Leavenworth: White Winter Hymnal

20171105_092814How does one – as someone who loves travelling and German culture – live this close to Leavenworth (Washington’s Christmas Village) and I never visited until now? We loved Leavenworth and it will be an annual trip from now on! It’s only 2.5 hours away, over snowy Stevens Pass.

Those wonderful friends we like to travel and camp with are back in for this adventure. We rented a log A-frame near Leavenworth and packed up the snow pants. And thank goodness, as it turned out we needed them. The A-frame rental was quite reasonable and an Airbnb find. We spent the first night playing board games and making dinner together and heading to bed so we could have a proper adventure Saturday.

Things that we did (little approved): 20171104_105804

1. The fish hatchery so the kids could explore and learn a little. The hatchery has been there for more than 75 years and at one time was the largest salmon hatchery in the world. They currently raise 1.2 million salmon fry and release them into Icicle Creek. There is a cute visitor center there, activities for kids and of course the fish viewing.nutcracker

2. Next stop was to Leavenworth’s main drag. It’s adorable! Faux-Bavarian everywhere. First stop was exploring the Christmas shops and coffee.

3. The Nutcracker Museum. There are so many nutcrackers – more than you could ever think a nutcracker museum could have. There is a scavenger hunt for kids and the history and displays are enjoyable (but slightly creepy) for adults.20171104_144430_Burst01

4. We did the Aplets and Cotlets tour. If you are from Washington, you will be familiar with the strange candy (?) that is made here. I’m not sure if “tour” is the right word, but it was a hit with the kids for the free samples and machines.

 

5. We came back to town at night and enjoyed the Christmas lights in the town center, which were just being put up.

Places to eat: Of course there were tons of German options and I can’t wait to try more!

  • We were on the lookout for an authentic German sausage stop that would include veggie options. We found a great one in Munchen Haus. The food was great, we sat outside in the beer garden (family friendly, at least during the day). The only thing missing was Gluhwien! Get on that, Leavenworth!
  • Looking for a place to pick up something to bring home (bratwurst and currywurst), we checked out Cured. We found what we wanted in their tiny shop plus they had lots of samples to try.
  • Sunday we had planned on more but we woke to a good snow coverage and the passes closing. We were out the door when the sun came up and over the pass, stopping at the Maltby Café for a famous cinnamon roll on the way back.

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Washington Parks: Camping We Will Go

When you live someplace as magical as the Pacific Northwest, you try to enjoy it as much as you can when it isn’t raining. We plan 3-4 camping trips every year. This summer’s trips (in addition to the Westport trip I already wrote about) included:

Our annual trip to Mt. Rainier National Park with our very good friends. I’ve discussed our awesome Mt. Rainier trips before. This year was a little different because we stayed in the park instead of the National Forest outside. Little dude did a junior ranger program and earned a badge AND a patch! We hiked a new-to-us trail that was just over a mile and simply stunning. We had a younger friend with us and his little legs may not have kept up with the more strenuous Natches Peak hike we did last year.

Deception Pass State Park – arguably one of the most beautiful parks in Western Washington, thus one of the most popular. State Parks are often good choices when traveling with kiddos because there are flush toilets and showers you can use. We spent as much time as we could on the beach, throwing rocks, running after the tide and watching sunsets. National Forests tend to have less facilities – pit toilets, etc. – but as a result are often quieter, as more families choose more developed campgrounds.

I’m already planning our camping trips for next summer! We have a fail-proof system. Some pointers to share:

  • Packing: We keep a large plastic bin with all of our camping gear in it. It includes camping pots, pans, plastic dishes, utensils, coffee, French press, travel towels, napkins, toilet paper, first aid kit, a few small card/board games, crayons, etc. When we return from a trip, simply wash anything that needs to be washed and put the bin away. Knowing I just have to grab the bin, any food we have planned on in a cooler, our cots, tent and sleep bags makes camping prep super easy and less than 30 minutes to get out the door!
  • Food: We coordinate with our friends for meal planning. We keep small boxes of cereal on hand in our camping bin so breakfast/quick snack is always covered. For lunches, we divide and conquer fruit, bread, cheeses, peanut butter, jelly, deli meats and chips with our friends. Everyone brings something and we pool it together. For dinners, we plan on something more extensive. We’ll have a spaghetti night or taco night with everyone contributing something (meatballs, garlic bread, salad, etc). Meal sharing this way is not only fun but a great way to cut down on how much you have to bring. Sometimes we go fancy – I’ve made a lasagna in a dutch oven over a campfire before.
  • Making reservations: We generally reserve our spots in Feb. for the summer. Everyone else has the same idea in the summer and it’s darn near impossible to find great spots if you haven’t reserved ahead of time.

