So Obsessed With: The Baby Edition #7

Jan 30, 2020

When I was looking back at old posts for inspiration, I realized how long it had been since I'd done an edition of So Obsessed With focused on baby favorites. My son was about to turn two the last time I posted one – and now he's three and a half! He's technically aged out of the "baby" stage, but I decided to stick with that post name for consistency. Today, I figured it was time for an update on our favorite book since we read all the time! I shared favorite children's books in 2017 and 2018, but here are 32 books we've been loving lately:

As you can probably tell from a quick glance at these books, my son loves animals. I can't tell you how many animal figures we have scattered around our house and how much he knows about animals I'd never heard of before. Right now, he says that he wants to be a veterinarian or a paleontologist when he grows up. It's adorable!

1. Encyclopedia of Animals by Jules Howard – He just got this book for Christmas, and it's already proved to be a favorite. We both love the illustrations. He loves flipping through and describing what he sees (and where they live).

2. What If You Had Animal ______? by Sandra Markle – My mother-in-law introduced my son to this series, and he's obsessed. We read at least one a day! He loves learning about how characteristics are unique to different animals.

3. The Photo Ark by Joel Sartore – My brother and his wife gave my son this book for his birthday last year, and it's been such a hit! It's a photography-focused book, which is a nice contrast to all the illustrated books we own.

4. National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia by National Geographic Kids – Another gift from my mother-in-law. If he wants to learn something about a specific animal, chances are I'll be able find a fact in here to tell him!

5. The Cat in the Hat's Learning Library by Tish Rabe and Bonnie Worth – He checks these books out from the library again and again! If I had to pick his favorite from this list of 32 books, it would absolutely be this series.

6. How Animals Build by Lonely Planet Kids – This was a recent library find that we've enjoyed. There are lots of flaps to lift and animal homes to explore. We like that it focuses on the clever construction of animal architects!

7. Wild Animals of the South and Wild Animals of the North by Dieter Braun – There isn't a lot of text in these two books, but my son doesn't mind at all. The illustration style is very cool, and they're fun to sit and flip through.

8. Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman – Another recent library find that we'll probably end up buying. Quirky organization and illustrations, but my son carries it around everywhere. So, there's the real testimonial!

9. An Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben Hoare – This has it all: beautiful illustrations paired with photographs and just enough text to teach us something new without being too overwhelming or detailed.

There are three books we've enjoyed lately that didn't really fit into fiction or non-fiction. I call them activity books because they prompt us to sit down and play with the content on the pages. From I Spy to Search-and-Find, these have led to countless hours. For example, I love taking this type of book with us to a doctor's appointment!

10. My Big Wimmelbook: Animals Around the World by Stefan Lohr – I bought this for my son in the hospital gift shop after his appendectomy. We like to play "I Spy..." or "Can you find the..." together with it.

11. Search-and-Find Alphabet of Alphabets by A. J. Wood – My son has memorized the ABCs but is still working on identifying them. This is a fun way to practice! There are 26 alphabets with so many things to find in each.

12. Today by Julie Morstad – In our house, we call this "the picking book" because it's all about choosing what to do today. The pages encourage the reader to pick what to eat/wear/do/etc. It's our favorite of the books in this section!

There are a lot of book in this section, and we don't necessarily love them all equally. A few are ones that I personally love to read aloud, but most are ones my son loves best. Many are beloved for the stories inside, but some have become favorites more for their illustrations. 

13. The Bear Series by Karma Wilson – My son and I both love these books! They're fun to read aloud because of the rhyming and repetition, and we love to follow the adventures of these forest animals.

14. Hooray for Books by Brian Won – As a book lover, it's impossible to resist falling in love with this book based solely on the title! A very cute story about the joy of sharing your favorite stories with your friends.

15. They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki – We found this at a nearby children's bookstore and were immediately charmed. Poetic text, dreamy illustrations, and a nice way to talk about colors and seasons. 

16. Finding Wild by Megan Wagner Lloyd – A short little story about all the places wild is hiding, even in a city environment. I like this one because I feel like it encourages being outdoors and exploring nature!

17. If I Had a Little Dream by Nina Laden – This is my mom's favorite on the list! She loves both the illustrations and the words, and it's so cute to listen to her reading it to my son. It's particularly great to read before bed. 

18. The New Adventures of Curious George by Margaret and H.A. Rey – My son has only recently discovered Curious George, and we love both this one and this treasury, too. Lots of laughs over this little monkey!

19. The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater – I picked this up because it's illustrated by the Fan brothers, but the story itself has since won us over. A fun book about going on adventures and finding friends along the way.

20. Counting with Barefoot Critters and Adventures with Barefoot Critters by Teagan White – I bought these because White is one of my favorite illustrators, and it was lovely to learn she's a talented writer, too. 

21. Mice Skating by Annie Silvestro – I like this one more than my son does – and yes, I initially picked it up because Teagan White is the illustrator. I laugh at the cheesy puns and love reading this one in the winter, in particular. 

22. Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow by Michelle Cuevas – The illustrations are better than the story, in my opinion, but my son loves both. I think it's because he likes imagining that his shadow has its own hopes and dreams.

23. Time for Bed by Mem Fox – For a long time, we read this book every night before bed. The text is soothing as the animals prepare for bed, and I love the soft and cozy feeling of the illustrations. A classic for a reason!

24. All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan – This book makes me feel so nostalgic, even though I didn't grow up on a farm. I love the illustrations, seeing the different family generations, and the overall theme.

25. The Lines on Nana's Face by Simona Ciraolo – I've been surprised by just how much my son loves this book, since I thought it would be more of a "me" book. We adore the grandma's stories explaining her wrinkles!

26. Roly Poly Pangolin by Anna Dewdney – My animal lover is fascinated with pangolins, so I was thrilled to find this at the library. Adorable illustrations, easy-to-read rhyming text, and a cute message about trying new things.

27. Life by Cynthia Rylant – This celebration of life – in its wonder and wilderness – is a favorite because it is populated by animals. It seems like one adults would enjoy more than kids, but my son is the one who prefers it. 

28. A Dog Named Doug by Karma Wilson – My son used to make my dad pretend to be a dog that he called Doug. So, we were excited to find this book! I prefer Wilson's Bear series, but this one has great memories associated.

29. Bunny's Book Club by Annie Silvestro – Who wouldn't love a story about animals sneaking into a library to steal books and then starting a book club?! This is one my son and I love equally, and I'm alway so happy to read it.

30. Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall – My parents brought this back as a souvenir from their trip to Maine, and I adore the gorgeous illustrations. The story itself is lovely, too, as it looks at life inside a lighthouse.

31. Loving Hands by Tony Johnston – Is this extremely sentimental? Yep. But I'm here for it! I love the illustrations and have such a soft spot for this book since it's about a mother and son. Sometimes I like being a little emotional...

32. Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue – Another bedtime favorite in our house, especially because of the animal aspect. We love reading it and then talking about the different places and ways that animals sleep.

Do you have any recommendations for us to read together?
Or spy any personal favorites on our list?

Learning to Live with the Questions

Jan 28, 2020

When I was working on my review for Lovely War by Julie Berry last week, I took a look at Goodreads to see if I had anything else from 2019 that I hadn't reviewed. And I laughed a little when I noticed that there was only one book left on my Goodreads "to do" shelf... and it was also the only read I hadn't reviewed from 2018, too. The worst part is that I loved the book, so there was no reason for me to drag my feet on reviewing it. And so, today, I'm finally going to chat about My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan (a book I received from the publisher for review consideration).

From the second I saw this title and cover, I had to have it. I studied abroad in Oxford for six weeks one summer during college. It was an incredible experience, one that cemented England as the country I want to return to again and again. And, hello, Kelly and I have been twice in the past two years so I'm well on my way to accomplishing this goal. But let's get back to this book. The cover and title immediately appealed to me, but I was even more excited when I read the summary. It sounded like something I'd love even without the Oxford connection!

American Ella Durran has been working towards studying at Oxford for most of her adolescence and is now the recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship at age 24. She’s ready to enjoy one year in the city she’s dreamed about since she was thirteen! She knows she’ll work hard for school, of course, but expects plenty of time for pubs, punting down the river, making new friends, and maybe a no-strings-attached fling. Enter Jamie Davenport. He seems like a total prick on their first meeting, and then Ella walks into her English literature course to find out he's teaching it. Her first impression might have been wrong, and the future she mapped out for herself takes a turn she never expected. A lot can happen in one year, and life has a way of surprising you...

Based on the cover of this book, I imagined a light-hearted romantic comedy set in one of my favorite cities in the world. And while it ended up being very different than I expected, I still loved it so much! I read it for the first time in 2018, and then I decided to finish off #FebruaREREAD in 2019 with this on audio. This is one of those books that worked so perfectly for me as a reader! It tapped into my love for Oxford, brought back memories of my time there, and reminded me of another British book I love (but won’t name because #spoiler).

Although I would have loved a little more character development, I honestly didn’t mind that there's a pretty big shift in tone about halfway through. I can understand how that won’t be true for everyone else, but it added depth and emotion to the story for me. It took the book from something a little bit fluffy and fun into more thought-provoking territory. Based on reviews I've seen, it's definitely a polarizing aspect of the book – one that you'll probably either love or hate. But you can count me in the love column!

I loved the romance and the heroine’s own personal journey. But my favorite part, of course, was the setting. Can I go back now?! Whelan definitely captured everything I loved about this city and left me itching to hop on a plane to head across the pond. And speaking of Whelan, I don't want to forget to mention that this is her debut novel but you might be familiar with her work as an audiobook narrator. That was another reason I was so excited to pick up this book, and she didn't disappoint me! I loved reading the book for the first time, but it was even more fun to listen to her narrate the audio for my re-read. As expected, she did an excellent job.

This was one of my favorite reads of 2018, and it remained a favorite after re-reading it last year. If you're in the mood for a romantic story about embracing life in all its twists and turns, pick this one up!

