New shoes, or a road trip? The best iPad available, or a weekend spent exploring a new state park? For me, the choice is easy. Memories are the best and longest-lasting gifts on the market. Those experiences stay with you forever and feel brand new every time you stumble upon a memory that causes you to stop, smile and reminisce. 

That's what I was looking to give my partner, Damon, when I went to Airbnb in search of a cozy weekend getaway to be his Christmas gift. I was hoping to find an apartment somewhere close to a state park or a cute little small town. How I ended up finding a twinkling tipi in the woods--I will never know.

The tipi listing was immediately too awesome to resist. It was situated on private property with plenty of space and freedom, our two dogs were not only allowed to come but could be off-leash the entire time, and there was a heated bathhouse just a short walk away. Since we would be staying the first weekend of December, where the high was estimated to be in the low 40s, that heated bathhouse was the deal breaker. I booked the tipi for a full weekend and didn't look back!

The tipi is located outside of Park Hills, Missouri so Damon and I had a bit of a drive from Columbia, but my goodness was it worth it. We pulled past the private property sign well after a thick darkness had settled in for the night, which made the first glimpse of our weekend home absolutely breathtaking. Magical is the only word that seems to do that moment justice. The air was crisp and still, our dogs were happily running through the woods, feverishly exploring new smells, and splayed out in front of us was a giant tipi situated on a beautiful deck surrounded by woods.

I could have turned around right then and still I would have had so much fun.

Once we bundled up with a few more layers and got our bags situated in the tipi, we set out to cook dinner. The deck had a grill and all the utensils needed to cook a delicious meal and, as part of Damon's gift, I had seasoned steaks and veggies ready to go. I popped open the complimentary bottle of wine (Yes! The tipi comes with wine!) while Damon fired up the grill. And that's when the coyotes made themselves known.

This video gives me chills every time I watch it. Coyotes calling in the night is one of my favorite sounds. Having grown up with farmland, that sound feels like home. Both of our dogs are used to hearing the echoing yips and yowls of coyotes, but its still pretty fun to watch them yowl back. No coyote would get anywhere near our little setup without going through Seamus and Ellie first!

Okay, so the second video from a couple weeks before the tipi trip was even a thing...but how cool are those calls!? This was our soundtrack falling asleep every night and it was absolutely amazing.

Speaking of sleep, let's talk sleeping arrangements for a minute. Going into this adventure, I had a healthy amount of worry about actually sleeping out there. Missouri in December is definitely no California. Lows in the 30s each night had me shivering just thinking about it. But the Airbnb owners, Keith and Benka, thought of everything! The bed had a heated mattress pad and a heated blanket. We actually woke up sweating the first night and had to turn them down! If you choose to go in the winter like we did (which we would highly recommend!), just be prepared to bundle up the entire time you're in the tipi unless you're under the toasty covers. And use the trusty camping tip that Damon taught me--sleep with your clothes for the next day under the covers with you. They were fresh-from-the-dryer warm putting them on in the morning!

Saturday brought the first chance to see the tipi in the daylight and explore the grounds. There are trails on the property, including a long section of abandoned railroad that's set up for a picnic!

Tell me that doesn't look like something straight out of American Horror Story.

We found these all over while we were walking around...

Have you ever seen this before!? I hadn't. They're called Frost Flowers. From what I've read, conditions have to be just right for frost flowers to form. The weather must be below freezing, but it's vital that the ground is above freezing. Kuriositas does a great job of explaining why it happens: 

"As the temperature gets to freezing or below the sap in the stem of the plants will expand.  As it does so the outer layer of the stem comes under increasing pressure and microscopically thin cracks, known as linear fissures, begin to form.  These will finally give way under the pressure of the sap and split open. Water is continuously being drawn up the plant’s stem while the ground remains unfrozen. It travels up the plants external structural axis (stem!) and reaches the split or splits.  As it does so, it oozes slowly out and it freezes.  Yet more water is coming behind it. This new water reaches the cracks and it too freezes, pushing the previous slither of ice away from the stem.  In this manner the amazing ‘petals’ that you see in these pictures are formed."

How cool is that!? 



