Fall Activities, Pumpkin Patches

Frog Pond Farm Pumpkin Patch

Fall is my absolute favorite time of the year with the kids. Yes, summer has it charms, with its sun and lack of school. But fall is special. Fall is pumpkin patches, pie, cider, donuts, leaves, sweaters, farms, and that special glow of a gorgeous fall day. I love it all.

This year we found many of our favorite pumpkin patches had permanently or temporarily closed, or had modified this offerings. As a result, we decided to return to an old favorite but also explore new options.

After some serious Googling, we decided our first new experience would be Frog Pond Farm. As soon as they mentioned the presence of llamas, I was sold. We coordinated with another family who were also very excited about said llamas, and waited for the day to arrive. When it did, I tried to squash my grumpiness about the downpour taking place that morning. I refused to let a little water ruin our day! Are we not Oregonians?!?

Located on the outskirts of Wilsonville, it was an easy drive from our area. And much drier. Turns out my Oregon battle cry was a bit unnecessary as it was an absolutely gorgeous day and not even a smidge damp.

Our adventure began as soon as we pulled into the parking lot and saw a chicken roaming loose. Commence the excited shrieks of children. We got everyone unloaded and paid our $10 entry fee and paid an addition $5 for a large cup of animal feed. We turned the corner and were greeted with an open play area. The boys were instantly drawn to the basketball hoops hung on the barn wall, a large net to throw/kick balls into, corn hole, and other sporty endeavors. The girls immediately gravitated to the alpacas, doneys, emus, goats, etc. that were surrounding the area and separated from visitors by fencing. There were also water-pump rubber duck races and a small tube maze.

After playing in that area for a long time, we continued on and found a panning for treasure (little colored pebbles) station that the kids enjoyed. There was also a hay bale pyramid, lots of bouncy horses, large tubes to use like a hamster wheel, photo opportunities, kid sized backhoe diggers, coffee, treats, and food. Food options included tacos, fried cheese curds, corn dogs, grilled cheese, ice cream, burgers, and drinks. Most were around $5, although the burger was more. This area also entertained us all for quite a while. Then we spotted the camels. We had to go see the camels!

Our group carried on down the path, passing pigs, geese, camels, and other fun critters. You pass under large power lines, and the kids were all excited to hear the crackling of electricity. This took us to a final area, which had more tube slides, a fence maze, and a huge tennis ball sling shot range. The sling shot was a HUGE hit, and we spent a very long time flinging tennis balls at a variety of targets. The kids got very creative, lying on the ground and creating human chains trying to figure out ways to increase their power and get the balls to really fly.

Although signs encouraged visitors to drive to the pumpkin patch to make loading the pumpkins into their cars easier, we chose to walk over since we weren’t planning on getting pumpkins. I bet you can guess what happened. We got a pumpkin and had to walk it all the way back. Lesson learned.

The patch had small to midsized pumpkins spread around the large, fenced in area. But the pumpkins were definitely not the stars of the show. It was the alpacas! There were approximately 20 alpacas wandering freely, and it was so fun! While they were a bit shy, they were more than willing to check and see if you had any feed for them and some seemed to enjoy posing for pictures. Many, many pictures. One in particular wasn’t very selective about his food and tried to munch my sweater, Chicken’s hair, and my backpack. They rest had more respect for our personal space. But they were all sweet, soft, quirky, and silly. Interacting with them was a highlight of the visit for sure.

We wound up spending about 5 hours playing, and probably could have stayed even longer. It was definitely money well spent!

Frog Pond Farm also have an evening Spooky Farm Trail, which we did not participate in. My kids are still traumatized from a previous haunted house and I don’t think they will EVER venture into something labeled ‘spooky’ or ‘haunted’ again. But the online info makes it look fun, and it may be worth a try if you are braver than we are!

Soooo…..

What it’s not: a place to purchase giant pumpkins

What it is: fun, gorgeous setting, a unique way to interact with a variety of animals- especially alpacas, a great value, a fantastic way to spend a fall day as a family, competitively priced pumpkins (ours was $9)

Do we recommend it? Yes! Most definitely! We had so much fun and will absolutely be returning in future years!

