Favorites: Hiking Nice-to-haves!

As we are getting back into hiking and hitting a groove, there are a few things we require (and a couple of other things we just really like). Anything to make hiking with kids easier and more fun is worth it. Here are a couple of things we really like. None of these are really ‘necessary’ (outside of the first aid stuff and the kid’s sunglass…I am serious here!) but we are happy with them and wanted to share them with you.

CamelBak Water System

My husband and I have always loved our small packs with water bladders and a drinking tube, but we hadn’t gotten one for the lad before. REI is having a sale and we found a child’s version, called the Camelbak Skeeter Hydration Pack. It fits him well and isn’t too heavy at 50 fl oz. The manufacturer says this is good for kids 5-8, so he is on the bigger end, but the straps let out quite a bit, and I think he will wear it longer (we are knocking on 8’s door right now). He didn’t complain once of it being too heavy (the water bladder isn’t as big as an adult’s) and he had on-demand water which means there was no constant stopping unless mom and dad needed a break. This is going to be a great pack for our short hikes and it means no more water bottles in our bigger back packs (well, not until we have him up to longer distances). For longer hikes he will need his pack and more water. There is no storage at all in this pack, which I find as a negative of this model. The Skeeter normally runs about $40, but it was on sale for $29.99. There may be less expensive versions out there, and I am sure they are great too. I am of the opinion that kids need to carry gear and any pack of this sort is fantastic for that. Plus, I doubt we are the only family who has a hard time wearing our kid out (I wish I could plug into some of that…seriously!).

FitBit Surge

I am a Type-A person who loves to track her steps. I just like it. I think it is pretty cool to see how active I am in a day. The thing I love about my new FitBit Surge watch is that we can go on a hike and my son can see how many steps we did (he of course does more than us with his shorter legs), how many miles we have gone, and with the GPS feature it will map our route so he can see where we walked (how cool is that?!). I like it also because it tells me my heart rate, tracks my lack of sleep (what is sleep?), and gets me up and moving more. My husband likes it because I seldom actually hear my phone ring when he calls. Now my watch buzzes on my wrist via bluetooth so I don’t have as much of an excuse (unless I don’t have my phone or I am out of range). Unlike the Apple Watch, it works independently of my phone, so if I leave my phone at home, most of the features on the watch work (save the text messages or the caller ID). It runs right around $250, which is less than the Apple Watch, but it also isn’t as pretty and is lacking a few features (which frankly, I don’t think I am really missing). For me, it is enough and I love it.

A Really Good Pair of Kids Sunglasses

We found a great pair of sunglasses for the lad after learning just how important it is to make sure kids have proper eye protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Kid’s pupils tend to be bigger which lets in more light and the UV rays can cause damage on really bright, sunny days. Plus, kids are spending a lot of time outside during the summer (I hope!) and while they often have sunscreen on, seldom do they wear anything to protect their eyes. According to studies this can lead to cataracts and eventual possible blindness.

The pair we bought are made by Julbo and have nice polarized lenses. This particular model was recommended to us by an optometrist. The size is great for kids 6-10 (according to the lady at the shop and Julbo’s website) and my son finds them very comfortable. The best part is he doesn’t mind wearing them. Here are some tips on what to look for when buying the glasses for your kids from VSP (which is a big health insurance for eye care company…if you are unfamiliar).

I remember these glasses costing around $50 which was a lot to spend,  but protecting our bodies is really important and worth the investment. We have established rules about where we keep them and ‘they must stay in their case if they’re not on your face’! It has been more than a year, and so far so good! We haven’t lost them once. Now excuse me while I find some wood to knock on.

First Aid Kits

We always have a first aid kit with us when we are out. We have them in the car. We have them in the trailer. We don’t leave home without them and there is a very good reason for that…it is easy to get hurt. We like these ones from REI. 

This is the smallest one we carry and you can see everything that is included inside the handy zippered pouch.

REI carries these in several sizes for multi day hikes, for full families, for longer day hikes and more. We always add a few extra things to our kits (like individual eye drops, medicine for stings, extra band aids, etc). We highly recommend one person in your group always carry a good first aid kit that will cover you for things that could happen. 

First Aid App

Ever wondered what to do if someone is choking? Trying to remember that class you took 20 years ago for CPR and can’t remember if the song to sing is ‘Staying Alive’ or something else? And didn’t they change the  CPR technique anyway? Is it just me who thinks like this? I would be horrible in certain emergencies due to not being certain I am doing the right thing. Luckily, I have a point of reference!


First Aid by American Red Cross is a great app to reference when you need help or someone near you does. Best thing, this is a free app

It can help you with cuts, broken bones, burns, how to help if someone is unconscious and breathing (or not), where the nearest hospital is, if you have been learning first aid there are tests to see where you might need to improve, and they give you list of things you need to do from chemical spills to natural disasters plus even more!

I like the way they have set it up as well. They not only have step by step instructions, but there is a short video to walk you through those steps. This app has won all sorts of awards and has earned high marks. We consider this a must have for sure, and at free there is no reason not to have this on your phone! AmIright?

