Portland, Big Girl-style

20160909_135115One of my favorite writing treatments these days is to craft a travel story about a destination in the words and images of our Big Girl, L. She’s a phenomenal writer for her age (Exhibit A right here), she makes incredibly poignant observations, and she’s really learning how to wield the camera on a Smartphone.

I find her perspective innocent, fresh, and fun. It also usually elicits something I, alone, would not.

That’s the backstory behind my latest post for the Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia – a 7-year-old’s take on Portland. The piece is part of a series I’m writing for Expedia, and it presents a handful of pictures L took during our visit there earlier this fall. Interspersed with these images are glorified captions that set each scene and provide context for why she decided to take the pic. As a set, the images provide a colorful look at L’s impressions of the city, and her evolving artistic eye.

They also just make me damn proud.

You can read the piece by clicking here. Please share your feedback in the comments!

Long lost cousins

This is us

This is us

I’ve mentioned that L and I traveled to Portland last weekend. What I neglected to mention—at least in detail—is why: We went to attend the bar mitzvah of one of my cousin’s kids.

The cousin in question is a relative I haven’t seen in 12 years. That means he’d never met L. It also means L had never met him, or any of his kids. Which means my biggest daughter was meeting some of her cousins for the very first time.

Any other kid might have been daunted by all this unknown, by the possibility of going to a party with 40 other kids and NOT KNOWING A SOUL.

My kid, on the other hand, relished the opportunity. So much that she told me to get lost.

To be honest, I couldn’t really believe my ears. It happened during the cocktail hour of the party—adults were asked to go upstairs to a rooftop deck, while kids were invited to party on the dance floor below. I wasn’t sure how L would fare, so I gave her the option of having me hang around. That’s when she dropped the bomb. Get lost, Dad. I’m fine down here. I’ll make friends.

It was a bittersweet moment for sure. On one hand, I was delighted she felt comfortable being so independent. On the other hand, I was heartbroken that she didn’t need me, especially since she previously has wanted me around for similar situations.

Still, I obliged. I got lost. Despite how difficult that was.

In the end, the kid had a blast. She made friends with her long lost cousins and some of the other kids in attendance. She hung with them at various parts of the rest of the night. She also spent time just chilling by herself, dancing and singing and watching others have a ball. She even participated in some of the games; when she was one of the three finalists for Musical Chairs, she pocketed $20 for her efforts (trust me, bar mitzvahs aren’t what they used to be).

On our way back to the hotel, around 11 p.m., L turned to me and declared it had been “one of the best nights” of her life. I couldn’t help but smile.

I’d like to think travel has played a huge part in getting my oldest daughter comfortable enough to have the kind of night she had last weekend. It’s taught her adaptability and confidence. It’s taught her how to step back and observe. Most of all, traveling has helped my kid get to know herself, an important part of any human’s personal development. It’s a fundamental part of who and what she is.

Some might say we traveled to this bar mitzvah last weekend. I like to look at it a little differently: We attended a bar mitzvah for which travel prepared us all along.

The distinction here is subtle but important nevertheless; if we are, in fact, the sum of all of our experiences, the more experiences we have, the richer our lives become. It’s true for grown-ups and kids alike. No matter how many new cousins you might meet in a weekend, it only gets better over time.

Raising a fan of travel journaling

Write, baby, write!

Write, baby, write!

The assignment from her second grade teacher was simple: Keep a journal on your weekend trip to Portland.

Thankfully my Big Girl took the task seriously. And what followed warmed my heart.

I’ll spare you the gory details of her journal entries from our time last weekend in P-Town. The highlights: Recollections of an afternoon spent wandering around Washington Park, details about our fabulous room in the boutique Hotel Lucia, and meandering recaps of experiences with her grandparents and me at her first-ever bar mitzvah.

(The bar mitzvah recaps were by far the most colorful; L was one of the final three in a game of musical chairs and won $20 cash for her exploits.)

Of course she also covered finding a rock with a picture of a cat. And all the donuts we ate.

She scribbled in the journal every time we stopped—at meals, in the hotel for down time, or on the plane. And since we’ve been home, her writing streak has continued; she has written four “books” this week alone, and all of them are loosely connected to things we saw and did on our trip.

