What’s your name? Who’s your daddy?

28 Jul

Growing up, I learned how to navigate the rural/small town ritual of meeting someone and reviewing each other’s pedigrees. Even now, people peer at my ID and ask if I’m related to so and so, or fail to recognize the name and ask if I’m “from around here”, then begin to pry–pulling out family names from my mother’s side, double checking details, finding my place in their world.

My partner finds this mostly innocuous, mildly funny. Since he’s not “from around here”, it’s a harmless game to him. I can see the humor: spending 10 minutes in the parking lot gabbing about a cousin I haven’t seen in 20 years going to jail (again) makes for a good story later. I know the rituals, and I know the stories, but my role in the theater of these interactions is more complicated than I usually go into.

The ritual of reviewing someone’s lineage in every casual interaction might be funny, but it isn’t innocuous. It’s a way of establishing and maintaining hierarchy. Perhaps someone in your extended family is an elected official, or maybe someone recently recovered (or died) from a tragic accident. What if you have a run of cousins who are known bad seeds–ne’er do wells who are no better than they ought to be, given who their uncle was? Who lost it all gambling? Who moved a fence and stole 10 acres? Who poached cattle? The American Dream requires that some people be ground under the heels of the boots attached to the straps of others. In my corner of rural America, your “people” matter–that’s why everyone asks who they are. The grudges from 5 generations ago are often alive and well. Tragedies and successes are remembered.

I began using Jonas when I turned 18 because I needed to use my legal name for college, financial aid, employment, etc. It never occurred to me that it’s possible to create a new name with a simple visit and a few bucks at the Courthouse. Seeing Jonas on my ID gives very little juice to the curious. It’s a line long in years but short in members. My brother’s kids may be the last to carry the Jonas name in Columbia County. When this name comes up blank, people usually move into my mother’s mother’s families: Stevens, Powers, Tate. These names also have deep roots, and these lines have been much more fruitful. If I’m feeling generous (or want to grease a wheel), I’ll pull out these names. They’re mostly good people (many people even consider her a good person). No one asks about my other names.

My graduation announcements simply said “Melissa Dawn”. I didn’t want to confuse or offend anyone from any of the families that claim me as their own. When I was in high school, I was called Missy Young. Missy was a family nickname that continues to stick around (and I still cringe). Young is my third dad’s last name. The dad my mom never married and used to remind me has no legal claim. Young is the last name of the man who is dying slowly this summer. He raised me from the time I was around 4, gave me more stability than anyone else in my childhood. His mother’s extended family (the Williams’) continues to claim me as kin.

Jonas is my second dad’s name.  The dad who adopted me when I was a toddler, who paid child support until I was 18 and had weekly visitation until I quietly stopped going in my teens. He died my freshman year in college, back in the days before Facebook or cell phones. I had no idea he was sick for weeks, no way to return to Washington to visit, and no understanding that might be expected of me.  The money from the farmland he left my brother and me in a trust after he died changed the course of our lives. I probably wouldn’t have finished college without that yearly income. Saying we were estranged would be not only an understatement, but fundamentally incorrect–we never really had a relationship to be estranged from. My mother expected us to divorce him as effectively as she did.

My first dad’s last name is Foster. His son (my half-brother) contacted me via Facebook a couple of years ago, came over to meet our little family and share his life story. He gave my number to his dad. This is the man who allowed me to be adopted by his first wife’s second husband, who tried to “keep in touch” but was thwarted by so many factors. I vaguely remember meeting his mother (or maybe grandmother?) in a nursing home a few times. I vaguely remember my great-Aunt coordinating visits so we could see each other, until Foster re-married and became a Mormon. There’s none of THAT allowed in this family, thankyouverymuch. Foster got my mom out of her abusive father’s house, married her as her mother was dying, was part of creating me.

