Our first ‘Airbnb Experience’ // Napa, Ca

We’ve had a busy summer traveling all over the PNW. I’ll write a few more posts about the other things we did and where we traveled but for this one, I wanted to tell you how awesome our Airbnb Experience was in California. And nope, this is not an ad.

We’ve been traveling and using Airbnb as our wayfinder for housing for just over 5 years now and we LOVE Airbnb. So much. So so much. Immersion travel is our bag. This past year Airbnb launched (or maybe it’s older than a year, I don’t know, I’m not the spokesperson, just super excited) “Experiences” and, I don’t know, maybe I’ve been trying to travel to places BECAUSE OF THE EXPERIENCES THEY OFFER.

I. Am. So. Jazzed. About. This.

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

When it became clear that our kids would actually get into their respective sleep-away camps the same week it meant we could get away together. Alone. Our anniversary isn’t until the end of August but we used this week in July as our excuse to celebrate 15 years of marriage.

I had no idea where I wanted to go but I’ve never been to Napa so I looked at a map, picked Berkeley as our home base, and booked the Airbnb Experience of a Winery-hop in a vintage VW bus all over Napa.

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

The tour took us to 3 different wineries with another couple who had signed up for the same day as us. I think there’s room for a total of 6, but the day we went there were only four reservations. We met and quickly made friends with this other couple, celebrating her birthday all the way from Minneapolis.

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

We had a ton of fun, she’s my kind of girl.

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

Turns out wine tasting in California is much more expensive than in little ol’ Northern Michigan. When we go to Traverse City and Lelanau it’s $5 a pop for a tasting. In Napa? $40. Per person. So you know. Uh. Be aware that your adorable “anniversary trip excursion” will look like that really pretty necklace you were hoping for. But you have all the photos instead of a shiny rock. Some how it doesn’t feel the same.

Airbnb Experience: Napa Valley by VW Bus Tour

But it was so worth it.

In the middle of Target

I have vivid dreams at night and almost daily I end up telling Aaron, at one point or another, “I had the weirdest dream last night.”

It’s kind of expected at this point, it happens so often. Yesterday my dream was that I finally put my foot down and we had 3 more kids. He waited about 12 hours before he gingerly asked me, so … is that what you’re doing? Putting your foot down?

I howled. But then for a hot second I wavered. And then quickly rounded out to: um, no. It took me a long time to be ok with being done having kids. You might remember the vasectomy story I told here years ago, but what I didn’t tell you is that in the middle of all of that, I was being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and my endocrinologist told me not to have any more babies. I needed to be done, it wasn’t safe for me any more. Being on the way to that decision on your own is one thing, being told to finalize it and it was over, period, is a much different thing.

Mourning the motherhood stage of newborns was a weird and awfully long season for me. As friends continued to have babies we would go back to the drawing board and ask ourselves (and my doctors, repeatedly) if it was ok, now? Could we do this, again, now? We had some hopeful answers along the way but they all ended with “high risk pregnancy” no matter what.

Clearly, we haven’t gone that route. When our youngest went to school my ovaries were white hot with wonder, I wasn’t ready to be done. I wanted more. When our oldest entered middle school, I freaked out and prayed for a miracle. Maybe I could just get better?

Each stage has brought it’s own bittersweet beginning and a very definite ending. And the white hot need is gone, the fever has passed. We now own furniture that will last beyond spit up, walkers, crayons and food stains. We’ve leaped to the other side, which has never been more apparent than on my trips to Target this week.

I can walk into a store and tell my children to meet me somewhere in 15 minutes. They are earning their own money, making (laborious) decisions about how and what to spend it on, and they are stewarding their small wages on their own. Learning. I don’t need to hover. If they spend $6 on something that breaks, they learn that waiting for something is always more satisfying than impulse buying, and they’re out their hard-earned cash. Which we talk about in terms of how long it takes to earn it. So a remote control toy might cost $50 but to our son, that’s mowing the lawn 7 times.

But that’s not the point here, while I was walking around Target giving my kids the time it takes to ponder and decide over something magnificent … all I heard was crying.

Other peoples children were throwing fits, mothers were often just deaf to it – because, sanity, but I had a flashback to being in their shoes. I hated going to stores when my kids were little like that, especially if we were primed for a meltdown. Around lunch or nap time or just before dinner. I don’t have to think about those things anymore. We go to the store whenever we need to, no big deal.

