Great Wolf Lodge For First-Timers

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting, people standing and indoorThere are certain rights of passage that you go through as a parent: Your first holiday with kids, your first vacation with kids, your first bout of sickness with kids. Each is momentous in it’s own way, and each has its own challenges.

As a mom living in the Pacific Northwest, I am going to add to my list of parenting rights of passage an overnight trip to the mecca of family getaways: Great Wolf Lodge (Hereto referred to as GWL for the sake of blogging brevity). I have been aware of this milestone for quite some time–for several years we would drive right past the gargantuan Hotel/Resort/Water-Themepark just off the shoulder of I-5 every time we drove from California up to visit our family in Washington—but we had never taken the plunge. I knew it would be exciting (for the kids) and expensive (for the parents) but I really didn’t know quite what to expect.

Last week we finally had a good enough excuse to book ourselves a stay GWL. Jacob had broken his arm on the second day of school and his cast (that couldn’t get wet for 8 weeks) finally came off. That paired with no-school and no-work days for Thanksgiving (and a great deal on our stay for going mid-week) combined to make it the perfect getaway timing for our family.

This was our first stay at GWL and, while I know that there are still a lot of intricacies to maximizing your time/money I could still learn, I did come away with a few tips for those of you who are considering your own maiden voyage.

  1. Timing, timing, timing!
    GWL, like all resorts, bases their pricing on peak travel times and filling their hotel to capacity. Basic supply and demand. For GWL, this means you can pay anywhere from about $150 per night all the way up to over $1000 for ONE STINKING NIGHT. That’s a pretty big range! If you’re like me and you see the $899 per night price tag pop up and you feel like you’re going to faint, maybe consider going at a different time. Like a Tuesday in the middle of January. Sure, it may not be ideal timing, but think of how many extra goodies at GWL you could spend your additional $600 on (and, trust me, there are a LOT of extra goodies to spend your money on) if you go off-peak!

    There are also several ways to score a “deal” on a stay at GWL. You can check the “Deals” tab on their website, sign up for their mailing list and get deals emailed to you, look for vouchers on Groupon (they come up a few times a year), or use your PTA membership for a discount. Any way you cut it, this won’t be a cheap stay, but at least you can take some of the sting out of your final bill.

  2. Choosing a Room
    There are several types of rooms to choose from. We opted for a middle-of-the-road suite that had 1 set of bunk beds, a twin bed, a Queen bed, and a pull-out couch. The kids’ area of the room (bunk bed + twin bed) was separated by a half-wall from the “adult” portion of the room (queen bed + pull-out couch)–in theory this is nice, but everyone can still see and hear everyone else. My kids are weird sleepers and I don’t like being anywhere near them at night time, so maybe next time I’ll just book them a room down the hall with a grandparent so I can sleep in peace ūüôā

    When you book your GWL stay online you have the option of (generally) choosing your room location. The main things to consider for a room location are mobility and noise. By mobility I’m referring to how mobile you are and how easy it is to access the things you want to do. GWL is HUGE and if you get a room at the far end of a corridor (as we did) you could spend 10 minutes just walking to the lobby (and that’s if your kids are actually cooperating and walking at a normal human pace, not the sloth-like crawl that they get into when they’re tired/hungry/unwilling participants in the labor of movement).¬† By noise I’m referring to the fact that you’re literally in a hotel run over by packs of exuberant children. That being said, if you can, I would opt for a room on the 1st floor (lobby, Starbucks, restaurants, and gift shop are on this floor) or the 2nd floor (arcade, spa, ice cream shop, and pool entrance are on this floor). I would also request a room that is at least 5 doors down from any stairway or elevator…I honestly don’t know how the people sleeping right next to a constant slamming door full of screaming children survived the night. 

  3. The Magical Bracelet
    When you check in to GWL you get a pair of wolf ears for each of your “pups”, a map of the resort, an activity schedule, an ID wristband for each guest…and no room key. You see, the magical (adult) wristbands that they give you at check-in are actually your key to everything. They are your room key. They are your credit card. They are your admission ticket to the water park. Everything. You just scan your wrist and you’re good to go–no keys or wallets to schlep around. I loved this concept.¬† My dear husband, however, was paranoid as anything that somebody was going to chop off his hand when we weren’t looking and start charging massive amounts of ice cream to our room without our consent. I guess just don’t lose your wrist, and you’ll¬† be fine.
  4. So Many Extra Goodies To Spend Your Money On
    From the arcade to the mini golf to the high ropes course to the on-site Build-a-Bear to gem mining to a kiddie-spa there is an abundance of “extras” you can add to your (already pricey) GWL stay.¬† They do sell combo packages (starting at about $35) that give you access to some of the extra activities, so that could be a good option if you plan on doing several activities during your stay. Do your research ahead of time and decide the types of activities or a price limit you’re willing to spend on extras. Then–and this is important–try to set your kids’ expectations for what you will/not be doing once you arrive. Meltdowns over alluring arcade games and adorable stuffies are still sure to arise, but at least you gave everyone fair warning.
  5. Speaking of Extras…MagiQuest
    I had done my due diligence in researching the many extra activities of GWL and I determined that we would allow our children to play the much-lauded MagiQuest game (along with $10 of spending money per kid that they could waste however they wanted). The only thing I knew about the MagiQuest game was that my kids would 100% beg me to play it, and that there were wands involved. I also found out that I could borrow the wands from friends before we left so I wouldn’t have to buy them.

