Making Memories Matters

Apr 30, 2020

I found Memory-Making Mom by Jessica Smartt while browsing the shelves at a bookstore near me that was going out of business last year. At a deeply discounted price, I couldn't resist buying it, even though I wouldn't describe myself as someone who focuses a lot on family traditions. But something about it just called to me.

I was pregnant at the time – excited about what the future held but nervous, too. I knew this baby would change our lives in ways we couldn't even imagine, and I was already pondering what that would mean for our older boy. Around the same time, I started working on my 2020 goals. After setting a goal of nurturing my relationship with Nick and our sons, I had to think about what that realistically looked like and how I would live it out. What was I already doing to be intentional within our home and what wasn't working? I started with our 20 in 2020 – a family bucket list for the year. You can read about my heart behind the idea in that post, but it brings us back to this book.

As I was looking over the bucket list at the end of March and re-configuring some of our plans in light of COVID-19, my eyes kept stopping on one specific item. Create a new family tradition. I had no idea what that might be at the time I wrote it, but it felt like something we could do. But when faced with that item on my list, my brain just blanked. Then... I remembered purchasing this book all those months ago. I pulled it off my shelves, flipped through a few pages, and immediately knew it was exactly what I needed to read.

In Memory-Making Mom, Smartt writes, "I want to send my children off with memories for roots, love for wings. I want my children to know they are loved, to know what they believe, and to have the tools they need to succeed." She explains how their family life often felt monotonous while she both envied how her sister's family seemed to have more fun. Until she realized there was nothing stopping them from celebrating more, too. 

Using the word tradition might make it sound fancy or complicated, but Smartt defines it as "a planned determination to remember, celebrate, and value what is important." She's quick to mention that her book is a list of suggestions, not a manual of what to do, and so it's up to you to choose what your family values and what's worth celebrating. I loved how she outlined that understanding why traditions matter will motivate you to do the work and put in the time. I've noticed that with my goal setting this year, too, so that definitely rings true for me. She discusses how traditions offer security, provide comforting memories, make life sparkle, remind us what matters, make our values real, connect us to others, and shower love.

Before reading this book, I probably would have told you that we didn't have a ton of traditions growing up. My narrow definition of the word (and how I mostly associated it with the holidays) made me overlook all the wonderful things we did do repeatedly: trips to Callaway Gardens in October, skipping school on our birthday, getting to sleep in my parents' bed with my mom when my dad traveled, eating dinner together every night, dance parties in the living room, and so much more. Within just a few minutes, memories came flooding back.

After making the case for traditions, Smartt focuses on ten areas you can incorporate them in your family:

Spontaneity, highlighting the joy of new adventures and doing things just because
• Beauty, celebrating beautiful things both inside your home and outside in nature
• Food, like everyday dinners, special celebratory meals, and time together in the kitchen
• Holidays, with ideas for each one and advice on how to plan ahead and choose what's best for you
• Learning, including reading together, family field trips, and instilling curiosity in your kids
• Service, prioritizing doing things for others as a family throughout the year
• Relationships, looking for opportunities to connect with each child individually 
• Work, examining how your kids can work in the home through chores and hobbies
• Rest, such as times of sickness, on Sundays, and during family vacations
• Faith, exploring music, prayer, family devotions, and other faith-focused activities

The author is a Christian and writes from that perspective, which I personally appreciated. If faith isn't a priority for you, I think there are still many suggestions in her book that will work for your family but it is worth noting because she does discuss her faith throughout. I loved how it challenged me to connect the everyday to the spiritual.

It was a lovely, thoughtful read that highlighted things that have been on my heart lately. It was full of inspiration and encouraged me to ponder what I want my boys to remember about our family. Reading through the long lists of ideas didn't overwhelm me or make me feel guilty about what we could have already been doing. Instead, it motivated me. It reminded me that creating traditions requires having a plan. It's work that is worth it because making memories matters. It sounds obvious, sure, but it's so easy to get caught up in the mundane and routine aspects of family life. Purposefully chosen traditions can lead to memories we'll cherish forever. I'm already brainstorming what we'll start doing and know I'll reference this book in the future, too.

