A fall weekend trip to Boone, NC

30 October 2023

Of all of our family traditions, our annual fall trip to the mountains just might be my favorite. Eep! I don’t know if I can say that… but there’s just something about these long weekends, where we get to spend uninterrupted time together, surrounded by beauty, exploring somewhere new, eating good food and enjoying good conversation, challenging our bodies and then experiencing true relaxation, that speaks to my soul. I think every other family member would agree. We had a beautiful, memorable trip to Boone and Blowing Rock this October, and I’d love to share a few photos and details, if you’d like to see!

We often travel Thursday – Sunday for these trips, but since June had a Monday off in October, we skipped school on Friday and headed to the mountains first thing. Boone is about 3 hours from our home in the Triangle, so we arrived in time for lunch on a perfect blue-sky day.

About a week in advance, John and I put our heads together for an hour or two and plotted out our weekend, making meal and activity reservations as needed. We had planned to eat lunch at Lost Province Brewing in downtown Boone, but unfortunately they don’t take reservations and reported an hour+ wait. Disappointed but not deterred, we trotted down the hill to Melanie’s Food Fantasy (where we had planned to go later in the weekend) and were seated at an outdoor picnic table after about 20 minutes. Delicious!

It must be noted here, the parking in downtown Boone is atrocious. There are very few public parking spots or lots and no garages. Prepare for a lot of circling and pray for a little luck on a busy weekend.

After lunch, we headed to our adventure for the day: the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster in nearby Banner Elk! While this was our most expensive activity of the weekend ($16 for adults, $13 for June, $5 for Shep), it was SO very fun. June and I rode together, and we laugh-screamed our way through the twists and turns. We loved it so much that we ended up buying the video of our runs, something that is SO out of character, ha! They put a smile on our faces, though :)

From there, we checked into our Airbnb, which was a few minutes outside of downtown Boone. We chose this rental for its backyard creek, and it didn’t disappoint – the kids made a beeline for the banks as soon as we stopped the car.

After an hour or two of playing outside, swinging in the hammock, and breaking out the Yahtzee set, we headed into Boone for dinner at the Beacon Butcher Bar. This may have been my favorite meal of the trip – the food was delicious and the space was cozy, with a big fireplace. We felt welcome with kids, but were surrounded by lots of couples and big adult dinner groups – definitely a spot you could get a little fancy for.

I should have mentioned – Friday was a delightfully warm fall day, with a blue sky and mid-60s to low-70s temps. When we woke up on Saturday, we still had the blue sky, but the temperatures had plummeted. We bundled up and drove to Grandfather Mountain, where it was 42 degrees (with whipping winds up to 30mph) on top. Brrr!!! At the gatehouse at the park entrance, they told us that the swinging bridge was closed due to high winds. However, it opened shortly after we parked at the top, so we streamed toward the bridge along with everyone else. However, we didn’t even get a third of the way across – the wind was blowing SO bitterly that we could hardly look up, and we were freezing even though bundled.

Something to note for trip planners: you can and should reserve your timed tickets on busy weekends. We had 10am tickets and had no trouble getting a spot in the top parking lot by the bridge. When we left to head to the visitors’ center about 1:30, however, the line of cars snaking up the road was incredibly long, as they were at a one-car-in-one-car-out standstill.

The kids were dubious at this point, but we headed off on our hike (the Grandfather Trail to MacRae Peak) and it quickly absorbed their attention. We could hear the wind whistling above our heads, but we were under tree cover and warmed up as we climbed uphill and scrambled over rocks.

Something we have noticed about our kids: the more adventurous the trail, the more engaged they are in the journey. Even though this was a strenuous and at times technical trail (with cables and ladders!), we heard hardly a peep of complaint. When hiking with kids, I know it might seem like a better idea to go for an easier trail, but in our experience, that sometimes leads to more boredom and complaining.