So Quotable
“Our memories of places, much like people, are subject to our own adaptation process. Once the active living is done, and they pass into memory, we assume control of the narrative. We adapt it, sometimes without meaning to. This is, perhaps, the one advantage of death: when people die, they can live on in our memory as we choose, but places continue to exist, to change.”

Release Date: April 24, 2018 | Publisher: HarperCollins; William Morrow Paperbacks
Pages: 329 pages | Source & Format: Publisher / Bought; e-ARC / Paperback & Audiobook

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

20 in 2020

Jan 23, 2020

One of my goals for this year is to nurture my relationship with Nick and our sons. It's a pretty broad goal that won't end when 2020 does, but it's something that I wanted to specifically focus on this year as our family grows. I've seen firsthand the benefits of being intentional with my time, especially when it comes to family adventures and traditions. So, I've been asking myself, "What action steps can I take to give my best to my boys? How can I love them well?" I've come up with a variety of things so far, and it ranges from date nights to limiting time on my phone. But one of my favorite ideas was to create our family's "20 in 20" – a list of 20 things to do together in 2020. 

My firstborn will turn four soon, and kindergarten doesn't feel so far away anymore. I want to make this time at home with him truly count! When he was born, I wrote about the things I learned that year – which included the fact that a baby changes everything. With our second baby soon to make his arrival, I know that this baby, too, will change everything. Time both stands still and passes in a blur with a newborn. There's a reason people say, "The days are long, but the years are short." There will be many ordinary days this year – full of chores, not enough sleep, and too much screen time. But I want to make things special, too. That's where this list comes in!

Rather than hope we'll fill our days with fun, I want to plan for it. Instead of continuing to scroll Pinterest for things to do as a family, I've been trying to pay attention to the things our family talks about wanting to do. I've seen how my husband and firstborn value quality time, so I know that this list absolutely aligns with my desire to nurture those relationships. I'm obsessed with Em for Marvelous' The Years of Making Magic project and am creating a similar long-term list for our family. But I don't wait to wait to get started, and this list feels like the perfect way to get the ball rolling. So, here are 20 things our family plans to do in 2020:

1. GO: strawberry or apple picking.
2. TRY: bowling.
3. READ: this Bible and this book about prayer.

4. PLAY: board games once a month.
5. EAT: a picnic in our backyard.
6. EXPLORE: the hiking trails near our house.
7. MAKE: a bird house.

8. RIDE: on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.
9. SEND: mail to our three great-grandmothers.
10. COOK: for someone else.
11. SEE: marine life at the Georgia Aquarium.
12. CREATE: a new family tradition.

13. DO: a nature scavenger hunt.
14. GIVE BACK: by volunteering at our church's community celebration.
15. GROW: our family savings by 20%.
16. TRAVEL: somewhere we've never been.
17. ENJOY: camping in the backyard.
18. VISIT: Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary.
19. WATCH: a movie at the drive-in theater.
20. BE: thankful. Start a family gratitude jar.

Thanks to Childhood 101 for the format inspiration!

My criteria when making the list: 1) mostly free things with a few expenses that I know will be worth it, 2) that can be completed relatively easily with a newborn in tow, and 3) were specific but still gave us room to be flexible. For example, "Cook for someone else" could mean having extended family members over for dinner or making something for a sick neighbor. I'd love to go on a summer vacation, but this might be a "day trip closer to home" kind of year. I didn't want the list to feel like a burden or become too hard to fulfill. Y'all, I'm so excited about what Nick and I landed on! I'm already thinking about how fun it will be to write My Year In: Adventures {2020}.

Do you have a list of things you'd like to do this year?

All's Fair in Love and War

Jan 21, 2020

It's been a while since I've written a long, individual review! And honestly, it's been a long time since I've loved a book so much that I simultaneously wanted to push everyone to read it and keep it all to myself. Berry's All the Truth That's In Me is one of my all-time favorite books, one that I've read and re-read in multiple formats over the years. But somehow, I didn't know about her March 2019 release, Lovely War, until after it came out. 

I read Lovely War in April of last year, fell deeply in love with it... but couldn't bring myself to review it. Why? Because I didn't even know where to begin! In Jane Austen's Emma, Mr. Knightley tells the heroine, “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.” I've always loved that quote, and it perfectly encapsulates how I feel about this particular book. I've shared my 21 favorite books of 2019, and this one is at the very top of that list.

Lovely War primarily focuses on two couples during World War I. Hazel is a talented pianist who meets James, a solider dreaming of becoming an architect, at a party in London. Their feelings develop quickly but have a surprising depth. Then, James is sent off to war... Aubrey is a Harlem ragtime musician headed for the trenches as a member of the 15th New York Infantry, an all-African-American regiment. While there, Aubrey meets Colette – a Belgian refugee serving in the YMCA relief hut in France. What does the future hold for these star-crossed lovers?