So Quotable
"We can celebrate with whimsy. We can make memories. We can create treasured traditions our children will lie in bed and anticipate, tell their children about, long for during college, and cling to in times of sadness. When a special moment arrives, snatch the opportunity and create a memory that is important and lasting."

Two Besties & Our Bookish Brackets

Apr 24, 2020

Because I'm almost six feet tall, I can't tell you how many times I was asked if I played basketball while growing up. Y'all, one season in sixth grade was enough to teach me that athleticism is not my gift. If a sport didn't involve horses, I wasn't interested. Not much has changed, honestly. I don't care about sports at all not even enough to tune in to major events like the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the World Series, or March Madness.

Kelly, on the other hand, loves to watch sporting events. And she adores March Madness. She fills out a bracket, competes within her family, and avidly watches the games. The complete opposite of me. A few years ago, she wanted me to fill out a bracket. It'll be fun, she said. But I wasn't convinced until she suggested a little wager. We'd both fill out brackets and whoever got the most right would win a prize. It was going to be a planner accessory of the winner's choice courtesy of the loser. Then, I had the idea to add some bookishness to our bet: the winner could choose any book for the loser to read. And just like that, I was caught in her web.

Our first year competing was 2018. I lost – BY ONE GAME! – but had fun checking scores during the tournament. What did Kelly choose for me? The Virgin's Daughter by Laura Andersen, the first book in an alternate history trilogy that imagines Queen Elizabeth I married and had a daughter. I ended up loving it so much that I read the entire Tudor Legacy series! In 2019, I won and got to gloat because I correctly chose Virginia as the championship winner. I have zero methodology to my picks, but fate knew I needed a win. I chose A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn, the first book in the Veronica Speedwell historical mystery series, for her to read. 

We'd planned to continue the tradition this year before the tournament was canceled. Rather than scrap the bet completely, I had another idea. What if we did a bookish version? We came up with four divisions: Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary, and Wild Card. Then, we each picked our sixteen favorite books from each division. Our brackets didn't match, obviously, since they featured our personal favorite books. So, what came next? We each printed out our own bracket and the other person's and filled both out. If I thought it was hard to chose my own winners when they went head-to-head, multiply that difficulty when trying to guess how I thought Kelly would fill out her own bracket. In some cases, I knew what book she loved most. In others, it was all gut feeling. 

Once we'd filled out both, we had a FaceTime call to discuss the results. We celebrated the things we'd gotten right, especially when the answer felt like it had been the "risky" choice. We argued about a few of the things we'd gotten wrong and how, for both of us, there was at least one book that the other person loved significantly more than we'd expected. We were both convinced that we'd lose in the end, especially before we tallied the wins. And then... we compared results. I won by HALF A POINT and owe it all to correctly guessing her overall winner, which we'd decided beforehand was worth three points. She was behind a full point but argued that she deserved a half point because of one particular match-up she'd gotten "wrong" should have been right.

Want to see my completed bracket? Click the image above to enlarge it! My winner was Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center. I knew it would make it to the Final Four, at least, but was a little surprised when my heart crowned it the champion. There are a million reasons I love it, but I think it won because it's had the biggest impact on me of all the books included. It also has the privilege of being the book that caused the biggest upset with Kelly's predictions. She had it falling to Mhairi McFarlane's Who's That Girl? earlier on. As for the book that Kelly got "wrong" but should have been right, I wrote that Code Name Verity beat Lovely War. Kelly correctly pointed out that Lovely War is my favorite of the two, by far. She's right, and I have no idea why I had it the opposite way.

What about Kell'y bracket? You can enlarge hers, too. One of my biggest errors was the reverse of Kelly's: I had Happiness for Beginners going much farther on her bracket than it actually went. The other was that I didn't have Mariana by Susanna Kearsley going far enough. It's a real struggle when two of your Final Four picks are incorrect. Haha! My saving grace was correctly guessing that Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward was her champion. 

Since we came within a half point of each other, we're both choosing something for the other to read. Kelly is forcing Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas on me, which I've had zero interest in from the first moment she mentioned it to me. I'm really looking forward to it, as you can probably tell. Haha! In return, I picked If I'm Being Honest by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broke for her. She isn't a fan of YA contemporary, in general, but I think she'll like the 10 Things I Hate About You vibe of this one and know she won't pick it up without a push from me.

