May 27, 2016

How to Plan a Fun, Successful Family Vacation (Yes, Really)

A few years ago, our family took a road trip up north, from our home near Battle Creek, Michigan (Cereal Capital of the World, where the air sometimes smells like Fruit Loops), to Mackinac Island and into our state's Upper Peninsula.

This trip was A Big Deal. We planned it and financed it and looked forward to it for a long time. I wanted it to be a source of sweet memories we would all cherish for years to come. I didn't want it to end up being the punchline to a bad joke or something that looked like a spin-off of a Chevy Chase movie.

First up, you need to know that I prayed a lot for this vacation. But beyond that, here are some other things I did that you might want to do yourself if A Big Deal Trip is in your family's near or not-so-near future.

1. Figure out why you want to take this vacation in the first place. I know--I know!--it sounds all philosophical and impractical and irrelevant, but please hang with me here. Knowing why you're doing this in the first place will help you focus while you're working the details. It will also greatly help your odds of ending up with a trip everyone assesses as "successful." (Okay, fine, a trip at least 75% of your participants assess as "successful." Let's not get crazy here.)

Are you taking this vacation because there are distant friends and relatives you need to see? That's a valid reason to go, but it will make for a different kind of trip than one that is, say, for pure relaxation and pleasure. Sometimes, there are things more important than relaxation and pleasure, and feeding relationships can be one of them. We took a trip like this a few years ago. It was not one I particularly looked forward to taking, but wow, was it good to have taken.

On the other hand, we had one overriding reason for our up-north trip: to spend time together. The older my girls get, the rarer this is. Just being together, in the same spaces, doing the same things, was goal #1. Having that objective in front of us before and during the trip helped keep the main thing the main thing.

On the bluffs overlooking Fayette State Park.

2. Understand and accept one crucial fact. One of my favorite writers--Nicole L.V. Mullis, a weekly columnist for our local newspaper--put it brutally but brilliantly. "Mothers do not go on vacation...they facilitate vacation for the rest of their family." 

Now, mama, don't get all worked up on me. The trip you are planning should be enjoyable for you! It should be something that feeds your soul in some nourishing way. It should, ideally, not be something you dread or merely survive. But thinking you will be "on vacation" sets up a picture of long naps, peaceful days, meals that appear out of nowhere, and general affection and amiability among the people who normally dwell in your house. And maybe that's how it will turn out. If it does, for heaven's sake, write your own blog post and share it with me. But in the "hope deferred makes the heart sick" school of vacation planning, I think that if you frame what you're doing as "facilitating vacation" for the rest of your family rather than "going on vacation" yourself, it results in a more realistic longing where that trip is concerned. And as everyone knows, "a longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul."

3. Determine the vacation personalities of the people in your family. We have friends who jam-pack vacations from sun-up to sun-down. They do every available activity, see every existing landmark and tourist attraction, take every tour, and generally pack as much into their get-aways as humanly possible. The entire family loves and wants this, so they're all happy doing it.

My little foursome, on the other hand, takes more of the slug approach to vacations. We want to do as little as possible. Cramming our Big Deal Trip with every option was never going to make us happy. So we did considerably less on that trip than most families would consider "fun." But we all loved and wanted that, and so we were all happy doing it--or not doing, as the case may be. If you have mixed-breed vacationers in your crew, you'll need to find... balance. (You knew that was coming, right?) Maybe cram one day full, then follow it with another when the most anyone plans to do is finish an entire game of Yahtzee. Maybe you'll have to sometimes divide and conquer: let the "let's take this tour...and that one, too!" types head out while your "just point me to the nearest beach chair" sorts stay put. 

4. Decide what your "no matter what" mindset for the trip will be. Ahead of our departure, I informed my husband and daughters, "We WILL have fun on this trip. We. WILL." I said this mostly for my benefit, because I am a reactionary nut who freaks out about everything. I needed to go on the record and decide in advance that NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENED, we WOULD enjoy the trip. If we got a flat tire, or we all came down with the stomach flu, or it was cold and rainy for a week straight, we WOULD have a good time. 