The bottom line: After seven years of watching her dad furiously scribble notes on just about every family trip, L has become a fan of travel journaling herself. Add to this her fascination with taking her own pictures (more of those in a subsequent post) and she’s developing into a pint-sized digital journalist.

It doesn’t matter to me whether L decides to pursue this as a career—that’s way too far away to think about seriously now. I’m just delighted she is enjoying the process of telling stories about her travels.

And I sure as hell am enjoying reading them.

Smiling about rocks in Portland

14203305_10155274339786632_312131353204661656_nTravel is at its best when it’s serendipitous—when magical coincidences make seemingly ordinary happenings feel extraordinary.

Such was the case this weekend when I traveled to Portland with my biggest girl, L.

We were in town for a number of reasons: 1) To attend the bar mitzvah of a cousin, 2) To see one of my closest pals, 4) To report a story in Washington Park, and 4) To poke around one of the weirdest and coolest cities in the West. But the best part of our trip happened when both of us least expected it.

It was mere hours after we landed. L and I had checked into our room at the Hotel Lucia downtown and were on our way to find a place to eat lunch. L spotted some steps and sat down so I could take her picture. After the snap, she looked to her left and spotted a silver dollar-sized white rock painted with a cute design. The rest is a part of history we’ll remember forever.

There on the rock was a cartoon drawing of a kitty cat. Normally this would be just another detail. But for L, who is cat-obsessed, it was a HUGE DEAL. Immediately I started thinking of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca waxing poetic about how there were all the public steps in the city, and we had to find a cat rock on that one. Even L was skeptical at the serendipity of it all. She kept asking me if I had put the rock there. She kept wondering aloud whether “somebody” knew how much she loved cats. At one point I think she convinced herself SAR was her grandmother.

Of course the artist had no idea who’d be finding the rock after he or she put it there. We found an Instagram address on the back of the rock, and three minutes on that page made it clear that the artist—a person who goes by the name Smiling About Rocks, or SAR—painted dozens of these rocks and placed them all over the city. (FWIW, our rock had the number 221 on it, which probably meant the artist has made at least 221 of these things.)

Instructions on the Instagram page were simple: “If you found a rock, take a picture of it and send it direct to me. I will post it on my feed.”

So we did. I had L pose holding the rock and snapped the shot you see atop this page. We sent it to SAR. SAR reposted our image the following day with full caption (and note that spoke directly to my kid). For my daughter, this only made the experience seem more serendipitous. Upon seeing the repost she exclaimed: “It’s like a fairy tale!”

Would we have had fun in Portland without our run-in with SAR? Of course. But this run-in made the trip even richer, and provided us with an instant memory I’m sure we both will have for many years to come.

The experience also served as an inspiration. When we got back to our hometown L reached out to a friend about doing a similar project here. The two have been talking about painting rocks all week. To be honest, I hope they follow-through. It’d be nice to pay the serendipity forward for a change.

What is the most serendipitous experience you’ve had on the road?

Best spots in Portland for family travel

Playing with water funnels at OMSI,

Playing with water funnels at OMSI,

We’re still in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, enjoying days full of beach time, wildlife-watching (all Orcas, all the time), and lots (and lots) of locally made ice cream.

Before we got here, however, we spent a few days exploring Portland, Oregon, to the south.

The real reason for that part of the trip was to see some old friends. Naturally, however, because this family travel writer likes to hunt down good stories wherever we go, I also reported a story for the Expedia Viewfinder blog (and, potentially, other outlets) about the very best Portland has to offer for kids.

That piece, titled, “Portland for kids,” appeared on the Viewfinder blog earlier this week. In it, I chronicled our experiences at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, on the Portland Aerial Tram, and at one of the city’s best donut shops, Blue Star Donuts.

I also gave some serious props/love to the Hotel Deluxe, the fabulous boutique (and restored turn-of-the-century) hotel where we stayed.

