‘Nap-time project’ becomes Eastside mothers’ resource

“You’ve got kids at home with nothing to do. You’re at your wits end. You can’t face one more day of staring at each other, listening to ‘I’m bored’ over and over. Well, guess what? We’ve got tons of ideas for you,” reads the home page of the Ruby Slipper Guide, a Web site launched by two Eastside mothers that compiles dozens of local activities, parks, museums and seasonal festivities for children and teenagers. With more than 5,000 visitors a month, the site has grown from a personal project into an Eastside parenting resource.

“We didn’t expect [the Ruby Slipper Guide] to be more than just a nap-time project, but as we shared it with our friends, we discovered it was something Eastside parents had been searching for,” said Web site co-founder Lexie Richards.

Although Richards loves motherhood, she also admits that being at home all day with the kids can suppress a parent’s professional and creative talents. So Richards and close friend Michele Johansen, a mother of two, began brainstorming a project they could work on while parenting. Since both women had experience with Web design, the idea for an online activities guide for parents and children was a perfect marriage between their home life and past careers.

“Michele and I wanted something to do that would make us feel grown up again,” Richards said. “I suggested posting a Web site for a month, just as an experiment. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, we thought.”

The duo launched in April. The experimental home page listed a number of Eastside places for children’s activities, birthday parties, restaurants, outdoor fun and special events, along with contact information and Web links. Sticking to their Wizard of Oz theme, Richards and Johansen coined the Ruby Slipper Guide motto: “Because the Emerald City is nice, but there is no place like home.”

Although Seattle, which is known as the “Emerald City,” boasts a number of activities for youth, there are just as many fun things to do on the Eastside, Richards explained. The reason these recreational spots were so unknown, she added, was that nobody had compiled them under a single, easily accessible resource.

“It turns out there are tons of things to do on the Eastside. In Issaquah, there is a cool group called Geology Adventure that takes kids on night-time hunts for glow-in-the-dark rocks; in Renton and Woodinville there are popular trout fishing ponds; and I would say the best drop-in toddler play time is at the Community Center at Mercer View,” the full-time mother said.

Indeed, Mercer Island has a star role in the Ruby Slipper scene. The Web site has an entire page devoted to the Island, from Saturday movie matinees at the public library to a rave review of the new Dragon Park on Island Crest Way.

Island resident Maia Richardson is partly to thank for these popular Ruby Slipper destinations. The mother of two boys, who visits the online guide regularly, personally recommended that Richards post the Dragon Park and Luther Burbank Park on the Ruby Slipper list.

“I love the new dragon park,” she said. “The play structure is toddler-safe and away from the road. There are trees for the kids to run around in and a climbing wall. It’s a favorite of both my boys.”

According to Richards, Ruby Slipper viewers are always eager to recommend a new place. Whether word about an upcoming children’s fair or a restaurant that offers great birthday packages, her inbox is filled with suggestions. In fact, the Web designer admits that the amount of responses has surprised her.

“There was a point where the Web site’s calendar was down for one day due to technical problems. We got e-mails from people frantic because they couldn’t check the calendar,” she said.

Since its launch in April, the Ruby Slipper Guide has grown into more than just an online recreation list. Today, the Web site is categorized into birthday parties, family-friendly restaurants, water fun and special seasonal activities, and includes pages for each Eastside district, from Bellevue to the Snoqualmie area. There is also a seven-day calendar of activities for children — updated weekly — and a free newsletter sent to those who subscribe. And then there is the Ruby Blog, a humorous column on the tribulations and awards of motherhood.

“At first we didn’t think anyone would read it, but then we started getting comments back,” Richards said, adding that she and Johansen alternate writing the blog each week. “Sometimes you feel like you shouldn’t be admitting as much as you are, but that’s what people like — to know there is someone out there feeling the same way when their toddler is throwing a tantrum.”

In last week’s blog, Richards joked about how motherhood introduced her to the “drive-thru” life.

“The last straw came when I drove up to the [Taco Time] window to pay for my lunch and the cashier complimented me on my haircut...I realized I was living a ‘drive-thu’ life,” Richards wrote.

Richardson said that the writers’ confessional honesty and humility — embarrassing as it may be — is refreshing to read as a mother. Plus, she added, the Ruby Blog is hilarious to read.

“They are very open about the things you don’t really want to admit that you do as a parent, but in desperation end up going for anyway,” the Islander said.

Richards and Johansen devote about three hours a day to Ruby Slipper Guide, mostly during their children’s nap time. And they are constantly working to improve the site.

Just this week, the duo is revamping the guide to include a fall activities page, which will list everything from the best pumpkin patch on the Eastside to spooky haunted houses for Halloween. The co-founders are also trying to make the site more teenager-friendly, as Ruby Slipper Guide offers recreational activities for all ages. The more challenge the better, both mothers agreed.

“The biggest thing is that we feel like we’re not abandoning the skills we used to use every day,” Richards said. “And knowing that we are actually doing something that people like has made us feel fantastic.”

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