And it got me thinking about allllllll of this. Mourning the stages, but also being so grateful to be over some of those insurmountable humps. My kids throw tantrums still, don’t get me wrong, just not in public. And when they’re being unreasonable I can actually reason with them and tell them to knock it off or we can have a conversation and decide together.

I walked around Target listening to all the complaining of other kids, the crying from the toddlers, the whining from the not-quite-big kids and I listened to the moms, out of their minds. They just needed a shower curtain, or a birthday gift, or the happiness of Target to get them through their day. They just needed a break. To put their kid in cart and wander the aisles of a place they don’t have to clean, where problems don’t pop out of the leaky faucet and you can stand still in a row of pretty lamps.

The standing still, you guys. The not being needed because your kid is otherwise engaged (trapped in a cart) possibly with a small screen and you can use your brain to look at something other than the wall at home.

I remembered.

I remember.

Summer is a weird time no matter the age of your kids, I’m learning. Or is it just different as they get older? But still heavy handed on the needs? I’m still deciding.

What really hit me was realizing I had moved passed something.

And being ok with knowing it was over, and excited for the next part.

Fifteen

The vibe

Those kids? They had zero chill about getting married. We celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary this summer and I’ve been thinking about this milestone for a while. There’s some fun stats I could outline, we could walk down memory lane … or I could just write about what it’s meant to be married to Aaron for 15 years straight.

Consecutively.

All together.

So far.

Little did I know as the Bambi child I was that getting married meant staying married. I mean, of course it means this … but in reality … in the doing … I had no idea. You can’t know what you don’t know. And I, simply, just didn’t know. My version of commitment was short. I was a teenager when I met the guy, the only reference to “10 years ago” I could give to anyone was to the first grade.

But I have to be honest with you, being married and staying married and working at marriage and getting to be Aaron’s wife and partner in life – has been one of the most rewarding things in my life so far. And now when I reference 10 years ago, it’s to our beginning. The hard part. It’s looking back and knowing we came through it, together. It’s knowing he’s always been there for me, he’s never wavered. He has waited for me and chosen me and he is my first safe place.

It will not surprise you, dear reader, to hear that I am a romantic. Somewhat of a poet about love or life. I can have rose colored glasses for almost anything, including pain. I’m here for the experience of life and man, has she thrown some at me. But everywhere I turn in my quest to know something or discover myself or become who I’ve always been becoming, there is Aaron. He’s kept pace with me, has often pushed me to be better and find my voice. He’s gifted me with his care, his love, his support.

When I look back, it’s his arm I see around me first before I can even glance at the past. When I look ahead, it’s his stride leading us toward our future hand in hand. And when I stop and just look around? He’s next to me.

How beautiful it is to have him next to me.

Mr and Mrs Schaap

I’m kind of a fan of those letters you write to your younger self, the lessons from the future you wish you could have given your perfect skin and flat stomach to ENJOY IT NOW. Not because it’s fleeting but because now I just know. I know how fast life changes, how little it takes to topple our expectations and plans. How often we claim control over things that simply aren’t ours to mess around with and how worth it this has been to keep trying at.

One of the things I absolutely love about Jen Hatmaker is how unapologetic she is about being obsessed with her big extended family. The love letter she wrote to her parents in her most recent book, Of Mess and Moxie? And a recent tidbit she posted on social media about how their summer days start with coffee on the porch with her siblings … this is not my experience. Certainly not my reality – but damn it if I don’t fist pump every time she regales the happiness this brings her … and to me as a fan, a reader, a hopeful lover of life. That this exists in the world. It might not exist for me personally, and thats ok. I don’t need all the wins … but this one small thing, this relationship that is evergreen … Aaron. This is my win. It’s less than perfect but we’re a beautiful and imperfect mess.

And I’m so thankful for our adventure in life together.

Happy Anniversary, babe.

15 years of learning to trust in love and you haven’t given up on us, yet. I like that about you.

Chicago Feb 2016

Clear the clutter

It’s that time of year when we see garage sale signs popping up and flea markets start to happen every weekend and it’s very exciting. I subscribe to this membership of purging. I love it.

Just this last week I re-painted our daughters room and repurposed some household items in her room to better fit her needs. I stole a rug from our living room for her bedroom, used up extra paint we had for her walls and updated her bedding with money I had made from selling some pieces in our house that just don’t work for us any more.