Other than hanging out at the tipi, we had all of these grand plans for the weekend...the area is glittered with state parks that we really did have the best intentions of checking out. Johnson Shut-Ins, Elephant Rocks, and Taum Sauk Mountain are all right there (and all worth going to if you're in the area!). The Missouri Mines State Historic Site is also nearby...so many fun places to explore! We knew we couldn't make it to them all but in the end we only ended up visiting one place – Old Village Mercantile. Candy heaven!

Even though there were so many other intriguing places around, we ended up deciding to stick close to the campground for a super relaxing, chill night. So we broke out the whiskey and hotdogs and spent the night huddled around a campfire.

P.S. If you've never listened to The Wailin' Jennys, you definitely should! It is the perfect Pandora station for a relaxing night in the woods.

The tipi even came equipped with all the fixing for smores! It was all packaged in this perfect little tin...which I accidentally stole when we left. Eep! It was an accident, I swear. I never thought I'd use our Sorry card, but it was the perfect card for the situation as I embarrassingly packed up the stolen tin and mailed it back to Keith and Benka.

Excluding the accidental thievery, Damon and I (and our two incredibly tired but happy dogs) had an outstanding weekend. It was the perfect way to celebrate Christmas, and it will be a gift that we will remember and cherish forever.


:: Haley ::

The time we spent in Waco, Texas at Magnolia Market’s Silobration event was an absolute dream! We were over-the-moon excited when we received the invite to be one of the selected 36 vendors who represented states from across the country. We were with such an outstanding group of artisans who all had their specific craft and wanted to share their passion with others. Together, we all experienced the elements in the midst of three incredibly busy days.

We drove along highways full of sleepy-looking towns, open skies, isolated lakes and friendly faces. The vastness of Oklahoma and northern Texas greeted us with open arms as we made the 11-hour trek down to the lone star state.

We arrived in Waco late on Tuesday night and then spent the next morning exploring a little bit of the city. We had coffee at Common Grounds, a popular spot for locals and visitors alike, located right on the edge of Baylor’s campus.

Common Grounds is definitely at the top of our list for places to try if you’re planning to visit Waco. There were so many cozy nooks and crannies to enjoy a cup of joe with good friends! It had a lovely, eclectic atmosphere full of antique pendant lighting, velvet sofas, coo-coo clocks, iron tables, and the rich aroma of coffee grounds that are ready to awaken the morning’s clientele.

After coffee, we headed over to the Silos to do a little shopping of our own at Magnolia Market. And we’ll tell you, every detail, inside and out, is so thoughtful it almost doesn’t feel real. It was a feast for the eyes!

We spotted our tea towels sold exclusively at Magnolia!

Of course, we had to end our shopping trip with a Silobration cookie (a giant, classic chocolate chip cookie with peanut butter pieces) and a Lemon Lavender cupcake. They were absolutely delightful!

Our recipe cards at Magnolia Flour - the bakery at the Silos!

In addition to Magnolia Market and Magnolia Flour, there were also countless local food trucks that brought the taste of Waco right to the grounds! They outlined the beautiful artificial turf where visitors can come with their families to play ball, games, and dance around. There’s even a stage for live music to take place. It would be incredibly easy to spend a full day at the Silos without getting bored – mouth-watering food, amazing shopping, gardens to peruse, and openness to simply enjoy.

We spent the afternoon setting up our booth, and then as if our day couldn’t get any better, we got to meet Chip and Joanna!

Thursday, Friday and Saturday flew by from literally spending the entire three days meeting some of the nicest people we’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering. We met visitors who had traveled from all over the country to experience the magic of Silobration and locals who were thrilled to share their beloved hometown with fresh faces. The southern hospitality we experienced truly made Waco feel like a home away from home!

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to see us. We loved meeting you!

:: Gretchen + Kate Z :: 

 

 

 

 


{Streets of Venice}

Last February I was fortunate enough to take an impromptu trip to Italy with Rachel, one of my best friends from college. We had such a great time! Italy is an extremely small country compared to the United States, so we were able to see quite a bit for only being there a week. Here are some of my tips, tricks, and must-dos:

TRAVEL TIP :: Subscribe to airline alerts via their individual websites. The airline will send you a weekly email that outlines specials that are running. Most of the time they’re pretty small…a couple dollars here, a couple dollars there…but every once in a while they drop a big one. Such was the case for my impromptu trip to Italy. Emirates Airlines was having a special to fly from NYC to Milan for..brace yourselves..$400 roundtrip!! Sold. 

