A fall weekend in Highlands, NC

27 January 2023

While I do have several goals for the year, I have just one resolution. (Saying that with a bit of a cheeky wink – the difference between goals and resolutions, in my mind, being that goals are things I plan for and track, and resolutions are simply well-meaning intentions. Needless to say I don’t go in much for resolutions :))

Anyway, here’s the resolution: I resolve to post my Em for Marvelous travel recaps in the month they happened, or the month after. I am… not known for this, which is why I’m posting our October trip to Highlands here in January. But I’d really like to be better, because it’s much easier to remember details and, I think, capture the feel of a trip when it’s fresh in my mind! The problem is usually that travel recaps loom large in my mind, since they’re some of the more laborious posts I write with all of their photos and details and linking. But I do love them for family memory keeping purposes, and I’m always delightfully surprised by the number of you who have written and commented over the years that you’ve used a travel post as inspiration for your own family’s adventures. (Thank you for letting me know – truly, a huge compliment!)

In that spirit, let’s chat about our most recent visit to Highlands, NC!

John and I had been to Highlands a few times before – most recently in 2020, when it was a welcome respite in the middle of all things pandemic. That trip was pretty darn wonderful, so it was rather bold of us to attempt a repeat so soon, ha! Our 2022 trip was delightful in its own way, but not without its challenges, as you’ll see.

Highlands is about 5 hours from our home near Raleigh, NC. We left school a bit early on Thursday, October 20 to arrive in Highlands about 6pm. We stayed in this Airbnb, which was perched on the side of a mountain just outside of downtown – with kids, it was about a 25-minute walk to the main drag, or about a 10-minute drive.

As you find with many mountain town rental homes, the driveway was a bit unnerving. I was glad John was driving :) We have an SUV, so I wasn’t really afraid we wouldn’t be able to get up the hill, but the driveway itself was gravel, steep, and did not have much turning or parking room at the top.

The house itself was lovely, though! The breakfast table was beautiful in the morning sun, and we enjoyed the games stocked on the shelves. If I could do it again I would have chosen a place without stairs for this particular year, as Annie was bound and determined to climb them and much of our time was spent chasing her down or spotting her as she climbed.

On our first night, John walked down the mountain into town with the kids to stretch their legs (above) while I drove down in the car (to ferry us all back after dark). We grabbed takeout from Mountain Fresh Grocery. We’d been there before and have liked many things we’ve gotten, but June and I both got pasta this time and were not impressed – it was pretty flavorless. Stick to the pizza, grill, or prepared foods case!

The next morning, we ate breakfast at the house before heading out to hike Whiteside Mountain. We had tried to hike Whiteside the last time we were in Highlands, but the parking lot was too full by the time we arrived. (We did, however, hike it wayyyyy back in 2011!) Well, the combo of arriving at 10am and on a Friday did the trick, because we easily found a spot this time around.

The hike was a delight with a view well worth the climb. (One thing I especially appreciate about this hike: even though you’re right up on the edge and there are steep cliffs, it is well fenced, making it less stressful with little ones.) The kids were absolute champs, especially June who – as we found out later – was suffering from the flu. Argh! Talk about a cringe parenting moment. I hate that we made her climb a literal mountain while she was under the weather, but she was a complete and total trooper.

We walked right up to The Wine Garden at Madison’s (run by Old Edwards Inn, in the center of town) for lunch, and it was one of my favorite memories of the trip! Their seating is outside, and it was a chilly day, but we were cozy and comfy with heat lamps and thick blankets at each of our seats. Though Old Edwards is generally a high-end spot, the outdoor setting, bustling atmosphere, and mini waterfall at our backs made for a kid-friendly lunch (can you spot us in the picture above?). Recommend!

After lunch, it was back to the house for quiet time. John and I probably napped, ha. Later that evening, we drove back downtown and walked the streets looking in shop windows while we waited for our table to be ready at Four65. (One thing that kind of annoys me about Highlands – the shops close really early! Even in what I assume is peak fall season, almost every shop on the main street was closed at 6 or before.)

We LOVED our dinner at Four65! Our wood-fired pizzas were delicious, we were seated at a big round table tucked in the corner (great for kids!), they brought fun coloring sheets and crayons to the table, and the service was great. Recommend!