If you miss the fall festivities, they also have a Christmas tree farm in the winter and traditional farm tours late spring through early September.

You can check out their information here: https://www.thefrogpondfarm.com/visit-the-farm

Day Trips, Outdoor Activities, Vacations

Sand Dunes in Florence, Oregon

Earlier this summer, our area had a few heat waves that were beyond anything I have experienced in my lifetime living in Oregon. So we decided to get out of our area. Knowing the beach closest to us would be flooded with people with the exact same idea, I crossed my fingers and we headed south. And we lucked out! It was 109 degrees at home, and a perfect 72 degrees in Florence. Bliss!

Our main destination was to ride the dunes. If you’re not familiar with the area, Florence has miles of beautiful sand dunes that are used for all sorts of recreation. We chose a giant dune buggy tour through Sandland Adventure Tours and pre-booked our tickets.

Check in was easy, and we were given a ticket with our assigned seats and told where to wait. Then the buggies pulled into the parking lot and we started to get even more excited. We climbed in and staff made sure everyone was buckled in appropriately. Then we were off!

The journey has a bit of a strage start- getting onto the highway. In a big ‘ole buggy. We didn’t have to go far before we turned onto a small road and entered a recreational area. We drove up and down dunes, bumped along on trails through the forest, and cruised along the beach. The driver provided interesting narration about the history of the area, the wildlife, formation of the dunes, navigating the dunes, and the vegetation. Each of us heard something we found quite interesting! They also stop a couple of places for you to take pictures of the beautiful views from the buggies.

The ride itself is fun, but not scary. You go down a few dunes, but not particularly fast. It was exciting enough to to elicit lots of giggles from all of us, but neither of the kids ever got scared. In fact, by the end, they wished we were going faster!

Their website does note to bring a jacket as it can be chilly. They were right! Although it was a beautiful, sunny day, the closer we got to the water’s edge, the foggier and colder it became.

Sandland also has a mini golf course, go karts, and bumper boats you can enjoy before of after your tour. Or you could go just for those activities!

The giant tour is $18 per person and lasts about an hour. It runs March through December. Pre-booking is recommended. You can also find prices and information for their more adventurous tours on their website.

There are other dune tour providers in the area that we have not tried. You can also rent various vehicles to zip around on your own. This is not recommended for novice riders.

What it’s not: scary, a thrill ride

What it is: fun, a unique beach activity, beautiful scenery, family friendly

Do we recommend it? Yes! We may even try the faster tour next time!

Additional tips: If you are looking to add even more fun to your trip, try checking out Sea Lion Caves, Honeyman State Park, Heceta Head, and the Hobbit trail, all of which are nearby. Florence also has an adorable downtown area, full of cute shops and yummy restaurants.

Arts and Crafts, Camps and Classes

Ceramicafe

Ceramicafe has been in our lives for a long time. We have had birthday parties there, taken classes, made gifts, attended camp, I’ve gone with adult friends for a girls night out, and we have gone just for fun to beat the nothing-to-do blues. We are now the proud owners of many, many piggy banks. And ceramic squirrels. Apparently you can never have enough ceramic squirrels. (Spoiler alert- yes, you can). But we have fun, and that’s what matters!

So what is Ceramicafe? It’s a paint-your-own ceramics studio and more. Most items start at around $18 and include figurines, banks, plates, bowls, cups and mugs, gnomes, Christmas ornaments and more. There are a few very small items for less. The item price includes the item, the paint, painting time, and firing. You don’t need an appointment, so you are free to wander in and create whenever inspiration strikes!

Most recently, Chicken attended a Harry Potter themed day camp. In 2.5 hours, she made a plate, slime, and a ceramic wizard wand. Each child chose their own plate design, color of slime to make, and were able to form their own wands. She came out one happy little camper! See what I did there? The good times never end, folks.

Each week in July they have different themes, including Dragons Love Tacos and a summer ice cream party. More will be added soon for August. Each camp has a different cost depending on the type and number of items they make. Your best bet is to call or check their Facebook page to find out more information.

