June 24, 2009 by Robin Beckett
Story and photos by Heather Caro
Looking for an excuse to take a walk on the wild side this summer? The Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge may be just what you’ve been waiting for.
The tall grasses and secluded waterfowl sanctuaries make this outing perfect for budding bird watchers and nature aficionados.
More than 250 species of birds — including ducks, geese, hawks, eagles, herons, owls and songbirds — are known to reside here at varying times throughout the year. Other animals make the refuge their home as well. So, be on the lookout for river otters, badgers and beavers.
What to Expect
Though the refuge sprawls across nearly 2,000 protected acres, the most easily accessible trail ambles over a mile of mowed grass. The trailhead begins at the first parking lot and leads to the headquarters/maintenance office. The hike is flat and can be easily trekked by all age groups; however, there are no amenities available, so plan accordingly.
The Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge is located approximately six miles south of Toppenish on U.S. Highway 97. The drive from Yakima is about 35 minutes.
The refuge entrance is located on the west side of the road. Parking is available in front of the Wildlife Observation viewing gazebo. No fees are required.
Tips for Wetland Walkers
For best bird watching, remind children to try to stay quiet so as not to frighten away wildlife. Binoculars are also helpful though not mandatory. The birds are most active during early morning and evening hours, and populations are most plentiful during spring and early fall. However, the refuge can be enjoyed year-round for wildlife observation, hiking and seasonal hunting in designated areas. Hours are from 5 a.m. to 30 minutes after sunset.
For a quick lesson on habitats, ask your kids what they need to survive (food, water, shelter). Then talk about how the refuge is providing those same needs to the animals that live in it. They’ll learn something before they even saw it coming!
The refuge encourages discovery, but please leave all plants, animals, rocks and artifacts as you found them. Bring a camera instead, and take pictures of your discoveries to identify together later.
Watch for ticks in the spring and summer and bring plenty of sunscreen and water.
For more information, call 509-865-2405 or visit www.fws.gov/toppenish.
June 11, 2009 by Robin Beckett
I’ve been invited to a couple of different “idea parties” this spring. It’s a great way for moms to get together and build a little stockpile of summertime activities for the kiddos. Here’s how it works: Each guest brings 5 identical activity kits that would be suitable for kids of a certain age (under 8 at the party I attended). At the party, names are drawn to see who will take home each activity (no fighting!) and each mom goes home with 5 new kits… as well as several other ideas she could put together at home.
The ideas could really be anything… my friend Danielle tells me her kids LOVE the baby food jar “bug catchers” she got at a party a few weeks ago. It’s basically an empty baby food jar covered with a mesh lid that’s held in place by a rubber band. The catcher came with a little notebook decorated with a bug sticker for documenting the kids’ finds. Her 6-year-old has been emphatically scrawling about each s-p-i-d-e-r he finds and the two-year-old is just happy to have her own notebook.
Anyway, I thought the party was a great chance to meet a few new moms — the hostess just invites everybody she knows and sees who shows up — and get some new ideas and activities for keeping the kids busy throughout the summer. That said, my own contribution wasn’t the most original, but my kids LOVE playing with play dough, so perhaps this recipe for scented homemade dough (which I stapled to a packet of Kool-Aid) will help keep yours entertained. (Thanks to Wendi for the idea!)
A couple of kits I didn’t get to take home from the party were a deck of cards with instructions for all kinds of different games; a list of local family-friendly hikes (cutely packaged with a granola bar, trial-sized sunscreen and a few other items); and a kit to make little bendy dolls out of rafia and pipe cleaners.
Okay, here’s what I did get: First, I was really excited to get this super cool “I Spy” pillow filled with rice and more than a dozen little doo-dads from around the house: dice, crayon, penny, Lego. What a great way to get rid of some of that junk that’s always laying around (and getting stepped on – yeouch!). The plastic window is made from a sturdy Ziplock bag.
My family is going on an epic road trip to Disneyland soon so I’m hoping the pillow will help keep the kids entertained. Hopefully they won’t fight over it. (For more road trip ideas, click here.)
I also got a kit of geometric shaped papers and stickers that the kids can create their own designs (photo at the top).
And, much to the delight of my daughter who was at the party with me, we got this water toy. The mom who brought this toy said her kids love using it to help water the flowers. Sounds like a good idea to me!
