Why I Didn’t Create an Over-the-Top Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day yesterday was low key at my house. My husband cooked an amazing meal for me on Sunday. I gave him chocolate and each of my girls a little Valentine’s candy on the 14th.

Over-the-top Valentines Compared to the heart-themed-breakfast, love-notes-in-lunch-boxes fusses many of my fellow moms made, it doesn’t sound much like a bucket list celebration, does it?

There’s a reason for that.

Over-the-top celebrations aren’t sustainable for me. And I would argue they aren’t healthy or sustainable for most. They raise the bar and set expectations such that we’re often scrambling to find ways to make the next event memorable, to wow our kids or spouse or friends or social media followers with our creativity and pizzazz, to outdo ourselves. And in the process we cheapen everyday life and rob our kids of anticipation.

Going big has become such a way of life in our culture that I suspect we’re losing the ability to appreciate the ordinary. Our sense of perspective has been skewed by this desire for every milestone or occasion to be bright and amazing. When Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day and Easter share the same level of riotous hype in a household, how do kids learn which of those days is most significant?

When teenage girls become accustomed to up-do’s and manicures and professional makeup for homecoming dances, preceded by an elaborate “ask” by their date, then prom must include limousines and multi-hundred-dollar dresses and fancy “after parties.” But what’s left for the day they become engaged? And how can they help but expect the type of wedding that requires an exorbitant price tag when a mere high school dance merited so many frivolous expenses?

We have become so focused on giving our kids everything now, that we are leaving nothing for later. What will your children’s bucket lists look like when they reach their 20s and their 30s? When they are your age, what will they be hoping to do? How will they not be bored in retirement having done it all already?

More importantly, what do your kids bucket lists look like right now? In the wake of the hype and the busyness and the constant need to go big and achieve much, I’m hearing from kids how they just want a day to hang out at home and do nothing. They want a break from it all. Are you brave enough to give it to them? Or do you fear making them feel “left out” by not giving them every over-the-top experience you think their peers are getting?

Break the cycle. Dare to be the parent who invites their kids to enjoy the ordinary and leaves some bucket list experiences for the future. I know a lot of other moms who would appreciate it. And I’m pretty sure in the long run, your kids will too.


1603UdemyDisct Feeling exhausted from trying to match the over-the-top expectations prevalent among parents? Are you still eager to give your kids meaningful experiences that bring your family closer? I can teach you how. Check out my book Family Bucket Lists, or take my online course, Bonding Through Bucket Lists.

Bucket List Bonds: Another Reason the Cubs Win Was Such a Big Deal

I have talked often about the way going after life goals brings connection (it’s the theme of my video course, Build Stronger Bonds Writing Bucket Lists). And usually I’m talking about connection in the present tense, with those in your life today. But this past weekend in Chicagoland I witnessed how powerful that bond can be even with those gone from our lives. Like my grandma.

bucketlistbondscubswinGrandma Seman loved sports. When she moved from her home in Hawaii to a suburb near ours a few years after my grandfather died, I got to spend a lot of time with her. On almost every visit to her house, her tv or radio would be tuned in to a Chicago sports game. To this day, I take great comfort in the hollow sound of a ball game on AM radio. Because it brings back those days at Grandma’s house.

While she enjoyed sports year round – football, basketball, and hockey, Grandma’s favorite team by far was the Chicago Cubs. She would sit in her recliner with a crochet project in her lap and give her own play-by-play of the game. She’d exclaim over runs scored and scowl at what she thought were poor calls. And more than anything, she’d talk about the players. Grandma knew each one by name, reputation and background. Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg came up most often. But she could chat just as fluently about Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston and other ball players. And like many Cubs fans before and after her, Grandma suffered disappointment after disappointment.

It’s hardly news that the Cubs finally had their day when they beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fight for the National League Pennant on Saturday. All over the Chicago Metro area longtime fans danced for joy, sang “Go, Cubs, Go!” and shot off fireworks. My own daughter shrieked and bounced all around the house (and she’s only waited 17 years, nowhere close to what others have).

My first thought was of Grandma. How thrilled she would have been to see her Cubbies get to the World Series. As she did with other Cubs’ wins, she would have talked like she never had a doubt they’d do it. Grandma always had faith that the Cubs could go far. Seeing them win the National League pennant would have been on her bucket list. Which made it a bittersweet day.

Turns out, a lot of other people were feeling the same way. That win brought back the memories of so many Cubs fans who longed to see their team go to the World Series. Social media lit up with people giving shout-outs to those they wished had been alive for that day. The connection in that moment of a long-awaited dream come true spanned generations and even death.

If you ever wondered about the power of a life goal to bond people together, talk to a Cubs fan about last Saturday. They know that power.

It also explains why Steve Goodman’s song, A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request, has such staying power. Take a look:



When Life Goals Yield Big Visions: An Interview with Bev Hawley

For the most part, a bucket list contains straightforward personal goals. But for some people visions for something beyond themselves come out of a bucket list goal – like a vision for opening a gallery to showcase a bucket list project.

