Camping Grub That Kids Will Love: Kid-Friendly Camping Food

Cardamom donut holes

Cardamom donut holes

Recently, I had the good fortune to interview Emily Trudeau, a veteran camper and one of the three cofounders of the camping-food blog Dirty Gourmet, along with Aimee Trudeau and Katherine Kwan. She encourages first-time campers to get out there — even if you’re not typically comfortable with sticks, dirt and bugs. “Being outdoors is a healing experience,” she says, whether you’re sitting around a campfire, counting stars in the night sky or watching your kids play (with sticks, dirt and bugs).

Camping doesn’t mean you have to leave the comfort foods of home at home — particularly with kids. Yet, if you’re sick of hotdogs by the summer’s end, I’m with you. With Emily’s help, here’s a quick rundown of popular camping meals for families that everyone will enjoy.

Dirty Gourmet Girls

Dirty Gourmet Writers

Kid-friendly camping meals (links to Dirty Gourmet site): 

Great kid-friendly camping snacks:

Camping with kids in Washington, Oregon and BC

Prepping for S’mores

Top this! New twists on s’mores: 

Emily Trudeau calls S’mores the “all-American quintessential campfire delicacy.” That doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun, though. Stack your s’more in a new way:

  • Pepperidge Farm Geneva cookies, marshmallows and dulce de leche
  • Shortbread cookies, marshmallows, chocolate and raspberry jam
  • Graham crackers, peanut butter, chocolate and marshmallow
  • Graham crackers, marshmallows, bacon, chocolate
  • Graham crackers, fresh strawberries, chocolate, marshmallows

Don’t forget:

  • Your awesome cooler
  • Cooking oil
  • Foil
  • Dish soap and cleanup
  • Cooking utensils
  • Mixing bowls
  • Silverware
  • A sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Plates & silverware
  • A knife for kids to “help” (you could bring bananas, etc).
  • Easy snacks for the kids (goldfish crackers, pre-sliced fruit, Trader Joe trail mix etc)

For more fun recipes, check out the Cascadia Kids “Camp Cuisine” board on Pinterest. Do you have a favorite camping snack or recipe to share?

Family Travel: A rustic retreat at Holden Village

I had honestly never heard of Holden Village until reader Liz Sheffield let me in on Washington’s amazing North Cascades secret. Tucked along the north banks of Lake Chelan, Holden Village is a unique and in-the-know option for a family vacation. Today we chat with writer Liz Sheffield about her experiences at Holden Village (all photos are also courtesy of Liz Sheffield).

1. Who went on your trip? How did you hear about Holden Village, near Lake Chelan?

My husband, Brad, and I took our two sons, Henry (5) and Eli (1) to Holden Village. In search of a remote and reasonable get-away, Holden was the perfect place for us. I booked our four-night stay via the Holden Village website. Although we were an individual family, some people do come as part of a larger group.

I first went to Holden Village with my friend and her family in 1982 when we were in the seventh grade. As an only child, I loved taking this trip with my friend’s large family. Her parents were brave souls, hauling five teenage girls in their station wagon from Portland to the tip of Lake Chelan. I wanted to share the experience of Holden with my husband and sons, as well as to expose my sons to a faith-based community given that we don’t regularly attend church.

2. It’s only accessible by boat, correct? How did you decide what to bring with you, for such a remote experience?

Yes, the only way to get to Holden is via a boat called the Lady of the Lake. We got on the boat in Chelan, and it was about a 3.5 hour trip. In the future we would take the boat from Field’s Point Landing (about a 2 hour trip). Once we arrived in Lucerne (Holden’s port), we rode a school bus up eleven miles of dirt roads and switchbacks, to get to Holden.

Kids Playing at Holden Village in the North Cascades

Kids Playing at Holden Village in the North Cascades

Given the trek, I recommend consolidating items in your bags. We brought clothes (there’s a coin laundry if you need it), toiletries, one sippy cup and re-usable water bottles as well as a few books. In order to reduce its footprint, Holden offers a cloth diaper service for guests which we utilized — saving both the environment and room in our suitcases! Holden operates off its own hydroelectric plant, so saving energy is top of mind. (I left my hair dryer at home, and I survived.)

The rooms are furnished with bedding and towels. At my request, Holden was happy to provide a pack n’ play in our room, and upon arrival we found a few “loaner” jogging strollers that we used. Backpackers will find that some hiking equipment is also available to check-out. If you forget something basic, it’s likely they sell it at the small store in the village.

3. What was your room like at Holden? How about the natural surroundings? What was your favorite part about staying in this area of Washington State?

Most guests, like us, stay in one of the lodges (see 2011 rates at the Holden site). These rustic lodges are the dormitories where miners lived when Holden was a mining camp (1896-1957). Each floor has two bathrooms (men’s and women’s) that guests share. In our room we had a double and a single bed, as well as the pack n’ play for our youngest. The front porch of each lodge has seating and it’s common to find people sitting in Adirondacks, connecting over a cup of coffee, tea or a discrete bottle of wine.

Waking up each morning to the sound of the village bell, I felt grateful to be in such a beautiful location. The view from our window (and every other place in the village) is of the amazing Cascade Mountain range.

