How we’re spending the Fourth of July

Enjoying family, friends, ice cream, and a bit of relaxation

The best part of a voyage—by plane,
By ship,
Or train—
Is when the trip is over and you are
Home again.

– Ludwig Bemelmans, author of Madeleine

While neither of us would argue the best part of any trip is returning, it’s still pretty remarkable to have the opportunity to spend time with family and friends following a long journey. 

After our latest stretch of travels, this year we’re spending the 4th of July holiday week in Michigan with Cathlin’s family, reflecting on how great it is to be together in one spot. We’re enjoying hot days and still-humid nights. Ice cream outings and food trucks. Waking up without an alarm clock. Grandparents that love their Eliza time, which means date nights for us and time to chat away together.

And while our site focuses on recommendations and reflections on traveling, sometimes little else compares to stepping back to the places you care about with the people you care about. And that can mean doing some personal time travel to return to the past as well as adding new experiences in familiar locales. In our case, here are a few of the activities we’ve enjoyed:

Looking through old photo albums: As so many of our photo albums have gone digital in the past few years, it can feel all too easy to overlook the physical albums sitting on a bookshelf (or tucked away in a closet somewhere). This visit, Cathlin suggested we set aside some time to flip through old photographs together from books her Mom lovingly made years ago. So we sat on the floor, turning pages filled with snapshots of birthdays and Christmases and other special occasions. And what a new sense of perspective we felt while comparing Cathlin’s look and expressions to Eliza’s at her current age.

Walking around the childhood block: The weather has been rather sweltering, in the mid-90s and humid, so we haven’t set off on long walks this time around. But in the mornings and in the evenings, and sometimes in the midday heat, we’ve stolen a few unclaimed minutes here and there to go for even a short walk up and down the street where Cathlin grew up. (We would say we’ve had the bonus of uninterrupted time together, but at least one of these walks involved carting Eliza in a little wagon, at least until she decided she would prefer to walk and try to pull Mama in the wagon instead.) We’ve found an unhurried walk in such familiar territory allows us a chance to chat about whatever’s on our minds as well as little memories prompted by reminders of the past.

Reversal of roles, Michigan, 2019

Catching up with extended family: Sometimes going home, especially on short trips, can feel so busy that there’s simply no time to catch up with anybody beyond your immediate family, but we talked in advance about how important it was to us to see  aunts, uncles, and cousins as well. And we lucked out to be able to overlap with one of Cathlin’s cousins and her husband, who were back in Michigan at the same time. Also, given how full of commitments everybody’s lives tend to be, we worried it might be hard to see other family without there being a special occasion, but we were able to coordinate a short-notice picnic on the bank of Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids that didn’t succeed in bringing everybody together, but gave a great chance to see much of the extended family — and for Eliza to take her shoes off and splash in the water.

Working our way through new restaurants: While Madcap Coffee is always on our must-visit list, Sean also keeps a list of new spots for us to work our way through. We worked our way through spicy brussels sprouts, tofu tacos, and more on the upstairs deck at Rockwell Republic and Sean finally got to try a wet burrito at the longstanding Beltline Bar. (After all, some say the wet burrito style originated in Grand Rapids; Sean remains skeptical.) And nothing else screams summer more than an ice cream cone after a scorcher of a day, so we’ve made a point to stop by a long-time favorite stand, Frosty Treat, and a long-time-but-not-yet-tried shop, Jersey Junction, both of which serve Hudsonville ice cream. Still, many more places to try! 

Sean enjoying chocolate sprinkles on a giant cone, New England, 2015
Mere babies watching the fireworks, NYC, 2014 
(my, how cameras have improved since then!)

For the 4th of July itself, we’ll be barbecuing with family and watching the fireworks, but the best feeling of the holiday is sometimes doing the kinds of things that feel the most normal. Since we’re joining Sean’s family north of Boston again next week, we’ll be able to do all of this all over again.

There’s something delightful about staying put while so many others are traveling (the most Americans ever, according to AAA). Plus, one fewer car on the road means you all get to their destinations that much faster. So whether you’re traveling near, far, or not at all, have a wonderful holiday (and also have a popsicle for us).

PS If you want to feel like you’re on vacation, channel the vacation mindset with a few starting points, courtesy of Lifehacker.

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