Finding a Virtual Village – New Parent Support during COVID

We moved to Seattle a little over 7 years ago with very few local connections, and certainly none with young children (outside of my niece and nephew). So when we got pregnant with Julia, I relied on word-of-mouth from co-workers to help me find my village.

Everyone recommended we join PEPS. Their most common offering is the newborn group, which offers 12-week sessions for families to connect over the joys and challenges of new parenthood. We opted for the evening group, which includes both partners, although daytime groups for one parent (typically the birth parent) and other affinity groups are becoming more available.

Our experience was amazing. Even though some of the 8 families from our group have moved away, we still keep in touch with most of them either virtually or in person (pre-pandemic). Our first-time facilitator was also fantastic and her cheery and accepting attitude made sharing feel easy and natural.

I always wanted to return the favor and lead a group myself, but work schedules got in the way and then I got pregnant with James and the timing wasn’t right. Jump forward to late 2019 and I finally signed up to lead a group. I had gotten into the groove of full-time motherhood with two young kids and craved being able to give back and hold a newborn without having to wake up every 2 hours throughout the night.

Of course, you know how this story continues – the coronavirus pandemic hit and everything that could went virtual, which included support groups.

Personally, I felt some grief about not holding newborns or enjoying connections over dinner and drinks with the families, and also apprehension about leading a group virtually. I’m terrible at phone calls and avoid Skype/video chats like the plague. Not to mention – how could I provide a shoulder to cry on for parents going through new parenthood and a pandemic without being physically present?

After leading my first ever PEPS group (spoiler: it went really well, despite being entirely on Zoom; I just started a second group), I got to wondering whether other potential facilitators might feel the same way. I pitched an article to ParentMap about my experience in case it would help folks off the fence and onto Zoom.

My editor encouraged me to broaden the scope and I went down a rabbit hole of finding amazing organizations supporting Seattle-based new parents. Organizations, facilitators and participants shared their experiences navigating the pandemic with a newborn and I got all kinds of warm fuzzies thinking about how human connection can still happen virtually.

The article for ParentMap went live this week (link here). I would love for you to read and share it with a newly expanding family in your life who might be searching for support.

Note: The header image is from one of our first post-PEPS meet-ups with our old group – one family hosted a “Books, Bubbles and Babies” party. I miss getting together with families so much.


2020 Winter Bucket List

As you may recall from the fall bucket list I posted awhile back, I keep all of my favorite events in various spreadsheets and then roll them forward every year. That wasn’t possible for 2020, but I’m excited to add a few new things and to celebrate what we can still do.

Similar to my fall list, this reflects my family’s and my assessment of our local area and personal risk as guided by science and medical experts. We are focusing on lots of time outdoors where we wear our masks when anywhere near 6 feet from other people. We appreciate a change of pace by doing a local getaway or two, but we bring our own food or get take-out and use the time to take advantage of outdoor activities that might otherwise be too long of a drive for a day trip.

Without further ado, our holiday/winter bucket list:


Cama Beach State Park – We camped at Camano Island State Park over the summer and I loved that the space is easy to access (no ferry!) and has some short and kid-friendly hikes. The cabins at nearby Cama Beach are on an online reservation system now (they used to be phone-in only), so it’s much easier to reserve and I grabbed a “deluxe” cabin for a quick getaway. Deluxe just means we have a separate bedroom and our own bathroom, so we’ll still have to bring our sleeping bags and camp stove, but it should make the space feel more pandemic-friendly. I’m planning to combine the trip with the drive-through holiday lights in Stanwood.

Iron Springs Resort – My birthday is in January, so to celebrate we’re heading to the Olympic Peninsula for a couple of nights. We had to cancel our Kalaloch Lodge stay back in September during the tragic wildfires. I considered re-booking there, but really wanted a bit more in the way of kitchen facilities and separate sleeping spaces so we’re trying something new.

Holiday Lights

Enjoying the interactive sections of WildLanterns

Living in the Pacific Northwest means it gets dark pretty early in winter. Also, my kids rise with the roosters, which means they also have to have early bedtimes to get enough rest. That makes early holiday light shows a big hit with our family.

We checked out the new WildLanterns show at Woodland Park Zoo and loved it! I’m planning to go again in late December (the show goes through Jan 17, 2021) since we live so close to the zoo.