Another morning, another hike. But first! A major Dad move. On the drive to the start, John led us on a short jaunt into the forest on the side of the road to pay our respects to a very old, very grand tree – the Bob Padgett Tulip Poplar. We talked about how it was older than America, and the kids were somewhat impressed.

We then made our way to our true destination, Secret Falls. It was an easy half-mile hike with several logs to walk across and streams to hop. And the waterfalls at the end were beautiful! It lived up to its secretive name – we passed maybe one other group on the trail and saw another in the parking lot when we got back to our car, but were otherwise on our own.

We grabbed a quick lunch at Highlands Burritos, which was fine but in the name of transparency a stressful parenting moment, as Annie was tired and hungry and not afraid to let us know it :)

After quiet time, we drove back into town, grabbed a charcuterie kit from Mountain Fresh (we learned from our experience in 2020!), and hiked up Sunset Rock to watch the sun go down. It’s a pretty easy hike even in twilight – about 45 minutes up and 30 minutes down on a wide gravel road.

That night, we ate dinner at the Ugly Dog Pub, another revisit from 2020. Unfortunately, it was another lackluster experience – the service was pretty awful, which can be a bit stressful when you’re trying to move expeditiously through dinner with three little kids after a long day. But we survived! The food was fine :)

On Sunday, we packed up and headed home, grateful for another weekend in the beautiful mountains we love.

And that’s a wrap! For more from Highlands, my recap from 2020 has lots of photos and details, too. And stay tuned, because in 2023, we’re headed to Boone for a totally new adventure! :)

January 2023 goals

13 January 2023

For those of you who are tired of reading about goals after four posts in a row, my apologies :) Hopefully there’s something in this post to love, even if goals aren’t your favorite EFM content! And if you are a fellow goal setter, hopefully this post (or at least the timing of it) is encouragement that there’s always time to dig into what matters. I still have two full weeks to make progress on my January goals, and that feels really good. Here we go!

A few housekeeping reminders here at the beginning of the year: if you’d like to get an email every time there’s a new EFM post, you can sign up for that here. If you’re ever searching for something I’ve mentioned loving in a past goals post, you can find it here. And if you’re looking for my Amazon shop (favorite books, games, kid stuff, etc.), you can find that here!

On my calendar this month:
— The first (annual?!) Articles Club retreat! All 12 of us are going to a big house at the beach for the weekend. This trip has really highlighted the research finding that preparing for a vacation brings even more pleasure than the vacation itself: the secrets, chatter, scheming, and planning with our different committees has been such fun that I almost don’t know how the actual retreat will top it – but I trust it will.
— Our 18th dativersary! Thinking we will have dinner at Jujube to celebrate.
— A very low-key paint-your-own pottery outing with cousins and a handful of friends to celebrate June’s 7th birthday. She is making the goodie bags herself, inspired by this Christmas present, and there will be dirt cups :)

What I’m loving right now:
— A friend saw that I put Habits of the Household on my reading list and asked if I wanted to do a mini book club: her and her husband, me and mine. What a delight! I strongly felt that his first book should be read in community, and I’m sure I’ll feel the same about this one. We’re currently figuring out a structure that will work for both families, but I’m just tickled by this prospect.
— Because I find the original Airpods we own to be extremely uncomfortable, I had sworn off wireless earbuds completely. John recently convinced me to try this set and wow! They are SO comfortable, have great noise-canceling ability, and are $200 less than the Apple version. I wear them when John and I are working out in the same room, when listening to podcasts and doing chores around the house, and occasionally for work.
The Mole! I mentioned it in my Best of 2022 post, but it’s too good not to get an individual shout-out. If you enjoyed the original Anderson Cooper version, you’ll love the Netflix reboot. If you did not see the original version, you’ll love the reboot. It’s smart, fun, and provided lots of conversation fodder as the episodes counted down and we tried to figure out who done it.

As a reminder, you can find allll the things I’ve loved over the last few years neatly organized right here!

