We’re baaaaaaack! From our restful (um, okay, maybe not…) two weeks in the Pacific Northwest!
I would say it’s good to be home, but the truth is that I’m a travel junkie who would probably be a very happy nomad, so I never particularly look forward to coming home. But it is nice to be back in my own bed, with my own shower, etc.
Our trip was excellent, though certainly not relaxing! Rather, it was a bit of a comedy of errors. But hey, we got a good laugh out of it, right? Let me share some highlights, and maybe you can get a laugh too.
We set out at 4:30 a.m. on a Friday morning. Why so early? Well, we had to drive all the way to Portland—a 10-hour drive with no stops and no traffic. And with two kids and two dogs with us, you can well imagine that stops were a must. And we live in the Bay Area, where traffic is unbelievably horrid on commute days, so we wanted to get out of the mess before the traffic started. And so, we roused two sleepy boys, strapped them in the car, hit a drive-through coffee kiosk that was open early, and hit the road for parts north.
Our first stop was Redding, California—three hours into the trip. There’s a great park area there that we know of, so we decided we’d stop and have a picnic breakfast at the park. Remember, we had our dogs with us, so we couldn’t eat a restaurant—everything had to be a picnic. Which was fine except it meant Chris couldn’t indulge his Denny’s craving. (I’m not sure why he wanted Denny’s, but he did.) Breakfast picnic options are somewhat tricky when two people in your party try to stay gluten-free, so we ended up at a McDonald’s drive-through, where we could get scrambled eggs and oatmeal. (Yes, I know oats often contain trace amounts of gluten. We couldn’t be perfect…) We got a good laugh when Theo, who is learning to read, looked out the window, spied a sign for the Black Bear Diner, and announced, “Hey, can we go to the Black Bean Dinner instead?” Given that neither Chris nor I likes black beans, we were quite amused by his misreading of the sign, and we made many jokes about how musical and fragrant our car would be if we ate at the “Black Bean Dinner.” 🙂
We actually expected Sam to be the troublesome traveler, since he often hates riding in the car, but he was mellow and agreeable (probably partly because we turned his car seat to forward-facing for the drive, so it was a whole new perspective for him). Theo, on the other hand, is normally a good traveler…but not on this particular day. In fact, so snappish and cranky and sassy was he that before we left Redding, I confided to Chris, “We must pull over and get him a Benadryl, or I will end up leaving him at a bus station with a ticket home.” And so yes, we drugged our child. And it did the trick. He slept for the next three hours, and when we stopped for lunch in Grants Pass, Oregon, he was like a different (and much more pleasant!) child.
We did the picnic thing again in Grants Pass, and we ended up finding a park with a huge fenced dog park as part of it. The place was deserted, so we ate our lunch and then let the dogs and the boys roam in the dog park. Normally I would’ve been cautious about letting the dogs in there because Zoe is an aggressive little beast with other dogs and Luna was recovering from surgery…but there wasn’t another dog in sight. Just a lovely, shaded, grassy area where they could roam and do their business. Perfect.
Then it was time for the next leg—we made it another two hours north to Eugene, Oregon. We love Eugene—it’s a fun, funky little college town with lots of parks and trees and greenery. We took a picnic to a little neighborhood park and ended up meeting some super-nice people. We ended up staying a lot longer than planned because Theo was having so much fun playing with a couple of other kids, and Sam was happily roaming the grassy hill.
We finally rolled into Portland at 9:30pm, after a 17-hour journey. Both boys were asleep in the car as we pulled up to our hotel. Naturally, they got a second wind in the hotel, and it took us another 90 minutes to get them settled into bed. You’d think they would sleep late the next morning, right? No, of course not. Theo was up with the sun. Sam slept longer, but not Theo. So I sent Chris and Theo off to breakfast while I hung out in the room with Sleeping Beauty.
We had one full day in Portland, so we decided to meander the city. We dropped the dogs at a kennel (so we would have some freedom to explore—can’t leave them in the hotel room, even in their crate) and headed to Washington Park, which is a huge park in the city that contains botanical gardens, the zoo, museums, and pretty much everything else you can think of. There’s far too much to do in one day, so we opted for the 4T hike—according to the website, a “self-guided urban nature tour that lets you explore the city and see some of the best views without a car.” (Because, you know, we’d pretty much had it with being in the car after the previous day!) The cool thing about the 4T is that you hike a trail, take an aerial tram, take a trolley, and then take a train to make the full loop. (See why it’s called 4T? Trail, tram, trolley, train!) Theo loves transportation (and hiking), so this seemed right up his alley—especially the aerial tram.
