Category Archives: Toddler Adventures

The Minutia Behind Unstructured Summer Adventure Days

My friend Gretchen asked how exactly we make this get-to-the-beach-with-young-kids thing happen on a regular basis.

Beach With The Boys. MomsicleBlog

First, the backstory: I worry that K-Pants is going to be depressed or possibly is depressed. He says things like “I’m a terrible, stupid idiot,” or “I’m a terrible boy,” or that thing happened “because I’m so bad”—like when he can’t pick out sugar-cereal at the store, or a drawing doesn’t look just right.* And I keep reading everywhere that more nature equals less depression.

*I don’t want any advice about how to make this black-and-white thinking stop, but thank you for your very well-intentioned help I didn’t ask for. You might be thinking, “You say that, but I have to say something because the No Drama Discipline book changed everything for us.” I understand. I do the same thing to others. But I just don’t have the mental energy to take it in right now.


What sealed the deal on our no-camps, get-into-nature plan was that my friend Sara shared an article that suggested that the rise in depression in kids is partially due to the fact that they don’t have unstructured play time—time without an adult nearby who will intervene to make things fair or solve problems.** The argument went something like this: People feel depressed when they feel like they have no control over their lives, and modern kids always have an adult in control.

I don’t pay much attention to the newest research, but it happened that this study came into my life when I was feeling like my kid was going to be prone to some severe depression and anxiety, and that I didn’t want to add more appointments and activities to our life because the logistics of three kids was adding to my own postpartum depression.

Here we go talking about postpartum depression, again, and I am totally off track….

*What?!? You let this Sara chick share unsubstantiated research with you and you won’t let me transform your life with No Drama Discipline? You are totally right. I have double-standards, and Sara has privileges. I’m a mess.


….I’m stalling because it feels awkward to share strategy and tips. I try not to be a know-it-all on the blog. Momsicle’s tagline could be, I don’t know anything, but I’m still here.

Or Everything I’d planned went totally off-course.

Or Please don’t share your “expertise.”

{Segue here, or Segway, if you’d prefer a two-wheeled tour.}

Apocalypse Mobile. MomsicleBlog

In order to be ready for adventure, here’s what I keep in my car no matter the season (photo above):

  1. Plastic tub filled with extra clothes and shoes for me and the kids—some warm stuff like fleece jackets hats and scarves, and some lightweight stuff. I don’t check forecasts, so this is crucial.
  2. Plastic pull-out drawer filled with emergency supplies and snacks. This is the bin that gave our car the nickname, “the apocalypse mobile.” This bin may at any time include first aid, water bottles, twine, granola bars, extra tooth brushes, sunscreen, jerky, plastic forks and spoons, plastic bags large and small, extra cash. Who knows what we’ll run into?
  3. Giant sun umbrella. This was a $50 investment after we were at the beach with some cousins-of-cousins who owned the beach with a sun umbrella. Now I keep it with us all the time for sports events, fall-festival downpours, and the occasional snow picnic (below).
  4. Two picnic blankets—one that folds and zips up with a carry handle and is water-resistant, and one fleece one that also doubles as a kid-warmer.
  5. A pack of diapers and wipes.

Snow beach party. MomsicleBlog

Here’s what I prep the car with for summer:

  1. Swimsuits and beach towels and additional extra clothes, because we go through more changes of clothes when sand and water are involved.
  2. Beach toys. The usual stuff plus some old gardening equipment, yogurt containers, and a Neti pot. Weird stuff make good beach toys.
  3. A giant box of granola bars and extra water bottles. Making sure the gremlins are fed and watered at all times is critical—and let’s be real: I melt down from hanger just as much as they do. We like Nature Valley crunchy honey oat bars and whatever the cheapest box of Larabars is. I found the best prices this year from
  4. Parks passes that allow us to have parking privileges for the season without stopping at a kiosk or waiting in a line.
  5. Sand sports games like koosh tennis and a giant soft Frisbee. These are new additions this year, and are mostly aspirational. I’m still trying to find the ideal sand-tennis partner.
  6. One or two fold-out camp chairs.