Bev Hawley, a professional children’s photographer in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, is such a person. Her Bucket List Gallery and Studio (The BL Gallery, for short) sprang from a bucket list project, called “Dogs Walk By.” Bev has been keeping and completing her list of life goals for years. I am excited to be able to share with you an interview with Bev. She’s adventurous, talented and inspiring.

Copyright Bev Hawley

Copyright Bev Hawley

You are pretty bold with your approach to bucket list goals. Not everyone will open a studio/gallery in order to accomplish a goal. How did you get to the place where you could do that? 

I think the boldness, if you want to call it that, has come from years of experience with this concept. When I wrote my first 25-30 items on a piece of paper it was more of a whim or just following something someone suggested. I spent very little time on it and very little thought. A speaker on Oprah said something to the effect of, “if you aren’t willing to commit your dreams to paper, why do you expect them to happen?” That made sense to me so I took a few minutes and jotted down a list and set it aside for several years only to discover the list with all of the things accomplished. Right then, I became a believer and have jotted down my hearts desire ever few years ever since. I don’t think it is a matter of boldness taking on some of these things it is rather just taking little baby steps that keep leading you along… I call it following your inspiration. The awesome part is how quite often it is strangers who come into your life totally out of the blue and help one accomplish their dreams, whether financially or just being the right person to take you to the next step.

Can you describe for readers your “Dogs Walk By” bucket list project? Why is that significant for you? How have people responded to Dogs Walk By?

Copyright Bev Hawley

Copyright Bev Hawley

My Dogs Walk By project I am currently working on came about because I longed to have a dog in my life and that wasn’t practical for my family. So I kept noticing other people walking their dogs and I found it very interesting how each owner and dog carried themselves so uniquely. I wanted to photograph the dogs without the person overpowering them, but still having the relationship there. I tried a few photographs but it felt a bit voyeuristic.  I needed a retail shop for credibility and a place with lots of dog owners who walked by.
Fast forward… I’ve been working on the project at my little leased studio/gallery for 6 months now and hope to have all of the images for phase one done by March 1. As I mentioned, the most amazing part of this project to me has been total strangers have volunteered an hour of their time and energy to help me accomplish my goal. I figured several of my friends would step forward and when I ran out of them I would be up a creek. But almost all of the people who have participated in this project so far have been total strangers who loved the idea and even though they didn’t at first know I could photograph anything…. because I had no work to show..they came anyway.  I love how this project has been evolving. I refuse to put it into an organized box and that has really given it wings. I’ll maybe be able to tell you what this is all about in a couple of years… it is truly a work in progress.

What other things are currently on your bucket list? 

Well, I keep that list close until it starts opening up and I need to make it public. I can easily get influenced  if others think the idea is trivial or stupid so that is why I keep my list under wraps.

Can you tell us about your favorite bucket list experience?

Oh my, that’s like asking me which of my children I love most. Each one has played an important role but let me just share a little of what I love about this current project. On my list alongside DWB was also: get out and be more a part of the community, have my white seamless background back in my life to photograph on, have a public window display to inspire others, have a little retail shop, photograph Santa illustrations again. Amazingly enough… all of these things are being accomplished in this little space in a community I had never set foot in, until this year. It would take too long to describe all of the little tiny steps and missteps that led me to this place. But it is following up on those little inklings that keep nudging at you and not outlining where they are taking you. You will be amazed at the ripple effect that starts coming into your experience.

Do you have any tips to offer to someone just starting out with keeping a written bucket list?

Allow yourself only about 30 minutes and jot down what is close to your heart. I wanted a few dollars in a savings account, a digital camera, two weeks alone, and to publish a book… you get the idea. Some felt very easy to do, while others looked magical. Make sure that the things on the list are measurable  and that you can accomplish them. I once wrote down…to love more… which was my heart but not easily measurable. So those type of goals are on another list for me. Don’t labor over your list…if it doesn’t come quickly to mind it shouldn’t be there. My bucket list isn’t a one time shot, it is something I work with when the thought comes to me…usually every couple of years. All of the things on my list are something I feel in my heart.

You can learn more about Bev Hawley on her website and on FaceBook (@theblgallery).

(Photos copyright Bev Hawley, used with permission).

How Do You Spell Success as a Parent?

spell-successI nearly blew it again. My youngest daughter turned thirteen this past weekend and I almost didn’t have a card for her. As a rule, I don’t buy cards. I’m a crafter and I know I can make a card that I like much better than anything I’d find in the store. And I enjoy making them. But I have a hard time getting down to the business of making cards – it requires pulling out my stamping supplies and finding the creative bandwidth to generate a design.

On my daughter’s birthday, cards arrived in the mail from her grandmother and great aunt, as they do every year. Me? I missed sending my nephew’s birthday card last month. And I hadn’t started yet on my daughter’s card.

I beat myself up about it. I want to be like my mother and my husband’s aunt. I want to be the person who always sends a birthday card. And I’ve always felt like a failure because I’m not.

Then it occurred to me this week: whose priorities am I trying to live by? What do I really want success for me to look like?

