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.


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!

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