Welcoming the Special Olympics USA Games to Seattle

The Special Olympics USA Games is a premier, national sports competition that showcases the power and joy of sports at the highest levels. From July 1-6, 2018 more than 4,000 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the District of Columbia arrived in Seattle and the surrounding region along with 10,000 family members and friends. 

In addition to showcasing the awe-inspiring abilities of thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities, the 2018 USA Games in Seattle models the ideals of inclusion and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics movement.

The USA Games take place every four years with previous host cities being: Ames, Iowa (2006); Lincoln, Nebraska (2010); and Lawrenceville, New Jersey (2014). Now, in its fourth running, the Special Olympics USA Games is in Seattle.

I was one of the 10,000+ volunteers working to help support the Games. I loved having the opportunity to welcome the families and athletes to Seattle by volunteering the first 2 days of the event at the Family Welcoming Center.  I was part of a volunteer group that greeted all the families fresh from the airport and worked to get them settled in the Seattle area.

It was so fun to meet families from across the U.S. and provide them information on family activities, demonstrate how to use light rail and the bus system, recommend restaurants and must see Seattle sights. Almost everyone wanted to ride the elevator to the top of the newly renovated Space Needle, attend a Mariners baseball game and get a peak at Mt. Rainier.  The athletes stay with their coaches in the dorms on the University of Washington campus and their families wanted to make the best of their "down time' to see the area.  

The games offer 14 sports including swimming, flag football and soccer. With the exception of the Opening Ceremony, all events are free and local families are encourage to come cheer, wave signs and make some noise.  Venues include the University of Washington, King County Aquatic Center, Seattle University and Celebration Park.

The Special Olympics USA Games is the biggest sporting event to hit the Seattle area in more than 25 years and I am so glad that I was able to volunteer, use my knowledge of Seattle and the area to introduce so many families to Seattle!  

 

KidsQuest Children's Museum - Now Open!

The newly expanded interactive children's museum reopened this week.  The completely new KidsQuest museum is now located in downtown Bellevue by the Bellevue Public Library.  It is geared for infants to age 8 with plenty of exhibits to suit all personalities and interests. I stopped by for a quick tour and wish my teens weren't aged out of all this fun! 

There are many STEM related exhibits plus great art space too.  There is still the very popular and busy play area for kids age 3 and under. Bigger kids can spend a lot of time on the 2 story climbing structure, exploring the outdoor play space appropriately named "Sticks and Stones" and getting wet - as the museum brings some of our Pacific Northwest rain inside with a Water and Splash Zone.

I love the new Bellevue Mercantile themed store and barnyard play space. Set in the year 1915  - the space brings us back to when the Bellevue area was populated with farms. Try your hand at washing a cow complete with blow dryer, check out what is happening at the chicken coop and gather eggs to sell at the country store. So fun - with lots of make believe opportunities.
 
Here is their website link for more information and to confirm hours and pricing. The museum also has party rooms, class room space and an art studio. KidsQuest is also now offering several Early Childhood classes with parent & child classes and drop off options. 

Remember there are other great Children's Museums in and around the Seattle area too:

Seattle Children's Museum
Imagine Children's Museum in Everett (North of Seattle)
Hands On Children's Museum in Olympia (South of Seattle - near the State Capitol)

Holiday Fun Around Seattle

There are so many - almost too many - holiday fun activities around Seattle during the month of December.  I am dedicating this blog to free or low cost activities and sights to celebrate the season.

Winterfest at the Seattle Center

Winterfest at Seattle Center is the perfect spot to get into the festive spirit.  A favorite of families with toddlers and young children - enjoy the elaborate train set with village scenes, stay for a performance of local student groups and even catch an ice sculpting demonstration - all free.  All of this takes place inside the warm and dry Amory building and you can make it a real adventure and take a roundtrip ride on the monorail.  A seasonal ice rink is on site and offers ice walkers for new skaters - with skate rentals and a fee for each skating sessions. 

Downtown Seattle Delights

Downtown Seattle offers so many choices for you family to celebrate the season besides shopping. 