What I read in December:
Four Thousand Weeks | I have complicated feelings about this book. On the one hand, I very much agreed with his thesis – it’s similar to what we teach at Cultivate – and dog-eared several pages to refer to later. On the other, he seemed to totally misunderstand and dismiss the Christian worldview (which I believe lines up very much with his argument) and set up an unnecessarily antagonist relationship between productivity strategies and big-picture thinking. I also felt like he was trying to be reassuring throughout the book, but he still made me feel anxious – and I’m not a particularly anxious person. Overall, there were parts I liked, but I ultimately gave it a thumbs down in my very precise thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down Notes rating system :)
The Four Winds | Kristin Hannah does it again! I was warned many times over that this book was “very depressing,” and I think that helped me come in with appropriate expectations. It is about the Great Depression, but I came away finding it a tale of love and resilience. I love how each of her novels is set in such a distinct time and place – I always come away feeling like I learned something new.

Revisiting my December goals:
Prepare well for my family’s visits (Yes! This went really well. I took notes for a future post on preparing to host large groups of houseguests!)
Cull and organize 2021 photos (Are you tired of this goal yet? I am.)
Complete the final six ornaments for the Advent calendar (YES! And it was thoroughly enjoyed all month.)
Edit Sheptember, Volume 4
Write 9 blog posts (8! Just didn’t get to the Highlands recap. Look for it on a blog near you later this month :))
Savor the Christmas season (Yes, indeed.)

January goals:
— Finish sketching out my goal plan for the rest of the year (i.e. what I’m going to tackle when – page 27 in my PowerSheets!)
— Brainstorm potential dinner guests and choose families for February and March (January is already locked in!)
— Assign problem areas to months and dig into January’s assignment
— Finish culling and sorting 2021 photos
— Print our favorite Instagram photos from 2022
— Prep for Valentine’s Day fun
— Download the Blurb software
— Finish planning and enjoy the Articles Club retreat!!

I’ll also be aiming for nightly Peloton stretches with John, drinking two of my 30oz water bottles a day, and dedicating two hours every week to my “secret” project. I expect these habit-based goals will stay all year!

I’d love to hear: Are you trying anything new in January? Even if you don’t set official gOaLs, I find it’s often still a fresh start for people :)

As a reminder, many of these are drawn from my 2023 goals! Affiliate links are used in this post!

All about our family goals (right now)

10 January 2023

The parenthetical portion of this post’s title felt important, because though this is a solid overview of what constitutes “family goals” in the life of our family right now (with a 7-, 4-, and 1-year-old), I guarantee they will evolve. Right now, our family goals are almost entirely parent-directed, but over time, I look forward to folding our kids into the process. And you know we will be encouraging our kids to set their own goals once they’re a bit older :)

But that day is not today. So let’s dive into what family goals look like for us right now!

How do we come up with our family goals?

At our end-of-year celebration dinner, one of the questions John and I discuss (after reviewing what went well and where we struggled in the past year), is “what are our goals for the year ahead?”

I’m usually in the middle of completing my PowerSheets Prep Work and finalizing my personal goals when we have our celebration dinner; all that the PowerSheets process has stirred up is fresh in my mind, and inevitably comes to bear on the conversation. In this way, though John and I don’t fill out PowerSheets together, they definitely play a part in our family goal setting.

Unlike my personal goals, which I land on after many hours of reflection and sometimes extensive hemming and hawing, setting our family goals is simple: we generally leave dinner with them in hand.

How do our family goals differ from my personal goals?

Our family goals are things that matter to both of us that we’d like to complete, achieve, or focus on in the year ahead. They fall into a few categories most years:

— Natural next steps of long-term goals we’re working toward
— Goals that John and I both feel led to pursue and that we will be pursuing jointly
— Goals that will have a noticeable impact on how our family spends our time
— Household “to dos” that will require our effort, money, or time. (Think: not particularly visionary or exciting, but they need to happen.)
— Fun things we want to prioritize that need extra visibility to happen. (Maybe we’ve struggled to follow through in the past, or they require more planning.)

We also usually throw John’s personal goals onto the family goals list, because he only has a few and doesn’t require a fancy planner to make progress on them :)

Overall, our family goals are ones that involve a significant amount of John’s and my, or our entire family’s, energy, buy-in, time, and/or money. My personal goals, on the other hand, mostly involve my own effort and time, and don’t really need anyone else’s buy-in.

How do we stay accountable to our family goals?

While I use a somewhat elaborate system to break down and track my personal goals, we go super simple with our family goals: we stick them to the fridge :) In the days after our end-of-year dinner, I’ll type them up and print them out. (This is a good chance to review them one more time and make sure we didn’t forget anything.) Then, they go on the fridge, where they’ll stay for the rest of the year.

