Outer Banks, NC: Oh, My Sweet Carolina

We had a wonderful opportunity while visiting D.C. to sneak away for a few days to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My brother’s significant other’s family lives there in a beach front community in Corolla and invited us along for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is always best with friends and family, so we drove the 5-6 hours through Virgi20171122_113202_Film2nia to the Outer Banks barrier islands.

First off, it was a wonderful home with wonderful hosts. I can’t say enough about the hospitality of our new friends. And her parents’ house was simply beautiful – the beds were super comfortable, each room had access to the sea breeze outside, I didn’t have to share a bathroom with a 7 year old boy – it was a very relaxing time. And when we travel, we very seldom relax. There was much book reading and hammock napping and slow dinners on our agenda.

But of course, we wouldn’t be us if we didn’t explore. Here are some of the great family-friendly, little-guy-approved things:

  • Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk: Where would we be without airplanes? The flight line, Wright Brothers Monument and camp buildings are available to explore. Being a National Park, there was an EXCELLENT ranger talk on the history and a fun junior ranger program to join. Another badge!
  • Currituck Beach Lighthouse: There is a 220-step winding staircase that leads to the top of the lighthouse, where there is an incredible view of the sound and Atlantic Ocean. Inside the lighthouse are two exhibits on shipwrecks and coastal lighthouse history.
  • Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education: The sweet visitor center had a solid movie about the history of the area, specifically about how hunting changed it. There is a nice exhibit on the different birds and animals and a note-worthy collection of decoys.

And of course, the beautiful beaches of Corolla. Beachcombing, horseshoe crab singing, bird watching and we even saw the famous Corolla wild horses. And the beaches were practically empty because it was November yet the weather was good. Off season is still our favorite time to travel. 

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Washington D.C.!

Screenshot_2017-11-19-14-54-05It’s been a family dream to go to Washington D.C. We love museums and D.C. has the best in America. We had an opportunity over Thanksgiving break and began the difficult decision of choosing which museums we could manage in the three days we had. We flew on a red eye overnight and hit DC early in the morning, ready to explore museums and try out some key foodie stops. We stayed again at a Hyatt hotel right at the National Mall, so we could walk to the museums quickly and maximize the time we had.

Our museum recap:

  • Smithsonian Natural History Museum: This entire place is perfect for kids. Little’s teacher had told us to be sure to spend lots of time in the Hall of Human Origin and we did! There are great displays on the ocean (Ocean Hall), Dinos, Mammals, mummies, geology. We easily breezed through in 3-4 hours but skipped some areas like the butterfly pavilion. They have a special program for kids called Q?rius, but the programs were closed while we were there.
  • National Gallery: The National Gallery of Art is a piece of heaven on earth. I was most looking forward to the special exhibit of Vermeer paintings. From renaissance works to impressionism, classics, masters, pop art, modern – it’s a must-do in D.C. for kids. They provide free kids hour long programs and a museum guide for families/kids. We spent about 4 hours there and only saw half the museum.
  • Smithsonian Air and Space Museum: This museum was our first stop on a cold weekday morning and we were surprised to find not only a very long line but tons of kids, there for a field trip. Busloads of middle school kids. The space displays are amazing, including the Hubble Space telescope test vehicle. However, the historical aircraft sections (WW1, WW2, etc.) were not as impressive as we had hoped, but we are used to the amazing local Boeing Air and Space museum in Seattle, so our bar is set pretty darn high.
  • Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian: The Museum of the American Indian was very fascinating for the kiddo, especially because there were rooms dedicated to the lives of specific indigenous cultures. For example, there may be a room for Alutiq people, with their music, dance, religion, food, clothing all explained, and then you duck into the next room that focuses on the Inca. The museum has over almost one million items in collection. There was a dedicated kid’s room to explore but the museum itself was interesting enough for a seven year old. We stuck to the collections and not the exhibits as there were even more busloads of middle school kids than the air and space museum.
  • Smithsonian National Museum of American History:  The Museum of American History does a lot for kids; they have regular programs and a play/learn space called “Wegmans Wonderplace” which were geared for kids up to 6. We’ve passed that age now and our guy is more interested in the regular museum content. Favorite collections included the transportation area – trains and cars and even a life size street scene from Portland that hubby recognized right away – and the clothing display, which featured dresses from most of the first ladies.
  • National Portrait Gallery: The National Portrait Gallery was a surprise. We weren’t expecting too much but it was so much more than portraits. The presidential portrait hall is a must but surprise – it’s actually fun! There were portraits of tudors and queens, of important American historical figures, authors, artists. We spent time in an exhibit about Sylvia Plath. And it had a small but engaging kid’s program/space. You can draw a portrait – little had a blast being drawn by others and drawing others. Hack: This museum stays open late on Thursdays and Fridays, until 9! So you can visit after the other museums have closed early.