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Westport, WA: Our little hideaway beneath the waves

We had scheduled a little get away to the coast months ago with friends and the weekend finally happened! Our little family usually heads to the Oregon coast for ocean time. Manzanita is a favorite as well as Astoria – but we haven’t spent time on the Washington coast in years and little has never even been. Planning started and next thing you new, in the dark winter we booked a beachside yurt at Twin Harbors State Park and waited months for our adventure weekend to arrive.

yurt.jpgI’ll be honest – the times we have spent on the WA coast camping (Ocean Shores, Long Beach) it’s been a little rowdy. Perhaps it was the weather (record rain this year) or maybe the fact that half the campground was closed (flooded over the winter) or maybe that the mosquitos were beyond aggressive, the park was mostly empty and mellow. And the beach is just a little path from the yurts! Some other benefits of the park include flushing toilets, running water, and HOT showers. The yurt was a great treat, with a futon and queen/twin bunk bed, electricity and a heater.

The first thing we did when we arrived at the park was grab our kite and head out tokites catch the fabulous wind and sunshine. It’s about a three hour drive from Seattle, barring traffic. We settled into the yurt by unpacking and making sure all devices were charging (I know, I know) and then stayed up extra late scooting around the campground, eating all things grilled and playing games.

Saturday we decided to check out the nearby (5 minutes) town of Westport to grab a few last minute items from the little grocery store. Westport is small (~2000 residents) and has a nice harbor where fishing charters head out and you can watch them return with salmon ice creamand lingcod. The weigh station on the harbor can be endless fun, checking out the big fish that come in and guessing their weight. You can buy crab there, fresh. There are also at least four ice cream shops and three taffy and toy stores and a few places to eat that looked good. At the end of the harbor is a large observation tower you can climb up to; we saw many pelagic birds and some seals resting on a buoy.

whale

After Westport, we headed to the beach where we enjoyed some 4x4ing with our friend A. and her mum; we drove out for a while and stumbled onto a dead seal (head gone and big bite taken out!) with vultures sitting on it – and next a female grey whale that had washed ashore about a month earlier. It was gross, but what a fabulous way to talk about biology. We looked for all of the scavengers that were utilizing the whale for energy as well as the various states of decomposition.

Little also completed a Junior Ranger program. Ask a ranger if the park you are at has one; it’s a great activity for kids and focuses on the hyper-local environment they are at.

Unfortunately, a whooper of a storm rolled in Saturday night and all outdoor activities were suspended. Did I tell you again how excited we were to stay in a yurt? We were warm and dry but made sure to scoot home as soon as we woke up Sunday morning. We have more camping adventures already scheduled for the rest of the summer and we can’t wait!

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Seattle: Singing in the Rain

It’s SPRING!

Where did the time go? I had planned on blogging about our favorite Seattle Christmas

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Santa at Swanson’s Nursery

activities, as we have a ton. We did make it to Swanson’s nursery to meet Santa. It was our first year not going to Nordstrom downtown. I don’t have the flexibility at work to take a little time off when Ben does on a Monday, which was the only way to avoid a two hour line. Swanson’s was adorable, there were reindeer to pet and we bought a beautiful centerpiece for dinner while we were there. As low key as it was, we still had to make reservations a month in advance.

 

My family was in from Alaska and that was a first. In the 16 Christmases I have been here, if I wanted to see any of them, it was north to Alaska or bust. My mom, dad, sister, brother in law and

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How to get a young woman to make gingerbread houses with her little cousin: wine.

niece where ALL here. It was dreamy and full of the things my siblings and I love to do, like museums and board games and laughter and food. We even dragged my parents to the MoPOP (formerly EMP) although the obviously loved the Boeing Museum of Flight more. It’s one of my dad’s favorite places and always tremendously special to see Liam

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Getting the scoop at the Boeing Museum of Flight

get a special tour from his papa, who makes sure to point out the planes he’s an expert on, having served in the Air Force for 20 years. My dad a walking encyclopedia and could spend days at that museum.

 

 

 

We have been on the road quite a bit so far this year, but it’s all personal stuff and not much to blog about. Our little family travel blog will be quiet for a while, because there aren’t any places we would rather be than with Ben’s family right now.

But I do hope to blog a little about little’s favorite local Easter egg hunts, trips to new museums in Seattle as we can do them (Nordic Heritage and Log Cabin are on the short list), gardening, spring visits to farms. Also, we have made our summer camping reservations: yurts on the Washington Coast in June, tenting in Rainier National Park in July and Deception Pass in August! Little will be spending three whole weeks in Alaska with his nana and papa this summer (!!) and we have plans to visit Washington DC and the Outer Banks this fall. We’ll pop up just like the little bulbs in my garden – waiting in the rain to surprise!

Bellingham: Endless Sunset

It’s been a few weeks since we hit the road and this weekend finds us in Bellingham, Washington. My niece and sister are accompanying us from Alaska as the trip is primarily to move my niece into her dorm at Western Washington University. But our family loves Bellingham and never turns down a chance to visit the area.

Hiking the (wrong) trail.

 

I had fond memories of camping in the area years before the little guy joined us and specifically the magic of the tide pools around Larabee State Park. Purple, red and orange sea stars clinging to rocks as the tide recedes, often leaving tiny fish flopping and exposed to the hungry gulls hopping around looking for the next meal. I couldn’t wait to share this with little.