This is where our main goal for the trip was crucial (see #1). Because our primary intent was to spend time together, for crying out loud, I figured that as long as that was happening, we would be achieving our goal. I wasn't crazy to have "together" happen on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck or taking turns at the toilet courtesy of family share-plan intestinal distress. But I was determined--and I roped my family into being similarly determined--not to let anything short of death ruin our trip. (Please, God, hear our death.) For the record, the tires were fine, our stomachs were fine, and the weather was more than fine. (See "prayed a lot" at the beginning of this post.)

5. Plan a buffer day at the end. We hit the road for our trip on a Saturday and returned home on a Saturday. But we still told people we were "on vacation" through that last Sunday. Knowing we'd have a day at home to unpack, do laundry, check emails, sort through the snail mail, etc., helped me, in particular, relax and enjoy time not doing those things. I know it can be tricky to work a day like this in, and lots of families are fine with crashing right back into normal life straight from the car. We, however, are not that family. A reentry day works for us.

I'm deeply grateful our trip was everything we wanted it to be. All of us have said many times that we want to do it again. With a rising high school senior living in our house, I don't know if it will happen. But the memories of the trip we did take? So sweet to my soul.

The view from beneath Michigan's "Mighty Mac"--
the Mackinac Bridge, connecting our state's Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

Bonus tip that's probably not applicable to you but you never know...

6. Don't forget Grandma's heirloom quilt at the hotel. My husband's grandma made quilts for all her grandchildren when they graduated high school. We used ours on our marital bed until the quilt faded from sunlight and we became married enough to want a bigger bed. Thus, Grandma's quilt became a secondary bedding item. We took it along on our trip for picnics and beaches and, at the end, to add extra cushioning under the fitted sheet on a pull-out sofa with a typically lumpy mattress. Too bad I forgot we'd put it there when we packed up, because we got home sans heirloom. Some tricky mental retracing of our steps solved the mystery of where we'd left it, but the hotel tacked on another mystery and could not find it. Not on the bed, not in the room, not in the laundry. I wept and wailed and managed to find a picture of the thing, which I emailed to every hotel in Mackinac City since they all used a central laundry service. Six or so hopeless weeks later, I got a call from the manager of the hotel we'd stayed at. Grandma's quilt had been found, thanks to my picture and some retracing of its journey to and from another hotel. A hefty UPS bill later, and it was safely home. I'm not sure if there's any point to this that will apply to your vacation, but tuck it away just in case. I mean, tuck away the idea...not some heirloom object you'd hate to leave behind. 

What's your #1 secret to family-vacation success?
Don't keep it to yourself...share it in a comment or over on Facebook!

Past posts that might have something to do with this one:

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.**

May 14, 2016

10 Children's Books That Don't Drive Me Crazy

(Preliminary ramblings: if you've been around Guilty Chocoholic Mama for awhile: 1)thank you! and 2)you may be thinking this post looks familiar. It's kind of a long story (short version: don't try to blog at 4 a.m.), but I was working on updating and expanding this list for another site and inadvertently got rid of the original post, at least as far as Blogger is concerned. So this IS the original post, with five books added on. I remain grateful as always to my friend Lisa the Syncopated Mama for providing the inspiration for this round-up with her 5 After 5 party on favorite children's books.) 

Maybe it's just me (it would hardly be the first time), but have you ever read a children's book and thought, "HOW did this get published? I write better stuff on my grocery list!"

I don't doubt for a second that writing a children's book is much, much harder than it looks. And the brilliant best-seller that I, personally, have authored is...? Oh, right, I don't have one. But I do find some literary options for the younger set to be a little challenging where my sanity and patience are concerned. (Admittedly, both of those are in short supply on a good day, but still...)

On the other hand, there are some truly inspired options out there...the kinds of books you, as the parent, hope your kids will choose when story time rolls around.