The man I call Dad chuckled when I said I told Foster to “take a number”. I didn’t, really.  I was polite, but I am exhausted by the pressure of all the family members I actually remember and know. I am overwhelmed by the history here and how I’m expected to know and play my role in it. I cannot even imagine a future that includes even more history. They probably both think I’m cruel, and I probably am–but it’s not intentional.

This visit has been full of uncomfortable opportunities to explore and explain my name and my daddy. I’ve often said that I’m related to everyone in two counties, mostly in jest. It’s actually true, depending on how you define related. Pre-kid, I would shrug it off, but watching people try to connect with my daughter (and seeing her response) inspires me to help untangle these relationships. You can’t choose your parents, but but you can choose how and why you define your family.




Front porch musings from Walla Walla

9 Jul

Let’s start with the fun stuff: there’s a lot of great beer in Eastern Washington these days. Really, really good beer from local brewers. Laht Neppur is a favorite. They don’t distribute widely, but their growler fills are reasonable and the beer list is expansive. Their IPA is one of the most delicious beers I’ve ever tasted. The people who work there (owners and staff) are friendly and welcoming and the pizza’s good. Mill Creek Brewpub is a great spot for eating and drinking. Plenty of tasty beer and good fries. I recently discovered Blewett Brewing in Leavenworth and…oh man. Their Double Wide Imperial IPA is dangerous to drink in the heat. Goes down easy, but at 7.8% it deserves respect. There are plenty of other beers at other ABV points that are almost as tasty. Friendly staff & good food, too. I could (and probably will) write about distilleries and everyone has lots to say about wine, of course. (Sigh. Seriously…wine tasting is not my thing. But if it’s yours, this is your place!)

Most small towns in this region have great libraries and many still have excellent bookstores. We always support A Book For All Seasons in Leavenworth and I’m thrilled to see that Earthlight in Walla Walla is still going strong, as is my beloved Hot Poop. I also adore the public radio available in small towns, including Northwest Public Broadcasting and KWCW, the radio station that changed my life. (Seriously.)

Moving into the Deeper Thoughts…the politics over here are difficult to understand unless you dig a little. Despite all the awesome folks who organize marches for #FamiliesBelongTogether, the incredible journalists who track down every Hanford leak and dirty local politician, the advocates and activists and educators…the politics east of the Cascade Mountains are a toxic mix of isolationism, regional pride, and seething resentment.To say people are “conservative” doesn’t really do this region justice–though it’s not inaccurate.

I’m a straight, middle aged white woman with privilege and a winning smile. People are “nice” to me, though they definitely notice I’m not “from around here”. I get actual stares in grocery stores. My name is scrutinized and family tree questioned when it turns out that I am, actually, “from around here”–about 8 generations deep. But I left, so I’m even more suspect. I’m less welcome than when I’m visiting San Diego, or Ecuador, or England. Less welcome, even, than tourists from those places visiting this lovely little tourist town.

Sometimes when we’re traveling, I’ll tell someone we’re from Seattle and get a blank look. It’s not as well-recognized a city name as New York City, or Boston, or Los Angeles. Or sometimes I’ll say Seattle and people will nod, then ask where it is. I’ll say in the state of Washington, which elicits a knowing “Ahh. Where Donald Trump lives.” Then I’ll make a rectangle of the United States with my hands to show the upper left of the upper left for Seattle and the lower right-ish of the lower right (except Florida) for Washington. “The OTHER Washington”, I say. “El estado de Washington, no la ciudad. No la capital de la nacion. Una region in el norte y oestre. No votamos por Donald Trump.”

Of course, nothing is that simple. There’s a substantial chunk of our region that defiantly defines itself as the “real” Washington, as opposed to Seattle’s citified faux Northwest vibe. Spokane, Wenatchee, Yakima, the Tri-Cities (also subject to fierce inter-city regionalism) and Walla Walla all defiantly hold out their history and current identities as proof that they are somehow more legitimate than Seattle. They argue that (white) people have lived there longer/more continuously/without change/more successfully than people have lived in Seattle. These small and medium sized towns celebrate their quaint and quirky, their safeguards against change. Seattle, in turn, looks down on Eastern Washington for its hick ways & conservatism.

