Tag Archives: family field trips

Taking our Silliness on the Road: A Weekend Trip to Portland

After the weather we’ve had in Seattle these past few months, I wouldn’t know summer if it jumped up and bit me. But after a hot August weekend in Portland, you’ll no longer hear me complaining. It was so hot and sunny that I almost got a tan. And by hot, I mean ninety degrees. I’m officially a weather wimp.

Good thing Portland had other attractions to take my mind off the heat:

Thank you, Voodoo Doughnut. That maple bacon bar helped replenish my electrolytes…

So I could make sure my drag racing daughter and her drag racing cousins didn’t drive into oncoming traffic. That’s Rue riding shotgun in the squad car. Getting to ride in the front row is pretty good…

But being behind the wheel is all she’s ever wanted.

Hood ornaments are just getting to be ridiculous. Everyone seems to need a status symbol.

And you have to watch your surroundings at the U-Pick farms. You never know when a spider or bumblebee will come within four feet of you while your mother makes you pose with your green bean harvest.

In short, when vacationing with a herd of small children, don’t expect to hit the usual tourist destinations. You don’t have to go looking for adventure or photo-worthy moments. Both just seem to present themselves.

Later this week: green beans. Sure, Lupe was brave enough to pick them, but was she brave enough to eat them?


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Winthrop with Friends and One More Rolled Food

Seems like just yesterday we were in Winthrop running the Sunflower. We like it so much that we recently went back with friends. We don’t travel with friends often. We like our friends too much to inflict ourselves on them. Here are a few things we learned from the experience:

1. If the guy renting you the paddle boat says it’s too windy to go out far on Patterson Lake, you should listen. He’s the expert. You’re a city slicker who’s about to discover how darned hard it is to paddle boat into strong currents. In the midday sun. With two whiny eleven-year-olds in the back, who, it turns out, were wise beyond their years when they told you not to go out so far.

And if said boat rental guy motors out to see if you’re okay, don’t let your pride get in the way of accepting a tow back to shore. Injured muscles or injured pride. You decide.

2. Girls will be girls. They will buy fake mustaches from the camp general store and romp through the campground like a hirsute band of biker babettes.

3. Food cooked on an open fire is overrated. If you were camp cook for a wagon train of pioneers, they’d all starve:

That’s country gravy. Made by this here food blogger.

I’d have eaten coon before I’d eat that. Or the hot dogs we found littered in an open field.

But more on country gravy, and how to actually make it work, in another post.

4. Take a game the grownups can enjoy while the kids play after dinner. We brought Bananagrams. But don’t quit playing if Nacho Man claims he’s won. He makes up words.

Sadly, he doesn’t always realize they’re made up words.

5. And finally, pack a meal for the long drive. Try something different:

Try Spam musubi.

I’ve eaten Spam lots of different ways, thanks to my dad, but never with rice and yaki nori. A good friend taught me how to make this. Although we didn’t see it when we were in Maui, my friend says it’s big in Hawaii for its flavor and portability. Apparently you can buy it at convenience stores. I think it’s amazing the foods you can buy in convenience stores there. Like samosas in London.

This is fast, easy, and different than peanut butter slapped onto bread. You need 3 cups of cooked short grain rice. I mixed 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar and 1/2 tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl, then gently mixed it into my cooked rice with a rice paddle.

Crack open a can of Spam. I have Spam Lite–yes, it’s an oxymoron. Find a way to release the Spam from its container. It’s suctioned in there pretty tight. Slice it into 8 equal slices and fry each side in about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil on medium heat for a few minutes. Remove from the pan.

Mix 1 tablespoon soy sauce with 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl and pour it into the pan. Return the Spam to the pan and flip each side in the mixture. Remove from heat.

Open a package of roasted seaweed, or yaki nori. You won’t use all of it for this recipe, but the rest can be sealed in a Ziploc bag and kept in the pantry.

Lay the yaki nori on a clean cutting board. If you have a Spam musubi rice mold, which  my friend happened to pick up for me at our local Uwajimaya grocery store, use it as a guide for cutting the yaki nori to width. This mold is the exact size for a piece of sliced Spam. Who’d have thought that Spam would generate a set of specialty kitchen tools?

Place the mold in the middle of the sliced yaki nori.

Use a rice paddle to place rice in the mold until it’s about half full. Gently press the rice down, making sure it fills each corner of the mold.

Put a piece of glazed Spam on top of the rice. Then, add enough rice to fill the mold, being sure to gently tuck it into the corners.

Take the lid of the mold and gently press it against the rice.

Holding the lid in place, carefully lift the mold away.

Gently remove the lid from the rice. You might need a clean knife or rice paddle to do this.

Lift the bottom of the yaki nori and cover the rice and Spam. Then, do the same with the top of the yaki nori.

Flip the Spam musubi so that the seam is on the bottom.

Spam Musubi

makes 8


1 can of Spam or Spam Lite

3 cups cooked short grain white rice

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1/2 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

yaki nori

vegetable oil for frying


1. Prepare the rice. Mix 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar and 1/2 tablespoon sugar in a small bowl and gently mix into the cooked rice with a rice paddle.