All in all, this was such a fun activity! I made the brackets in March, and then we filled them out and discussed our results in the first week of April. We laughed so much and loved proving how well we did (and didn't) know each other's taste in books. And I can't lie: I'm pretty tickled that there was only a one-point difference between us in the end. Would I do it again? Absolutely! I'm already planning future versions. 

Have you ever filled out a bookish March Madness-inspired bracket?

Mondays Are for Murder

Apr 20, 2020

I don't know about you, but everything going on in the world has made it harder to concentrate when reading. Some of my distraction is probably due to the new baby, but I know the news is contributing, too. Fiction has always been my favorite escape. I've definitely been through book slumps, but reading will always be a source of comfort to me. But right now, only certain types of books will do. I want contemporary fiction (the happier the better!) and fantasy worlds (far away from the problems of today) and... you guessed it... twisty, thrilling mysteries. 

Can you relate? Whatever genre is currently capturing your attention, I've got two books to put on your radar on this very murderous Monday. I read A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, the first book in a new YA mystery series, and A Murderous Relation* by Deanna Raybourn, the fifth book in the Veronica Speedwell historical mystery series, in March. Rather than review them in my March 2020 Quick Lit, I thought it would be fun to do a longer post highlighting both! So, let's chat about these two sharp-witted heroines solving crimes.

Do you love Veronica Mars or Nancy Drew? This book is for you! Five years ago, the pretty and popular Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Salil Singh. After he committed suicide, the case was closed. Everyone knew he did it, no "allegedly" needed. Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn't convinced. For her senior year project, she decides to reexamine the case hoping to cast doubt on his guilt. But someone in Fairview doesn't want her searching for answers...

As soon as I started reading, I was hooked! The format was a nice touch since it made me feel like I was part of the investigation. It opens with Pippa's Senior Capstone Project Proposal and then has project logs and interview transcripts interspersed throughout. I loved getting to see Pip's notes, suspect list, and have a first-hand look at the evidence she had compiled. It was such a great way to show instead of tell – and was a welcome change from mysteries where the protagonist's findings are primarily revealed with inner monologue or significant conversations. If you like true crime podcasts, this would be right up your alley.

It was an addicting, thrilling mystery. I loved the heroine's inquisitive personality, her sense of humor, and her pursuit of justice. The tone worked for me – it's smart, witty, and just serious enough for the subject matter. The pacing was spot-on, and I didn't want to put the book down from the moment I started. I never felt truly scared but did have that heightened tension with every turn of the page. (I will note there is an animal death in here, in case that's a warning you need). I didn't predict the ending, but I loved that the clues were there if you could put them together. I recommended it to my sister once I was done, and she loved it, too. Why is that worth mentioning? She reads way more mysteries and thrillers than I do, so she's a tougher critic on the genre.

I liked how Pip's confidence and curiosity occasionally blinded her to how much she was at risk. That felt very accurate for her age! I wasn't sure how believable it would be that a teenager would (potentially) solve a crime that police couldn't, but Jackson made it entirely plausible based on the circumstances of the case and the failures of people in power. Additionally, I thought Jackson did a great job exploring how racism played a role in the case. The town's perceptions of both the murdered girl and her presumed killer heavily influenced the way it was investigated and reported. Not to mention the way the Singh family was treated afterward. That felt very realistic, unfortunately.

In addition to our spunky heroine, there's a great group of secondary characters. I enjoyed getting to know Pip's family, her best friends, and various members of their town. But my favorite was Ravi, Sal's brother. I was so nervous when Pip first approached him about her project, but I loved the way they partnered up to try to prove Sal's innocence. Their dynamic was one of my favorite aspects of the book! This particular mystery is wrapped up by the end of the book, but I was thrilled to learn it's going to be a series. I'm totally here for Pip (and Ravi?!) investigating and solving more crimes! And though I read the physical book, I noticed that the audiobook is a full-cast performance. You better believe I'm buying it for future re-reads!