It’s not true to say “We didn’t vote for Donald Trump” in Washington. My friends didn’t, I didn’t, most of Seattle and King County didn’t vote for him. However, most parts of Eastern Washington overwhelmingly supported Trump.  A lazy search for “Eastern Washington Trump” shows almost exclusively Western Washington news sources analyzing the reasons why: Seattle Times, KUOW, Crosscut. I don’t see any local news sources explaining or analyzing 2016 Presidential election results.  When I (gingerly, carefully) talk to family and friends about politics, they swagger and/or patronize me as a “liberal patsy” and celebrate that their champion has arrived.

People in this part of the state styles themselves as independent, old fashioned family values holding folks.They feel like they’re “taking back” power/authority that “liberals” held. They’ve been hard done and they truly believe it’s time to Make America Great Again. They truly believe that there was a time when there was a level playing field for the “working man” and they absolutely oppose taxes, immigration, or anything with a whiff of socialism. They’re racist, openly and privately–though the racism in this part of the state is largely focused on “Mexicans”. (All Latinos are assumed to be Mexican, and all attempts to identify other nationalities/cultures are brushed away. Some of the more “enlightened” members of my family will occasionally try out “Hispanic” as a modern alternative to Mexican.)

Growing up in this region during the 70’s-90’s, I had no opportunity and saw no reasons  to celebrate how great things were. Our family was 5 pound blocks of cheese, paper food stamps, water turned off kind of poor. We lived in subsidized housing, we relied on the food bank for Thanksgiving, we walked everywhere because we couldn’t afford gas.  I was very aware of every subsidy and grateful for every benefit. Everyone I knew was poor until junior high, when I met a teacher’s kid. Visiting a middle class household gave me a glimpse of what it would be like to be comfortable and safe.

I fled Walla Walla for college in Fairbanks, Alaska because I could afford the application fee and I got a scholarship. A local travel agency gave me a $500 scholarship for my “joie de vivre” (I had to look up what that meant before writing my essay) and I used the money to buy my one way plane ticket. I’ve never looked back. There’s no way I could be as personally, professionally, socially, or financially successful as I am living away from Walla Walla. I say that with confidence, because the modest success I’ve achieved is either invisible or mocked by my extended families. My education (8 years for a BA, 3 years for a professional certificate) was considered a hobby, an excess. The fact that I left town has been treated as a betrayal, proof that I don’t belong here.

I didn’t leave Walla Walla for financial stability. I left because I saw no future, no potential to be who I am. I abandoned/escaped an abusive (and also loving) family  and a community determined to cling to traditions, without ever evaluating the values of those traditions.

I fled a region where history was taught as a series of completed events. Information was shared without context or reference. I learned that the Whitman Massacre was a misunderstanding compounded by bad luck. White settlers won the “Indian Wars” and that was that. No one ever mentioned the nearby reservations. Dams, hydro power, and irrigation were unmitigated good. Hanford and farming “sprays” (pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer) were necessary, and any adverse health outcomes were just part of life. Environmentalism was a challenge to everything necessary for survival. Immigration didn’t exist and the bracero program was never once mentioned. There was never an explanation for the fact that nearly 40% of our community consisted of established Mexican-American families beyond jokes about “wetbacks” and overt racism towards “illegal aliens”.

Politics was a game/joke in this part of the state when I was growing up. Poor people didn’t vote, for a variety of reasons. Young people weren’t expected to understand what’s going on and their efforts to gather information and form opinions were mocked and actively discouraged. Elections were better left to those who “knew better”.