    So, feeling quite proud of my forward-thinking, I borrowed three wands assuming our MagiQuest adventure would now be a bonus freebie. I talked it up like crazy because I had thought ahead and borrowed the wands. Big mistake. Turns out, even after you buy the wands (for the bargain price of about $40 PER WAND) you still have to pay $15 per wand to play the game. And, since I’d already talked up the dang wands so much I pretty much had to cough up the money to activate them. Two out of my 3 kids played with their now-activated wands for a few microseconds before they decided the game was too boring/confusing, and the third kid would only play with my direct supervision and participation (which basically defeats the purpose of a kids’ game, in my opinion). Some kids love the game, and maybe yours will, too…but next time I’m saving my money and using it to buy an extra Mai Tai at story time.

  6. They Have MaiTais at Story Time
    Just thought I’d throw that little tidbit out there. They also have poolside margaritas. And they’ll bring you wine and a cheese board to your room. Nothing says good ol’ fashioned family fun like a bunch of parents cutting loose among a sea of children and animatronic wild animals.
  7. Dining Options
    As far as I know, every room at GWL is equipped with a microwave and mini fridge. This means you can bring basically all of the kid food groups (salty snacks, sugary treats, unhealthily-quick breakfasts, processed junk) along with you. Bringing some of your own food along could save you a bundle (the buffet breakfast was $18 per adult).

    There are several on-site dining options that allow you to eat “out” while still in your bathing suit and/or pajamas: a buffet restaurant, a sit-down bar and grill, a pizzeria (takeaway only), a poolside burger shack, and even a Starbucks. There is also a Dippin’ dots and a “bakery” (you can buy stale donuts and cupcakes, but I can guarantee nothing is actually baked there). The food is so-so quality and a bit on the spendy side, but nothing outrageous. And, while nobody’s giving our Michelin Stars to The Wolf any time soon, I thought the food was fine (and my kids loved that we got pizza for dinner AND burgers for lunch, all in the same weekend!).
    If you want to put on real clothes and shoes, you can even venture off-site. Within a 5-minute drive there are several fast food restaurants, a Mexican restaurant, and a couple of coffee shops.

  8. The Waterpark
    The main draw of GWL is its massive indoor waterpark. We’re talking: kiddie splash pool, wave pool, family play pool, hot tubs, and waterslides galore. All indoors and heated to a balmy 85 degrees year-round. They’re also quite generous with size requirements. I was worried that my kids wouldn’t be big enough to go on most of the water features and I’d have to quell in-water meltdowns, but that wasn’t the case. Hannah (age 3) was able to do the kiddie pool, the huge climbing structure/medium-sized water slides, the wave pool, the family pool, and the hot tubs. Jacob (age 7) was able to do literally everything (including the massive hurricane slide that I wouldn’t even go on).

    You may want to bring your own flip-flops and towels and/or robes to wear while you walk from your room to the pool–the hallways and lobby are definitely not as warm as the waterpark. Pool towels are provided at the pool, but you have to check them out and there is a fee if you don’t return them.

    The water is quite chlorinated (For obvious reasons–just imagine what happens in a pool full of over 1,000 children…). Wear swimsuits that you don’t mind getting ruined by chemicals, and definitely bring goggles if you have sensitive eyes. You may also want to bring water bottles and a few snacks to get you through the long swim sessions (Just sneak them in under your towels, because the official rule is “No outside food or beverage” poolside).

  9. Included Activities
    GWL offers a number of free (!) activities for their guests including crafts, evening story time, the “clock tower show” (creepy animatronic animals singing weird songs), a nighttime pajama dance party, and early morning (9:00 AM) family yoga. My kids were so-so interested in the activities, but it’s nice to have options.
  10. How Long To Stay
    Now, this is open to interpretation…or your idea of how much insanity you’re willing to suffer through for your childrens’ joy. We stayed for one night, which was plenty for us. You are able to start using the waterpark and activities at 1:00 on your day of arrival until 8:00PM the day you check out. That means in our “1 day” we got two very full days of activity and one sleepless night. Some people like to go for a few days so they can experience all that The Wolf has to offer, so it’s your call.

The final verdict: I’m glad we went! It’s a long drive, and it’s expensive, and it’s utterly exhausting…but it was absolutely worth it all. Our kids were in paradise and the smiles on their faces and the memories we made together were priceless. We’ll definitely be back again some day…after we recover from our first trip.

Someone I Love

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I have wanted to write this post for over a year now, but the timing hasn’t been right. It has taken me this much time to start to wrap my mind around this subject and come to terms with what it means for me and my family. Time is a wonderful gift, though, and I do feel ready to share–the time is right, right now.

You see, October is ADHD Awareness month, and someone I love has ADHD.