TRAVEL TIP :: Being flexible pays off. I like to build up my travel savings account (yes..I have a separate savings account just for travel) and then sit on it a while before booking a trip. That way if I find an amazing deal (like the Italy flight special) I’m ready to take action immediately. Here’s my timeline for Italy — 

Found the flight special :: Wednesday

Booked my flight :: Thursday

Left the country :: Monday

Zach, a former 1canoe2er, was there when I booked my flight only 4 days out. To put it in his words, it was the biggest YOLO moment I’ve ever had.

PLACES TO SEE {THE COLOSSEUM} :: Jaw-dropping! I would 150% recommend spending the extra money to go to the lower level where you can walk the same corridors that gladiators and beasts alike walked hundreds of years ago. Down there you can also see the “elevators” that were used to release the animals into the arena. Ultra cool!

RANT :: I promise this will be the only rant. Please…make it a priority to put the phone down every once in a while. I was in Rome during the height of the selfie stick movement and to be honest, it left me feeling a little sad. I’m confident when I say that 95% of the people I saw on the street had selfie sticks glued to their outstretched hands. Rome is basically one giant museum without a ceiling. There is a new discovery around every corner. Discoveries that you are most likely paying hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars in travel costs to see…why pay all of that hard-earned money just to look through a lens!? I want to be present in the details, the weather, the crowds of people around or lack there of — being mindful in that moment is going to engrain that image in our minds and give a crisp recollection of details in a way that a photograph will never be able to do. The moment is not robbing us of a photo op, our photo op is robbing us of truly experiencing the thing we traveled thousands of miles to experience.

PLACES TO SEE {VATICAN CITY} :: What a beautiful place. Rome surrounds Vatican City, which is actually its own city-state. Not only is it headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and home to the pope, its walls house some of the world’s most famous artwork. Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel alone is enough to make me want to go back again and again.

NOMS :: They say when you’re in Rome you should do as the Romans do. Well, Romans eat super delicious food. So we ate duper delicious food! And drank our weight in wine and Lemonchello… :) Unlike the precedent that fast-food has set in America, Italians take their time with meals, so Rachel and I followed their lead. The average dinner probably took us on average 3 or so hours to complete. The waiters in Italy expect your meal to take a long time and respect your privacy. They don’t hound you like American waiters do. In fact, it was hard at times to get the waiter’s attention in order to bring the check. Tipping isn’t necessary in Italy, but Rachel and I usually included a small tip (10 euro) with our long meals because not tipping felt strange. This was definitely more for our own comfort than their expectations. 

TRAVEL TIP :: I heard that renting a car in Italy was a little intimidating, so Rachel and I booked train tickets from one city to the next. We bought our tickets in advance and used a kiosk to print the physical tickets once we were at the station. The trains were was easy, comfortable and cheaper than renting a car would have been. Plus we didn’t have the extra stress of navigating. Italian streets didn’t seem to follow the same grid pattern that many of our cities do, so I was relieved not to have to navigate. Once we were in the city, we simply walked everywhere we wanted to go or jumped on a bus.

TRAVEL TIP :: Hostels are great! A lock on your suitcase is always a good idea, especially if you don’t have a private room. They will supply towels but don’t forget about footwear. Rachel and I tied doggy bags on our feet because we both forgot about shower shoes!

PLACES TO SEE {DUOMO} :: Situated inside the Florence Cathedral, the Duomo is a must-do! Visitors can climb up to the top of the dome to be greeted by an amazing view of the city. The climb involves steep steps and parts of the stairwell are incredibly tight, so if you’re claustrophobic at all, I would consider sticking to the ground floor.

PLACES TO SEE {ACCADEMIA + UFFIZI} :: Beautiful museums! The Accademia Gallery is most widely known as the home to Michelangelo’s David and was the smaller of the two. Uffizi Gallery is huuuge but worth it. My favorite painting was Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Being an art major in college, I felt like I spotted a celebrity when I saw it on the wall!

NOMS :: Get the steak! Florence is known for its steak and for darn good reason. 