4. What did your family do for fun at Holden? Were there any kid-specific activities?

Holden offers part-time childcare programming for guests on weekdays. Both of our sons participated in this program (9-12 noon), giving my husband and I time to connect. Our younger son enjoyed finger painting and playing with blocks in the nursery while our older son took a hike to the mining museum and played on the playground. Parents are expected to volunteer for at least one morning shift during the week; I had such a great time in the nursery with my younger son and the other toddlers that I volunteered twice. It was great to see our five-year-old son make friends and enjoy the freedom of being in a remote community. One of his new friends was at Holden for the entire summer (his mother was on staff), the new friend willingly shared a light saber with my son and they had a blast running around on the lawn in front of our lodge.

Hiking one of the many trails around Holden Village

Hiking one of the many trails around Holden Village

Holden has a pottery studio as well as several looms for weaving. If you’re interested in learning how to throw pots or weave, it’s best to make you’re your visit is between Monday – Friday, as most scheduled activities take place during the week rather than on the weekend. There’s also a library and a bowling alley, where bowlers re-set their pins by hand. We also watched an outdoor showing of The Sound of Music one evening. There’s a playground with a climbing structure, swings, basketball hoops and a zip line (my older son’s favorite activity). One of the lodges has a sand box out back as well as a hot tub. A nearby river offers up the perfect bank from which we threw rocks on a daily basis. The variety of trails (difficult, easy, short and long) makes hiking another family-friendly option.

5. Was it hard to live without Internet, cell, TV?

Living without the e-world was one of the best things about our five days at Holden. I was surprised by how easily I fell into not needing to constantly check my e-mail or Facebook. The same was true of being without access to a phone. It was great to have time to just connect as a family and with the new friends we made, without being interrupted by phone calls or e-mail messages. For anyone worried about the “what ifs,” there is a phone number at which people can be reached in case of an emergency.

6. What did you think of the food at Holden?

When I first went to Holden as a teenager, my friend and I begged her parents to stop at the first McDonald’s we could find after a week of “healthy food”. On this trip, my husband and I thought the food was fabulous. Much of the produce is grown in the village and there is delicious homemade bread at every meal (which I survived on as a teen)! Meals are served family-style, so kids can load up on what they like and bread and butter are always available for snacks. Holden also has an ice cream parlor that is open in the afternoon and evening. It’s the perfect treat on a warm, summer day.

7. Is Holden an overtly religious experience?

The mission of Holden Village is “to welcome all people into the wilderness”; given that the village is owned and operated by the Lutheran Church, religion plays a part in that experience. Each night guests are expected to attend the Vespers service which includes a brief sermon and singing. Guests can also attend optional Bible study classes and other, non-religious educational programs offered throughout the day. My husband attended a seminar about bugs, and the week before we arrived, there had been several talks about architecture. As non-Lutherans with a very liberal approach to spirituality, my husband and I felt completely comfortable. We found it to be a welcome and open environment for people from all faiths and of all ages.

8. Anything else you’d want to add about your family camp experience at Holden?

The sense of community at Holden is remarkable. Each day when the school bus leaves to take departing guests back to the port, people gather to wave and say farewell. The day we left, I sat on the bus, crying and waving through the clouds of dust that the wheels kicked up. It was harder than I’d expected to leave the freedom and the quiet that we’d found tucked away in a remote corner of the Cascades.

Playing at Holden Village in the North Cascades

Playing at Holden Village in the North Cascades

What did you think, readers? Have you ever gone on a similar family retreat or family camp? If staying in Holden’s lodge isn’t your style, also consider the Holden Bed and Breakfast.

30 Things to Do with Kids in Walla Walla

Walla Walla, a cute little Washington State college town, offers wonderful family activities and an escape from big-city stress. This week, we talk with Walla Walla resident Ben to discover more about this Eastern Washington burg.

Why do you like Walla Walla?

Ben: We love Walla Walla because it really is a beautiful town with lush parks and a vibrant downtown.  We enjoy a full four seasons here, from a hot summer to clear, crisp fall days, often snowy winters and our gorgeous spring (when the dogwood trees bloom in April it’s particularly nice!). We have a strongly diversified local economy; while many national retailers have come and gone, our locally-owned small businesses have flourished.

We have no mall (a sore point for some) so its in our historic downtown, outdoors on the sidewalks, in the parks or at the farmer’s market where people gather and things happen. Also, thanks to our three colleges and growing wine tourism, we have a great arts scene.  Sometimes we wish for a culture that is more ethnically diverse, but for the size of our town and its distance from any major city, Walla Walla really has a lot to offer families.

What do you like to do with your daughter in Walla Walla?

Ben: My daughter’s favorite activity is to go to the farmers market downtown on weekends then walk down Main Street to the toy storecandy storybook store, or get a snack at the Patisserie.

We have a Children’s museum that has a fun range of exhibits and an outdoor play area. My daughter’s favorite thing at the Children’s Museum is probably the model of the Walla Walla Watershed in the “Our Powerful Valley” exhibit.  There’s something about playing with water and sand that I think just about every kid loves.  She also spends a lot of time in the kid-sized supermarket and Italian restaurant.