Binoculars and a local bird guide

Over the last few years we have been creating a better habitat in our backyard by planting native plants, installing houses for birds, mason bees, and (as of this last weekend) bats! We also have a great bird feeder we can see from our kitchen table allowing us to watch chestnut breasted chickadees, dark eyed juncos, and various sparrows swoop in and have a snack. We even saw a Pine Siskin for the first time recently! We are learning a lot about our local birds and have started watching for them while hiking. 

To make this easier, I just bought us a nice pair of binoculars. You could spend thousands on a set, but as we are amateurs and have a child who will be using them, I decided I didn’t want my investment to be that big (plus who has thousands to spend on a pair of specs when you have kids anyway?). I went in to the Portland Audubon Society and chatted with them and found a great pair of binoculars. The Leupold Yosemite BX-1 is fantastic because it is designed with a wider interpupillary range (meaning it can go wide enough for my big head and narrow enough for our son’s small head, and my husbands head is somewhere in between!). We went with an 8×30, although there are different ranges of magnification in this model. It comes with a carrying case and a strap and we got it there for around $107 (with our membership discount). Amazon is carrying them for about the same price

 The other thing we carry along with the binoculars is a pocket bird guide for our local area (when we stay in town, when we travel,  we have a bird book we take along). Our Portland Bird guide is laminated (which is important for being outside in Oregon) and folds up easier than a map. It has all of the birds we can see locally and it is fun for our son when he is able to match the bird to the picture and tell us what he sees. We also keep it on the kitchen table so we know who comes to visit. 

Yoga Studio

After a good hike or run, I need a good stretch. I am a recent yoga convert, which was hard at first as I am not a flexible person. I was having a hard time touching my toes after years of sitting. I have found yoga helps limber me up and it has decreased pain in my body. Not to mention that after Yoga Glow is pretty awesome. Yoga really is for everyone and you don’t have to do poses that will get you into Cirque du Soleil, you just have to do what you can. When I am on the road or I can’t get into the yoga studio, I love to use my Yoga Studio app. I bought it for $2.99 in the App Store and it is on all of my devices which makes it easy to take with me. There are different classes available based on level.

I have found their beginner classes great to practice skills, improve my balance and feel it is perfect for the beginner. I worked my way through them and have become very comfortable with the intermediate classes (I have not ventured into the advanced yet, since I am not THAT comfortable). You can go at your own pace and use it when you need it. I love the shorter classes for good stretching after hikes and they even have a special section for stretching after running (I love this one!).

You can read about the poses and how to get into them and they tell you how they should feel and what they are working. This app has really been a great partner to my studio time and has been really great for my mental health and coming back to center. Especially after a challenging day.

Your turn!

What are some of your favorite things to have with you while hiking with your kids or recovering after? Share with us below in the comments section!


Hikes with kids: Rodney and Hardy Falls (Beacon Rock State Park, WA)

Here is the nitty-gritty:

  • 2.5 miles round trip, with 650 feet of elevation gain. I consider this a nice easy hike
  • Great for kids 4 and up (littler kids who have more endurance will do fine too
  • Trails are flat and wide enough for two people to walk shoulder-to-shoulder most of the way
  • Pool of the Winds is really fun for older kids, but rocks are slippery and the railing offers only a little protection from a very high fall. Kids on this part of the hike will need more developed dexterity and balance than most little ones have.

Here are more details! While we were at Beacon Rock State Park a few weeks ago, we hiked Beacon Rock, but decided to add another hike to our day. We had a look at the map and decided to hike to Rodney and Hardy Falls. We are so glad we did, because it offered a much different experience than out on the very popular “rock”. We encountered plenty of other hikers of all abilities, but it was far fewer people than those who were hiking Beacon Rock.

One thing that really appealled to us was that both of the view points for each of the falls are very near one another and the total hike (round-trip) was right around a 2.5 miles. The elevation gain is around 600 feet (650 if you go to the top of Pool of the Winds) so it isn’t a very taxing hike. While it is a little bit longer than the Beacon Rock trail and the elevation gain is around the same, the gain is spread out over a longer distance. I feel like kids 4 and up will do fine here walking on their own. Younger kids will do well too, but might need mom or dad to help when they get tired.

Start your hike at the Hamilton Mountain Trailhead, which is up the road to the upper campground, just past the Ranger Station. There is a bathroom and a playstructure so you have a place to prepare for the hike, and a nice reward for after the hike! This park requires the Washington State Discover Pass, which is a $10.00 fee and will cover you for the whole day. The pass can be used at other state parks in the same day too! The parking lot here is quite small, so starting earlier in the morning would be a good idea, because it fills up fast! There is another parking area up the road, but this will add to your hike distance, is only open seasonally.

The Hamilton Mountain Trail starts off going through a nice forested area, eventually opening up to a meadowy area before going back into a forest. The meadow area was logged for the power lines to run through and while that isn’t over beautiful, it does offer some access to lovely wild flowers in the spring and it allows some of your only views of the Gorge and the Bonneville Dam. The kids can also learn about where their power comes (who doesn’t love a teachable moment!)! As you leave the meadow, the path will take you up a small incline and the trail will split off to the right for the Hardy Falls Viewpoint. It is a short detour, and it affords folks a nice view of the creek and the falls. It is an out and back and not part of the loop, but worth the extra 1/4 mile or so.  