We started at the zoo and hiked up through a wooded trail of about 1.6 miles to Council Crest Park, the highest point in Portland. Fabulous views! Really spectacular. I could’ve sat up there all day and watched the boys play on the grassy hills. Next, you take what the website described as an “easy downhill stroll” to Portland’s aerial tram. Um, no. It was not an “easy downhill stroll.” I would describe it as a moderately strenuous three-mile hike. And moderately strenuous would be fine if we had been prepared for that…but we weren’t. We were prepared for the “easy downhill stroll” we had been promised! I was wearing Birkenstock sandals, Theo was wearing sandals, and we had no bottled water with us (and it was hot!). We hiked…and hiked…and hiked. My Birkenstock popped a nail through the sole, so I was constantly getting stabbed in the toe by a tiny nail. My feet were so sweaty that even my trusty Birks gave me a nasty blister. And I was wearing a 23-pound baby on my back—who took the opportunity to hurl his shoe off a cliff, a fact I only discovered half a mile later, when Chris said, “Hey, where’s Sam’s shoe?” and I realized that the thump, thud, thud, thud I’d heard 15 minutes before had likely been Sam’s shoe rolling down the cliff, not a fallen pinecone. So I couldn’t put said baby down to walk on his own (even in the non-cliff part) because he was lacking a shoe, and the path was full of rocks. Sigh…
We finally made it to the aerial tram, sweaty, smelly, blistered, foot-stabbed, shoeless, thirsty, and disgusting—and enjoyed our four-minute tram ride down into the city of Portland. Yes, four minutes. We hiked for hours for a four-minute tram ride. It was a cool tram, but still…I’m not sure the four minutes of fun made the very long, painful hike worth it. 🙂
We then staggered aboard the trolley and took it into downtown, where we collapsed in the first kid-friendly restaurant we could find: a Lebanese place. Yummy food, so no complaints. Best stuffed grape leaves I’ve had!
Before boarding the train back to the zoo (where we had parked our van), we swung by Target to try to buy Sam a pair of replacement shoes. No luck, so we had to continue carrying the heavy little turkey! We couldn’t miss Powell’s City of Books (biggest bookstore on the West Coast), so we staggered in there before catching the train. Well, Chris and Theo did. Sam was being a turd, so he and I stayed outside. 🙂
I was vindicated, though! Halfway through the grueling hike, Chris had said to me something along the lines of, “I’m not sure this was the best choice for small kids,” and I shrieked at him, “The website said it was an easy downhill stroll! It’s not my fault!” Well, as we waited for the train, we came upon another couple who had fallen prey to the same misleading website! “Why on earth did they say that was an easy downhill stroll??” they wondered aloud. HA!
The other noteworthy thing about Portland was Blue Star Donuts. Portland is famous for Voodoo Donuts, which is a place that makes tasty and unusually shaped donuts (yes, there is a phallic donut). I went there when Theo was a baby, and I thought the donuts were good, but not extraordinary. (And I don’t really need a phallic donut.) But I had heard that Blue Star Donuts was even better—big on using fresh local ingredients and such, and with interesting flavor creations. Oh…my…goodness. So good! So good, in fact, that we went two mornings in a row! Each time we ordered several donuts and sampled them. I can’t remember all of the ones we ordered, but some of the highlights were a dulce la leche hazelnut cake donut (Chris’s favorite of them all!), a crème brulee donut filled with Cointreau liqueur (probably my favorite—it had a cream center, a little pipette of Cointreau to squeeze into it, and a crispy caramelized sugar topping!), an almond chocolate ganache donut, a hard-cider apple fritter, a coconut cream–filled donut, a peach jelly-filled…shall I go on? 🙂 They were truly outstanding! The best prepared donuts I’ve had—the only possibly better ones I’ve had were the donuts at Duck Donuts in Williamsburg, VA, where they actually take the donut straight out of the frying oil and glaze it with your choice of toppings while you wait. Those may take the cake (or donut!) simply because you get them completely fresh—literally right out of the fryer. But for regular donuts, Blue Star is not to be missed!
We left Portland on Sunday around lunch and drove to Seattle, and the misadventures continued. Google Maps (Chris is a huge devotee) showed red traffic (a.k.a. heavy traffic) much of the way from Portland up to Seattle, and we had visions of being stuck in horrid traffic for hours. That may indeed have been the case, but we decided to take some side highways to avoid the traffic. Um…big mistake. It ended up taking us 5.5 hours to do a three-hour drive, and we missed our planned dinner with Auntie Lisa, Uncle Chris, and Cason. 🙁 On the bright side, we saw some very interesting small towns along the way. (Interesting in the sense of “wow, there’s really not much out here!” and “Wow, I see from the signs along the highway that there is a problem with methamphetamine in this little town.”) So it was a bit of an adventure….
