A Tale of Two Vacationers


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Why yes. Yes I did just start this with a horrendously overused Dickens quote. But the title–it matched.

We’re talking vacation. Best in that time off, perfectly packed suitcases, planned adventures, and all these little dreams of sun and water and skipping across beaches without a care in the world is what we live for, right? Worst in that vacationing with kids might actually be harder than living with kids. Or as Brett so eloquently put it on the beach the other day as Dash flung sand across a 6-yard radius, Nella collapsed crying and we calculated how much time we had to scout out a family-friendly lunch spot before the kids’ low blood sugar demons emerged from their holes: “What about this trip is supposed to be relaxing?”

And I, the rainbow unicorn of the family, pointed out six things about the situation that are awesome because that’s what I’m annoyingly programmed to do: “But they’re making such great memories (1)! And it’s good for us to get away together (2). And the kids will sleep so great tonight (3)! Plus we’re teaching our kids to explore and enjoy their world (4). And Nella–you know these experiences are so good for her (5). And look at this sky, it’s gorgeous, this is so much fun–just ride the wave, Brett (6)! At which point, I’m certain he imagined a great white flinging himself on shore and dragging me out to sea.

The thing is, we are two completely different vacationers. Brett ‘s like—wait, what’s super chill and relaxed? Bob Marley? Half-conscious Bob Marley? Bob Marley passed out in bed with ear plugs? Yes that. Wait, Heidi’s in my kitchen and pointed out that I can’t say Bob Marley because people are going to think Brett’s “smoking reefers.”

“Maybe make a point to say that’s not why Brett’s so chill,” she suggests. “How about Brett’s Bob Marley minus the reefer?” But then Bob Marley’s not so relaxed then, is he? Let’s go with Enya. Brett is Enya. This is terrible, my analogy game is going to the dogs. Let’s just keep it simple: Brett is chill.

Me? I’m a bit more of an “AT DAWN, WE RISE!” kind of vacationer. I treat the places we visit like the people I meet: I want to know you. Not surface here’s-the-postcard-version-of-me, but your real story. What’s your history? Show me your colors, your secret coffee shops, the things you’re most proud of, the corners you keep hidden. You don’t get to know a city watching movies in a rented house. No! You get to know a city by packing up the car at dawn and driving to all the destinations—with the windows down and the wind in your hair.

I’m aware I made my vacation mode sound superior, so now I’ll give Brett’s some love to be fair: Imagine getting away from busy day-to-day life in search of peace only to be met with a busy day-to-day vacation. Plus everybody loves Bob Marley, so he totally has that.

This is the Dichotomy of Us, on vacation, in life. Early Riser marries Night Owl. Set Sail meets Anchor at the Dock. It is the death of us, it is the LIFE of us. When the chain of my Yin bike has broken because I pedaled too damn hard and fast, his Yang bike pulls up and I hop on. In case you were wondering, and since I’m a visual person–his Yang bike looks like this. Go ahead, click on it. Didn’t know biking could be so relaxing, did you? Brett would like to add that his bike also has a cooler and a big screen TV bungee-corded to the front.

“But then how are you going to see where you’re going?” I ask.
“It pops up when you stop at the park to rest,” he adds. Of course. Rest stops. I should have known.

A lengthy prologue and wayward digression from the whole point of this post–our spring break trip to Tampa.

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So how does one do a family vacation then when you mix a Sit, Stay, Sleep parent with a Go, See, Conquer one? The same way we do life–with frustration and exhaustion and do-overs but also humor and grace, meeting in the middle, and goodness, such a deepening love for the rough edges that are real life.

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Alligator reflection at Florida Aquarium. Yin and Yang, baby.

We’ve found a few things that work for us. I am a morning person and Brett loves to sleep in. On vacations, I don’t mind taking the kids out early on my own in the morning and giving Brett his quiet alone time. And we were fortunate on this trip to have my niece (my first baby love!) with us, so we did morning excursions on our own–finding the best breakfast gems hidden in the city (The Blind Tiger!), taking walks through the neighborhood (Seminole Heights, you sweet charming little chunk of earth!), scouting out the closest park.