Once you come back to the Hamilton Mountain Trail and walk a short distance, you will have a choice to to either continue straight, which takes you to the Pool of the Winds, or right, which takes you down the hill to the bridge which crosses the Hardy Creek.
We chose to go up to the Pool of the Winds first. It is a very short jaunt up and it was interesting to be able to look into the top of Rodney Falls. As I mentioned in the “nitty-gritty” section above, please watch your children. Small children should not attempt to go up. Parents should scout the area before taking their kids up so they can decide if is is safe for them. The narrow, uneven path, slick rocks, and the potential to fall from a high place are all real risks and everyone needs to take care. That said the view is very pretty down to the creek and the “pool” is quite beautiful. It is fun to be able to stand there and look up to the top of the waterfall.

Looking down from the top you will see the bridge that one would cross to get to Hardy Falls and Hamilton Mountain. If you head back down to where the trail goes right (it goes left when you are coming from Pool of the Winds), walk down the path a bit more, you will get there. This gives a nice view of all of Rodney Falls.

The Bridge was the point we turned around and headed back to the car. We found this to be a great hike for kids and our son loved the waterfalls and views. It was also fun being able to identify many of our native plants in this forest (we are just learning). I am putting together a cheat sheet for Northwest Native plants that we see while we are out hiking (feature coming soon, keep your eyes out!).

Before we headed back to town we checked out the upper campground. It is quite basic, but seemed nice and quiet set in a dense and lush forest. Spots are shaded. Some spots would work for teardrops (others will be much too small and will work better as tent only spots). I checked with the Park Ranger and he said as long as the tow-vehicle and the trailer fit, we are welcome to camp there. I believe there is a second campground down on the other side of Hwy 14 along the river. I didn’t have a chance to have a look around, but it seems quite near the railroad tracks, which does see a lot of traffic as it is one of our main freight lines. Based on our experience and the number of trails we haven’t checked out yet, we will be back and we will try camping here too!

Recipe: Croque Monsieur-ish

I don’t like most sandwiches.

I guess I am strange that way, but I am just not a big fan. I do love a grilled or hot sandwich though, and when we camp, I love to make my version of a Croque Monsieur. Last night we made these for dinner at home, but I do it the same way on the road.

Here is how I do it (per sandwich):

Ingredients  

  • 2 slices of bread (any works, but I love a rustic bread)
  • 2 slices of of cheese (your favorite, we use Swiss – usually Gruyere or Emmentaler)
  • 2 slices of you favorite lunch meat (I like either honey roasted or Black Forest ham, the lad loves a roast Turkey)
  • 1/2 of a small avocado
  • Dijon mustard
  • Butter

I start by taking the two slices of bread and putting Dijon mustard on one side, and mash up 1/4 to 1/2 of a small avocado on the other side.  

 

 

I then take the 2 slices of cheese and cover both of the slices of bread as fully as I can. 

 

 

 

 

Layer your meat on top of the cheese and close the sandwich like a book.  

 

 

 

Spread butter on the top slice of bread.   

 

 

 

Place sandwich, butter side down, in a skillet that is on medium-low to medium heat.   

 

 

 Carefully butter the top of the sandwich. Let the sandwich sit until it is golden brown, then flip. Allow that side to cook until golden brown too.

 

 

Plate the sandwich and serve with soup or salad! Enjoy!

 

 

You can change up the ingredients as you like! I am a pretty strict, “this is what I made for dinner and there is nothing else for you to eat” kind of mom, but these are great because you can adjust the ingredients per person so everyone is happy. Also, the kids can get involved and put their own sandwich together, which means they take greater pride in eating! I usually do this on our camp stove, but you can put your skillet over the fire and add that smokey flavor too (yum!).

The true Croque Monsieur is just Swiss and ham with some Parmesan sprinkled on the outside of the bread after buttering, and the Croque Madame is a Croque Monsieur with a fried egg on top. I think we might try that one for breakfast one morning!

What are you favorite sandwich fillings? Tell us what we are missing out on in the comments below!

 

Hikes with Kids: Beacon Rock (Beacon Rock State Park, WA)

Hiking (or taking a walk in the woods as we say around here) is great for people of all ages. I have always thought the forest, in particular, is such a safe place because people are happier being with nature. There was a study published touting the benefits of being in the woods, not just for the exercise, but because the environment puts off special hormones that make humas feel calmer and more at peace. There is almost a euphoric quality about it. I believe this study because I feel that when I am with the trees! 

As a couple, we would go out hiking every weekend. Rain or rain or rain or shine we were out there exploring parts of the world by foot. Then we became three, and the hiking lessened to the point of being a “special occasion” thing. As we have gotten out camping more, we are doing more hiking. And as I have hit another milestone, and my back-end is getting just a bit wider, I decided to to reinstitute the weekend hike for the three of us. We started last weekend, and I am going to review our hikes on our little blog. I hope to give you information you need to decide if each hike is something your child might enjoy!