We did eventually make it to our rental cottage in West Seattle, which was lovely! When you’re looking for a rental house that will take dogs and kids and is in your price range and is available for a specific week in August, it can be a bit challenging to find something. However, we got lucky in finding the West Seattle cottage—it was tiny, cute, comfortable, well-stocked, and fit our needs perfectly! It was even walking distance from a nice, big park and a few supermarkets.
We had eight days in Seattle, so let me just share the highlights. We love visiting Seattle because it’s an awesome city in and of itself, but the big draw for us is that Auntie Lisa, Uncle Chris, and Cason live there. So we did as much as possible with them! Theo and Cason (age 3.5) get along famously, and Sam tried hard to be just one of the big kids. We had dinner at their house one night, and the boys all played hard. Another night, Auntie Lisa and Uncle Chris watched the boys so Chris and I could go out for a date (seafood for dinner and frozen custard for dessert!). Another night, we watched Cason so Auntie Lisa and Uncle Chris could go out for a date (they had sushi and ice cream; we cobbled together dinner at home from various takeout and then took the boys to the park, where the older two built a large castle with a vegetable garden in the sand pit while Sam pushed the stroller around the park).
On our last day in Seattle, the seven of us met for breakfast (Portage Bay Café—so delicious! So many gluten-free options! I had buckwheat pancakes with fresh fruit and coconut), then took the ferry to Bainbridge Island, where I have decided I’d like to retire (preferably within the next year—ha!). The island was gorgeous; we took the boys to a park, then had lunch and walked through a little farmers’ market. Then we got in line for the ferry back to Seattle…and discovered the line was horrendous. We had visions of sitting for hours, so we opted to drive back. (Bainbridge Island actually does connect to the mainland, in a roundabout way.) Lisa, Chris, and Cason opted to wait for the ferry…and of course ended up getting home before us. Lesson learned: Our attempts to take shortcuts to avoid traffic rarely pan out. 😉
One night, Lisa and I even had a girls’ night—the menfolk stayed home with the kiddos while we went out to a seafood dinner (I had oysters and a crab roll) and then out to dessert. Must tell you about the dessert in detail, because it was fabulous: We ordered two desserts and split them. The first was a molten chocolate peanut-butter cake with vanilla ice cream and peanut-butter caramel on top. The second was three scoops of vanilla ice cream, each with a different caramel on top: one was a vegan coconut-milk caramel, one was a honey caramel, and one was the same peanut-butter caramel. I rank them in reverse order, with the peanut-butter caramel being the best and the vegan being my least favorite (though it was still delicious!).
During the weekdays, Lisa and Chris had to work, so we puttered around on our own. Alas, it rained parts of four days, so we did more inside stuff than we normally would on a vacation. But luckily, there is plenty of good indoor stuff to do in Seattle! One day we went to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field. LOVED it! I wish we had spent more time there, but we were all getting hungry for lunch after about 90 minutes, so we cut our visit a bit short. Still, Chris got to see the space exhibit, we all walked through Air Force One (the one that Kennedy, LBJ, and I believe Nixon flew on), and Theo and I got to sit in an SR-71! This was the highlight for me—the SR-71 has long been my favorite of all planes, so I was thrilled to get to sit in the cockpit! I think I was probably even more excited than Theo. 🙂
Another highlight was our trip to the Children’s Museum. The museum was very cool, but the best part of it was that I got to meet up with one of the Rockin’ Moms! Her son is Eli, and he’s some months younger than Sam (about six months younger, I think). We’ve become friends in our Rockin’ Moms Facebook group, so I was thrilled to get to meet Melanie and Eli in person! (As well as her older son, Cody, though he was off exploring with his grandma.) Sam and Eli were so cute together! Eli is a total rockstar—while we have been very fortunate in that Sam hasn’t had any medical issues, little Eli has been through the wringer medically. But he has come through it with flying colors, and he is just a sweetheart…with some pretty darn cool hair! (He got his first haircut from a brain surgeon—and now he rocks a very cool faux-hawk!)
