Inspiration for a stay-at-home Fourth of July

30 June 2020

Over the last few years, the Kirk and Thomas families have developed a tradition of attending our town’s Fourth of July parade together. It’s pretty much guaranteed to be outrageously hot and charmingly old-fashioned :) This year, of course, the parade is cancelled, but Lisa came up with the idea to make a bit of our own Fourth fun – and I was immediately on board!

Whether you’ll be celebrating at home alone this weekend or socially-distanced with another family, we hope these ideas inspire you to have a little fun and get a little fancy! After months of leggings and jean shorts, it felt wonderful to wear a dress while toasting to silver linings, friendship, and our magnificent country.

A little background: you may recall that Lisa and I spent several years together criss-crossing the South creating editorial photo shoots for Southern Weddings. Though this most recent collaboration was hardly a professional production, we had fun brainstorming over Zoom and then bringing our ideas to life! And though our details were far more casual than our wedding days, we were very lucky to have professional photography on hand to capture them – thank you, Christen, for coming out to snap a few photos!! They turned out beautifully!

Even if it’s just your family around the table on Saturday, here is your permission to break out your favorite tablecloth, pour a cocktail, and try something new for dinner.

About the food: though I love a good modern spin on a charcuterie board (always and forever inspired by my friend Kayte!), we wanted to style an option that might feel more comfortable in the age of COVID. Instead of everyone sharing from a central platter, we made individual “boards,” complete with tomato, watermelon, and feta salad, cheese and crackers, summer fruit, spiced almonds, and pigs in a blanket (in honor of everyone’s cook-out favorite!).

Lisa mixed up a delicious drink with prosecco, simple syrup, raspberries, and mint to go alongside – you can find the recipe here!

Though your kids would probably be totally into the charcuterie situation (ours were), we also thought it would be fun to give them their own little spot…

Yes, Shep had eyes on Christen at all times, ha!

Super simple: I brought our kiddie-size table outside and added melamine plates, paper napkins, plastic silverware, and a fancy drink (lemonade with added blueberries!).

For dinner, we went with – wait for it – pizza with pepperoni stars :) It turned out so cute and was SO easy – just cut out the pepperoni with a cookie cutter and pop it on top of a cheese pizza!

For dessert, Lisa made blueberry hand pies and individual berry trifles. June made the sweetest sweets model :)

Gosh, seeing these photos just makes me even more grateful for an outdoor space to call our own, for beloved friends, for reasons to celebrate, for my sweet family, and for the freedom to enjoy it all. In the midst of our communal work to make this country truly a land of equal opportunity, I hope you take a few minutes this weekend to be thankful for all that we already have. I know I will.

Thank you again to Christen Smith for these beautiful photos and to Lisa for asking me to collaborate – be sure to check out her post today, too!

Friends, though I’m curious to hear how you’re spending the Fourth (and please feel free to let me know!), today I’d really love to hear something you love about America in the comments. It can be anything! After all, if we are to work to make this country better, we have to believe that there’s something good at root to build from. I’m eager to hear your thoughts, as always. xo

Block print tablecloth | Patio table and chairs | Blue centerpiece glasses | Floral melamine plates | Mini American flags | Blue taper candles | Similar scalloped napkins (Lisa’s were from Target last Christmas!) | Bamboo flatware | Champagne coupes | Red dot napkins | Similar star garland (mine was from West Elm last Christmas!) | My dress (on super sale!) | Affiliate links are used in this post!

2020 mid-year goals review, part two

26 June 2020

Back with part two of my mid-year goals review! Part one is here.

Goal no. 5: Build our family culture
Progress I’ve made: This was one of my less-clear goals at the start, but I’m really happy with how it’s shaping up. Books are usually my first foray into a goal, and so far I’ve read and pondered The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry and The Secrets of Happy Families. On our last date before quarantine, John and I brainstormed the beginnings of a family mission statement (this podcast episode informed our discussion). Also this year: we added more storage boxes to facilitate celebration throughout the year, we each camped out in the backyard with June, we’ve had more backyard s’mores nights, we experimented with morning and evening routine charts (and decided we’ll revisit them in the future), and we added more diverse faces to our family library.
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: This is going to sound SO extra to some, but I’d love to begin building a set of “family by-laws” – a living document that sets out what’s important to us, our mission statement, core values, traditions, behaviors, etc. I think this will be helpful for us as we live into it now, and also hopefully a treasure for our kiddos to look at when they’re older!

Goal no. 6: Complete our family Advent calendar as a route to analog hours
Progress I’ve made: Um, almost none?? You thought I was doing pretty well until now, ha! Truly, this has been a MUCH more complicated project than I expected. I have about zero sewing skills and I don’t own a sewing machine… and the instructions are all for machine sewing. I DO have a sister and a friend who both have a machine and have some skills, and I’m hopeful that once restrictions lift I might be able to wrangle one or both of them into a few side-by-side marathon sewing sessions. Thus far, all I have done is open the box :)
What I hope to accomplish in the next few months: I would love to have at least one sewing session with my sister. I’d also love to complete the backdrop portion of the kit so we can use it this Advent!