Last weekend we began our family hike series with something on the easy side. I am nursing a stress fracture in my leg and we needed some short hikes. We went to Beacon Rock State Park, which is located just east of Stevenson, WA, in our beautiful Columbia River Gorge. It is about a 45 minute drive from downtown Portland. You will see it as number 17 on the map below.

This very popular park boasts campgrounds, rock climbing and hikes and is very pretty with waterfalls, amazing views and a pretty special feature in Beacon Rock.

Beacon Rock was, at one time, one of our volcanos. It erupted about 57,000 years ago and Beacon Rock is the inner core of cooled, hardened lava that was only revealed after powerful floods during th ice age wiped away softer rock layers. Henry Biddle bought the rock for $1 back in 1915 and spent the next 3 years constructing the 0.8-mile trail to the top of the rock, allowing some truly amazing views of the Columbia River Gorge.

For this hike, the best place to park is along the pull out just across from the Ranger station on Hwy 14. There is a good deal of parking right there, bathrooms, and a picnic area. Be careful as you come around the corner on the highway though as traffic slows to make the turn up to the campground and to the other trailheads (our son was witness to his first rear-ending there last weekend). The Ranger Station (equipped with one of the nicest Rangers you will ever meet) is right across the street and is a great place to pop into before your hike to purchase your Discover Pass. This is the Washington State Park pass which is $10/day or $30/year, giving you access to all of Washington’s State Parks. You will be ticketed if you don’t have one while in the park or parked along that section of the highway. While you are in the Ranger Station also make sure to ask for a Jr. Ranger packet for the kids! They run the program as well. Once you have your pass on your dash, head over to the trail head!

 The trail starts off at a pretty easy grade, and continues with a gentle yet steeper grade. The series of switchbacks and board walks will gain you about 600ft of elevation. There is a boot/shoe scrub area (see above photo) to knock any particles off your shoes that may be invasive species that could affect the habitat of the area. They are currently trying to combat several invasive species which are thriving, and this will help make a difference (we are a “no trace” family, and that means we leave our invasive weeds home too!).

From here you will make your way up a couple of switchbacks before passing through the gate. This gate will lead to the switchbacks, and board walks and trail all the way to the top. There is a railing, but keep a close eye on your kids as there are some good drops. We didn’t have any trouble with that, but smaller kids might need extra attention. The trail is fairly shaded in the morning, but gets pretty sun drenched by noon, and can feel really hot. Make sure you bring sun screen (if hiking on sunny days) and lots of water.

Also, as a big warning, we did see poison oak along the trail, so keep an eye out for that as well.   If you stay on the trail, you shouldn’t have any trouble (it is best to stay on the trail anyway to protect the park). Here is a small specimen we saw on the path (there were bigger specimens as well…it is one of our native plants and it thrives in this location):

The switchbacks continue up the rock where you come out of some thicker trees to amazing views of the river and her magesty. You also get to see her traffic, the fisherman and if you look closely, you might see some dear on the islands!

  

You can also watch Bonneville Dam produce our power or watch the squirrels try to talk you into feeding them (please don’t), and the smaller chipmunks nibbling on grasses or dashing in and out of the scrub, or the Steller’s Jay swooping in to land on nearby trees. It is a busy place that will keep the kids entertained as they sit for a rest. We even saw a small snake sunning itself just off the path on a rock.

Children of all ages were conquering this hike with their big people and it is a great one for beginner hikers and/or little legs. Strollers will not be good here, so bring a pack for your littlest hiker and lots of snacks and drinks for the top while you sit and enjoy the veiw. We highly recommend it!

Hike details:

Milage: 1.6 miles round trip

Elevation gain: 600 feet

Hiking level: Easy

 

Planning our big summer trip – My ExplOREGON Road Trip

I am an adventurer. I love to travel and see new things. I like being where things are foreign to me and I like trying things for the first time. This has never scared me. Places call to me, and I try to listen. I had big plans this summer to do another long trip through 1 of our National Parks (Glacier) and 2 of Canada’s most beautiful National Parks (Banff and Japser). I can’t wait to see them. I want to see the glaciers and ride in the giant glacier trucks, I want to go to tea houses and see moose. I want to hike to pristine lakes. But not this year. We are saving that trip for next year.

  
This year, Oregon is calling me home. Oregon is telling me I need to have another look at her. Oregon says, “Sarah, you have lived here your whole life. You have seen a pretty good percentage of me, but there is more to explore. You need to stay home and remember what it is that makes you, you. You need to show the Lad.”

I grew up in the Willamette Valley, but I come from a family of explorers. We have travelled the state exploring. This state encompasses everything I am from waves crashing on our ocean beaches to the snow in our mountains, our deserts and our rivers, our valleys and our hills, our lush green to red rocks, our ponderosa pines and Douglas Firs, banana slugs to salmon, from huckleberries to our Oregon grape, from our Shakespeare festivals to our rodeos to our timber festivals, from our Beavers to our Ducks (and the occasional platypus) – I am Oregon and all of this fills my soul.

  
It is time for me to show my son what Oregon really is, in all her glory. We are pretty encapsulated in the valley, and there is more to us than hipsters and coffeehouses and microbrews. There are amazing farmers, incredible open spaces, no (or at least far less) light pollution, good people, various Eco systems, hiking, swimming and paddling in lakes and rivers, and animals. I am going to show him the physical of what is flowing through his veins. We will learn about Oregon’s first people. We will learn about the settlers. We will learn about ourselves.