A non-highlight of our trip was having a sick pug. Sigh… One afternoon, Luna ended up having…well, let’s just call it GI distress. It continued all night long—Chris was literally up all night with her. Early the next morning, I sent him to bed to get several hours of sleep, and I hauled the boys and the sick dog to a local vet. Not my idea of a good time, but it actually went fairly well. Theo took charge and greeted the vet with, “Hi! Two weeks ago, Luna swallowed a $2,000 apricot pit, and this morning I stepped in her yucky, gross poop with my bare feet.” True enough. In fact, he still had the remnants of it on his pantleg, but getting both boys and the dog to a vet in an unfamiliar city at 9:00 on a Saturday morning was enough of a challenge; I decided we could temporarily live with some poo on the pantleg.
As it turned out, Luna just had some sort of bacterial infection or imbalance due to her recent surgery and course of antibiotics, so the vet prescribed an anti-inflammatory/antibiotic, and that cleared things up. We were out the door within 45 minutes and for less than $100, so I consider that a success. Still, though, not a highlight of the trip.
And let me now just segue from poop into chocolate! (Ha ha, how was that for a transition?!) Another highlight from our trip was our venture to the Theo Chocolate factory. Theo is a brand of chocolate made in Seattle, and Theo was so excited to visit their factory. Alas, their tours are for ages 7 and up, so we could only go in the gift shop. But he enjoyed it anyway because they had tons of samples, and we tried almost all. We bought a bunch of chocolates, and I had to buy Theo a mug with the “Theo” logo on it, which he loves. When we left, he told the cashiers, “Thank you for letting us come…and thank you for naming your chocolates after me!” Ha!
Another thing Theo loved was Snoqualmie Falls. It’s just about an hour outside of Seattle, and it’s lovely—I’ve been there many times. Theo loved it, and if you ask him what his favorite part of the trip was, he will say, “I saw three waterfalls! One was really huge!” (The two smaller ones were at a park in Ashland, Oregon, that we stopped at on our drive home.)
Naturally, we also went to Pike Place Market, though we didn’t go in the actual market—for which I have never been more in love with Chris. I hate crowds, and that place is horribly crowded. But I know how Chris loves markets, so I would’ve done it for him. But he took one look at the crowd and said, “Oh, I don’t need to go in. I’ve already been there before.” And we didn’t. And I loved him. 🙂 We did wander around the surrounding streets (in search of replacement baby shoes for Mr. I Threw My Shoe Off a Cliff, but alas we had no luck), but we didn’t venture into the market itself.
Other than that, we did parks, walks, beaches, beautiful views…all kinds of low-key and fun things to do in Seattle. Honestly, we would’ve needed at least another week to hit everything we would’ve liked to hit…but that just means we need to go back, right?!
The end of our misadventures came on our drive home. We made it from Seattle to Eugene just fine—that was our goal on the first day of the drive home. We even stopped in Portland for lunch and some delicious ice cream at a place a friend told me not to miss. Really interesting flavors like strawberry honey balsamic with cracked pepper (surprisingly delicious—you can’t taste the pepper), sea salt with caramel ribbons, and caramel with salted ganache… They also had “savory” flavors like bone marrow with bourbon cherries, but we skipped those. 😉 We found a lovely park in Eugene to stretch our legs, then retired to the hotel for the night.
The next morning, though, the van didn’t want to start. It did start, but not easily. Chris told me he thought we should perhaps keep it running as much as possible and avoid turning it off. We stopped for gas shortly into the trip and naturally had to turn it off—and when he turned it back on, I saw what he meant. So the rest of the 500-mile drive home was spent carefully plotting how to avoid turning off the van. It was like something out of National Lampoon’s Vacation: “Okay, honey, you pull over here, and I’ll jump out with the dogs and take them to that patch of grass while you idle in the van. And no, we don’t have to turn it off for lunch—we’ll just picnic right next to the running van! And when we need to stop for gas, let’s make sure it’s a gas station with a service station attached, in case it won’t start!” At our last stop, the battery didn’t even have enough juice to get the automatic sliding door closed on the first try—we had to manually drag it closed, and it took two tries to get the van started. And yes, we know smart people would’ve just stopped and had a new battery put in, but we had 500 miles to drive in one day and really wanted to get home. We took ol’ Helen into the Honda dealer the next day and had a new battery put in—good as new.
And so ends our vacationing for the year. We hope to be able to take at least one trip next summer, but we’ll probably be sticking close to home until then. Chris is set to start a huge project that it supposed to take the better part of the year, plus Theo is starting first grade on Monday (yikes!). Theo is switching schools in a very last-minute move, but I’m going to address that in a separate post, since this one is long enough already.
One last thing! The pictures in this week’s gallery aren’t in order. There are a zillion of them (okay, more like 100) taken from four different cameras, and if I try to put them in order, it will take me forever to get this posted. So you can just enjoy them in semi-random order. 🙂