Also, I think this is a good place to make a very important declaration. Ready? Here goes: Sweet baby Jesus, there is a doughnut in this world that will take you to other places. Unicorn places. Places that blur your vision and make you smile without knowing you’re smiling. Put Tampa Dough in your GPS and start driving there, no matter how many miles. Just drive. Order the creme brulee doughnut. Shut your eyes when you take your first bite. You will see God. Also the French Toast one is great and so is the maple bacon and okay the S’mores one too. Yes, I tried all four.

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This is what I love about traveling to places even just a little bit far away from home: my taste buds open up. I wake up a little bit more.

To new and unfamiliar….

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Magic that glows, Florida Aquarium

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But also to things I think I know…our comfortable familiar. I love viewing my family from the eyes of a tourist:

That big sister. She’s so caring. Aware. Look at her quietly take in her world. My, what a deep thinker she must be.

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So gentle and patient. An old soul, isn’t she?

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And the one with braids. An eager little learner.

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That wonder, that enthusiasm. I want that!

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Oh, and that little one.

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What a hoot. I bet he keeps his parents on their toes.
But look harder…some spirit that kid has got. My goodness, he’s going to make good use of that in the world, isn’t he?

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And would you look at that dad? He’s  got a story, I’m sure.

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Watch him talk to his kids. Now that’s a feeling. 

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Somewhere in the scope of even a short four-day vacation, I get lost and am found in the magic of the rough but also glittery edges.

The corners where We’re-Losing-It meet We’ve-Found-It.
Where I’m-Sorry kisses I-Forgive-You.
And I’m-Tired hugs I-Could-Do-This-All-Day.

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Home is a beautifully complex noun. And stepping out together with your family–anywhere–is a great way to both solidify and expand what home means.

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What I know to be true:

Home and Family are like Art: Exquisite and limitless and begging to be explored in new ways.

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Have kite, will travel. Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. 

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Tampa glitter:

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Oxford Exchange…a truly sensory experience for a meal. Shop, drop, eat, and roll.

One thing we’ve figured out: Pick one thing. An aquarium, a zoo, a park, a show, a museum. Just one big thing a day. Keep standards reasonable. Show up and be amused, entertained, inspired by the little things. Stay flexible. It also worked really well this trip to make lunch our big meal out and then stay in and cook dinner at the house we rented (first time using Airbnb–we found the sweetest deal on a family-friendly, character-filled home in a charming neighborhood). The kids did better eating out during the day, and the home environment at night was great for winding down and chill time…with Bob Marley.

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We all loved visiting the Florida Aquarium again…

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…and Glazer Children’s Museum. We stayed until closing.

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Note: I’ve become the worst mom for playing restaurant. I used to be really good at it, but now I feel compelled to say things like “Is this gluten free?” “Could you toast this a little darker?” “Are these tomatoes local?” “Is there MSG in this?” maybe because I never say those things in real life. It confuses the kids and they end up yanking the rubber sandwiches away from me and serving them to someone else. At which point I yell “ONLY TWO STARS IN MY REVIEW!” which only confuses them more.

I behaved like a proper and good mom at the indoor beach though.

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The kids’ favorites?

Most definitely the fountains next to the Children’s Museum…

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…neighborhood walks to Starbucks.

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…and spa night.

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And mama’s favorites?

Watching love.

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Dash finds dead lizards. Always. And talks to them.

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At dawn, we rise. At night, we retreat. And in the middle…we love.

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Happy Monday and Happy World Down Syndrome Day, a celebration of a journey that is really just another kind of vacation.

Discovered: Family Buried Treasure


This post is sponsored by Legacybox.Tracking Pixel

Before social media, before digital cameras, before Instagram feeds and Snapchat accounts and phones you can whip out and record at any given notice, there were memory-preservers who took pictures of first steps and family vacations on film and tapes and–if you were anything like my family–the favorite medium…slides.  A good Friday night in our home was snuggled up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a nice crowd–cousins, grandparents, friends, people from church–it didn’t really matter. We’d sit in the dark, staring at the screen my dad rigged up from a white sheet and some clothes pins, and wait for the next click of the slide tray. What picture would be next? Click: a baby. Click: an exotic landscape from a missions trip. Click: an oldie of my grandma pulled from the archives–immediately followed by oohs and ahhs or the occasional burst of laughter. Family slide shows were a regular thing when we got together…until gradually they disappeared. Slides boxed up and put in storage. Projectors sold or given away because “who needs this thing anyway?”

