Road Trip, Destination: Seattle

Our first destination goal was Seattle, to visit Sarah’s uncle Bob and aunt Carol. After four plus days on the road, we were all looking forward to staying in one place for a few days and catching up with family.

Our first day, Wednesday, we got to hang out with Carol while Bob was finishing his work day. We enjoyed a walk to a local park where there was a fantastic playground and a hopping weekly farmers market. After going back to the house, the adults chatted and prepared dinner, and the kids were happy to have a table to spread out their Legos.

Clearing the table for Legos actually lead to a serendipitous highlight of our trip. Carol had a pile of mail she was moving for the kids, which caught Griffin’s eye. He saw a flier and said, “Is that Yayoi Kusama?” Carol, stunned, looked at Griffin completely speechless, wondering how he knew this artist.

Griffin created this illuminated quote from Yayoi Kusama during art camp.

A little background: The week before we left on our trip, Griffin and Maggie attended a week-long art camp with a local artist, Kari Maxwell. We met Kari a few years ago when we bought a painting from her at a house party. I later found out in addition to being a very talented painter, she also has classes and workshops for children called the Create Everyday Classroom. I signed the kids up for a camp they could attend together (the first time they fit into an age category at the same time!), and it happened to be the week before we left. The kids came home overjoyed each day with their experiences with Kari. She’s a teacher who is focused on process, and Griffin and Maggie each came away with so much knowledge and desire to create! On the first day of camp, they learned about Yayoi Kusama and her Infinity Rooms. This study obviously made an impression on Griffin.

Back to Seattle: Griffin recognized Kusama on a flier for the Seattle Art Museum, which was hosting a huge exhibit starting that Friday. We could not believe the synchronicity! Carol informed us that the advanced tickets had been sold out for months, but we figured we could swing by the museum so the kids could at least see a poster. We made plans to head there on Friday.

On Thursday, Bob took the day off to take us on a ferry to Bainbridge Island. The kids had never been on a ferry, and they were surprised to learn that being on an island felt like being on the mainland! We had clear views of both downtown Seattle and the ever elusive Mount Rainier. It was a beautiful day. We ended it by eating dinner out on Bob and Carol’s newly refurbished backyard patio. We all slept like rocks.

Friday, we were excited to learn that Carol was not needed at work, so all seven of us headed into downtown to hit the famous Pike Place Market. We took public transit, and riding an accordion bus was nearly as exciting to Griffin and Maggie as the destination itself. At Pike Place, the kids were in awe of the hoards of people, the flying fish, and the seemingly endless choices for what to have for lunch.

After a sunny meal overlooking the sound, we headed to the art museum. Shockingly, there were rush tickets available to see Infinity Mirrors, so we snatched them up! We were all so excited. We never would have even thought to go to this amazing exhibit had it not been for the kids, and there was something incredibly special for everyone that Griffin and Maggie were the leaders of this particular adventure. The infinity rooms themselves were other-worldly, and we all felt so lucky to have gotten a chance to experience them. Griffin and Maggie were the only children there, too, and we had several docents express their delight that we had three generations attending the exhibit together.

After a really wonderful visit, we bid farewell to Bob and Carol on Saturday morning. We barely scratched the surface of Seattle, so we’ll be back!

Road Trip, Day 4

Our fourth day on the road seemed destined to be an utter train wreck. First, we all got a terrible night of sleep (due to the unwrecked trains at the last campsite). Second, after crossing Idaho and coming into Spokane, Washington, our air conditioner died at a gas station. Temperatures in eastern Washington were pushing past 90 degrees. This was not fun.

After finding a shop that could tackle the car on short notice, we discovered that we weren’t far from a public pool. So we grabbed the swim bag, slathered on the sunscreen, and spent most of the afternoon playing at the pool. This was totally fun!

It was also just what we all needed after three days of driving. Oliver got to enjoy his first time at a real pool; he was mesmerized by the water, slapping his hands on it and looking surprised (and satisfied) every time it splashed up in his face. Eventually, perhaps overwhelmed by the stimulation, he took a long nap on a towel, causing no end of comments from astonished parents about what a good baby he was. (I had to agree… it was blissful sitting under the umbrella, reading a book, while the older kids romped and the car was repaired a few blocks away.) Alas, we did not take any pictures because we were in survival mode, but we can recommend the Witter Aquatic Center if you’re ever in Spokane on a hot afternoon. This reminds me, too, of what a great resource public pools can be on road trips. We have fond memories of spending an afternoon at the pool in North Platte on our 2010 drive to Minnesota, as mentioned in this post.

