Last year and this year, John and I were grateful to have a three-day weekend in honor of Juneteenth. In 2022, we used it to venture to Swansboro and Hammocks Beach, and this year, we explored Beaufort, NC. Exploring a corner of the North Carolina coast shortly after school wraps up has been a delight the last few years; I think it just might become an annual tradition. I’d love to share a few photos and details of what we did, if you’d like to see!
It’s just under three hours from our house to Beaufort, which for our fam is a short trip. Because of this, we let the kids pack their own car bags, and they did a… questionable job, ha. To tide them over for the last 45 minutes I whipped up these road trip scavenger hunts on the back of a coloring sheet. They were a hit!
Before checking in at our Airbnb we stopped at a Viv’s Fridge right around the corner. Vivian Howard is an acclaimed NC chef (her flagship restaurant is Chef & the Farmer in Kinston) and these fridges are her newest invention: restaurant-quality goodies stocked in a grab-and-go vending machine! We got her signature saltines and beach essentials for our Saturday adventures.
Our Airbnb was in a new development about a five minutes’ car ride from downtown. We could, however, walk to dinner at the Beaufort Hotel, which is what we did (it took about 15-20 minutes). The weather was perfection.
The walk along Front Street was beautiful, right along the water with live oaks to climb and beautiful homes to enjoy (that’s my pick on the left and June’s on the right!). There is plenty of space to walk along the side of the road but there were more cars than I expected – just a note of caution.
Dinner at the Beaufort Hotel was lovely, with an impeccable view. I am proud and also somewhat embarrassed to say I ordered my first fish dish ever – grouper – on Friday night. Eating fish has been a slow burn for me, and though I’ve eaten off of John’s plate for years and loved it, I’d never taken the plunge and ordered it for myself. Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks :)
On Saturday morning we headed out promptly to make our 9:45 ferry to Cape Lookout from Harkers Island (we had booked tickets in advance). The weather was, again, absolute perfection – blue skies and about 80 degrees with a sea breeze. After a brief stop at Shackleford Banks to let some passengers off, we pulled up on the cape about 15 minutes later.
Like Hammocks Beach, there is some infrastructure on the barrier island – a visitor’s center, bathrooms, a hot dog stand – but it’s mostly just gorgeous sand and water. We stopped to talk briefly with the lighthouse keepers, and I remembered reading an article a few years ago about the volunteer position. Fascinating! And what a view just a few steps from their front door:
Something to aspire to in retirement :)
We set up our Shibumi and spent the next 3.5 hours playing in the water, digging in the sand, catching hermit crabs, and eating Chef Vivian’s delicious dips. As a barrier island, the sand is constantly shifting, so there were lots of tide pools and sandbars to explore. We stuck to the sound side, where the water is calmer (and perfect for little kids!), but there’s also the ocean side for thrill seekers.
We had bought return tickets for the 1:15 ferry but ended up returning on the 1:45. (You’re guaranteed a spot in your time slot but can ride standby for any other.) The big kids got to help drive the boat, and Annie snuck in a catnap on the drive back to the Airbnb. Once there, we took a dip in the community pool before taking showers and cleaning up for dinner.
Dinner on Saturday night was special. We were returning to the Island Grille, the Atlantic Beach restaurant where John and I ate dinner directly after he proposed to me just about 12 years ago. We hadn’t returned since, and thought it would be fun to take the whole crew.
While it was fun, it started out rough – two of our children almost immediately started squabbling over a cup of water and ended up spilling the entire thing. This felt very noticeable in a tiny restaurant – our waiter brought out the mop to clean it up, etc. – but thankfully things improved from there and the rest of the meal was smooth.
Afterwards, we walked the short distance over to the beach – the actual beach where John proposed! – and sat in the sand for almost an hour while our kids played. Our loose original plan was to maybe play mini golf after dinner, but we decided that mostly just sounded stressful with Annie involved and reminiscing side-by-side while the sun went down was quite literally perfect.
On Sunday (Father’s Day!) we enjoyed brunch at an old favorite, Beaufort Grocery. We arrived promptly at 10am, when they opened, and were seated right away on the patio, but the service was pretty slow. The blueberry pancakes were delicious, though :)
We then headed back to the Airbnb and prepped our paddle boards for an adventure. Beau Coast, the community our rental house was in, has a private dock on Taylor Creek; we launched our flotilla from there. John had Shep on his board and towed June on a kid-size board while I had Annie on mine. I was pleased to see that the difference between riding with a newly-minted one-year-old and an almost two-year-old is night and day! She understood she needed to sit still, could easily balance herself, and babbled and pointed things out to me the whole time.