We need a whole week to see everything in DC. But that’s reason to go back! We also visited the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. We chose to visit the Lincoln memorial at night, which is another great tip – it’s beautiful, well lit, parking wasn’t a problem and the crowds were much smaller.

Food recap:

  • &pizza: My brother had joined us so we were looking for something fast, with vegan options and kid friendly. &pizza is a craft-your-own personal pizza place that had something for everyone.
  • Ben’s Chili Bowl: an iconic spot in DC, loaded with celebrity photos and DC civil rights history, this a tasty and inexpensive option. And because they offered vegetarian options, I had my first chili dog!
  • Old Ebbitt Grill: another historical spot, but a different kind of history. This sit-down, almost fancy one-time saloon is across from the white house and was frequented by many a president. They have a solid kid’s menu, great service, and a wonderful crab cake.
  • Mitsitam Café: this Native Foods café in the Museum of the American Indian serves indigenous foods. For us, that meant a fry bread taco. But the museum serves foods from the great plains, south American, northern woodlands (salmon! Clam soup!) so there is something for everyone. Like most Smithsonian cafes, it’s overpriced and busy, but very convenient if you are in between museums.

We aren’t sure when we will visit again, but we already have the list started of new museums and places to check out.

Portland: When you’ve left your heart in the Portland rain

Spring Break 2017!

We’ve been traveling to Portland a couple times a month to visit family lately. The routine is usually to drive there, see my mother in law, stay with my husband’s brother and family, maybe sneak away try  a new place to eat (we love the Portland food scene.)

We decided to do something a little different, stay a couple weekdays and invited little’s best friend and her mum along. I needed to log in and work during the day  so this was a wonderful solution – I would be able to focus on work while my friend took the littles out for adventure! And we could visit with family in the evening. And I was definitely looking forward to her company during the long drive.

We stayed at the Hyatt downtown in a newer area of town, near the University, OMSI food pods and River Walk. It was a little strange being in a part of the city that seemed to just pop up overnight but we do always like staying at the Hyatt. They do a great job for families – a little kitchenette, solid breakfast choices, a pool with noodles and life jackets you can borrow. The river walk is a great place for kids to stretch their legs; although for most of our time in the city, it was raining. It has been raining non stop since early October all over the Pacific Northwest.

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Thursday was a bit of a whirlwind; she took the kids to OMSI (apparently, even better than the science center here!) for most of the day. Even though it was a weekday and not spring break in Portland, it was packed. I took calls and worked from the hotel and she sent pics of the kids. clearly enjoying their day.

After work and visiting our family, we took the kids

Neon Golf
Neon Mini Golf!

downtown to play mini golf at Glowing Greens, in the basement of a building downtown and we had late night dinner in the area. The kids passed out pretty early, exhausted from the fun.

 

The next day, the kids spent most of the day in the pool. They had the whole place to themselves! We were excited to take our friends to our favorite burger place in Portland, little big burger. Truffle fries, root beer floats and sliders? Perfect little sized burgers for littles. And as a bonus, we were able to pick up my mother in law to join us. Great local spring break trip!

SwimBaby

Chicago: Via Chicago

Chicago is a city both the hubby and I love. The art deco buildings, the stark weather, train lines above your head and the just-a-little-dodgy back alleys. We lucked out with a ten-hour layover in Chicago on our latest trip and figured little guy was big enough to try to get out of the airport and see something cool.

I have friends who are from or currently live in Chicago so a quick poll on social media told us that leaving the airport was as easy as catching the Blue Line to downtown. Follow the signs out of the airport, buy a ticket and jump on. It was about 20 stops (give or take) and a good 50 minutes to the Jackson stop downtown.

We had thought to take a bus from there but as fans of Lyft and time, we called Lyft. Earlier this week, we debated between visiting the Shedd Aquarium, Planetarium, Art Institute or Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). Hubby works at a Science Museum and was very convinced that was our stop. Our wonderful Lyft driver had boys of her own and on the way to MSI, and she gave us the scoop. If you only have a few hours, you’ll want to visit the genetics display (with the cutest baby chicks ever and awesome frogs too), the miniature super-detailed Chicago and the giant train track, and the Toy Maker 3000 and the awesome weather exhibit. We had time to do a little more (Maurice Sendak art exhibit!), but her recommendations were SPOT on.

One of thchicago-3e reasons I was so easily convinced to check out MSI was that it is on the list of ASTC list – Association of Science and Technology Centers. They offer entrance to hundreds of partner museums patrons. In this case, our membership to the Pacific Science Center means a free visit at  MSI, which would have cost almost $70 chicago-2otherwise. Check out this link to learn more about ASTC – seriously, just visiting two out of state science museums more than covers the cost of the annual home museum membership.