TRAVEL TIP :: Transportation in this city is so fun!! The street are made of water (obviously) so there are water buses and water taxis to get you around. The taxis are super pricey, so I’d recommend taking the bus system. It takes a little longer because you have to dock up at every stop, but it’s fairly easy to navigate and much cheaper. Clothes that layer are a great idea in this city. Even when it’s warm on land, the water buses are a bit chilly when they get moving!

PLACES TO SEE {THE STREETS} :: We didn’t have a destination in Venice…Venice was our destination! Simply walking the sidewalks made for the perfect day. Because the large streets are water, the alleys are the way to get around on foot.

TRAVEL TIP :: Rachel and I had an experience in Venice where the hostel location we booked wasn’t the same location where we stayed. I think the address that we had was only the office location so then we had to walk to a second address to actually settle in and sleep. The man running the hostel couldn’t give us the address for some reason…so the entire exchange felt shady. While it all turned out perfectly okay, we felt extremely uncomfortable moving to a second location where no one back home would know where we were! I ended up turning on my cell service to take a picture of the location on Maps and I texted it back to my family. From now on I will be sure to ask if the room is on the same property of the address listed with the hostel information. Better safe than sorry.

If you’re planning a trip to Italy — have so much fun!! Comment with any questions and I’d be happy to chat with you!

:: Haley ::

P.S. If you’re a reader like me, you may be interested in one of my favorite travel books — Off Track Planet’s Travel Guide for the Young, Sexy, and Broke. Check it out!

I love tradition. Maybe it’s the ritual of it all, gathering once a year to celebrate occasions, or the idea of large groups of people celebrating a single holiday or event in many different ways. Growing up in the rocky terrain of Southwest Missouri, the ritual of picking out the perfect Christmas tree consisted of visiting our local hardware store under not-so festive fluorescent lights. While it may not seem like the most idyllic scene, it is a tradition I looked forward to year after year of my childhood.

Fast forward to my first Christmas as a newlywed and surrounded by the lush terrain of Mid-Missouri, I could not contain my excitement when I learned of a Christmas tree farm about forty-five minutes from Columbia. A Christmas tree farm was something I had believed was exclusive to New Englanders in L.L. Bean catalogs, a far cry from the pre-selected Christmas trees at Lowe’s I was accustomed to.

My husband Bradley and I loaded up our St. Bernard, Ellie, into our Subaru and took off to select the perfect Christmas tree. As we drove up to the farm, we were greeted by acres of Christmas trees. I scanned the field and saw everything from the smallest Charlie Brown Christmas tree, to the mammoth-sized Griswold Family Christmas trees. We were greeted with a warm Midwestern hello, handed a bow saw (Yikes) and dropped off by way of tractor to our destination.

Admittedly, my husband and I were overwhelmed by the sheer selection of trees. Douglas fir or Scotch pine? Should we play it safe and pick out a smaller tree, or go for a tree that would barely fit in our apartment? We wandered, and wandered; all while critiquing each tree we passed. After a roughly 45 minute search, we had found what we were looking for, a beautiful eight-foot Douglas fir.

Naively, we thought the hardest part of the job was over, until we had to saw the tree by hand and pull it roughly a quarter of a mile to our pick-up location. Talk about a work out! The sight of the tractor coming down the hill was a welcome one, and our tree was loaded onto a trailer to be trimmed down and netted. As we waited for our tree to be loaded onto our car, we were warmed by an iron stove and hot apple cider.

Driving home with our tree safely strapped to our car, I couldn’t help but smile at the idea of the new tradition I had just made with my husband. We lugged our tree into our apartment and laughed heartily as the top scraped our ceiling and the sheer size of the tree taking half of our dining room. As newlyweds, we had been adjusting and melding our respective families’ traditions and routines into our own, and the visit to the Christmas tree farm and our story of the too-big Christmas tree was unique to our new family and the start of a new tradition.

:: Angela ::

Psst..if you're looking to cut down your own Christmas tree in the future and you're in the area, definitely check out Starr Pines!

When my mother-in-law suggested a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains for our bi-annual BIG FAMILY VACATION, I have to admit that I met the idea with only luke-warm enthusiasm. Not because I have an aversion to the mountains, but because I’m one of those people who’s not a big fan of the summer heat unless I’m in or near the water. A trip to the steamy, tropical-like forests of Tennessee—with no ocean in sight—wasn’t exactly top on my list. To my delight, however, I was never so happy that I stepped outside my comfort zone.