That being said, this was NOT an easy trail and I’d think carefully before attempting it. We did not see any other kids the ages of ours – and we only made it part of the way, through 5 of the 9 ladders, before deciding that between the wind, the ages and abilities of our kids, and the fact that John had Annie in the pack, it would be prudent to turn back. It was still an incredible hike, with gorgeous views and fun and challenging terrain. We will be back someday to complete the whole thing! :)

And, it must be said, John was the absolute MVP for managing both himself and Annie!

Once back in the parking lot, the wind had slowed down and the temperature had warmed up, and we were able to make it across the full swinging bridge – just gorgeous!

Then, we headed down for lunch in the visitors center and a quick visit to the animals in the nature center, including elk, black bears, and otters.

Once back at the Airbnb, we put Annie down for a nap and then the rest of the fam enjoyed a dip in the hot tub – bliss after a hard, cold hike! Afterward, John napped while the big kids played outside and I bundled up to read in the hammock. Double bliss!

Dinner was at Proper in downtown Boone, a homey meat-and-three in a former town jail. (The kids were disappointed it didn’t bear more resemblance to its former purpose.)

Sunday morning was again brisk and blue-skied! We set off on the Flat Top Mountain Trail at Moses Cone Park, a broad, 5-mile carriage trail that winds up a hill to a fire tower. Though we climbed up the tower, honestly, it was almost scarier than the ladders on MacRae Peak – eep!

For lunch, we headed into Blowing Rock. After a considerable wait (while the little kids played on the downtown playground and June and I popped into a few shops), we had lunch at the Six Pence Pub. My shepherd’s pie was delicious and warming after a chilly hike.

Then it was home for another dip in the hot tub, more naps, playing, and reading before dinner in Valle Crucis at Over Yonder. Set in an old farmhouse, its chef was hyped up in a lot of what we read beforehand, but I left a little underwhelmed. One fun little game we played with the kids while waiting for our food deserves a mention, though: we lined up items in a row, then took turns closing our eyes, removing one, and then trying to guess which one had been removed. Kept them engaged!

On Monday morning we finally made it to Stickboy Kitchen. Stickboy (either the kitchen or the original bakery location) is THE recommendation people will give you when you say you’re going to Boone, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s in an unassuming strip mall, but the bagel sandwiches, croissants, muffins, cookies, and loaf of rosemary olive oil bread we got for small group later that night were all delicious. I join the chorus of saying you must go! :)

From there, we drove out to an old favorite hike (Green Knob) with some old favorite folks (my sister and her two kids :)). They also had Monday off school and used it to drive out to meet us, which was a delight! Having cousins along kept a pep in our kids’ step for the third hike of the weekend, though it was hardly needed: I’d recommend Green Knob to almost everyone, with its stream crossings, cow pasture path, goldenrod, mountain laurel hedges, and reasonable 2-mile length. Just beautiful!

We had a big group lunch reservation at The Speckled Trout in downtown Blowing Rock and it was another favorite meal of the trip! Delicious food in a modern, cozy atmosphere. We ate, hugged goodbye, then got back on the road to head home feeling (it must be said) incredibly grateful and lucky to live in such a beautiful state and to get to experience its fall glory together.

If you’re planning a trip to Boone, I hope this recap was helpful! Any questions, I’m happy to answer – just leave them in the comments!

Past North Carolina mountain trips:
Highlands (2022)
Black Mountain (2021)

5 of My Takeaways from Hunt, Gather, Parent

26 October 2023

I read Hunt, Gather, Parent almost a year and a half ago, and the fact that I’m still motivated to chat about it after all these months should tell you something! While it did take me some time to move this post to the top of the queue, it’s not for lack of enthusiasm. This is one of the most interesting, unique, and actionable parenting books I’ve read in awhile, and one I still think about often in our daily interactions as a family. And it’s one I regularly reference in conversation, so this post feels like a natural extension!

