Bucket List Adventures Imperfectly Done

Grand Ole Opry NashvilleMy family visited Nashville for the first time last week. We spent five days of our spring break in the city and checked off multiple bucket list goals (including seeing Nashville itself). We had a great time that promoted family bonding, even though we could have done better at making the most of it.

Which is how it often goes. There’s life as we envision it and life as it actually happens. I’m getting better at accepting imperfection and embracing the benefits that come with the altered version. Here is how that played out for us last week:

The good

  • we all enjoyed the Country Music Hall of Fame – a bucket list tour of sorts for our country-music-loving eldest daughter. We were able to take our time (about two hours-ish) and were duly impressed. It was eye-opening to see the breadth of musical styles encompassed by the term “country music.”
  • we ate some incredible food. With a rented condo, we planned on only eating out for lunch. We made it to two well-known Nashville eateries: Jack’s BBQ and Arnold’s Country Kitchen. At Jack’s we people-watched out the large second-story windows overlooking Broadway. Arnold’s, with its communal seating and friendly busboy had a down-South homey feel.
  • we spent tons of time outdoors. The weather was amazing – in the upper 70′s/lower 80′s every day and sunny. Thankfully most of our itinerary involved the outdoors. We spent one day touring Belle Meade Plantation and then the Cheekwood Botanical Garden. A second day found us out on a Nashville disc golf course helping DH check another one off his list. And we walked around the campus of Vanderbilt University. After the horrid winter we had, the warmth and sunshine were so, so appreciated.
  • we relaxed. A lot. Planning dinners at our condo meant we spent most evenings just chilling – either playing games or watching TV. That downtime did us all some good. We arrived home at the end of the week feeling pretty relaxed and replenished.

The disappointing

  • we didn’t hear much music. While downtown we ate at Jack’s, not a venue with live music. We stopped in at one of the honky tonks, but with three kids in tow and no meal to eat, it felt uncomfortable. The upshot? DH and I will return to Nashville one day without kids and spend a lot more time taking in the music. Disappointing, but not a vacation wrecker.
  • we didn’t experience as much regional food. I had been hoping to try one of the hot fried chicken restaurants. But the way we planned our days left us miles and miles from one at lunchtime. Twice we just grabbed the nearest food we could find (including a food court at the outlet mall before touring Gaylord Opryland Resort). Bummer for us, since we all would have liked to have eaten better. Under the circumstances there was not much we could have done about it though. And I don’t regret the dinners at the condo for the downtime they provided.

I share this because the reality of any bucket list adventure is that it will not turn out one hundred percent according to plan. At the time, our family enjoyed ourselves so much, we didn’t particularly notice what was missing. It wasn’t until we got home and recapped the trip that we noticed the lapses. So overall it was a success. And that’s the point, right? It’s not so much about getting everything perfect as it is to be present to what you are doing and take joy in that. Plus, if a place or experience is that good, what’s not to like about finding a reason to do it over again?

When have you let go of “perfect” in order to enjoy an adventure as it happened?

Help for Spring Break, Spring Cleaning & More: March/April Articles

The kids are bickering, the house is a mess, and you’re just wishing you could get away from it all. Does that sound like your family’s spring break? No? Maybe yours goes more like this: the kids are bickering, your car/hotel room/suitcase is a mess, and you’re just wishing you could get away from it all.

Spring TipsParenting and its challenges has no end. There is no getting away from the needs of children and the pressures of running a household. But there are ways to keep yourself in the midst of the joy more often. There are solutions that help you get away from the stress to regroup and refuel – together. I’m thankful as a journalist that I can take some of these common problems and run them by experts and fellow moms for interesting, helpful and doable solutions. In the March and April issues of parenting magazines in the U.S. and beyond, I have articles that offer great insight and tips on these very problems. I hope you’ll read them for yourself so that you can enjoy your family – both during spring break and in the months to come.

Spring Break & Having Family AdventuresFlagler Parent

Planning a Spring Break that Doesn’t Break You, Calgary’s Child

Have You Ever: An Invitation to Adventure, Flagler Parent

Spring Refreshers & Why Kids Should Help with The Chores

31 Refreshers That Take 15 Minutes or Less, Okanagan Child

Chores Make the Grade, Houston Family

Sibling Spats

A Special Solution to Sibling Strife, Atlanta Parent

Public Restroom Comic

Parent-Child Relationships

Mother & Daughter, Shoulder to Shoulder, Family Australia Magazine

Humor for Moms of Preschoolers

The Perils of Public Restrooms with Preschoolers, The Village Family Magazine

Photo credit: Tulip Era in the Ottoman Empire… by Kivanc Nis on Flickr via CC License.