That's for Aphrodite to tell you. Yes, I mean that Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Thirty years after these four characters meet, in the midst of a new world war, she is caught in an affair. Her husband, Hephaestus, discovers her with Ares in a Manhattan hotel room and decides she will be put on trial. In her defense, she decides to tell the stories of these four lovers. She has a little help from Apollo, Hades, and even Ares himself. As you can imagine, there is music and death and war and brokenness – but there is love and beauty, too. How will their stories end? Well, you'll have to read to find out...

Despite being relatively unfamiliar with Greek mythology, this book sparked my desire for more. How lucky was I to have Circe by Madeline Miller waiting in the wings? I read that two weeks later and loved it, too. (Now give me more!) When I read the summary for Lovely War, I wasn't sure if Berry could pull it off. Combining historical fiction with Greek mythology seemed risky. But oh man, the end result proved that it's a creative twist like that that makes a book truly epic! I could not stop raving about it after I finished and ended up re-reading it via audio, too. It was my last read of the year – the perfect way to close 2019 and enter the new decade on a reading high.

It was the kind of historical fiction book where I learned so much – about ragtime music, the treatment of African Americans during World War I, life in the trenches and the resulting PTSD, and what it might be like to serve with the YMCA on the front. You can see Berry's research in all aspects of the novel, and I adored the Author's Note at the end where she expands on some of the things mentioned in the book. And, as with Circe, it made me want to pull out Mythology by Edith Hamilton and read all the myths associated with the gods and goddesses I just met.

So, you've got the research aspect. But what else did I love? ONLY EVERYTHING. These characters absolutely stole my heart. I was so emotionally invested in what was happening to them, and it took all of my self-control to keep from racing through the book to find out if they were all okay in the end. Because honestly, this book accomplished that rare feat of being impossible to put down but also being something I wanted to slowly savor. Berry's writing was just so gorgeous and such a pleasure to read that I didn't want to miss one carefully chosen turn of phrase.

Although categorized as Young Adult, I certainly felt that it had crossover appeal. Everything about it is so artfully crafted and beautifully written – something that I want to push on every reader I meet. Because even though it won't be the right fit for every reader, I wish that I could make everyone love it as much as I do. I wish that I could give everyone who pick it up that magical, delighted feeling I had as I turned each page and realized that I was reading a book that I'd never forget. You know how sometimes people will ask, "What's a book you wish you could go back and read for the first time?" Even in the middle of this one, I was aching at the thought of it being over. 

The story itself felt so cruel and heartbreaking while still being so romantic and hopeful. I was tearing up, swooning, laughing, raging, and experiencing every possible emotion while reading. Do I really need to keep raving? Have I said enough to convince you to read it? It was a rare reading experience, one that I didn't even expect. And since I re-read it at the end of the year, I can attest to the fact that it's even better the second time around. The audiobook was fantastic – a full cast that brought the characters to life in the best way and gave me even more to love about it. In case it isn't obvious: I highly, highly recommend Lovely War in any format!

So Quotable
“I am so often moved by souls whose first concern is not for their own lost years, but for the grief their passing will cause to those they love. It's more common than you might think. The most ordinary mortal bodies are housed by spectacular souls.”

Release Date: March 5, 2019 | Publisher: Penguin; Viking Books for Young Readers
Pages: 480 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover

January 2020 Goals

Jan 17, 2020

It's finally time for me to share my goals for January! When I wrote about my vision for 2020 last week, I mentioned that I'll be sharing monthly goals here on the blog. Since the six yearly goals I set are somewhat vague, I plan to break them down into smaller action items. These monthly check-ins will typically post early in the month and will both recap my progress on the previous month's goals and outline new goals for the month ahead. This post is going up a little later than I'd intended, but oh well! As a refresher, here are my big-picture goals:

1. Revitalize my faith through daily time with God.
2. Nurture my relationship with Nick and our sons.
3. Grow in my knowledge and stewardship of our finances.
4. Invest time in the hobbies that bring me joy.
5. Create purposeful monthly, weekly, and daily routines.
6. Record and preserve our family memories.

On My Calendar:
– So many doctor's appointments as I enter my last month of pregnancy
– A Celine Dion concert with my mom and sister (this past weekend – so fun!)
– Last weekend getaway as a family of three

Currently Obsessing Over:
– This sausage potato soup was delicious and so filling. And it was even better as leftovers the next day!
– The recently announced Audible Challenge: finish any three titles by March 3 and get a $20 Amazon credit. I'm already planning how I'll spend the credit and celebrating finally listening to three audios I've owned for years.
– I received AirPods + this case for Christmas, and I can't stop raving about them. I feel so basic just saying that...
– Getting everything done before the baby arrives. With the holidays finally over, it hit me that February is right around the corner. This pregnancy has flown by, and I've definitely got some things left on my to do list.

Yearly Goals:
(These should stay the same all year, so I'll just do month-to-month progress reports!)
– Read through the Bible in one year.
– Read a devotional every morning.
– Track my spending in the Goodbudget app.
– Blog 2x per week.