Fort Walla Walla Museum is excellent for school age children interested in history.  The museum has a lot of interesting history to tell, particularly with the weekly living history performances where a knowledgeable expert will pose as someone significant from our local history.  But those are probably more interesting to people with a longer attention span than a preschooler.  My daughter did enjoy looking in the homes and school house in the pioneer village, but her favorite thing was the new playground styled like a fort.  It is a pretty fun playground.

With all the agriculture in the area, some of the most fun things for kids are seasonal open farm days or harvest times around the valley.  The ones we frequent are Blue Mountain Lavender FarmKlickers for strawberries, pumpkins, and Christmas trees, Lampson blueberries, Wheatland Alpaca FarmWalla Walla Corn Maze, Dixie Hummingbird farm, and the Sweet Onion festival.

Walla Walla lavender farm

Three local colleges and our long-running symphony add a lot to our arts and culture scene. We have great opportunities for kids interested in music, theatre, dance, and art, as well as gymnastics and team sports. For visitors, this means many weekends offer performances or games of some sort that are worth checking out. There may not be many options on any given weekend, but between the schools, the Symphony, the Little Theatre, Fort Walla Walla Amphitheater, the Sports Complex, or our new Walla Walla Sweets Baseball team there’s usually something going on.

One of my favorite times to tell people to visit town is during our Balloon Stampede in May.  The balloons are always fun to watch, especially for younger kids, though you have to get up early in the morning.

Can you recommend any great kid-friendly restaurants?

Ben: My daughter will enthusiastically tell you that her favorite food is the chicken satay at Thai Ploy (311 South 9th Avenue; 509-525-0971), our favorite of three local Thai restaurants.   A close runner up is the pesto pizza at Sweet Basil Pizzeria.  She also loves getting soup at downtown’s perennial business-lunch favorite, Stone Soup.

Her top dessert stop is for gelato at Colville Street Patisserie, where they are constantly offering new and interesting flavors.  She even loved avocado.

More suggestions:

Tiki Teriaki Grill – Fun Hawaiian ambiance

Ice-Burg Drive-In – Great local burger joint, outdoor seating only.

Walla Walla Bread Company – good pastries, soups, and now cupcakes.

Dora’s Deli at the Worm Ranch – Delicious authentic Mexican.

Clarette’s Restaurant – A local favorite for breakfasts. We like the pumpkin pancakes.

His Garden Bakery & Café in College Place – Great vegetarian food and fresh juices.

Do you have any favorite parks in Walla Walla?

(Addresses and more information about Walla Walla parks)

Pioneer Park – great for community events (July 4th, Easter, and others) at the bandstand, good playground, aviary, duck ponds, small sledding hill in winter

Fort Walla Walla Park – fun place to watch or do various activities: wildlife preserve, skateboard park, disc golf course, bicycle motocross track, model car track, model airplane field, and an amphitheater that hosts an annual Summer Musical and Shakespeare play.

Jefferson Park – good place to go with take-out from the Ice Burg.  Modern playground, fishing pond.

Rooks Park / Bennington Lake Recreation Area – nice hiking trails, close to town.

Walla Walla Community College has a great field for flying kites on windy days and the campus of Whitman College is fun for walking & exploring.

Thanks, Ben! Readers, if you have any tips on where to go with kids in Walla Wall, let me know.

Families Travel! Breitenbush Hot Springs with Kids

Over the 2010 Labor Day Weekend, Portland mom Jennifer and her husband Tony (owners of Portland’s Milagros Boutique) took their two children to Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit, Oregon. This resort, founded in 1977, is old-school crunchy Oregon, through and through. It’s a worker-owned cooperative featuring geothermal heating, eco-conscious structures and an off-the-grid lifestyle (no phone, no TV, no wi-fi).

The laid-back attitude extends toward clothing, which is optional in the tub areas. “A family uncomfortable with nudity would not feel comfortable in the bathing areas of Breitenbush,” Jennifer says. “The majority of folks in the bathing areas are naked.” So this may not be a resort for everyone – it depends on whether you’re OK with the pool aspect. As you can see from the photo at right, the kids are wearing swimsuits — it’s up to you how to dress.

For many families, the real draw of Breitenbush Hot Springs is the secluded, peaceful atmosphere. To get a better understanding of this Oregon institution, let’s find out more from Jennifer and Tony.

Q: What did your family like about Breitenbush Hot Springs?

Breitenbush is a unique experience, it is a opportunity to step away from the busy day-to-day and reconnect with our individual selves and, in our case, together as a family. There is no cell phone coverage, no internet, no electronic media of any kind so the typical distractions and attention-pulling activities in our regular lives are just not available.

The setting is bucolic and welcoming.  We spent our days soaking in the hot springs, exploring the scenery, reading together, eating together, and relaxing.

The kids enjoy soaking in the springs, walking in the woods, climbing trees, playing instruments in the Sanctuary, connecting with new friends (kids are great at connecting with other kids), and letting their imaginations fly free.

Q: Describe the pools for us, please? Were they really hot? Were they fine for little kids or babies?

There are two sets of pools. All the pools are outside with views of the surrounding woods, hills and nearby river. The sacred pools are more natural in their design and setting. The spiral pools are more traditional tiled pools.

