A train ride adventure

30 May 2022

Some of you may recall that one of Shep’s Christmas gifts last year was a train ride adventure. We like to make one of our kids’ gifts each Christmas or birthday an experiential one, and for our train-loving three-year-old, we thought a local Amtrak jaunt would be a win! It was, for the whole family. I thought I’d share a few photos, if you’d like to try something similar…

We caught the 10:12 train out of Cary, our local station. I bought our round-trip tickets at the counter a few minutes before – $36 for the five of us.

The train ride to Durham was about 20 minutes – just enough time to enjoy the racing landscape outside the windows, call out familiar landmarks, and fiddle with the tray tables and foot rests, ha.

Though we did bring the stroller for Annie – John easily hefted it into the racks overhead – we packed light otherwise. The kids carried their water bottles, and I packed a pouch, a diaper, a little baggie of wipes, and my ID and credit card in my crossbody. Aside from John’s wallet, that’s all we took!

This was helpful, because we were on foot from there. We walked the 10 minutes or so from the station to Durham’s Central Park – a delight, because as you can see from the blue sky, it was an absolutely gorgeous day! 75 and breezy.

Though the kids spent a few minutes on the playground, the highlight was exploring the stream running through the park (they were not the only ones – it’s designed for kid exploration!).

I stole away for a few minutes to browse the farmer’s market stalls. The Durham Farmer’s Market is rightfully famous here, and it had been awhile since we visited! The beautiful block-printed napkins in the middle came home with me :) (You can buy them online here!)

We had about an hour left at this point, so we walked over to Pompieri Pizza (the giftee’s request) for lunch on the patio. If you ever have a chance to go, get the Bolognese pizza – my favorite. John would tell you to get the Pompieri with peppadews! From there, it was a quick walk to the train station to catch the 1:03 back to Cary – happily tired, pleasingly fed, and exhilarated by a new experience.

Once again, we experienced the reward in seeking out the novel. Though we have been to Durham many times over, we’d never seen it quite like this, and it was fun to get to navigate something new as a family. We can’t wait to do it again – we’ve already talked about taking our bikes on a train trip to Greensboro! Until next time :)

June’s spring flower party

19 May 2022

Back in the fall of 2020, when our preschool opened back up, we met two of our dear family friends.

The preschool opened up with more limited hours, and so the three of us all suddenly picked up at the same time. After a distanced summer, we were hungry for even casual interactions with strangers – which is what this started out as, as our children ran and played outside the school for a few minutes before loading into cars.

Day after day, strangers grew into acquaintances who grew into friends. By piggybacking off our kiddos, we were able to “hack” one of the oldest tricks in the book: making new friends at school – except this time, it was our kids’ school, not our own. This allowed us to quickly up the time quotient of the friendship equation, which can be hard to do post-graduation. Casual interactions, swapped stories, and frequent check-ins piled on top of another until one day, I realized these new friends were as close as many old ones.

We swapped phone numbers. We met up at a park. And then, after many months, we took a big step forward: one of the families hosted a weekend dinner. There’s just something about being in someone’s home that’s a huge leap forward for relationships, don’t you think? We had a lovely evening, and then several months later, the other family hosted us all at their home.

As we pulled out of the driveway, John and I chatted about how it was our turn to host, but that we wished our home was more conducive to having multiple families with kids over. (Our house is wonderful for our own family with young kids – the open plan makes it easy to interact while I’m cooking and they’re playing, for example – but it can get loud and chaotic and hard for both the kids and grown-ups to enjoy themselves when it feels like we’re all on top of each other and the floor is somehow suddenly strewn with every toy we own.)

Then, June piped up from the back in a sad little voice: “I wish we could have the friends over to our house.” Not realizing she had been listening, we fell over each other to assure her that we could have friends over to our house and that our house was wonderful, because the last thing I want her to think is that there’s such a thing as a house that’s not good enough to host friends, or that I was anything but grateful for our perfectly wonderful home. She was reassured, and we talked about how it might be nice to have a spring party so that we could enjoy our backyard. And then I forgot about it.

But she did not :) And so, a few weeks ago – apropos nothing – June asked when we were going to have our spring party. And so, a spring party it was. We set a date, and the planning commenced.