 

Did I mention it’s been years since I’ve been there? I forgot where the trailhead started so the first half-hour we hiked in the absolute wrong direction.

The trailhead actually begins just behind the amphitheater by the Larabee State Park day use parking lot. You walk down stairs and through a tunnel under the railroad, where the trails split. Going right takes you down the stairs to a beachy area, perfect for picnicking. We were treated to a violin concert on the beach. Turning left takes you to the vast rocky coast and tide polls galore, unless you come in at high tide. Note to self: check tides. No matter, we will be back.

After a few hours of hiking in the sun, we headed back into town. My niece wanted us to go to Mallard Ice Cream, a delightful and busy little shop. With interesting flavors like Thai Basil or Nerds flavor, it was a hit. Little loved looking at the duck decorations as we waited in line and decided on a root beer ice cream scoop. My sister won the night with her pick of black pepper bourbon. Just wow.

Ducks in the Mallard line

 

Root beer

 

Bourbon black pepper

 

Our tired and dirty crew was happy to fall into big comfy beds after the ice cream. Well, one little fell into a bath first – ice cream all over his face, sand in his toes and mud everywhere. That’s how you measure a good adventure.

Mt. Rainier National Park: Oh, this summer

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Mount Rainier

During the trip to Mount Rainier National Park, we took two very different hikes, both rewarding and perfect in their own ways. As little is now capable of hiking a little father and higher, we try to hit easy to moderate hikes that won’t last more than three hours. The fact is, mom and dad aren’t in the best shape and this seems to be the perfect amount of hiking for us all.

 

wildflowers

Day One, Natches Peak Loop Trail: (https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/natches-peak-loop.htm) This 3.5 mile loop is often listed as easy but we would classify it as a more moderate hike. There is a bit of elevation gain at the beginning and we had to take aSnow! few breaks. Once you are high enough and through the tree line, the trail evens out for nice couple miles. It’s accessible July – mid October and is a very popular trail for families.  Late July and into August the real show is the spectacular wildflowers – fields of color popping with the gorgeous alpine setting behind. Even in late July we were able to find a few patches of snow!

The trail provides wonderful views of Mount Rainier and Dewey Lake. We met up with a group of horseback riders that were coming up Lake.jpgthe mountain as well as a few people headed over to the PCT, as the trail joins up for a short amount of time. We were tempted to head down to Dewey Lake but there were a few other Alpine lakes we hiked by. In total we spend just over 3 hours hiking the loop, but that included a wonderful lunch break on the rocks watching the mountain come out of the clouds. A great hike and one we will definitely do again.

BatCave
This is his serious spelunker face

Day Two, Boulder Cave Trail:  (http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/boulder-cave)

This short and sweet trail was perfect for littles. With less than 300 feet of elevation gain and only 2 miles round trip, it was an easy hike with a very cool highlight: Bat cave! After hiking about a mile, we entered the cave which is only about 500 ft long/5 minutes hike. There is a very clear trail to follow. Don’t forget your headlamps and flashlights! We were very excited to spot Pacific Western Big-Eared Bats but alas, we didn’t spot a single one. According to the little guy, that didn’t matter – heading into a dark cave was adventure enough. At the end of the cave, the trail points you back to the trailhead.

 

 

Mt. Rainier National Park: We Are All Made of Stars

The end of July already? One thing our family always looks forward to is summer camping. I mean, it’s car camping. But to the little guy, it is a blast. He looks forward to the road trip that usually involves some type of fast food, the tent set up, the fire and peeing in the woods. Honestly, the first thing he wants to do when we get to the campsite is pee in the woods. Every. Time.

One of our favorite spots to visit is Mount Rainier (https://www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm). In fact, it’s the first place we ever took the little guy camping. There are many different types of camp sites available and very diverse activity options.

This trip, we stayed at the very basic American Forks Campground in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest just east of the park and 40 miles west of Naches, WA. Without running water and onCastingly a vault toilet, this is a pretty primitive site.

The good news? Only 12 sites, everyone seemed to be tenting, plenty of space and lots of access to the wonderful things around the area, including swimming at Bumping Lake and trout fishing on the American River. Little caught a small cutthroat on his second cast. GarlicBread

Wherever we are camping, we like to make a wonderful feast and plan accordingly with friends. This trip, we all brought ingredients to create a spaghetti feast, complete with meatballs (little’s favorite), salad and garlic bread roasted Munchkinover the fire. I’ll admit it, sometimes I do go overboard with the camp cooking but sometimes simple like this is just perfect and satisfying. We always try to be sure to cook some components in the fire – heating tortillas, potatoes, even dutch oven lasagnas.

Our wonderful camping buddies brought Munchkin, which the munchkin enjoyed playing. Don’t forget the lanterns so you can play cards or games at night, before turning them off to admire the stars. Where are your favorite spots to camp with kids within a couple hours of the city?