In each area, there is a progression in the heat of the water and each has a pool that is set at a temperature that works well for kids (at or below 100 degrees). And if you want it really hot, they have that too!

Parents need to actively supervise their kids in the pools. Making sure they are not getting over heated, keeping them hydrated, and having them by stepping out of the pool to cool off from time to time.

Q: How about the Breitenbush resort itself? Is it actually resort-like or more camp-like? Is there good food at the resort or did you bring your own?

Breitenbush is a very relaxing and enjoyable experience but Breitenbush isn’t for everyone. It is rustic and simple.  The setting is a lovely wooded preserve with a river running through it.  When we are there, most our time beyond eating and sleeping, is spent outside. They have a number of free programs and classes happening everyday for folks on personal retreats. In addition, body work (such as massage) may be scheduled for an additional cost. The cabins are basic but comfortable, some have bathrooms others are shared.  During the summer, tent camping is also available. Organic, vegetarian meals are served three times a day in the cafeteria. It is a self-serve buffet and the selection is always tasty.  They also offer alternatives for folks who are vegan or gluten intolerant.

We did pack some snacks to have on hand between meal times and a few other food items just in case our picky little eater didn’t find something he liked in the buffet.

Q. What else can you enjoy at the resort?

There are trails nearby for exploring. On this last trip, Tony walked a five mile loop through ancient trees and over rivers.  The kids joined him on a number of shorter jaunts into the woods. The lodge itself has an expansive deck and library for reading, visiting, and quiet contemplation.  Other facilities on the property include a sanctuary for making music and the labyrinth for a unique meditative walk.

The retreat is near Detroit Lake and other outdoor attractions but we never felt bored. As odd as it sounds, soaking, eating, sleeping, and exploring the grounds was more than enough on the to do list for both parents and kids during the five days we were there.

Q. Did you enjoy any of the classes/workshops/spa treatments at Breitenbush?

We haven’t taken in any of the many free classes and workshops and they always sound intriguing. Jennifer did enjoy a wonderful massage (the massages are 90 minutes!) during our first visit.  One challenge for our active participation in many of the classes (although some are family welcoming) is that there is no childcare available at the retreat center. Active supervision of the wee ones is expected, so it’s not easy to peel away for a class.

For us, a big attraction is the time together away from all other distractions in a natural environment. It is a rejuvenating experience physically and spiritually and it is one of the reasons we made a return trip and hope to go again sometime.

Thanks for telling us your story, Jennifer.

The Best of Spokane with Kids

Our family first passed through Spokane back in 2001, on our I-90 Washington-to-New York driving adventure (with a toddler – yeah, we’ve always been crazy!). Spokane was cute — historic, turn-of-the-century buildings, a riverfront park and bustling college scene. I threw Spokane into my “bucket list” of destinations to visit in the future.

Fast-forward 9 years, and life finally afforded the opportunity to return. Here’s my guide to the best of this Inland Northwest city with kids:

Best place to spend the day in Spokane:

Riverfront Park is one of the most adorable urban parks ever. The park’s 100 acres are packed with preschooler-friendly amusement park rides, an IMAX theater, the fast-spinning 1909 Loof Carrousel (a tiger and a giraffe are two of the unusual animals aboard) and a not-at-all-scary gondola over the Spokane Falls.

Spokane Riverfront Park's Golden Arm

Trying to grab the ring from the Looff Carrousel's "Golden Arm"

Families meander along picturesque, Euro-style bridges and beneath a 1901 Clocktower, slide down a giant Radio Flyer wagon and feed a garbage-eating metal goat. Save money and buy the day pass (in summer, add-on the Skyride and get the whole deal for around $20).

Best way to spend a too-hot afternoon or too-rainy morning:

The deceptively humble Mobius Kids Children’s Museum, housed in a downtown Spokane River Park Square mall. While the 16,000 square foot facility doesn’t look like much at first, my kids loved driving little plasma cars around the streetlight-enhanced Cooper’s Corner; buying fish and sundries from a Filipino market and paddling a canoe in the Bayanihan exhibit; and dressing up in the Globe Theatre. It’s a cute stop worth an hour or so, particularly with preschool-aged kids.

Riding a plasma car through Mobius Kids' streets

Best place to chill out in Spokane:

Families nestle into Auntie’s Bookstore’s nooks and cluster upon the  carpeted steps in the children’s area. You’ll find new and used, board books and chapter titles, cool kits and collectible tomes on the shelves. One of the best little bookstores I’ve seen in Washington State, and right next to Uncle’s Games, where you’ll find games to keep the kids entertained on the way home.

Most unique Spokane park:

Kids will always remember the accessible Discovery Playground, situated about 20 minutes outside downtown Spokane in the town of Spokane Valley. You’ll find adult-sized flowers, a sprinkler-filled play area, climbable rock walls and built-in trampoline. Caveat: No shade here – it’s you and smokin’ concrete and flamboyant sun. Perfect for heat seekers.