A long time tradition for many families is a visit to the Fairmont Hotel's Teddy Bear Suite. Step into this hotel suite (donations encouraged for Seattle Children's Hospital) to find the suite taken over by teddy bears of all shapes and sizes.  Plenty of bears available to hug and even spots to curl up and read one of their teddy bear themed books. The hotel is beautifully decorated and has a giant Christmas tree in the lobby - perfect for a family photo.  

Stop by the atrium of Pacific Place where it snows nightly along with a laser - Light up the Night - 3D laser show. 

The Holiday Carousel is ready for riders and is located in Westlake Park. Proceeds benefit Treehouse, a local charity providing foster children school supplies, birthday presents and other important childhood resources.

Gingerbread and Harry Potter delight at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel. The 24th annual holiday gingerbread display is Harry Potter themed and will make even your teens get into the holiday spirit.  Local architecture firms partner with the hotel bakers to create this over the top tribute to the wizarding world. 

Bellevue - Shines and Snows

Not to be outdone by Seattle, Bellevue has become a fun family holiday destination too.  Bundle up and enjoy the nightly Snowflake Lane family show along Bellevue Way.  Be entertained by dancers, drummers, polar bears and reindeer characters along with holiday music, light show and snow! 

Another part of Bellevue's Magic Season is Family Ice Skating  at  Ashwood Park by the main library. This temporary ice rink hosts "Learn How to Skate" nights and offers skating for the entire family - all with paid admission.

Holiday Garden Delights

Swanson's Nursery - Seattle - Not only does this nursery have beautiful pre-cut Christmas trees, garland and plenty of decorations for the tree, they also host two of Santa's reindeer. Stop by an visit and pose for pictures with one of Santa's reindeer resting up for the big night.  See the How the Grinch Stole Christmas themed model train village and you might even get a glimpse at another special visitor - Curley the camel !  Free

Bellevue Botanical Garden - Garden d'Lights features over half a million tiny colorful lights that transform the Bellevue Botanical Garden into a blossoming nighttime winter wonderland.  Dress warm and wander along the garden paths enjoying this amazing light display and appreciate the 1000's of volunteer hours it takes each year to plan and design.  Pick up a treasure map at the front booth and help your child spot the slug, spider and other light critters hidden throughout the garden. Admittance Fee - Free on select evenings

Molbaks Poinsettia Festival - Woodinville - For our family, a holiday tradition is a walk through this Woodinville nursery to enjoy everything holiday - trees, decorations, carolers strolling the aisles, Danish kringle samples and, of course, the huge display of poinsettias.  This year there are 22 different varieties of poinsettias from jingle bell rock, classic Christmas beauty to princettia pink and premium ice crystals -plus a 10' tall Christmas tree made entirely of poinsettias - a classic spot for family photo.  Free

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Seattle Themed books for Adults

As a follow up to my previous post on Seattle-centric books for kids, I am now sharing some of my favorite books for adults:

As I previewed in the last blog, The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown in a great read.  This nonfiction story is set during the Great Depression and tells the story of the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team as they qualified to compete in the Berlin Olympics.   An inspiring read and a wonderful introduction to Seattle, University of Washington and the lake you see all around you - Lake Washington.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a fun, light novel with many Seattle cultural references writen by Maria Semple.  Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom. Then Bernadette disappears. To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence--creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: This is an old-fashioned historical novel that alternates between the early 1940s and 1984 written by Jamie Ford.  The story focuses on Henry Lee, a 12-year-old Chinese boy who falls in love with Keiko Okabe, a 12-year-old Japanese girl, while they are scholarship students at a prestigious private school during the World War II time period in Seattle. The story alternates between this time period and the 1980's when the belongings of Japanese immigrants interned during WWII were found in the basement of the Panama Hotel. *This book is on several middle school reading lists - as it is appropriate for adults and teens.

Also story revolving around World War II and the Japanese interment, David Guterson wrote the beautiful book - Snow Falling on Cedars.   Fighting the distrust and prejudice of his neighbors on a remote island in Puget Sound, a Japanese-American man who spent time in an internment camp during World War II, finds himself on trial for murder. The histories of the accused and the victim, both fishermen and residents of a small town unfold as newspaperman Ishmael Chambers embarks on a quest for the truth. Snow Falling on Cedars won the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award.  