Bucket Lists & Delayed Gratification

I share in my Op-Ed published in today’s LA Times why I think crowdfunding is not the way to go when it comes to underwriting your bucket list adventures. Not that I’m against crowdfunding. It has a great history and serves a purpose.

One factor I didn’t mention that I think is at play in the rise of “narcissistic” fundraising is the degrading of our ability to delay gratification. The internet and other technologies have trained us to expect everything in an instant. But instant doesn’t work for bucket lists. In fact, instant disregards the very nature of a bucket list: we haven’t yet done something that we look forward to one day. It’s important enough, meaningful enough for us to put on a list and wait for it (or move slowly toward it, depending on your perspective).

I’ll admit that there have been multiple occasions where I have satisfied a life dream before even putting it on my list because I realized how much I had been longing to do or see that very thing at the moment it presented itself. And while those have been amazing experiences, the ones that would have otherwise been less significant but were long-awaited brought me more satisfaction.

My point? Be willing to wait on your life goals until you have saved up for them. The waiting can be an experience itself where you learn more and grow into someone who is better prepared to make the most of that life goal. I truly want to travel to Tuscany one day. It’s at the very top of my list. But in the meantime, I have a much longer list of things I will do to prepare for that day – like research where I’ll stay and what I’ll do. By the time I can afford it, I will be so excited and ready.

If you stopped by here after reading that Op-Ed, welcome. I hope you’ll check out my list of bucket list resources, which includes digital tools for writing and tracking your bucket list. There are some pretty cool ones out there that integrate social media (yes, you can engage with others about your list – I would just say refrain from asking them to fund it).

And if you haven’t already made a bucket list, particularly if you want to make one for your family that contains ideas of what you want to do before your kids are grown, check out my guidebook, Family Bucket Lists. I offer questions to help you make a more motivating, meaningful list than what you’d think of off the top of your head (if your list right now only involves travel, you are missing some amazing, easily reached goals). It is available in paperback and on every digital platform. You can download it now and be creating your list today or working through questions this weekend during family time.


Photo credit: Crossing of a 3rd item on the list by Kyle Clements
on Flickr via CC License

One Family’s Laid-Back Approach to Youth Sports (& How it Turned Out)


Playing Club Soccer, Age 9

I went to a parent meeting for the high school girls’ soccer team this weekend. I paid for uniforms, “met” the coaches, and learned what it will mean for my eldest to play for her school.

But I hadn’t always assumed that day would come. In fact, for the last week during tryouts I sweated decisions we made about sports for our kids.

Because for the past 7 or 8 years I have pushed back against the industry that is club sports and that I believe too often manipulates parents’ fears for the financial gain of its operators. I campaigned for a more laid back approach to childhood where kids aren’t “molded” into superstars through costly channels. And I was about to eat my words… Or not.

Yes, our daughter made the team. Though she didn’t get a top-tier slot, we’re pleased with the outcome relative to what she has put into soccer thus far. I thought this might be a good time to share a little bit about our non-intensive sports experiment. Here’s a recap of what we did and did not do.

We didn’t:

  • give in to the pressure of a club coach who scouted our daughter on the soccer field in second grade and promised us that she wouldn’t make the high school team if she didn’t sign up for club level that year. His blatant play on our fears was what opened my eyes and set me off on my course of pressing back against the cultural establishments that raise the bar so high at great expense to players and their parents.
  • avoid club sports altogether. My daughter was intimidated by the intensity of club play as a second grader. But by fourth grade she wanted to give it a shot. And a less expensive club option came up. So she joined a team for two seasons. And then played on her junior high basketball team and ran track. Ultimately she found another soccer team to play on concurrent with her school sports.
  • focus on playing year round – for any of our three girls playing soccer. Even though all three have been standouts on the field and could advance with continuous training, none of us appreciated the lack of downtime. The cost of burnout outweighed the benefits in my mind. Some kids may be able to handle it (although research indicates their bodies may not). Mine preferred a break. So we have always taken breaks from everything – sports and other extracurriculars.
  • pressure our kids to excel. Although I won’t say I have never been tempted. When your child is scouted by a club coach or praised for their abilities, it’s easy to want to see them develop more and go further. Which can make a parent pushy. I have learned to temper my desire to see them succeed and go beyond the ordinary with a desire to honor their wishes. While I don’t always execute it well, I try to be encouraging and suggest options without ever forcing it.