January Goals:
– Make our family's "20 in 2020" list.
– Plan (and go on!) our last trip as a family of three.
– Finish my pre-baby checklist!
– Brainstorm possible routines that I'd like to implement.
– Schedule a monthly planning session.
– Cull, download, organize, and backup 2019 photos.
– Complete the Third Trimester section in the baby's Promptly Journal.
– Complete Toddler Years 1-3 in my firstborn's Promptly Journal.
– Finalize my 2020 reading challenges.
– The Contentment Challenge, which is three months of no shopping.

Do you have any routines that make your life easier?
I'd love to hear about them!

The Picky Pledge 2020

Jan 15, 2020

Today, Alexa from Alexa Loves Books and I are talking all things Picky Pledge! We're taking a minute to look back at some stats from 2019, reflecting on what we accomplished the past year, and sharing our plan for 2020. The Picky Pledge was born out of lots of chats about our reading choices and book buying habits. We wanted to be more intentional and decided to hold each other accountable. Here's how it got started.

When we originally started The Picky Pledge, Alexa and I would share a long post with charts and graphics and stats. We'd use them to identify what we needed to change in the year to come, which was so helpful. But over time, it started to make more sense to simplify! Today, we're focusing on the same stats we shared last year.

Alexa and I always laugh at how some things change over time, but we still basically have to same "problem areas" as the day we created this project. I buy too many books, and Alexa could always pare down on review books. However, we have seen positive changes through the years. We're both more aware now, so we're more intentional. The only stat we are sharing ties in to entire focus of Picky Pledge: the source of what we read in 2019.

In 2019, I read 210 books. Here's where they came from:

BOUGHT/GIFTED (2019) • 46 Books • 22%

BORROWED • 34 Books • 16%

OWNED (PRE-2019) • 38 Books • 18%

REREAD • 64 Books • 31%

REVIEW • 28 Books • 13%

This was a really interesting reading year in comparison to 2018! I read more review books (up from 8%), borrowed less (down from 23%), and read a little more from my TBR (up from 15%). Looking back to 2017, it's been interesting to see how reading what books bought/gifted in that respective year has trended down over time (47% in 2017, 34% in 2018, and 22% in 2019). I'm pretty sure this is lower because I'm not buying as much. That's a HUGE win! 

The most interesting change this year is how much I re-read (up from 20%). It wasn't shocking since I did a few challenges this year focused on re-reading, which I'll talk about more on Friday. I'm always in the mood to re-read, but it's nice to make it a priority every few years. There are so many books coming out in 2020 that I'm excited to read, so I'm expecting to re-read a little less. It's nice to see this fluctuate based on what season of life I'm in.

The way Alexa and I set Picky Pledge goals has changed since we first started this project. Since 2018, we've set out to complete The Picky Pledge Reading Challenge. We have 12 categories, enough for one book per month, to help us read more from our TBR. The categories are all tied to reasons that we bought the books on our TBR, which makes is easy to find something that fits for each one. It's simplified but still accomplishes our purpose.

Ten of these books were on my TBR prior to 2019. Two were re-reads, but they still counted for our project because they'd been on my Audible TBR for a while. Here are the categories and what I read for each one:

FOR THE COVER: Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

BASED ON A RECOMMENDATION: We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

FOR THE HOOK: Love á la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm

ON SALE: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

NEXT IN SERIES: China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwavn

IN A DIFFERENT FORMAT: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (Audio)

BECAUSE OF THE AUTHOR: Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

GIFTED: The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton

PRE-ORDERED, HAVEN'T READ YET: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (Audio)

BOUGHT 3+ YEARS AGO: Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery

BECAUSE OF THE HYPE: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

BECAUSE OF THE TOPIC: House of Dreams by Liz Rosenberg

Now, let's talk about 2020. We're continuing The Picky Pledge Reading Challenge! We kept all the categories the same this year, so it's the same graphic, too. Is that simplifying or simply laziness? Haha! We'll share a recap just like this one next January, but I'll track my progress throughout the year. If you're interested, feel free to join in and complete the challenge, too! We don't do any official check-ins or link-ups, so there's no big commitment. 

Here's to being intentional in 2020!
What are your reading goals for the year?

What I Re-Read in 2019

Jan 14, 2020

One of the things that I discovered writing my Picky Pledge recap (that posts tomorrow) was that re-reading made up the largest segment of what I read in 2019. Of the 210 books I read, 64 were re-reads. That's approximately 30% of what I read, which is no small number! I remember reading the same beloved books over and over again in childhood, so my love of re-reading has been there from the very beginning. I always make time for it, though some years it's more of a priority than others. 2019 was one of those years, and I loved every minute of it!

I participated in two re-reading challenges in 2019 – one "official" challenge that I co-hosted with Kelly on Instagram, and one "unofficial" one that we both made as a goal. Since I was spending this week on the blog recapping the other reading challenges I participated in, I wanted to take a second to chat about re-reading, too.

Co-hosted with @xoxokellynina

Near the end of 2018, I told Kelly, “I wish I could ignore my TBR for a month and just re-read old favorites.” 