A brief summary for the unfamiliar: the author, Michaeleen Doucleff (with her three-year-old daughter!), visits three of the oldest cultures in the world: the Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula, Inuit families in the Arctic Circle, and Hadzabe families in Tanzania. All have found success raising happy, helpful, well-adjusted children, and her mission is to understand why by living with families – and applying their techniques to her own daughter along the way. She shares her findings (including lots of practical takeaways) with the goal of resetting the American paradigm, restoring sanity to parenting, and creating better outcomes for our kids.

The Maya culture, with their unusually helpful, generous, and loyal kids, is the one that inspired Michaeleen to write the book. It’s the section I got the most out of, too – when I went back to look over my notes to write this post, I had far more starred and underlined ideas than I had room to share!

Here are five that have particularly stuck with me:

1. Quit entertaining and instead invite. This starts from the beginning and continues until the teen years. “Toss out the idea that you have to ‘entertain’ the baby with toys and other ‘enrichment’ devices. Your daily chores are more than enough entertainment,” Michaeleen writes from her time with the Maya. I loved this insistence on inviting the child in to the work of the family from the youngest ages (and reminding us that toddlers find it terribly exciting to be invited in). She also describes how Maya parents never discourage a toddler who wants to help, even when they seem rude (like pulling a broom out of the parent’s hand).

“On the flip side, if you constantly discourage a child from helping, they believe they have a different role in the family,” Michaeleen writes. “Their role is to play or move out of the way. Another way to put it: If you tell a child enough times, ‘No, you’re not involved in this chore,’ eventually the child will believe you and will stop wanting to help. Children will come to learn helping is not their responsibility.”

Something else that stood out to me: the Maya continue to do chores alongside the child long after Westerners often want children to do a chore alone. For Westerners, the goal is often to get kids to the point of independence with a chore, but for the Maya, “the invitation is always for together, for doing the chore together.” Of course, the kids will eventually become independently competent. But personally, this freed me from a lot of the frustration of feeling like the goal should be to hand off a task. That’s no longer my immediate goal.

2. Make small asks. Michaeleen describes how the Maya fold in “small, quick, easy tasks that help another person—or the whole family. These are requests performed alongside the parents for a common goal. They are often subtasks of a larger one (e.g., holding the door open while you take the garbage out). “And they are often tiny,” Michaeleen notes, “I mean tiny, tiny (e.g., putting away one pot in the cabinet that’s across the kitchen, grabbing a bowl from the cabinet), but they are real. They really help.”

I loved this takeaway and implemented it immediately. It’s small ((Michaeleen recommends 3 or 4 requests a day) and perhaps obvious, but I hope it will make a big impact long-term. I think it’s a continual reminder to my children that their time is not only their own, that we are all a part of the work of the household and that they are needed and wanted.

3. Try activation. “Instead of explicitly telling the child to do a task, activate their help by telling them you’re starting a chore or by giving a hint that a chore is needed,” Michaeleen describes. By pointing out things like, “it looks like the dog’s water bowl is empty,” or “time to take the trash out,” or “the laundry just dinged,” we’re teaching kids to notice without nagging. Of course, they won’t always respond as we hope, but they’re learning, little by little.

4. Ditch the child-centered activities. Maya parents structure their family’s time to spend the majority of it together, living daily life alongside one another. They do very few, if any, child-centered activities, and Michaeleen also comes away recommending ditching almost all toys. This will feel radical (and even mean!) to some parents.

But in their place, she writes, the Maya parents give their children an even richer experience, something that many Western kids do not get much of: real life. “Maya parents welcome children into the adult world and give them full access to the adults’ lives, including their work,” she notes. Kids are nearby when adults work around the house, take care of the family business, or maintain the family garden. “And young children actually love these activities,” she notes. “They crave them. If we get kids involved in adult activities, that’s play for kids. And then they associate chores with a fun, positive activity.” A virtuous cycle!

While we haven’t thrown away all of our toys or ditched all child-centered activities, I think about this often. This perspective has given us extra freedom to say no to things like kids’ birthday parties that split our time and drive us apart, and instead spend our leisure time doing things we all enjoy together, like going for a bike ride, hiking, swimming at the pool, or playing a board game.