I’m also thinking about visiting the Fantasy Lights drive-through at Spanaway Park (Nov 21–Jan 3). It’s a further drive for us, but might be worth it as we look for outdoor/limited contact options.

We often go see the lights at Candy Cane Lane or the Green Lake Pathway of Lights. The latter is cancelled this year, but I’m hoping to make a miniature version in our backyard or right next to our street to spread a little holiday cheer.

Botanical Gardens/Arboretums

I’m all about hiking on rugged trails, but sometimes it’s nice to have spaces to walk that are easy wins for the day (aka flat trails and easy to get to). We’re lucky to have several arboretums and botanical gardens with beautiful fall colors and evergreen trees.

Lake Wilderness Arboretum – we visited this Maple Valley space last week and loved the story walk. This partnership with the Maple Valley branch of the King County Library offers a different picture book each month with pages mounted on stands behind plexiglass along the trail. I’d love to go back and see the December book choice once it’s announced and spend more time on the other trails.

The November 2020 story walk at Lake Wilderness Arboretum featured Thank You, Omu

Kruckeberg Botanical Garden – we still haven’t been to this Shoreline space, but they’re open from 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Friday -Sunday in the winter, so I’m thinking it would make a nice little morning visit before naptime. They’re also offering private tours for a more educational experience.

Bloedel Preserve Winter in the Woods – located on Bainbridge island, this is another space we’ve still never managed to make it to. They’re adding handcrafted wooden snow people and deer to the trails for a dash of holiday cheer. Timed tickets are required and they’re a little pricey ($17/adult; $10 for kids aged 13-18; $6 for kids aged 5-12; free for 4 and under), but since we’d make this a day trip I’d love to try it.

Washington Arboretum – parking can be a little tricky at this well-loved Seattle outdoor space, but we usually head out to one of the side parking lots (like #17 by the Wilcox footbridge) and have no trouble walking around. The fall colors and spring flowers are legendary, but we haven’t been as often in the winter so I’m looking forward to going back for a weekday visit.

Traditional Experiences

Swanson’s Nursery – while Donner and Blitzen aren’t at the nursery this year, they still have their toy train and holiday decor and I’m excited to keep this holiday tradition around. Make timed reservations for your visit.

Our visit to the Swanson’s holiday train in 2019

Yuletide Express Train – we’ve never done the Snoqualmie Santa Train before, but this seemed like the year for a day trip option with limited indoor space and masks on.

Hiking/Snow Fun

Snow hiking is so different than any other time of year. While I plan to invest in micro spikes and other gear for future years with the kids, I’m focusing on shorter hikes this year. I love the WTA and ParentMap lists and would add these:

Falls Creek Falls (Winthrop) – we did this very short and high-impact hike on our return to Winthrop. The lower falls are only a quarter mile down the trail with plenty of snow to frolic in. You’ll want an all-wheel-drive vehicle to get to the trailhead.

Hiking to Falls Creek Falls near Winthrop

Gold Creek Pond (Snoqualmie) – we never ended up making it to this little gem in the fall, but it’s been a winter favorite of ours for years (it’s up the road from a sno-park so we combine sledding and hiking). The trail is flat and not particularly long, plus it offers lots of snow to play in. During the winter, you need a sno-park permit (more information here).

Online Arts Performances

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker – The Nutcracker has been a holiday tradition since before I had kids. We usually enjoy photo opps and activities beforehand. At intermission, my sister-in-law and I sip sparkling wine while the kids munch Mouse King cookies and watch a magic show. The ballet is really suffering from lack of revenue and offering a digital streaming experience this year. I’m planning to bake and decorate cookies with the kids and sip bubbly at home while we watch.

Julia’s first Nutcracker experience in 2018 (age 2.5)

Seattle Symphony Family Concerts & Tiny Tots – We also love the kid-friendly concerts that the Symphony offers every year. The Tiny Tots series is geared toward younger kids (0–5) and Family Concerts are designed for slightly older kids (6–12), although we took Julia to the Family Concerts at age 2.5 and she was fine. This year there are some free clips available as well as virtual concerts with a subscription (Tiny Tots Winter Wonderland is on Dec 4th at 11 a.m.; Family Concert Air is on Dec 19th at 11 a.m.). If you’d like a free month of complimentary access, use code SSOvEEI421 (case sensitive).