Turns out that our air conditioner was damaged by some sort of small rodent that climbed in, chewed up some wires, and died. They fixed the wires and got the system working again, but could not find the body of the culprit. How did we know the merry villain had not escaped the unscathed? Why, the sweet smell of decomposition now scented our AC. Why choose new car smell when you can get dead mouse? (Fortunately, hot, dry weather encourages rapid mummification.)

I don’t think we left Spokane until five-ish, but we made it to a campground in the Snoqualmie area of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, just east of Seattle, with enough light to pitch our tents. In the morning we got to experience the full beauty of the Kachess Campground, easily the best campground of the trip. There are tons of forested sites along the shores of gorgeous Kachess Lake with trails meandering along the bank. See the pictures below.

Road Trip, Day 3

Frozen custard at Freddy’s in Missoula.

We continued our journey across Montana today. Not much to note about the drive, though we did stop for frozen custard along the way. The day ended, however, with the worst camping experience of our trip.

Our original destination was the Trout Creek Campground in the Lolo National Forest. When we arrived, however, the site was deserted and there were signs posted that the water had been turned off due to high bacteria counts. In retrospect, we wish we had simply camped there… it was remote, quiet, and beautiful, and we could have purchased a few gallons of water in town. At the time, however, it felt a bit creepy being completely deserted. The creek, too, was running high and fast, with no safe swimming spots, so it seemed unnecessarily risky for the kids. The Lolo forest is large, so we figured other campgrounds would be similarly lovely with safe drinking water.

Day 3 Driving Route

We proceeded to the Slowey Campground, described on the forest service website as “a great place to rest after floating the Clark Fork River or just sit and enjoy the river go by… There’s much to like about this campground near the river’s edge with open areas beneath the big pines.” We knew it would be close to the highway, not nearly as remote as Trout Creek, but after our lovely experience along Hyalite Creek at Langohr, we figured the Clark Fork River might create pleasant white noise. Wrong! Not only was the river silent, but there were freight train tracks on the other bank. These rails were heavily used all night, and the acoustics of the area made it feel like the trains were barrelling right through our tents. Because of an at-grade crossing, too, each train was preceded by the bells warning of the gate closures and nearly constant air horn blasts from the locomotive. Trains came just about every hour, so it was a night of very little sleep for the parents.

Griffin’s question suggests just how often the trains came through: “Is it just going around and around in a circle?”

At sunrise we introduced the children to an authentic ethical dilemma: we left camp without paying.

Road Trip, Day 2

We left the Day’s Inn bright and early and headed west across Montana. We found a wonderful campsite in the Langohr Campground in Gallatin National Forest south of Bozeman. It was an ideal day without too much driving. We arrived early enough to set up camp, cook a delicious dinner (pasta with sausages), and get to bed on time. We pitched our tents next to a turbulent brook that cooled the air and made it especially easy to sleep.

Griffin befriended a neighboring camper from North Carolina who was an avid fisher. He and Griffin spent a lot of time in the evening and morning fishing, whether wading in the brook, standing on the bridge, or walking along the bank. Although they didn’t manage to catch any fish, they had a great time trying. (Griffin points out that they didn’t have any worms, which may have had something to do with it.)

Road Trip, Day 1

This is the first post in a series about our summer road trip from Minnesota to Washington and Oregon, passing through the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

Starting odometer: 144,354

We aimed to depart at 9:00 AM and were under way by 9:45—this was amazingly good timing for us. With young kids in the car, our general goal was to drive for only six-ish hours per day, leaving room for plenty of pit stops, slow starts, and time in the evening to set up camp and explore before bed. On the first day, however, we decided to shoot for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a little over eight hours away. We loved camping at this relatively obscure park during our 2014 road trip to California, and we figured that we could push hard on our first day.

Imagine our surprise when we rolled into the park to discover that the campground, largely empty in 2014, was entirely booked! Not only that, but every nearby campground was also booked. Apparently there was a wildly popular vintage car show going on over the weekend. Doh! [Note for our next road trip: camping reservations are a good idea.]