  
This summer, we are going to do what I have deemed our “Great ExplOREGON Road Trip”. We are going to places that are less traveled and some places travelled often. We are checking out some of our best known places and some of our little known places. It will be great!

  
If you could explore Oregon, where would you go? What would you want to see?

Please stay tuned and see what we find. I can’t wait to find out myself! What an adventure!

Favorite: Math Dice!

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This spring we had our Spring Conference with our son’s teacher a few weeks ago. He got a glowing report, but she was suggesting to all parents that we get math flash cards for our kids to practice quick addition and subtraction. Getting him to use flash cards is super tough because they aren’t that much fun. I totally get it. I remembered that I had bought a math game that I thought would be good for traveling this summer, and had it stowed in the treat cupboard. I decided to pull it out early so we could practice in a way that is much more fun. The game is called “Math Dice, Jr.” by Think Fun.

The game comes with 5 colored dice, 1 multi-sided die, a game board and 6 FullSizeRender-001tokens (to mark your spot). Everything folds up and fits into the included pouch so you don’t lose all of the bits and pieces. The pouch is smaller than my iphone, so it can fit in a bag or cupboard or drawer. It would be easy to play on an airplane, at a picnic, camping, or at home!

The idea of the game is to be the quickest to create equations with addition and subtraction. They say the game is best for kids 6 and up, and I would say that is about right, unless you under 6-er is pretty good at adding and taking away. As kids get better at the game you can also add multiplication to mix too! The only thing littler kids might find a bit tough is rolling the 5 dice at once. They are kind of big and small hands might struggle a little bit. A cup to help roll or rolling only a couple of them at a time might be the best solutions.

Here is how the game works (and I am using what they list in the instructions and paraphrasing):

IMG_6169-001The youngest player starts by rolling the big white die. Then they roll all 5 of the colored dice. Using the colored dice, players have to come up with equations that equal the number on the white die by adding or subtracting numbers on the colored dice.

All of the players look at the dice and the first person to yell game-001“Math Dice” gets to be first to show the equation they have come up with. The example used in the instructions uses the numbers above: player one would say 2+3=5, player 2 would say 6-1=5, and player 3 would take the die with 5 on it as it equals IMG_6171-0015. Each person moves one space on the board for each die they collect in the round. When all of the pieces have been moved, the next player throws all of the dice and you repeat the steps, trying to get to the next sum. Play continues until someone makes it to the finish first. There are 2 finishes marked on the board. There is a short game and a long game. We found the games last longer with more people playing, but in all, each of our games were between 5-8 minutes, which makes it easy to say yes to a quick game before getting ready for bed or when time is tight.

We all give the game a big thumbs up and have loved playing Math Dice so far. Our son is enjoying practicing his math, while our flash cards collect dust! Last night he worked out 3×3 all on his own too – it was great! This is going to be fantastic to take along on our camping trips this summer for sure and we are going to get a lot of use out of it.

I remembering the game costing around $7.00, so it was well worth the money! Check it out!

 

Activity: Whale Watching in Oregon

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For spring break this year, we had family in town from Europe. We wanted to have time in the valley, but I also wanted us to get away for a few days so we could all have a nice rest. I rented a house on the coast for a few nights and planned a few activities for us to show off the very best things about our state. With nature being very helpful this time of year, it got pretty exciting and wonderful!

At our son’s school auction we won a package of different activities for the coast  and and southern Oregon. One of the activities was 2 tickets for a 2-hour boat tour to go out whale watching. Even though I have lived here all of my life, and I have watched the whales from the shore, I have never been out on a boat to look for them and had always wanted to.

Newport and the Yaquina Bay Bridge

We pulled into Newport and stopped in at Marine Discovery Tours to make our reservations. The folks at the reservations desk were some of the nicest folks around and were able to get us on a tour at a time that worked for everyone. We found the prices to be quite reasonable for a tour and everything they offer during the tour: $36/adult or teen, $34/senior, $20/kid (4-12), and 0-3 were free. They have 2 tours available: their main one where they go out to the sea looking for whales happens when weather is good. The other takes place when weather is foul and includes a tour of Yaquina Bay and up the river.

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Capt. Don, a former commercial fisherman, pilots the Discovery, a 65′ cruiser. He joins a naturalist in entertaining and educating the passengers on board. I would say, other than seeing the whales, these two were a major highlight to this tour. The Captain tells you all about fishing boats moored at port and the fishing season and has a bird’s eye view to spot various wildlife. The naturalist gives you lessons and information while leading activities. Anyone who wants to, can have a chanceIMG_1334 at learning how to “drive” the boat as well!

The vessel itself is very comfortable. There is a place to sit inside where it is warm and dry in case of weather, there are several viewing decks for you to choose from, and there are warm drinks and a head as well!