2. Slice the Spam into 8 equal pieces. Fry in about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil on medium heat for a few minutes on each side, or until browned. Remove from pan.

3. Mix 1 tablespoon soy sauce with 1 tablespoon sugar. Add to pan and return Spam slices, turning to coat both sides evenly. Remove from heat.

4. Trim yaki nori to match the size of Spam musubi mold. Place mold in the center of the trimmed yaki nori.

5. Add enough rice to half fill the mold. Use a rice paddle to carefully tuck it into each corner of the mold.

6. Add 1 slice of Spam.

7. Cover with rice.

8. Press the lid of the mold on the rice to compress the rice a bit. Then, carefully lift the mold while holding the lid into place.

9. Tuck the bottom, then top, of the yaki nori over the rice and Spam. Flip over so the seam is on the bottom.

10. Eat immediately, or wrap individually in plastic and refrigerate. These taste best if eaten within a day.


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Bellingham in a Day

10 things we love about Bellingham:

1. The Farmers Market. Don’t let the No Dogs and No Bikes thing fool you. Maybe they’re not allowed in the market, but the public water fountains have troughs that help out your four-legged friends. And as for the No Bikes thing…

2. An off-the-grid blender for your smoothie.

Lupe worked for the smoothie; Rue drank it.

3. Scoring a stylish t-shirt. This is by Laurens Design and you can find her on etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/laurensdesign

4. Recycling is cool. Recycling is chic. Just as we were coming into the market, I saw a gal leaving with a pair of black cowboy boots that had been transformed into planters. Not even that smoothie could wash away the taste of my jealousy. These oxfords-cum-planters are snappy, but I was still pining after those cowboy boots.

5. Enterprising kids can set up shop at the farmers market on the last Saturday of the month. We saw duct tape crafts, handmade cards, jewelry, and more.

6. Political activists with a sense of fun. There’s a living, breathing human under all those bags, gathering signatures for a movement to eliminate single-use plastic bags in Bellingham. In our rush to get out the door, I almost forgot to grab my reusable grocery bags. Really glad I didn’t.

7. Independent bookstores. If we can’t get to the local library when we’re visitors in another town, then we try to check out a local independent bookstore. It was a stunningly sunny Saturday, we were by the water, and we could barely get the kids out of  Village Books. Got no pictures of this charming bookstore–I was too busy looking at books.

8. Larrabee State Park. Follow the trail–just try not to let the scenery distract you from keeping your eyes on it.

Here’s the view from the small crescent of beach at about 6:30 on a summer evening. This is a no swimming/no wading beach, so unless you and yours are content to sit on the warm, pebbly shore or explore the trails and rocky outcroppings, this may not be the beach for you.

9. A quiet place to sit and take it all in. I can’t tell you how many people complimented Rue’s outfit while we were in town. Let’s just say that she’s quite pleased with herself. In case you couldn’t tell.

10. All of this is less than two hours from our home.

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Beachcombing at Seahurst Park

I could spend hours gawking at the scenery at picturesque Seahurst Park on Puget Sound.

I love that you almost can’t distinguish the clouds from the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains. Almost.

Not sure what those gray splotches in the sky are. Definitely the work of an amateur photographer, not alien invaders.

There’s more than spectacular scenery to enjoy. The beach is teeming with plant and animal life during low tide. But after awhile, I began to worry that this would be the most exotic wildlife we’d see:

Tired of seafood, this bird was hoping for a nibble of Rue’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Don’t play coy with us. We’ve got your number.

And then, we hit payload at the rocks:

Purple Sea Star and Sea Anemone

Clam–this one’s still alive.

Hermit Crab

Red Sea Cucumber

And my favorite: Acorn Barnacle.

Yes, the barnacle is my favorite. Here’s why: I’ve always thought of barnacles as nautical nuisances. Something to be scraped off, discarded. But thanks to the amazing beach naturalist from the Seattle Aquarium who was on hand, I learned that:

a. Barnacles attach their heads to hard surfaces, such as rocks.

b. Barnacles are related to crabs–that thing sticking out is kind of like a pincher.

c. Barnacles eat things like plankton.

d. And here’s the coolest thing. If you put your ear really really really close to these acorn barnacles, you can hear the sounds they make! It’s kind of a clicking-sucking sound. I think it’s more beautiful than the sound of waves in a seashell. And no, they don’t pinch.

And how cool is it that there are tiny barnacles stuck to the larger ones?

I am absolutely in awe of barnacles.

The Seattle Aquarium will have beach naturalists at beaches throughout Puget Sound during the summer, primed and prepped to talk to visitors about the remarkable things that low tide exposes. These folks are locals who volunteer their time to share their love of the Sound and increase our awareness that life is all around us.

Case in point: the barnacles. They’ll talk your ears off.

Check out this crazy animal in jeans and fleece at the beach in the middle of June.

Nacho Man couldn’t resist poking fun at my beach attire.

We’re not in Maui anymore.