“Why can't you?” she immediately replied.

And so: we decided to spend all of February re-reading our favorite books! We called it our #FebruaREREAD. What better time to do it? The month we were both born in AND the month meant for celebrating love! It was so much fun to dedicate an entire month to old favorites. I was so proud of myself for re-reading 24 books:

You can find reviews of everything that I re-read in a few various blog posts: January Quick Lit (Part Two)February Quick Lit (Part One)February Quick Lit (Part Two), and my Series Speed Date feature. And I still haven't reviewed My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan, but here's what I said about it on Instagram.

Re-Read Twelve Series
A personal challenge for me and Kelly

Around the same time that we started planning #FebruaREREAD, Kelly and I discussed the idea of trying to re-read twelve series in 2019. It sounded like a stretch, but still within our reach since it amounted to one series per month. We both love audiobooks and use the format primarily for re-reading, so we figured that increased the likelihood of our success. We never posted about it anywhere, but we'd chat about our choices each month – and sometimes convince one another to pick up the same books, too. I got off to a strong start early in the year, which kept me from stressing when I hit a reading rut near the end. I'd already finished! Here are the series I re-read:
  1. Act Like It, Pretty Face, and Making Up by Lucy Parker
  2. Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles, and Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta
  3. The Winner's Curse, The Winner's Crime, and The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski
  4. Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph, and Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers
  5. Me Before You and After You by Jojo Moyes 
  6. Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta
  7. Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
  8. Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
  9. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  10. Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  11. Unspoken, Untold, and Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan
  12. A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Court of Mist and Fury, A Court of Wings and Ruin, and A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
Miscellaneous Re-Reads
Because I might as well mention them, too!

Finally, I re-read 10 other books throughout the year. Unsurprisingly, all were on audio! Without that format, I wouldn't be able to read nearly as many books as I do. It's how I find the time to read, even when I'm busy. Here are those 10 books (a few links go to first read reviews because I didn't write re-read thoughts):
  1. Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay
  2. Dreams of gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
  3. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  4. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  5. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman 
  6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  7. Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas
  8. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  9. A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean
  10. Lovely War by Julie Berry
Did you re-read anything in 2019?
Joining any re-reading challenges in 2020?

#My10toReadin19 + My 2020 List

Jan 13, 2020

If you read my 2020 goals post, I mentioned posted my January goals today. But I forgot I had a few 2019 challenge recaps scheduled for the next few days, so you can expect to see my January goals later in the week!

At the beginning of every new year, I always resolve to tackle my unread books. And inevitably, I do... okay. I read books I own but still keep buying more, so the number seems to stay about the same. But there are definitely a handful of books that have been on my shelves for years and just keep lingering there unread. I've noticed that the longer a book stays on my TBR, the less interest I have in reading it. Isn't that a struggle?

So, I loved @idlewildreads’ plan to commit to finishing 10 specific books from her TBR in 2019. She created #my10toreadin19, and I decided to join in. This is the photo I posted on Instagram in January 2019. Most of these books had been on my shelves awhile, though a few were books that I just needed an extra push to pick up. It was one of the few challenges I participated in last year, so I figured I'd share a quick post about how I did.

Of the 10 books on my list, I finished ALL 10! The challenge was a success, even though I didn't love everything. But I was still so proud of myself for getting these books off my TBR! I'm planning on continuing the challenge in 2020 with a new list. But first, here's a recap of what I read (clicking the title will take you to my review): 

1. PACHINKO BY MIN JIN LEE – A surprise favorite! I honestly expected to read a few pages and call it quits, but then I couldn't put it down. I So Loved It, and it even made my best of 2019 list

2. MISTRESS OF ROME BY KATE QUINN – Kelly kept pushing this one on me, and I should have listened to her sooner! I So Loved It, and the third and fourth in the series were excellent, too. They made my favorites list, too! 

3. JANE OF LANTERN HILL BY L.M. MONTGOMERY – This was a charming book from one of my all-time favorite authors! I So Enjoyed It, and it motivated me to continue to read more from Montgomery's backlist.

4. FREDERICA BY GEORGETTE HEYER – Considered the queen of Regency romance, I couldn't wait to start this one. But the story dragged on forever! I was So Okay With It but lost my desire to read more from Heyer.

5. WHAT MATTERS IN JANE AUSTEN BY JOHN MULLAN – I can never resist Austen-related books! I So Liked It overall and felt the introduction and last two chapters alone were worth the price of the book for me.

6. HOUSE OF DREAMS BY LIZ ROSENBERG – I had high hopes for this L.M. Montgomery biography, but it didn't wow me. I was So Okay With It but kept thinking about how much I preferred Rubio's biography.

7. A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES BY DIANA GABALDON – Finishing this book made me realize that it might be time for me to break up with this series. I was So Okay With It but am getting tired of Gabaldon's stories.

8. WORLD WITHOUT END BY KEN FOLLETT – Despite the fact that I flew through this book, I didn't like it very much. I was So Okay With It but couldn't help noticing Follett's formulaic writing style. I won't continue the series.