5. Answer misbehavior with more responsibility. We have found this to be incredibly effective with our children. Is one of them whining? Complaining? Harassing a sibling? Throwing toys? We invite them to come work alongside us or direct them to a job that needs doing. While my initial instinct is to get frustrated, speak sharply, or try to make a quick patch of the situation, inviting them in instead of sending them away is often much more effective. Again, at its best, it shows them we need them and we want them in the family, giving them the value and attention they’re seeking in a healthy way. It recalls them to their best self.

There is SO MUCH MORE I could say on this first section alone (let alone the other sections – parenting with calmness! Practicing silence! Child-child teaching! Telling family stories!) but I want to leave you with just enough to whet your appetite for more :)

I’ll end with this. At the beginning of the book, Michaeleen goes to great pains to make the point that the communities she visits are “just like us,” and I get it—on the surface, they might seem different (remote locations, unfamiliar traditions), and she wants to forestall her readers brushing off their advice as irrelevant. In the end, though, I loved that they are different, and unencumbered by many of the beliefs, expectations, and traditions that American culture is saddled with. This book was a neat opportunity to relearn the value in some ancient wisdom that, indeed, American culture generally does find irrelevant or backward. I’ve found it helpful and thought-provoking, and if you decide to read this book, I hope you do, too!

Now, I’d love to hear: If you’ve read Hunt, Gather, Parent, did you have a favorite takeaway? If not, have I motivated you to pick up a copy? : ) Any thoughts about these takeaways?

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6 Favorite Soup Recipes

20 October 2023

Something quick and (hopefully) helpful for you today! In honor of Friday, my grocery shopping day, here are six of our family’s favorite soup recipes.

Best Taco Soup | I was looking back through my recipes archives as I wrote this post, and it’s fascinating how many recipes were in our regular rotation until they… weren’t. But this recipe! This recipe I have been making it since CoJ published it in 2013, and it’s still a family favorite today. (I make it without hominy and add frozen corn.) I serve it with a pan of honey cornbread, which both our 7 and 5 year olds can make with just a little oversight.

Lemony Chicken and Potato Soup | Made in the Instant Pot, this soup has a lovely zing from the lemon. We pair with a salad for the grown-ups.

Sweet Potato Beef Stew | This is one of my favorite recipes of all time. It’s from the Skinny Taste cookbook, and I first had it at my sister-in-law’s house. It’s incredibly flavorful and it makes the house smell amazing. I serve it the way she did, always with cheddar herb biscuits.

Leftover Roast Chicken Soup with Roasted Vegetables | My friend Meredith made a triple batch of this soup to feed our whole small group, and every single person wanted seconds. I went home and made it for our family the next week, and it’s been a favorite since.

Butternut Squash Soup with Apples | I love a butternut squash soup (it’s hard for me to resist if I ever see it on a menu!) and this is my favorite version to make at home. The tablespoon of cumin gives it a kick, so you might consider backing off the spice just a bit if you’re feeding kids. Do yourself a favor and buy the pre-chopped butternut squash at the grocery store!

White Chicken Chili Corn Chowder | In true Tieghan fashion, this soup seemingly has everything plus the kitchen sink in the ingredients list, but it’s decadent and delicious! And actually not too hard to bring together. Perfect for chilly fall evenings!

And I couldn’t end this post without mentioning souper cubes, which seem like something you probably don’t need until you have them and experience how easy it is to neatly freeze small portions and to feed the freezer for weekday lunches. And then you definitely know you need them. Strong recommend!

Of course, I would love for you to share your favorite soup recipes in the comments! Happy soup season, friends!

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Christians in Public School: Em

17 October 2023

Thank you for coming along for this ride, friends! In this series, I hoped to give voice to committed Christian families who have made the decision to attend public school and who have had a largely-positive experience. I wanted to encourage other Christian public school families, and offer greater understanding to those who’ve chosen a different path. With the help of five generous friends, I believe we’ve done that, and I’m grateful.

Though it feels like there’s little to add at this point, you’ve got me today :) Let’s do it!

