Adventure Box, Cultural Activities, Holiday, Winter Activities

Chinese New Year in Portland

Chicken and Nugget are part Vietnamese, and one of their favorite things about being Vietnamese, apart from the food, is celebrating Chinese New Year.  It means a feast and games with family, parades, lion dances, and dragon dances.  Nugget in particular is all in when it comes to the celebration.  He even has his own kid sized lion dance costume, which I must say he looks adorable in.

Portland actually has a variety of Chinese New Year celebrations if you know where to look.  So far this year we participated in two events.  Chinese New Year is technically over, but we have one more thing to do this weekend!  Maybe these activities will prompt you to seek out some celebratory adventures next year.

This year I took Nugget downtown for the Chinese New Year opening parade.  We got there really early- like first-ones-there early.  This was good because we got to spend time picking out the prime location.  Nugget changed his mind about where this might be about eight times, but we really did wind up in the perfect spot!

The celebration starts in front of the Siren theater, off 3rd and Davis.  People used bamboo fishing poles to lower down fire crackers that were set off in metal baskets.  Then came the dragon, lion dancers, and what Nugget refers to as the “fat baby” accompanied by a live drummer.  After the initial performance is over, you are invited to follow the lions as the visit local Asian merchants to wish them a prosperous new year.  Nugget was thrilled to be up close and personal with the lion and giggled as the “lions” were fed lettuce that they “accidentally” tossed into the audience.  The whole thing ends in off Burnside near the Chinese Garden.  You have the option of entering the Chinese Garden (paid admission) for even more activities.

I believe this was the 4th year that this parade has taken place, and hopefully it will happen for many years to come.  It is a fun, family friendly parade that provides a glimpse into some of the fun traditions associated with Chinese New Year.  It is important to note that the firecrackers and drumming are quite loud, which may be disconcerting to some littles who are not used to the sound.  Even Nugget, now 6, a child who has seen these things many, many, times, proudly stated “I didn’t even cover my ears or cry this time!”  And he LOVES it.

Nugget then accompanied his dad to the Chinese Lantern Lighting at Lan Su Chinese Garden as one of his “tickets” from the adventure box the kiddos got for Christmas.  This is a closing celebration that takes place over a few days at the Chinese Garden.  The garden is lit up with beautiful traditional lanterns and the pond his home to a glowing 20 foot dragon.  There are more lion dances, music, dance performances, and activities.  Nugget came home as happy as a little clam.  He thought the lion dances were fantastic, and he was very proud of the paper lantern he made as well as the paper he brought home that had Chinese calligraphy on it.

Tickets to this event, which can be purchased on Lan Su’s website, did sell out for all dates a couple of weeks before the event, so don’t procrastinate!  Adults were $45 and children were $15.  Hot cider was provided, and additional food and beverages were available for purchase.  It is an outdoor event on a February evening, so make sure and dress warm!

Adventure Box, Day Trips, Fun Gift Ideas, Holiday, Winter Activities

Cinnamon Bear Cruise- Portland Spirit Holiday Fun

This was our fifth year doing the Cinnamon Bear Cruise. So the kids clearly like it. Each year they have opted to have tickets be their gift from their grandpa in lieu of toys, so you know it’s a hit.

So what is the Cinnamon Bear Cruise? It’s based on a radio program from before the days of TV. There is also a book you can check out from the library to give your littles some context. It’s cute, but not one of our go to stories. Even if your kids don’t know the story and the characters, there is a good chance they will enjoy the novelty of the experience.

Then there’s the cruise. It lasts about 2 hours and departs from downtown Portland. There are light snacks- fruit, scones, coffee, hot chocolate, yogurt, that kind of thing. Boarding is a simple process and is facilitated by characters in costume. You even get to take a boarding photo with Captain Taffy, which you can later purchase for $10.

There are several activities that involve characters from the story- story time with Queen Melissa, singing carols with the fairies, pictures with Crazy Quilt Dragon, learning to be a pirate with Captain Taffy, a magic show with Presto the Magician, pictures with the Cinnamon bear (a copy of which is included in the price of the cruise), etc. And it is always fun to sit sipping coffee or hot chocolate and watch the city go by. Chicken and Nugget are always excited to spot OMSI and Oaks Park. One year we even spotted Santa paddle boarding down the river!