This is the part of the movie where the wind blows sand over the buried treasure, scene fades and then the screen says “30 Years Later,” reopening with a modern world setting: digital girl (that’s me) holds arms open for giant toolbox-looking thing that her dad hands over. “There’s hundreds of them,” her dad says. “It will take forever to go through.” Toolbox-looking thing happens to be the Holy Grail–at least one of them our grandpa left. It’s filled with hundreds of old slides, many of them with handwritten captions my grandma scrawled on the cardboard edge: Ricky’s WeddingJapan; Florida, 1976. And if anyone understands this is the Holy Grail, it’s me. I speak fluent Memories and Family Photographs.

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I know there are stories I’ve never been told buried in these slides, and I can’t wait to get my hands on them.

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That’s where Legacybox comes in. They preserve any format of outdated memories, from VHS tapes to Super 8 film, digitally–so you can relive them, again and again. Legacybox sends you a kit that you fill with any formats in your collection, then send it back pre-paid. The kit includes a guide, round-trip shipping, crush proof box, and personal concierge so you can talk to an expert any time.

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And kits are organized with barcode stickers and online order tracking to ensure your memories stay safe throughout the whole process.

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Because we weren’t completely digital when Lainey was born (we were still using old video tapes), we also had videos of Lainey’s first year on little tapes that we never took the time to convert. Meaning we’ve NEVER SEEN THE VIDEOS. So I threw those in our Legacybox with the old slides and sent all those memories on the trip of their lives.

And then I waited. Because Legacybox knows memories are precious, they sent me updates on where those babies were on their entire journey.

Christmas finally came last week. The doorbell rang, with thump. The box had returned. In it? All those memories in their original form plus a stack of DVDs and this little drive.

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I plugged it in, and a whole new world opened up. My shovel hit the buried treasure.

What did I discover?

Well, for starters, I discovered where I get my fashion sense. HELLO, PATCHWORK GRANDMA, I LOVE YOU!

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I also discovered that, while both my parents were raised conservatively in the Free Methodist Church where rules included no dancing, no face cards and no “hard play” on Sundays, secretly they were rule-breaking rebels. Fist bump, Mom & Dad.

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I realized I’ve passed some pretty significant gene power to my kids. Going through the new pictures, we exclaimed all three of the following: “Oh my God, that’s Lainey!” “Whoa! That looks like Nella!” and “Holy DASH!” Decide for yourself.

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And I got to see what it looked like, falling asleep on my dad’s chest when I was nothing but a little flour sack. It looked like heaven, by the way.

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I uncovered a gold mine–beautiful photos I’ve never seen before, connections to my family, story upon story of who we are. Some of the slides I sent in were my dad’s–pictures of my parents when they were young; my mom fully pregnant, holding her suitcase on the way to the hospital; my siblings and me all dressed up for Easter Sunday (chapped lips, chapped cheeks, crooked bangs). I framed several to display in our home including a giant enlargement of the most gorgeous photo of my grandparents’ Airstream trailer in the mountains–still waiting on that one.

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My mama! 

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And Lainey’s baby videos that came back? Be still my heart. We had our modern day family slide show the other night, huddled around my computer watching video after video of a baby girl and her new parents who had really annoying baby talk. There was actually a clip of Lainey in her crib, swatting at her baby mobile, and you can hear me behind the camera say, “Someday I’m going to watch this video and she’s going to be all grown up, and I’m going to want to reach through the screen and hold this baby.”

The kids have watched the videos every day since they arrived.

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Our memories, our photos–they help tell our beautiful stories and connect us to those we love.  So whether you’re uncovering hidden stories of the past buried in film and slides and tapes or insuring that your prints have digital copies that won’t get lost, Legacybox makes it easy for you to keep life breathing through those memories.

