The pandemic has caused many families to think creatively about how to gather and vacation safely this summer. After five months close to home, exploring new trails in our community and even taking on a COVID-19 camping trip, we simply had to head to Whidbey Island for our annual summer visit. The solution of where to stay safely was found in an unexpected place: a historic one-room schoolhouse that was reimagined into a live-work glamping experience that no one wanted to leave.
Getting there. If you saw my recent post about visiting Whidbey Island, I share tips about getting to the island, as well as our favorite activities. The post was written prior to the pandemic, though, and I was surprised to find that traffic through Seattle was just as bad as I remember, and the ferry lines were possibly even worse. We arrived fairly late on a Sunday and still had to wait. (Friends who joined us took a longer route via the Port Townsend Ferry reservation system, and their trip took just slightly longer but they were able to enjoy a reserved spot on the ferry.) Luckily for us, we arrived just in time for sunset, which we enjoyed at Lighthouse Park. The beach was crowded, and we all wore our masks. By the time we got on the ferry, the masks came off (outside), and we were able to enjoy plenty of social distancing fun once we arrived on the island.
Brief history of the schoolhouse. The schoolhouse where we stayed was built in 1907 on South Whidbey Island, and it served the rural children of the Maxwelton Valley in its early years. For many years after that (50+), it housed a fellowship, leased by the local school district. It eventually sold, and has been partially owned by my dad’s small business since 1989 and used as a wood shop, office, gallery, and occasional community gathering space. What was once a disintegrating building has been slowly restored, with much more potential in the future, I am sure. My parents realized that if they just added a simple kitchen, the now underutilized building could work as a living space, welcoming our family as its first guests during a time when it is hard for households to co-mingle safely. Taking it one step further – by setting up a pop-up camper, camp kitchen, and fire pit outside – we could even invite another family to join us for a social distancing glamping vacation.
What is glamping? I debated, heartily, whether what we are doing is truly considered “glamping.” Glamping, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “outdoor camping with amenities and comforts not usually used when camping.” Glamping usually includes beds, electricity, a bathroom and/or shower, and even a partial or full kitchen. It might be in an RV, trailer, cabin, or even hotel. It usually includes Wi-Fi and/or cell service. In addition to those amenities, though, it also often includes perks of camping such as a fire pit and a natural setting.
So, were we glamping? For our family, it’s a bit of a stretch to say we were glamping, because we ended up sleeping inside the schoolhouse and not in the tent. For the family that joined us, though, they were definitely glamping. They slept in a tent outside the back porch, used a camp kitchen (on the porch), and accessed our indoor bathroom and shower, Wi-Fi and office space, and refrigerator.
Two of the adults in our group were working at least part of the time, and the other two were tapped in to professional pursuits as well. One friend happily set up shop in a small attic space to keep his legal business running, and my husband utilized the existing office for his professional duties. While cell service was spotty, we were all able to access Wi-Fi, and get work done. With impromptu ping-pong games, day trips, and Happy Hour worked in we had the perfect live-work balance!
After a busy day at the beach, it was time for cocktail hour, and dinner prep in the indoor and outdoor kitchens. Our friends loved the “cocktail in a can” options available at the Star Store in downtown Langley, and we all enjoyed the bounty of farm-fresh produce from the Organic Farm School. Delicious bagels from Whidbey Island Bagel Factory – Clinton and sandwiches from Pickles Deli rounded out the meals we prepared at the schoolhouse, and were great curbside options for outing days.
After dinner, everyone enjoyed board games, ping-pong, and lounging in the vaulted common areas of the main hall.
Then, it was time to head outside for an evening fire, and – of course – s’mores!
Last but not least: did I mention our mobile salon services? An old friend is a professional stylist in Seattle, and he visited us and three of us had our hair done for the first time in five months! (If mobile salon services do not fall under glamping, I don’t know what does.)
In the end, what I viewed simply as my dad’s dusty shop-turned-office that I popped in to from time to time but never really appreciated, was enjoyed in an entirely new light. I never imagined we had such a perfect vacation spot under our noses until we lived, worked, and slept in the old schoolhouse on Whidbey Island. Whether we were officially glamping, or not, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that for the first time in nearly half a year, our small group of family and friends was able to gather safely, and socialize in a new way. Old friendships were renewed, new friendships forged, spontaneous ping-pong games and dance parties ensued, and lasting memories were made.
Has COVID-19 caused you to think creatively about how to get away, see family and friends safely, redefine live/work balance, or reimagine a space you’ve never fully appreciated?
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