We did:

  • encourage sports and being active. Whatever our girls have shown an interest in (within reason), we have signed them up for. And when they’ve tended toward coach potato behavior, we have guided them back into finding clubs and sports to join.
  • fuss at our kids to practice at home and work on the skills being taught by coaches. Only so much happens in a big group of kids during an hour or so practice. Every coach has asked for short practice sessions at home. We have always tried to have our kids respect that request. It hasn’t always worked out, but the aim is there.
  • relish time together as a family. When my kids weren’t busy we made sure that we were doing things as a family – often at home. We played games, did housework, and just hung out together. And we also kept the in-season schedules simple enough that most of the time we could be at games together to cheer on whoever was playing. Obviously a high school sports schedule is going to change that some.

I’m not saying that our decision not to follow the intense year-round club avenue is the best for everyone. I’m not going to say our choices got her on the team or even that she’ll play on a high school team beyond her freshman year (although, after the parent meeting, I’m hopeful). I’m also not in a place to say that club level play would have guaranteed anything either. I do realize our high school’s team benefits from excellent players trained through club involvement – I just wish for all of our sakes the stakes weren’t so high and invoked at such a young age.

What I will say is that none of us regret our decisions about sports. Our schedule has generally been stress-free because of our choices.  I can count on one hand the number of times my girls ate a meal in the car between events. Plus we haven’t shelled out thousands of dollars to “invest” in our kids’ sports careers. We also never made a decision for our kids based on fears for their future. We prayed for wisdom to make sound choices. We trusted God to go before them and make a way. We put family above the individual.

Looking back and considering where we are today, I’d say on many metrics, our experiment was a success.


Photo credit: Stewart Seman


Why You Need to Rethink Social Media This Spring Break

We’re a connected society. Ellen DeGeneres’s record-breaking Oscars Twitter selfie is just one proof. We text, tweet, pin and post our way through our days. We browse, troll and read too. It keeps us in touch and informed. We can be supportive and get support. But there comes a time when social media usage can do more harm than good. And that’s when we are on a break or vacation, in particular, Spring Break.

no cell phonesHere are two reasons why you may want to unplug from online connectivity for that week (which you are probably planning for right now):

- Comparison kills contentment. It doesn’t matter if you’re off on that much-awaited trip to your favorite destination. If you glimpse FaceBook posts from a friend’s getaway that is just as nice or nicer than yours, you may experience a let-down. Even more so if your break is a humdrum one to begin with or your plans have gone awry. In fact, no matter what you plan to do during your time off, hopping on social media may bring you down. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that subjects felt a greater decline in at-the-moment mood and overall life satisfaction the more they checked in on FaceBook. Social comparison plays a big part in that decline. Whether you will be home or away, relaxing or jet-setting, cut your risk of succumbing to the comparison trap by avoiding the urge to network online.

- Playing for an audience is distracting. Admit it, it’s hard to focus on the task at hand if you’re constantly wondering how it will play on social media. Should I tweet a photo of this meal? Update my status from this museum? These thoughts, conscious or unconscious, about how we will appear to others based on how we are spending our vacation can pull us away from engaging fully where we are at. Tell yourself you can review photos and post updates from your time off after the fact. Giving yourself the freedom to disengage from the expectations of the invisible social media audience allows you to satisfy the people right in front of you, especially yourself.

It might be hard to do – staying off of your favorite sites for multiple days. But I think you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Give your whole family the best chance to thoroughly enjoy all that you have planned (or unplanned) for your vacation. By setting up that expectation now, you can make the most of your time in advance (including notifying followers that you will be checking out for a week). And you can plan for no-pressure break that doesn’t have to measure up or appeal to anyone but you and your family.

Does the idea of a week off from social media relieve you or scare you? Have you ever taken time off from your online networks? If so, how did that go? I hope you’ll stop and share your thoughts.



One Way to Accomplish More in Your Life

Bucket lists are funny things. We are all proud to have one (in our heads). We love to chime at the mention of a cool exploit that we envision ourselves completing one day (and hence would include on our theoretical list). We like to tell the stories of things we have done and adventures we have taken (a long time ago). But for most of us, that’s where it ends. All talk, no action. Which is a shame.