That person is my 8-year old son David and, with his permission, I’d like to share a bit of his story.

For years now David has struggled in certain areas but we were never sure if the behaviors we noticed were a result of his immaturity (he was young!) or his lack of foundation (the poor kid was only 7 years old and had already lived in 6 different houses and been to 5 different schools!)…or something else. After years of suspecting and noticing and wondering, however, we finally decided to get some answers.

In the spring of David’s 1st grade year we went to our pediatrician and ran a number of tests. And, although the result was exactly what I had suspected all along, I was still caught off guard: my son has ADD.

As soon as the doctor gave me the official diagnosis I felt all of the emotions that I’d been holding on to for so long, and I felt them all at once. I felt relieved to finally have an explanation and an answer and a way to plan for the future. I felt nervous for how I would explain this to my son and how others would see him now that he had a “label”. I felt loss for the old normal and worried about what the new normal would look like for us. I felt overwhelmed by the choices Jon and I would now have to make on our son’s behalf. I felt guilty because I’m his mom and I can’t help but feel guilty any time everything isn’t perfect or going the way I’ve decided it’s supposed to go.

That night when Jon got home from work we sat down with David after we’d put his younger siblings to bed and took a moment to try and explain what had happened at the doctor’s office that day. We explained to David that he had something called ADD. We went on to explain that ADD is something he was born with, and that it makes some things more challenging for him. His brain is like a race car–it loves to go fast, but it has a hard time putting on the brakes.¬† How exciting, and also how difficult! We told him that there are some things that he can not control, and that it isn’t his fault. And then we told him the most important part: his ADD is not bad or wrong, it’s simply something that makes him unique in this big ‘ol world. It was not an accident that his brain was wired in this way.

God knew from the beginning of time that David would have ADD. For God, this was not a detour, but part of the original plan. And because He knew this, he already put the pieces into place to keep us steady on the (new) road that we now find ourselves on.

God knew that while some areas would be difficult for David, he gifted David immeasurably in other areas. God knew that David would have a mom who was a teacher, someone who knew all of the ropes when it came to setting up educational supports and accommodations in the classroom. God knew that David would have a dedicated dad who would spend his free time working on special projects with him that piqued his unique interests. God knew that David would have¬† patient and generous siblings to share life with. God knew that David would need smaller classes and more one-on-one help, so He always put David in these exact classes every year and at every school he’s ever been at (and that’s a lot of schools!).

In addition to preparing our family, God prepared David for this journey by giving him unique talents and abilities that are fueled by his “race car brain”. He is passionate and able to develop a depth of knowledge for his passions unlike anyone else I’ve ever met (Just quiz him about Pok√©mon stats, and you’ll know what I mean!). He is resilient and able to brush off what others might think in favor of simply doing what he feels is right. He is willing to take risks and test boundaries when others would simply give up. He provides a different perspective to every situation and helps others to see the world in new and fascinating ways. He is fiercely loyal has an incredible sense of justice–he will fight for those he loves with every ounce of his soul. He is amazing, he is special, he is exactly who he is supposed to be.

The road on our new adventure with ADD has not always been smooth, but we take comfort in knowing that it is the road we are supposed to be on.¬† We can go forward in confidence knowing that the same God who has carried us this far will continue to be with us wherever we go. And, so, forward we will go–not alone, but together.

Breaking Point

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Today concludes our first full week of school. While usually this is a time of returning to routines and settling in, this year has been anything but that. Instead of getting “back in the swing of things”, an actual swing has thrown our family off course in ways that I never knew a piece of playground equipment could.

As many of you already know, we had a little incident after the second day of school. It turns out that even when your mom repeatedly tells you “Quit jumping off _____(the top stair, the 2-story deck, the swing that is 12 feet in the air)”, sometimes you just have to test those limits yourself. Especially when you’re a 7-year old boy whose favorite sports include Parkour and Ninja Warriors.

On this particular night, the kids were playing in our backyard while I finished cooking dinner. Right as I was pulling food out of the oven David came running into the house crying because he had jumped off the swing and hurt his hand.

Put down the food.

Turn off the oven.

Comfort the crying child.

Get ice on the hurting hand.

Not 2 minutes later I hear another (this time, blood-curdling) scream coming from outside. This time it’s Jacob. He came running in the house saying that, you guessed it, he hurt his hand jumping off the swing.

Comfort the crying child.

Get ice on the hurting hand.

Realize immediately that this is more than a bump-and-bruise situation.

Now, I’m no medical expert, but I could tell this was bad. Really bad. Jacob was screaming any time I so much as touched his hand or arm, and he said it was hard to move his fingers. Uh-oh.

I called Jon at work and he advised me to forget about dinner (Yet another reason why I should just stop cooking dinner every night) and get Jacob right in to the hospital. So, I made Jacob a state-of-the-art splint out of an Amazon box and an Ace bandage, loaded three hungry children into the car (two of whom are still crying about their hurt hands), and drove the route I had memorized on the first day we moved into our house to the Emergency Room (Because with three active children I knew it would be a matter of when I would need to drive there, not if I would ever have to go).