Some notable Seattle authors with novels set in the area include:  Tom Robbins, Sherman Alexie, Garth Stein, Jim Lynch, Timothy Egan and don't forget Seattle is home to Nancy Pearl, America's favorite librarian, NPR contributor and author of several books on books including Book Lust and Book Crush.  Rick Steves, the author and PBS travel show host is also from Seattle and is most likely the Seattleite holding the title of most books authored - I think last count was 100+ travel guides. 

For all the teens - there is always Stephenie Meyers.  Her Twilight Series, is set right here in the Olympic National Park area and the small town of  Forks, Washington. After you read the books you'll be ready to go tour the areas visited by Edward, Bella and Jacob. 

Tourist Time - Seattle Style

The Seattle Times recently published an article on the top 5 tourist attractions in the Seattle area.  I know when we moved with our elementary age children to Singapore, the first thing we did was "pretend" like we were tourists and spent a couple days with guidebook in hand exploring all the popular tourist destinations.  When we relocated back to Seattle, we did it all again - this time with preteens in tow - but they loved getting to know Seattle again, eye rolls not withstanding.  Enjoy Seattle and get ready to do these things over and over again when family and friends come to visit. 

 http://www.seattletimes.com/life/travel/seattles-space-needle-and-4-other-top-tourist-magnets/

Row, Row, and Sail your boat

Here is another link from the Seattle Times "Summer Guide."  My kids vote for Wild Waves Park but I plan to put that one off for as long as I can in the hope that another family invites them!  My vote is for a paddle around Lake Washington into Lake Union starting and ending with time at the Agua Verde Café near the University of Washington. 

http://www.seattletimes.com/life/travel/where-to-paddle-row-sail-in-the-seattle-area/

Free Fun in Seattle

Another great link from The Seattle Times:

http://www.seattletimes.com/life/travel/10-free-things-to-do-in-seattle/

I find myself no longer reading a hard-copy paper and spend more and more time getting my news on my laptap and iPhone.  I do worry, however, that I am missing out on a lot of local happenings and so I love these pieces put together by The Seattle Times.  Just added a few of these to our summer bucket list - even as a native, I have a lot more new places to explore around Seattle. 

Go Ride A Bike

The Seattle area offers many local car-free bike trails, most notably the Burke Gilman Trail, as well as wide roadways and a fast-growing number of dedicated bike lanes.  The Burke Gilman Trail is 27 miles long and the terrain stays fairly flat, so it is suitable for families as well as more serious cyclists.  The trails run from Golden Gardens Park in Ballard all the way to Redmond's Marymoor Park via the Sammamish River Trail. It has many access points, making it easy to ride just a few miles or all 27 with many stops along the way at beaches, breweries, parks and the University of Washington campus. 

A great resource for cyclists is the Cascade Bicycling Club, a non-profit organization with over 16,000 members (in fact, Cascade is the largest cycling club in the country). The club organizes daily rides for all skill levels as well as big events like the Seattle to Portland, Oregon (STP) ride every July, and is a leader in bicycle advocacy and education. Check out http://cascade.org for more info.

The Seattle Times also published a brief article for family-friendly bike rides that featured one of our favorites - "Bicycle Sunday" is a very flat, 8.5 mile ride along Lake Washington via the lovely Olmsted-designed roadway.  The ride has been taking place one Sunday of every month from May to September for the past 50 years.

The roadway is closed to car traffic on this day, beginning just south of Mt. Baker Beach and ending at Seward Park, where you'll find a play area, beach and perfect picnic spot.  While this ride is appropriate for all levels of cyclists, it is particularly inviting to kids with training wheels and parents pulling bike trailers.  The route is a popular ride in general, but is recommended for children only when the road is closed to car traffic during "Bicycle Sunday" events. 

http://www.seattletimes.com/life/outdoors/5-bike-friendly-seattle-boulevards-for-a-sunday-ride/