It took Nugget a couple years to warm up the the Cinnamon Bear in vivo character. Now he is a pro. This year he put on his pirate costume, complete with pirate booty, and was ready to go. He even got character signatures just like he does at plays. Chicken is more subtle and looks forward to the magic show every year. And the melon. Always the melon.

I don’t know how much longer Chicken will want to do it- I think she is getting close to the upper age that would find it interesting. But as long as they still think it’s fun, we will keep going. It has become a family holiday tradition that we all look forward to for the whole year.

The good: fun, unique, great holiday tradition, snacks and Cinnamon Bear photo are included, the magic show is pretty funny

The not great: For a large family it can get rather expensive, certain dates can be rather crowded

The cruises usually start around Thanksgiving and run until around Christmas time. You can find more information and buy tickets on their website: http://cinnamonbearcruise.com/

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Holiday, Winter Activities

Oregon Zoo Lights

We do lots of things. And I jam as much holiday fun in as we can. Yet I have avoided zoo lights like the plague. We went when Chicken was probably around 1. Almost an hour just to find parking, leading to a hungry and screeching Chicken in the back seat. Freezing cold and rain. So stinking crowded you couldn’t see the lights. I was traumatized and never looked back.

Until this year. Grandpa has a zoo membership and asked if we wanted to go. Chicken and Nugget immediately accepted the invitation and I couldn’t bring myself to be the evil villain who rained on their holiday parade. I mean, that was going to happen at zoo lights anyway, right?

I am now a more experienced mom. I packed my bag full of snacks. We took the Max. I put them in their warmest coats and brought along the hats, scarves, and gloves. We were ready for zoo lights battle. I was feeling pretty good about myself and was ready to kick some butt.

We went on the very last day of zoo lights, so I was ready to deal with all the other zoo lights stragglers. Of which there were essentially none. We disembarked from the Max to find a pretty empty parking lot. There was no line to get in. No line for the zoo train. No line at the bathrooms. No line for food. There were other people, but it was in no way crowded. It didn’t rain and it wasn’t even cold. My preparation turned me into a pack mule as I lugged around the unneeded gear.

It was completely great. We got there before dark and the majority of the animals were out. We got to see several animals close up that we often struggle to find. We could see all the lights, take pictures without a bunch of people we didn’t know in them, and could move about freely as we pleased rather than being pushed along by the masses. We wound up staying about four hours, which prompted us to grab a quick bite at the AfriCafe, which we shared with about three other people. It was fantastic.

I have no idea what the difference was. Was it because it was after Christmas? Because Portland Public Schools was already back in session? Because literally everyone else in Portland had already gone? I have no clue. But we were all thrilled.

Nugget said his favorite part was the giraffes and the zoo lights train. Chicken liked just about everything.

The Good: beautiful lights, a way to mix things up at the zoo, fun holiday tradition

The Not Great: it’s a zoo, which has its own set of ethical dilemmas, it can be waaaaaaaay more crowded than it was today

Would we recommend it? On a day like today- absolutely! On a day like last time- never in a million years. The gamble is yours, my friends!

 

Holliday, Winter Activities

Helvetia Christmas Tree Farm

Thanksgiving dinner- Check!
Nugget’s family birthday celebration- Check!
Clean up from Thanksgiving complete- Kind of!

So, as per family tradition, we were off to find our Christmas tree. Somehow we wind up at a different tree farm every year. Last year we found one we really liked, only for this year to be a re-grow year for them- pre-cut trees only. So, back to square one.

After a half-hearted Google search in the middle of the night after hosting Thanksgiving, I landed on Helvetia Christmas Tree Farm. We had never been there before, and it sounded fun. So a few hours later I guzzled my coffee and informed my husband that today was tree day. Somehow he “forgets” (i.e. blocks out) the fact that we do this Every. Single. Year.

