Midcoast Maine Summer

31 July 2018

My love for both my family’s summer cottages in Maine and the book The Tech-Wise Family are by now well-documented, but it wasn’t until our most recent visit that I figured out the connection between the two. While in my everyday life, it can feel like a fight to implement the author’s Ten Tech-Wise Commandments*, in Maine, they are a natural way of life. That’s why our time there feels like such a breath of fresh air, and it’s just one of the many reasons why I’m so grateful for this beautiful place! Here are a few photos from our time up North this year, if you’d like to see!

island view

main wharf

dramatic tides

boat ride

coastal maine botanical gardens

We made our first visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, and they were AMAZING! We hardly scratched the surface of what they have available for kiddos after several hours. Highly recommended!!


sand castle

great grandma

Another highlight was a beach day on the Island with my grandma (June’s great grandma!). Such a treat to spend time with her!!

boats at twilight

blowing bubbles

shoulder ride


life jacket


Ahhhh… the best view in the world. Until next year, friends!

*In case you’re wondering what the commandments are, here you are the ones most relevant for our time in Maine:
1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
2. We want to create more than we consume, so we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest, so one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.
4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
9. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and our worship.
10. We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability.

Our new backyard!

27 July 2018

Happy Friday, friends! We are counting down the days until baby brother’s arrival, so thank you for your patience as I’ve navigated these last few weeks!

Today, I am SO excited to share with you our new backyard!! This was definitely one of those “reveals” where it’s tempting to just wait one more month and then another month, after we’d finished this or that was blooming, but the truth is that a landscape project is ALWAYS evolving and changing – after all, it’s a project that’s literally growing! At this point, the major elements are all in place, and I’d love to have the chance to share it with you!

For those friends just joining us, this is a project that was many years in the making. As two people who grew up with expansive yards (that’s just how we do it in New England), our yard was a pretty big disappointment when we moved in. Not only was it tiny, but it just wasn’t very usable. The previous owners had done literally nothing with it – no plantings, no hardscaping, etc. Accordingly, we spent zero time back there our first few years in the house. A few before photos:

backyard before

backyard before

backyard before

Deteriorating deck, sad grass, old stumps, barren wasteland of a lower right corner: check, check, check, check.

With an interior that only needed furnishing, we knew we’d eventually want to invest some money in improving the backyard. June’s impending arrival lit a fire under us, though it still took us until after her first birthday to break ground.

I’ll be honest – this was NOT an inexpensive project. In fact, it cost more than my first car (!!!). We used a big chunk of savings we had set aside, and we were also so grateful to be able to put some money from my grandmother towards it. Naturally, spending such a large amount of money was challenging and a bit nerve-wracking for us.

Having had a year to live with the improvements, however, I can confidently say that I am SO happy we chose to spend the money in this way. It transformed a part of our house that was a negative into a major positive, and changed our daily habits in wonderful ways. Not only does our backyard now look beautiful, but it’s already served as the backdrop to so many family and friend memories. That is the kind of consumption I’m happy to take part in.

Ready to take a peek? Here we go!!

The first major changes were to remove two trees, the deck, and a concrete stair pad. The tree removal was necessary to grade the lawn and create more usable space, two of our main goals, but it was still painful for this tree lover.

tree removal

grading the lawn

Grading the lawn came next, then building the stairs, setting the patio, and constructing the retaining wall. Our contractors also built the arbor and laid new sod.

retaining wall

flagstone path

From there, it was up to us! Over the last year, we’ve added a few plantings, rebuilt our veggie bed, strung string lights, and added patio furniture and a fire pit to move closer to our vision for this space.

backyard with retaining wall

Ahh, much better!! To recap, our priorities were: more privacy; more usable, flat lawn space; L-shaped stairs leading down from the house, good for perching; a pergola; a flagstone patio with space for a dining table and fire pit; and string lights! I’m so happy to say we got all of these things and more!

veggie garden

Let’s talk about the furniture for a minute. It’s all from World Market, and while I’m happy with how it looks (and with the price!), I do not expect it to last forever. The table surface is already showing wear after one year, so I expect we will likely only get 3-4 years out of it. But that’s okay – we weren’t able to invest more last summer, and we wanted to be able to use the space right away! I am prone to holding off on purchases forever, waiting for the perfect piece I’ll have for the rest of my life, and while generally I think this is a good approach, sometimes it’s more important to just choose something and get on with it!

