21 June 2017
2017 is a big year for our family! John and I both turn 30 (I already did), and we’ll celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary in September. Usually, we mark our anniversaries with dinner out and cards, and birthdays get a special day of adventures and usually a smaller gift. For this banner year, though, we decided to roll all of the festivities together for one (well, actually two!) landmark celebrations!
To celebrate our birthdays and anniversary, we’re each planning a SECRET TRIP for the other! We set out a few parameters at the beginning of the year:
— The budget is $1,000 (for each trip – we supplemented our normal vacation budget with money from savings). Flying is allowed, but would likely be challenging given the budget.
— We can each use one day of vacation.
— June can come or not, as long as one set of parents is available to come stay with her.
— The point of the trip is to delight the other person, so every decision should be made with that in mind!
— Everything must stay SECRET!
From our California trip
While we are both still excited about this idea we dreamed up, there have been a few unforeseen challenges:
1. John cannot keep a secret. Well, he can, but it’s very challenging for him. He desperately wants to tell me what he’s planning, and is always trying to trick me into telling him what I’m planning. The secret aspect is definitely more for me than for John, as I love being surprised but (for the aforementioned reasons), John surprising me is not a very common occurrence :)
2. We share an Airbnb account. John booked the accommodations for his trip a few months ago, and I’ve been effectively locked out of our account ever since, for fear that I’ll accidentally stumble upon the details of his trip. This makes booking accommodations for MY trip on Airbnb problematic, but it’s not very practical to open a new account since I wouldn’t have any guest reviews. A friend has offered to let me book through her account if I decide to go that route, but I’m also looking into hotel options! We’ll see.
3. We usually plan trips together. Before this year, I would definitely have said John was the trip planner in our family – and he is. But the truth is that we each bring something unique to the trip planning process, and we’ve both lamented the lack of the other person’s expertise at different times this year!
Despite those few challenges, it’s been good to shake things up and try something different :) Plus, I’ve appreciated the exercise of brainstorming the things John in particular enjoys – not just what he and I both enjoy – and to dream up little details that will let him know I put lots of thought and love into celebrating him.
John’s trip for me is scheduled for September, and mine for him for October (back to back just by accident!). He’s already booked his accommodations, and I am on the brink of doing the same, plus I’ve roughed out our itinerary. As of right now, June is coming on both trips. I can’t tell you much more now, but I will of course report back later this fall!!
Until then, I’d love to hear: have you ever planned a secret trip, or anything else big and secret? I’m a total newbie!
18 April 2017
Today I am very excited to present my Durham, North Carolina city guide! Durham has skyrocketed to culinary fame over the last few years (Southern Living named it the South’s tastiest town in 2014!), but there is so much more to love about this post-industrial town than amazing restaurants. Let me take you on a tour of a few of my favorite places!
WHERE TO EAT
Matt Kelly, the chef and owner behind several of our downtown favorites, pretty much runs this town. Mothers and Sons Trattoria offers inventive and delicious pasta, and is perfect for a date night – the plates are small, so you can split several. We love to bring visiting family or meet up with larger groups at Mateo so we can try as many tapas as possible (my favorite is the chicken croquettes, a “special” that’s been on the board every time I’ve dined). If you’re looking for a quick lunch, you can round out your MK experience with a meatball sub or the sweet potato and leek soup at Lucky’s Delicatessen. Pro tip: these three are right in a row on W. Chapel Hill Street!
The wait at Pizzeria Toro can be long, but is always worth it. It has a fun, buzzy atmosphere, and is perfect in the winter when the huge wood-burning pizza oven makes for a cozy atmosphere in the open space. Try the kale salad, and leave room for zeppole for dessert. Or, walk down the street to Parlour for your sweet fix instead – their frozen sandwiches, like blackberry ice cream squeezed between two chocolate chip cookies, are my favorite!