The point being, most of us don’t believe it is actually possible to realize our life lists. <Tweet this>

Which is an even greater shame, because we receive invitations to make a life goal a reality every week. Those invitations include offers that are local and affordable. And we let them slip by.

I’m talking about email offers sent by deal-aggregators such as Groupon, LivingSocial, or Amazon Local. These companies do an amazing job pulling together cut rates for events, classes and adventures that could easily fulfill anyone’s bucket list, without breaking the bank.

In just one email today I found offers for:

  • a Brazilian cooking class
  • tickets for a Lionel Richie & CeeLo Green concert
  • a 5K Obstacle Race
  • a public speaking seminar

all of which cost under $40 apiece.

The breadth of the offers is inspiring. These companies understand how to appeal to an audience with varied interests. There is no reason you couldn’t find a deal to match something on your bucket list within a month’s time. A deal that takes place within driving distance of your home. That costs the equivalent of a night out or less.

It is possible to begin realizing your long-held aspirations right now. You just need to stop talking and start paying attention to those deals in your inbox. Take the first step to pursue that idea you’ve been considering for a while. It may be a leap into your next adventure.

I assure you that you will not regret clicking on that bucket list deal. You’ll only regret that you hadn’t done it sooner.

In the comments tell us: Have you ever bought an offer through a deal aggregator? What did it enable you to do that you may have skipped otherwise? If you haven’t found a deal before, what will you be looking for as you scan your inbox in the next month?

Photo credit: Rugged Maniac 2013 by Jason Meredith on Flickr via CC License


Encouraging Your Spouse’s Dreams, Taming Sibling Rivalry, & More: February Articles

I love my job! As a parenting journalist I have the opportunity to interview fascinating people about topics I want to learn more on (and often ask them for solutions to problems I face). And I get to share tips and ideas from my own life, along with an opinion or two. Every month parents across North America are reading my articles in regional publications. Since you won’t come across most of those in your hometown, I try to round up links to a few for you to enjoy. This month is no different.

A quick reminder: Valentine’s Day is on Friday. It may be too late to get dinner reservations at your favorite restaurant, but it’s not too late to consider how you will1402SanDiego show your love. If you’re looking for a heartfelt, non-cliche idea that worked for me, check out my article over on Houston Family’s site, “Seven Ways to Encourage Your Spouse’s Dreams.

Do you need to thaw out the chill to bring back the warm fuzzies between your children this Valentine’s? I share some great advice from an expert in “A Special Solution to Sibling Strife” in the February issue of San Diego Family (aren’t those cover sisters a pair of cuties).

One of the wishes I hear moms most often express is a desire for simplicity. Want to exercise some self-love/self-care this month? Think about taking steps to simplify one area of your life. It won’t take much to have you saying, “Aah!” Pick one of the seven tips I offer in Westchester Family, “Stress Less: 7 Simple Tips.

A question for you: have you noticed a shift in how you celebrate February 14th since you became a parent? I have and I let Cupid know what I think about it in a letter I wrote to him published in Orlando Family (among others): “Hey, Cupid! Your Holiday’s Been Hijacked!

But those aren’t the only places you can find great information, tips and resources I’ve gathered. I also publish a monthly email newsletter with exclusive content you won’t find anywhere else about bucket list living – seizing opportunities to live into your most meaningful life. Sign up now (I promise, I won’t spam your inbox. It’s a quick read with just the information you need).

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Free Three-Month Subscription to Bucket List Living Magazine

If you’ve never checked out the new monthly digital publication, Bucket List Living Magazine, you should. The layouts are sharp and the articles make the most of the digital platform, such as including imbedded videos and links to recommended products. And the articles are both practical and inspiring. As the name suggests, this magazine is all about living out your bucket list.

February 2014 Bucket List Living MagazineI’m pleased to be part of Bucket List Living Magazine‘s February issue, with my article “3 Strategies For Planning Family Adventures.” As a contributor, they have generously given me a special code to share with you for three months of their digital magazine FREE (and you don’t need to worry about having to cancel an automatic renewal  – it’s 100% free. But you’ll likely want to jump on a paid subscription after that). The discount code is “3free” and expires on February 28th. Here’s all you need to do to get your copy:

  1.  Go to “App Store Downloads on iTunes”.  Search for Bucket List Living Magazine.
  2. Download the free app by tapping the FREE button.
  3. Tap the INSTALL APP button.  You will then enter your Apple ID Password and click OK.
  4. When the magazine app is finished installing tap the OPEN button.
  5. Permission to send new issues and push notifications from Bucket List Living Magazine is requested.  Choose OK.
  6. Tap the SUBSCRIBE button and then the CURRENT SUBSCRIBERS button.
  7. Enter the coupon code “3free” into the account number box and tap the CONTINUE button.  After you enter the code you will receive a notification that you have subscribed successfully.  Tap CLOSE. (The current issue should begin downloading in the background.)
  8. A VIEW button will appear below the current issue, tap it to begin enjoying the magazine.
  9. You will have access to any issue published during the trial subscription period.  At the end of the trial period you will retain access to any issue downloaded during the trial period but will be required to pay for any subsequent issues.