These days, things are slightly different. Local students still learn very little about local history beyond “white settlers fought and won battles with the ‘Indians’.” Local residents continue to understand almost nothing about the context of the stolen land they farm on, the stolen water they use to irrigate GMO crops and generate the country’s cheapest power. They continue to lack information about the Works Progress Administration projects that literally built the infrastructure that makes it possible for them to live here.

Because this region is isolated from other parts of the state and country, there is a sense of frontier independence. This breeds a toxic combination of pride in the belief that they have pulled up their own bootstraps and resentment that anyone else might possibly benefit from their labor or money. The cultural and physical isolation of long-term residents in small town Eastern Washington, combined with the sewer of echo-chamber news sites and social media, results in a kind of cocky paranoia. Everyone’s out to the get them, but they’ll win in the end because they are the chosen people. Not in a religious sense, necessarily–though there are some religious extremists here. This paranoia comes from a lived reality of having the perception of plenty of land, plenty of water, plenty in general…but still never having enough. It’s the ugly reverse of the mentality of the Great Depression described in “We Didn’t Have Enough But We Sure Had Plenty.”

If asked, people will say they “take care of our own”, but when you parse the words it’s clear that “take care of” and “own” have different meanings than it sounds. “Take care of” means “keep track of”/gossip about/bail out of jail. “Our own” means “those we approve of”. Your kid comes out as gay/has an addiction/voted for Hilary? They’re not sleeping on your couch. State or Federal government suggesting anything that sounds like a tax increase…oh hell no. Some of this is driven by poverty, urbanization, divorce rates, etc. Much of it is driven by a perspective that “I’ve got mine and screw everyone else–including me if I lose mine.”

My brother and his wife have been hosting friends who were displaced from their home because of crushing debt. They have other friends who live in a 5th wheel trailer (no heat, no running water) after losing everything to medical expenses. They all see this as normal, part of life. “You gotta pay your bills,” my brother says. The idea that there’s any benefit to collectively supporting one another gets his back up beyond the point of civil conversation. He’s completely on board with supporting an individual friend, by choice–but no one can suggest that we all deserve a safety net. He also sees no problem with these people losing their homes due to medical debt…it’s just a part of life and you better hope you have a good friend to help you out.

I will never understand how my brother doesn’t connect the dots the same way I do. He credits a couple of family members for helping him out, gives no recognition at all to the systems that supported us as kids. It’s possible that he only remembers the guilt and shame of using food stamps to buy groceries, the crappy houses we lived in, the ugly eyeglass frames available for us because we were using medical coupons. He may only focus on the bad from those days.

My opportunity to live a comfortable, safe life was possible because I had access to Medicaid, food benefits, housing, low interest student loans, energy assistance, etc. I support those lifelines because they kept me alive and gave me the skills and opportunity to support myself. The vocational program that helped me get a job in high school changed my life forever. I met professional people who believed in me and modeled life skills and lifestyles that helped me understand how to behave so I could “pass” as a college student. I learned how to get along in a workplace, how to fake it like I made it as a grownup.

I’m still faking it, but by many standards I’ve made it. I wouldn’t be sitting on the porch enjoying a craft IPA if I hadn’t had the advantage of every single Federal, State, County, City, and nonprofit program available in Walla Walla. I advocate and vote to support these programs because I personally understand their value. If I could only help explain it to everyone else in my family…maybe if I moved back? HAHAHAHAHA. There truly isn’t enough craft beer or quality radio in the world.


Story idea/art therapy

2 Jul

I’ve told several friends recently that this summer feels like an art film about middle age. I’m revisiting childhood haunts & connecting with old friends. The playlist (library CDs and college radio) feels a bit heavy-handed at times, but I’d still buy the soundtrack because overall the music is so good.

My 8 year old and I are in my hometown, working together to clean & repair an empty house our family bought as a rental a few years ago. She and her cousins haul sidewalk furniture and eat watermelon in a weedy backyard while I interview contractors and scrub the walls. Neighbors (nosy and otherwise) stop by to admire chalk art in the driveway.