If you find yourself out by Duke’s campus (and you should – see below!), there are several excellent options for dining. Foster’s Market will always take the blue ribbon in my book. Sara Foster is an acclaimed Southern chef who makes delicious, feel-good food. My go-to is a solid helping of the day’s casserole special (weighed by the pound) followed by a towering slice of coconut cake or chess pie if I’m feeling indulgent. For brunch, we move next door to Guglhupf, a German bakery and cafe with a pretty outdoor patio. The desserts are not to be missed here, either (can you sense a pattern?).
Around the corner are a matched pair of Scott Howell restaurants that couldn’t be more different: Nana’s is upscale and old school, the perfect place for a celebratory night out (we made reservations there the night we thought we were going to find out whether June was a boy or girl!). NanaTaco is a garage-turned-taco spot, except that it features fillings like braised local hog jowls and house smoked duck. (See also: NanaSteak, his fancy steakhouse near the American Tobacco Campus!)
It wouldn’t be an Em for Marvelous city guide without a few recommendations for my personal weakness. The original Rise location is in Durham, and while the Southpoint location is not the most scenic, the biscuits and donuts make up for it. My friend Sam practically lived on them during her first pregnancy. The line at Monuts is always long, and with good reason: their donuts are probably my favorite of all time. Try something fun – they feature creative flavors like Irish coffee, horchata, and brown butter hazelnut, and I’ve never been disappointed.
You might be surprised to see a seafood pick on my list, but Saltbox is that good – even I admit their beautifully seasoned shrimp roll, topped with tangy slaw, is delicious! Right now they’re in the cutest shack there ever was, but they’re opening a second, larger location in Rockwood (near Foster’s) this summer.
I pretty much only go to Vin Rouge (another Matt Kelly gem!) in the summer, because sitting on their garden patio under twinkle lights is the absolute best way to eat gratin de macaroni, tartiflette, and pommes frites. Actually, wait, I don’t think there’s a bad way to eat any of those things :) Fun for a date night!
For your winter list: Dashi, a downtown ramen spot with offerings as warm and comforting as a hug. They also offer exquisite small plates on their second level!
WHAT TO DO
Work off all of your delicious meals with a hike at Eno River State Park. It’s an extensive and beautiful property, lovely in any season – our favorite trails are Bobbit Hole, Buckquarter Creek, Cox Mountain, Dunnagan, and Pea Creek. If it’s hot, take a dip near the waterfalls at the Fews Ford access, and don’t miss a trip across the suspension bridge! The best way to end an Eno hike is with a Locopop, just down the road from the park entrance.
The Sarah P. Duke Gardens is one of the loveliest spots in the Triangle, hands-down. Bring a book and a blanket and stretch out on the South Lawn for a few hours, but not before roaming the pathways (my favorite sections are the camellias and the terrace garden!). We love to pick up Foster’s for a picnic on our way in.
The American Tobacco Campus, arguably the heart of Durham and one of the coolest examples of industrial repurposing anywhere, hosts several of our favorite summer events. The Durham Bulls, a AAA baseball team with absurdedly good concessions, play nearby, and our public radio station hosts an outdoor (free!) bluegrass concert series every summer that is wall-to-wall popular. Every ATC event allows you to appreciate the campus itself, which transformed from a decrepit factory with trees growing out of the roof and used for SWAT team drills to a pristine, ingenious community space complete with a meandering stream running down the center – right under the original Lucky Strike tower. Its reimagination is truly inspiring!
When faced with a hard-to-shop-for friend, my first stop is Parker & Otis, a modern general store with the coolest brands. (Tagline: “a lot of things you want.” Yes.) I’ve never spotted a dud on their shelves, but their baby section is particularly refined.
Finally, find yourself a kid if you don’t already have one just so you can take a trip to the Museum of Life & Science. Every section is spectacular, but Hideaway Woods is literal kid perfection. It features eight treehouses (some up to 20 feet high!) connected by rope bridges and cargo nets, a free-flowing stream, giant logs, life-size twig sculptures, and so much more. All of my kid + nature cravings find their zenith here.