Here’s what I throw in the car the morning of:

  1. A squishable cooler with a bunch of cut-up fruit and protein (mango, blueberries, watermelon, sausage, pizza, chicken and rice, etc.).
  2. A bunch of water bottles (more than the number of people in the car).
  3. The biggest game-changer this year, with me being on my own with the baby and the boys (last year my husband had time off for paternity leave), is hiring a summer nanny to come with us each time we go. Below is Tris with the baby at Cape Lookout State Park. She took the Fairy Pig on a walk down the beach to get her to take a nap, but first she got excited about the rocks from Goonies. Without help, I would have been trying to figure out how to take the boys to the state-park bathroom while the baby screamed and crawled under the bathroom stalls and the boys freaked out about mosquitoes and I yelled, “GET OVER IT AND GO TO THE BATHROOM, NOWWWW!” No longer.

Here's Why We're Surviving. MomsicleBlog

Then we all get in the car.

I like to leave by 9 a.m., because every minute after 9 a.m. is like telling the entropy gods that we are easy bait they should destroy us. So I yell “GET IN THE CAR” a few times.

No He Doesn't Use This Seat. MomsicleBlog

I tell the boys they can have a granola bar when they’re buckled in. Boy Woww, the three-toed sloth, gets the phone for screen time until we start driving. Suddenly he’s very fast. I have no idea why K-Pants hasn’t figured out that this is wildly unfair, and I don’t care. Hopefully it will last.

We're There. MomsicleBlog

Here’s what happens when we get there:

  1. Everyone helps carry something (we do it all in one trip—that’s a must). [I just wanted to say “that’s a must,” because it sounds so blog-expert.]
  2. I get 15 minutes of set-up time when the kids can’t ask me questions or talk to me. I like to have the umbrella set up, the cooler under it, the picnic blankets out, and the bag with towels and clothes somewhere safe from getting splashed or sandy.

Then we chill out on the sand. The kids play and build stuff. They fight less at the beach. I shove food at them. When they do fight I tell them to figure it out—and it’s much easier for them to solve problems or get distracted at the beach than at home. I’m tired of solving their problems, and the beach is the place where they do it themselves, sort of.

Beach Problems. MomsicleBlog

Here’s what happens when we leave:

  1. An hour before we go I warn the boys, in the vain hope that they won’t melt down. But they always melt down when we leave. I don’t care anymore. Not caring has been a nice game-changer.
  2. I pack up our stuff while our nanny takes care of the baby and helps me if the baby isn’t too fussy. The boys don’t really have jobs at the end of the day. People look over and think, “Kids these days are so spoiled. Look at that mom! She’s picking up everything!” Once again, I don’t care. What do I have to prove? K-Pants and Boy Woww have been out in the sun all day without a rest or nap break and if you poke them just right they’ll turn into psychotic spawn of Satan. I would rather clean up and work on their entitlement issues another day.

Here’s what happens when we get home:

  1. The boys watch shows basically until bedtime. We stop to feed them leftovers. They do bedtime routine stuff. They melt down in blazing balls of fire.
  2. I unpack the cooler and refill it with clean cloth napkins, silverware, and plastic trash bags, so we’re ready.

It all sounds like a lot, I guess, but really all I need to do the day-of is pack the cooler and the water bottles. And I am so happy when we go to the water; and the boys are so happy; and the baby gets to explore instead of wandering the house looking for me like a forlorn puppy.

I will do anything to get to the beach.

And then all of the other days, when we’re not at the beach, I can look at the car and think “If we needed to have a beach party right now, we could.”

Beach Time. MomsicleBlog



Sauvie Island, Portland, Oregon (Summer Wordless Wednesday)


Sauvie Island. MomsicleBlog


Sauvie Island. MomsicleBlog

Sauvie Island. MomsicleBlog

Sauvie Island. MomsicleBlog

Sauvie Island. MomsicleBlog

Sauvie Island. MomsicleBlog

Our Favorite West-side Portland Pumpkin Patches

Pumpkins. MomsicleBlog

Fall is not complete unless we’ve visited at least three pumpkin patches. At least. I love everything about them (except those diabolical corn-maze-pit-of-horror-things: Those are not G-rated, and therefore I am not allowed inside. Also, with the directional capabilities in my family, I would have to be airlifted out so they could close the maze at the end of the season).

But tractor rides, apple cider, orange-yellow-white-bumpy-smooth-princess pumpkins, farm animals, crisp air, muddy boots… oh be still my childish heart!

Here are our favorite west-side PDX spots.