For those of you, like me, find yourselves excited to go only to arrive and realize you have no idea what you’re actually doing and very little artistic talent, never fear! The staff is great and more than happy to provide you with tips and tricks to recreate the fun examples you see around the studio, or help you bring your own vision to life.

As mentioned above, the cost of items includes firing. They do this for you, which is fantastic. However, it does mean that if you are planning to use the item as a gift- or just have a kiddo who is excited to see their finished product, you should be prepared. Most of the time you are able to pick up your item in about a week- sooner or later depending on how busy they have been. Once it’s done, it is shiny, bright, and dishwasher safe.

Apart from their partial day camps and walk-in painting, Ceramicafe also periodically does paint and margarita nights, themed movie nights, and other kid and/or adult specific events.

What it’s not: inexpensive

What it is: a fun creative outlet, potentially practical (if you make a plate and not a squirrel), a fun place to make personalized gifts, creative partial-day camps, fun evenings out

Do we recommend it? Yes! Go and have fun at either their Beaverton or Clackamas location!

Day Trips, Fall Activities, Outdoor Activities, Sports, Spring and Summer Activities

Eagle Landing Golf Course

Nugget is a huge fan of mini-golf. Having only gone to the courses at Bullwinkles and Oaks Park, he was ready to try something new. After checking a few websites, we decided to try out Eagle Landing with some friends. Located not too far from Clackamas Town Center, Eagle Landing has a variety of courses, including two par-3 courses, mini golf, and even a dedicated soccer golf course. We learned we did not need reservations, and therefore selected a day and time that worked well for all of us, choosing mid-morning on a week day.

When we arrived, we entered the golf shop and were able to quickly pay and get started. We were able to choose either 18 or 36 holes of mini-golf, and we chose 18. I paid the $29 total for the three of us, we grabbed putters and golf balls, and we were off!

In front of the golf shop

The kids and their friends immediately got to putting and burned through the course in a blaze of glory. I have never seen such spunky and speedy golfers! I didn’t know it was even possible to golf that fast. The other mom and I took things at a more leisurely pace. The course itself was quite pretty. Rather than typical obstacles like windmills and castles seen at many mini-golf courses, Eagle Landing incorporated plants, bridges, rocks, and flowers, creating more natural challenges. We particularly enjoyed the water traps, which involved rescuing our golf balls with small nets.

It was not too busy while we were there. While we did see a few other groups, it never felt crowded and we never had to wait. It took us less than an hour to play the 18 holes, although you could definitely take longer if you don’t play at warp speed like these guys did.

After we finished, we wandered around to check out some of the other amenities. The par 3 course nearest the mini golf looked nice. And while the soccer golf course was quite simple, it also seemed like it could be a fun way to pass part of a day. While we did not go inside the club house, it certainly looked beautiful from the outside. A small area aptly named the cave, looked like an amazing place for a corporate party or wedding reception.

What it’s not: a stereotypical mini golf course with gimmicky obstacles, a particularly challenging course

What it is: a lovely outdoor setting, reasonably priced, kid friendly, a relaxing way to spend some time with friends, fun!

Do we recommend it? Yes! Chicken and Nugget both said they preferred courses with more over the top obstacles, but I loved the more natural setting. Regardless of preference, we all had a great time!

Books, Fun Gift Ideas, Stores

Maggie Mae’s Kids Bookshop

Living on the west side of town, we had never made it over to Maggie Mae’s Kids Bookshop in Gresham despite hearing lots of good things. As school came to a close and we were looking for things to do, I headed over to their website to find out more.

I was immediately intrigued by their book subscription boxes and signed both kiddos up, as well as myself. Chicken and I are avid readers (Chicken is reading as I type), while Nugget is a bit more reticent (he’s building dominoes. Again.). After you sign up, you are sent a form to fill out about your reader, their reading level, and their interests. Being a bit of a nerd, I found it to be a fun process.

