The Best Travel Souvenirs to Bring Home

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My dad’s friends from New Zealand stopped by yesterday as they were traveling, and I loved the way they described the scenery up here. “As I kid, I watched the scenes in old Disney movies like Bambi and Snow White, and we didn’t have those scenes in New Zealand,” his friend explained, “The lakes surrounded by so many pine trees with the chipmunks and the squirrels and the woodland creatures–I came to Michigan and was like, ‘This is it! This is where Snow White lives!”

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This is our last week in Michigan, so I’m waking up with heightened sensors for everything I love. Drink in the scene! Listen to those birds! Breathe in this air! You’re going to miss it! 

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We have a few more Michigan adventures before we leave and then we are headed to Chicago to enjoy a city hit before heading back home–without a travel companion this time–but I think the kids are old enough, we’ll make it okay.

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Now that the trip is winding down, I thought I’d answer a few questions from Instagram about what camera/lenses I’ve been using on the trip as well as some of our favorite souvenirs we take home when we travel. I’ll intersperse some more favorite Summer in Michigan shots to pretty it up.

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Other than a few iPhone camera pics, most of the photos I’ve shared from the trip are from my Canon 1D. I brought two lenses, the ones I use most often for everything–my 1.4 50 mm and my 24mm for wide angle shots. How do I get them on my phone to share? READY FOR THE GAME CHANGER? I use this card reader for iPhone (I have an SD slot CF card converter in my camera so this works). It takes seconds to pop out the card from my camera, insert it in this little card reader on my phone and pull up everything I’ve taken from my iPhone photo album to choose what I want to import to my phone. You do need to shoot jpegs to see them on your phone, so if you shoot RAW, you need to change your camera settings so you’re shooting RAW+jpeg. I was using a wifi card so I could transfer to my phone but this is so much quicker and easier, allows you to import just the ones I want on my phone and doesn’t rely on good Internet connections.

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When we get home, I’ll back up everything from my laptop to my hard drive and then print all these babies in a book so we can remember our summer adventures.

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How do I balance enjoying the moment and taking pictures on vacation? I pulled something from a recent online interview I did about photographing my family:

How do you balance being present in the current moment and snapping photos to document the days?

This is a common question for a lot of photo-snapping moms, but I think it’s one of those things you just have to figure out on your own. I used to pick up my camera a lot more than I do now and took it everywhere I went—grocery store, pediatrician visits, park dates, restaurants—but I don’t necessarily regret it. It’s where I was at the time. I was enamored with babyhood, and wanted to capture everything. As my kids have grown older, we’ve become busy in different ways as a family and I have a little hindsight, I look back and laugh at my silliness or skewed balance in far more areas than just taking pictures. But it takes living a little to figure that out. I know that being behind a camera makes me happy but that feeling my face pressed against my kids’ cheeks as I kiss them goodnight is what truly makes me come alive. I’m so grateful to have both in my life and know that with every year I explore living my passions and loving my family, I’ll deepen my understanding and practice of balance.

Because I’ve been doing this a long time, I’ve gotten used to what feels right for me. I love the heady cloud of inspiration that comes from both making memories with my family and seeing my kids happy, and delving into the art of photography and the beauty of capturing light, spirit, joy ad nature.
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We found our dandelions for bucket list seed-blowing and wish-making.

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(Traverse City’s Brew)

…and finally crossed off an outdoor picnic in the woods at Hartwick Pines State Park:

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As for souvenirs we’re bringing home? Whether it’s picking out things to display in our home that remind us of places we’ve visited and family adventures we’ve loved or picking out treasures to share with our friends back home, these are our favorite treasures to scoop up while traveling:

11 Fun Souvenirs to Bring Home from Travel Adventures:

1. Mugs/Cups
Pottery mugs from local artists are a bonus, but I also love mugs that have the logo of our favorite small town breakfast joint or a pilsner from our favorite lodge to keep in our freezer and smile every time we use it. A cupboard made up entirely of mugs from all of our travels is my goal–with stories behind each one.

2. Wearables
T-shirts and baseball caps are my favorite. I love to search shops for the coolest ones. We love Michigan’s M-22 shirtsThe Mitten State vintage tees sold in a lot of northern Michigan shops and the new Enjoy Michigan shop we found in Traverse City.

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3. Bumper Stickers
Even if you don’t put them on your car, it’s so much fun to find unique ones and collect them–put them in a travel jounal.

4. Canvas Tote Bags
You’ll use them all year long!

5. Postcards
Help me out here–keep the art of postcard sending alive! I’ve bought probably 20 on our trip–half to send out to our friends back home and half to tuck in travel journals or display when we get home.

6. Flour Sack Dish Towels
Another souvenir that won’t just clutter up your lives, these are something you’ll actually use. We’ve seen so many cute ones in shops along our way on this trip.

7. Pennant Flags
Fun to display, especially in kids’ rooms.

8. Earth
This one’s completely free. Making amazing memories at a special spot on your travels? Scoop up some earth–dirt from the ground, sticks, pine cones, shells, smooth stones. Put them in a Ziplock, stash them in your suitcase, and when you get home, pour them in a little jar (we look for vintage ball jars on ebay and Etsy for ours). Make a tag for the jar to mark where the earth is from, what the date was and any special memories you want to remember from that trip and collect and display them over the years. We have shelves of Earth memories in our kitchen, and they make me so happy. Remember the I Love Lucy with the stones she stashed in the camper? :o) That’s me.