Jon drove from work straight to the hospital and met us at the ER drop-off door, so it was simply a matter of rolling up in the minivan, sliding open the passenger door, and shuffling Jacob (along with his car seat and a backpack full of electronic devices and snacks) out the door to his waiting dad. Uber couldn’t have done it better.

After I dropped off Jacob at the hospital I headed home with the other kids, and that’s when it hit me: Mom Guilt. Rationally I know that there’s nothing I could have done to keep him from getting hurt, but what if there was? And now he’s hurt and there’s nothing I can do to help him feel better. And this is going to be a long haul, and how will we make it through? And what if the x-ray gives him radiation poisoning? And what if he gets cold in the ER because he’s only wearing shorts? And what if…

So that was a fun night.

As I went through the motions of feeding the other kids dinner, putting them to bed, going through school bags, and pacing the floor, I kept getting text updates from Jon. Finally, at about 2 hours past bedtime, we got the news that I was hoping and praying we wouldn’t get: Jacob had a non-displaced fracture of his radius or, as normal people like to say, he broke his arm.

The ER patched him up in a temporary arm cast and sent him home with a prescription for Children’s Tylenol (Seriously, that’s the best pain meds we can give to kids with a broken appendage?!) and advice to rest. I think Jacob got some sleep that night, but I’m pretty sure neither Jon nor I got a wink.

The next morning (a Friday, exactly a week ago today), Jacob woke up chipper and excited to go to school. I tried to convince him to stay home and rest, but he was insistent that he wanted to go because he didn’t want to miss anything (Oh, the enthusiasm of the first week of school!). So, he went to school and I hovered in the school parking lot most of the day.

Since then we’ve gone back to get Jacob’s official cast: a full-arm, up-to-his-shoulder, bright-red, no-nonsense, super cast. Jacob has an awesome Orthopedic doctor at Children’s Hospital–not only does he work with my sister (she’s a pediatric Physical Therapist there), but he also¬† has a child in kindergarten at the boys’ elementary school AND is a former collegiate wrestler (Jacob was getting tips for taking down his brother…for after he has use of both upper extremities, of course).

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Now we’re looking at 4-6 weeks in the super-cast, and then another 6-8 weeks in a below-elbow cast after that. During this time he has to avoid all: balls, wheels, swings (ha!), slides, trampolines, water, climbing, jumping, and running…so basically everything he enjoys. And for the kicker, the broken arm is his dominant hand so he gets to learn how to do everything with a hand that he’s rarely used before.

Everything from putting on shoes to writing his name takes a ton of extra effort and energy, so it’s been an interesting learning curve. He’s tired and frustrated. He feels left out because he can’t play with his friends how he used to. He gets pain in the middle of the day and I have to drop everything and run to the school to give him Tylenol. He’s sad because he missed his first soccer game (And, at this point, will likely miss every other game this season). He can’t wear his coat because it won’t fit over his cast. His arm itches and he just has to deal with it. He, whose favorite past time is taking a long, hot shower until the hot water runs out, is not even allowed to take a shower. It’s a big bummer, no way around it.

And of course I, the mother, feel utterly helpless. I want to make it all better. I want my son to feel successful, not stuck. I want to take away his pain. I want to rewind to last Thursday and call him in to dinner five minutes earlier so this whole thing never happened.

But I can’t.

And maybe I should’t.

Suffering–terrible and unwanted as it is–is an assured part of life. Nobody, not one of us, is immune to suffering. Whether it be an all-consuming aspect of our lives or a relatively temporary inconvenience (Hello, broken arm!), suffering is a guaranteed part of the human story.

Suffering is so much a part of the human story that Jesus himself, God as human, suffered. Obediently, willingly, perfectly suffering:

“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom¬†are¬†all things and by whom¬†are¬†all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” Hebrews 2:9-10

God redeemed all of humankind through suffering.

When we are at our breaking point, we are made perfect through our sufferings.

I don’t know how Jacob or our family will be made perfect through this ordeal, but I do know that we will be forever changed. How we view this change is up to us.

We will be made stronger because of the support we offer to one another.

We will be more attentive because we are made aware of the attention that needs to be given.

We will be more knowledgable because we are learning together.

We will be more resilient because, as always, we will make it through this. Together. Stronger. More perfectly like Him.

Imperfectly perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What To See and Do With Kids: San Francisco

Moving on to part 2 of this little travel series (If you missed part one’s adventure to Portland, check it out here!).  Today’s location is one that is near and dear to my heart: San Francisco, California. I’ve spent a total of 5 out of the last 10 years living in the San Francisco Bay area–2 years while Jon was in grad school (when our only child had fur and four legs), and then a few years later when we returned for another 3-year stint with our kids.

While we never lived in San Francisco proper, we did spend enough time in The City to discover some special kid-friendly spots (which is really saying something considering I don’t think any actual children live in San Francisco any more). Read on for a few of our favorites!