Lake View Farms in North Plains

32055 NW North Ave., North Plains, OR 97133

Lake View Farms. MomsicleBlog

What’s awesome: There’s a little train AND a little steamboat that take you to the pumpkin patch. Seriously, what is better than riding a miniature train to a field and grabbing a giant pumpkin off the vine? The little sternwheeler even goes by a pirate and a Loch-Ness-monster-thing. Campy? Maybe. Hilarious? Yes. Awesome? More yes. Prices are reasonable, too ($4 ticket for round trip train/sternwheeler, plus cost of pumpkins).

Bella Organic on Sauvie Island

16205 NW Gillihan Rd., Portland, OR 97231

Bella Organic. MomsicleBlog

What’s awesome: Crazy amount of pumpkin choices at good prices (plus they’re organic–yeah!!). There’s a covered picnic area with a miniature hay maze for little people and their freaked-out parents (freaked out by mazes, not parenting). This is where most of our misfit gourds came from last year: white pumpkins, deep orange with green, bumpy, big, small… yeah-ah!!! These squash serenaded me with their insidious squash songs and I couldn’t say no.

Plumper pumpkin Patch way out west in Portland

11453 NW Old Cornelius Pass Rd., Portland, OR 97231

Plumper Pumpkin Patch. MomsicleBlog

What’s awesome: It’s like pumpkin-palooza around here. The farms store is filled with every gourd and gourd-like holiday gift-item, there’s a giant pumpkin launcher, there’s an indoor hay-bale picnic area, and there are adorable farm animals. Did I mention the giant tube slide? Oh, and the tractor ride, of course. Plus you can stop by Helvetia or Rock Creek Tavern on the way back. Prices here are a little spendier, I found, but still pretty reasonable.

Baggenstos Farms in Sherwood

15801 SW Roy Rogers Rd., Sherwood, OR 97140

Baggenstos Farms. MomsicleBlog

The tractor ride here is awesome, and the pumpkin patch is in this little fairytale glade. The bummer is that the pumpkins are not on the vine. Normally that would knock a place off my list, but the enchanted glade is very Charlie-Brown-Great-Pumpkin-ish, the farm store often has local pies, there’s a fantastic play and picnic area, and the drive takes you through some beautiful Willamette Valley scenery.


What new spot should we try this year???


Some Hilarious Things Four Year Olds Say

AudubonSocietyPortland. MomsicleBlog

Our little ragtag crew went for a leisurely, and very short stroll that involved eating snacks hike this morning. The Chaos Team was joined by our pal Luke. (I’m calling him Luke because of his fondness for Star Wars.)

Luke is four, like K-Pants, and four year olds are a strange breed. They’re like part crotchety-old-man-with-no-dialogue-filter and part endless-optimist. And it is gayyre-awhhhn-teeed that everything that comes out of their mouths is 100% accurate.

  • Me: You said, Thunderstorms like dirty air? I’m not sure if that’s right.
  • K-Pants: Yes it is. The trees told me that.

So when two of these quirky beasts get together, the best plan is to just sit back and enjoy. Here, join us on our hike at the Portland Audubon Society.

A Chat Between Four Year Olds (All Facts Below Are Certifiably True, Especially Brain Sizes)

AudubonSocietyPortland. MomsicleBlog

K-PANTS: This owl is Julio. He’s a genius because geniuses have black eyes.

AudubonSocietyPortland. MomsicleBlog

K-PANTS: This bird wants to invite Julio over to his house for a play date.

LUKE: Han Solo is Chewbacca’s friend.

Audubon Society Portland. MomsicleBlog

K-PANTS: I think Julio said he wants a mama.

LUKE: I don’t see any mamas around here.

AudubonSocietyPortland. MomsicleBlog

K-PANTS: They’re over on that tree.

AudubonSocietyPortland. MomsicleBlog

LUKE: Did you know my shoes have good grip?

K-PANTS: Yeah.

Audubon Society Portland. MomsicleBlog

LUKE: I’ve been here before. I have a huge huge brain.

AudubonSocietyPortland. MomsicleBlog

K-PANTS: Yeah, me too. I have a huuuuge brain.

AudubonSocietyPortland. MomsicleBlog

LUKE: All this green is not moving.

AudubonSocietyPortland. MomsicleBlog

K-PANTS: This vest is bigger than me.

AudubonSocietyPortland. MomsicleBlog

LUKE: My brain sticks out but you can’t see it because it’s camouflaged.

K-PANTS: Mmmmhmmm.