Goal no. 7: Complete three family photo albums
Progress I’ve made: Carrying over momentum from last year, I culled, sorted, and edited my 2019 iPhone photos, and sent some early loose photos to be digitized. And then (drumroll, please…), I designed and printed our first family album!! Each album will cover five years – this one is for 2005 – 2009. I chose Artifact Uprising, and have a few thoughts to share! Post coming soon.
What I hope to accomplish in the next few months: Two more albums – one for 2010-2014 and one for 2015-2019! I also REALLY want to get my photo organizing guide up for you all!

Goal no. 8: Streamline meal planning
Progress I’ve made: I’ve been moving and shaking on this goal, and it’s been so gratifying! After deciding to use a binder as my organization system, I cleaned out my existing recipe binder, printed and filed all our favorite online recipes, and reorganized my Pinterest boards (now I have printed recipes here and recipes to try here). I also added a non-recipe cheat sheet to the binder, a dry erase board to track what’s in our freezer, and designed a custom Publix shopping list to make grocery shopping even more of a pleasure ;) Together, we had fun with a virtual recipe exchange right here on EFM! I have absolutely LOVED using my binder for the last few months – much more here!
What I hope to accomplish in the next few months: The meal planning potluck Kristin and I had in the works this spring was indefinitely postponed due to COVID; I’m really hopeful we’ll be able to host it at some point this year. I’d also love to share more recipes and meal plans here on the blog and consolidate our favorite cookbook recipes in the binder.

Friends, please commiserate with me: have any of your 2020 goals been a total failure so far? If so, you’re not alone :)

Affiliate links are used in this post!

2020 mid-year goals review, part one

24 June 2020

Aside from March (when I crossed off almost nothing on my PowerSheets, having set my monthly goals before the world fell apart), 2020 has been a year of surprising progress for me.

Perhaps this is because, as an introvert, my goals are naturally focused on my home and my family. Certainly it’s because we’ve been fortunate to only have experienced soft blows from COVID-19, like disrupted childcare, travel upheaval, and weaker earnings, and not the devastation of illness, death, or job loss. I’d imagine it’s also because, with uncertainty raging outside our door and what matters most thrown into even greater relief, I’ve had the motivation to double down on the good things I can control. No commutes for John or me have certainly helped, too :)

I’ve done these mid-year goal updates for the last few years, and I’ve always found them a helpful chance to look back and look ahead. But in this particular year, when the disappointments and canceled plans and heartache of the last six months loom large, I think it’s even more important to count the fruit. Thanks for counting it with me, friends.

P.S. This post ended up being longer than I expected, so I’ll be back with an update on my last four goals later this week!

Goal no. 1: Live a wild life outdoors
Progress I’ve made: We’ve gone on a hike or “off-trail” adventure at least once a month: wading in our neighborhood creek, playing at Prairie Ridge Ecostation or the Museum of Life & Science, forging our own trails in our neighborhood and local parks, picnic lunching in the middle of the woods, and swimming in the Eno River. Closer to home, we added a sand and rock table to our front porch and commissioned a gate across our steep front steps, creating a new zone for independent outdoor play (we also added more plants to our back bed). I read How to Raise a Wild Child and picked up some tips on how to be a better “nature guide” for our kiddos.
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: More of the same! We’ll continue to notch a family adventure in the woods at least once a month, and if restrictions loosen, I’d love to encourage June to get back into more “loose parts” free play with neighborhood friends. I would also LOVE to make more progress on organizing our garage.

Goal no. 2: Be a generous friend
Progress I’ve made: I go deep, not wide, with friends, and this goal is to encourage me to go all-in on this strategy. I chose 8 “focal friends” for the year to very intentionally love, delight, and care for, and so far, I feel I’ve really made a difference with four of the eight. I’ve left housewarming and baby gifts on front steps; brought over meals; had lunch dates, dinner dates, and double dates; sent snail mail; had Zoom game nights; and had long catch-up calls. I also read one of my friend’s favorite books of all time so we could discuss it together :)
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: You know those friend dossiers that keep popping up on my monthly goals? I’d really like to finish them :) I hope that will help me get creative with the four relationships that have not seen as much love so far.

Goal no. 3: Grow strong by biking regularly
Progress I’ve made: We bought a stationary bike in January, and so far I’ve ridden 6-12 days each month. I love it! I’ve never owned a piece of exercise equipment nor taken a spin class before this (or any exercise class, really), but the short classes (15-20 minutes), the ability to hop on anytime I’d like, and the lack of travel time are a winning combination for me. Of course, in the current climate, we’re especially grateful to have an in-home exercise option! Since March, we’ve also gone for a family bike almost every Saturday morning. Most recently, we’ve added in daily stretching and 5-minute arms classes through the Peloton app – John and I do them together, which has been fun!
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: We haven’t yet registered for an MS ride for later this year, but I hope COVID might still allow us to participate in either New Bern or Reston. I also hope to continue to increase the number of days per month I squeeze in a ride.