It sounds simple (and it is), but it’s effective. We both see them every day, which keeps them top of mind. We’ll often talk while standing in the kitchen, so it’s easy to chat through a next step or remind each other of a goal that’s coming up since the list is right there. As you’ll see below, our family goals do tend to be more specific, which makes them easy to live out – they either don’t really need to be broken down any further, or the steps to break them down are naturally clear.

Finally, I would add that we take our family goals seriously, but we hold them lightly. Yes, we want them to get done, but neither of us are the type to stress out about whether or not they get accomplished. We know we’re moving in the right direction and that what most needs to get done will get done. Progress, not perfection :)

Are our kids involved in setting our family goals?

At their current ages (7, 4, and 1), they are not – John and I set them on a date night. I fully expect we will involve them more in the future, but for now, it’s just the two of us.

June did peruse the list after it went up on the fridge and let us know she thought they were “good goals,” so at least we have her approval :)

What are our family goals for this year?

I’ve organized them into the categories above and added a little explanation where helpful!

Natural next steps of long-term goals:
— Increase giving to Home Free by X amount. “Home Free” is what we’ve dubbed our mortgage fund account. When we set our budget for 2023, we decided to increase the amount we’re transferring to it each month. It’s been three years since I last shared about our mortgage plan and I think we might be due for an update, because we’ve been in talks about changing our strategy

Joint goals:
— Eat more fish. We very occasionally eat shrimp and almost never eat fish at home, and we’d like to change that. Recipe or preparation recommendations welcome in the comments!
— Stretch nightly and increase flexibility. We were in a great rhythm of doing a 10-minute Peloton stretch together before we went to bed each night, but John’s injury and Annie’s birth knocked us off course. It feels SO good when we’re consistent, plus it has other benefits, like helping us get to bed on time and at the same time.
— Complete 5000/6000 Peloton minutes. After trying out several different strategies over the past few years, we’ve found that tackling our workout goals together – and for the most part, working out at the same time – is most effective for us. Happy to write more about this if it’s of interest!

Goals that will impact how our family spends our time:
— Begin piano lessons for June. I am equal parts nervous about and excited for this. I am sure we’ll unpack this on the blog at some point in the future.
— Enjoy monthly kid dates. We are scaling up the frequency and scaling down the expense/logistics for these after our inaugural year in 2022. John and I will each take one of the older kids to do something solo each month, swapping kids each month. Think: going on a bike ride, going to get bagels or ice cream.
— Swim lessons for older kiddos.
— Have a family over for dinner every month. One of my personal goals that will require the whole family’s buy-in!
— Adjust to 3 day/week rhythm. We recognize that my shifting time away from work will have ramifications on our family life, and set this goal as a reminder to stay in tune as this change rolls out.

Household to dos:
— Paint master bath cabinets.
— Pressure wash the patio.
— Update our legacy box. This also appears on my personal goals, as the portions that will fall under my purview will require dedicated effort.

John’s personal goals:
— Read the Bible. He is following BibleProject’s One Story that Leads to Jesus plan and usually listens to the scripture/watches the videos while getting ready for bed.
— Reach first rung of compensation ladder. This is for his variable compensation at work.

Fun things we want to prioritize:
— Camp in backyard. This is super simple, but just complicated enough that it’s easy for it not to happen (and it didn’t happen in 2022, which earned it a spot on this year’s list).
— Play more tennis on weekdays. We did this once after my work hours changed, and it was an absolute delight. More of this in 2023!
— Go to a Duke game. Because we live too close to Durham for us to have gone so long without seeing a game :)

I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about our family goals! And I’d love to hear if you set family goals, or your kids set goals, or if you plan to do either in the future.

Affiliate links are used in this post!

My 2023 Reading List

6 January 2023

Today’s post marks the fourth yearly reading list that I’ve shared here. It has been a delightful exercise in thoughtfully planning my reading, which makes a certain amount of sense given the vast number of good books in the world and the relatively few I’ll be able to read in my lifetime. Over time, though, I think I have leaned a little too heavily into curating a list that looks good and checks a lot of boxes rather than a list of books I’m chomping at the bit to read. That’s okay – I think choosing an elevated list of aspirational reads is its own worthwhile pursuit, and I may return to it. But this year (perhaps in tandem with my 2023 goals), I am craving a ready list of books I can’t wait to read, and so that’s what I’ve compiled. My main criteria, after vetting them in my usual ways, was simply: would I want to dive into this book tomorrow?