We’re here to spend time with my extended (and I mean extended) family while my father’s health declines. The town is a popular rural tourist destination: large trees, rolling hills, quaint shops, fantastic little cafes, wine tasting & farmer’s markets. Walla Walla is gorgeous, especially during this mild summer. My daughter has more first cousins than I can count and she especially loves going to my brother’s house to collect eggs and ride dirt bikes. We attended a #FamiliesBelongTogether March with other earnest & outraged liberals, giving her a taste of home in Seattle.

Like all good coming of age/homecoming movies, this one has darker aspects. Obviously, my dad’s illness looms over everything, tying together the all the other aspects of the story. Cousins who haven’t seen each other in years (many I can’t recognize) hug and tell stories while our kids build forts. As we gather at his shop and drink beer in his backyard, there’s a sense of hope that everyone (except him, obviously) will be closer and/or find closure or at least learn something about themselves by the end of the summer. We laugh together about the mean things crazy Aunt A said this afternoon, shake our heads about cousin B’s health problems, change the topic when controversial family member C comes up.

In the movie the crazy and/or addicted relatives would probably be shown as central characters with an arc that promises hope and happy endings. Alternatively, one person would be a brutal sidebar whose funeral happens before the patriarch’s. This may be presented humorously, ironic, or in a bittersweet manner. The painful reality of multi-generational trauma can be handled with grace and/or grit.

I should write a novel or short story collection about this summer. It would sell, and it really would make a hell of a movie. Doobie Brothers blaring in the back of a VW Golf filled with laughing blonde children, middle aged mom/aunt singing along. Later, she enjoys a rye whiskey and red wine hybrid, hyper-local cocktail while putting together a curtain rod in an echo-filled living room while the children sit on an air mattress to watch a movie. Focusing on the 8 year old’s experience would give fresh perspective to this well-used theme. Who doesn’t want to watch her fall in love with a neighbor cat, or put together lawn ornaments?

Even while I consider the options for loosely fictionalizing this experience, I have to admit: this sucks.  Walla Walla is lovely and my daughter is building relationships and creating memories. It’s also painful and confusing to be around people who think they know me and/or want to talk about shared history that I prefer to forget or remember privately (or pay a therapist to help me navigate). The crazy relatives are comic relief, but they are also triggering. My father’s looming mortality is terrifying and sad. Our family’s dysfunctional dynamics exhaust and depress me, almost as much as the changing economy of this bucolic small town.

I’m grateful to have a supportive community of people who’ve been through similar experiences. They endure my texts, hand me tissues, make jokes & buy beer. I’m lucky to have the financial security and flexibility to stay here comfortably. It’s important to remind myself that we’re making memories at the same time I’m revisiting them. The kid is working hard to keep up with everything happening around. I want the version of this story that she remembers to be positive, or at least a time in her life that she can recall as helping build resilience. At the very least, she will know the words to Black Water.

I am a working mother

21 Jun

I am a working mother. I provide quality care for other people’s children between 4-10 hours every week–plus 2hrs of prep & cleanup as well as snack/meal planning. I tutor and counsel other people’s second graders for 5 hours every week. I also spend 1-2/hrs each week researching, collecting, and/or printing materials for the classroom. I engage my relationships and skills as a professional fundraiser and advocate to procure donations, collect information, communicate with families and students, and connect students & families with staff and district resources. Let’s average that over the school year to about an hour/week and we’ve got a minimum average of…12 hours every week of skilled labor that directly benefits a wide variety of kids and their families. Many weeks are a lot more, some involve a few less.

It’s not a full-time gig, but it’s important work and even people who actively dislike me have to admit that I’m pretty damn good at it.  No one can deny I’m extremely qualified for this job.

I have extensive experience and relationships working in women’s health, public health & humans services, education, and public policy. I’m an effective advocate and activist with a proven track record for bringing people together. I’m confident, experienced, and extremely skilled in a variety of specialized areas (volunteer coordination, fund development, communications, education) that have been focused on kids 0-12 and their families for over 20 years.