We paddled across Taylor Creek to Carrot Island, another barrier island known to have wild horses. As we were pulling the boards up on shore, Annie started saying, “Erses, erses!” We figured she was looking at an informational photo, but then June said, “No, guys, she’s right! There are horses!!” And sure enough, right off the boardwalk was a mini herd.
After looking at the horses and resting on the boardwalk for a bit, we relaunched and paddled back toward our dock, stopping at another little beach along the walk. I know I sound like a broken record, but again – the weather was perfection. This was a peak Father’s Day moment for John for sure.
From there it was a quick paddle across the creek to get home – you can see our destination in the photo below!
Back at the house we ate a late, snack-y lunch of leftovers before heading for another dip in the pool, then once again cleaned up and got ready for dinner out. Annie fell asleep on the drive into town and actually stayed asleep as we removed her from the car seat and waited for our table, which was a sweet throwback for this go-go-go toddler. The patio view at Front Street Grill was absolutely incredible:
A point of freedom I wanted to share: while we were waiting for our food, we let Annie watch a show on the phone. If you’re counting, this heavy-afternoon napper had gone two straight (very active!) days without a proper nap – and she was feeling it. We felt like we hadn’t given her the conditions to succeed at dinner, and so a show allowed us all to enjoy the Father’s Day meal. Somewhat surprisingly, the big kids didn’t seem to mind that she was watching and they weren’t – probably because keeping her occupied allowed us to focus on them :) I still stand by my general policy of phone-free dinners out, but also think it’s wise to understand when to make exceptions.
On Monday morning we returned to the Beaufort Hotel for breakfast before heading out to Fort Macon State Park. Construction began on the fort in 1826 and it was occupied by Confederate forces during the Civil War. It was sold to the state of NC in 1924 to become a state park, but then pulled back into military service during World War II, when German U-boats were spotted off the NC coast. At the close of the war, it returned to state park status and has been enjoyed by visitors ever since.
Some museums and historical sites can be tough with kids, but our whole family enjoyed exploring Fort Macon. It’s very hands-on – kids can climb, jump, and run throughout the fort – and there’s plenty of historical information without it feeling overwhelming. The kids loved the cannons, of course, and we loved that it gave us a chance to chat through several different big moments in history.
A final little humanizing tale: Fort Macon is right on the beach, and after an hour and a half or so in the fort, we thought we’d spend a few minutes at the beach before getting in the car to head out to lunch and the drive home. We did, and it was delightful, until Annie sat down directly in the water. We immediately moved to scoop her up, to which she responded by laying down in the sand, rolling around, and essentially turning herself into a cinnamon sugar donut. We eventually wrangled her up and hightailed it back to the parking lot, which she was absolutely apoplectic about. Remember: we were now going on three days without a proper nap. She screamed through being stripped down in the parking lot, being washed off with extra water bottles (the indignity!), and being dressed in a new outfit. The only pause in her screaming was to yawn :)
It was quite the ending to the trip, but thankfully we were able to laugh through the absurdity of it, and Annie herself was even laughing a few minutes into the car ride. Despite the rocky ending, it was a truly wonderful trip, and we were so grateful to make it!
I’d love to hear if there’s been a particular historical site that’s been enjoyable to visit, with or without kids. Or if you have any questions about Beaufort, I’m happy to answer those, too!
If you have a voracious reader at home, you know at this age it can practically be a part-time job to keep him or her in books: chatting with friends about recommendations, scanning book lists, vetting new titles, making requests at the library (or sometimes putting in a materials request!), picking up holds, returning piles of completed books, oh my. It can be a lot to keep up with, but as a lifelong reader who hopes to kindle the same in her kids, it’s also a true joy.
To hopefully make one part of the process a bit easier for you, I present to you 12 book series for kindergartners and first graders that June has loved. (I’m planning to do another post in the future on her favorite individual books at this age, but series are an excellent time saver so we’re starting here!) Where I could, I’m sharing a picture of the interior pages – hopefully that will make it easier to see if a particular title is the right fit for your little reader.