What We Can Learn from the (Boring) Big Game Pre-game

Okay, let’s all admit it – even most diehard Seahawks fans found last night’s championship football game boring. By halftime most of Twitter was alight with complaints of how much of a non-competition the game had become. I felt for Peyton Manning and the rest of his team, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the snooze factor. The yawns for me had started well before kickoff, during the pre-game video of players writing their big game wishes on a wall.

But that video didn’t have to be boring. And we can learn from what the pre-game producers got wrong. It boils down to how they wrecked what’s becoming an iconic image: The Before I Die wall.

Chances are you’ve seen Candy Chang’s wall or someone else’s installation of it. According to Chang over 400 Before I Die walls have been created in 60 countries. After a personal loss, Chang was inspired to create this wall on an abandoned home in her neighborhood in New Orleans as a daily reminder of what’s important and an opportunity for others to share their hopes. You can hear Chang explain about this project in her wonderful TED talk. Her idea is inspiring people to share their hopes and desires for the future. And that is building community and helping people make life more meaningful.

So the Big Game folks decided to play off Chang’s idea with their own version: “When I play in the [Big Game]… I will”. Then they had various members of the Seahawks and Broncos fill in their wishes for that night’s game.

<YAWN!> Big time, right? I mean, did you really care what these guys, who were about to live so many sports fans’ bucket list dreams just by playing in the big game, hoped would happen for them?

No. And that’s the problem – with that pre-game video and often with many of our own bucket lists. We just. don’t. care.

More than likely most of these guys’ pie-in-the-sky goals were not going to come true last night. I can’t even recall one of them being humble enough to just write “play my heart out” – but you can correct me on that one, since I kept zoning out during it (and I really wanted to like that segment).

Here’s the deal, and I say this in the Bucket List Life Manifesto: “Because I want to,” is a fine reason for pursuing a goal, but you’ll reach it even faster if you dig for a better “why.” We have to care about what we put on our own “before I die” walls (or lists).

That’s part of what makes Chang’s walls so compelling – each person puts down only one item, so most write their most meaningful goal.

We need to care, folks. About our own before death longings, and about what others around us hope for. If you’re bored by your own bucket list, maybe it’s time to pare it down. Don’t write down everything that sounds cool. Write down some things that sound cool and more things that will change your life if you do them.

Photo credit: Before I die… by Clint McMahon on Flickr via CC License

Balanced List, Balanced Life

Do you feel like you spend your weekdays waiting for the weekend only to spend the weekend exhausting yourself with a packed calendar? Are you enjoying time as a family but often have a nagging feeling that you’re missing something or missing out on something? It may be because you have an imbalanced list of goals or intentions for your free time (written or mental).

Family Bucket List Breakdown Worksheet

Family Bucket List Breakdown Worksheet

In Family Bucket Lists I help parents and families create a more satisfying plan for how they spend their time (together & apart) by providing questions that probe deeper and look more broadly at what comprises a meaningful life for them. Seeing the imbalance and being empowered to adjust it is as easy as mapping your goals across four categories: what you want to see, what you want to do, who you want to be and who you want to meet. Often we’re running like crazy on weekends and ending our vacations exhausted because our goals have fallen into only one or two of the categories. Noticing what we want to accomplish in other arenas allows us to prioritize and maximize every day, not just our weekends or vacations.

This Family Bucket List Breakdown worksheet charts your goals in those four categories and reveals the imbalance at a glance.

Print it out and see how your family’s bucket list stacks up. You may find that just breaking it into these categories helps you uncover desires you’d forgotten about. You’ll see where you may need to adjust your plans and expectations.  And if you want help on the next steps, or if you desire to go even deeper to make sure you won’t look back when the kids are grown and wish you’d done life differently, check out Family Bucket Lists. You can download it and start making a more balanced list together today.