Before I knew it, our boxes of books had arrived. Each person’s books was wrapped in tissue paper with a lovely personalized note attached. And I have to say, they NAILED it. The two books I received were right up my alley. I had actually read one of them before, and I was kindly informed that if that happens, you are able to take the book back and exchange it for something similar.

Chicken’s books were a perfect fit for her interests, and she finished one of the books that same day. Nugget is a very tough sell when it comes to books. While he’s a perfectly competent reader, it’s just not his activity of choice if left to his own devices. But that night we snuggled up with one of the choices and he loved it. I have never heard him laugh so hard at a book. We’re talking full on belly laughs. It was great! He’s since read it again on his own, and asked to listen to the audiobook version on a recent car trip.

We were so happy with the book boxes, we decided we needed to visit. As of the time I am writing this, their website indicates you need to book a shopping appointment. While not as convenient as just being able to pop in, we actually thought the idea of having a whole bookstore to ourselves was really fun! And then I saw that, for a small fee, you can add a birthday package! Chicken’s birthday was coming up, so I thought that would be a fun treat for my little reader.

On the morning of her birthday, we headed out. We got there a bit before the shop opened, so we spent some time walking around the downtown area- which was actually really cute! When our appointment time rolled around, a very friendly staff member greeted us. She wished Chicken a happy birthday, asked her what Hogwarts house she is (Gryffindor, in case you are wondering), and put on a Gryffindor inspired playlist. She was also presented with a gift bag of goodies, which included a small gift certificate for our next visit, candies, cute erasers, temporary tattoos, bookmarks, and other trinkets. It was a fun little treat.

The store itself is small, but very sweet. It felt very homey and welcoming. Books seemed to be organized by age, with books for small children located in the front, progressing toward books for grownups in the back. They had a good selection of books as well as related merchandise such as stuffed animals, vinyl stickers, popper fidgets, shirts, etc. Nugget was excited and impressed to see a Timbers logo signed by Jeff Antinella, and Chicken was happy to see a large drawing and note by one of her favorite local authors, Aron Nels Steinke, hanging on the wall.

One of the additional perks of having a shopping appointment was the extra attention we received from the staff member. She was very friendly and fun. She asked Chicken questions about her interests and what books she likes, and was able to introduce us to several new books that look like they will be a great fit. She was patient and fun, making the whole experience very enjoyable.

While we were there, other people wandered in that did not seem to have appointments. I was having too much fun shopping for it to occur to me to ask if appointments are now optional.

You are also able to shop online, participate in book clubs, complete their summer reading program, and get reading ideas by perusing their staff favorites lists on their website. This little store really does a lot!

Overall, we loved this adorable shop and will definitely be going back!

What it’s not: as big as other famous book stores in our area or national book chains, discounted prices

What it is: an adorable local business with kind, helpful, and knowledgeable staff, a great place to get book recommendations for yourself or others, a unique book shopping experience, a fantastic book box subscription service provider

Do we recommend it? Definitely!

Fun Gift Ideas, Games, Things to do during COVID closures

Dominoes!

During quarantine, we all repeatedly heard how it was a great time to find a new hobby or develop a new skill. Well, Nugget listened and has taken it to an extreme. He found the world of toppling dominoes and I’m not sure he will ever leave.

I had stumbled across a cool video by Lily Hevesh and spontaneously showed it to Nugget and he was hooked. Much to their dismay, Chicken and Nugget are not allowed to cruise around YouTube, but I did give him permission to watch Lily Hevesh’s videos because not only are they amazing, but she seems like a truly delightful and inspirational human being.

After several videos, he begged and pleaded for dominoes for his birthday, and so dominoes he was given. He has never been a Lego or building kind of kid, so I was skeptical and pretty sure nothing much was going to come of this. So, I found a relatively inexpensive set of wooden dominoes and he was off! He was building towers and walls and all kinds of cool things. About a month later, I got him a book with colored photos of how to build even more domino tricks and he was in heaven.