These are all series that June read independently and loved in kindergarten. She still reads and enjoys most of them now, having just completed first grade!
The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne | A brother-sister pair travel back in time to ancient Egypt, the Civil War, Pompeii, Imperial China, and just about everywhere else in time and space. This is apparently the number one bestselling chapter book series of all time, and with 38 titles to choose from, there’s lots to explore.
The Princess in Black series by Shannon and Dean Hale | Perfectly-pink Princess Magnolia has a secret, monster-defeating alter ego. Funny, action-packed, and with colorful illustrations throughout, there are 10 books to enjoy.
Magic Treehouse on the left and Princess in Black on the right
ThePuppy Place series by Ellen Miles | This was the first chapter book series June latched on to, and she’s read most of them (there are currently 67!). These are formulaic, a la The Babysitter’s Club of yore; in each book, a brother-sister pair foster a puppy and ultimately find it a home. Prepare to hear about lots of different dog breeds :)
The Adventures of Sophie Mouse series by Poppy Green | Sweet and gentle, Sophie Mouse is the perfect beginning chapter book series: big type, short chapters, and illustrations on almost every page. These are cheerful little stories about Sophie and her animal friends’ kindness and everyday adventures. 20 books in this one!
The Critter Club series by Callie Barkley | Another great beginning chapter book series (26 currently) that’s very similar to Sophie Mouse. Four friends have pet-centric adventures as they care for all kinds of animals. June blew through three of these in an hour last week.
Puppy Place on the left and Critter Club on the right
The Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant | In a lighthouse by the ocean, Seabold, a dog, and Pandora, a cat, live with their three little mice children. Most of the 8 books in this series by a Newberry Medalist author find the family helping some creature that’s washed ashore. Sweet, peaceful, and perfect for ocean lovers.
The Tales from Deckawoo Drive series by Kate DiCamillo | Fans of Mercy Watson (or illustrator Chris Van Dusen!) will love this funny and heartfelt spin-off series focusing on a different character on the street in each title. 7 books!
Boxcar Children on the left and Anne on the right
These are all books June read for the first time in first grade, but depending on your reader, some could definitely be good for a kindergartner (or a second grader!), too!
The Anne series by Kallie George | As an Anne with an E lover myself, I was delighted to see these charming early-reader adaptations. Plucking episodes from the original books and combining them with vintage-esque illustrations, they’re the perfect introduction to Green Gables and a great prelude to reading the real thing. There are five books in the series so far!
The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler | With 164 books to dive into, the original Boxcar Children books seemingly never end on the shelf. I adored these four siblings and their adventures when I was younger and love that June is enjoying them, too. Like many parents before me, I love that Henry, Jessie, Benny, and Violet show love, resourcefulness, and kindness as they work together and care for each other.
Heartwood Hotel on the left and Craftily Ever After on the right
The Craftily Ever After series by Martha Maker | A diverse cast of four friends crafts its way through elementary school while surmounting your typical 8-year-old challenges. The eight books in the series have lots of illustrations, easy-to-understand language, and sweet resolutions. Very similar to Critter Club!
The Heartwood Hotel series by Kallie George | If June was challenged to choose a favorite series from this list, I think it would be this one – there are four books so far, and she’s desperate for Kallie to write more. “Courage, kindness, and adventure abounds” in these books with details that delight (acorn souffles, moss-lined beds). These are a step up in difficulty from the early-reader picks but still very approachable.
The Missy Piggle-Wiggle series by Ann M. Martin | While June has panned the original Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books (for now!), she loves this spin-off series featuring her niece. Missy has inventive cures for all sorts of childhood misbehavior that had June laughing out loud. There are three books so far.
This should take care of your resident early-elementary-schooler’s summer reading, right? :) I’d love to hear what books the kids in your life are loving these days, or if you’re also a fan of any of the books I’ve rounded up here!
Yesterday was the official first day of summer! It’s been rainy and unseasonably cold here this week, but I’m not letting that dampen my seasonal enthusiasm. I thought it could be fun to share a few items on our summer fun list today (the last time I did this was in 2017!), as well as a few thoughts on how we’re handling summer break with our rising second grader (and two preschoolers!). First up, the summer bucket list.