A child-friendly Spokane park

Hatching out of an egg at Spokane's Discovery Park

Best Spokane hotel with kids:

The heartbreakingly beautiful Davenport Hotel, which offers multiple floors of 1914-era details, a pool, a high-ceilinged reception area (complete with fish pond) and restored ballroom upon restored ballroom. My kids and I loved wandering the second story hallways, where photos are framed by elegant, restored moldings and take-your-breath-away ballrooms fit for a Queen. When booking a stay here, be sure to stay in the historic, restored hotel (not the newer tower), because the pool is in the historic building. If you’re staying with a train-crazed toddler, ask for a room that’s nearer to downtown Spokane’s rail line, and you’ll hear trains all night long (in our family, that was a good thing).

The gracious lobby at the Davenport Hotel

Best kid-friendly foodie restaurant in Spokane:

Sante places some of the best food this side of the Cascades on the table, in the form of omelettes, sandwiches, soups and risottos. We ate breakfast here on our last day. Had I known about the quality beforehand, I would’ve eaten here for breakfast, lunch and dinner on every occasion, bathed in the restaurant’s wall of window light. The charcuterie and dining menu changes weekly, so I won’t bother telling you what we had — but suffice it to say that they’ll always make something delectable for adults and kids to eat. Don’t miss the pastry and sweets case – we picked up hand-made sour fruit candies for the kids.

An omelette at Sante, a kid-friendly Spokane foodie restaurant

An omelette at Sante, a kid-friendly Spokane foodie restaurant

Best kid-friendly crepe restaurant in Spokane:

Madeleine’s Café and Patisserie, located right downtown, whips up seasonal crepes from scratch. Order from the counter, then sit inside among the bistro-chic tables or head outside (like local families do) to eat al fresco beneath Madeleine’s blue awnings. Before you leave, pick out an eclaire or macaron for later. Yeah, it’ll get smushed in the backpack, but it’ll still be delicious.

Best kid-friendly Italian in Downtown Spokane:

The plush, floral-fabric chairs might make you a little nervous about the quality and kid-friendliness of Europa’s cuisine. But those chairs are awfully comfortable after a day of sightseeing, and the classical music soothes jangled nerves. Tangy bread is delivered to your table – you’ll probably be fighting over the crumbs before your main dishes arrive. I recommend anything made with the pesto cream sauce. The kids loved the “make your own pizza” option; even a small pizza was too much for my kids to polish off.

Best place to pick up food to eat in your room:

The interior of Moxie restaurant is a better fit for couples — and a little fancy for my children after a full day of sightseeing. However, quality Asian-fusion cuisine is always a hit in our home. Excellent, not-too-spicy (unless you want it) fare; it’s not cheap, but the ingredients are top-notch, as is the preparation.

Best place to buy toys in Spokane:

With little kids, head to Whiz Kids Toys, where I was interested to find all the toys organized by subject (toy shop owners: this is a great idea). All the horse books, toys and other equine gear is in one place. If you’re in the market for big-kid jokes, cool collectibles, awesome books and vintage fun, check the shelves at Boo Radley’s. With so many eclectic finds, you’ll be sure to pick up an oddball gift you’ve never seen anywhere else.

Best place to stop on I-90:

Ellensburg, Washington, located about midway between Seattle and Spokane. In Ellensburg, families can dig into breakfast or lunch at the popular Yellow Church Café, where the only thing sinful is the cinnamon roll. Afterward, walk a block to Dick and Jane’s Spot, a fun-show of odd lawn art. Kids will either love the house or get spooked.

Have you been to Spokane with kids? Do you have any recommendations for our readers?

Read more about Spokane’s kid-friendly options at Visit Spokane.

Photo Friday: Pike Place Market

One of the best things about living in Seattle is watching travelers enthuse over the Pike Place Market. Visitor linger over fresh blackberries, laugh at the salmon-slinger’s antics, clap along with the buskers and marvel at the hand-made goods. Kids try fruit samples, while parents give in and buy a wind-up toy. Or three.

I took this photo about a year ago. The market, for some reason, was awash in the prairie-print dresses, somber black stockings and head-coverings of a religious community, probably Amish. In predominantly liberal, agnostic Seattle, the conservative clothing choice was more unusual than piercings and tattoos (which function as everyday work accessories here).

Vendors looked mildly surprised, then welcomed the newcomers with smiles and samples.  Although the visitors’ dress was of an era long ago — and you’d expect some gravitas to go with that style — the younger women could hardly contain their excitement over the market’s goods, as they buzzed from one stall to the next.

The market has historically been a village’s collective space, a place where populations can share ideas, food and merchandise on common ground. Shots like this remind me how lucky I am to live in a city with a thriving market culture.

This photo and post is a proud participant in DeliciousBaby’s Photo Friday.

Seattle Things To Do

Families Travel! A mom to 15 kids tells you how she travels

Sarah Reese is a 36-year-old Bellingham mom to 15 kids. And she loves family travel. Yes, you read those two sentences correctly.

Sarah was a single mom to just one child when she met her husband Robert, who was a single father to four children. Like a Super Brady Bunch, the duo combined their children, then adopted foster kids and Haitian orphans. Eleven children live at home; four are grown and have moved out.

