No-Plan Vacations: Why On-the-Fly is Easier Than Ever

June 012
It didn’t matter that my parents are both planners (Dad would go nuts if I still hadn’t booked my Christmas flight home from college by the March before), living for the moment is at my core. Eighteen years of nurture did not overcome nature in this respect.

To make things even better (not worse), I married someone who is the same way.
June 022

Sometimes things get frantic (like when we realize the concert we assumed would start at 8:00 actually starts at 5), but mostly it’s just fun. It works for both of us. (And yes, we grabbed the keys and made it to the concert before the doors opened. We’re flexible like that).

For example, I knew I had to get myself to the beach this summer and introduce it to our kids. San Diego is only a seven hour drive away. When the kids got out of school in May I let Izzy know it was my biggest wish for our summer break, and he agreed we should make sure we fit it in somewhere. Where, exactly? Well, that didn’t matter. We’d find a weekend.

So after we packed the first summer month with work video and audio recordings, after we filled July with a visit to my family in Missouri and my daughter’s dance company rehearsals, we ran into our first commitment-free weekend last week.

Let’s go!

And this is how Izzy and I do things. We pulled up Google Maps and jumped on the route it gave us to the entire city of San Diego, since we didn’t have a hotel yet. No time for hotel booking!

We drove until we landed at a beach. We jumped out, put leashes on the dogs, and we all ran to the water. The kids were so ecstatic (goal achieved) that we let them go in with their clothes and all. The rush of waves weirded the dogs out, but the rest of us loved it.

We played until we were freezing and starving. And then, at about seven pm, we called a couple hotel chains and they told us what they had available around the city. We found one that wasn’t too far out of our price range and booked it. It took ten minutes of being quiet in the car while Izzy made two calls.

Tech & Spontaneity

Smart phones, Yelp, Google Maps, Google, and Evernote all make it easy for us spontaneous-types to be ourselves.

  • Suddenly hungry and need a vegan restaurant in San Diego? Yelp “vegan,” pick a promising option, and clip the other options to your Evernote for the next meals.
  • Need to know how to get to that hotel you just called from the who-knows-what beach you landed on? Google Maps knows how to get there, even if you don’t. And when you find the boogie-board rental place on the way to said beach, drop a pin at your current map location to find your way back. No need to write down addresses or directions, or anything at all.
  • Have a couple hours to play before it’s time to drive home? Google “fun free things to do in San Diego” and find people just dying to share the possibilities with you. I did this during our drive from Phoenix, just in case we needed a non-beach activity, and clipped the two most interesting ideas to my Evernote. They were waiting for us when we found that extra two hours.

Here’s what we did before driving back home to Arizona . . .
Aug10 813

Aug10 833

Aug10 847

Izzy and I pack life in. We’re always doing stuff we love and that doesn’t leave much time for planning. We plan a menu of a few meals every week, and I plan upcoming episode topics for work. And that’s about as much planning as we can stand. We know what our interests are and we just make them happen. I’ve found that very little planning is actually necessary.

Aug10 791

We may not get great hotel deals this way, but instead of calling ahead or getting online to do price comparisons, we’re working and making money, or doing something else that is awesome and fun.

So who cares about missing the deals? Not me.

Aug10 772

Mother’s Day

What more could they do for me on Mother’s Day when my husband and kids already treat me like every day is all about me? Turn it into Mother’s Week! It wasn’t intentional but that’s basically what they did. Aiden started celebrating his mama four days early when he began making me handmade Mother’s Day gifts like this “I Love You” bracelet (which I decided worked better as an awesome arm-band)…

Handmade gifts from Aiden continued to come in daily. I made him save the rest for the “real day,” but talk of Mother’s Day by the kids seemed never ending. You would have thought it was Christmas. In fact, early in the day on Saturday I mentioned that I got a sudden craving for ethiopian food and that evening, as I was about to boil artichokes for dinner, Israel and the kids announced we would now have a “Mother’s Day Night” and they took me to Cafe Lalibella in Tempe where we all dug into piles of wot with our injeera.

(Did that spark your curiosity? Good. Go try it. Yum).

After we got home the kids banned me to the bedroom because they didn’t want me to accidentally see something that an unnamed somebody was preparing. I think it was this very amazing and hilarious graphic my twelve-year-old son, Blake, designed…
I am now calling on my Mother’s Right To Brag to tell you that Blake didn’t copy light bulbs somewhere and photoshop them into his picture or anything like that. He didn’t use someone else’s models. He designed those bulbs from basic circles using professional software that is very difficult called, Blender. I’m sure that my three or four blog readers don’t know what that is, so let me say that my son is a genius and you can just take my word for it.