9. HEART'S BLOOD BY JULIET MARILLIER – I loved all the nods to Beauty and the Beast while still feeling like I was reading something entirely new. Marillier's writing and subtle romance won me over – I So Loved It!

10. EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN BY CHRIS CLEAVE – Yiiiiiikes, this book was awful. One of the worst things I read all year! I So Disliked It, wish I had quit it, and could write an epic rant about all the reasons it was so horrible.

So, what's my plan for 2020? Here are the 10 books I'm challenging myself to read this year:

Most have these been on my TBR for years and a few were recent additions. Here's the breakdown:

1. THE JOY LUCK CLUB BY AMY TAN – This is one of those books that I feel like I should have read before now, and I don't know why it wasn't on my radar until last year. I'm looking forward to finally starting it!

2. MAGIC FOR MARIGOLD BY L.M. MONTGOMERY – A children's classic from one of my favorites, which I've owned since 2013. I'm hoping it's a win like Jane of Lantern Hill so I'll continue to explore Mongtomery's backlist.

3. ALL THE PRETTY THINGS BY EDIE WADSWORTH – My mom gave me a copy of this memoir in 2016, and I have no idea why I haven't read it yet. So I'm committing to it in 2020 – plus it's one of the shorter books on my list!

4. SHADOW OF NIGHT BY DEBORAH HARKNESS – I read A Discovery of Witches in 2018 and liked it overall. It wasn't a favorite, but I'd like to give the series another chance to win me over and need it on my list for motivation.

5. A PERFECT HERITAGE BY PENNY VINCENZI – I had two giant historical fiction sagas on last year's list, but I'm not continuing either of those series. I just added this book to my TBR in 2019, but I'm excited that it's a standalone.

6. THE SECRET KEEPER BY KATE MORTON – I'd written off Morton until Kelly convinced me to give her another try, and I bought this one used in 2018. After loving The Clockmaker's Daughter, I'm excited to dive in to this one.

7. SAINTS FOR ALL OCCASIONS BY J. COURTNEY SULLIVAN – Sullivan's The Engagements spent years on my TBR before I read it, and I don't want the same to happen to this one. I bought it in 2018 while visiting Kelly!

8. THE REAL JANE AUSTEN BY PAULA BYRNE  This non-fiction book was one of the earliest books I requested on NetGalley... and I was declined. Ha! I bought a copy while traveling in 2013 and have meant to read it ever since.

9. JANE AUSTEN FOR DUMMIES BY JOAN RAY – I loathe this title, but the content inside does look really good! This non-fiction book has been on my TBR the longest. I bought it in 2011 when Borders was going out of business.

10. THE ANNOTATED LITTLE WOMEN BY LOUISA MAY ALCOTT – I've read Little Women, but I wanted to revisit it after loving the recent movie adaptation. I've owned this annotated edition since 2015 but never read it.

What should I start first? Point me in the right direction!

2020 Goals

Jan 10, 2020

Last October, I decided to treat myself to the 2020 PowerSheets Intentional Goal Planner. I've been a fan of Lara Casey's company, Cultivate What Matters, for a while but had yet to take the plunge on their signature product. It looked a little overwhelming to me – and it's not cheap either! Would I really use an entire planner dedicated solely to goal planning? It felt unnecessary, even if the paper lover in me longed to try one.

After reading a number of blog posts and watching some YouTube reviews, I decided to make the investment. With a baby due in February, I know it probably sounds like the worst time to decide to add another planner to my plate – or even to be thinking about goals. But I want to spend my days doing the things that matter. I want to be present and intentional, in every season of my life. While I don't need a planner to accomplish those things, I love the idea of having a physical reminder that keeps me accountable.  

Here's a look inside PowerSheets, if you're curious. Each planner opens with prep work – some guided goal-coaching worksheets you fill out to help evaluate different areas of your life, identify what worked and what didn't from the past year, and envision what you want your legacy to be and how you can get there. It encourages you to think big picture while celebrating the small steps of progress. As they say: little by little a little adds up to a lot.

I spent the week between Christmas and New Years going through these 34 pages. Once you've done the prep, it's time to choose a word of the year and set your goals. In 2018, I chose a word of the year for the first time. I loved going back to it throughout the year, so I don't know why I didn't choose one in 2019. I was excited to do it again for 2020! Before doing any of the work, I was considering words like: balance, present, thrive, and refresh. As I looked up those definitions, explored synonyms, and read what I'd written about this year, I found it:

Nurture comes from the Latin verb nutrire, meaning "to nourish." As a noun, it can mean "training, upbringing" or "something that nourishes." As a verb, it means to "care for and encourage the growth or development of." Very literally, I will be doing both this year. I'll give birth to a baby that I will nourish and will be caring for the growth and development of both of my sons. In that sense, it perfectly described this upcoming season of my life. 