Figgy Pudding – My husband and I met in a choir and love singing together, so Figgy Pudding — a local caroling competition that supports the Pike Place Senior Center Food Bank and is typically hosted downtown in early December — has been a favorite tradition since we moved to Seattle 7 years ago. It’s moved online this year, like every other arts event, and I’m excited to watch it couch-side with some mulled wine. Viewing starts Dec 4th and some parts will be televised on Dec 11th.

What’s on your winter bucket list this season?

Fall Bucket List Lookback

When I set goals for myself in writing, I love reflecting to see whether I met them, missed them, or altered them. So how did our Fall Bucket List go?


This was the last on my list, but the most important to me. I’ve voted in every election for a long time now, but we also live in the bluest part of a blue state in a blue region, so it wasn’t surprising that Washington went for Biden/Harris. This year, for the first time, I also wrote letters to potential voters and stifled my hatred of the telephone to phone bank in swing states to get out the vote. This felt like the right year to “get political” and I’m so grateful for our new President- and Vice-President-elect.


In the brief time the Seattle Art Museum and Burke Museum were re-opened, we managed to attend each one time. I’m actually quite sad that the museums had to shut down in the latest round of restrictions in Washington. I understand how private indoor gatherings (especially large ones!) are problematic, but our experience with these two museums was that precautions were instituted and observed by everyone (limited capacity, mask wearing, disinfecting, etc) and the huge, well-ventilated spaces felt comfortable. I’m looking forward to return when we safely can.

Masked up and enjoying the Seattle Art Museum when it was open

We’ve also been back to the Woodland Park Zoo a few times and Julia and I went to Remlinger Farms together as a Mommy-Daughter date. Our Remlinger visit was scheduled on a sunny day, but Julia had a slight fever a few days before and I rescheduled while we could wait for symptoms to subside and a COVID test (no virus for anyone in the family). So it ended up being a day with thunderstorms in the forecast during their fall festival, but we lucked out with barely a few drops of rain and had a great time!

The zoo felt extra comfortable and I love that it’s still open even with the latest round of restrictions since it’s an outdoor activity that already had limited capacity.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

We didn’t do a specific activity on the day itself, but we did add other opportunities to learn about Native culture. In Winthrop, we loved the Sa Teekh Wa trail and Homestream Park (more about this trip below). The Burke Museum also had some beautifully refreshed exhibits about Indigenous Peoples from our area, including sections about food sovereignty that I found interesting. I think the most important lesson from these outing for all of us (myself included) is how they showed that Native culture is still rich and ongoing. Many signs speak only in the past tense and it’s important to observe current practices and traditions as well.

In addition to Sweetest Kulu, we’ve added some beautiful board books from Native Northwest to our collection. I particularly liked these because they showcase the culture of Tribal Nations from the Pacific Northwest, which helps connect us to the people who continue to steward our local area.

A Native Northwest board book’s beautiful illustrations Blue Lake


We’ve done a fair amount of hiking this fall, even though many of our hikes have been on the shorter side. Julia pushes really hard against the idea of a hike on some days, which makes it challenging to get everyone out the door, but once we’re out on the trail she seems content to go along. James is mostly just along for the ride at this stage, and I don’t hate it!

Some of our favorite hikes have been:

  • Twin Falls – Julia asked to go back down the long flight of stairs to the waterfall viewpoint because the falls are so powerfully loud and spectacular.
  • Blue Lake – at 4.4 miles roundtrip, this is the longest hike Julia has done (James rode in a backpack carrier) and I was so proud of her. We also got to walk through larches as they were turning golden, which honestly felt magical.
  • Lake Wilderness Arboretum – this was a new one today and I loved it! We had to drive about 40 minutes to Maple Valley, but the Arboretum teamed up with the Maple Valley library to build a story walk. It features a new picture book each month with blown-up copies of the pages in plexiglass-front signs so you can follow along with the story as you run the trail. The story walk doesn’t have signage directing you from the parking lot, so walk behind the greenhouse area towards the main wide trail and you’ll see the signs on your left.
Reading Thank You, Omu at the Lake Wilderness Arboretum


This was a fun one! We ended up going to pumpkin patches at Stocker Farms and Jubilee Farm, as well as Remlinger. A new experience for 2020 was the Oxbow Family Farm Adventure. We loved having a private tour (pricey, but more like a donation to a worthy organization) and visiting early in the fall season gave us the opportunity to learn about and taste lots of fruits and vegetables.

