boating vs horseback riding comes at a very appropriate time! Go read it here. Charles's parents have always had boats, so towing is a talk they can definitely talk. And yes: they are very much like what Lauren chose to represent endurance riders! There is a sand bar just outside of the Fort Lauderdale intracoastal where they love to hang out on their boat with their other boating friends.)


Conveniently, there is a hotel in our neighborhood and that's where the in-laws were staying at. (Because our apartment is tiny and Charles's dad is very allergic to cats.) We drove to the hotel, where we hung out together for a while. I pulled up the pics and specs on the truck that Charles and I really liked, and was thrilled when FIL was impressed by our choice and by how much Charles had been able to negotiate the price down already (oh yeah: we had already been pre-approved for it. We just needed to go see it in person.) We talked cars for awhile. Charles sat on the bed next to his mom, watching us like his dad and I were some sort of show.
MIL: "I have no idea what they're talking about."
Charles: "Me neither. I feel like such a girl right now."
MIL: *laughing*
Charles: "Hey Dad, can we go to the mall now?"


The next day we were supposed to meet up with Bea, Charles's cousin who lives in VA, to go to Great Falls and Harper's Ferry. Bea was driving up from Richmond, which takes 2 hours, so the earliest we would be meeting up would be at 11 am. 

We decided that that was plenty of time for all of us to drive over to Annapolis to see the truck in question.

Annapolis is an hour away, btw.

So we met up with Charles's parents at 8:00 am, picked up breakfast at a Dunkin Donuts (yesss egg white flatbread sandwich!) and hit the road. We were in Annapolis by 9:00 am, just as the dealership was opening. Charles knew that the salesman he had already negotiated with on the phone would be working that day, so he asked for him when one of the guys came out to say hello.

Charles's dad pointed out some things about the truck as we were waiting, but he had this intense sort of glow about him that basically sang that he really liked the truck. The salesman came out as FIL had popped the hood to inspect the motor and was pointing out parts that had been replaced. (Nothing bad.) Charles's dad started talking to the salesman with a wicked twinkle in his eye that motivated MIL and I to step away so he could do his thing.

The poor salesman would proceed to sweat bullets from here on out. FIL is a great negotiator when it comes to cars.

The end result is that this happened, for an even better deal than what Charles had originally negotiated:

Guys, meet The Beast!
The problem was that the salesman had said this would all be done in 45 minutes. Which would have meant being done at 9:45 am. At 11:00 am we were still at the dealership. And Bea was only 30 minutes away from our meeting point, which was an hour away from Annapolis (fashionably late, as expected, but we were running truly late!) 

It was decided that MIL and I would drive down in their rental car to meet up with Bea so she wasn't waiting 8 bazillion years for us to return. We would just wait with her at a small strip mall about 5 minutes from Great Falls.

Right after we'd arrived at the mall, Charles called to let us know they were on their way. He asked us to wait for him and his dad before we had lunch. For whatever reason we assumed that meant they were not that far away. 

As it turns out, they had just left Annapolis, which we would realize an hour later! We were able to catch up with Bea and her husband John while we waited since neither MIL nor I had seen them since their wedding last year. 

We were all STAAARRRVING by the time Charles arrived. We all went to Vie de France, an amazing little bakery that we had first tried out when my mom visited last year. Charles's family was as impressed with the food as we had been when we first discovered the place.

I pointed out to FIL that they served some pretty good French-pressed coffee at this place. He ordered a cup and approved. 


From left to right: John, Bea, Charles, moi, and MIL
We had an excess of cars now: the in-laws' rental, Bea's car, and The Beast. The Beast can accommodate 6 people, so we all crammed in for the short drive over to Great Falls.

We all fit, see?
The in-laws loved the falls as much as we do, though it was kind of an adventure just to make it to the falls themselves, since Charles insisted that the 3 mile route was shorter than the 1/4 mile route...the in-laws and I won: we took the much shorter 1/4 mile route!

The rapids section of the falls

And then we piled back into the truck to go back to the Vie en France parking lot, where we all split up into the three cars. We drove back to the in-laws' hotel, where we dropped off The Beast. Charles and I got in the car with Bea and John, and the in-laws followed us.

Where were we going? Harpers Ferry, WV. It's only a 40 minute drive from our area, and none of the family had ever seen or heard of it before.

The Potomac
Where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers meet
More walking and exploring. I think we walked a total of 6 miles or so on this day. Harpers Ferry is unlike anything Charles and I had ever seen before, though it has a subtle familiarity to it: it reminds us a little of the Morro castle in Old San Juan, PR while being completely different at the same time. It is a small functioning town that has been preserved to look the way it used to during the Civil War. Charles's family enjoyed it as much as we did the first time we saw it.

We got back into the cars to drive in the general direction of home, stopping at a Carrabas in Frederick for dinner. We were loud and obnoxious and had the waiter laughing along with us by the end of the evening. :) Bea and John then got into their car to continue on their way home to VA, and we got into the in-laws' rental to drive back to our part of MD. 

The next day was MIL's birthday and we took her and FIL to Founding Farmers for breakfast. It is a restaurant unique to this area; there is one in DC and one in Montgomery County (where we live) and they both get so packed for breakfast that you have to make reservations! All of their food is bought from small farms across the US, and ALL of their food is made from scratch. Even the sodas! It is one of our favorite places specifically for breakfast and Charles and I go about once a month. Yes, we have date mornings. :)

Charles's dad ordered the cappuccino when I recommended it, and again he approved. So guys: if you want real coffee, just visit this part of Maryland. ;)

FIL had been asking repeatedly when were we going to go see Lily, how far away was the barn, etc. So we took them over to the barn so they could say hi to Lily and meet Gracie. I set up grain and we continued on our merry way over to Frederick, MD.