Goal no. 4: Read through the Gospels together with John
Progress I’ve made: This has been more slow-going than I would like (we’re still at the tail end of Matthew, our first book), but I’ve really enjoyed what we’ve been able to do so far. It’s been awhile since I’ve read through a complete book of the Bible – it’s neat to hear the stories in order. We’re reading the Crossway books of the Bible and using my study Bible for more context as needed!
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: I still have high hopes we’ll finish all four books before the end of the year!

Thanks for always cheering me on, friends! I’d love to hear how your progress on your 2020 goals has gone so far, if you’d like to share. Big or small, it’s worth celebrating!!

See part two here!

Raising kids I like

21 June 2020

In our yearlong process of discerning whether children were in our future, John and I asked a handful of people some variation of “why did you decide to have children?” or “why do you want to have children?” It was spectacular conversation fodder, and resulted in many memorable discussions with people we love.

One conversation in particular has stuck with me for years. It was with one of the people I’m closest to, and it surprised me.

John and I were tucked into a booth next to each other while out to dinner, sitting across from my Dad. This was in his season of being dislocated from my Mom for his job – he was living in Northern Virginia, and made the trip down to see us once a month. The three of us had many adventures on those weekends – swimming in the Eno, poking around at the farmer’s market, taking long drives to our favorite hiking trails.

On that evening, I remember trying to work The Question into the conversation casually, so as not to betray the turmoil lurking just beneath the surface. If there was one person I trusted to weigh in on this decision, it would be him, and I was more than curious to hear what he’d say.

My Dad is someone who has always delighted in his children. Next to his pun-filled humor, his diplomacy skills, his excellent grammar, his love for reading and history and golf — he is known for his love for his daughters. It is his calling card. “No one loves his daughters as much as Rob Ayer,” a friend’s Mom commented to me once when I was telling her about one of our weekend visits. (What a glow, as a daughter, to be loved so well and so visibly! To be delighted in!)

So what would he say? His answer was simple and, to me, unexpected: “I wanted to raise people I’d like to be around.” Not just people he would love – that was easy – but people he would like.

Though this wasn’t the answer I was expecting, it immediately made sense to me. My Dad is one of six kids who grew up on a dairy farm in a small town. My understanding of his family in childhood is that it was largely an insular unit, a self-contained ecosystem of playmates and chore helpers and book swappers and make believe compadres. If you didn’t like being around your family, life would be pretty awful — because you were going to spend a LOT of time with your family.

Even those of us raised in less-remote settings can appreciate how many hundreds of thousands of hours we log with our immediate family, and therefore, how important it becomes to our overall happiness whether we enjoy that time or not. I can see now that raising his kids to be people he enjoyed being around, of building a family unit of likable people who liked each other, was a guiding principle behind many of his decisions.

Good grades? Not the goal. Intellectual curiosity, a love of reading, and the ability to discuss ideas? That’s a person he would like to spend time with.

Starting varsity player? Not the goal. An appreciation for healthy bodies, sportsmanlike conduct, and a day spent outside? That’s a person he would like to spend time with.

Also the goal: all the things any of us find likable in people, our kids or not – kindness, attentive listening, respect for others, graciousness, a willingness to be a helper.

As a parent, what a release of pressure this must have been! He didn’t want kids to burnish his own self-image. He didn’t want to raise kids to change the world or get great grades or to play a sport he loved. He wanted to raise kids he liked spending time with – when they were young, and now, when they are older. It worked: in my whole life, there has never been a season when I didn’t love spending time with my Dad.

Though this whole parenting paradigm feels selfish in a way – after all, you’re using your standard and preferences as the navigational guide – a kid you like will inevitably be a kid (and adult) other people like, too. And to be clear, this was not about making carbon copies of himself – we can enjoy being around people who are quite different from us! The world will give us a lot of messages about what kinds of kids we should strive to raise, and I’ve found most of them to be pretty empty. But raising kids I enjoy spending time with? I can aim for that.

As an introvert, the idea of a close-knit, built-in community that genuinely loves spending together was immediately appealing to me. In the years since, I’ve found it to be a helpful decision filter, just as I imagine my Dad has. It’s not the only one, of course, but it is helpful – even on a micro level. If there’s something our kids do that really annoys us (like, uh, shrieking for no reason…), we’re going to try to work with them to change it (unless there’s a strong reason not to!). After all, I’m allowed to enjoy this parenting thing, too :)

And enjoy it I do. There are few things I love more than spending a day with June, doing anything or nothing at all. She is the best little buddy – one of my most favorite companions – and a delight to be around. I love her, I like her, and I’m anticipating with joy what our time together might be like as she grows older.

John feels the same way. He is well on his way to being known for his love for his kids (and wife, I hope!!) – just one of the things that makes him an amazing dad. Happy Father’s Day to him, to my Dad and father-in-law, and to all the great dads out there. xo

P.S. I’d never heard this idea ruminated on until last year. I could have written this essay, and loved reading it!

P.P.S. Shep is a great little buddy, too, and I can’t wait for our future adventures as he grows – it’s just a little easier to develop a friendship with someone who can talk :)