We packed a ton into the 48 hours we spent in Portland. Still, there were a number of sights we actually *didn’t* get to see. Among the stuff I’ve got on my list for next time: the Portland Children’s Museum, the Oaks Amusement Park, and a trip to Pok Pok, supposedly one of the best Thai restaurants in the entire country.

I’m already looking forward to our return.

Turning family travel disaster into fun

Airplane impersonations at PDX, Gate C5.

Airplane impersonations at PDX, Gate C5.

You probably have heard a saying about making lemonade when life gives you lemons. As a family traveler, I embrace this philosophy wholeheartedly.

My commitment was put to the test today on what amounted to a 15-hour travel day to fly 600 miles after a weekend in SoCal (and Legoland California) with Little R. Yes, the day was exhausting. Yes, in the scheme of things, it was wildly irritating. But I learned some valuable lessons about being prepared, staying positive, and never letting the kiddos see you sweat—lessons that forever have changed the way I’ll approach parenting on a family trip.

So when our flight from San Diego to Santa Rosa circled the Santa Rosa airport nine times to wait out bad weather, I dug deep into my (literal) bag of tricks and gave R a brand new sheet of Melissa & Doug reusable stickers. And when R decided (and threw a tantrum because) the on-board toilet was too high for her to use, I simply reassured her that if she couldn’t hold it in and she wet her pants, I had a change of clothes ready to go.

(ICYW, she held it, then fell asleep.)

Later, when the pilot announced we were running out of fuel and needed to divert to Portland, Oregon, I made up a story about how our plane had been hand-selected by Queen Esmerelda to come and visit her kingdom of Portland and how this was a great honor bestowed only on the luckiest of passengers.

After we deplaned, when R started losing her bananas in the rebooking line, I handed her blank paper and crayons, and asked her to draw the gate agent a special thank-you card—a card that not only got her an entire sheet of (really awesome) Alaska Airlines stickers in return, but also made the gate agent smile (something I didn’t see the agent do very much in the 45 minutes of yelling she received from other passengers on our flight.)

Upon learning that we’d have to wait four hours in Portland, I told R that Queen Esmerelda sent us a credit for the gift shop, and allowed her to pick out $20 worth of toys (she got a stuffed pony, among other things).

I improvised in other ways during the wait, too:

  • When we happened upon an empty gate, we played football with my hat.
  • At another empty gate, we pretended to be airplanes and ran around in circles for a good 20 minutes.
  • Thanks to a Facebook tip from a friend, we took the moving sidewalks down to an area with kids’ games and spent 45 minutes playing with those.

Oh, and when R had to use the bathroom (always a dicey proposition in our family when “magic-eye” automatic flushers are involved), I pretended to take a call from Queen Esmerelda, who “directed” us to a special family bathroom where R was able to get totally naked, spend quality time on the toilet, listen as I read her a few books on the Kindle, and do more than her fair share of business (if you know what I mean).

After the flight back to San Francisco (on which R watched “Peppa Pig” shows the entire time; at that point in the day, I was more than happy to relax my screen-time restrictions), I even tried my best to turn the ordeal of a one-way rental car into something fun: We pretended the AirTrain to the rental car facility was the Monorail at Walt Disney World Resort, and I let R select the car (she chose a “sparkly silver” one).

On the way home, before the kid passed out in the car, I asked her about her favorite parts of the trip. Her response: “Today was really fun, Daddy.”

To say this comment made me happy would be an understatement. (Actually, I started crying the moment she said it; thankfully it was dark.) It was clear that my kid didn’t consider the ordeal a pain in the ass because I never gave her a reason to do so. To R, it all was just another part of our trip; a wonderful perspective that taught me a ton about parenting, traveling, and, quite frankly, myself.

So often when we travel, our kids feed off of us. They take cues from us. They read our body language. If we wig out, they wig out. Which is precisely why we always need to stay cool and take everything in stride.

Sure, our day today was COMPLETELY exhausting. And, yes, the delay was wildly inconvenient (in more ways than one). I’m sure I’ll be feeling the effects of it all throughout the course of the week. Thankfully, however, my 3-year-old will not. In my book, given the circumstances we overcame, that is the sign of a family travel victory.

What have been some of your worst family travel experiences, and how did you cope?

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