The Gift of Travel: Choosing Experiences Over Gifts

We’re a little over two weeks past Christmas and I’m wondering … now that the tinsel has settled and stockings are put away, how was your Christmas? More specifically, how many of the things that were purchased for the purpose of gift-giving are still giving pleasure, usefulness or entertainment?

The Christmas aftermath

That’s something that, as parents, Mike and I have struggled with over the last couple of years. We’ve never been big buyers, and we don’t have an extended family dynamic that encourages excessive gifting, and still we find ourselves in mid-January wondering how it all added up. Despite our valiant efforts to be mindful in our holiday shopping, it still seems like too much. It still feels as if some of the purchases were duds, left to collect dust or take up space until they move on to Goodwill or a garage sale.

This past Christmas we decided to go in a different direction: we would not be filling the space under the tree with gifts. In our family tradition, Santa delivers a special gift and fills the stockings. All the other presents come from Mom and Dad. Some years we tried the “Something you want, something you need, something you wear, something you read” tradition. Other years we tried to stick to a strict budget. As we’d reflect on Christmas weeks or months later, we always noticed the same thing. One or two gifts held their power as something beloved or useful, and the other gifts just drifted into the background with all the other stuff you accumulate but don’t love. Beyond the time and energy (neither of which are in full supply during the holidays) shopping for these gifts took, it just felt wasteful. And not good.

Inspired by Amy Clark of MomAdvice and her “Choose Your Own Adventure” travel package she and her husband put together for her kids last year, we decided that in lieu of gifts we’d put that money towards travel – and let Elena and Eli pick the trip. We sat down with them over Thanksgiving to let them know that there wouldn’t be the traditional pile of gifts under the tree this year. Santa would still visit, but Mom and Dad were planning a fun family gift instead. We left it at that and they seemed content.

In the meantime, Mike and I narrowed the myriad of possibilities to three different types of trips: New York City, Southern California, and a Caribbean Escape. Using Canva and PicMonkey, I created a “travel brochure” to present to the kids on Christmas morning. Inside a binder they found the ground rules (they had to come to an agreement on the trip together – NICELY, travel arrangements would be made once a destination was decided, specific trip excursions may be modified as plans were solidified, etc.) along with a description of each trip and the kinds of things we might do and see.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Binder Christmas Gift

I have to say, it seemed to go over very well. They read over all the trip details with great interest and took their time deciding. We had several discussions about the pros and cons of the different destinations. They quickly eliminated New York City from the running, but took two days to decide between California and the Caribbean. It was so interesting to observe them listening to and negotiating with each other (Elena was leaning toward California and Eli was keen on the Caribbean). For the most part, Mike and I stayed out of it, other than to offer some additional information we thought might help them make a decision. This was their gift, their trip, and we wanted them to have the final say. In the end, they agreed on Southern California.

We’re so excited to begin planning our trip! We think we’ll spend about a week there, concentrating on the Los Angeles/San Diego area. For those of you that have been, we’d love your advice and suggestions! There’s so much to decide. When is the best time to go? Do we visit Disneyland even if we’ve been to Disney World twice? Where should we stay? But this is just one of the many things I love about gifting travel over material things: beyond the time we spend together as a family on the actual trip, we’re spending lots of time together working through the planning process. It really is the gift that will keep on giving, long after the trip is over.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Binder Christmas Gift

I really hope this is a tradition we can continue. It blows my mind that Elena will be in high school this fall, and that we really only have four more years to easily travel as a family. I want to take advantage of this time as much as possible, and see the world with the people I love the most.


The Short List: November/December

Sunset Rainbow

Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links.

Weekday late afternoons often find us scattered. After the kids and I check in and have our afternoon snack and a cup of tea, they wander off to their own corners of the house. Elena likes to do homework up in her room with her music. Eli likes to chill in the basement, either by himself or with the various neighborhood boys that find their way to our home many afternoons. If Mike is home, he’s often in the office finishing up a few things. You can find me in the kitchen, making dinner. We’re all here, but we’re in our own little worlds.

As a particularly rainy and dreary day drifted into evening, which thanks to Daylight Savings Time means 5 p.m. or so, the house was suddenly filled with a warm, golden glow. Every room of the house was suffused with the most beautiful light. It was so unusual, and almost magical, that it drew us outside. Once we stepped out, we were rewarded with a gorgeous sunset to the west and a full rainbow to the east. What a lovely reminder that even on the busiest and dreariest of days, there is always a reason to pause and look up.