We did splurge on one thing – we bought passes to Brick by Brick, a special Lego event demonstrating how construction, skyscraper and bridge building works. It included some fantastic Lego work as well, like Cinderella’s castle. I’m a big brick nerd and I really enjoyed the exhibit. Poor hubby had to practically pull the little and I out and remind us there was so much more to see.

After a full morning geeking out, we went to one of the more famous Chicago deep dish pizza joints, Lou Manalti’s. Hubby had never had true Chicago deep dish. And although it’s pretty good, I have to admit I’m just not crazy over it. The butter crust ends of making me feel greasy. But it’s tasty and fun to eat and a treat for a special place like this, like eating cracker pizza in Wisconsin or NYC style in Brooklyn. The real thing I loved at Lou Manalti’s every visit is the salad. It has this bruschetta flavor and a sweet but vinegary dressing that I’m crazy about. I still haven’t found the Chicago deep dish pizza that converts me but in chicago-1the name of science, I will continue the research. A friend recommended Giordanos but it opened too late this trip for us to investigate.

We hustled back to the airport in the afternoon with two hours to spare before out next flight, just because. And as it turns out, there was no need to hustle because American Airlines gave away our seats. I checked twice with the agents at the gate because I knew the flight was oversold and the second time I even caught some attitude. We were there early and went to board when called and there was a “glitch in the system” so someone else was already occupying our seats. I have a suspicion about that glitch: we used miles to buy our tickets so we were bumped and American wasn’t honest. To make things worse, they couldn’t promise where our luggage would land or when, which is pretty devastating to our next leg of the trip. We have a rental car and a road trip first thing in the morning, which we can’t move forward on without a car seat and clothes.

I’m beyond upset at them (it does get worse; they told us they rebooked us on United in terminal 1 and in fact they booked us on Aer Lingus in terminal 5; meaning a trip out of security and on the train.) I’ll send in a complaint but the truth is the folks at Aer Lingus are lovely. The plane is comfortable and they made sure to give us a row to ourselves. Complimentary dinner and some doting on the little and he’s fast asleep as I’m typing this and we are flying over the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe this is for the best; I didn’t want to be cramped up and bitter dealing with all those rude and inefficient American Airline employees. Then again, maybe everything is better when it’s done with an Irish Accent.

If things go well, I will be updating from Galway and the Wild Atlantic Way tomorrow night, hopefully showered by that point.

Alaska: Comin’ down the mountain

Today’s adventure was Hatcher Pass in the Talkeetna Mountains. It’s a nice day trip from AnchoBlueberryBushrage or the Matanuska Valley, where we are located. During July and August, the (almost) 4000 ft pass is open all the way and provides for some amazing views – you feel like you arBerriese in a scene from the Lord of the Rings. Many of the peaks surrounding the pass are as high as 6000 ft.

Hatcher Pass was a major gold mining district and you can still see abandoned mines hanging in the mountains under glaciers. We were there for a completely different treasure: our annual low bush blueberry harvest.

We take a fairly steep trail, loading all of us (family and friends) into a four wheeler and RZR ATV. This allows us access to our super special place where we only see one other couple picking across the valley. In two hours, we have 15+ pounds. There are four of us picking and one little guy mostly eating. We use Linden Berry Pickers, which you can see in the picture of little. They make quick work of picking but we then have to pull out crowberries and leaves later. Well, some of us do… Maggie and I are a little more OCD in our blueberry picking.

I can’t pretend our last day was perfect. I had hoped to be home in time to take little on a hike to Thunderbird Falls. Instead, we had an incident with the four-wheeler which left myself, my parents and our pal Maggie to hike down (!!!) while my brother took the RZR with my kiddo. I was wearing birkenstocks and woefully unprepared for a hike through the brush and a stream crossing. Ouch.

OncBlueberryJelly.jpge we finally arrived home, it was time to begin the jelly. I like to use Pomona Pectin (http://www.pomonapectin.com) for low sugar jams and jellies. For this batch, we didn’t use any processed traditional sugar but instead sweetened the jelly with apple juice. It took a little longer to begin to jell but success! We have a little time to rest now for our trip home early tomorrow morning. Alaska, it’s never goodbye but always see you again!

 

 

Alaska: Waving from Such Great Heights

We are in Alaska! This is an easy trip and one we take annually if not twice a year. It’s super inexpensive as we enjoy free room and board here as well as free entertainment, outdoor recreation and concierge salmon fishing. What a deal, right? Did I mention this is where Nana and Papa live? To Little, it’s heaven on earth.