The Actual Mother’s Day

On Sunday morning — the big day that everybody had been revving up for — I opened my bedroom door to find my three children in a youngest to oldest pose with about 9 balloons all bright and shiny around them. They greeted me with a little chant by which they each took a turn throwing their balloons into the glorious air. I opened all the handmade gifts with my kiddies around me and I basked in the beauty of the clean room, which was Trinity’s gift.

Israel surprised me with a subscription to a super cool music application called Rhapsody (you will be hearing about this on some Music Monday to come).

And then we ventured out to The Compound Grill for brunch. Vegan breakfast is unheard of around here and the chef made a number of yummy vegan entrees for the occasion! There was even a guitarist-harmonica-ist-singer named Geoffrey J. who accompanied us. Loved it.

Next, we recorded a Paperclipping episode (you will learn the almost traumatic reasons we had to work on Mother’s Day very soon) and then Israel took me out for his gift number two (because he can never stop at just one). Clothing shopping! Yay for Tilly’s and Wet Seal. Yay for Izzy!

When I kissed my kids goodnight and told them how wonderful they made the day for me, Blake and Aiden told me they LOVE Mother’s Day. Blake said, “I can’t wait until I’m a mother . . . Oh, wait.”

And that’s it. Okay, well, not really. I must mention that when I woke up on Monday, my kids wished me a happy Post Mother’s Day. Geez, I’m totally spoiled.

* * *

Note: I realize that two of my last three posts have been braggy ones about how sunshiny and Brady Bunch-perfect my family is, and how much they adore me. While that part about my family is true, I promise I also have plenty of self-depricating content to blog about. Those seem to be the Reader’s Choice posts, based on the fact that they draw the most comments. I will indulge you soon. Please be patient, my dearies.

4-Year Old Skeptic

Aiden is proving to be our most skeptical child. And it’s not because he’s negative or doubtful. He’ll actually tap dance for strangers and ask if they would like to pay him for it. He’s skeptical because he likes to figure out how a thing came together. At two years old we constantly found him lying on the floor watching the wheels of a toy car as he glided it back and forth, trying to grasp, I think, how the wheels turned while the car didn’t.

At four years old he learned (and understood!) how to count musical notation.

These days he makes stuff out of paper or trash. We can hardly throw anything away because he sees it as a potential component to something he can build. Recently he designed a three-dimensional box out of paper and provided picture instructions on how to do it. Yesterday he took two light bulb boxes from the recycle bin, taped them together, and devised rules for a game, again, with illustrated instructions.

This desire to break everything down to components and answers has made the holidays an interesting experience. At four years old Aiden found a packaged toy in our bedroom closet and announced with a huge smile that Mom and Dad go shopping and pretend to be Santa Clause. There was no disappointment because the magic was in having potentially figured it out.

We didn’t give him an outright yes or no. I just asked him, “What makes you think that?” And when he gave me his evidence, I nodded my head and said, “Very interesting idea.” I’m learning he doesn’t want us to give him a definite yes or no. He prefers a little mystery so he can continue to find evidence to prove or disprove his theories.

Skepticism & The Tooth Fairy

On Christmas Eve, at six-and-a-half years old, Aiden finally lost his first tooth and we were expecting a meeting between two holiday mystery characters. Santa Clause and the tooth fairy in one night! Of course, the solution of one led to the solution of the other. “I know Mom is the tooth fairy,” he said.

We played our usual run-around game, ”Why do you assume it’s Mom? What if it’s Dad?”

He laughed, “Because the Tooth Fairy is a girl!”

“Are you sure about that?” I asked. “In that short film Dad made, Larry was the Tooth Fairy.”

“Oh, yeah…” Aiden stewed on that, looking back and forth from me to Israel.

Last week when he lost his second tooth he decided to take a risk and test his theory by addressing the tooth fairy, herself. Or, himself. After receiving payment for his tooth he put a note under his pillow. Israel and I responded to it on the same piece of paper, with a little clue to the true nature of the “tooth fairy.” The new information surprised him so he asked a follow-up question and we answered that, as well. It continued for a few nights. Here’s what the note said after the third night:

Aiden: I love you.

Tooth fairy: Thank you for the teeth. We love you too.

Aiden: Who are you!

Tooth fairy: We are the ones who buy your special teeth.
We are the tooth fairy.
Why do you want to know?

Aiden: Because I want to see what you look like.

Tooth fairy: I look a little bit like you. –#1
(in different handwriting): And so do I. –#2

Apparently, we threw him off with our last response. He came running into the kitchen where the rest of us were sitting at the table and he announced, “My toothfairies are clones of me!”

We exchanged looks. We questioned his theory. We asked him to read his note again and emphasized the words, “a little bit.” But he wasn’t thinking about the qualifier. He was chewing on the implications of this new bizarre idea. He looked around the dining table, shot his arm into to a point toward Blake and yelled, “And your tooth fairy must be two clones of you!” He then pointed to Dad and Trinity and myself, “And you have your own clones . . . and so do you!”