IMG_1298Before we left Yaquina Bay, and after our safety talk, we started our first activities. Volunteers threw in buoys and dropped crab pots for us to come back and check later. We then headed out past the jetties into our powerful Pacific to find whales. We got super lucky and within 5 minutes of clearing the jetties saw spouting. We went to have a closer look. Federal regulations say boats must stay 100 feetIMG_1333 from the last spot the whale was spotted, so we stopped and sat and watched as 3 California Grey Whales “played” (they kept it PG for the smaller sailors) right in front of us. Everyone was mesmerized and we watched them for nearly an hour. We saw flippers and fins and noses and spouting. We were close enough to see the barnacles growing on their backs as we drifted along. It was awesome!

IMG_1312When it was time to head back into the bay, the naturalist lead more talks discussing plankton and volunteers were able to collect samples with a special net. The hands on aspect of it all was fantastic! We also had everyone pitch in to hoist up the crab pots so she could teach IMG_6017us about sexing crab and explaining the different varieties who live in the area. Not to worry, no crab were harmed in an effort to educate us (they were all thrown back)! We got some pretty awesome pictures and our guy learned how to hold them and not get pinched so when we go crabbing this summer, he knows exactly what to do!

IMG_1418We came away from our tour feeling exhilarated and excited about everything. If we hadn’t seen the whales, the Captain and our naturalist would have kept us entertained and it still would have been a great trip!

I highly recommend Marine Discovery Tours if you are looking to do some whale watching or even if you just want a fun floating adventure! This was a high point for our visitor for sure and fullfilled a life long dream! Check them out!

Tele: 541-265-6200
Located in the Historic Bayfront in Newport at the Anchor Pier

Soup-er soup!

I love soup. Especially in the winter, but sometimes soup in summer is good too! My husband is good with whatever I make, but my son has not been overly keen on soup for some reason. I was blessed with a child who is one of the least picky eaters ever, but there are just certain things he isn’t as thrilled about (he doesn’t like pizza, and that is about it). I recently found a recipe for a Zucchini-Basil Soup in Gourmet Magazine, and that has turned him into a soup lover. I had to modify the recipe to eliminate onions (due to my allergy), and it turned out beautifully. My son asks for it for dinner constantly (yeah soup convert!), and we love to have fresh bread and a salad with it.

Here is how I make it:

Ingredients

2lbs Zucchini, trimmed and cut cross-wise into thirds

3-4 small cloves of garlic

1/4 c. Olive Oil

3 c. Water

1 c. Low-sodium Chicken Broth

Splash of Dry Sherry

1/3 c. Packed Basil Leaves

Directions:

Julienne skin (only) with a mandolin (or use a peeler and slice) half of the zucchini. Toss with a big pinch of salt and put in a colander or sieve and let it wilt until the end.

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Coursely chop the remaining zucchini. Warm oil in  3-4 at saucepan over medium-low heat, add garlic cloves. Stirring occasionally for 5 minutes until garlic is soft. Give it a splash of broth, the splash of sherry stirring occasionally.

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Throw in your chopped zucchini. Add 2 cups of water, the rest of the stock and a big pinch of salt. Simmer partially covered for about 15 minutes or until the zucchini is soft.

I use my immersion blender and add the basil leaves and blend the soup until it is creamy and smooth. You can carefully add your soup to the blender or food processor…seriously, be careful! It is “souper” easy to burn yourself here, take it from me! You will need to do it in batches also.

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Bring remaining water to a boil in a small saucepan and blanch the julienned zucchini for a minute or two. Then drain. 

Season your soup to taste with salt and pepper. Sever in shallow bowls topped with your julienned zucchini “noodles”.

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 This recipe will serve 4 people as a main course and I plan to make this ahead of time this summer and freeze, so we can bring it along camping. It is really good served both hot and cold! This will be an awesome lunch or dinner for us. It makes for a wonderful light but filling meal, and I can’t wait to make this with our homegrown veg this summer! Enjoy!

 

Note: to make this completely vegetarian, you can trade out the chicken broth for a vegetable broth/stock.

Gone Abroad Part 2: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Last week I wrote about the first 10 days of our trip to Europe last summer, where we were visiting my husband’s family. We were really craving a warm, beach vacation with a warm ocean or sea to swim in. England really doesn’t offer that, so we knew we would need to head to the continent.We were originally considering the South of France so we could visit my husband’s best friend, but this didn’t fit into our vacation budget. several friends recommended that we consider Croatia. Neither of us had been before and upon studying up on the country, it looked like a great place for us to relax. I considered various places in Croatia based on our requirements, and the kid friendly nature of what we wanted to do, and decided to take us to Dubrovnik on this trip. The place is drop dead gorgeous so how could anyone say no to this!IMG_6586 

Dubrovnik is an amazing city that flourished as a major trading port in the 15th Century. It’s rival, another amazing city, was Venice. The City of Dubrovnik is a UN World Heritage site, and as you walk the car-less Stradun Stradun(Dubrovnik’s main street pictured to right) it is hard to imagine what this city has seen and been through. A major earthquake rocked the Dubrovnik and southern tip of Croatia in 1667 destroying the majority of the city. It fought against invading armies of the past, and more recently was bombed by Bosnian forces during the “Homeland War” which started in 1991. Based on all of that, you might not think this is a great place for kids, but it welcomes children with open arms (and they often get a more friendly greeting than their parents do!).