And they’re giving the first 100 readers, who use the code KELLE, 40% off their orders today. Click here for details.

Enjoying: Spring Foreplay


I stumbled upon an old post I wrote exactly five years ago when someone tweeted it for spring the other day. Stirred up some springish goodness, so here. An excerpt:

It feels like Spring here. Like Warm and Cool have exchanged vows in a beautiful blue-skied ceremony and have brought forth a love child who dwells right here, right now. She is splendid, this love child, and she brings with her breezes that send our curtains fluttering and call the babies outside.

And since most of the country still has a snowy hump to summit before surveying blue skies and blooming crocus, I will bring you Spring. I’m a good sharer, so you can have some of ours.

I remember two main times in my life when I think of Spring. One was about seven years old. I remember our neighborhood, the kids who thought 55 degrees meant shorts and jelly shoes and the adults who washed their cars in their driveway when you could still see your breath. I remember picking out Easter dresses, new white tights and black patent leather shoes I’d lose a week later.

The other memories are much clearer as it was more recent. I lived with my grandparents when I attended college. In a small blue house on Dorothy Lane in a town known for two things–its Free Methodist church and its Free Methodist college. The juxtaposition of a young girl trying to find her place in the world living with her eighty-some-year-old grandparents very secure with theirs was interesting and made for a very enlightening, nostalgic and sculpting-of-the-soul experience. Regardless, I’ll never forget a Spring Arbor, Michigan Spring. How the amaryllis my dad gave my grandma every Christmas finally bloomed and how my grandma would call him up to tell him. How snow melting off the deck swing meant it was time to tidy up, pull the grill out, place pads on outdoor chairs. I remember bright yellow forsythia blooms were the first to show their colors against the gray leftovers of winter and how they signaled yard work and longer walks with Koko, the one-eyed cocker spaniel. Spring meant a good cleaning–the smell of Barkeeper’s Friend, a glossy finish on the gold linoleum, a switch-out of grandkids’ pictures in frames. Spring meant I’d attempt to clean all the crap that had multiplied over winter in the back seat of my teal Ford Escort wagon with the duct-taped fender, a.k.a. “The Staysh”, because it was the one thing I owned and cleaning it gave me a sense of control even though it didn’t really matter if it was clean or not.

And now, I merge the past with the present in my love of Spring. I plan my girls’ Easter dresses, search out some good jelly shoes, and slip a can of Barkeeper’s Friend in my grocery cart…for old time’s sake.

Insert spring goodness I was enjoying five years ago. Which brings me to a few things: What did I do with those clogs? I miss my bike. I need to bake something. Easter gloves are everything. BABY NELLA!

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These seasonal mood cycles are predictable now. I could write that same paragraph today, inspired by fluttering curtains, Easter dress dreams and memories of fresh mopped linoleum floors. Pastel seersucker is on its way, and spring cleaning is in the works. In the meantime, we’ve been enjoying…

Beach dates with our pals.
We go right from the school parking lot to the nearest sand and stay until dinner time. And we say “Let’s do this more often” while we watch little footprints get washed away.

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A quick trip to the windy city
…to be pleasantly welcomed by sunshine and bearable temps.

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These little birds though.

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Valentine breakfast.
You should know I scraped off about 7 weird-shaped blobs before scoring with these perfect hearts.

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New spring chalk.

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His pleas to be in the driver’s seat.
…in the car, in life.

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Watching Nella run to Gary to ask him to play basketball because he did it once before and that’s all it takes to seal a memory and earn a reputation.

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Tiny teenagers.

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Pet store excursions.
We go a lot. To watch the dogs get haircuts, slip our fingers through cage slats to pet the kittens and to pick out the prettiest fish.

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Driveways covered with toys.

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Chocolate malt and cheese fry dates.
and glimpses of sister admiration.

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Picking the park less traveled so we could have it to ourselves.

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Toddlers who help with spring cleaning.

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Another day, clean slates, fresh, new…possibility.

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Let’s go in like a lion next week and then smooth it out with an even-tempered but highly productive lamb that bleats a happy chorus all through spring.