1. Falling for Rapunzel (Leah Wilcox). Thank goodness I worked that elementary-school book fair back in the day, because that's where I discovered this hilarious, charming book. Poor Rapunzel is a little too far away from her would-be rescuer/prince to hear him properly, which is how she comes to throw all manner of things--pancake batter, underwear, a pig--out the tower window instead of her actual famed long tresses. In the category, "Why Couldn't I Come Up With Something This Clever?" 

2. Please Is a Good Word to Say (Barbara Joosse). Mover over, Emily Post: this is the most fabulous manners lesson ever. After we stumbled on it at our library I promptly bought a copy for our personal library, plus extras to give as gifts. I read it to my daughter's class during March is Reading Month one year, and the teacher immediately got it for her classroom. My teenager read it to her work-study preschool class last week, and the lead teacher said she had to have it, too. Get your hands on a copy any way you can, because this is the most fun you can possibly have with please and thank-you, among other niceties. 

3. Today I Feel Silly (Jamie Lee Curtis). I love this book's message: that "happy" is not the only legitimate feeling. I try to teach my girls a lesson I'm constantly learning myself--that we cannot always act how we feel. And there is no doubt some moods are caused by things that cannot be ignored or left alone. But I also love the grace and freedom of this line from the book, in particular: "I'd rather feel silly, excited or glad, than cranky or grumpy, discouraged or sad. But moods are just something that happen each day. Whatever I'm feeling inside is okay."

4. Miss Fannie's Hat (Jan Karon). Miss Fannie loves her hats. Particularly one very special chapeau. What to do, then, when the the pastor of her church asks Miss Fannie to donate a hat to the fundraising auction? My love for this book is entirely linked to my love for my mom...our family's very own hat lady. When I discovered this book early one spring, I knew exactly what my mom's Mother's Day gift would be that year.

5. The Giving Tree (Shel Silverstein). Genius. Brilliant. A classic for the ages, for all ages.

6. Pasture Bedtime (A Cautionary Tale) (Jenny H. Lyman). The minute I read this adorably punny story about a little horse who does not--DOES NOT, thank you very much--want to go to bed, it became my new favorite children's book. That you can get matching pajamas from parent company Lazy One just sweetens the deal.

7. Sheep in a Jeep (Nancy Shaw). When my niece and nephew get to my parents' house for a sleepover with Grammie and Grampy, this is the book they both want.

8. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst). Another classic, and for good reason: hasn't everyone had a day like this? The fact that there's a book about it encourages kids (and their moms) that they're not alone when they're having one.

9. Anything by Sandra Boynton. Her stories are whimsical, her illustrations are charming, and her board books are durable enough to withstand hours of chewing by your resident teether. And, really, how can you go wrong with an author whose greeting on her website is as follows: "Here at last responding to a nearly deafening universal plea...well not exactly a nearly deafening universal plea it was more like some polite whining from 3 or 4 people who probably should be spending a lot more time the Official Boynton Website. You are visitor number Bizzillion and then some."

10. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. Yes, it's technically a Christmas book. But it's a gift in any season.

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Bonus book that you can't buy very easily but might be able to find at your library or dig up in a garage sale: My Icky Picky Sister (Beth Hazel and Dr. Jerome C. Harste). "She rolled her eyes, she crossed her arms, she said she didn't like it." Not that we have any real-life association with this book in my double-daughtered house. 

Alright, let's have it: what children's books make your cut? Please share it in a comment here or over on Facebook. Plus, if you've got older kids, check out this list of literary classics, "re-imagined" for the tween/teen crowd. One of my personal favorites? "Oh The Places You Won't Go In That Outfit."

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.**

May 11, 2016

On That Time in the Checkout Lane When I Was Totally Humiliated

If you are: 1)trying to decide how you feel about mom blogs; 2)a man; or 3)at all squeamish about references to certain realities of female life such as "bras," you might want to skip this post.

If you're still with me, you can find the story of my humiliation and what you can learn from it via the safety of your own home and the security of your intact dignity at Her View From Home right now.

Click on'll make you feel better about your life. Then, if you've got an embarrassing moment from your own files, come back here and share it. That'll make me feel better about mine. Thank you for that.

**This post may have been shared at these blog bashes.**