As I was drafting our fall bucket list for this year, I wanted to include farm visits that focus more on nature and learning about our food (even though we also love the activities that come with a typical pumpkin patch). Based on prior year’s experience, Oxbow Farm and Conservation Centerhas a wonderful natural playground and a wide variety of heirloom pumpkins available. We even have pumpkins growing in our backyard from the seeds I saved last fall! Details about their usual Oxtober fest weren’t available at the time, but as luck would have it, I spotted their Family Farm Adventures when doing my usual scroll through the ParentMap events calendarand signed us up for a private farm tour. Our experience was really special and I would highly recommend it to families or learning pods.
Farmers Shea (they/them) and Emma (she/her) welcomed us on a foggy morning for our two-hour tour. Julia and James were feeling a bit shy and I was nervous that our small group (just the three of us) would make it harder to build enthusiasm. I needn’t have worried though — we crossed over the bridge to the Kids Farm and it was like entering a whole new world.
Shea and Emma tailored the tour to the kids’ ages (4.5 years and 18 months old), so stops at each station were shorter but we made more stops than we might have with older kids. The tour focused on parts of plants and how we can observe and eat them (roots, stems, flowers, fruits and seeds). We examined pumpkin flowers, compared leaf textures, crawled through a grapevine tunnel and collected purple beans (scarlet runner) from the bean arena that we saved in an origami seed packet.
Harvesting took place throughout the tour and we took a break at the end to sample what we’d gathered and then took home a big bag of produce. Maybe it’s just my kids, but having adults who weren’t related to them encourage vegetable eating was awesome. Julia ignores cucumbers, summer squash and radishes on her plate at home, but when Shea encouraged her to try some, she listed to them without batting an eye.
I also loved having connections between what we learned at the farm and what we talk about at home. For example, we recently talked about how flies have compound eyes, and learned about compound flowers (like sunflowers) on the tour. Even James felt included — he kept saying “wow!” as we looked under and around leaves for ladybugs and slugs.
As safety precautions go, I felt very comfortable at Oxbow. We regularly sanitized our hands and washed them with soap and water at handwashing stations. Although Julia took off her mask for the tasting portion of the tour, everyone wore masks and it was easy to give each other space. We completed a health screening upon arrival and there were lots of signs reminding folks about COVID-19 precautions. A porta potty is the only restroom available, but it was quite clean and there’s a handwashing station right next to it (we brought along a toddler potty for Julia).
Location: Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center, Carnation, WA. About a 35-40 minute drive from North Seattle
Duration and Availability: Weekdays; 2-hour time slots starting at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Group Size: Groups are limited to 5 people (and 3 children) in the same household or learning pod, but they provide contact details if you want to discuss a different sized group.
Cost: Sliding scale fee from $50-150. I fully recognize that this is a high cost compared to some other fall activities. That said, many of the local pumpkin patches are charging $20 per person for admission. There were three of us and we went home rich in knowledge and produce and had the place completely to ourselves, so it felt worth the cost to me. The website also emphasizes their desire for accessibility — contact them if the cost is a barrier. For free admission, check out the details for Oxtober that are now available here.
Note: as always, this blog reflects my personal risk assessment for myself and my family in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Your own evaluation of risk may differ from mine. We review our local government’s guidance and wear our masks indoors and/or when we can’t reliably create 6 feet of distance between folks and hope that you will, too.
As you’ll notice below, my bucket list for this year is mainly – get outside, do it a lot and make it through the year.
In normal years, I plan for all kinds of scheduled activities (museums, concerts, plays, etc), bucket lists and pumpkin patch visits via spreadsheets like the former accounting/finance nerd that I am. With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting what we can do, I’m still determined to enjoy the beautiful fall season that the Pacific Northwest offers.
Here’s what’s on my list for this fall:
Seattle Art Museum
This museum holds a special place in my heart for the art it’s allowed me to share with Julia (I’ve talked about visiting with kids here). Pre-pandemic, this was our go-to girls’ day. We would visit the museum’s special exhibits for an hour or two, then have lunch together and head home. They’ve just re-opened and my in-laws have agreed to babysit James so Julia and I can have some much needed girl time together. I’m looking forward to seeing the Carpe Fin exhibit that blend Native and Japanese styles done by a Haida artist.