World Market patio furniture

fire pit

So far in the back bed we have a Golden Celebration rose in honor of our kitty Jack, two gardenias, and two hydrangeas. (The hydrangeas might need to move, as they hate getting blasted by the afternoon sun.) We also have a thriving elephant ear in the corner that somehow survived our whole backyard getting torn up (we planted it several years before this project and did not expect it to survive!). We also planted two teeny jasmine plants on either side of the pergola/privacy fence, and with the way jasmine grows, I am eagerly anticipating them exploding into a gloriously-smelling arch sometime next summer! Next year, we hope to fill in the back bed with even more plants, and eventually add more potted plants on the steps like my inspiration photos.


pink hydrangea

green grass

One of our main goals with this project was to increase how private our backyard felt (we were starting from basically zero, so it was only onwards and upwards from there!). I’m so happy that we accomplished that thanks to a few changes. The most significant was replacing our deck with a patio, so that we were no longer up on a platform when we were eating outside, but beneath the level of the fence. The pergola and plantings also help.

elephant ear

raised bed

Of course, our biggest and most important goal was to create a space where we all loved spending time, especially June. Throughout the last year, we’ve seen that dream come to life, and we are so grateful!!

fall in the backyard

backyard fire pit

watering plants

There you have it, friends! I hope the tour was worth the wait! :)

I’m curious to hear, if you live in a space with a yard: has the outside or inside of your house been more of a priority? We held off for five years on this work, but are so glad we took the plunge when we did!

Camping with kiddos

20 July 2018

Mother’s Day weekend 2018 was spent camping in the wilds of North Carolina – and I wouldn’t have had it any other way!

You’re probably familiar with the concept of behavioral “nudges” – I’ve talked about them before. From The Tech-Wise Family: “Nudges are small changes in the environments around us that make it easier for us to make the choices we want to make… Nudges don’t generally make us do anything, but they make certain choices easier and more likely. They don’t focus so much on changing anything about our own preferences and ability to choose well; they simply put the best choice right in front of us and make the wrong choice harder.”

REI Kingdom tent

We camp because it is one BIG nudge moving us to toward some of the things we care most deeply about: spending time with friends, disconnecting from technology, engaging in good conversation, moving our bodies, and soaking our kids (and ourselves!) in nature. No weekend of pampering could have been better! Plus, John brought sparkling cider and plastic champagne coupes to toast the mamas, so we really couldn’t have asked for more :)

Guava Lotus

camping breakfast

camping breakfast

Our sixth annual camping trip with the Rays was full of all of these things and more. Here are a few photos, if you’d like to take a peek!

Milly and June

This year, we chose South Mountain State Park as our destination. It was voted the 2017 State Park of the Year in North Carolina, and I can see why! The campsites (there are only a handful) are heavily-wooded and perched next to a gorgeous mountain river which provided the loveliest background murmur. We did find the sites a little smaller than we are used to, but the pristine bathroom facilities made up for that! :)

South Mountain State Park

We reserved two side-by-side sites, and Milly and June greatly enjoyed running back and forth between them on the little path cut through the trees :)

We often explore beyond the park on these trips for a hike or meal, but Connelly is pretty remote and so this time we stayed put — which was not at all a hardship, because one of the highlights of South Mountain is the hiking trails!

South Mountain State Park

north carolina waterfalls

Our big hike Saturday morning was to High Shoals Falls (the River Trail to the Hemlock Nature Trail to the High Shoals Falls Loop Trail, turning around at the falls, for anyone who’s looking to recreate!). It was SO beautifully done, with platforms and bridges cutting right through the cascading waterfall!

South Mountain State Park waterfalls

north carolina mountains

We also logged some quality time in the river back at our campsite, where the main entertainment was getting the daddies to fetch rocks from the river bottom for Milly and June to throw into the river. (My job was to make sure the girls didn’t fall in headfirst while doing so.)

river wading

I’ve shared some of my best camping tips before, but I know the idea of camping with toddlers and babies (or even just camping at all!) can still seem intimidating. I will readily admit that it requires a certain amount of gear and preparation to be a smooth and enjoyable experience, but I feel equally passionately that it is worth every minute and every dollar. What a gift for our two families to look back on all of these experiences together, knowing we made time for the things that matter most to us!


sixth annual camping trip

Now just imagine two more kiddos in the picture next year… it will be a whole new level of adventure :)

P.S. We’ve already decided that our fifteenth annual trip will be a joint family vacation to Yosemite – any ideas for our tenth adventure a little closer to home? We’ve only got four years to plan, ha!