Early fall sunflowers at Stocker Farms

We also tried our hands at veggie and apple picking by visiting Bailey Farm and Jones Creek Farms. In true COVID-era fashion, I turned these outings into much more of a project than I had intended. Overeager helping hands resulted in tons of pickling cucumbers, so we had refrigerator pickles to bring along on a camping trip (delicious!).

Our visit to Jones Creek was a on a freezing, rainy day and the drive was quite long, but the apple sauce we made with our haul and the excellent garlic made it worth it. Anything for the experience! Next fall I’ll time the trip to coincide with an early fall getaway into the North Cascades so we’re less likely to end up with freezing fingers.


Unsurprisingly, the getaways were my favorite part of the fall season. In years past, we balanced an international trip with less expensive local camping at favorite spots, so we haven’t really explored much of the 3-4 hour driving radius spots in Washington and this was our year.

Biking the Discovery Trail on a getaway to Long Beach, WA

On a personal note, while my background is in accounting and finance, I’ve always enjoyed trip planning and writing. As we got closer to James’ first birthday this year, I started to think about what my next step would be and hoped it would allow me to branch out into a non-profit role or something travel-related. The pandemic brushed that all to the wayside, but I still felt like I needed something that I did just for myself, so I started drafting an article or two. At first it was just a couple of opinion pieces for the Red Tricycle Spoke Network (like the benefits of outdoor time for parents and my experience as a homeschooled kid). Then I pitched a couple of activity pieces to local parenting magazines and am now hoping to make it into a small side project that will allow me to share experiences with other families looking to get out and about.

I’ve written about most of our recent getaways, including our Winthrop stay (ParentMap; November print edition), a road trip to the Hood Canal and Long Beach Peninsula (Seattle’s Child) and our stay at the Sleeping Lady in Leavenworth (Seattle’s Child).

What was your favorite fall activity this year?

Oxbow Farm: Family Adventure

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 Center has 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 calendar and 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. 

Crossing the bridge to the Oxbow Kids Farm

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.

Loving the grapevine tunnel
Labeling her own bean seed packet
James was delighted with his own seed packet and kept unpacking them

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.

Listening to Farmer Shea as they slice produce for tasting

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.


Hospital Packing List – With Sibling

I haven’t written a post in a long time and I swear I have an excuse! We’re expecting baby #2 (a boy) on March 6th and this pregnancy has been harder than my first in so many ways, primarily because I started feeling nauseous at 6 weeks. Rather than a 4 week period of nausea with Julia, this little guy still regularly keeps my stomach in knots, even at 39 weeks. Combine that with a busy (but fun) fall/holiday and a 3 year old and I just didn’t prioritize jotting anything down for posterity. This poor kid probably won’t get any kind of baby book/journal, either.

I’ve been resurrecting all kinds of lists lately, which is my last ditch attempt to pretend I have control over anything baby-related. This is our packing list for our hospital bags. It was really hard for me to find a set of lists that include anything for a sibling, so I’ve included it below. Julia will stay with family if my mom hasn’t arrived yet, or with our next door neighbors if family isn’t available, so we have some comfortable back-ups.

*Items with an asterisk are things I’ll pack when I go into labor/that are in my purse.

Mommy List

  • Printed copy of birth plan (my midwives clinic scans this into my chart, but just in case!)
  • Credit card/ID/Insurance Card*
  • Phone and Charger* – preloaded playlists on my phone’s Spotify app. I didn’t use them last time, but they’re already there so…
  • Gum
  • Veggie/Fruit Juice – I didn’t actually end up using this last time because I vomited not long after we got to the hospital, but I also ate spicy food shortly before we left, so I’m trying again. Having liquids on hand is important to me, just in case
  • Water Bottle
  • Dried fruit/ginger chews – I have no idea why, but I ate a ton of dried apricots and cherries in the hours following birth last time
  • Chocolate for hospital nurses – I brought 2 lbs of See’s last time, 1 for day shift and 1 for night shift
  • Toiletries
    • Deodorant
    • Light make-up
    • Shampoo/conditioner
    • Moisturizer
    • Toothpaste/toothbrush
    • Chapstick (my lips were constantly chapped last time)
    • Hair brush/ties/bobby pins
    • Essential oils (lavender/peppermint) – I didn’t need these in labor last time, but they were nice to help me relax while recovering
    • Face wipes
  • Clothes
    • Slippers and flip-flops
    • Robe – I bought an inexpensive one from Target last time that was nice to have
    • Nursing tank top and bra
    • Nursing-friendly shirt and loose pants. H&M has had some great ones lately
    • Underwear/socks (big fluffy warm ones)

Daddy List
My husband has allergies, so even though our hospital has pretty good food that we can order, we’re bringing lots of snacks for him (which he’s in charge of packing) to make sure he has energy, too.