A vagabond mama cures the backseat blues
By Sara Bristol
Some mothers swear by it, but I just can’t buy into the idea of my kids watching movies in the car.
No, I’m not one of those anti-TV fanatics. My kids certainly watch more than their share of round-the-clock satellite programming in our three television household.
So I guess that’s why I draw the line at the driveway. When we’re on the road, the scenery should be different than that which we can watch from the sofa.
After all, the whole point of a road trip (or any vacation) is to do something that you don’t do everyday at home.
That said, long hours in little space can be uncomfortable and, yes, sometimes boring. Here are a few suggestions to keep your next road trip from veering off course:
MAP YOUR ROUTE
When children are in the car, driving straight through doesn’t make the trip go faster. It makes the kids whine.
* Schedule breaks. When MapQuest says the drive takes four hours, allow for five. Plan to get out of the car — at a rest area, park or roadside attraction — every couple of hours.
Do this religiously unless the kids are asleep, in which case our advice deviates: Drive, drive, drive until you’re running on fumes.
Hint: Kids love chicken nuggets and using public restrooms. The trip planner at mcdonalds.com can help you find every McDonald’s Playland between home and your destination.
EMERGENCY ROAD KIT
The question is inevitable: “Are we there yet?” Combat this by giving kids some tools:
* A map. Show the kids the route you’re traveling and encourage them to read road signs to note your progress. For very young children, try drawing a simple Dora-style map with major landmarks, i.e. “When we cross the river, we will be halfway there.”
* Audio books. Check them out from the library. If you choose a chapter book, listen for 30-minutes at a time when you need the gang to quiet down.
* Music. Sing-along CDs are corny good fun. The library has a good selection. If you’ll be using the car stereo, preview new tunes before you go to make sure they’re not too annoying. Or, choose “grown up” tunes everybody can enjoy; our kids go crazy for The Beach Boys.
Last Christmas, we bought simple MP3 players for about $10, paired them with $5 headphones and enjoyed the quietest drive to Grandma’s house in years.
* Travel games. The best car toys will pass the time without making a mess. Unfortunately, many games labeled “travel” are just smaller with lots of pieces — OK for the hotel, maybe, but not the car.
Instead, turn to the old faithfuls, including Etch A Sketch, Doodle Pro and auto bingo. (Find the classic Regal Travel Auto Bingo cards online at kidslovetravel.com; set of four is $5.95.)
Imaginetics makes a line of magnetic play boards and magnet stickers that are convenient for travel and fairly affordable at about $5-$10 each. My favorite is the Magnetic USA Map for its “puzzle factor,” which gives kids a job and helps keep them busy. Use caution when giving magnet toys to very small kids, however; magnets can be dangerous to children under age 3 or who might swallow them.
Activity books can be another good option for kids old enough to hold a pen. Crayola Color Wonder and other invisible ink products are perfect for messy preschoolers. Dover’s pocket-sized series of Little Activity Books include easy mazes and connect-the-dot puzzles that even non-reading youngsters can handle. (Hint: Tuck one in your purse for those when-is-our-food-gonna-get-here restaurant moments.) Older children enjoy crosswords, word search puzzles, Sudoko and Mad Libs.
PREPARE TO DETOUR
Even the best laid plans are likely to run into the occasional roadblock. Just when you think you’ve run out of tricks, reach into your bag and see if you can’t pull out another rabbit:
* Slug Bug. Even little kids can recognize a Volkswagen Beetle. This game’s pretty simple: When you spot one, call out “slug bug.” We play non-competitively and without slugging; everybody calls it when they see it. In our car, we also call the color: Green bean, true blue, bright white, etc. And, to mix things up, we also keep an eye out for PT Cruisers and Jeep Wranglers, which are each distinctive enough for a 3-year-old to identify.
* I Spy. You say, “I spy something blue,” and the other players guess what you see: The sky, dad’s sweater, a car, etc. Whoever guesses correctly starts the next round.
* 20 Questions. Think about anything; the other players have 20 questions to try and narrow down what it is. The first question is always, “Animal, vegetable or mineral?” Players then take turns asking pointed yes-or-no questions: Can it fly? Is it bigger than a car? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Only 16 more to go!
By age three, the Bristol kids had each been to at least five states and Canada. They’ll drive to Disneyland this summer.