We were slightly concerned.

To Discover Or To Be Told

Later that night Aiden confided in me. “I’m embarrassed that I wrote, ‘I love you,’ to my clones. I meant for that to go to you because I thought you were the tooth fairy.”

I couldn’t keep his sweet vulnerability exposed like that. I told him, “You know, Aiden? A lot of people say that I look a little bit like you.”

“No, you don’t,” he answered.

Now I understood his switch to the Clone Theory. He had no idea we look similar. “Yeah, I really do. A little bit.”

Recognition pushed his eyes wide open and he emphasized the words, “A little bit?”

“Yeah,” I said. “And Daddy looks a little like you, too.”

He smiled and his embarrassment vanished. But within minutes disappointment replaced it and he complained to us, “Now I know for sure that Mom and Dad are the tooth fairy.” It turns out he really does prefer the questions, the theories, the evidence collecting, over hearing the answer from someone else.

“I didn’t say that, Aiden,” I immediately backtracked. “Blake and Trinity look like you, too. And Grandma Gertrude has the same exact nose as you.”

He laughed and let it go. Hopefully, I left it open just enough for him to have sunk back into his happy state of wonderful skeptical inquiry again. His third tooth is loose now and Easter is on its way, so I guess we’ll find out soon enough. If not, it might be time to nudge his questions in a newer, deeper direction, anyway.
missing tooth

Our Christmas Adaptation

My husband’s description of his childhood Christmases sounded to me as Thursdays probably are to most people. Just, meh. He was always excited to see what he got but it didn’t have the same pull for him that it did for me. For me, Christmas was magical like Disneyland and favorite songs and falling in love. That is why we decided to model our own Christmas celebrations after my parents’ tradition.
Growing up we didn’t have much but when it came to Christmas, my siblings and I never felt the impact of our low income. We had huge Christmases. In the morning, my parents lined us up in the hallway, oldest to youngest, and then they let us loose into the living room like search and destroy missiles, paper and bows flying like shrapnel. Sometimes a squeal shrieking louder than my own could pull my attention from my current target to see what another of my four siblings had received. After a quick glance I’d dive back under the tree, looking for a present with my name on it. It was crazy and fun and over in an instant. Well, maybe in five instances. The fall came fast but the high was amazing.

That Was Then, This Is Now

After ten Christmases just like this for my own children, Israel resigned from his full-time career to work our own business at home. That was in 2008. We didn’t have a guaranteed income and for Christmas we were afraid to buy much at all. We made a serious cut in the presents we gave to the kids.

To pro-long the time of gift-unwrapping, so it wouldn’t feel like the most anti-climactic Christmas ever, we decided to try one of Israel’s childhood Christmas traditions…the one in which everyone actually takes the time to see what the others got and to find out who the giver of the gift is…you know, the turn-taking gift circle.

I thought that sounded like the most boring Christmas tradition ever. How can you maintain the high of the search-and-destroy method if you’re just sitting there, trying to fake enthusiasm for other people while they open their presents, meanwhile you can see your own beckoning you under the tree? But I wanted to try it. We had to do something to make the morning last longer than a minute.


I was shocked. It was our best Christmas ever. That’s what my kids said! Not only did they get to have the initial target-launching high at the beginning as they ran to see their Santa gifts, but they also felt gratitude and camaraderie while they watched each other get excited about an awesome new toy. There was none of that impatience I expected. It was a combination of both types of experiences.

This year we adjusted the tradition even more, after my best friend, Tami, told us how her parents did it. At first I thought it was insane, but she told me it prolonged the anticipation and excitement for them as kids, since, with twelve of them, they only got one present each, in addition to their Santa gift. And it’s the anticipation that is the most magical of all of it, right? Well, that and the Christmas lights on the tree.
Just like Tami and her parents, this year we let our kids launch into their Santa gifts (one each) but then we waited until after breakfast to open the presents. It gave them more time to appreciate the “big one” before moving on to the others. Also before breakfast, they pulled down their stockings and really enjoyed those for the first time. Previous to this new tradition, the stockings were always just an after-thought to my kids — and that bugged me.
Not that the children cared but I liked that we also began the day with some actual substantial nutrition instead of candy. And the gift-circle afterward was just as cool as the year before. Check it…


I think we’ve now figured out the recipe for a perfect Christmas morning. It’s a combination of three different family traditions: Search & Destroy, Launch & Pull Back, and finally, the Camaraderie Support Circle . It was my favorite year so far.

* * *
Note to my scrapbooking friends: I think I’m going to use this story (and hopefully get better childhood pictures from my mom) for a scrapbook album that compares my childhood with my kids’ childhoods. I’m also going to reword the last three paragraphs slightly and use them in my 25 Days To Christmas ‘09 album (Ali Edwards’s December Daily Album concept).