DISCLAIMER: All tips and tricks are based on my limited and biased perspective. I am the self-proclaimed expert here because I have actually been to these places with actual children and have survived to tell the tale. I always love hearing from other experts, though, so if you have your own tips, tricks, or favorite insights to share please leave a comment at the end of the post!

San Francisco, California
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Where To Stay:
Since we were day-trippers into the city I  don’t have much solid advice for you on this subject. I will note a few tips, however, if you’re trying to find lodging in San Francisco:

  • Parking in The City is scarce and very expensive, so try to stay near a public transportation line such as Muni (the city’s bus and metro system), the cable car lines or, if you plan on exploring areas outside of the city, the BART (commuter train).
  • Try to find lodging in the city center.
  • San Francisco real estate is *ahem* quite pricey which drives up the hotel rates–consider renting through a vacation rental company such as Airbnb or VRBO.

What To Do:
Before I get into this I need to say one very important thing about visiting San Francisco: it’s cold. You may think that it’s warm because it’s in that land of eternal sunshine called California, but San Francisco is a land unto itself. A cold land. Do yourself (and your kids…and your sanity…) a favor and pack along some warm layers and a rain coat. You’re welcome.

Moving along to more exciting matters now…

My very-favorite kid spot in San Francisco, and one that I made a point of visiting frequently when we lived in the area, is Bay Area Discovery Museum (BADM). BADM is located across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco in the seaside town of Sausalito–which means the first part of your adventure to BADM involves a trip across one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the world.

Take some extra time to explore the bridge before or after you visit the museum–you can either pull over on the San Francisco side right before you get to the bridge (there’s a fun little gift shop and visitor center here), or cross over the bridge and drive up to the Marin Headlands for a birds-eye view of The Golden Gate.

Once you get to BADM park in the large fields out front and enjoy your day exploring the indoor exhibits (they’re all set up inside former army barracks) or take a trek outside to hike on the nature trails and play on the giant pirate ship play structure.

Once you get back into San Francisco, spend some time exploring Golden Gate Park. This giant park in the middle of the city is full of trails to explore, ponds to paddle on, and museums that pique every interest.

My favorite kid-friendly museum in Golden Gate Park is the California Academy of Sciences. The museum itself is breathtaking with a grass-covered roof and an indoor 4-story rainforest where you can climb through every layer of the rainforest. The museum also has natural history exhibits (DINOSAURS!!) and an aquarium. There are plenty of hands-on activities to keep little hands and minds occupied.

Another must-do when you’re in San Francisco is a trolley ride. I like to hop on the Powell-Hyde trolley at the Powell stop downtown. Get off the trolley at the top of Lombard Street where you get a great view of the “twistiest street in the world” (It’s not actually THE twistiest street in the world, but it’s definitely in the running for that honor and a visit there makes for some great photo-ops and entertaining tourist-watching).

After you’ve gotten your fill of watching cars try to navigate the zig-zags on Lombard Street, hop back on your trolley and continue down to the other end of the line at Hyde. You’ll get off near Ghiradelli Square, so take a brief detour to get some chocolate or ice cream sundaes at the Ghiradelli Chocolate cafe (Or, if you need an afternoon pick-me-up, an Irish Coffee at The Buena Vista next door).

While you’re in the area, visit Fisherman’s Wharf to watch the sea lions on the docks or take a boat ride through The Bay. And speaking of boats, this is also where you can catch a boat out to one of the most infamous (former) prisons in the world: Alcatraz. If you plan on visiting Alcatraz, definitely try to buy your tickets in advance–this is a popular destination and tickets sell out quickly during tourist season (Which, as far as I can tell, lasts from approximately January 1 – December 31 each year.).

If your kids enjoy animals (What kids don’t like animals?!) head over to the San Francisco Zoo. The zoo is a good sized with all of the expected animals (the giraffes even have a view of the ocean from their enclosure). There’s also an indoor rain forest exhibit, a train you can ride through the park, and an epic playground where your kids can let out their inner monkey. After you’ve seen all of the animals, head down the road for a little play time at Ocean Beach so your baby can eat sand and you can dip your toes in the Pacific.

What To Eat:
San Francisco is a melting pot of people and cultures, so I would recommend treating your dining experience as a trip around the world. You can visit Chinatown for dim sum (Do yourself a favor and head straight for the oldest–and best–restaurant in Chinatown: Sam Wo); Little Italy for pasta or 40-clove Garlic Chicken at The Stinking Rose; the Mission District for authentic Mexican food at La Taqueria; or Ethiopian food at Tadu in SOMA.

The Farmer’s Markets are also amazing and most of them operate year-round–check the current offerings by day or neighborhood here. While you’re at the market, grab some goodies that you can pack along for a picnic by the beach–maybe you can nibble your organic veggies and vegan cheese while you watch your children frolic in the waves.

Pure. Bliss.

I know that this just scratches the surface, so now it’s your turn! What are your favorite things to see and do with kids in San Francisco?

 

What To See And Do With Kids: Portland

Hello, friends! It’s been awhile. Between months of terrible weather (Hello, winter in Seattle.) and me endlessly trying to escape it, I haven’t made much time for writing lately. Spring is finally here, though–and with no more snow to shovel, I have a renewed desire to get back to writing. So let’s get this party started, shall we?!

