“Are you ready for the summer?” is more than just the musical question posed by the classic summer comedy “Meatballs.” For parents it is a call to arms; soon school will be out and kids all across America will begin uttering the dreaded words, “I’m bored!”
Before your household descends into a maelstrom of chaos straight out of Lord of the Flies, you’ll need a game plan. If you don’t want to break the bank this summer, why not consider the humble staycation, so in vogue during the Great Recession and still an attractive option for many families. The best thing about a staycation is that it can be whatever you want it to be. Hop in the family truckster and get out of Dodge for a couple of days. Go daytripping or just chill in the backyard with the wee ones this summer; the sky’s the limit.
Summer is a great time to teach your kids about the night sky. After watching “Cosmos” this spring, our family has been inspired to look to the stars. We stepped outside after our Pesach seder this year to observe the aptly named “blood moon” lunar eclipse. On clear nights we have been gathering in the backyard shortly before bedtime to observe Mars, which in April made one of its closest approaches to Earth in years. Look for a bright red “star” in the eastern sky just after sunset through the summer months, and you will have found the world known to ancient Hebrew astronomers as Ma’adim or “the red one.”
Portland’s Rose City Astronomers hosts out of this world “star parties” throughout the summer at Rooster Rock State Park and Stub Stewart State Park.
Together with OMSI, the Vancouver Sidewalk Astronomers, and Portland Parks and Recreation, RCA offers the public an opportunity to view the night sky with club members who will be happy to let your kids peer through their high-powered telescopes and answer any questions they might have. Imagine the thrill your children will get from the sight of the icy rings of Shabtai (Saturn) glittering like cosmic jewels in the sky or the four large “Galilean” moons of Zedek ( Jupiter). Visit rosecityastronomers.org for star party dates and times.
The Portland metro area also is home to two world-class planetariums: OMSI’s Kendall Planetarium and the Planetarium Sky Theater at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham. Speaking about recent upgrades, MHCC Planetarium Director Pat Hanrahan explains: “We can explore many of the planets in fine detail (even Earth). We can also zoom in to interesting deep sky objects such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters. One thing that I found very helpful is to actively zoom in to objects to help when students ask questions. For example, many students have questions about black holes. I can zoom in to several areas of the sky where these occur. While I cannot show them the black hole, I can show some of what is going on in the vicinity of the black hole.” Check out mhcc.edu/planetarium for show times.
Our kids are just crazy about animals, so last summer we went for the staycation hat trick and took our kids on an animal- themed weekend to three inimitable Oregon destinations: Wildlife Safari in Winston, The Sea Lion Caves just north of Florence and The Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. The weekend was a blast, and the kids raved for weeks about the trip and all the different beasties they saw.
Our first stop was Wildlife Safari, a drive-through park where animals wander freely. Six hundred acres of fun await as you wind your way down a dusty road through an epic savannah, home to more than 550 animal species! The assembled menagerie is guaranteed to thrill your energetic little primates. The sight of ostriches and emus walking right up to your car is astonishing. Species from Africa, Asia and the Americas roam the park as you drive on. You can even have your car washed by an African elephant. Just don’t forget to shut the windows!
Parents can feel good about taking their children to an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited nonprofit wildlife park. For more than 40 years Wildlife Safari has dedicated itself to preserving rare and endangered species, and has even earned the praise of animal rights groups.
Next up on our creature-feature weekend were the Sea Lion Caves, a natural grotto that is home to sea lions, puffins and bald eagles, with gray whales passing by unusually close to shore on their northward journey. A natural rookery (or breeding site) and a wintering area for stellar and California sea lions, access is gained by an elevator that descends underground more than 200 feet. Visitors exit into a small chamber and observe the sea lions through plexiglass windows. The sight of so many sea lions and sea birds gathered together is simply spectacular!
We finished our trip with a visit to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, former home to Keiko, the whale of “Free Willy” fame. A showcase of Oregon’s aquatic wildlife, the aquarium is designed to evoke a gradual procession from shoreline to deep sea realms. There are hyper-realistic recreations of sandy shores, rocky coasts and tidal pools, inhabited by anemones, seabirds, marine mammals and more. The aquarium is home to more than 3,500 species of aquatic life, all of which can be found on or off the Oregon coast. Our visit came quickly on the heels of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, so our children’s fascination with these enigmatic predators had reached a fever pitch by the time we arrived. We were not disappointed. The stellar “Passages of the Deep” exhibit absolutely captivated them as they made their way through 200 feet of clear acrylic tubes surrounded by immense tanks populated by indigenous species of rays, sharks and other denizens of the deep.
If you’re looking for a slightly offbeat, kid-friendly day trip, then set a course for the Enchanted Forest in Turner. Prepare to enter a magical realm of Mother Goose and fairy tales come to life as you wander through this amusement park that spreads out majestically across 20 acres of Oregon forest. For more than 40 years, children have become immersed in a world of imagination as they wander through locales and buildings taken directly from Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes, Grimm’s fairy tales and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Children enter the narrative as they interact with animatronic versions of characters from these classic fables.
Enchanted Forest also features a charming recreation of an English village, a frontier town straight out of the old west, bumper cars, kiddie trains and log plumes. A quirky antidote to sterile corporate amusement parks, Enchanted Forest is a family- run business. Spend a day there, and you and your children just might live happily ever after!
Of course some of the best staycations take place right at home. As Jews we know that Shabbat is the ultimate staycation. Get away from it all by putting aside the email, iPhone, iPad or whatever else prevents you from being present in the moment. Light the candles, bless the wine and challah, and thank G-d for health, friends and family. Kick back, take a nap or just sit and watch the world go by. After all, in the words of the immortal Buckaroo Banzai, “No matter where you go, there you are.”