She blogs (beautifully and with vulnerability) about her journey and parenting struggles at Mom to 15. Many of Reese’s children have special needs – physical, medical or psychological. Seriously, her blog sucks me in. I admire her ability to parent with such reflection and compassion. She also takes excellent photos (the photo below is in Pioneer Park, in Ferndale, Washington). It’s difficult to get that many kids arranged and smiling!

“We’ve found that travel and having adventures is what brings us all together,” Sarah says.

So as you can imagine, Sarah knows a lot about how to travel as a larger family, how to save money on trips and why travel is so important for families. Let’s discover how she does it:

1. Where have you gone recently?

The most recent trips have been overnights to Seattle. We often try to combine Children’s Hospital appointments with adventures in Seattle. Typically we have all the little children plus a few bigger ones with us too.

Last summer we did several local camping trips, including Olympic National Park, Vancouver Island (including Victoria) and the North Oregon Coast. On the Oregon Coast, we were with another family who had five children. It was a wild time!

2. What’s your family’s biggest challenge while traveling?

The amount of “stuff” that it takes for our family to travel, especially when we are camping. It’s difficult to not over pack and I am someone who always likes to be prepared. Now we have a good system down for camping and we typically make a list of each item and where it is; which bag, which container, and so on.

3. How do you save money when staying in hotels?

When we stay at hotels we typically stick to two brands: Marriott Residence Inn or Embassy Suites. The Marriott Residence Inn has a “penthouse” suite that we can get for less than two hotel rooms. It has two bedrooms and a fold out sofa. It has a full sized kitchen so we are able to stay on budget with food costs. Both hotels have free breakfast and swimming pools.

Embassy Suites we love because they have a room with a living room area that has a fridge and microwave. We do get two rooms but it’s almost like having four, because of the way that its set up.

If we have to stay outside of these two options we always call ahead to the hotels and let them know how many children we have and see if they have connecting rooms or can guarantee side by side rooms so there are no surprises.

We also always have extra sleeping bags and single air mattresses in the van in case we need to have an extra bed for someone on the floor.

We participate in reward programs, and use AAA or other discounts we can find online. We also always keep our options open to staying at a KOA or renting a cabin or home from

We’d love to house swap, and have offered several times. Yet no one is taking us up on our offer- might be the family size!

4. How do you save money on food expenses when traveling?

We have half a family of vegetarians and several picky little eaters. This is how we save the most money — by not eating out.

We do try on each trip to have one meal out where we go someplace local and have the experience and the great food! In Victoria, BC, we had fish and chips on the water at a popular place and it was a hefty price, but well worth the experience.

I know that this doesn’t sound luxurious, but spreading out paper towels on the dashboard and laying down PB & J’s works just fine with us. Saving our money for great locally made ice cream or other indulgences is much more rewarding then going through a drive through each time.

We also try to bake muffins and other things so that we have them in the car for snacks and meals on the go. We pack fresh fruit and cut up vegetables and take a huge cooler that we restock on the road.

We also sometimes order pizza and have that in our hotel room or even heat up something in the hotel microwave. Our children are just as happy eating some cheese and crackers with fruit salad for dinner as anything else.

5. How about on things to do; how do you save money on activities?

We did our research and bought family memberships at many big places like the Seattle Aquarium, Pacific Science Center, The Seattle Children’s Museum, and so on. We bought the memberships specifically because they have reciprocal programs in many other places. We try to utilize them as often as we can.(Read more about reciprocal memberships)

We also divide and conquer. We split up and go to the activities that are really important to us. We would rather split up and give everyone the chance to do the things that they really want to do instead of paying entrance fees for everyone even though certain children are indifferent about going.

We also do our research ahead of time on Tripadvisor and other websites so we can see what other people recommend for visiting. We try to go to as many “free” places as possible. We use local swimming pools and recreation facilities if they are unique. We attend free events and try to avoid big theme parks and other money sucking places.

Each of the children typically have their own money saved ahead of time to spend on something for themselves but we don’t go overboard with buying things or shopping on vacations.

6. So many people give up traveling after they have kids. What do you think?

Travel is what keeps life exciting! Living in such a wonderful area of the world (Pacific Northwest) is certainly a blessing that we should all be taking advantage of. There are so many options for travel of any size family on size of a budget.

The longest trip that we have taken as a family was two months long. My husband was working from home at the time and was able to work on the road.

The farthest trip was across the country – yes — with all of our children. Once your family gets into a good routine of traveling the whole concept becomes second nature to the kids.

I would suggest for families who are able to travel outside of the busiest travel times to do so. It’s been incredible being able to go places that are popular and save a ton of money and have free reign because the crowds are non-existent.

Next Monday, for part two of this interview, we’ll find out what Sarah thought of her trip to Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia.

12 Tips for Green Family Travel

At one Portland hotel, Earth Day isn’t a once-a-year event.

Every day, The Doubletree Hotel diverts 68% of its waste stream from landfills, composts up to 17 tons per month and purchases more than half of their food products seasonally within a 500-mile region. You can even offset your travel footprint from the hotel’s website.

As more hotels become eco-aware, they’re offering choices to families concerned about the environment. And some changes adopted industry-wide – like the option to skip washing your sheets during your stay – also save hotel-owners money.