WHERE TO STAY:
You’re in luck! After decades with nothing but a lone Marriott on the scene, Durham now has not one but two fabulous boutique hotels: The Durham and 21c Museum Hotel. We recently stayed overnight at The Durham for a mini belated birthday getaway, and their dedication to sourcing locally (everything from Big Spoon Roasters in the amenities tray to Raleigh Denim blankets on the bed) was impressive. Locals, don’t miss the Saturday morning yoga class on the rooftop – complimentary for guests and $15 to drop-in. One of the best classes I’ve ever taken! Of course, drinks on the roof by night is also fun!
I know this guide only scratches the surface of all that this vibrant, ever-changing city has to offer, so please, if you’re a Durham fan, leave your favorites in the comments! I’m going to add a few honorable mentions to kick us off. I’d love for the comment section to be a resource for readers just as much as my post! xo!
Pizzeria Toro photo by In Honor of Design, Nanataco photo by Map & Menu, Saltbox and Duke Gardens photos by Bit & Grain, Hideaway Woods photo from The Triangle Review. Remaining photos either personal or from their respective sources.
28 December 2016
As I suspected, having June born in January was such a treat for my logical brain, as demonstrated so beautifully by this post. What a treat to watch her grow from a nugget in my belly to the cheerful, funny, sweet little girl she is today in just a few months!
There will never be another year like this one, the year in which we welcomed our first child, and though sometimes that makes me feel like the sobbing emoji… it’s okay. The best is yet to come! Here are a few highlights of this very special year on Em for Marvelous and in our lives.
Well, pretty much the first thing we did in the new year was have a baby!! (Oh yes, I did share my 2016 guideposts and vision board first.) June was born on January 7th, leading me to share “notes” from my hospital stay as well as the meaning of her name. John and I also celebrated our 11th dativersary, and I posted the first of many Marvelous Mama interviews!
I celebrated a very sweet birthday with friends and chocolate raspberry cake in February. June also met her cousin Tegan and the rest of my family – such a wonderful week!! As we rounded out our first six weeks, I shared two more posts with newborn tips and tricks.
The best part of March was celebrating Easter as a family of three! June also got to spend some time wearing matching headbands with her buddy Milly :) Even once John went back to work, I enjoyed every bit of maternity leave, especially our daily afternoon walks around a local lake!
In April, we headed to Charleston for a last hurrah of my leave. We had the best time staying downtown, walking the city, and eating delicious food, all with Junebug in tow! My Mom came to stay with us for three weeks as I transitioned back to work, and we all took a work trip to Atlanta. We also planted our vegetable garden and picked strawberries! I wrote about thanking our postpartum nurses and our baby favorites from the first six weeks.
May brought more work road trips with my Mom and June, including to the fabulous Greenbrier in West Virginia. We also had several visits from family, and we celebrated my first Mother’s Day! I shared my pregnancy book recommendations.
Good golly, look at those rolls!!! June’s first June was more of the same — visitors and road trips, for work and for play. We had the best time in the mountains with the Henrys and clocked a new family record of six trips to our local u-pick blueberry farm in just a few short weeks — one of the best things we made time for all year. You can see much more from this month in the first installment of June’s video series, June in June! :) On EFM, I shared our five month baby favorites and our summer fun list, of which I’m happy to say we accomplished much!
July! What a month! We spent the week of the Fourth on our beloved Island, and despite June’s first terrible cold, it was wonderful. We made another New England road trip just a few weeks later, this time for a friend’s wedding and a week with John’s family in Connecticut. In between, we celebrated that great Southern holiday: Cow Appreciation Day!!
What a treat to spend a week in our hometown in the summer, showing June all of our favorite activities and places from growing up! We had the best, best time. On the blog, I told you about Lisa’s baby shower and a fun date night idea.
The most exciting event in September was our first family camping trip!! We are already itching for the next one! We also enjoyed lots of al fresco meals, neighborhood walks, and playground swings. I shared our eight month baby favorites, all of the articles we’ve read in Articles Club, wisdom from four years of marriage, and we chatted about signature family dishes.