We looked ahead on the map and found Makoshika State Park in Montana. This would get us a few hours ahead and the park looked incredible. We went for it, racing to get there before sunset. The park was as beautiful as advertised and the campgrounds were fantastic. Campsites were spread out around gorgeous canyons with plenty of privacy. Alas, even this 11,000 acre park was fully occupied. We enjoyed watching the magnificent sunset from the bluffs and then accepted defeat, tucking our tails between our legs and “camping” at the Days Inn in Glendive. Dinner consisted of granola bars since we couldn’t use our camp stove to cook a proper meal.

It was not the best start. On the bright side, all three kids were awesome in the car for a very long driving day. Admittedly, the older two watched movies for most of the day, but Oliver was surprisingly easy going about being strapped into his carseat for 10+ hours. The driving felt relatively easy, even though it ran long and ended in disappointment.

A few innovations we implemented for this trip:

  • We gave the kids their snacks each morning and let them decide when to eat them throughout the day. Seems like such a simple thing, but on past trips we would centrally manage the food and it was a constant source of conflict. This time they each had a labeled ziplock with all of their options. Sarah even organized things so that they could refill the bag each morning from the big food bin in the rear. They had a list of things that they should put in (e.g., 2 Lara bars, 1 popcorn, 2 trail mixes, etc.). They loved it and we avoided all of the arguments and cries of imminent starvation.
  • Sarah purchased small items as daily gifts. Each was wrapped and the kids looked forward to receiving them. Examples included fidget spinners, card games, activity books, etc. (Technically, Sarah came up with this idea for the 2014 trip and we continued it this time.)
  • Storage baskets for Griffin and Maggie mounted on the seats in front of them. They held books, art supplies, etc. (Despite this, however, the back seats were usually an appalling mess by the end of the day.)


Notepad Tale, Chapters 1 and 2

Recently, we’ve allowed Griffin and Maggie to use an old iPhone to play music while they are in the basement (usually while building things out of legos). Naturally, they explored the phone to find out what other things they could do with it. I locked it down pretty tight, but they discovered Apple’s “Notepad” app and realized that they could use it to write a story. They’ve written two chapters and are part way through the third. I’ll post them as they finish them.

Note that the overall work doesn’t have a title yet, though each chapter does. Also, although Griffin is tapping out the story, Maggie definitely gives lots of input. For example, she specifically suggested the word stumbled in the second paragraph of chapter one. No adults have had anything to do with editing or revision, though Griffin sometimes asks how to spell words. (Mostly he depends on the autocomplete feature to suggest spellings, but sometimes he’s not even sure how to begin.) After writing the first paragraph of chapter one, he was also stumped about how to keep the story moving. I gave him very broad advice about how stories depend on conflicts where characters have to overcome problems. I barely finished saying it when he was bursting with ideas.

Finally, Maggie wants it to be clear that this story isn’t about her (the real Maggie), but rather a fictional Maggie.

Chapter 1
Maggie’s story

It all started on a snowy January night, when Maggie was born. It’s a girl!!!! Said Sarah. she was so little!

When she was three she stumbled into a forest. She saw something

Rustling in a big blue bush when

she looked closer she saw that it was a monster. It’s name was bogeys. When bogeys saw Maggie bogeys charged at Maggie. Maggie ran but the monster caught Maggie 😞. Bogeys took Maggie to it’s lair. There were lots and lots of bogeys.

Maggie said get me home 🏡. Meanwhile at home Sarah said where is Maggie? it’s past her bedtime, i hope she’s safe. Sarah went looking for Maggie and then she saw footprints 👣 .she followed them she came to a cave when she looked inside she saw Maggie. and 5 bogeys guarding Maggie. Sarah had to get Maggie back but there was one problem it was that she would have to get past the bogeys. Sarah decided to go home 🏡 but when she got there her house 🏡 was GONE!!

To be continued!

Chapter 2
The case of the missing house 🏡

Sarah was furious. if she couldn’t find her house 🏡 then she couldn’t find a rope than she couldn’t tie the bogeys in knots then she couldn’t get Maggie back.