And then Lily Hevesh came out with her own line of dominoes, H5 Domino Creations. And of course he had to have those. I drug my feet, because how different could they be from the ones he already had, right? But I eventually caved and I have to say, they are significantly better. I’ll save you the nitty gritty details of the differences, but in general they are much more stable and it really has made a difference in the success of his building and he now uses them exclusively, shunning his wooden ones to they toy bin and pulling them out only in times of desperation.

Nugget now spends hours each day building things and knocking them down. He has so much fun and I love seeing his skill, confidence, and creativity grow. He now incorporates other elements, making his own chain reaction machines. We have dominoes lines winding throughout the house and down the stairs. Heaven help you if you knock it down by accident. He even started his own domino YouTube channel (all videos have to be approved by me first), and he loves it. Dominoes go with him to the park, to daycare, on picnics- pretty much anywhere he goes that has a flat surface.

He’s surprisingly patient and persistent when structures fall before they are supposed to, usually only getting upset if he’s hungry or right before bed time. I could see it being a source of frustration for some kids, though.

For us, dominoes have been a great way to keep Nugget busy while building fine motor skills, being creative, learning indirectly about physics and engineering, increasing patience and persistence, and just plain old having fun.

If you think dominoes might be for your kid, give them a try! There are lots of inexpensive plastic and wooden domino sets that come with a large number of dominoes. If you are more convinced your kiddo will be REALLY into dominoes, I highly recommend the H5 Domino Creation sets. They are more of a money investment, as the price is higher and they come with fewer dominoes, but the building experience really is better.

So… dominoes…

What the are: fun, educational, easy to store and easy to take places, creative, a great way to fill time and learn new things

What they’re not: for kids with low frustration tolerance

Do we recommend them? For a kid with a building mind and determination, 1000%!

Coffee Shops & Restaurants

1927 S’Mores Company

First off, let me tell you I am a little miffed that no one bothered to mention this Portland gem to me. How have they been in Portland since 2015 and no one told us?!?

Deep breath and moving on. As vaccines become more available and restrictions have been lifting, we have slowly been venturing out into the world again. 1927 S’Mores popped up on one of my social media accounts, and it seemed like a yummy place to start.

Tucked into a small storefront off of 12th and Alder in downtown Portland, it’s truly a fun experience. The space is small, but they have done a wonderful job transforming it into an urban campground. From stone walls, to maps, and even a canoe, it is charming and adorable.

Inspired by the Girl Scouts s’mores tradition, they have taken the treat to a whole new level. They make their own graham crackers (my favorite part, to be honest) as well as their own marshmallows. You can choose from the traditional s’mores, seasonal flavors, or other fun flavor combinations seemingly inspired by the famous Girl Scout cookies. We tried the traditional s’mores as well as one with caramel, chocolate and coconut (think Samoas). They were all fantastic!

Once you have made your choice, a staff member carefully builds your s’more as you watch. And then it gets toasted with a small torch! How fun is that?!? Chicken and Nugget were both quite impressed and lots of excited commentary took place.

And did I mention there is hot chocolate? While the hot chocolate itself is pretty standard, getting to choose between a homemade vanilla or chocolate marshmallow to go on top along with whipped cream, candy bits, sprinkles, and nuts made it a special treat. And very rich!

Because the space is small and we are still living in the land of covid, expect to wait outside if other customers are present as only a few people are allowed inside at a time, and know you will need to take your treat to go. If you’re wondering how you eat a s’more on the go, never fear! They thoughtfully include a wet wipe with each treat. Once you are inside, we found the staff to be friendly, patient, and kind. We mentioned Chicken is a Girl Scout, and the staff member excitedly chatted about Girl Scouts and its connection to their business.

If you’re not sure you want to eat a s’mores on the go, they also sell kits with their homemade graham crackers, gourmet marshmallows, and chocolate that you can take with you on your next camping adventure, or make them in your back yard!

What it is: delicious, rich, unique

What it’s not: budget s’mores, a sit down cafe

Do we recommend it? Sure! It’s very fun novelty treat

To find out more, visit their website here: https://www.1927smores.com/visit

Theater, Things to do during COVID closures

SpongeBob the Musical- Broadway Across America

SpongeBob. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode. And if my kids have, it wasn’t at our house. But when Chicken and Nugget learned that the SpongeBob musical would be passing through our state- not our town, our state- they just HAD to go.