Friends, my big girl is her mother’s daughter, and she launched into party planning with great zeal. Here’s a sheet with some of her notes:

Over several weeks, we brainstormed food, we made decorations, we planned activities, we baked and frosted sugar cookie party favors, and on the day of, we did all the final preparations together. She was in heaven. In celebration of imperfect hosting, I thought I’d share a few photos…

The flowers for the back fence were the biggest project – they probably took 3-4 or so hours over several days. Does that seem like a lot for something we tossed in the recycling post party? Maybe, but it was a delight. June and I listened to the Yoto radio while we cut the petals out of paper plates (I still have a gigantic stack from pandemic preschool-at-home) and then Shep joined in to paint 60 flowers. I hot glued them onto twine and John helped us hang them right before the party. It was SO fun, and they looked so sunny and cheerful!

We also hung some honeycomb poms from my party-planning stash from our trellis and the branches of the trees.

For food, we started with a charcuterie spread from Raleigh Cheesy that one of the other families brought (SO GOOD!) and lemonade/lemonade cocktails for the grown-ups. We kept things easy for dinner with hot dogs and brats on the grill, plus fruit salad, cut veggies, and a tray of Chick-fil-a mac and cheese. Dessert was warm box brownies (Betty Crocker always) with freshly-picked strawberries and whipped cream spooned over the top. June’s sugar cookies (from our favorite baking book) were the take-home favors.

Whether you’re nervous to host or it feels like your circumstances are less than ideal, I hope this post encourages you to go for it if it’s something that matters to you! This night is such a sweet memory – and we’re all eager for the next one :)

And never forget – string lights make everything 100x more magical.

P.S. More about our backyard and how to regularly see friends.

Favorite parts of my evening routine

13 May 2022

The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer, because I don’t actually have an evening routine – as in, things I do in the same order every single night. But there are a number of activities that regularly crop up in the hours between dinner and my head hitting the pillow, and I thought it might be fun to share my favorites today. And I’d love to hear yours!

A scenic ride and podcast

I often ride the Peloton after the kids are in bed, but lately (especially on Sundays), I’ve been cueing up a thirty-minute scenic ride, turning down the music, and pushing play on a podcast. Since there’s no instructor or cadence/resistance guidance, these rides feel a bit more relaxed (though I most definitely still break a sweat), and working my body while refreshing my mind feels like a great start to a new week.

An early shower

I mentioned this in my fourth trimester post, but taking an early shower in the evening is one of the best life hacks I discovered after having my first baby. Now, I’ll hop in right after my workout, or even while the big kids are in the bath, which means by the time they’re in bed I’ve already showered, done my skincare routine, and gotten in my jams. It sounds silly, but the specter of “getting reading for bed” looms larger the longer the evening goes on and can cause me to stay up later than I’d like, so it’s nice to get it out of the way early.

Reading with June

When June started kindergarten, she and I started reading chapter books together before bed (John usually pairs up with Shep). She reads lots of easy chapter books on her own (Magic Tree House, Mia Mayhem, and Puppy Place are her current favorites), but reading together allows her to punch above her weight class: so far, we’ve read three Little House books, Charlotte’s Web, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. I get to pick our read alouds, and relish the opportunity to revisit my favorites :) And of course, I don’t need to tell you that snuggling in a cozy, dim bedroom with my best big girl is a highlight of any day.

Feeding Annie

Speaking of cozy – nursing my best little girl is a fleeting and treasured part of my evenings right now. The screeching and acrobatics of older kid bath time/bedtime chaos might be swirling around us, but getting to feed and snuggle my sweet girl in the midst of it and watch her fall asleep, cheek heavy on my arm, is the best. I soak up every session.

Stretching before bed

Before we pull back the covers, John and I like to do a 10-minute Peloton stretch together (Ben is our favorite!). Getting a little hum in my muscles and a chance to let my mind wander is a lovely wind-down.

Reading before bed

Reading before bed has been a part of my evening routine since I could read (actually, even before that!). Whether it’s just a few pages or an hour or more, my day doesn’t feel complete without it. (Here’s my 2022 reading list.)

I’d love to hear: what’s a favorite part of your evening routine? Do you have a routine you follow every night, or do you mix and match like me?

Affiliate links are used in this post!

Family spring break trip to Jekyll Island

9 May 2022

Here I am, making good on my New Year’s resolution to report more promptly on our family travels! The trip we’re chatting about today makes this easy, because it’s pretty much a carbon copy of last year’s spring break trip to Jekyll Island :) That means it’s heavy on the photos and light on words, though I sprinkled a few thoughts and memories throughout! If you’re thinking of traveling to Jekyll Island and would like the deep dive, I’ve got that for you right here. If you’re just here for the pictures, enjoy!