I just mentioned that I spent most of the past few months trying to escape the winter weather, and I wasn’t kidding. In the last 5 months I’ve been to Hawaii, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and Portland…and those are just the destinations that took more than 1 tank of gas to reach. Now that I’m settling down from my winter wanderings I’ve had some time to reflect–about what I enjoyed about each destination and how I might travel differently next time.

So an idea was born: a blog series about what to see and do in some of my favorite family-friendly travel destinations. Over the next few weeks I’m going to write posts about different locations that I’ve visited with my kids and a few insider tips in case you decide to escape reality with your own brood. First on the docket: Portland, Oregon.

DISCLAIMER: All tips and tricks are based on my limited and biased perspective. I am the self-proclaimed expert here because I have actually been to these places with actual children and have survived to tell the tale. I always love hearing from other experts, though, so if you have your own tips, tricks, or favorite insights to share please leave a comment at the end of the post!

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PORTLAND, OREGON
Over my kids’ spring break last week I took them on a little road trip. We visited my grandma in southern Washington and then went on to Portland, Oregon. I’d been to Portland several times before, but this was my first visit brining my kids. We had a great time and we’ll definitely be back again!

WHERE TO STAY:
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Portland. My priorities for finding this hotel were: 1) Close to all the action downtown 2) Indoor swimming pool and jacuzzi (Because why would you ever stay at a hotel with kids and NOT have a pool???) 3) Not a totally terrible place (remember, I was by myself with 3 kids).
This place checked off everything on my wish list and then some.

Pros:¬†Reasonably priced, free parking (most of the hotels downtown charge around $30/night for parking), free breakfast (Including fresh Cinnabon cinnamon rolls–double bonus!), clean rooms, friendly staff, property is adjacent to two coffee shops and a Jack-in-the-box (I just feel like this is important to mention.), and it has an indoor pool and jacuzzi. The pool was heated to tropical ocean temperatures, which meant we could spend 2 hours swimming off our drive and nobody ever complained about being too cold.

Cons: Not within walking distance of most downtown attractions (I’m looking at you, donuts.), very confusing freeway situation getting to the hotel…but I think that’s Portland’s fault and not the hotel’s.

WHAT TO DO:
OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry): This is a must-do if you travel to Portland with kids. It’s part science museum, part IMAX movie theater mecca (I think they had a dozen different movies showing the day we were there!), part submarine experience (You can go on a real submarine that is submerged in a real river and go on a tour led by a real Navy captain. True story.), and part foodie destination (Seriously–OMSI has the best museum cafe I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a LOT of museum cafes!). Plan on spending a whole day here.

Powell’s City of Books: I don’t even know where to start with Powell’s. When they say that they are a “city of books” that’s not just them trying to be cute. It is literally a city of books. Well, an entire city block, anyway. Powell’s book store fills an entire city block and is something like 25 million stories tall (At least it feels that way when you are in the lowest level–where the children’s books are located–and nature calls so you have to drag 3 children up multiple flights of stairs to find the only public restrooms.). Powell’s carries both new and used books that intermingle harmoniously on the bookshelves: You may find a brand-new copy of Disney’s Peter Pan right next to a vintage original from the turn of the century. And speaking of old, there is a rare books room on the top floor that more mature children with gentler hands and quieter voices than my children may enjoy–some books in the rare books room are nearly 1,000 years old which just makes every book nerd bone in my body tingle.

Portland Aerial Tram: This quick tram ride gives you a great view of the city and, if you catch it on a clear day, the surrounding mountains (I could see all the way from Mt. St. Helens in Washington down to Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood in Oregon on the day we were there). The tram itself is actually a functional way for people to get from downtown (by the river) to the hospital (at the tippy top of a hill). Bring a few bucks for your fare or, if you’re strapped for cash, just schedule a quick procedure at the hospital at the top of the hill and your ride will be free of charge.

Oregon Zoo: I’ve never actually been to the Oregon Zoo, but everyone says that it’s wonderful. I’m adding this to our must-visit list for a future trip.
Bonus: The Oregon Zoo participates in the reciprocal zoo program. If you have a membership to the Woodland Park Zoo (or most other zoos around the country), you can get half-price admission to the Oregon Zoo with your membership. And, as an added bonus, the Oregon Zoo is now a sensory inclusive location–they have backpacks you can check out for free that include items like noise canceling headphones, sunglasses, and fidget tools so that all kids can enjoy their zoo experience.

Multnomah Falls: Located just 30 minutes outside of Portland, this 600-foot waterfall is a breathtaking side trip. There are kid-friendly walking trails around the waterfall and a beautiful viewing bridge. If it’s a hot day you may even get to cool off in the waterfall’s spray–nature’s water park!

And speaking of waterparks…

Wings and Waves Waterpark: Technically this is not in Portland, but it’s just shy of an hour away in McMinnville, OR. And, again, I have not been here before…but I’ve had friends go and was adequately jealous of their Facebook posts about this place so I thought it would be worth including. Wings and Waves is a giant indoor waterpark complete with twisty waterslides, splash pads, and swimming pools (they even have a huge screen above one pool where they show movies). There is also an air museum next door for all of your aviation buffs.