I once met a dad who boasted about never missing one of his son’s basketball games from youth league on through high school, despite holding a job that required him to travel. It was impressive. He had committed himself to being there. It fit his definition of success and he fulfilled it. But me? I’ve missed gymnastics meets and soccer games. I haven’t bent over backward to be present for every one of my girls’ sporting events because that isn’t what I feel called to do (not to mention that it’s physically impossible when you have kids in events at the same time in different places). I’ve never considered myself a failure for missing my girls’ meets because perfect attendance was never part of my definition of success.

I realized this week that as much as my bucket list gives me goals to shoot for, I have to pay attention also to those I am not shooting for. I have ask myself, “How do I spell success as a mom? When my girls graduate from high school, what do I want to be able to say I did without (or nearly without) fail? What do I want to be able to check off my parenting bucket list? And what am I not going after?”

My priorities include serving a family meal every night of the week (success!), seeing them off to school every morning (success!), and making them a card for their birthdays (working on it). But my priorities don’t necessarily include being that person that doesn’t miss sending a card to everyone else. That might be a priority for me in another season of life.

I’m ready to stop trying to measure myself against other people’s priorities. I hope to recognize when I’m tempted to feel bad about measuring up against a standard that I haven’t subscribed to. And I’m only including on my parenting bucket list those things that truly matter to memy priorities.

Would you do the same? Think about how you spell success as a parent. Let go of trying to be the mom who throws Pinterest-worthy birthday parties if that’s not you. Don’t push yourself to execute the perfect bedtime tuck-in every night if it’s not working. Find the goals that do suit you and pursue those. Put them on your bucket list so you, like the perfect attendance basketball dad, can celebrate your accomplishment when the time comes.



Daddy/Daughter Trip to the Olympics

David Williams and his wife Sarah are longtime friends of mine. One of the things I have always admired about David is his desire to see the world. In his 20s, David made it his goal to travel to every continent (so far he’s made it to 6 continents and 80 countries). But he didn’t leave that goal behind when he become a dad – he uses that passion to shape his parenting. He takes his kids on trips to places you and I only dream of going (like Fiji, Australia and Paris, to name only a few) – because that fits his vision for his family.

WilliamsOlympicsMost recently, David and his fourteen-year-old daughter Lydia traveled to Rio for the Olympic games. I thought it would be fun for you to hear from David about this once-in-a-lifetime bucket list trip.

When did you get the idea to go to Rio for the Olympics?

It is something I have always wanted to do. I always liked watching the Olympics and I thought it would be cool to go. It seems like lots of people talk about going, but not many actually go.

About nine or ten months ago, I booked award [airline] tickets, but didn’t book anything else. I didn’t know whether I go. As the year progressed, I started thinking it really would be fun. And I imagined Lydia would have fun if we went. So I booked a hotel and bought event tickets [a few weeks before the opening ceremony].

Did you have any concerns about going to Rio?

Everyone was saying “you’re crazy. You’re going to get kidnapped. There’s Zika. That’s the worst idea I ever heard.” My theory was that it was incredibly important to the country of Brazil that these Olympics go okay. They will do whatever it takes to make the Olympics go well and make sure visitors are safe. Because their national reputation is at stake.

And that was the case. I didn’t see one mosquito the whole time. I felt incredibly safe. The people were super friendly and there were tons of [Olympic] volunteers.

What were some highlights of the Olympics?

I sat next to the father of Britain’s best Olympic swimmer and World Champion in the 200m freestyle. It was pretty cool.

Also, we had tickets for three sessions of swimming. But nothing else. So after dinner the first night I decided we should go see something else. We looked online at beach volleyball, for tickets to the game the next morning. And they had no cheap tickets (B & C level) left, only A level (top tier). But they were only $22 each. So we went to a beach volleyball game.

Just you and your daughter Lydia went to the Games. Why her and not the rest of the family?

I knew it was going to be expensive. My wife wouldn’t want to go, my eldest was busy with high school marching band and I had taken my son to Tokyo earlier in the year. But I knew my middle daughter Lydia would love it because she likes swimming.

Did that trip impact your relationship with your daughter?

Any time you spend extra special time with your kids, it will help your relationship. I’m all about experiences you remember. This is something Lydia and I will remember for the rest of our lives.

Lydia is a really laid-back person. But she had the biggest smile the whole way home. She got to see Missy Franklin, Michael Phelps, and Katie Ledecky. It was a great experience that went off without a hitch and she had a great time.

I want my kids to realize what a big world there is and to be interested in the rest of the world because they experienced it.

Any advice for other parents?

I’m very thankful that I’m able to do a few things like this. I try to do it at a very reasonable price. Just being flexible is the key. If you’re flexible and willing to sit on a plane for a while, it’s worth it to go to some of the famous cities of the world and experience them with your family. It costs money. But I do think it’s worth it.

Everyone should check out theflightdeals.com. You can find amazing airfares if you’re willing to go wherever and aren’t set on a particular destination.

What’s next on your bucket list?

I’m planning on taking my son to Hong Kong in November, thanks to a really good airfare I found.


CoursePromoImageWant to bring your family closer by creating and living out bucket list dreams like this one? I can teach you how. Check out my book in e-book or paperback or take ”my online course,” now only $15!