Is it Worth the Money?

Lisa and our good friend, Sharon Greenthal, who blogs at Empty House, Full Mind, asked the question “What is worth spending money on?” Money is a private and often touchy subject, yet the respondents were candid and their answers, revealing.  Here is the post appearing today on both blogs.

In the weeks between tossing out the turkey carcass and dragging the Christmas tree to the curb, the average American family is expected to spend $740 on gifts in this brief, intense shopping period. As the year winds down we will also give generously, writing checks for $79 billion in charitable donations or a quarter of our annual giving.

bank vault, money, bank

How we spend our money speaks to who we are and what we value. For each of us it is a trial and error process. We spend impulsively, and we live to regret the purchase. We save up carefully, and the object of our desire become obsolete or out of fashion. We buy things or experiences, we invest in education, and charity and with each step learn more about our personal relationships to money and more about ourselves.

How we spend our money is a sticky, complicated question that is burdened by the behavior of our family of origin and says something about the example we hope to set for our own children.

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When the Pilot Says…I Have Some Bad News

Lisa writes: Last night I flew home from Chicago with my blogging buddies, Mary Dell and Theresa. We were there for BlogHer13, a long, exhausting and truly wonderful conference and, by the time we boarded the plane, we were ready to embrace our families and our beds. We had rushed to O’Hare, eaten foul junk food and were cruising at 30,000 feet when the pilot announced through the staticky PA system.  “Folks, I am afraid I have some bad news.”

some bad news, BlogHer13, Cleveland, flying into Cleveland


From that point a garbled message ensued. For a moment, I wondered why pilots in the Midwest seem to address passengers as “Folks” and in the East we are elevated to “Ladies and Gentlemen.” But then I realized that he had said, “Bad News.”  Bad news in flying covers a wide range of possibilities in my experience.  Bad news has been a 20-minute delay or some turbulence ahead.  Bad news was once the back door left unsealed and the plane not pressurized.  But this bad news was not that bad news. It was the dreaded words, “We have a mechanical problem and are headed back to Cleveland or Chicago.” It is never comforting to learn that the pilot does not know the plane’s destination.

Boarding the plane, the three of us made a new friend, noted cookbook author and blogging chef, Katie Workman.  Five minutes into the flight, we had filled in each other on our experiences at BlogHer13, where she had been honored.  In fifteen minutes we had covered husbands, kids, careers and our blogs and, by the time of the Bad News, we had known each other forever, which turned out to be a good thing.

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At the Super Bowl, Cheering for New Orleans

Superdome, New Orleans Superdome, NFL stadium, New Orleans football stadium

Mary Dell writes: The Super Bowl returns to New Orleans on Sunday and I am a lucky holder of a ticket for a seat right next to my husband.  While it’s a business trip for him, not so for me. I admit it: though I love football, my excitement is less the game and more the venue. Instead of picking between the ‘49ers and Ravens, I’ll be cheering for New Orleans.

NOLA and I go way back though it has been decades since I’ve visited. I feel about the city like I do about a distant, somewhat exotic, favorite cousin whom I very rarely see. So it sits in that wispy section of my memory, the part with more shadows than clear lines. It’s lodged with other places I knew well when I was young and have never returned to, like the town where my grandparents lived. [Read more…]

Family Vacation with Teenagers: it’s All About the Dinners

Lisa writes: With summer moving swiftly, and our past family vacation just a file of photos in my camera, I realize that my reason for traveling with my kids has changed. When they were little I wanted to get them out of the house. With three small boys, a cramped space and a cold climate, my idea of vacation was a place where the sun shined and my children could not break anything. In their middle years I wanted to show them things, add culture and breadth to their world. Now, what matters most in our travel with teenagers is sharing family meals together.

Beer Garden, Family vacations, travel with teenagers, family dinner

Research has shown that we are happier when we buy experiences than when we buy things. When I buy those five airline tickets or fill the car with gas and pile us all in, I am buying 21 consecutive meals with my family. I am buying hours of conversation at the breakfast, lunch and dinner table with my husband and three sons and it is worth every penny.

The minute we leave for the airport or get into the car we wrap ourselves tightly into a cocoon and are transformed from a family focused outwardly – communicating with friends and colleagues, immersed in work and study – into a family oblivious to others.  At each meal we are a world unto ourselves, as we once were when they were small, and our love was all they knew.

The conversation is the continuation, not literally but in a larger sense, of a dialogue we have had all our of marriage and of all our sons’ lives. My husband tells and retells tales of his childhood, our kids finishing the stories with the endings they know and love so well. One son complains about the food because that is what he has been doing all of his life and similarly the rest of us continue to ignore him.

My other two sons squabble, pushing and shoving and coming perilously close to damaging every hotel room we have ever occupied, until they realize that we are immune to their behavior and they lose interest as well. I worry about the details of our family vacation, about flight connections, luggage, check out times and directions.  The four of them, who know better than to give the appearance of ignoring me, bobble-head along. Patterns are set, we each have roles, and time and venue do not impact this dynamic.

During each meal the conversation drifts, not to homework and our day’s events, but to current events and the culture and history of wherever we are. We traveled through central Europe recently and talked for a week about The War and genocide, about the Iron Curtain and resistance. It was not a conversation that we would have begun sitting comfortably in the suburbs. If we did it would only continue until one of them said, “what time is the game on?” But driving from Munich to Nuremberg and later on to Prague, with long unhurried meals in town squares and beer gardens, allowed a conversation to ebb and flow as if we were in the pre-electronic age.

When we travel with teenagers, I don’t nag. Not hearing the sound of my own voice and the words “SAT prep, homework, class presentation, preseason” is a vacation in and of itself. I don’t realize how much I loath the sound of my own nagging voice until I don’t hear it.

Then it all ends in a blinding flash. Still on the tarmac at JFK my kids switch on their cell phones and, before we are at the gate, one son has made plans for dinner that night asking how fast we think we can clear customs and another wants to know what time his dentist appointment is in the morning. The third plugs in ear phones that have been left untouched in the bottom of his backpack all week.

But it is not gone. We have revisited the well that is our family. We have drunk deeply over 21 different meals of that which connects and binds us.

Family vacations with teenagers

A Hotel Room of One’s Own

Hilton Hotel, Blogher, A room of one's own, room serviceI feel like I should preface this with telling you how much I love my husband and kids but am going to skip straight over that and tell you how much I love staying in a hotel without them.  This little lick of luxury does not happen very often but when it does, I savor every minute.

What’s so great?