  • Snacks – cashews, dried fruit, chocolate, tea bags because the choices at the hospital are awful
  • Tylenol – our hospital, at least, can’t give your partner medicine because they aren’t a patient, so if your support person gets a headache, they’re on their own
  • Wallet with credit cards/ID
  • Phone with charger. We also brought a digital camera last time, but our phone cameras are so much better this time around that we’re skipping tat
  • Watch
  • Change of clothes
  • Toiletries (similar to my list above)
  • Entertainment – last time, my husband brought a few magazines, a bluetooth speaker in case we wanted to listen to music (we didn’t end up using it) and his laptop/charger with DVDs. We were up regularly for feedings, anyway, so we watched a movie together and enjoyed having something to break up time.

Baby List

  • Carseat – can’t leave without it! We’re installing ours this weekend, but did it earlier with baby #1
  • Swaddle blanket – the hospital provides these, but an extra is nice to have
  • 2 going home outfits – 1 in a newborn size and 1 in a 3 mo size in case baby is huge
  • Hat/socks/mittens – the hospital gives you a hat, but the ones that coordinate with their little outfits are so adorable. Julia was a scratcher from day one, so we’re bringing some little mittens for this guy.

Sibling List
This is for Julia, who is almost 3. She’s daytime potty trained, but still sleeps in a diaper. I’m assuming she’ll be at someone’s house for up to 2 nights

  • 3 outfits – basically 2 + a spare in case of an accident (including socks and underwear). Note that our back-up care people live within half a mile of our house and have keys, so it’s not like they couldn’t pick up more if there were multiple accidents.
  • 2 pairs of PJs – this includes a new pair that I got her as part of her big-sister present
  • 3 diapers and 2 pull-ups – similar to the outfits, there are a couple of spares just in case
  •  Wet/dry bag – for laundry and any accidents
  • 1 muslin blanket and 1 stuffed animal – both homes she would stay at have temporary sleeping arrangements (extra beds/cots, etc), so these are really more like comfort objects
  • 1 pillow* – she has a toddler pillow that she likes, so I plan to pack that later
  • Toy bag – both homes have slightly older kids, so I know they have the basics, but I wanted her to have some familiar and quiet activities (a Go Fish game, sticker books, and her Kindle/charger with headphones)
  • 2 books – our bedtime routine includes reading 2 books, so I chose some of her favorites that are also lightweight (including 1 about a new baby)
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste and hairbrush
  • Snacks (shelf stable ones like pouches, cheddar bunnies and fruit roll-ups)
  • Print-out with babysitting-type info – emergency contacts, our insurance and her pediatrician’s info, her bedtime routine, etc. I also e-mailed this to both families earlier this week
  • Gift card to a local bakery – as a thank you for watching Julia, but also in case they need an activity for breakfast
  • Big sister present – she’s really into superheroes lately, particularly Bat Girl. I couldn’t find Bat Girl PJs that were her size, so I bought purple striped ones and a Batman cape and mask set (she won’t know the difference). Target had a really cute superhero themed card for a big sister (they had a brother version as well), so I added that to be read to her. I’m probably overreacting, but I’m concerned about her feeling worried about being without us or upset about paying attention to baby brother, so I’m really trying to play up what a big and brave girl she is, combined with a little bribery.
  • Shoes/jacket/hat/gloves*
  • Carseat*

Things I did NOT pack

I learned last time that our hospital provides a lot of recover-related things that are on other packing lists out there, so I haven’t included them.

  • Mesh undies/depends/pads
  • Tucks
  • Tylenol/Ibuprofen/Colace (stool softener)
  • Peri bottle
  • Diapers
  • Flannel receiving blanket and basic baby hat
  • Pillows – the pillows last time were plenty comfortable for me, and I don’t really want to bring anything I would feel really badly about throwing away (like a favorite pillow) because birth is messy, y’all.

Anything I’m missing that you’d suggest?