We got there early afternoon and it wasn’t crowded in the least. I asked where we would be most likely to find Doug firs, which, according to my bleary eyed internet search had indicated were about half the price of the other trees, only to be told that most of the Doug firs were in their growing phase and we would be unlikely to find any. Plop. The guy was very nice and said if we wanted to grab a pre-cut tree he would give it to us for the price of a Doug fir. But tradition is tradition, so overpay for our tree we did.

So after we adjusted to how much we would be paying for our tree, we stopped and took in what there was to see. Which was a lot! There was a small area tucked between some trees where man made snow was falling. It had even formed a little patch of snow on the ground. The kids were thrilled!

Nugget spotted Santa in a sled in a little covered area. And there was no line! Nugget hopped right up there, said cheese, and galloped off with his newly acquired candy cane. Chicken passed, as usual.

And then the highlight. An open fire pit. With roasting sticks (wooden stick with a spot to insert a disposable chopstick). And free marshmallows. And s’mores kits for sale for $2. I don’t even know how many Nugget ate and I probably don’t want to. It was a lot.

Then it was finally time to get down to business. We traipsed through the mud in search of the perfect tree. I have to say, all of the trees were lovely. Nice color and good shape. It was a tough choice. After the decision was finally made, we (let’s be honest. Dad.) used the provided saw and ground cover to cut down a tree. A very nice man came by, tagged the tree, put it on this tractor thing, and carried it back up the hill where it was shaken and baled. Is that what you call it? They even helped tie it to the top of our car. And they wisely had a hose available to clean off all those muddy boots!

We decided to have a few more marshmallows, warm up by the fire, and check out the couple of farm animals that were out. Then we happily wandered back to the car, only to discover a flat tire. We made it to a gas station and got enough air in the tire to make it home before Dad took it to the tire shop. I’m guessing the kids’ and my rousing rendition of Christmas carols didn’t help. Pretty sure that next year when I say “ok! It’s Christmas tree day!” Dad will responded with “Huh? What’s Christmas tree day?.” Oh, well.

Overall, we had a great time. There was a gift shop we didn’t check out, and we were told there were train rides for the kids. We didn’t see it and the kids didn’t seem overly interested, but apparently it’s there if it’s up your kiddo’s alley.

So…

What it is: Family owned, well run, inviting, full of simple but fun activities (Snow!! And marshmallows!!), helpful staff, not overcrowded, apparently only open two weekends

What’s it’s not: Cheap. Mud Free. Tire friendly- but that’s probably just us.

Would we recommend it? Yes! As long as you are willing to fork out the cash for a tree, it was a really fun experience. Probably one of our favorite tree farms yet!

You can find more information here: http://www.helvetia-christmas-tree-farm.com/festival-activities

Holliday, Movies, Winter Activities

The Grinch (2018)

Chicken and Nugget had the day off from school today as teachers prepare report cards.  Yay!  We took advantage of the cold and lazy morning to go check out the new Grinch movie.

I have to confess something.  Something that may negatively impact our relationship.  But I feel it’s important to be honest.  I don’t like Dr. Seuss.  At all.  I find reading the books to be rather painful.  There.  I said it.  Such a weight has been lifted.  If I have to suffer through Dr. Seuss, I would choose How the Grinch Stole Christmas or The Lorax.  Begrudgingly.  So I went to this movie because Chicken really wanted to see it and I love her most of the time.  (I do feel obligated to note that I am a huge fan of Seussical the Musical, which took me way longer than it should have to go see due to said aversion to all things Seuss).

And I’m actually glad I did.  It’s a very cute, fun movie.  I haven’t made it through the other versions of the Grinch movies because I didn’t enjoy them and found myself distracted by things that needed done around the house.  Does that ever happen to you other moms and dads?  I’m sure it doesn’t.  But this one is well made, the characters are likeable, and it’s silly and funny without being obnoxious.  The Who children in the movie are relatable as modern day children, and the mom faces struggles familiar to many of us.  I particularly loved the kid who said “I can’t stay long.  My mom set a timer.  It’s new.”  The Grinch is as grinchy as they come, but somehow consistently shows a bit more heart throughout the movie than I have seen in his predecessors.