However, I noticed another place in my life, specifically, where I could clear the clutter … digitally. Subscriptions, free trials, email lists, to-dos.

Like a lot of families these days we no longer pay for cable but have subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu. I had a free trial going for Amazon Prime (for the free shipping), and after listening to one of my favorite podcasts, started another free trail for a budgeting tool, You Need A Budget.

All well intentioned. Signing up for something for free to test it out is always a great way to see if I can really use something long term, but the kicker for me is, this generally means I have to add something else to my list of things to do or try to even begin making the decision about if I want it or not.

Case of the Monday's

And it works like a charm because suddenly the free trial turns into a paid subscription and I generally feel guilt over not using it enough, or “getting my monies worth”, if I don’t order from amazon frequently enough to cover the cost. Anyone else?

So I signed up for this budget tool and signed in, and got 3 more confirmation emails immediately. My inbox was flooded with “helpful tips to get started” and “remember your passwords” and all the things to go along with starting something new. But you guys, the entry (free or not) into this new budgeting tool was costing me time and energy I don’t have. We already use another free budgeting tool (Mint.com) and I love it. Everything is already synched up and it works just fine. WHY WOULD I TRY ANOTHER?

It might be nicer, more progressive, from what I’ve heard, it’s a great tool for budgeting. But the system I have in place works well for us. So why does a free trial sound like I’m missing out?

I had too many of these mind-cluttering systems holding me hostage. I even checked our Netflix and Hulu subscriptions knowing along the way I bumped up one of the subscriptions from the most basic to the next level for convenience. I canceled all the trials (pro tip, when you do this within your free trail period, you still have access to the membership until the end of your trail period and you won’t get billed accidentally beyond it.) and I downgraded the subscriptions I know we used and wanted to keep and suddenly the mental space I was occupying trying to get the best deal just vanished. Because I’m already getting the best deal for us by not buying in to the free trap on everything that sounds remotely interesting.

I follow AndreaDekker.com and love her mindset on so many of these organizational tools and systems. Often what we’re buying is the idea, not the ability to keep it all organized. We think we need more systems, more boxes, more labels to actually be organized when really – we often need so much less to stay organized. Less stuff, less things to have to clean or label or keep track of. Less.

Any way, it’s Monday and it’s Springtime and most of the time the lure to “save money” is actually spending it. Which is totally fine, I spend money and you should definitely spend the your money however you see fit. It was just really helpful the past few days to realize what it is I find helpful about what I’m spending money (and time, or energy – all equally valuable to me) on.

Free trials, I’ve found out, aren’t valuable to me. But buying flowers at the Farmers Market and spending a lot of time in our yard and on our yard – is extremely valuable to me, so I just won’t say no to perennials. Yet.

What would you add to the list of things to clear the clutter?

My tips for traveling with [older] kids

My son did the math for me recently – our daughter is almost in high-school, which means almost college, which means almost out of the house. (This is how I spiral, it’s ok) It’s only five years away. It goes fast. So fast. Fast fast fast FAST.

Traveling is one of our favorite ways to spend time together as a family. And it can be camping within our home-state of Michigan or flying to Florida for a long weekend, driving across the country for 6 weeks in the PNW or jumping the pond to immerse ourselves in other cultures.

Traveling with kids that aren't in diapers, don't scream, aren't crying because their ears hurt, can feed themselves, and are easily entertained .... Game changer.

No matter where we go though – I have a few things I look for each and every time. We aren’t theme park people (we did Disney for our daughters 5th birthday and, I won’t say never, but probably will not ever go back. Ever.) and we love immersive travel which means Airbnb or Vbro are our favorite conduits to travel. We prefer to go to places where we can stay for a while and because of my husband’s ability to work from anywhere if needed, this is an option available to us.

When we have a destination planned, a house booked, or tickets purchased I start researching the area more in depth.

I always look for local libraries.

Library in Lynden

Library in Lynden

Boulder, Co Day 3

Boulder, Co Day 3

Libraries have amazing programming, often free, and always age appropriate. In 2011, we went to Boulder, Colorado and while my husband worked normal hours from coffee shops or our airbnb, I would keep us busy with story time at the library, events with naturalists (all from the library), organized playgroups at the library and well, you guessed it – crafts at library. In 2016 when we spent the summer in Washington I signed my kids up for events at the local library. They participated in a kid craft fair, signed up for their summer reading programs and we made weekly (sometimes more than once) trips to the library for books and movies.