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Playing in Winthrop, or, How Pho Girl Connected with Her Inner Cowgirl

Just a few final thoughts on Winthrop.

A half-day drive from Seattle, and we feel like we’re worlds away.

The pace of our lives slows. Playing in the dirt jumps to the top of the priority list.

Rue’s dirt volcano. I think half these rocks came home with us.

Soaking up the sun, eating ice cream before dinner, and marveling at the scenery are also high on the list.

Our favorite route for getting to all this happiness is Highway 20, the North Cascades Highway. It was still closed for the season when we came up for the Sunflower Relay and Marathon, but if you believe that the journey should be as amazing as the destination, then this is the route for you. Though it takes us more time than traveling via I-90, the jaw-dropping views of the mountains and Diablo Lake are worth it. We get out and stretch our legs on some of the short hiking trails, and although it turns the drive into an all-day event, no one seems to mind.

Lodging in Winthrop doesn’t come cheap. There’s the decadent Sun Mountain Lodge. There are also gorgeous cabins on Patterson Lake. Luckily for us, you don’t have to be a guest of either place to enjoy the restaurant or rent canoes and enjoy a refreshing row on the lake on a summer day. We shared a great house at the Cascade Condominiums with another family.

But my favorite place to stay is the KOA in Winthrop.

I stayed at my share of KOA campgrounds as a kid, and this is not a statement I ever thought I’d make. In fact, when friends told me what a great place this is, I was more than a little skeptical. But it’s so affordable compared to the other lodging options in the area that Nacho Man and I decided to give it a shot.

We’re so glad we did.

This is a wonderful, family-run camp on the banks of the Methow River. You can pitch a tent (in fact, the tent campers are closest to the rivers), bring your RV, or rent a cabin. We’ve rented cabins twice in the past. They’re rustic but clean, and Lupe and Rue love the bunk beds. The Methow Valley gets HOT during the summer, but there are several air-conditioned cabins as well as a new restroom facility that offers to most privacy I’ve ever seen at a campground. There’s also a swimming pool and a general store where the kids like to see how far they can stretch a quarter. Everyone’s friendly. My girls can ride their bikes on the gravel paths that wind through the campground. We like to fall asleep to the sound of the river, our bellies full of camp food and s’mores.

The location can’t be beat, either. The Red Apple, the only grocery store in the area, is just up the street. It’s open 8am-8pm, so we city-slickers can’t expect to run out at ten at night to stock up on avocados and face cream. And it’s only minutes from the town of Winthrop, with its faux-faced western storefronts and boardwalks that lead to delicious ice cream, miniature golf, an independent bookstore, and fun shops that you can enjoy whether you’re on a Sun Mountain Lodge or KOA budget.

Nacho Man loves these. He wants a set for our front porch. I’m not sure how our HOA would feel about that, but I’ve got a pretty good idea.

I fell in love with this little number at The Retro Pony:

This is the “Dang Cowgirl” t-shirt. It’s very cheeky. I told the owner that the $40 price tag was a little too steep for me, and she mentioned that the same t-shirt is available in the Sundance catalog for $58. Her price has made for a lot of happy customers.

Maybe I’ll be one of them on my next trip.


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Running the Sunflower in Winthrop, Washington

Winthrop, Washington, is the kind of place that can give a person a moral dilemma–it’s so wonderful that you want to tell everyone about it, yet you want to keep it all to yourself. Thank goodness we have friends who are sharers. They introduced us to this getaway last year and we’ve been back three times within one year.

Our most recent visit to Winthrop was for the 31st annual Sunflower Relay and Marathon, a running event through the trails and backroads and hills of the Mazama-Winthrop-Twisp area. An outdoorsy friend who’s done this relay with friends for years talked us and a big bunch of mutual friends into it (she didn’t have to press us too hard) and Nacho Man, Lupe, and I participated.

I’ve done a couple of other runs in Seattle, and my goal has always been to get to the finish line pronto. There’s nothing like a timing shoe tag to bring out my competitive streak. But there’s no timing shoe tag at the Sunflower. There are 26.2 miles of stunning scenery, shared with a bunch of mellow, outdoorsy people who don’t think that pushing themselves to their max and enjoying the view should be mutually exclusive. And so, I slowed down, even stopping a couple of times during my 4.2 mile leg, to take in my surroundings:

The day started out cloudy and cool, but one of the reasons this waterlogged Seattlelite loves Winthrop is because the sun always breaks through.

The view while waiting for Lupe to cross the finish line at her exchange.

I didn’t see any wildlife on my leg, but Lupe said she saw what looked like a venue (I believe this is the correct term) of vultures feasting on something in a field. Bet that made her turn up the speed a little.

With legs that vary in length and difficulty, there’s something for every type of runner. This also means that it’s an incredibly kid-friendly activity. The youngest child on our leg was seven years old, and he booked it! I was initially worried about Lupe running without us, but once I saw that this is a supportive group of runners on very clearly marked, well-traveled trails, my worries went away.

I can’t wait until Rue is a little older and can join us. She was waiting for me at the finish line.

I have a feeling we’ll be returning for the 32nd annual Sunflower.


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