My educational background is complicated (reflecting the diversity of my experiences and interests), but can be summed up as a BA, a 3 year certificate in midwifery (not officially a Masters, but should be), and–most recently–a certificate as an English as a Second Language instructor.

I am a working mother. I don’t get a salary, retirement, or benefits directly attached to my work in my name. As far as the mothers who work in offices are concerned, I’m a “stay at home mom” who can & probably should be replaced by low-paid staff and long email chains. My role in the backup childcare ecosystem is necessary but painful for them to recognize, as is the reality of our school system lacking the basic budget to provide the services I am able to contribute every single day. I’m able to offer my professional services to other families for free because my family’s financial needs are met by my partner. I’m able to take responsibility for 85% of the work involved in caring for our home and our child because my partner is paid enough to pay our bills, buy snacks & materials for the classroom, and feed every child who walks through our door.

I have chosen to take advantage of this privilege because I believe that my skills and labor bring value to our community, as well as my family. I accept the trade-offs of my choices (for now) because I have the privilege and hubris to believe that I will be financially secure in my “retirement” age, despite not earning Social Security credits for my unpaid labor.

I usually don’t engage the women who refer to themselves as “working mothers” (I’ve never met a man who defines himself as a “working father”, by the way). I usually ignore the open judgement of my choices and contributions, because…there really isn’t a point.  I’m no longer shocked or even particularly offended by the disdain that women who “work outside the home” have for what I do because…I’m just as tired as they are. I’m just as focused on the well-being of our kids, just as motivated to work for change, equally as outraged by the incredible gender inequity in everything involving children and family care. I’m also outraged by the racism and classism of outsourcing childcare, meal preparation, and house cleaning to poorly paid workers who have to make complicated and difficult arrangements for their own lives. I can’t express my sense of overwhelming hopelessness at how poorly funded our public education system is, or my fear for the future as we continue to fail to invest in youth and families. I do what I can to advocate for the changes we need…but I fear it’s not enough.

I’m a feminist, an optimist, and a pragmatic cynic. I’m a mother, a daughter, a neighbor, a partner, and a friend. I fill in the blanks, pick up the slack, wipe the noses and always pack a ton of snacks. A lot of kids benefit from what I do (including my own) and I’m cool with that. I am a working mother and I like my job.




Beer on Beacon Hill

17 Apr

We moved to Beacon Hill in 2003. Java Love was just transitioning to Baja Bistro, La Cabana still served up friendly, cheesy Tex-Mex, and Perry Ko’s was just about to be torn down to begin construction on the Light Rail Station. There was a lot going on in our neighborhood, but there wasn’t anywhere to go for a “craft beer”–that required a trip to Georgetown, downtown, or (maybe) Columbia City. That’s changed–completely.

I can’t believe I stopped updating this blog before the bar boom began on Beacon Hill. We now have more places than I can count for enjoying a beer and some snacks. The Station (and The Station Wine Bar) Tippe and Drague, Perhelion, Oak, Bar del Corso, El Quetzal…I’m forgetting someone. My review of the Jefferson Golf Course Clubhouse is now way out of date–it’s been demolished and replaced with fancy.

There’s a lot of that going on around Seattle these days–demolition and development. Beacon Hill has changed a lot. New buildings, new people, new infrastructure. It’s confusing and exciting and scary. I’ve watched these changes (and been part of advocating for & against some of them) as I’ve watched my daughter grow.

For the most part, I’m happy to welcome new neighbors and visit new restaurants. I’m sad that Monti’s closed, but I’ll check out “the new place” (Clock-Out Lounge). I miss the neighbors who moved out, but I’ll go say hi to the new folks down the block.