9. Local Food
This one is great for bringing home to friends. We are visiting one of northern Michigan’s famous food stops today–Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, and we always stock up on a bunch of Michigan’s cherry goods there to share with friends at home–a bottle of cherry wine, preserves, salsas, cherry soda, etc. Whether it’s a city’s famous coffee, maple syrup, hot sauce from the south or popcorn from the city (Garrett!), your friends will love getting a taste of your trip, and you’ll love revisiting your adventures weeks later at home when you’re smearing cherry preserves on your toast.

10. Accessories
These are great for kids–enamel pins (great ones for Michigan here), patches, earrings, rings–and fun to collect.

11. Spoons
Another nostalgic souvenir, you can still find travel demitasse spoons at any tourist shop or even gas stations on state lines. My grandma used to collect them and had over 100 from mission trips and vacations. After she passed away, the kids and grandkids all got to choose which ones they wanted (I have London :o).

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Happy Monday!

Summer Siblings Weekend

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I have distinct memories of visiting my grandparents in the summer as a kid–the smell of their home, fig newtons in the cookie jar in the kitchen with the gold linoleum floor, shag carpet in the family room, swinging saloon doors, taking baths in my grandma’s tub with the pink bottle of Avon bubble bath, sitting in lawn chairs outside their Airstream trailer at the campground where we’d visit them, and riding Big Wheels with my cousins…they always had Big Wheels for the grandkids.

Poppa made sure to get a Big Wheel to keep at his cabin, and I can’t help but smile watching Dash relive this summer memory of my own–one of the many associations he’ll make with summer with his grandpa someday.

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I’m bad at checking e-mails these days, have thought very little of things I need to do, haven’t felt one bit of stress and–here’s the biggie–HAVEN’T BEEN TO TARGET IN A MONTH.

End cap Target specials can’t compete with this:

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We made cinnamon rolls the other morning and took them outside to share with the chipmunks.

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It rained a few days last week, and while at home I might get a little stir crazy being stuck indoors that many days in a row, we loved the invitation here to watch movies, work on puzzles and nap in the cabin.

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The cooler temps also give us the opportunity to bust out our flannels and buffalo checks.

By the way, I said no to him climbing to the top of the teetering log pile, and he’s thrilled about it.

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My brother and sister and families came up last weekend for our siblings bash. Sacrificing more frequent family get togethers was definitely one of the biggest drawbacks of moving to Florida, but it sure does make coming home more special. All family get togethers should involve the circle huddle. Around a table, a campfire, a piano, a game board…just put them in a circle and magic will follow.

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Also, sword fighting to balance out all that love.

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Evening kayaking with coffee…

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Followed by family hot tub time…

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Matchy matchy cousins.

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And my sister who has a very special place in Dash’s heart.

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I can’t wait to hear what my kids remember of these summers someday…

In the meantime, I’m storing so many joys and reminders of how I want to live my life. Summer will do that to you.

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Hello from Northern Michigan! Where the wifi is spotty but the summer bucket list potential is GOLD. We are on our way home from Traverse City where we spent the day exploring downtown while three children slowly crumbled into reminders of why traveling with kids is haaaaarrrrrd. But they are all sleeping in the back seat right now while I edit pictures of them being cute and making memories, so we are right back to that place where summer endorphins control the brain and packing everyone up in the car to drive two hours to a state landmark is not a ridiculous idea.

So, summer review so far:

We caught our toad (check).

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…held a baby chick (my dad has an incubator this year and six little baby chicks hatched right before we arrived).

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…caught butterflies in the butterfly house.

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…watched falling stars lying on our backs on the dock at night, blew through two bottles of bubbles, braided wildflowers into crowns and napped in the hammock on more than one occasion.

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…roasted so many marshmallows, we are all experts in achieving perfectly browned crisp-on-the-outside, melty-on-the-inside goodness.

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Dash loved the opportunity to climb inside a fire truck last weekend when the fire station here had a family day celebration.

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And our annual summer hit from the bucket list: pizza on the dock.

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We found out when we arrived in Michigan that my grandma was vacationing with my cousin in a nearby northern Michigan city, so we had the extra treat this year of another visit with her, this time in our favorite place. She loved the butterfly house…

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…and Dash loved giving her a lesson in Snapchat filters.

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Our Michigan adventures were perfectly timed this year with Gaylord’s Alpenfest, a festival celebrating the city’s Bavarian roots. Since we’re minimalists, we, of course, celebrated with very simple details and subtle enthusiasm.


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Not shown in photo: Gary’s socks-with-crocs.

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My cousin’s daughter Peyton is a year younger than Lainey, and we are so grateful that her family lets us enjoy so much of her while we are up here.

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Dash wore that hat the entire night. Even when it flew off on the fun slide, he grabbed it, put it right back on and asked, “Is it on the right way?” A kind gentleman who had a similar hat showed him how you pinch the indentation on the top of the hat to put it on so you always know it’s on the right way.

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I thought I missed this moment but was so glad when I went through my photos later to see that I had captured it. When Nella and Dash got off the rides, she’d put her arm on his back and lead him to the exit, saying, “Good job, Dash! You did it!” Dash usually fights to be the leader and his adventurous spirit often has him being the one to lead and protect, so it’s not often Nella has the opportunity to do this. You could tell she loved having that chance, and his rare moment of timidness allowed it.

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Lainey informed me at the end of the evening that the true Bavarian hairstyle is pinned up braids and that our go-big-or-go-home approach missed the mark.

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And for some reason, I thought putting real darts in Dash’s hands and saying “Go for it” was a good idea. Surprisingly, he did just fine.

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We are past “peak” on our summer now, winding in to the last month before we return to school. The free life-loving spirit of summer is still very much alive, but something shifts in the last weeks with the awareness that a month from now, our schedules and responsibilities will be driving the ship again. We’re storing the goodness and so very grateful for another season of memories.

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