We saw the standard version of the movie because I couldn’t come up with any reason that it would need to be seen in 3-D.  I was probably wrong.  There were parts that were clearly done with the intent of being viewed in 3-D and I’m guessing it would be pretty fun.  So if you are into that kind of thing, it may be worth a shot.

So, to sum it up- I don’t like Dr. Seuss (I hope we can still be friends).  And yet I enjoyed this movie, as did Chicken and Nugget.  Chicken asked if we can get the DVD as we walked out of the theater, and she is surprisingly selective about which movies she wants to see again.  Except Mamma Mia movies.  She would watch those things every day.

Update: 11/28/18. Nugget is now the proud owner of a stuffed Grinch toy that he carries around all the time and sleeps with each night. He is also itching for Saturday to arrive so can open his Grinch calendar. And when I called him out on some mild rudeness, he said it was because his heart was three sizes to small. So he is definitely a fan!

 

Fall Activities, Spring and Summer Activities, Theater, Winter Activities

Northwest Children’s Theater

Like I said, we go to A LOT of theater.  Like, A LOT.  Sometimes twice in a weekend.  And we love every moment of it.  Of course, each of us has our favorite plays and our not so favorite plays.  Chicken and Nugget particularly love musicals.  They have been known to come home singing the parts of songs they can remember, make related costumes out of computer paper, post hand made posters about the play all over the house, and reenact their favorite scenes.  That’s some of the many reasons I love taking them to theater.  We not only have a great time together, but they learn from the plays and engage in creative activity related to it long after the play itself is over.

Northwest Children’s Theater is a great way to introduce your kiddos to the performing arts.  While I will post about individual plays we go to, the theater itself deserves a nod.

Located in Portland near Providence Park, prices are reasonable (and discounted if you buy a season subscription), and sometimes Gold Star offers even deeper discounts for specific performances.  Full price single tickets range between $16 and $25.  If you purchase a full subscription by the designated date- usually sometime in the spring or summer- an actor dressed as a character from the upcoming season will hand deliver your tickets.  They come in full costume, bring the tickets, balloons, and posters, talk with the kiddos and take pictures.  We have met the characters at the park and the kiddos have always loved it.  Well, except the time we got Cinderella.  Nugget is afraid of princesses.  I have no idea why.

They offer a wide variety of plays that are all family friendly.  Each season they offer a play specifically for the younger toddler crowd.   This year it is Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play.  We saw it when they did it a couple of years ago and it is adorable.  These plays are generally 45 to 60 minutes with simple dialogue, silliness, and fun.  The remainder of the plays generally run 90-120 minutes plus an intermission.  Adults are often cast in some of the main roles, but there are always children in the supporting roles, and sometimes in the main as well.

The plays they chose are engaging for kids, and often fun for the adults.  Sets are colorful, costumes are tasteful, and it’s just a fun time.  Heads up for the nervous kiddos, it’s not uncommon for actors to come down the aisle.  It took me a full theater season to convince Nugget the characters would not eat him.

After the plays, families are invited to stay and have their programs signed by the cast and take pictures with the cast if they so desire.  Chicken and Nugget LOVE this part (although Nugget refuses to be photographed with a girl) and often give me the honor of signing a program they design themselves when we get home.

In addition to plays, they offer camps and classes.  Each of my kiddos has done a camp- Chicken did My Little Pony and Nugget did Elephant and Piggie.  They each had a great time and made new friends.  Camps vary from exploratory to skill based to putting on an actual play.  They also do school based programs and even have Girl Scout workshops.  Chicken did the Peter Pan Girl Scout workshop and really enjoyed it.  She definitely recommends it.

In summary, we love Northwest Children’s Theater.  We think you might, too.

What it is: fun take on children’s theater, affordable, creative, varied in what they offer, appropriate for many age ranges, a great opportunity to photograph your kid with some of their favorite characters without going all the way to Disney Land, a great way to introduce your family to theater without having to worry your kid will be the only kid there and will somehow ruin the experience for everyone else (come on.  You know you thought it as soon as I mentioned taking a young child to a play).

What it’s not: particularly comfy in terms of seating (seating is on old church pews, but they do have cushions available), a fancy pants venue

Do we recommend it?  1000% yes

You can get more information on their website:  https://nwcts.org/

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