Sarah decided to go to the bogeys lair when she got there she signaled Maggie to distract the bogeys well Sarah go’s and take the phone 📱 and she did that then she called all the Maggie’s in the world 🌎

See this post for chapters 3-5.


Griffin told Sarah recently that he wanted a new haircut, short on the sides and long on the top. He was inspired by Brooke Allen’s illustrations of Mal in the Lumberjanes graphic novels (one of our family favorites).

This is the specific panel that inspired him. Mal is the one with the black hair and two earrings.


We’ve had some poor cuts recently for him, so Sarah made an appointment at Moxie on Grand. See below for the results.


Excited for his new ‘do.


After… looking sharp!
He’s pretty pumped about it.

I think it is pretty cool that he came up with this on his own, though I’m not sure we’ll be able to keep that wave action going on a daily basis.

Young Knight?

Even a plastic blade requires regular cleaning, of course.

Overheard last night before bed:

Sarah: “No, I can’t clean your sword right now. It’s past your bedtime.”

Maggie: “Ok, we’ll clean my sword in the morning.”

(The sword is drying in the dish rack as I write this.)

My Superhero

This morning, after Griffin returned from working out with Sarah, I mentioned that I was going to mow the lawn. It took me a while to get Oliver up and settled, but eventually I made it to the garage to get the mower. As I opened the door, Griffin said that he had already pulled it out to the front yard. I thanked him for helping me get started. Then I came ’round the corner of the house and discovered that he had not only pulled the mower out, but had mowed the entire front lawn by himself. Note that this is a manual mower, so it takes real effort to move the thing around, especially when the grass is long and still moist from yesterday’s rain.

Pretty proud of this guy!

Griffin mowed the front lawn entirely on his own.

PS: Yes, we have discussed the potential consequences of spinning blades encountering bare toes.

Bedtime Routine

Sarah wrote this up for our first non-family babysitter for Oliver. It sums up where our bedtime routine stands now. We’re loving it–short, simply, and successful.


Oliver’s bedtime is anywhere between 6-7:30pm, depending on how tired he seems. Signs that he’s ready for bed include crankiness, rubbing his eyes, heavy eyelids, general discontent, arching his back, etc. Once it’s clear he’s ready for bed, here’s what we do:

  • Make a bottle to take upstairs. We usually make a 6 oz bottle, which is 6 oz of water mixed with 3 scoops of formula.
  • Change diaper
  • Get into PJs (we’ve left some out for you)
  • Read him a book (I Like It When is my standby) and give him the bottle, if he’ll take it. We usually lay together on our big bed. If he’s really eating a lot, you can read him more stories. I’m sure Griffin and Maggie can find some to read. Sometimes we skip this part if it’s clear he’s ready and doesn’t need any milk.
  • Once he’s done eating and you’re done reading a story, we say goodnight to Maggie and Griffin, and enter their room. We say goodnight to objects in the room (“Night night, clock! Night night closet! Night night, alphabet! Night night, Maggie’s bed! Night night, Griffin’s bed!”)
  • Lay him down and give him his lovie.
  • Say, “Night night, sleep tight! I’m right outside! I love you!”
  • Leave the room, closing the door.
  • If he cries, please set a timer for 5 minutes. Crying is continuous crying, not whimpers, moments of silence, whimper for a bit, silence for a bit. If he cries hard for 5 minutes, enter the room again, give him his lovie if it’s out of reach, and repeat, “Night night, sleep tight! I’m right outside! I love you!” Please don’t pick him up. He’s used to this routine now, and we’ve only had one or two times of really hard crying. He’s learning to soothe himself to sleep, and he’s gotten very good at it!

Maggie & Griffin

Bedtime for these guys is 7:30pm, unless Oliver is still falling asleep. We try to put Oliver down before they’re ready for bed, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way. We start them getting ready for bed around 7 or 7:15pm. Their jobs are:

  • Get into PJs
  • Put dirty clothes down the chute
  • Brush teeth for 2 minutes
  • Go to bed

Their routine sometimes includes time for read aloud, but if you are busy putting Oliver to bed, I would encourage them to get into their PJs, brush their teeth, and take a little quiet reading time on our bed, if it’s available, or the back bedroom. They are sometimes really amped before bed and goof off in their beds, which sometimes wakes Oliver. Please remind them that it’s silent time once they’re in their room!