Tell us about yourself and your family. 

You know me :) But for those who are new, I work part-time as a writer for a goal-setting company. My husband, John, is a financial planner, and we have three kids – June (7, in second grade), John Shepherd (5, in a Montessori preschool), and Annie (2, in the same preschool). We live in a suburb of Raleigh, NC.

Why are you choosing public school for your family? 

John and I both grew up attending public schools and had positive – even great – experiences. I remember arriving at college and being surprised by the subpar writing skills of some of my classmates who had graduated from prestigious private schools. Our K-12 school experiences weren’t perfect, but the laughably-strange teachers along the way were more than balanced out by the incredible, life-changing teachers we were lucky to spend time with. We made great friends, had wonderful (albeit not particularly glamorous) opportunities, and were well-prepared to succeed academically in college, which in turn set us up for careers we love.

Structurally, school is very different here than it was growing up in Connecticut. We grew up with town-based schools, so pretty much everyone in our town went to one of three elementary schools, then the one middle school and the one high school. There was one magnet school and one Catholic school I can think of, and that was it.

Where we live now, the options are seemingly endless. We’re in a county system, so everyone has the option of a traditional or a year-round school (and rezoning feels like a looming threat). Next, there are tons of themed magnet options that are within the public school system. Beyond that, there are yet more charter, private secular, and private Christian schools to choose from. It is truly dizzying to consider, especially for this Enneagram 5 researcher. Each comes with pros and cons, from cost to technology use to commutes to school population to ideology.

Still, with all of those options (or perhaps because of them), we considered our neighborhood public school our default choice. Something relatively dramatic would have needed to happen to push us to another option, and it didn’t, so we didn’t.

We also believe strongly in the importance of a vibrant and healthy public school system. It’s scary for me to think what our schools – and, ultimately, our society – would look like if all the Christian parents, or all the engaged parents, or all the wealthy parents, or all the parents with social capital, pulled out of public schools.

Speaking of cost, though we theoretically could afford private school, it is mind-numbing to think of the money we are saving by not paying tuition 36 times over. If I consider the actual most likely private schools we’d consider (because you know I’ve done research!), we are realizing a savings of between $242,700 and $461,250 in today’s dollars by sending our kids to public school over their schooling lifetime. That is an INCREDIBLE amount of money that could – and does and/or will – go to improving their current schools, giving generously to our church and other organizations we believe in, starting our own non-profit, funding scholarships at our alma maters, traveling the world with our kids, and helping them launch families or businesses one day, if they should so choose.

Finally – and I have been trying for weeks to figure out exactly how to word this, so bear with me – we believe our children are infinitely precious, but not fragile. We don’t believe we need to coddle them, and in fact believe that they will have a better chance of growing into the people we hope they’ll be, and leading the lives we hope they’ll live, if they do not have every lesson handpicked and fine-tuned for them and their interests, every opportunity presented to them on a silver platter, every environment perfectly suited to their liking, and every obstacle mown from their path. We believe they’ll grow from having to navigate less-than-ideal learning conditions (within reason, of course) as well as different personalities and opinions along the way. In the long term, we don’t think the absolute best is, actually, always the best.

What has been your experience with public school so far? Give us an overview.

Our experience thus far has been pretty much uniformly positive! Our teachers have been fantastic – communicative, capable, warm, and ready to see our daughter as an individual and meet her where she is, with lots of creative ways to make sure she’s being challenged. Our feedback has been warmly received. June truly loves going to school, loves her teachers, and loves to learn. She has also made wonderful friends.

As parents, we are hands-on, and this feels like a calling and (mostly) a pleasure, too. I read every email and handout that’s sent home. I read policies and meeting notes. We go to as many events as we can. I peruse the library books she brings home. I connect with and talk to other parents. We vote in every local election. Her school makes it easy to be involved, and we take them up on it.

What has been one of your favorite parts about your school experience so far? Has anything been challenging?

Let’s do two of each!