In October, we marveled at the flooding from Hurricane Matthew (June from inside foul weather gear), had lots of family singalongs, spent the weekend in Asheville with my sister and her boyfriend, and donned the foul weather gear again to dress as a lobster, lobsterman, and seaweed for Halloween! Some of my favorite posts were written this month, including three posts on how to slow down time, a favorite home improvement, and the best cooking playlist.
So many celebrations in November, including the magazine launch party, Thanksgiving with family and then again with friends, birthday parties, and more. You all helped me vote on a Christmas card, I shared how we plan our yearly budget, and we talked about Christmas traditions.
And finally, December. We drove overnight to spend ten days in Connecticut with our beloved family, and it was as sweet (and crazy – three cousins under three!) as we could have hoped for.
Friends, thank you for reading. I just love y’all – sharing with you, hearing from you, getting your opinions, and seeing what you’re up to. It is a joy to write here, and I can’t wait to see all the adventures 2017 will hold!
2015 year in review
31 October 2016
2014 year in review
2013 year in review
2012 year in review
When people found out we were still going camping this year — with two under two in tow — the reaction was usually some combination of shock and awe. John and I weren’t entirely sure what we were getting into, either, but figured our general parenting strategy of keeping our expectations low would serve us well. And it did! We had the best time with the Rays and our little ladies, and can’t wait for the next trip. (We’re even considering upping our frequency to twice a year!) Here are a few thoughts from our experience camping with an eight-month-old and a 1.5 year old, along with a few photos from Nancy! (Except the ones at the end, which are obviously by me :))
— Had we not camped recently and been familiar with our gear, I think bringing the babies would have been much more overwhelming. Since we were, the only new aspect was the girls.
— We upgraded from our ultralight backpacking tent to the REI Kingdom 6 thanks to a generous Christmas present. It felt like a palace! It zips down the middle to create two separate rooms, which made coming and going while June was sleeping much easier.
— Milly’s and June’s ages both had pluses and minuses. Milly, at 1.5, could walk, so she could more easily explore the campsite, whereas June would sometimes get frustrated because she wanted to move but it was uncomfortable to crawl over the rough terrain (pinecones, stones, etc.). She was mostly confined to the big blanket we spread out.
— Milly being older, however, made sleep a little harder to come by in the Ray’s tent. She was more aware that she was IN a tent (and thought it was a bit weird), and that her parents were sleeping an arm’s length away (party!), whereas June just went down in her pack and play and had a normal night’s sleep.
— Make sure you allow even more time than you think you’ll need to set up camp and get everyone fed before the sun goes down. Previously, John and I would have set up our tent together, but since someone was on June duty the whole time this time, set-up took longer that it used to.
— We were not confident that the kiddos would nap in the tents during the day, so instead of trying to put them down, we opted to drive to a hike that was about 45 minutes away. They both slept on the way there and on the way back, so although they didn’t nap as long as they might have on a normal day at home, they did have a chance to sleep.
— Packing in big, clear, plastic Rubbermaid tubs is the best! They’re easy to stack, don’t rip like paper bags, and make it easy to see what’s stored where.
— As you’re considering campgrounds, weigh nicer bathrooms pretty heavily in the equation. The ones at Blue Bear are clean, well-appointed, and single-stall, which just makes everything much more pleasant. We also opted for one of sites closer to the bathrooms (though still half a football field away) because we knew we’d be making more frequent trips.
I hope these observations and tips encourage you to give camping a try, whether or not you have kids! I look forward to our camping weekends all year, and I imagine they’ll be even more fun as our crew gets older. I would love to answer any questions you might have or try to allay any concerns, so feel free to ask away!
P.S. Me and camping and our camping essentials.
P.P.S. I love our conversations here. Last week I added a reply button in the comments section to make it easier to respond more directly to individual contributions, so feel free to try it out!