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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!

Travel Memory Suitcase


A fun little travel project tonight:

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, and I finally aligned my brain’s “I’m gonna…” with my efforts.

With excitement brewing for some late summer Michigan adventures, we have good incentive to get this suitcase project done. I’ve always loved the idea of kids having a special suitcase of their own for trips to grandparents’ house or family vacations, and I’m all over any project that involves preserving memories.

1: I found a nice vintage hardtop suitcase on Etsy (try eBay too–happened to find a better deal on Etsy this time).

2: I went to and searched for postcards from every city in which my kids have had travel adventures. I was so pleased with their selection of cities and the collection of postcards for each, especially the retro styles. Postcards averaged around $1 a piece, and they arrived within a few days.

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3. Did a little trial and error here. The postcards were too thick to adhere nicely to the curves of the suitcase. I had the brilliant idea of scanning all of them and printing them on sticker paper, adhering them to the suitcase like travel labels and then Mod Podge’ing over them (to weatherproof it). I ended up having to brush Mod Podge underneath the labels as well as on top of them to keep them from bubbling. So final advice: Scan postcards and print on regular bright white photo quality paper. Use matte Mod Podge to adhere them to the suitcase, and brush the Mod Podge on top to seal them.

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We added some polaroid-like prints of photos from our travels and placed each near its postcard counterpart. We covered both sides of our suitcase, leaving spaces to add more adventures as we travel.

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This little suitcase makes me smile.

So did our Father’s Day, spent all day on the beach with friends.

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Blue skies to you and you and you.

A Travel Ramble

The first rule of travel, especially when kids are involved, is that you cannot come home from a continental jaunt without stories.  I’m not just talking adventurous oh-the-things-we-saw kind of stories.  Those are, of course, inevitable.  I’m talking funny stories–the ones you’re not thrilled about as they’re happening but rather come to appreciate them later for their humor, their memories and their ability to keep it real–as if we need more of that around here.  Let’s begin by stating some facts.  We’re not exactly savvy travelers, even though before trips I envision our family sauntering through airports in chic travel attire and wheeling beautiful luggage behind us.  “Oh, what’s that, TSA agent?  You need my identification?  Why, of course, let me just pull out my passport from this vintage Italian leather passport clutch.”

No, we are the modern day Griswolds.  We tote broken, beat-up suitcases, we drag blankets, we take our shoes off for security only to be mortified by the state of our socks underneath.  We walk through terminals, oblivious to the fact that people are chasing us down, alerting us that we dropped a bottle, a boarding pass, a baby shoe and half a bag of Doritos three gates back.  Phone chargers dangle from our carry-on pockets and zippers never fail to break as we’re frantically trying to shove clothes into our suitcases, shifting the balance to avoid overweight luggage charges.  This will change as “Become cool savvy traveler and purchase fabulous luggage” just moved up several notches on the bucket list. However, I can say our kids are very good on flights, and we are proud to flaunt that fact given it’s about the only thing we have going for us when we travel.  They are ridiculously good–quiet, calm and happy for hours on end.  I’m so proud of them. 

So stories…

Well, the best I have is that the airport escalator almost pulled my pants off when we arrived in San Diego.  And I realize that “almost” completely robs this story’s “story-ness” because–my, what a tale I’d have to tell if it really happened.  But, for a moment I was sure it was going to as my hands were too full to hoist my very draggy pant legs up only three stairs away from the pants-eating edge of the down escalator.  I balanced my kid and my bags while I strategized my jump, all the while telling myself,  “You are about to lose your pants…in an airport full of people.”   But it didn’t happen, so moving on.

I will share images and thoughts from Everybody Plays on Monday.  San Diego’s Fox 5 News did a great story on the event which you can view here.  It was wonderful to meet so many families with children of all abilities and unique things that make them beautiful.  I am inspired and motivated by the events of this week, and I can’t wait to share more.

Yesterday, after a few days of fulfilling work, Brett and the girls and I explored the city a bit, checking off only a couple stops on our must-see list but completely enjoying a relaxing end to our visit.  We walked the Ocean Beach Pier in the morning, stopping to watch the surfers and take in the view that is so different from our own beach–bigger waves, denser sand and a backdrop of breathtaking hills.





We continued on to La Jolla where Brett’s built-in Mexican Restaurant GPS directed him to Jose’s on Prospect where we sat under open windows, ate fat burritos and talked about future trips we’ll take someday.




Brett taught Nella this catchy dance where you put your fingers in the air and say “Ooo, ooo, ooo.” It’s her go-to trick for making us laugh.


We walked up and down streets, stopping for cappuccino and gelato, admiring art, sampling lotions in soap shops, taking pictures, and watching our girls be silly and inquisitive and entertained by new sights.  This is my favorite way of traveling–making agendas in the morning but allowing lots of cushion for change of plans, staying in one place and leisurely drinking up the hidden gems of a city.





La Jolla was perfect for hidden gems.  Like an impromptu rendevous with new friends (I met Jora through Instagram, and her family is just lovely)…



…and some seal watching at a rocky cove.


And then it happened–the unicorn moment. I walked the girls down to the beach to get a little closer to the cliff where the seals were lounging.  We were listening to them bark and watching from a distance while they rolled around the edge of the cliff when a boy yelled, “MOM!  A seal!  A seal!” as he bolted from the water.  A seal flopped right up on the beach and slowly waddled toward us and stopped (okay, I’m getting comments that it’s a sea lion). Yes, holy shellacked gourd, sweet mother of cornucopia, freaking corn husk garland!




Our day was highlighted last night with a return to The Station Tavern where friends from the week’s events gathered at picnic tables under strands of twinkly lights and enjoyed burgers and beer and good conversation–a perfect end to our stay.


We are home, feeling fulfilled and grateful to visit new places and meet new people. Have a wonderful weekend. I have a couple broken suitcases to attend to.