Woodland Park Zoo
I adore our local zoo (see a previous post about it here), and it’s especially wonderful in the fall. The wide variety of trees and plants means there are often colorful leaf-peeping opportunities in a space that’s close to home. While most of the indoor spaces are closed due to the pandemic, it’s still a nice place to visit on a rainy day because the tree cover provides shelter from much of the rain. Timed tickets, extra cleanings and face covering requirements also make the zoo feel safe in these uncertain times.
Did you see Jiaying Grygiel’s experience at Remlinger Farms on ParentMap’s website? She and her family really enjoyed the farm with the pandemic-driven adjustments and I’m really looking forward to going back. Julia was able to ride the roller coaster last summer and has been asking about it ever since! Right now they’re only open on weekends, but I also want to check back on their self-guided tours that are described on the website. It seems like the type of activity for which I could also tote James along.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day Commemoration
I’ve reflected recently on where my conversations with my kids have lacked discussion of the tribes whose ancestral lands we’re occupying. I want to change that by taking time to learn about them year-round, but also by using a special day to commemorate their many contributions to our national prosperity. However, I’m also cognizant of the fact that Native folks are part of the at-risk population we want to protect, so I want to avoid specifically going to reservations right now. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is on October 12th this year and here are a few ways I think we’ll observe it:
A mini road-trip – the Visit Seattle website has a Native American Cultural Heritage Guide with a map of heritage sites, many of which are open-air (such as the Salish Welcome statue near the Ballard Locks). I’d love to do a little trip around our area to stop and see some of these hidden treasures.
Take a hike – the Washington Trails Association has a post called “8 Trails that Tell a Native American Story” and there are a couple of shorter ones that I can use to talk about Native culture, such as the Traditional Knowledge Trail in Snoqualmie.
Read a book – we have really loved When We Were Alone(short picture book) and Sweetest Kulu(board book) lately. I would love to find more specifically Pacific Northwest-leaning children’s books about Native culture, but have more research to do there.
With outside time becoming increasingly important in our lives, I’ve invested more in outdoor gear this year (like a rain suit for James and finally purchasing rain pants for myself). I want to make sure that typical misty and rainy Seattle-area weather doesn’t keep us from escaping the house regularly.
We also love Franklin Falls (in the fall, there are often interesting mushrooms to peek at from the trail) and while Gold Creek Pond is a trail we usually hit in the winter to play in the snow, I’m looking forward to trying it this fall.
Apple Picking – ParentMap recently re-published a list of apple picking spots. Jones Creek Farms looks like a wonderful family farm that I’m looking forward to trying. We actually have a small apple tree that our home’s previous owner planted, but there’s something about a trip to a farm that makes picking apples extra fun. Staying home more often has pushed me to take on more cooking projects, so perhaps I’ll use our pickings to make applesauce in addition to our usual baked apples for snacks.
Pumpkin Patches – Have I mentioned that I’m a nerd with a pumpkin patch spreadsheet? Normally, I try to optimize going to patches with lots of activities (bounce houses, apple cannons, cow trains, etc). This year feels so different, however, and I want to visit some of the spots that are quieter and more focused on actually growing food. Favorite farms from prior years have included Oxbow and Jubilee (both in Carnation). I also love that these farms have stands where you can purchase other fresh vegetables, so it doubles as a grocery run.
We cancelled our planned trip to Kalaloch Lodge and Salt Creek Recreation Area due to the unhealthy smoky skies in Seattle. I’m disappointed in missing a trip I’d been looking forward to for months, but also am glad that our family is safe and that firefighters and organizations along the West Coast are working hard to make sure other families stay safe, too.
We still have some trips to look forward to, however.
Winthrop, WA – this is one of the first trips I’ve booked because I saw it on Instagram and it looked beautiful. Peter is on call for work and appreciates extra quiet and time to work, so I’m taking the kids on a solo trip to a cabin where we can hike, see the Western-themed town and its boardwalks, and enjoy some time together. If the trip goes well, I have another stay booked to include Peter in November when there more likely be snow and we can enjoy a hot tub with a river view. Yes, please!