And because I am a complete sucker, I bought tickets. Actually, it’s because I’m date challenged. Tickets were going to go in their Easter baskets, only for me to realize after the fact that the show was over a month before Easter. Oops.

When the day a month before Easter rolled around,before we were all asked to remain in our homes and maintain social distancing, we loaded up on coffee (me), hot chocolate (them), and snacks (all of us), and loaded up for the 2 hour drive. Two hours. Each way. But I digress.

Thanks to some serious traffic issues, we arrived with just enough time to check out the lobby, use the restroom, and get in line for the door to open slightly late. Having not been at the particular venue in yeeeeeeears, it was a pleasant surprise when we entered. It was lovely!

The first cool element of the show began as soon as you walked in. Lighting was used to create the impression of rippling water, giving the illusion that you are entering the sea to visit SpongeBob and friends. A couple cast members were already on stage, casually playing ukulele and bongo drums. Other cast members slowly joined in until they had quite the little band going, playing island style music. Ushers were all over the place holding signs tell you not to take pictures or videos, but as the formal announcement was made at the beginning of the show, a pirate came waltzing down the aisles, dragging luggage and holding a sign stating he was president of the SpongeBob fan club. He snapped pictures and walked onto the stage only to be confronted and run off by “security.” He made another appearance at the end of intermission and again at the end of the show. They were some of our favorite moments.

Overall, the show was kind of like being in the middle of a neon rainbow that exploded. It was colorful, over the top, high energy, and pure fun and silliness. My favorite character by far was Sheldon, the resident villain. He was portrayed by a fantastic actor who “accidentally graduated a year early” from college. How does that happen? Chicken loved Squidward and Nugget was a fan of SpongeBob himself. The women portraying Sandy and Pearl were off the charts amazing in their singing abilities. The end of the show was also a lot of fun, with cast members forming another band, streamers shooting into the audience, and beach balls tossed out for the audience to play with.

For me, it was a fun show, but not something I need to see again. For my kids, it has been their daily obsession for almost two months now. They sing the songs all day, want to listen to them in the car, and quote lines from the show at random times. They LOVED it.

For better or worse, you are also able to purchase the show from Amazon for $9.99. Ever the sucker, I did. It was odd watching it back in our current circumstances. The characters are in quarantine, waiting for scientists to save them, living under questionably competent leadership, and fear turns them against those who are not like them. I never thought like my life would be so accurately reflected by the citizens of Bikini Bottom, but here we are.

So…

What it’s not: my favorite show ever, a serious life altering show, scary, inappropriate for kids

What it is: funny, good music, colorful, fast paced, surprisingly relevant to our current situation, kid-friendly

Would we recommend it? My kids totally would. I would recommend it to huge fans of Spongebob, or to a family looking to entertain their kids over themselves. But for $9.99, it’s also a fun way to entertain the kids at home and likely get them singing, dancing, and giggling.

Camps and Classes, Cooking for Kids

Cake Decorating Class with Jam Cakes

We have admired the work of Jam Cakes from afar (aka Facebook and Instagram) for a while now, and were excited to learn that the owner, Kimmie Hutchins, also offers cake decorating classes for kids and adults! As Jam Cakes is a special order bakery without a storefront, classes are offered at other bakeries around the Portland area. Much to Chicken’s delight, a class to make a cake inspired by Stitch from the movie Lilo and Stitch was being offered right down the street from our house!

Much like Hamilton tickets, your ability to get a “ticket” is based on how closely you stalk the internet and how fast you can click. Just kidding. It’s not quite that bad. But the classes are super popular and by nature require a small group, so they do tend to fill up really fast. We actually missed out when this class was first made available, but were able to snag a spot due to cancellations.

Kimmie has the cakes baked and the base frosting applied when the kids arrive. The students gather around the table, where each student has a container of tools and supplies. Since this is a drop off class, the rest of the information is based on Chicken’s review.