IMG_6630 Our Favorite things to do:

There are so many things to do and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to stay busy here.

We loved hanging out on the Stradun and watching the nightly guard changes (where a drummer and guards walk the Stradun in cadence).

The city has a very large festival schedule and the city teems with life all summer. Various performances (theatrical and musical) can be found all over the city in the summer. Many of the shows start around 9:00p we found, so if you littles are able to stay up that late, it is fun. The city itself feels really safe and walking around at nightIMG_5175 gives a completely different feel than that of day, when the cruise ships are in and the place is packed full of tourists. It was my favorite time to explore the narrow streets and duck into the small tourist shops. It is also the best time to find a place to eat, or stop in for a drink or to get some amazing ice IMG_0640cream (it is more of a gelato). Our favorite gelato was in a shop right on the stradun. We liked the flavors and textures the best, but even better were the guys working there. They love to play with the customers, making you think you had taken your ice cream but ending up with an empty cone, acting like they are dropping your cone, and creating some amazing ice cream birds. By the end of our week we felt like locals here as they always waved and called hello when we passed by. Try their “Facebook” flavor. It is actually pretty good, albeit very blue!

Hitting the beach was a big purpose of this trip. Like most of the beaches in the Mediterranean, the beaches are pebbles and not the soft sand like we are used to in America. The water is warm and lovely to That red shirt on the beach is Mick. He was always easy to spot! Just heaven.swim in and our favorite beach was only a 5 minute walk from Old Town (picture on the right).  We liked this beach because it was close, had a gradual grade into the sea (which makes it great for kids), had some waves but no dangerous under-tow (like we are used to), and you had an amazing view of the Old Town. We made sure to get there relatively early (no later than 10:00a) so we could find a place to lay out our towels. By noon the beach will be packed and it will be difficult to find room. You can also rent an umbrella for a few dollars at the beach if you want to have a little shade. That was really handy. There is also a place to buy drinks and they do tube rides behind motor boats here. We enjoyed the swimming and snorkeling and this area was free from sea anemones which can really ruin your day (be on the look out!).

  IMG_5232Another place we really enjoyed swimming was just outside of the Old Town wall at Buza I. We had read about the two Buzas in our tour books (Buza 1 one will be marked with graffiti on the wall), and were able to find them during our walk around the wall of the city (which I will get to next!). Buza means “hole”, and that honestly is what you are looking for to transport you to these relaxed bars where children are welcome. Buza I offers a nice rocky perch to lay on and relax, and when it starts getting too warm, you can jump straight in to the sea. This one felt more relaxed than Buza 2, which reportedly is where Bill Gates likes to hang out when he visits. Buza 2 has many levels and tables with umbrellas. It feels more like a proper outdoor bar. Buza 1 had a lot of people laying out on towels or sitting on the rocks, with a bar up the steps with a few tables. Our son is a bit of a daredevil, and was looking for higher points to jump from. We reckon the highest point he and my husband jumped from was about 10 feet above the water. Make sure you check depths before you jump to stay safe. You will want to get here early as well, to claim a nice spot to relax. Sunset is an amazing time to be here too!

IMG_0583Walking the ramparts is a nice way to get your bearings and to pass 2 hours. We were In Croatia in August and it got hot, so we made sure to do this early in the day to beat the heat a little. It costs 100Kn per adult and there are two entrances (one at each gate to the city). The other advantage of going early is to beat the cruise ship traffic that comes into town between 11am and 3pm. The walls get jam packed. While walking the ramparts you will notice the roofs are different colors in the city. One thing we learned is that a majority of the houses were shelled during the “Homeland War”, so when you look out over the city and see bright red roofs, they are new. If they are faded and orange, the house wasn’t a direct hit.

This is a trail you can hike up and down. Just zig and zag all the way down.The Dubrovnik Cable car is not to be missed. The gondola ride to the top of Mount Srd from the city was also a favorite for all of us. It gave us such a wonderful bird’s eye view of what we were enjoying, and appreciation for what generations of people have built. It was a short walk to the base of the cable car from our apartment and it cost 100Kn/adult and 50Kn/kid. If you prefer, you can also make the hike up the mountain from the city. There is a nice path, but it can be hot, and it is a steep grade. Some people take the cable car up and hike down. We considered that until we double checked the shoe situation and called it off. Make sure you have good walking shoes if you want to hike!

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While at the top of Mount Srd, we decided to check out the Imperial War Museum. The Fort was originally built in the Napoleonic Era. More recently the fort was used to defend Dubrovnik during the “Homeland War” and the attacks between 1991-1995. The Fort now houses a museum that has various displays telling the story of Dubrovnik and the losses it suffered while being attacked and how the people fought to save it. They were very brave and the situation looked absolutely horrific. This might be better for older kids (ages 9+). We found our son was interested in the videos, but most of this went right over his head.

Back in town we checked out the Aquarium one afternoon. I would say this is something to do if you are bored and need something to do indoors. We found the tanks very small for the number of creatures in each and the place was a bit depressing compared to other Aquariums we have visited. They have won many awards for their Marine Institute however and a lot of good work is being done by the people there.