For this trip, I am working remotely and thus we aren’t doing much exploring beyond the local area in Butte, Alaska. Butte is located in the Matanuska Valley. The Matanuska Valley was settled by pioneers in 1935 as a part of “The New Deal” and over 200 families were relocated here from Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, specifically chosen for their proved ability to farm in tough, cold climates. It’s no wonder that my own parents from the Northwoods foButteSummit.pngund themselves here.

A few highlights:

Hiking! Little summited his first peak! His uncle Kurtis and friend Maggie took him up the trail in what ended up a torrential downpour. But he made it to the top! The trail is a relatively tough little hike, just over three miles but with lots of elevation gain. The trick to it is hiking up the right side that is maintained and has stairs for the step sections. http://aktrailhead.com/bodenburg/bodenburKnikJimsCreekg.shtml

Fishing! Little loves to fish. This summer he has caught cutthroat trout, perch, small mouth bass and bluegill. Of course he was excited to fish in Alaska with his papa! It’s good to know the salmon runs. We had hoped to catch a few silver (coho) salmon but the run just had not quite come into the creek we usually fish at. If we could stay a few extra days odds would have been much better. It was still a great opportunity to hang out with the family in one of the  most beautiful locations in the world.

carrotsGardening! The valley is known for being Alaska’s farming region. My own parents have a wonderful garden and greenhouse on their property. They grow squash, peas, beans, potatoes, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, onions, pumpkins, raspberries, currants, herbs and so much more. It’s a lot of work – my mom is processing as I type. She’s shredding and freezing veggies and canning fruit jams. It’s a great time of year to be here as little can spend hours outside helping her. We have just a couple days left and a few more great spots to hit so I will update more tomorrow.

 

 

 

North woods: I’m up in the woods

You are probably wondering where in the world the north woods is. For decades, the residents of the area have called it the “north woods” but technically it’s a designated ecoregion, defined by the types of trees, geology, geography and ecosystem found there. It’s the area surrounding the great lakes, comprised of

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My niece and the little guy at my grandmother’s party

Upper Michigan, Northern Wisconsin and Northern Minnesota. It’s a temperate mixed forest and the easiest way to explain where my people come from as they stretch from Houghton to Green Bay, from Marquette to Duluth and all the way to Mackinaw (check out Kilwin’s Ice Cream and Fudge if you are ever there and say hi to Cousins Jay and Wendy!) Okay, so we have a few randos that moved from Eagle River to Chicago or Iron River to Detroit, but we won’t count them.

 

My folks left right after high school and never really looked back. We lived in North Dakota, Germany and finally settled in Alaska. My large extended family is still (mostly) there and we headed east in June to join everyone to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday with the family.

WinningMy grandmother lives on Gilbert Lake, which provides the kiddos with a wonderful opportunity to fish on a closed lake, meaning there isn’t any public access. Little caught small mouth bass, blue gill, perch – all catch and release. 9 fish in one day and 11 the next! Nearby there is Gibson Lake, which has a playground and picnic facilities.

PaintRiverLanding
Paint River Landing

 

 

To begin the adventure, my cousin, niece and our little family flew to Minneapolis to meet up with my sister and brother. We rented cars and drove 5 hours to our home for the next week, Paint River Landing. It’s a lovely renovated-but-still-rustic

PaintRiver
The Paint River from our deck

set of cabins complete with lodge/bar/restaurant that has all the important stuff: wifi, beer on tap, delish fried cheese curds, a fish fry on Fridays and live music on the weekends.

Before my grandmother’s party, we managedCousins to join a few cousins on my mom’s side of the family for a little reunion (~50 people) on Sunset Lake, where I spent many childhood summers. The park was unchanged from the early 80’s – remarkable in that the equipment did not look safe in any way, shape or form. While horrified to watch my kid follow his cousins up a (seemingly) 3-story metal slide, I was reminded that I somehow survived without plastic slides or wood chips. I mean, the slide ended on a concrete pad. CONCRETE, people. But it was wonderful to see so many of my cousins’ kids playing together!

As a whole, the trip was successful. My sister and I weren’t able to stop in Spread Eagle and take hilarious photos for Instagram (an tradition every time we are back) but we were able to eat at Riverside Pizza in Iron River too many times. Wausau? jokes were made as we drove through, the Menominee (to the tune of the muppet’s menomena) song was sung with glee and there was antiquing in Florence where my sister scored a stripper lamp. No, really.

We ended the trip in Minneapolis, arriving with enough time to hit The Mall of America – only the Lego Store and Nickelodeon World. Nickelodeon World proved to be the perfect way to kill time before the long flight home. There were just enough mellow, younger rides that we maxed out our time and he slept most of the flight home.