WHAT TO EAT:
I was trying to decide if I should make a separate dining category for Portland or just put all of this under “what to do” because, honestly, most people just go to Portland to eat. Any way you put it, though, food will be a central part of your Portland vacation!

Brunch:
The weekend brunch scene in Portland has a strong game. If you can get your kids to sleep in (ha!) or if you’re ready for second breakfast by 10:30 then I highly recommend a family brunch adventure. There are dozens of restaurants that vie for the top spot in the brunch game: HunnyMilk, Mother’s Bistro, Tasty n Alder, Pine State Biscuits.¬†I could tell you about the melt-in-your-mouth biscuit sandwiches or luxe eggs benny but you might just be better off tasting them for yourself.

Food trucks:
Every few blocks in downtown Portland you will find a brilliant phenomenon known as the food truck pod. In empty parking lots and abandoned spaces you will find clusters of food trucks waiting to offer you fare from every corner of the globe. From curry to cr√™pes, pierogi to pizza there is something sure to please every palate (even the bland, picky ones typical of the under-four-feet-tall set). Just start walking down any street in the Pearl District downtown and you’re sure to bump into a food truck pod (or twenty) so you can discover your own delicacies.

Dessert (or just whenever):
Portland is known the world over for their donuts, but the locals have a bit of a debate about which donut shop is king. For the cult followers, a trip to Voodoo Doughnut is a requirement (Because who doesn’t want a donut that looks like a zombie with a jelly “blood” center?). The purists, though, prefer Blue Star Donuts. Why not try them both and decide for yourself?

If donuts aren’t your thing, maybe ice cream will hit the spot. In keeping with the city’s motto of “Keep Portland Weird”, even their ice cream shops have to mix it up a bit. Have you ever wanted to taste pear and blue cheese ice cream or have edible flowers mixed in to your sorbet? Then look no further than the ultra-creative flavors of Salt and Straw. You won’t find any plain Jane vanilla here, but that’s not why you came to Portland.

 

Now it’s your turn! What are your favorite go-to spots for families in Portland?

 

I’m Not Cut Out For Marriage

wedding photoNext week Jon and I will be celebrating a milestone anniversary: 13 years of wedded bliss!¬†Thirteen. Thirteen YEARS! I hear that number–THIRTEEN–and a lot of thoughts go through my mind: Where did the time go? Why does that number sound so big? Does this mean that I’m getting old? How did we get here, and where do we go from here?

And the truth is, thirteen years is both a long time and not very long at all. Thirteen years is a teenager, which seems kind of old. Yet at the same time I joke with Jon all the time that he’s still got another 50 years or so left with me if we’re anything like my grandparents, so he’d better get comfy and enjoy the ride. And whether 13 is a long time or a short time, it is a time…and with time, you tend to come out on the other side knowing a bit more than you did going into it.

If I have learned one thing in 13 years of marriage it is this: I’m not cut out for marriage.

You see, marriage is tough. No, tough is too soft of a word…marriage can be grueling. Marriage will challenge you and push you and test you in ways that nothing else on this earth can. I am not cut out for the grueling nature of marriage.

Marriage requires supreme sacrifice. You must sacrifice your time, your energy, your finances, even your very body to the mate you choose in marriage. I am not cut out for the sacrifice that is required of me.

Marriage requires vulnerability. You have to be willing and able to share your strongest hopes, your deepest fears, and your most desperate longings with your spouse. You have to share the thoughts and desires that you thought would be safe harbored in your own mind forever. You have to be willing to hear and support your spouses hopes, and fears and desires–and they may not always be the same as your own. I am not cut out for the raw, honest vulnerability that is required of me.

Marriage requires repentance–gut-wrenching, true-to-the-bones repentance. Sometimes I screw up. Sometimes he screws up. Sometimes we screw up together. And we have to admit that: to ourselves, to each other, to our friends, to our family, to those affected by our actions. Confessing your own wrongs, and supporting your spouse through theirs, is painstaking work. I am not cut out for the repentance that is required of me.

Marriage requires forgiveness. Sometimes I screw up. Sometimes he screws up. Sometimes we screw up together. And yet we have to forgive each other and move forward in that forgiveness. In marriage, grudges and vendettas are outlawed. I am not cut out for the forgiveness that is required of me.

Alone I am fully unequipped to enter a successful marriage, let alone continue in one for over a decade. I 100% can not do this on my own.

But here’s the good news! Even though I’m not cut out for the challenges or the sacrifice, the vulnerability or the repentance, the forgiveness or anything else that comes up in marriage–I don’t have to be. I don’t have to be because I can’t. But together with Jesus? Ahhh…that’s where it all comes together. Jesus has already faced every challenge and lived a life of perfect vulnerability. He made the supreme sacrifice in order to offer forgiveness. And through Him, the One who is perfect, even my own marriage can get a little closer to perfection.