First, we love going to a neighborhood school. Especially since the majority of students walk or bike to school, there is such a sense of community as everyone streams toward the campus in the morning. We love sharing a common experience with our neighbors, where it’s easy to ask for and give advice about school activities, teachers, etc. As Claire noted, this makes it much easier to love our neighbors in tangible ways. And, as I’ve mentioned many times before, biking to school is our favorite. It’s a delightful way to bookend the day, and because our commute is so short, we get more time back to be together as a family and spend in ways that are valuable to us.

Second, it is a great delight to love on the teachers, staff, and administration. While we could do this in any school we attend, my sense is that it’s more needed and valued where we are. Our goal is to make the school noticeably better by our presence. We want our kids’ classmates to be better off than if we had not been there, and to leave teachers grateful that our kids were in their class. None of this is to make our name great, but because it’s what we believe glorifies God.

(There are a lot of specific ways we do this, and I’m happy to share them. However, this post is exceptionally long already, so if there’s interest, I’ll add this topic to the queue for the future!)

Now for the challenges…

First, what has been most challenging personally is dealing with comparison and jealousy. For as confident of a person and parent as I am, school choice is easily the area where I feel the most doubt and experience the most jealousy. Private Christian school, classical school, homeschooling, Acton Academy, Montessori – you name it, I’ve probably researched it and can see the good in it. We love our kids and know that schooling is a huge part of their lives, and so it’s easy to feel a lot of pressure to “get it right” and to want the absolute best (whatever that is!).

Second, I know this is a series particularly about the place where our faith and our kids’ education meet, but the thing I most wish I could change three years in has been technology. In second grade, phones are not a thing, but every kid has a school-issued laptop and they spend time on them within lessons each day, and I just wish they didn’t. This is probably not surprising :) They’re certainly not on them all day, and I trust the balance the teachers are striking, but still, I’d change it if I could, and I’d also give the kids more time outside. We balance these school-day downsides by maintaining our low-tech environment at home and pushing them outside as often as possible!

What does faith formation look like for your family outside of or alongside school? How are you helping your kids to know and love God and their neighbors?

How much time do you have?! Ha! Knowing that our kids are not being formed in the Christian faith in public school, and in fact may be counter-formed in some ways, we spend an incredible amount of time and energy thinking about this and acting on it.

We worship and serve at church on Sundays. We invest deeply in our small group. We encourage their friendships, and our family’s friendships, with other believers. We continually point to our faith daily in conversation. We pray together. We play worship music on the go and in the house. We talk about the many forms of generosity, and invite our kids to live a generous, abundant life alongside us – and to share that life with others.

What are your hopes for your kids and their education? What’s the best-case scenario?

Honestly, my answer is a mash-up of Ginna’s and Krystal’s – they summed things up so beautifully!

We care deeply about education, but it is not ultimate in our family: loving God and loving their neighbor is. My hope for their education is that they learn from teachers who inspire them and alongside peers who bring them joy. I hope they grow to love reading and learning itself. As parents, I hope we can be involved in connecting what they are learning in school to the amazing God of the universe.

It’s also hard for me to tease out my hopes for their more formal schooling from their upbringing in our home. I could say much more about my hopes for who they are as one-day grown-ups, but that is not something I expect school to accomplish.

Do you plan to continue with public school indefinitely, do you plan to change course in the future, or do you hold it with open hands?

We will take it year by year. We have had a great experience so far with elementary and hope and plan to continue with it for all of our kids. We’ll consider our options anew when it comes to middle and high school.

Anything else to add?

For me, it’s been incredibly important to have close Christian friends who are walking the same public school path as us. Both of the other families in our small group who have elementary-aged kids have chosen public school, and that is an invaluable support, especially when the doubt or jealousy or fear creeps in.

Friends, please feel free to respond to anything I mentioned in your usual kind and thoughtful way. I’m sure this will not be the last time we touch on this subject, but I’m grateful that we could cover as much ground as we did over the last few weeks. Thank you, as always, for being a part!

Series introduction