AudubonSocietyPortland. MomsicleBlog

LUKE: I have an enormous brain. Bigger than that plant.

AudubonSocietyPortland. MomsicleBlog

K-PANTS: Can I have a play date at your house for a long time? Like five minutes?


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Portland’s 4T’s Adventure Route in Pictures

Portland’s 4T’s adventure loop is the perfect urban adventure for ultra-outdoorsy PDX families, tourists, and lay people like us. You get to ride the MAX train, hop on the street car (trolley), float over the trees in the aerial tram, and hike some of the Marquam Trail on foot.

When I was researching the loop, I couldn’t find many accounts of doing the 4T’s with kids. (Find some tips for doing the 4T’s with kids in the last post.) Beyond tips I wanted photos, because it’s easy to get lost walking in the hills. And it’s also easy to get off-track wandering around dowtown Portland with your family while trying to hit four modes of transportation. 

So here is a visual tour of what you’ll see along the 4T’s route (thanks to my family for all their cameo appearances). Maybe it will keep you on track. Maybe it won’t. Either way, enjoy the adventure!

One NOTE: We did the route backwards and ENDED with the hike (we started the hike at OHSU and ended at the zoo). So if you’re starting at the zoo and hiking to OHSU, look at the pictures from the bottom up.


Portland’s 4T’s Route in Pictures

We started at the zoo and took the MAX train downtown, where we played and ate. Here’s a link to Trimet’s Red Line Saturday schedule, that will help you get from Washington Park to Downtown Portland.

(Try getting off at Galleria/SW 10th Ave right next to the food carts and a short walk from Powell’s or at Pioneer Place where they have great public bathrooms.)

Then grab the street car anywhere along SW 11th Ave and head south to OHSU. Look for these signs along your route:

The street car is free to the Waterfront, but you pay to get to OHSU (the last stop). If you’re feeling cheap get off and walk about 10 minutes south. Bonus for walkers: kids get a close-up view of a giant construction site.

Then walk through the bike garden at OHSU to get to the aerial tram.

Here’s the trolley arriving at the aerial tram station. (View from the tram station.)

Buy your tickets for the aerial tram at the electronic kiosk in front of the station and then wait for the conductor to say Get on board! 

Here’s a view of the South Waterfront aerial tram station and OHSU bike gallery and trolley tracks from above.

Enjoy the ride! Pretty much any seat is great, but we liked the northeast corner for great views of Downtown…

…and the South Waterfront

Here goes the tram up to OHSU on the hill!

Arriving at the station on the hill next to OHSU’s Kohler Pavillion.

Cross over the cool sky bridge.

Look for the little 4T’s decals inside OHSU. Also feel free to ask the information desk workers.

The bathrooms inside OHSU are great for families (turn right when you enter the building from the tram station).

Beyond the bathrooms is a wonderful outdoor space where you can take in great views of the Willamette River and Downtown and enjoy a lovely sculpture garden.

Leaving OHSU and finding the Marquam Trail was the trickiest part for us. Keep walking west and out the building.

Look for a little concrete patio area near the street ahead on your right.

You’ll see some trail markers. They can be a little confusing because arrows seem to be pointing in various directions. Head west up the hill at Sam Jackson Park Road just outside the hospital (and across from that concrete patio).

Sam Jackson Park Road turns into Gibbs Street. There are no sidewalks, but the street has a good shoulder on the right side.

Here’s a marker to look for:

Just after the Hill House, Gibbs Street turns into Marquam Hill Road. Here you have a choice: take the Marquam Trail off the water tower to the north down the hill OR keep heading up Marquam Hill Road and do most of your walking on the streets until you run into the Marquam Trail again up Fairmount Boulevard.

We chose to take the streets because it was starting to rain and morale was taking a momentary dip. It seemed like a bad idea to be lost in a very meandering path in the woods. (In the picture above, we are heading uphill to Marquam Hill Road from the path parallel to the road. To meet up with the Marquam Trail, simply go downhill in the opposite direction from the photo.) Taking the Marquam Trail from the water tower is definitely not direct (nor are the streets, but they are quicker and not so muddy).

Next time we’ll probably do the trail, but the streets were the right choice this go-round. Here’s the street route. Our visitors really enjoyed all the houses built into the hills. It was like a tour of deluxe Oregon tree houses. Note that no streets have sidewalks, so watch out for which side of the street has the best shoulder to walk on.