Olympic Peninsula – every fall, we try to book a cabin at Dosewallips State Park (read more about our previous experiences here). The park, which is on the eastern side of the peninsula, has beautiful fall colors, spawning salmon, herds of elk and a lovely shoreline. This year, we’re also tacking on a few nights in Long Beach at the Boardwalk Cottages. I’m hoping to rent e-bikes, visit a cranberry bog (pandemic-permitting) and fly kites.
Leavenworth – I’ve been eyeing a fall escape to the Sleeping Lady Resort for a long time, but never managed to make reservations in time until this year. Leavenworth is just outside the circle of day-trip drive time for us, so I’m looking forward to spending some time in this area that is on many fall getaway lists.
With all the crises affecting our country right now, one of the fall traditions I’m most looking forward to is voting. Here are some key pieces of information to know:
Mail-in voting: We are fortunate to live in Washington, which operates 100% through mail-in voting so it feels safe and very easy to do. You can look up mail-in voting information here.
Early voting: I also plan to vote early in this election to try to avoid overburdening the USPS. Early voting in Washington starts October 16th, but it differs by state. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a chart available here.
Reading about voting: your local newspaper likely has endorsements for particular candidates, so if it’s a source you respect, that would be a good place to start (here’s an example from the Seattle Times for the 2020 Primary). If you want to help kids learn about voting, we love the book Vote For Our Future, which shows how kids can get involved even though they can’t vote for a few more years. I love Charnaie’s Instagram post (Here Wee Read) featuring books about voting, as well as her advice to talk to kids about issues, not politics.
Encouraging others to vote: If your state offers easy access to voting, that’s great! However, many people are underrepresented in our voting population because of historical obstacles (hello, systemic racism). A friend recommended Vote Forward as a way to write letters reaching out to people in more contested elections who might not otherwise vote. I asked Julia to help me put stamps on my letters, so it also turned into a nice activity for the two of us.
What’s on your fall bucket list for 2020? Have you adapted favorite traditions to fit in with our strange current times?
During this pandemic world we’re living in, I’ve started to toy with the idea of buying an electric cargo bike to tote the kids around and make our short neighborhood trips feel more adventurous (and environmentally friendly). However, the bikes are a big investment (even used, if you can find one!) so I didn’t want to buy until I could try it out for more than just a ride around the block. The closest spot to rent a bike was on Vashon Island, so I organized what I thought would be a half day trip, which turned into a full day trip. Here’s our rough itinerary:
9:30 a.m. – Ferry from Fauntleroy (West Seattle)
With the West Seattle bridge closed for the foreseeable future, it took awhile to get to the Fauntleroy Ferry from West Seattle. We could have also driven down to Point Defiance, but this was slightly shorter. This particular ferry schedule is a little wonky, possibly because the ferry also continues on to Southworth, so there were 9:10 and 9:30 a.m. ferries on a weekday, but the next ferry wasn’t until 10:25 a.m. Check the ferry schedule on WSDOT’s website. The ferry crossing is roughly 20 minutes, and it’s about another 20 minutes from the terminal to the Jensen Point Boathouse to pick up the bike.
10:15 a.m. – e-Bike Rental Reservation
I wanted to stop for coffee at the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie, but the line was too long, so we moved on to our reservation at Vashon Adventures. They require advance reservations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but same day reservations are available. I had called a week or two ahead to check on cargo bikes – we reserved a long-tail rather than the front box style because it’s the type I think I’d be most likely to purchase. Erin had the bike all set up out front with child seats for us and was very thorough in explaining how to operate the bike. I really appreciated her patience since I haven’t ridden a bike in several years (and not regularly since I was a kid). I brought the kids’ helmets since I knew they would wear them, but borrowed a helmet for myself. There are kids’ helmets available and they were in good shape.
After a few practice laps around the boathouse parking lot and a review of the Vashon map, we were off! Getting used to the bike took me awhile, but probably wouldn’t be as challenging for a regular rider. I had to acclimate to the heavy weight at the back of the bike (especially 70 lbs of wiggly children), which meant that stopping at a stop sign was hard at first, as was keeping the bike straight on some of the more uneven road edges. However, the area around the Jensen Point Boathouse and the Point Robinson Lighthouse (our destination) is full of hilly, but relatively smooth, roads with low speed limits (35 mph or less), so it was a perfect spot to practice.