After completing 18, 16, and 15 of 24 in the last three years, I’m aiming for 24/24 in 2023 :)

In most months I chose one fiction and one non-fiction book, but you’ll see I took a few liberties, as well. If you’d like me to join me for any of my picks, I’d love to have you!

Becoming Mrs. Lewis | Once I knew Mere Christianity was going to be my January pick, it was only too perfect to pluck this one from my TBR list.
Mere Christianity | One of my favorite books of all time. I read it every few years.

Remarkably Bright Creatures | Described as a love story with a giant octopus, this novel has been universally adored by everyone whose opinions I trust. Love that it’s her debut.
Deep Work | I have had a Cal Newport book on my list every year I’ve made one, and somehow I have still never read one of his books!! Will this be the year? With my new schedule I’ve been craving even more focus at work, so this seemed like the one to try.

Book Lovers | We have a copy that’s been circulating in Articles Club for the last few months with post-it notes added as it changes hands, and I’m up next.
The Gospel Comes with a House Key | This one seemed fitting for my goals this year!

The Inheritance Games | This year’s list leans a little more “fun” than in years past, and so a buzzy YA mystery with “thrilling twists” seems right at home.
The Odyssey | I haven’t read The Odyssey since ninth-grade English. I loved it, though hadn’t had much urge to re-read it until this first female translation came highly recommended. We’ll see – this may be one I later regret adding to the list, but right now I’m excited about it :)

Every Summer After | I have been warned that this one will make me sob, but we’re going with it.
Camp Girls | A nod to June’s and my mother-daughter weekend, recommended by a friend who knows the author!

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow | Another seemingly universally-beloved novel. I enjoyed her other well-known book and am intrigued by this one!
The Life We’re Looking for | This book doesn’t seem to have gotten much love (only 154 Amazon reviews, though positive!), but I loved the other book I’ve read by Andy. Also seems fitting for this year’s goals: “a deeply reflective primer on creating meaningful connections, rebuilding abundant communities, and living in a way that engages our full humanity.”

Carrie Soto is Back | I have never read a Taylor Jenkins Reid book even though she’s had a number of blockbusters over the last few years. It’s time, and this tennis-themed one seems like a good place to start!
Raising Emotionally Strong Boys | My love for Raising Boys & Girls runs deep. Since I didn’t grow up with brothers or many male cousins, I am always looking to learn from the wiser people around me, and David definitely qualifies.

The Maid | I think three separate friends described this book as, verbatim, “just a delight.” Perfect for a summer vacation read.
As You Wish | We have been wanting to watch The Princess Bride (one of my favorites!) for family movie night, so I’ll time its premier with this read!

Marriage Portrait | I added this one in the hopes that it would have similar vibes to the Ken Follett trilogy – a distinct historical period, layered plots, intriguing characters. We shall see!
Teach Your Children Well | This one’s a bit of a wildcard, but I heard the author on a podcast about family discipleship and enjoyed what she had to say.

Lessons in Chemistry | The definition of buzzy. I am actually not sure I’m going to love this one as much as everyone else does, but giving it a try because of effusive reviews from a few trusted sources!
The Hiding Place | A classic I know very little about, but am excited to read.

The Flatshare | Sister and mom loved it. See: light, feel-good books for this year’s list.
Habits of the Household | I adored the other book I’ve read by him. This is one I’m not sure I’ll wait to read until November!

At Home in Mitford | Steph reminded me that December is the perfect time to read a Mitford book. I haven’t picked one up in years (my grandmother loved them!), but it does sound like the coziest holiday read.
Cozy Minimalist Home | Setting myself up for a new year of nesting in each season.

Honorable mentions I’m hoping to squeeze in, as well: Black Cake, Telling God’s Story, Start With Hello, The Measure, The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post, and The Cartographers.

I’d love to hear: Have you read any of these books? Would you like to read any alongside me in 2023? Let’s chat!

Affiliate links are used in this post!