My swim suit (love, size up!), my hat, Annie’s swim suit!

I was happy and excited to return to Jekyll in back-to-back years, but easily the least thrilled of my family members, ha. My reasoning: we already have several annual or regular trips we’re committed to – Maine, Michigan, Connecticut, the NC Mountains – and I’d like to keep spring break as an opportunity to explore new places and make fresh memories.

The argument for Jekyll is strong, though: southern Georgia is about as far south as we can comfortably drive in a day, avoiding a flight for our family of five, and it’s far enough south that we have a reliable chance for pool and beach weather in early April. So a return to Jekyll and the Ocean Club it was!

Is that spot not dreamy!!

One thing I enjoyed about returning to the same place a second year in a row: it was nice to know exactly what we were getting into! We knew our favorite chairs at the pool, how to get an umbrella set up at the beach, to request the table near the porch swing at 80 Ocean, that there’s live music at the Wharf on Wednesdays. And of course, we got to revisit several of our favorite experiences from 2021, like biking to Driftwood Beach, roasting s’mores around the fire pit, and breakfast on the porch at the Pantry.

June’s bathing suit, Shep’s bathing suit

But there was newness and novelty, too! Our kids were all a year older, and Annie was outside my body :) We spent two hours playing at Driftwood Beach, far longer than our quick in-and-out due to chilly weather last year. The big kids loved it – they were able to roam independently, climbing trees and poking at tide pools, while Annie and I hung in the shade.

June’s dress, bike trailer (love – we bought ours used), Shep’s hat, Annie’s bathing suit, June’s bike (love!)

We brought our bikes and trailer from home and so were able to take more bike rides than last year, which was wonderful. It was so nice to hop on our bikes to move between the Island and Ocean Clubs instead of loading everyone into the car. AND we saw alligators on every single trip between the two!! (Not sure if that’s a plus or minus, ha!)

Also of note: we got to play an abbreviated, very casual game of croquet on the Island Club lawn. If you’ve ever read my bio, you’ll know this was thrilling to me.

There’s this little moment from our time in Jekyll that has really stuck with me… it was late afternoon, and most people had left the pool. Annie was napping and Shep was snuggling with John. I had been reading my book on a lounge chair, but I guess I got too hot, and so I hopped in the pool with June. For whatever reason, we started doing underwater somersaults and handstands in the shallow end, cheering and spitting out water and giggling at each other’s attempts.

This lasted 15 minutes or so (until my ears started to hurt from being underwater, ha), but it’s one of my favorite memories from the trip, if not my favorite. It was a delight, and it brought to mind Catherine Price’s definition of True Fun: we were playful, connected, and in flow. I don’t have a huge takeaway – John will continue to be the parent more likely to horse around with the kids in the pool – but it was such a sweet nugget from our time and a reminder that it’s hard to predict when connection and joy will strike, and so we must make more space for them than we think we need. This idea was first crystallized for me in an essay that has stuck with me for years:

With a more expansive stretch, there’s a better chance that I’ll be around at the precise, random moment when one of my nephews drops his guard and solicits my advice about something private. Or when one of my nieces will need someone other than her parents to tell her that she’s smart and beautiful. Or when one of my siblings will flash back on an incident from our childhood that makes us laugh uncontrollably, and suddenly the cozy, happy chain of our love is cinched that much tighter.

There’s simply no real substitute for physical presence.

We delude ourselves when we say otherwise, when we invoke and venerate “quality time,” a shopworn phrase with a debatable promise: that we can plan instances of extraordinary candor, plot episodes of exquisite tenderness, engineer intimacy in an appointed hour.

We can try. … And there’s no doubt that the degree of attentiveness that we bring to an occasion ennobles or demeans it. Better to spend 15 focused, responsive minutes than 30 utterly distracted ones.

But people tend not to operate on cue. At least our moods and emotions don’t. We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones. The surest way to see the brightest colors, or the darkest ones, is to be watching and waiting and ready for them.

Each day with these people is precious. What a gift to have this time together, to explore somewhere beautiful, and to have the largesse of quality, and quantity, time. Thank you for allowing me to share a peek at it, friends!

P.S. A family trip to the mountains and eating at restaurants with kids.

Affiliate links are used in this post.