I really love writing these monthly short lists, but I’m going to change the format up just a smidgen. In the past I’ve included a section of what I’m watching. It was initially a convenient way to fit in my Netflix movies and shows into regular content. While we’re still big fans of Netflix, my time with the Stream Team is up. Also, I’m just not an exciting person when it comes to television. I watch football and a handful of other things, and I’m pretty awful about adopting new shows. For those reasons, I’m letting the “Watching” portion of the Short List go. If I come across any new shows or documentaries that we really love I’ll definitely share, it just won’t be on a regular basis. Enough about what isn’t in the Short List this month, let’s get on to what is featured!


Did you catch my most recent reading update? It was a doozy, but there was lots of good stuff in there. Sadly, I’m in a bit of a slump right now. I’m still reading Shelly Turkle’s book about reclaiming conversation. It’s thought-provoking, and full of great information, but it’s not the easiest read. I’m determined to get through it, though, because I think the information is so valuable. I’m also about a third of the way through my selection for “A Book Your Mom Loves” in the 2015 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. My mom may have loved The Marranos by Liliane Webb, but I am struggling. If it were any other book I’d move on (life’s too short and so on and so forth), but #momguilt. I’m also reading Middle School Makeover by Michelle Icard. This book is a treasure trove of helpful nuggets about making the middle school years bearable, but again … it’s a book about middle school. Hence the slump.

On the bright side, I’m listening to Deep Down Dark by Héctor Tobar, the true account of the 33 Chilean miners that were trapped underground (and now a movie). It’s riveting! I highly recommend it. Eli and I just finished up Wildwood by Colin Meloy. He really enjoyed it, and it was a good choice for a read aloud – great illustrations, good dialogue, and writing that paints a vivid story for the reader and listener. We’re about to start The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I’ve never read it, but I hear it’s a classic.

Look for my final 2015 reading update to come at the end of December, along with my picks for the best books of the year!


Bombas socks

I have strong feelings about socks, and have discarded many a pair that didn’t make the cut. One of the only things that gets me through the winter months is a strong sock game. I got my first pair of Bombas over the summer, and now I’m hooked. I was so excited to find them on sale at the Gap, so I ordered another pair for myself and a pair for Eli. For every pair of socks you buy, the company donates a pair to someone in need. I’m telling you, these socks are The Bomb(as). Use my Bombas link to get 25% off your first pair.

Now that my toes are covered, let’s move to the neck. Last year I made a blanket scarf for super cheap using this fantastic tutorial from MomAdvice. Even though this isn’t how I normally wear it (I like it wrapped around my neck kerchief-style), you can see it in this photo:

Peter King and Angie Six 2015 NFL Combine Tweetup

I love how warm it keeps me all winter long, and how it takes a ho-hum outfit and instantly makes it cuter. I picked another one up at the aforementioned Gap sale, and it will take much will-power not to keep buying  or making more.

Tulip Tree Creamery Market District Carmel

Feet? Check. Neck? Check. Belly? Yes! If you live in Indiana or the parts of the Midwest, you must seek out any of the cheeses from Tulip Tree Creamery. Made in Indy by Netherlands transplant Fons Smits, it’s the most delicious form of dairy you can put in your mouth besides ice cream. I’m particularly fond of the Trillium, but I’ve yet to try a Tulip Tree product I haven’t loved.


I’ve always loved the New Yorker cartoons, and this collection of their cartoons about children’s books is such a treat.

Do you have a thing about visiting grocery stores when you travel too?

Get your cocoa and couches ready: the best holiday TV specials of 2015.

I’m obsessed with hygge this winter. This should help.

What’s on your short list of favorite things right now?


It’s (Still) Hard Out Here For the Dads

Appreciating modern dads and the struggle they feel to be the perfect father, partner, and breadwinner in a way their dads never worried about.
Father’s Day | Fathering | Parenting | Father’s Day Appreciation

In honor of Father’s Day, I’m bringing back an oldie but a goodie (at least in my mind). I wrote this post about the struggle I imagine this generation of dads who are in the thick of parenting must feel 3 years ago. I had no intentions of republishing it, and in fact had quite forgotten about it. And then a few weeks ago, while reading the excellent book by Jennifer Senior on the paradox of modern parenting, All Joy and No Fun, I came across this thought from the author:

“This is a strange moment for fatherdom. There’s increasing pressure for men to be actively involved in the affairs of the home, but there’s no precise standard for how much involvement is enough. And if the standard is to do as much as their wives do … Lord, that bar is as high as a bird’s nest.”