But I loved it for other reasons, too. There are a lot of changes I'd love to make in 2020. Many are small because realistically, this isn't a year where I can "get it all done" and tackle big projects. I'll be adjusting to life as a mom of two, trying to find our new normal, and looking for every opportunity to rest. Nurture spoke to me in this sense, too. Even at home, I can care for and encourage the growth of my faith, my marriage, my passions, and my habits.

So, let's talk about my goals for 2020 – and how I'm going to nurture them.

Image sources: Photos, Ice Cream, Brothers, Planner, Quote, Plants, Clocks, Door, Bible

Here's my vision board for the year. This was something I've never done before, but it was part of the PowerSheets process. I won't lie – I thought the idea sounded a little dumb at first. But as I tried to synthesize my goals into images, I started having fun. As nerdy as it may be, I loved finding photos that spoke to me and visually represented what I want from 2020. With this in front of me as inspiration, I wrote my big-picture goals:

1. Revitalize my faith through daily time with God. 
It has been a long time, honestly, since I've prioritized my faith. It's been an area of my life that I've treated casually – reading my Bible at random, one-off prayers in times of need, and sporadically attending church. I've long said that I want to deepen my walk with God, but my actions don't reflect that desire. And so, they're words that sound good but mean nothing. This is my main goal for 2020, and it's the one that I hope to see the most progress in.

Mini goals to make it happen: read the entire Bible in one year, use a guided prayer journal, join a small group, memorize Scripture, read Christian non-fiction, and create family faith routines.

2. Nurture my relationship with Nick and our sons.
My relationship with Nick and our two boys is the next most important thing that I want to focus on. Since much of this year will be spent at home, it's a great opportunity to nurture those relationships. However, I know how easy it can be to "get through" each day by going through the motions. I want to be present and intentional. Whether it's reading together or going on adventures, there are so many ways I can invest in my boys.

Mini goals to make it happen: defined technology-free time, create a family bucket list, one-on-one dates with our firstborn, read marriage and/or parenting books, and go on local adventures (hikes, museums, story times, etc.).

3. Grow in my knowledge and stewardship of our finances.
In our marriage, Nick is more of a saver and I'm more of a spender. Thankfully, we're balanced versions of both and thus don't disagree a ton on finances. But I realized recently that I feel very uninformed and, truthfully, lazy about money. While I'm happy with the way Nick and I have divided our household responsibilities, I want to be more attuned to our budget, our savings goals, and how we're planning for the future.

Mini goals to make it happen: use a budgeting app, read a finance book, complete the Contentment Challenge, unsubscribe from all marketing/sales emails, identify savings goals, and  have a quarterly budget review with Nick.

4. Invest time in the hobbies that bring me joy. 
Books and blogging had to be on my list, of course! Reading is my favorite form of self care, and I want to continue to make time for it when the new baby arrives. I've set some low-key reading goals for myself this year, and I'm excited to work towards completing them. And this blog is such a fun space for me to be creative! It isn't the right year for me to challenge myself to grow my audience, but I do want to commit to continuing to post.

Mini goals to make it happen: read 100 books in 2020, blog 2x per week, complete the Picky Pledge Challenge, make a #10toReadin2020 list, and buy one book from an independent bookstore per month.

5. Create purposeful monthly, weekly, and daily routines. 
One of the things that came up over and over again in my prep work was how much I want to establish new routines for myself and my family. From meal planning to seasonal traditions, these types of rhythms can make me more productive. I use too much brain space and time when I'm winging it! That being said, I'll be going slow with this goal since early newborn days don't always lend themselves to solid schedules.

Mini goals to make it happen: add recipes to Plan to Eat for streamlined meal planning, create a house cleaning plan, schedule monthly review + planning sessions, and identify my ideal morning and evening routine.

6. Record and preserve our family memories. 
I've always lamented my lack of a system when it comes to digital photos. I recently culled and organized my photos from 2007-2015 but stopped in 2016 (when my son was born and my photos exponentially increased). My goal for 2020 is to catch up on this project and develop habits so it doesn't get out of control again. I'm also working towards catching up on my firstborn's childhood journal, as well as consistently filling one out for the new baby.

Mini goals to make it happen: cull photos from 2017-2019, organize photos from 2017-2019, backup all photos to two places, create yearly photo albums, and schedule monthly childhood journaling sessions.

Obviously, these six goals are somewhat vague. Most are on-going things that don't have a specific end point or a clear way to measure whether they were completed or not. However, I do have ways I plan to break these down into smaller action items that are more measurable. Completing those things will help me see whether or not I'm making progress! One way I'll do that (which ties into the routines goal) is to share monthly goals here on the blog. I'll have at least one mini monthly goal per yearly goal and will record my progress here for accountability. If you check back next week, I'll be sharing my January 2020 Goals.

Will I look back at the end of the year and feel like I should have been more specific? Possibly! But I know that this will be a year with a lot of change, regardless of the goals I set, so I want to have grace for myself. Do I think PowerSheets are worth the investment? Time will tell. I will definitely track my progress with them throughout the year and will fully answer this question in December. Right now, I'm excited to get started and see what happens!

Have you made any goals for 2020?
Or chosen a word of the year?
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