From Fairmount Boulevard we hit the Marquam Trail again:

Finally we got to the trail. Here we are off-roading on the Marquam up to Council Crest.

Markers along the way helped us out.

Make sure to watch out for trillium!

The first glimpse of the Council Crest water tower from the trail. Council Crest is the summit of the trip!

At Council Crest there are benches, a water fountain, a historical marker, and great views of Portland.

Loop around the water tower to find the Marquam Trail down from Council Crest.

The trail from Council Crest takes you through the enchanted West Hills. Quickly you hit the cross of Talbot Road and Fairmount Boulevard.

Walk on the path along the road until you get to the cross of Patton Street and Humphrey Street. It really helps to have your smartphone maps app going at this point!

At Patton and Humphrey, look around for the little hobbit steps that take you back to the nature trail. (You’ll cross the street.)

This section of the trail was our favorite, with little bridges…

and a lush wonderland feel.

Your little hikers might be ready for a nap at this point.

The whole section after Council Crest is down hill. Eventually you get glimpses of Highway 26 through the trees and you know you’re approaching the zoo.

The Marquam Trail rather abruptly spits you out along the onramp to Highway 26 from the zoo.

Turn right to cross over the overpass bridge. (This is a view looking back toward the trail and Highway 26 eastbound onramp.)


Here’s what my littlest hiker looked like at the end of the day:

And here are some links to others who have done the 4T’s and written about it, in case you’re yearning for more! If you have a post you’d like me to link to, just put it in the comments, and I’ll be happy to share.

Take the Kids to Sherwood, Oregon

The disco worms demand to be taken out for a constitutional every day. As you might expect from socialist finger Muppets, they’re very demanding: 1) No more than 30 minutes in the car; 2) Cappuccino is mandatory.

Lately K-Pants, Baby Woww, and I have been taking them to small towns around Portland.

This time we went to Sherwood, Oregon, with some Momsicle adventure pals: Sarah, Cindy, Mari, and Erika. You can read about our recommendations in a “real” article on Red Tricycle. But in case you’re more of a visual person, or you’re not particularly literate, here’s the poke-your-eyes-out-with-a-fork adventure slide show.

If you’re planning an outing to Sherwood, click on the picture to be taken to each adorable location’s web page.

Old Town

Fat Milo’s

Sweet Story

Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge

(Ponds are friends to worms and toddlers alike.)


Thanks to Miles, K-Pants, Fang, and Boca for their charming poses. And a really, really HUGE thank you to Tami, whose generous advice made this shenanigan possible.

Jam on Hawthorne: Family Happy-Hour Review

You know the Witching Hour? That time after nap and before bedtime when kids are grumpy, parents are exhausted, and dinner isn’t ready yet? The time-outs can flow (at our house at least).

Well Jam on Hawthorne on Portland’s east side had a stroke of kid-friendly genius and started up Family Happy Hour (4-7 p.m., Saturdays). We met our friends Sarah and Tim there recently, and it’s the perfect spot to have a parent double-date with kids in tow.

The happy hour menu is a good mix of grill-classics and Portlandia-eclectic; the pints and sippy cups are flowing; and the dance floor is full of kids with toys grooving to the family friendly beat. (The tables are pushed back to create a dance floor in front of the stage, and the tables make a great corral for young partiers.)

When we were there a toddler in a foam Stetson shared space with a brake-dancing elementary schooler, and musical duo Johnny and Jason hammed it up with the crowd between songs about pets and tomato sandwiches.

If you go, I recommend trying the Portland cheese steak: grilled peppers, melted cheese, spicy aioli, toasted hoagie bun. There are also plenty of options for vegans, vegetarians, meat eaters, and picky kids.


  • Family Happy Hour at Jam on Hawthorne
  • Saturdays, 4-7 p.m. (music starts at 5)
  • Two kid-centered musical groups alternate gigs on Saturdays: Johnny and Jason for 1st and 3rd Saturdays, and Mo Phillips for 2nd and 4th Saturdays.


  • Get there just before five to snag a table next to the dance floor for when the music starts up (thanks to Sarah & Tim for doing this for us!).
  • Try this spot if you’re going out on a “first date” with another couple. The music and toys provide distractions to fill any awkward silences.


  • Jam on Hawthorne
  • 2239 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard
  • Portland, OR 97214-3920
  • (503) 234-4790


Photo courtesy of Jam On Hawthorne Facebook page.