Alone–even together–we are not enough to make a marriage succeed. It turns out that two people who make mistakes on their own don’t suddenly quit making mistakes once they’re together. But with Jesus even two imperfect people can get a little closer to perfection.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this and say that once you have Jesus and make it to your 13th anniversary everything is all sunshine and roses. In fact, this year has probably been the most challenging year we’ve ever had in our marriage. Amidst the triumphs and the joys, there have also been struggles and unforeseen circumstances. This year we have been blindsided by the unexpected so many times that I’ve actually come to expect the unexpected. There have been tears and questions and worries and now-named fears. Yet through it all, there has been hope.

Just as iron is refined in fire, this year “within the fire” has sharpened and strengthened our relationship. Without a doubt, this year has made us stronger than ever before. Stronger because we have each other and, more importantly, because Jesus has carried us through when we were simply to exhausted to carry ourselves any longer. We have learned to support each other better because He has supported us. Even though I am not cut out for marriage, He is. And with Him, our marriage is stronger today than it ever has been.

So, like an awkward 13-year old 7th grader who is finally discovering who they are as an individual, I feel like this year we are finally discovering who we really are as Mr. and Mrs.. It hasn’t come without some bumps and bruises and missteps along the way, but that’s just part of normal development. And with the growth comes maturity, and with the maturity comes more freedom. Freedom to love and to nurture and continue growing together.

I may not be cut out for marriage, but I sure am grateful to be stuck with another person who isn’t cut out for marriage either. Together we make a pretty awesome couple. For 13 years already, and forever more!

How To Kill An Axe Murderer

ice

So the other night we had a harrowing situation: My brave husband and I rescued ourselves from a would-be axe murderer.

At least, that’s what we’re telling ourselves.

At about 10:30 we turned off Netflix (Because we’re grown-ups with kids, and Netflix is what happens after bedtime for grown-ups with kids.) and we went upstairs to get ready for bed. We were about to turn off the lights when all of a sudden our fierce guard dog (ok, fine, she’s a geriatric Border Collie who happens to be missing half her hip and half her teeth) came running into our bedroom. She cowered behind our bed with her ears pressed flat against her head and her tail between her legs: something had scared the living daylights out of our poor pup.

And then we heard it. From downstairs we heard a dim knocking sound, like a small object falling. And then silence. And that was all the assurance we needed to know that an axe murderer had surely broken into our house.

I snatched up my cell phone and retreated under the covers–I mean, the burglars or whoever they were would probably find me anywhere I went, so I might as well browse social media from the comfort of my own bed while I waited for my demise. Also, I could¬† call 911 from my phone if need be. That would probably be more important. Plus, I don’t have the best track record with defending myself from suspected burglars–the last time I thought I heard a strange sound I grabbed the best defense weapon I could find: a can of maximum strength hair spray.

Jon, however, sprang right into action. He grabbed a small arsenal of knives from a secret drawer in his bedside table and I realized that 1) We have secret drawers in our bedside tables, and 2) My husband had been waiting in anxious anticipation for this exact moment, and he was prepared for what would come next.

From the safety of my blanket cave I could hear Jon ninja-creep down the stairs as he methodically cleared each room and closet in the lower portion of our house. While he searched the house I couldn’t help feeling proud of this brave man who would sacrifice himself for his family that was nestled safely out of harm’s reach while he fearlessly rushed into the fire of the unknown.

After scrolling through about 3 days of Instagram posts, my gallant husband returned. He didn’t have any bad guys with him, but he was now wielding a giant steel framing hammer. If you don’t know what it looks like to see your husband creep into your dark bedroom brandishing a framing hammer, imagine Thor going into battle and you get the picture.

Upon investigating every square inch of our house, Jon did notice that our basement door had been unlocked. Maybe someone could have snuck into our house…but if they did, they were either invisible or camouflaged because they definitely could not be found. Plus, Jon is our family’s reigning hide-and-seek champion, so if anyone could have found a bad guy it would have been him.

Shortly after Jon returned to our bedroom, however, we heard it again: that dim knocking sound like an object falling. Jon rushed back downstairs directly to the source of the sound.

And this time? He found it! The culprit of the sound. And it was just as sinister as we had imagined. The sound was coming from…

OUR ICE MAKER.

Yes. Our ice maker.

You see, I didn’t actually know that we had an ice maker. I hadn’t ever made ice in our “new” fridge (granted, we’ve lived here for nearly a year now…) and there’s not a water spout in the fridge so I just assumed there wasn’t an ice maker either. Jon Who Notices Everything thought this seemed fishy (Wait–you haven’t made a single ice cube in A YEAR???) so earlier that evening he spent about 2 seconds looking at our freezer and found the switch to turn on the automatic ice maker.

Presto change-o! Our freezer now makes ice!

And the dim knocking sound that sent us on an hour-long midnight rampage was just the sound of our newly-formed ice falling into the collection tray.

So, now you know. If you ever suspect that an axe murder might break into your house, maybe start sleeping with knives and framing hammers by your bed. Or just check your ice maker for suspicious activity. Either way, sweet dreams!