That’s exactly what I had on my mind when I wrote this post. I re-read it, hoping that my words were outdated. Sadly, the only things that are outdated are the photos. (My babies!) The sentiment, and the struggle, still ring true.  I know that I can be just as guilty for heaping the pressure and high expectations on to my husband as anyone, so I’m re-posting this as a reminder to myself to be kinder, gentler, and more appreciative of my husband and all he does. The dads that are always reaching for that bird’s nest need encouragement every day, of course, but Father’s Day is the perfect place to start.


I’m not sure why, but this Father’s Day has me reflecting on fatherhood for more than just the fleeting moment when I’m thinking of something profound to write in Mike or my dad’s cards.  The holiday can seem like an afterthought in our house with the slew of celebrations that come before it and Mike’s general laid-back attitude about the day.  In general, Father’s Day takes a back seat to Mother’s Day.  Does it bother dads?  I don’t know.  But I have to wonder if their silence on the subject doesn’t reflect a larger issue:

It must be tough to be a father these days.

Now moms, I know some of you will roll your eyes at me and launch into a litany of reasons why it’s hard to be a mom, especially a mom to young children.  And I don’t disagree.  Though we’re in the golden years of parenting, some days are drop-dead exhausting.  Mentally and physically exhausting.  I’m always doubting myself, wondering if I’m doing it wrong or screwing them up.  I’m spread thin, trying to be a good wife, mom, friend, daughter, employee, volunteer … and oh yes, take some time for me, too.

Yes, it’s hard for moms.  But this is not only common knowledge, we’re encouraged to share our feelings.  And then we’re encouraged even more to over-share our feelings through blogs, magazines and memoirs.  Yes, it’s hard to be a mother, but we’re not alone.

I think about fathers like Mike and his peers.  I wonder how his generation must struggle with fatherhood.  Their fathers’ lives and expectations were so different.  My dad didn’t change diapers or cook dinner.  He didn’t drive me around or help me with my homework.  He never shuttled me to school or packed my lunches while my mom went to blogging conferences or girls’ trips.  I don’t fault him one bit for it – none of the dads I knew did these things.


And so these husbands of ours came into fatherhood with a road map that is vastly different from the landscape they find themselves navigating today.  I think about the expectations I place on Mike as a father and husband.  I expect that he will support us while I stay at home.  I expect that he brings home a salary that allows us to live comfortably.  I expect him to work hard, but not so hard that he isn’t home for dinner or to help put the kids to bed.  I expect him to know his way around the kitchen and to help with chores around the house.  I expect him to know our routine, to not play the bumbling fool of a dad when I go out of town.  I expect him to play with the kids, help them with homework (at least math, Lord help me), volunteer at their sporting events, attend their school functions.

I think about the demands that life places on these fathers.  That their careers are number one.  That success means climbing the ladder and having fancy toys.  That they should have man caves and fantasy teams, but dress like Justin Timberlake and know their manscaping from their landscaping (and dutifully tend to both).  They should be totally present in their kids’ lives, woo their wives with creative date nights and handcrafted gifts from Etsy, have their dude time with friends, work out religiously, and work on average 20 hours more a week than our fathers worked.  Yes, do all that and balance it ALL.

Mike on the Gibbon Slackline

Our dads, man.  They missed out on so many bonding experiences with us, but their lives were much less complicated.

I don’t have an answer. (Do I ever?)  But I do know this: I’m here to tell the dads of my generation that I have tremendous respect for you.  You’re doing so much more with much less time, and you do it enthusiastically.  I see you at the swim meets and soccer matches.  I see you in the school carpool line.  I see you in the grocery store.  I see you treading water and never, not once, calling for a life raft or telling the dad next to you that you’re getting tired.  I know you’re exhausted and confused and yet simultaneously thrilled that you’re the kind of dad you are.


It’s okay to say that this gig is hard.  Your wife won’t hate you or blow you off (wives, please don’t hate your husbands or blow them off).  Your friends will be relieved.  Believe me, it feels so much better to get it off your chest, hairy or not.

I also know this: we have to make fatherhood easier on our sons.  In a way that I feel my generation of mothers has come to realize and accept without feeling defeated, we have to get the message across: that you can’t have it all and something always gives. And that’s okay.  I want my son to enjoy fatherhood the way I enjoy motherhood, without being trapped by it or defined by it.

Happy Father’s Day, guys.  You’ve earned it.

Appreciating modern dads and the struggle they feel to be the perfect father, partner, and breadwinner in a way their dads never worried about. Father’s Day | Fathering | Parenting | Father’s Day Appreciation

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