I search the local chamber of commerce and event calendar.

Next, I always look at the events calendar for the places we’ll be visiting for the time we’ll be there. We’ve stumbled on some pretty fun stuff just by checking this out. While in Lynden, Washington we were in town for the local Raspberry Festival. Which was a big deal – and tons of fun.

It's the thing to do, we hear, to have a raspberry sundae at the Northwest Raspberry Festival. The kids and Grandpa Roger did it up 👍

Had fun at the Raspberry Festival today!

If we’ll be in a different city for longer than 5 days I always check local art councils as well. They often have classes or camps for kids and I’ve been known to sign mine up for some music/drawing/dancing. The classes are usually 2 to 4 hours for a few days and it gives them something to do that they enjoy and I get a small break to be able to grocery shop, work, grab lunch with my husband, or just relax in the middle of the busyness of traveling with kids.

I try to find a place to stay with a kitchen.

Not always possible, depending on where we’ll be, but even hotel chains offer suites with kitchens. It’s always worth looking for us because we don’t love eating out. We love good food, and if restaurants come highly recommended, we’ll try them. But with kids, the food experience at restaurants is often above their pay-grade. They’re learning to enjoy a good dining experience but while traveling, my husband and I love discovering new places, going slow, and taking the time to enjoy our surroundings. Kids are sort of the anti-relaxer. So instead we look for great breakfast places (because first thing in the day they’re more likely to be on board with our “slow living” pace) and we leave the rest to snack plates, picnics or kid friendly options.

Last Sunday, our first real meal in our rental. It was @thekitchenbeet's mushroom stew which = therapy. Cupboards open, a pot simmering on the stove, haphazardly organized space. But it smelled amazing. And tasted even better.

Boulder, Co Day 6

This is one of the reasons we love booking our stay through sites like Airbnb or Vbro. We get the immersive travel by picking a place to stay right in town, or in a neighborhood close to the action (or away from it – if that’s the goal), the hosts of the places we’ve rented are always so helpful and accommodating and we get great tips of things to do or try from them as well. And … we get a kitchen, a separate sleeping space from the kids and walls to give us a bit of anonymity when we need some “down” time. It’s also more walkable, we’ve found.

I use Pinterest, Yelp, Google Maps, Groupon, etc.

And lastly, one of the main things I do while I’m putting together a trip is consult the internet. There’s so much information, so many recommendations, and so many ideas right there. I usually start with Pinterest and search for the area + “things to do”. or + “kids” and start looking at everything that sounds fun/frugal or free/worth it.

We love hiking, local history, walking tours, book stores, farmers markets, interactive classes, water of any kind, tours, and sunset activities.

I would also take advantage of whatever the hotel, home, resort you’re staying in, has to offer. In Florida we were able to take a Chef guided tour of their bee-keeping initiative and local farming operation for free.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

The same resort (which I found on priceline for a steal of a deal) had a ton of fun stuff the weekend we were there – like a donut wall!

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

And we were able to rent a golf cart to tool around in, which was so much fun and cheaper than the bikes we were hoping to rent 🙂

Oliver loves a good golf cart - really he loves anything with a motor and wheels that he's allowed to drive. Florida: 👏

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

For more on this specific trip to Florida (2017) – go here.

Lastly, I look for parks.

One more thing, if we’re going to be somewhere longer than 2 nights, I usually look for parks. If we’re not staying in a hotel with a pool, I know I’ll need to get my kids outside to run off energy.

Around Lynden

Around Lynden

If we’re camping, then this is no problem. Usually where ever we are parked is playground enough for them with hiking trails nearby or pavement to tool around on with their bikes. But if we’re visiting a city … green space is key.

Ping Tom park

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

And there you have it! My tips for traveling with older kids.

We have a list of places we want to see, go, or things we want to do compiled and when the budget allows and deals arise or we’ve accumulated enough points for travel – I keep an eye out for the destinations we want to see. Usually I’m looking months in advance (or for “regular travel times” like spring break or holidays – a whole year ahead), but some of the best deals are within weeks of looking/researching them.

How do you travel with (or without) kids? What do you look for?