“Green travel has become part of mainstream travel,” says Brian T. Mullis, of Sustainable Travel International, a Washington State-based not-for-profit organization that helps visitors and worldwide businesses go greener.

We asked Mullis for tips on how to green your hotel stay, restaurant visits and transportation options. Here are his suggestions:


1. Cut your carbon. Use a carbon calculator to figure out your travel carbon footprint. Lessen or eliminate transportation-related carbon emissions, by offsetting emissions every time you travel.

2. Train your kids. Train travel requires half as much energy per passenger mile, compared to an airplane. In the Pacific Northwest, Seattle, Portland and Vancouver are all connected by Amtrak Cascades (and kids travel at 50% off).

3. Pack lighter. Apply the golden rule of packing when traveling by plane, train or car: Organize everything you want to bring with you, and then cut it in half. Why? Additional weight requires more fuel and produces more carbon dioxide emissions. You can always wash clothes while you’re away, read and swap books, and rent equipment (like camping gear or skis).

4. Seat yourself. Biking is another great, green way to see a region at a gentle pace. Or in some cases, to sightsee at the local’s pace, since bicycle transportation is very popular in some countries and in some regions of the U.S., like Portland.

Hotel Stays:

5. Waste not. Don’t add to the waste stream. Ask hoteliers to recycle any paper, plastic and glass recyclables that you leave in your room. Bring your own shampoo and soap. Or request that the soap, shampoo and other amenities that are provided only be replaced if they’re empty.

6. Chill out. Turn off your air conditioner or set it a few degrees higher when away from your room. If it’s a cool time of year, keep the heat thermostat reasonable — not set at t-shirt and shorts temperature.

7. Burn less. Turn off lights, television and other appliances when not in use, just like you do at home. Appliances and computers can leak up to 20 watts of energy even when turned “off,” so if you’re staying somewhere for a few days, consider unplugging appliances you don’t intend to use.

Dining Out:

8. Go local. Eat local foods at local restaurants, not chains, so that the money goes back to the local community. Choose local snacks and drinks, and you might discover a new favorite food. But this isn’t hard and fast – Portland’s Burgerville and McMenamins are both good examples of restaurant chains that have a heightened awareness due to their eco-savvy customers.

9. Buy organic. Pesticide- and hormone-free, certified organic food is better for the planet and your body. But organic certification isn’t available worldwide, and when it is, it’s often very expensive. This means that not every organic farmer is certified. Ask about organic practices and use your own judgment.

10. Choose sustainable seafood. Many species are falling victim to over-fishing with predictions of global seafood resources depletion by the middle of the century, if we don’t change our habits. Check out Seafood Choices Alliance, Seafood Watch or Ocean Wise.

11. Ask questions. The best way to find out if your vegetables are organic, your fish is sustainable, or your milk is hormone-free is to ask the waiter, the restaurant manager, the grocer or the farmer you are purchasing it from.

And most importantly:

12. Talk to your kids. Mullis suggests that when you make green choices, talk about your intentional decisions with your kids. Let the kids know why you’re turning off the lights or choosing one seafood dish over another. Hopefully, they’ll follow your lead.

Find more travel-green tips at Eileen Ogintz’s Travel green for Earth Day and read this article on long-haul family train travel in my article for E Magazine, “Riding the Rails.”

Do you have any ideas to share?

Families Travel: Oregon Coast’s Astoria with Kids

Last year, in August 2009, Seattle-based photographer Alex Nguyen and her husband took their two boys (then 1 years and 4 years old) to Astoria, Ore. Here’s what they enjoyed about this oceanside city founded back in 1810 – shortly after Lewis and Clark spent a winter at the nearby Fort Clatsop. All photos are provided by Alex — and were taken by her as well.

Q. Was Astoria, Oregon very family-friendly?

Overall the town of Astoria was very kid-friendly. It was walkable, there were some great hikes just a short drive away (we ended up driving back across the Washington for some hikes), and there was a cute children’s museum in town as well.

Q: Did you find a family-friendly hotel in Astoria, Oregon?

We stayed at Clementine’s B&B. They were very family friendly!  Our downstairs room included a living and eating area plus a kitchen and bath area. Upstairs was the bedroom with two queen beds, and another bath. It was great putting the kids to sleep upstairs and still be able to go downstairs and have some grown up time.

Q: Which Astoria museums did you visit with kids?

We visited the Columbia River Maritime Museum, which was a big hit with my 4 year old, but really boring for my 1 year old. My older son liked it so much, he wanted to return. The boys also enjoyed being able to step out on the real boats outside and checking those boats out.  The staging of a US Coast Guard rescue inside the museum was great discussion material for my oldest.

things to do in astoria oregon with kids

The Children’s Museum was upstairs, the Uppertown Firefighting Museum was downstairs. It was a big hit with both kids. I think the Children’s Museum stated it was moving to a different location, but I’m not sure where. (Lora’s Note: It moved, but retains many of the  play centers).

Downstairs there were two different fire   trucks, plus all sorts of hoses, hats and  gear for the kids to try on and pretend to  be firefighters. There was also a huge  chair for reading stories. Upstairs it was  much more geared toward the younger set  (I would say ages 1-3 would be ideal). My  oldest enjoyed playing with the special  doctor’s office exhibit and a really cool  log cabin.