Apparently Kimmie is “super nice. Like really nice,” as well as a “really good teacher. And her fondant tastes like marshmallows. Did you know you make black fondant with tons of purple food coloring?” I heard a lot about that fondant and how good it tasted. Not what you usually hear about fondant. I’m kind of surprised she had a enough left to decorate the cake based on how excited she was about eating it. As Chicken was very proud of her work and did not want me to mutilate poor Stitch, I was not allowed to actually taste it myself when she brought the cake home. But I did taste the cake she brought home and it was really good!

Anyway, Chicken had a great time. She said Kimmie showed them how to form the different elements and had a sample for the kids to work from. But Chicken loved that they were also given the opportunity to personalize Stitch the way they saw fit.

Overall, she had a great experience and can’t wait to go back. In fact, our family’s Easter Bunny is hoping another class will be offered soon so a voucher can make its way into her Easter basket.

In her pride, Chicken insisted on photographing her cake herself, so here ya go. Professional cake decorated she may not be, but she was very happy with her first attempt and that’s what matters!

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The class was $40 and lasted about an hour. You can find Jam Cakes on Facebook and Instagram, including registration for upcoming classes and pictures of what the cake should have looked like. 🙂 Have fun!

Cultural Activities, Theater

The Journal of Ben Uchida- Oregon Children’s Theatre

This past weekend was super busy and fun and we completely wore ourselves out- in the best way possible. Right in the middle of everything, we had the opportunity to see the opening show of The Journal of Ben Uchida at Oregon Children’s Theatre.

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The Journal of Ben Uchida was originally a book, and the story has been adapted for the stage. It tells the story of 12-year-old Ben and his family. Ben, his sister, and his father are Japanese Americans who were born in the United States while his mother was born in Japan. The play begins with introducing us to the family, their interests, their relationships, and their family business. We see their routines, their lives, and their connection to each other and their community.

And then things change. Pearl Harbor is bombed, and Japanese Americans are given an order to pack one suitcase, leave their homes, and report to an internment camp. We see and hear the media messages about Japanese Americans and see the changes in how the family is treated by their community members. We then travel by train with the family to their assigned internment camp and witness their life in the camp.

The Journal of Ben Uchida is definitely deeper and heavier than any show we have previously seen there. It is beautifully designed and acted, and it touches on many topics relevant to today. We are provided with moments to witness the impact of being repeatedly exposed to hate, racism, and hurtful words. Issues related to media messaging, institutionalized racism, discriminatory government policies and actions, suicide, and family stress are all addressed in an hour. It’s a lot to take in.

Oregon Children’s Theatre typically has a scavenger hunt or other activities prior to the show. This show has an impactful art installation that includes informative panels containing historically accurate information as well has thousands of tags with the names and ID numbers of individuals placed in the internment camps. I found it very interesting, and Chicken was interested in the name tags. Nugget was not particularly engaged. The installation is definitely worth seeing, but you do not need to allocate as much time as you would for their typical activities.

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Oregon Children’s Theatre recommended this show for ages 10 and up. Chicken is just a few months shy of that age, but is in one of the grade levels they are targeting for school matinees. Nugget is younger, and I knew going in that a lot of it would go over his head. And it did.

I would actually recommend this show for middle school and up. Both Chicken and Nugget easily sat through the hour-long show, and there was nothing I felt uncomfortable with them seeing. However, I felt like Chicken did not grasp all of the subtleties of the show. Middle and high school students would be more likely to have the background knowledge and cultural awareness to get more out of the show.

This show is definitely not just for kids. We saw several adults in the audience, and I think adults would get just as much from seeing the show (if not more), than students.

So….

What it’s not: for young children, a graphic depiction of suicide (I don’t think Chicken or Nugget put together that’s what happened, and it even took me a minute to figure it out)

What it is: beautifully done, timely, relevant, an important conversation starter, great for middle school students and older

Do we recommend it: If you are looking for a conversation starter about race and discrimination, this is a fantastic stepping stone- especially for older children who are able to explore at a deeper level

The show is running until March 22, 2020 and tickets can be purchased here: https://www.octc.org/#index