Summer Fun List
— Go on at least one thrifting excursion — Make popsicles — Eat breakfast in the backyard — Take neighborhood walks after dinner — Enjoy a nostalgic date night while in Connecticut — Splash at Fews Ford — Play tennis once a week (ambitious!) — Have pizza at the pool — Have pizza at Dix Park — Take the kids to the new splash pad at Pleasant Park — Make our favorite peach-blackberry cobbler — Road trip to the Betty Confetti craft club with June (join us!) — Go to a Bulls game with the tickets the kids earn from their summer reading program — Jump off the wharf at the Island (if it’s warm enough! Right now the forecast looks chilly!) — Take our paddle boards somewhere new — Use our Museum membership with friends — Enjoy a stopover in DC on our road trip home from New England
This year, as I suspected, we were able to back off formal programming a bit – she’s a year older, we have last year’s summer experience under our collective belt, and my work hours are reduced. It’s worked out that about every other week she has a camp or activity or family travel, alternating with weeks spent at home. These weeks at home are meant to be relaxed time to be a kid – to roam outside, to read, to play with neighborhood friends, to be bored and use her imagination – and, on my days off, to have fun together.
When I hosted my first book swap in 2019, it was such fun that we vowed to make it an annual thing, or at most an every-other-year affair. Well… you know what happened next. But here we are, four years later, living our best readerly lives at a book swap once again, and it was a delight. In case it might inspire some of you to host a swap of your own, I’d love to share some photos and details from this weekend. (And if you’re just here to vicariously enjoy our readerly shenanigans, that’s a-ok, too.)
This time around, my beautiful friend Bethany agreed to be my co-host. She’s an avid reader, a wonderful cook, and an even better friend – plus, she has an inviting home with many large surfaces on which to display books (so you can see why she was a slam-dunk pick).
One Paperless Post invitation later, our guests were a mixture of Articles Club gals, preschool mom pals, and neighborhood buddies, plus a smattering of book-loving friends from other corners of our respective lives. It can feel a little nerve-wracking to bring together different groups of friends, but books are the great uniter, aren’t they? We invited 24 guests and had about 16 attend with summer travel and a few last-minute sick kiddos.
Food for a book swap brunch
We opted to host this year’s book swap in the morning – 10am – and so we kicked off the party by piling plates high with brunch food: two kinds of quiche; mini white chocolate baguettes from a local bakery; a mini pancake platter with nutella, soft butter, and syrup; smoked salmon sliders; and a monochromatic fruit salad inspired by a long-ago Cup of Jo post. (I’ve been holding on to that inspiration for 8 years! It finally had its day in the sun!)
We also served sparkling water, mimosas and bellinis, and coffee.
Book swap activities
Most guests brought their plates out to the sun porch and patio where we had scattered two literary quizzes for a little fun. The first listed groupings of characters and challenged guests to supply the book titles; the second required matching literary quotes to their books. Turns out both were quite challenging, ha! You can download them here for your own book swap, if you’d like: Literary Quote Quiz and Literary Character Quiz.
We also had little stickers with “ask me about…” written on them at the door. In lieu of their name, guests could write in the name of a book they love to discuss. We were hoping this might spark conversation, and it did!
How our book swap worked
While some people style their book swap like a Yankee Swap, my goal in hosting was to clear out my shelves, pass on well-loved books, and get several new books in return. Because of this, we allowed gals to bring up to 10 books to swap that they already owned. (One book was totally fine, too! I’d say most people brought about 3-5.)
Any kind of book was welcome – fiction, nonfiction, memoir, cookbook, coffee table book, and even kids’ books this time around. The only requirement was that they had to be GOOD! We asked guests to write a little sticky note with what they loved about each book and stick it on the cover.
Upon arrival, we asked each gal to “shelve” her selections – we had designated areas for fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, and “everything else.” This was a great way to break the ice, give people something to do right away, and get everyone moving around the room.
The actual swap happened at the very end – after much browsing, guests took home as many books as they contributed. If there were any leftover (which there were!) after the initial round of picks, they were open to all.
Bookish decor and favors
Bethany’s home is very lovely, and just a few bookish details made it shine for our book swap: a watercolor book garland cut from a calendar and teeny little watercolor books scattered as confetti throughout the downstairs. Bethany also supplied flowers from her garden – what a treat!
As a last fun detail, we gifted everyone an illustrated bookmark as they headed out. I considered making our own design, but what a delight it is to support other creative women doing what they do best.
And there you have it! Book Swap 2.0 was just as good as the first time around, and I intend for it not to be the last.