Frederick is a fairly large town about 30 minutes north of us, nestled against the mountains. It has a beautiful historic downtown area that looks very much like Old Town in Alexandria, VA. Except Frederick is the real deal. Old Town was made to look like Frederick and the prices of homes and rentals there show it.

Frederick is one of Charles's and my favorites in this area.

This is the art district.

This store sold all things dog!

Lots of random, brightly colored houses mixed in among the brick buildings.

They have a ton of small boutique-type stores that are a million times more affordable than anything you'd find in Alexandria. There's an awesome little outdoor sports store named The Trail House that basically carries the same stuff at REI but at a fraction of the cost. I scored a pair of Prana shorts on sale for a song.

The sky was starting to get pretty dark and ominous. We were walking by this place:

Sabor de Cuba

...And decided to stop in for coffee.

And everything on the menu looked so good, we decided to get food.

Charles and I shared a Cuban sandwich and a chicken soup like the kind your Cuban grandmother makes!
The fam
Love this one!
We also had a slice of coconut flan shared between the four of us (OMG so good), and real Cuban espresso. Charles's dad also approved of the coffee here. It was as good as anything I ever had in Miami.

It rained the entire time we were in the restaurant but it stopped by the time we were finished eating. We explored some more, then piled back into the car for the drive back home.

The in-laws were tired by this point and Charles had had an allergy all day long (I think it's the ragweed), so it was decided we'd part ways so everyone could take naps. The in-laws acted like it was the end of the day and I was kind of bummed: it was MIL's birthday. I had figured we'd all go out and do something else later.

Charles tried to take a nap but wasn't tired, so we went back out to do our grocery shopping for the week. By then we were hungry again and we decided to call the in-laws.

Charles: "Hey Mom! What are you doing?"
MIL: "Just getting some work done over here." (She is a college professor)
Charles: "Are you hungry??"
MIL: *laughing* "You know, I had just literally told your dad that I'm kind of hungry. So yes."

Back in the car, and off to Cheesecake Factory for a light dinner and cheesecake to celebrate the birthday.

The in-laws were leaving the next day, Labor Day. We met up for brunch and then I got dropped back off at home so I could get ready for work. (Yup, my hospital doesn't close for holidays.) Charles would be going in later in the evening so he had plenty of time to spend with his parents.

We had a truly fantastic time with Charles's family!


  1. Congrats on the truck! Now to find a trailer... Sounds like an awesome weekend with amazing food. That is my type of weekend! I think this post made me a little hungry...

    1. Thanks! :D Haha yes, hanging out with both of our families requires a pre-visit diet! There's always food involved!

  2. We almost named our truck Beast, but ended up going with the Big Sully (we were thinking of Avatar, but Monsters Inc would work too.)

    Sounds really nice. I didn't realize you were so close to Frederick. I have a friend I've known for forever who works at the college there. Just another reason to come visit. T has seven half-brothers and one half-sister in the area as well.

    1. The Big Sully! I love it!

      Yes, we're about 20 miles from Frederick. :) Close enough that Charles will go to the Walmart Supercenter there for groceries instead of the one in Germantown (the Frederick one is less crowded.) Sugar Loaf Mountain is on the outskirts of Frederick and that's less than an hour away. Yes! Come visit! :D

  3. I am now hungry and craving coffee!:) I'm so excited that you guys got a truck - it's amazing how much life opens up when you get one!

  4. Congrats on the truck purchase, I LOVE my Chevy truck!

    1. Thanks Melissa! It seemed to be one of the #1 trucks at endurance rides, and the reviews online were outstanding!

  5. Nice truck! We also tow with a Chevy and love it. Happy towing :)

  6. Frederick is a SUPER place - I only got to spend an hour there but would love to go back. I'm drooling thinking of breakfast at that Farmer place, it's my favorite meal and that sounds YUM!

    You already live in about my favorite place in the whole country so this just makes me more jealous. I absolutely adore MD and in fact, am considering moving there. Heard the taxes are $$$, though, so might have to settle or DE or VA. We'll see!

    1. We really love this area! I recommend comparing taxes between the different states here: VA and MD end up being about the same. Where one is higher, the other is lower and they kind of even out. Taxes in each county are different too: Frederick is in Frederick County and is less expensive overall than our area, which is Montgomery County. If you live in the mountains farther from the city (like the areas north of Frederick or southern MD), everything is significantly less expensive.

      DE is about 2 hours away and I honestly know nothing about the state, other than we do get clients at our hospital that drive all the way from there with their pets for specialty care. I'm going to assume it's even less to live there! :)

      There are some beautiful areas in VA about 30 min - 1 hr outside the Arlington/Allexandria/DC city limits that are also very affordable.

      Good luck with the possible move! If there are any questions I can help you with, let me know!

  7. Coming from a Hispanic i definitely know the lateness factor. Congrats on the truck and it sounds like you guys ate some awesome food, saw a lot of beautiful things and drank great coffee.

  8. I'm glad you all had such a fun visit and such a fruitful truck shopping outing. Now, trailerssssssssssssssssss.