11:15 a.m. – Point Robinson Lighthouse
Point Robinson always comes up when I search for tide pools in the Seattle area (there’s even a low tide festival most summers, pandemic not withstanding). In researching our trip, I noticed that low tide was supposed to be around 11 a.m., so it seemed like a perfect destination. Getting there took a bit longer than I expected, so we didn’t end up seeing the tide pools, per se. However, the kids loved knocking on the lighthouse door, shoveling shells, and eating their snacks in one of the many driftwood forts. Impending naptime and my nervousness about returning the bike on time meant that we only spent about 40 minutes at the lighthouse.
Distance: the lighthouse is a 14.5 mi round trip ride from the Jensen Point boathouse. It took us roughly 35-40 minutes to bike each way, and 17 minutes to drive.
*Note on accessibility and facilities: only the upper parking area is open, so you’ll have to walk a medium sized distance down a steep hill to the lighthouse area (unless you bike!) and possibly park on the road if the small parking lot is full. There are one or two spots by the beach for people with disabilities. Fairly clean porta potties are available by the beach and in the parking area.
12:15 p.m. Return Bike, Back to Point Robinson
On our way back to the boathouse, I could feel my phone vibrating in my pocket and could see it was Vashon Adventures when I stopped to check. We were running a tiny bit late, so I thought they might be calling to make sure we were on our way back. When we got to the boathouse, though, Erin told me she had called because a pod of transient orca whales was on their way to the lighthouse and she wanted us to feel free to stay and watch. So thoughtful! I had never seen orcas in the wild, so we hurried back to the lighthouse to spot them. After 20 minutes, the kids were getting antsy and we hadn’t seen anything, so we were just packing up to leave when I saw a flash of dorsal fin! We were on the far end of the beach, which happened to be in the whales’ direction, so we got a front row view as 6-7 whales (including what looked like a couple of juveniles) swam back and forth. Erin had mentioned that the beach has a steep drop not far offshore, making it easy to see whales because they can come close as they hunt for seals. It really did feel like they were magically close and it was an amazing end to our trip. A lucky little harbor seal also popped their head up after the whales had swam by, so we got a bonus wildlife sighting for the day.
3:20 p.m. – Ferry Home
Pro tip that should have been obvious from our recent Whidbey trips: Google isn’t smart enough yet to review ferry schedules, so it assumes you just hop on a ferry when you arrive at the terminal. Our visit with the whales threw me off and I stupidly believed Google when it suggested the Vashon/Fauntleroy route would be faster than the Point Defiance ferry and didn’t check the schedules. We arrived at the terminal at 2 p.m., but the ferries depart at 1:40 and 3:20 p.m. So I opened all the windows on a hot day, read every book in the car, looked at laminated placements with shapes/instruments/states and sang ridiculous songs for a over an hour before doing it again for the 20 minute ferry ride. Lesson learned – check the ferry schedules!
We pulled into our driveway at 4:30 p.m. so our trip was about 2-3 hours longer than I had planned, but it was a really beautiful day with some unique adventures and everyone felt it was worthwhile. I joked with a friend that it was like playing Pacific Northwest bingo – we took a ferry, rode a bike, climbed near a lighthouse, played on a rocky beach, saw orcas, and almost had locally roasted coffee. If I were doing the same trip over again, I would:
Print out the ferry schedules for all nearby ferry routes. It’s not normally necessary because most ferries are at predictable intervals, but would really have helped me when we unexpectedly extended the trip.
Book the 3 hour or full day rental next time. I was nervous about James’ nap time and thought the kids might hate the bike, so I booked the minimum 2 hours. Julia absolutely loved the ride and James took a short nap in his seat (he’s flexible, but a terrible trip sleeper, so I should have expected that). We could have stayed longer at the lighthouse or stopped for coffee/ice cream with more time. That said, there weren’t too many other renters, so I also could have probably called and asked for an extension.
As for an e-bike purchase? The jury’s still out. I would absolutely rent one again in an easy environment like Vashon Island. However, I’m not sure I’m a confident enough rider to handle Seattle’s streets. The arterials are full of oblivious drivers (I’m guilty of that sometimes, too) and parked cars apt to throw open their doors at any time, and there frequently aren’t bike lanes, or they’re heavily shared by buses and turning cars. Even the side streets are narrow with cars and bikes navigating a small shared space, leaving the potential for a lot of stopping and starting. For now, I think I’ll repeat this day trip instead!