As we entered the foothills of The Smokies, excitement began to mount. Text messages were flying back-and-forth from car to car (there were four in our caravan!). “How much longer? What are we going to do first? What will the cabin look like?…”

All of us were to share one cabin the entire week. You could say it was like the The Great Outdoors meets National Lampoon’s Vacation (mind you I was very young when these movies were released, but they provide a great visual for those who have seen these 80’s classics). Our cabin boomed with the sounds of young children running, playing, and bickering, along with the adults letting loose a little or scurrying about the cabin in preparation for the day’s adventures. All-in-all, the mountains proved to be a great place to vacation with extended family, because by the end of Day 2 some may need a little more than just their own room or corner of the house to retreat to when someone or something starts grinding on their nerves. I mean, colossal log cabins with private resort-like swimming pools are great, but what’s greater is having a vast mountain range to fulfill your need for space.

I had just two stipulations for our trip to Pigeon Forge: 1) we must go white water rafting, which had always been on my bucket list, and 2) to actually step foot into the mountains, preferably hiking a trail. I’m happy to report that we checked both off of the list, along with many other firsts.

On the docket for Day 3 was white water rafting. We were all a little nervous, but equally excited. Crazy Carl was our guide, and with his cascading brown beard, he embodied a young and free-spirited mountain man. It just made the outing that much more authentic in our touristy opinion.

After a very quick crash course in synchronized paddling, we set off—navigating rapids ranging from Level 1-3. Just baby rapids, really, but we were so proud of our young girls for being brave and meeting every rapid with a smile and let’s-do-it-again attitude. It was thrilling for the adults, so I can only imagine what the experience was like for an eight- and five-year-old. As we approached the bank at the end of our float, I just knew this would be one of my favorite family memories of all time, and I highly recommend this to all families. This segment of our vacation even ended up being the subject of my daughter’s third grade journal.

When the day finally came for our little family (just myself, husband and two girls) to venture into the mountains for our much-anticipated hike, it was hot. And it was humid. But it was also an excursion that we’ll never forget.

We began our journey by hopping on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail from Gatlinburg. The mountains were heavenly. From afar, it was a mystical scene the way the moisture wafted from the treetops, seriously looking like continuous puffs of smoke (imagine that). And inside the forest was just as breathtaking—but almost eerie. The moisture from the trees created a fog-like screen all around us. We were literally in the clouds.

Our target was Grotto Falls, the pinnacle of the family-friendly 2.5 mile hike on the Trillium Gap Trail. And it delivered. The hike was challenging at times but manageable, and the trail was alive with salamanders, frogs, squirrels, and other wildlife. We even encountered a black bear (at which point we circled back to another trail head)! When we finally reached the waterfall, it was so beautiful and refreshing; my iPhone pictures just don’t do it justice.

One of the other jewels we stumbled upon as we slowly made our way out of the mountains in our car was a small general store fashioned from an old water mill. Inside was a treasure trove. Here we purchased our authentic souvenirs, which were nothing you could find in the shops that dotted tourist alley. The cozy shop was stocked with hand-crafted, artisan pieces: wood carvings, paintings, jewelry, soaps, jams, spices, and more. Just my kind of shop, because when I’m on vacation, I always make a point to purchase a one-of-a-kind keepsake made by a local artist. We even took home a colorful children’s book The Great Smoky Mountain Salamander Ball, which was written and illustrated by native Lisa Horstman.

The remainder of the trip was chalked full of tourist attractions, some worth the money but most of them not. We took a few spins on an alpine coaster, oooh’d and ahhh’d our way through Ripley’s Aquarium (totally worth it), shopped and played at The Island, and shut down Dollywood. Still, our favorite experience was the one nature provided for free.

If you aspire to venture off the well-worn tourist path and appreciate the beauty nature provides, be sure to plan a hike during your trip to The Smokies. There’s just no substitute for immersing yourself into the wilderness and awakening your senses with the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest. A trip to the mountains without an authentic mountain experience would be one to regret.

All-in-all, not quite a Griswold family vacation, but it had its moments. Certainly one to put in the photo books.

:: Crystal ::

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