I love being able to choose between hipster bars to enjoy the best IPA & fries. Every single one of the places I’ve listed is owned & operated by neighbors–people who live in Beacon Hill. Most of the employees also live in our neighborhood. The bars & restaurants reflect the diversity of my changing neighborhood, including me. I’m happy to bring my kid in and enjoy popcorn, a cheese plate, and a locally brewed sour ale at Tippe & Drague. If they’re busy, we can hit up Oak for a cupcake and some killer fried chicken. Or maybe we’re in the mood for the best mole in Seattle…and maybe the lady who makes it is working today at El Quetzal.

Change is hard, and we need to be thoughtful and aware of the impact of development in our communities. So far, the change that has happened in Beacon Hill has only made happy hour better.

Hora feliz con ninos

14 Apr

My baby has survived infancy, toddlerhood, and preschool. She started Kindergarten in 2015, which put a serious cramp in our happy hour action because she was EXHAUSTED after school. Six hours is too long for 5 year olds. I can (and will–oh, yes I will) opine about school another time. Right now, I want to write about being happy.

I probably had postpartum depression. I most certainly struggled with a major depression between my daughter’s 2nd-5th year, and I’m still figuring out mood stuff and self care. I’d love to have a series of “Really Good Days” like Ayelet Waldman but unless one of you sends me a little blue bottle that’s going to take some effort. Even if you do, which would be creepy (but cool!) I still need to work on building a happy life.

We just returned from 7 weeks in Costa Rica. I’m not going to say every minute of every day was pure bliss, but I was happy a lot of the time. I need to break down why I love travel so much (for myself, though I might subject y’all to some of the navel-gazing) but right now I really want to share my brilliant travel hacks.

Pack light

This isn’t exactly original advice, but there’s a reason so many people recommend traveling carry-on: it’s awesome. It doesn’t have to be hard, but it takes some planning and trial-and error. The goal is to pack only what you and your child(ren) can carry by yourselves, from plane to bus–upstairs, downstairs, in the rain, on the sand. You’ll save time and money, and you’re going to learn what you really value and need.


  • How will you ditch extra stuff?
    • ship it home (this is a great way to unload cold-weather gear when you’re moving on to warmer regions)
      • NOTE: shipping is expensive and can be time-consuming.
      • You almost always need your passport at the post office–plan ahead.
    • give it away (ask around–does anyone need or want your hoodie?)
    • throw it out (you do not need to bring that half-full tube of sunscreen home)

I try to avoid carrying any toiletries if I’m going somewhere that I can buy them–especially if my first stop will be a hostel or hotel that provides the basics. It’s cheaper and much easier to buy a bottle of shampoo or sunscreen than to check a bag. If you’re going somewhere really remote and/or have extremely special needs and 3oz of product won’t last your entire trip, consider shipping yourself your special products in advance.

Souvenirs & gifts

Your friends and family back home would rather get a postcard in the mail than anything you’re going to haul home. If you’re committed to supporting the local economy & really really really want to purchase a gift or momento, ship it back. Don’t carry it around in your luggage. Yes, it can be expensive to ship things. It’s also expensive to check bags.

Some of our favorite souvenirs: free maps of the small towns we visit, coasters, stickers…flat, light stuff. I’ve started collecting bottle caps from my favorite beers. Every member of our family is allowed to buy one thing during a trip. Coming home from Costa Rica,we brought a stuffed bat & the kid got a stuffed sloth. We also grabbed some coffee and chocolate at the airport store for teacher gifts.

We do not bring home nature items: shells, rocks, etc are part of the ecosystem. They need to stay on the beach. The kid likes to collect her favorites during a trip, then make a big ceremonial fairy castle the night before we leave.

We take a ton of pictures of the cool stuff we see and do, and keep notes and journals. We’re not going to forget just because we didn’t buy that shirt, or the hammock chair.