P.P.S. Nancy’s take on our trip – she took the best of these photos, too!

2013 trip (no babies!)
2015 trip (no babies, Nancy pregnant!)
2016 trip (two babies!)
2017 trip (two babies, Nancy pregnant!)
2018 trip (three babies, both pregnant – ha!)

My thoughts on Amazon Echo and technology in our home

17 July 2018

Howdy, friends! I’ve wanted to write this post for awhile, and Prime Day seemed like a good time to do so… but then life and work and getting ready for a baby and all that happened, and here we are a day late! Still a few hours left to snag a deal if you’d like, though :)

We bought our Amazon Echo on Prime Day two years ago, and I’m the first to admit I was NOT in favor of the purchase — I didn’t think it was necessary, and I was wary of the effect it would have on our home. I’m also generally reluctant to add new technology, fancy gadgets, or services to our life because I feel like once you have them, it can feel impossible to go back to NOT having them, should you ever have to.

But, this was one instance where I acquiesced to John’s wishes, and a few days later, Alexa took up permanent residence in our kitchen. About a year later, we added a second Echo in our bedroom, a gift from John’s parents.

I’m happy to report that two years on, I’m an Echo fan! I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of her abilities, but they’ve been fun to explore. Here are a few of the ways she’s added value to our family’s life so far:

birthday celebrations

A mostly-unrelated photo from John’s birthday celebrations this weekend!

First and most importantly, we use her to play music. Before getting our Echo, we used a laptop, which (needless to say) did not have the best sound quality. It was also a bit of a clunky system, with the result that we didn’t listen to music as much as we’d like to. Now, it’s easy to turn on a Spotify playlist (hands-free!) while we’re prepping a meal, dining, doing dishes, cleaning, or playing in the living room, and I love how this adds to the feel of our life together!

My absolute favorite musical addition, however, has been the “Jazz for Sleep” playlist on Spotify. We’ll ask Alexa to turn it on when we head into our bedroom to start our nightly routine, and it has the same effect as the turn-down service in a fancy hotel. I know it sounds silly, but it’s been such an awesome life upgrade – the perfect way to wind down for bed. (Seriously, if you don’t take anything else away from this post, try this tip!)

On the flip side, John will often ask Alexa to play music to wake me up on a Saturday morning from the other room – I never know what I’m going to get :)

We use the Echo’s timer daily — for cooking, yes, but also for creating transitions for June between activities, as necessary.

We also use her as our white noise machine overnight. (This took a little bit of figuring out — if you’d like to try it, say, “Alexa, tell oscillating fan sounds to loop.”)

Our final most common use for our Echo is the shopping list function. It’s easy to add ingredients on the fly as we run out of them while cooking, for instance, and easy to access on the go via the app if we forget to check the list before shopping. On a related note, we have used her to buy items through Amazon, but only if we’ve ordered the item several times before and have confidence she’ll order the right thing. (Actually, the only example I can think of is Water Wipes, which we clearly have quite the track record of in our order history!)

Aaaand that’s about it! (Aside from playing Jeopardy!) No exploration yet of the smart home features for us, though I’m intrigued. And aside from our Alexa but on the same topic, the only other “new age” technology I can think of in our home is our Brava, which we’ve been really happy with. (Though I’m disappointed that Oliver hasn’t attempted to take a ride on it yet :))

To wrap things up, one of my initial concerns with having an Echo was that the way we speak to Alexa would teach June wrong ideas about how it’s acceptable to speak to a human. So, we try to make the extra effort to say “please” and “thank you” when making requests so as to model the right patterns for her. Seems like a small and kind of strange effort to make, but I think it’s things like that that can have unintended consequences if we’re not careful.

So there you have it! I’d love to hear: do you have an Echo in your home? What do you use it for? Were you an early adopter, or nervous like me? :)

P.S. Affiliate links are used in this post! And Echos are 30% off for Prime members through the end of the day!