IMG_5242An excellent activity is to take either the shuttle boats or ferries to neighboring islands. We decided to pack our swim gear, lunches, and sun screen before boarding the shuttle boat to Lokrum. The island is just off the coast of Old Town. The boat ride takes 10 minutes or so. The island provides some great The bird is the same color as the seaswimming spots, a fun exercise and play park, a nice botanical garden, tide pooling, an old monastery to explore, hiking trails, and you get to see loads and loads of peacocks, bunnies, butterflies, and cicadas. It also offers a nice little cafe to get drinks, food and ice cream. The shuttle boat runs back and forth IMG_0679between the Lokrum marina and the Old Town port every half an hour or so, which makes it easy to go back and forth. We wish we had explored the island earlier in our trip as we would have spent more time here. It was a really nice way to get away and be with fewer people. It allows you to get away IMG_0670from many of the tourist and feel more like a local. Many locals come here to swim, their culture is very sea and swimming oriented from what we saw. I will say the island can be quite loud due to the Cicadas. It is constant noise that you will not escape until you leave. We swam at a few locations on the island. There is good swimming for everyone on the island from the smallest and newest swimmers to daredevil cliff jumpers. There is a small lake called the Dead Sea on the island that is recommended for young children, for example. We couldn’t help taking one last swim before heading to the boat, dropped our towels and swam at the area next to the marina. It is a great place to swim as you can see the boat coming in and get down to the dock quickly, but watch your step as we saw anemones there.

mmmmmmmmm....snacks!

Walking the market in Old Town was great too. There were so many wonderful local delicacies and snacks to try as well as many hand-made items to see. We loved these tasty candied orange peels especially. It was really neat to see what the different vendors had and there was also fresh, local fruit which was especially tasty after a morning of swimming. Near the market we also found a pizza and sandwich place which offered some of the most amazing french fries we have ever had. we also loved the special french fry box they came in. It just made us happy (doesn’t it look like a smiley face?). We don’t tend to eat a lot of fried food, but these we made sure to stop and have (and highly recommend!).IMG_6497

After all of those candied orange peels, ice cream and french fries the kids might need a place to run. We found a little park with a small playground just outside the Pile Gate. There were a few swings, a little slide and some climbing frames. I think there was a little see-saw too.

IMG_6484 Lastly, one of our favorite things to do after dinner was to walk through the marina and out to the pier to watch the sunset and see the boats go in and out. It was a nice, relaxing way to end busy days. The breeze would pick up and refresh our souls and you really feel like you are out More fish feedingthere with the locals. A few people would pack a picnic dinner and bring bottles of wine and sit on the benches enjoying their evening.

Some times we would bring extra bread with us that was left over from lunch or dinner and feed the fish in the marina. It was fun especially for the Lad and schools of fish would rush over as soon as the bread crumbs hit the water.

 Where we lived:

We decided to stay in the Old City of Dubrovnik, which meant we were with in the city walls. This was great because you are in the heart of it all, but the Stradun is the low point, and after a day of walking and playing in the sea, the stairs seemed like a lot! Our streetI got my steps in every day and was working off all of that ice cream!

We found our 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment through VRBO, and it was awesome. The picture to the left shows our “street”. The apartment we stayed in was built in the 14th century and had been fully update. It was very comfortable and the people who own it are very accommodating and nice. We had a kitchen to make our breakfasts and lunches, a nice living room where we could watch movies, and it felt very safe and clean. We would highly recommend it and loved living there for the week. The area we were in was relatively quiet and we were 35 steps (honestly) from the bakery.

Other options in the city are staying in Sobe, which are private rooms in people’s homes that are rented out. This is a great option for people travel as a couple or as an individual.  All accommodations are all rated and you will see the signs with their ratings on their doors. All of the bigger hotel chains are outside the city walls.

Croatia was a wonderful place to have a relaxing vacation, especially with kids. In the future, if we head back to Croatia we want to explore more island and other parts. Have you been to Croatia and where would you recommend we go? 

 

Favorites: Multi-tool Clip!

I grew up watching MacGyver. He was so awesome! When he found himself in a jam he would search his pockets and his surroundings and could make a bomb and a trap to catch the bad guys with a gum wrapper, two potato chips, some dental floss, some potpourri, a wet noodle, and a herring. I might be remembering that wrong, but he was always prepared and he always caught the bad guy.

I have to admit I squealed a little bit when I read an article about a designer in Israel who wanted a better clip to hold his yarmulke on. He designed a clip that not only does that job, but 7 more on top! Let’s face it, those Swiss Army knives are useful, but can be bulky.

I immediately put this on my birthday list, sent it to my husband, and being the awesome guy he is, he ordered me 4 clips 6 months before the start of my next journey around the sun (I have a total keeper!). Check this out!

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It has a trolley key, a small ruler, 2 flat head screw drivers, a flat Philips head screw driver, a saw, a wrench, AND most importantly it will keep my hair our of my face! SCORE!

The clip is a little bigger than the other ones I use on a regular basis, but it also holds more hair back.

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At $9-ish dollars each, it is a fun and reasonable gift for those who have it all. And maybe for those folks who always find themselves in a pickle!

Que the MacGyver theme song!