Most of us don’t go on vacation because we want to do laundry in exotic places. However, even if you pack your entire wardrobe (not recommended), you’re going to need to wash clothes. I buy the smallest possible amount of laundry detergent (dry) and a package of clothespins, then wash laundry in the sink wherever we’re staying. Many places have laundry service, which can be a life-saver if the climate (or your time) doesn’t allow for line-drying.

Happy Hour travel essentials

In the purse/pockets/diaper bag–carry with you always

  • multi-function tool with a minimum of scissors & bottle opener
  • plastic utensils & cloth napkins, small snacks
  • hygiene supplies: roll of medical tape, mini-pads, alcohol wipes, large bandage, small bandage, ziplock bags
  • entertainment: ballpoint pen, paper, playing cards, tiny toys
  • ID, a little cash & your bank card

In the swim bag/at the beach (use a tote, backpack, plastic bag, large purse…)

  • sunscreen stick
  • towel
  • water bottle (your fancy insulated bottle or reuse a plastic bottle)
  • extra plastic bag for storing wet clothes/sandy shoes
  • dry shirt or dress for the kid/s (who WILL complain of “freezing” the very moment the sun comes down, before or just as your drink arrives)

Random notes

I dislike wearing wristbands, so I cut them off while I’m out wandering and then reattach using the medical tape. The medical tape is also useful for small cuts. Use the mini-pad as a sterile gauze pad for larger injuries, using medical tape to keep it in place. Large bandages are very useful; small bandaids only exist to help someone feel better about an owie.


On the beach, in the forest, etc we do what we’re there to do: hike, swim, build castles, look at animals, play with rocks & sticks, talk to people, play with animals, daydream…there’s really no reason to pull out an electronic device unless you’re taking photos. (In my extremely biased opinion.)

I’m not a complete Luddite (obviously) but I don’t want my kid (or myself) plugged into a phone all the time. We don’t give her (and we don’t use) devices in public places, with the exception of transit (bus or plane) and even then limit the time. Screen time during this last trip was pretty much reserved for siesta–the hottest part of the day. We hung out in the hammock with a book, game, TV show, or homework activity.

Since we also don’t carry a lot of paper books, it can be challenging to keep ourselves occupied during the many situations where we had to wait. Since we only have one kid, we needed activities that everyone would enjoy (or at least not hate).

Some games we played with the almost-8 year old during long restaurant waits/layovers/hotel stays, etc:

  • gin rummy
  • UNO (oh, how I LOATHE the UNO box)
  • dots
  • tic tac toe (sparingly)
  • chess or checkers (we actually bought a mini chess set this trip)
    • draw a board on a piece of paper if you don’t want to carry a board–which you don’t




I got wet, Mama!

25 Aug
I got wet, Mama! by melissajonas
I got wet, Mama!, a photo by melissajonas on Flickr.

Before the kid, Georgetown was our go-to destination. There are a handful of very good bars on Airport Way. Unpretentious, reasonably priced, good food, excellent beer and lots of pinball. Also, alas, almost all 21+ only.

Don’t despair, parents. G-Town has plenty to offer for those of us dining & playing with ankle biters. Sylvia’s Friday routine (in this order, always): Circus School, sushi, playground and the beer store for a be-bop.

Circus School is SANCA. Amazing instructors, classes for all ages.

The Cutting Board is delicious and very reasonably priced. Lots of veggie options, too. They welcome kids & even have small plastic cups & child-sized chopsticks. Bonus for the digger-obsessed: there’s a HUGE construction project underway–lots to watch.

Georgetown Playground is one of the few SE Seattle playgrounds with a spray park AND mature trees.

Georgetown Brewery fills growlers fast & cheaply and will give your kid a lollipop if you ask.

Other places where kids are allowed in Georgetown: Calamity Jane’s, Stellar Pizza (aka Stella’s), Dog’s Dream pet supplies, and Full Throttle Bottles. We occasionally visit Fantagraphics and the coffee shop (salted dark chocolate covered graham crackers–yow!). I haven’t tried the newer diner.