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.

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: The Warrior!

As many of you dear readers know (since you are mostly our far away family), hubby works for the local Pacific Science Center. It’s an amazing, wonderful resource for families. Little thinks his dad might have the very best job in the universe and sometimes we agree! He’s been working long hours and been stressed out this spring bringing yet another amazing exhibit to the center and as usual, we can’t wait to check it out.

The latest is the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit! Artifacts more than 2,000 years old traveled from China to Seattle and Little’s Dad was in charge of offloading them and setting up the exhibit. It’s amazing and if you are in the Seattle area you have to check it out!

TC2There are over a hundred artifacts in the exhibit and about a dozen actual warriors from the site in China. The real figures are amazing. Some things to notice about the warriors exhibit include the numbers in the info boxes – you can see how many horses, generals, archers, etc. were found. Also, a docent pointed out the differences between the restoration work from the70s and the more recent restoration work.

Don’t forget to catch the iMax movie before the exhibit – Mysteries of China. Both the documentary and the exhibit are appropriate for kids (not too young.) It was a beautiful day at the Seattle Center!

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Seattle: Happy, Happy Birthday – Happy, Happy DAY! Hey!

We celebrated a birthday in May! Little has had every birthday in the emerald city, including multiple park rentals (Carkeek, Magnusson), bouncy house in the back yard, and Pump It Up. We try to rotate a casual park celebration with something bigger, to include more kids. This year was a big year and little really loves the Burke museum, so we decided on a Dino Dig party!

I made homemade cupcakes and (for the first time) butter cream frosting with tiny dinos and chocolate rocks on top. We had Dino Claws (Bugles), Dino Gummies, Dino Bones (candy) and eggs (whoopers) – Dino everything! Little made the goodie bags himself. It was a little heavy on the sugar, but isn’t every good birthday celebration?

The Museum put on a great party. It was about two hours long and they started with dino mask making and a scavenger hunt in the museum. The kids seemed to have a blast! After the scavenger hunt came the much anticipated Dino Dig. The museum wheeled in a giant pit and dressed the kids up, ready to do their best to uncover a dino. Our little paleontologists did a great job revealing the bones. Little enjoyed it so much, he asked for his birthday to be there again next year. Thanks, Burke!

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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.

OMSI3

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!

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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!