Q: Did you go to any kid-friendly Astoria restaurants?

kid-friendly astoria oregon restaurant

We ate at the Wet Dog Cafe and Astoria Brewing Company (Facebook page), which served pub-style food (sandwiches, really good burgers, a few  salads, fish and chips and some other really good seafood options). The  kids’ menu had fish and chips, chicken  fingers, mac ‘n’ cheese and the like.

The fries for the kids were actually cut    like thick coins, and had a happy face cut out in the middle (two eyes and a smile).  You could hold it up to your face and see  through the eye. My son totally loved  those fries. And the food is served in an  actual (clean) dog bowl.

We also ate at a Bosnian restaurant called Drina Daisy. Very friendly staff, good atmosphere. My kids are adventurous eaters, so I would not recommend it to people who maybe have picky eaters, but it was quite delicious.

Most restaurants were closed on Monday, and we were there Monday through Wednesday.

Q. What other kinds of things did you do with kids in Astoria, Oregon?

We drove to and hiked in Cape Disappointment, a 10-minute drive across the border in Washington . The campground and park itself was beautiful, but the actual lighthouse WAS a big disappointment. I thought there would be an open area to visit.  But the whole area is fenced off. The hike was pretty, but I wouldn’t have trekked it if I had known it was just for the view.

When you arrive in the park, there’s a lighthouse called the North Head Lighthouse that you can drive right up to. They gave tours, even though it was a working lighthouse.

If I had to do it again, I would have hiked to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, where my husband went with my 4 year old. The center had some interesting facts, so my 4 year old liked it a lot. Plus there were bathrooms there.  🙂

The trails were fairly easy, so even my older son was able to hike the whole way. I carried my toddler in a ring sling because he fell asleep, but the lighthouse was only about a half-mile, maybe ¾-mile hike from the parking lot.

Along the hiking trail at Cape Disappointment State Park, the trail splits to the lighthouse and the Interpretive Center. They had all these wonderful trees and my son played peek-a-boo in the trunks.


Getting There: Astoria is two hours west of Portland, Ore. Also of note: The Astoria Aquatic Center‘s twisty slides, 88-degree pool and waterfalls galore. Astoria is also a short drive from kid-friendly fun in Long Beach, Washington.

Astoria Family Vacation

10 Tips for Enjoying Farmers Markets with Kids

Wherever our family travels in Washington, Oregon and BC, we always visit a produce market. Almost every destination offers a farmers’ market, whether the big-city Pike Place Market or the tiny, thriving Cannon Beach Farmers’ Market. In fact, we find farmers’ markets so fun that we sought them out in Paris (mmm, stanky cheese!), Provence (chickpea crepes) and Italy (fresh tomatoes).

Here are my tips for enjoying farmers’ markets with kids:

  1. Check the market’s website before you head out the door. Use the site to pull together a scavenger hunt for in-season produce, print out maps, look for coupons or find out when a children’s performer will be on the stage. There may even be kids’ cooking classes offered, or special seasonal events.
  2. Give the kids their own spending money.  This is particularly fun if they’re going to use a foreign currency at a cross-border market. A dollar buys few honey sticks at our local market, and five dollars gives the kids plenty to work with. Eagle-eyed children may be able to spot a perfect, locally-made craft souvenir on a vendor’s table.
  3. Give the kids a shopping tote. They’ll grown-up and responsible. They can help carry your buys or pack their own purchases. Don’t let them fill their own bags too full, or you’ll be carrying theirs as well.
  4. Let them choose lunch from any one of the food vendors. The beauty of the NW and BC’s diverse markets? Mom orders a pesto-topped baked potato, dad dines on pierogies and the kid scarfs down pizza.
  5. Talk about seasonal and local produce with kids. Ask questions like, “Why don’t we see any bananas at this market?” If you’re at larger markets (like Pike Place or Granville Island Market), you will see tropical and out-of-season fruits. Ask the kids whether these foods grew here – and if not, how do the kids guess that they arrived? Can they help you spot the locally grown food?
  6. Involve the kids in weighing, counting and paying for purchases. These activities painlessly build math skills.
  7. Bring change for the kids to put into the buskers’ tip jars and guitar cases. Enjoy the fiddlers, guitar-strummers and singers that make the market a community event.
  8. Challenge your child to pick out the most unusual fruit or veg. Regional growers are showing an interest in heirloom produce, and local foragers bring back unusual mushrooms and plants. What will you find today — blue potatoes? Nettles? Giant mushrooms? Purple tomatoes?
  9. If you’re in a hotel or rental with a kitchen, ask your child to help you assemble a locally grown dinner from the market. Ask the vendors for cooking tips and pair-with suggestions. Make sure you choose at least one dish your child can help prep, whether chopping fruit for fruit salad or snapping off green bean tips.
  10. Keep a watchful eye on the kids, and talk about what to do if you get lost. With bustling pedestrian traffic, it’s easy to lose sight of your kids. Many parents either hold hands, put children in carriers, a stroller or a pull-wagon.

Do you have any tips that work for your family? Leave them below.