Not long after finishing A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, I decided to read the most recent Veronica Speedwell mystery. I read the first book back in 2017, and it immediately reminded me of the show Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. There's something about an intrepid historical heroine + a serious and slightly exasperated man as her sidekick that I just can't resist. Each book of the series has been filled with banter, sexual tension, and a compelling case that they're trying to solve. The second wasn't my favorite, but the third exceeded my expectations. And the fourth? Well, it was one of my favorite books of 2019. Needless to say, I was excited to dive in to the fifth!

If you aren't familiar with the series, it opens in 1887 London with the newly orphaned Veronica Speedwell, a butterfly collector, ready to travel the world. Fate, however, has other plans for her. After thwarting her own abduction, Veronica teams up with a natural historian named Stoker to unravel the plot against her. Rather than live in fear, she embraces the thrill of danger and is soon thrust into a life of crime solving. While the mystery changes with each book, I love feeling like I know what to expect when I pick up one of these mysteries: a delicious slow burn, lots of banter, fascinating secondary characters, and a heroine constantly defying convention.

In A Murderous Relation, Veronica and Stoker are asked to retrieve a jewel from an exclusive private brothel because it could be traced back to Prince Albert Victor and cause a scandal for the monarchy. Plus, tensions are already high in London with Jack the Ripper on the loose. This specific mystery is probably one of my least favorite in the series. While I thoroughly enjoyed the book as a whole, I was expecting a bit more complicated intrigue. The summary mentioned that infamous serial killer, but he's a peripheral part of the setting and not central to the mystery. The actual case was missing that certain spark that I've come to expect from this series.

Now, that being said, the dialogue and characters were still utterly delightful. Stoker and Veronica have tons of chemistry and a delicious will-they-or-won't-they dynamic. After the developments in the previous book, I couldn't wait to see what the future held for them. But the course of true love never did run smooth, so I shouldn't have been surprised that they had a difficult time acknowledging their emotions. I was frustrated at first, but it did feel realistic based on everything we've seen from them thus far in the series.

Raybourn still paints a vivid picture of Victorian England. I admire the way she's created a world that is clearly dangerous and yet is still so inviting for readers. I love my time spent with this duo and typically spend most of each book with a grin on my face. The clever, snarky banter just calls my name! It's fun to see familiar characters returning in each new installment, and I always look forward to seeing who Raybourn will introduce, too. If you're searching for a fictional escape, this series would be the perfect choice. They're smart, snarky, and have the perfect amount of suspense and sexual tension. And if you like audiobooks, I highly recommend them in that format!
*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.

What I've Been Waiting to Buy

Apr 17, 2020

After I recapped The Contentment Challenge, I shared what I bought during it. In that post, I mentioned adding things to my wishlist during the no-spend challenge. Today, I'm highlighting thirteen items I was waiting to buy!

I switched to the Weekly Simplified Planner last year, and I love it! I've wanted to try the Daily version, but as a leftie I just don't love coil-bound planners. Their Dapperdesk line is the same daily pages but in a book-bound format, and I just bought my academic year edition. Want one? Use my referral code for $10 off your first order

When I bought my weekly planner last year, I talked myself out of their page markers because I have plenty of magnetic bookmarks. However, I couldn't resist this year – mostly because I was dying to own something in that Happy Floral pattern. I'm contemplating ordering a May Book in it, but I know that I don't need it. 

Prior to the Simplified Planner, I was addicted to The Happy Planner. While I still use them (as you'll see below), decorative planning wasn't working for me anymore. I needed something more functional. I didn't intend on using any stickers when I switched, but these color-coding dots won me over. I'm almost out, so this was a re-order.

When Kelly sent me the link to this t-shirt two weeks before the challenge ended, I almost didn't wait to buy it. As a Jane Austen lover and Pride and Prejudice collector, this was clearly a need. Right? Well, I decided to exercise my self control, put it in my cart, and waited to see if I would still want it. And yes, I did. It's already been ordered!

5. Book of the Month ($15/month)
Last year, I wrote a post about my obsession with Book of the Month. So, what's it doing on this list? Near the end of the year, I decided to try to pare down on subscriptions / recurring charges. Since I'd had a few BOTM duds, I canceled my membership. But they've had a few books recently that I wanted, so I decided to re-join (for now). 

I technically found these after the challenge had ended, so I wasn't exactly waiting to buy them. However, I figured they had to be included because they'll be one of my first post-challenge purchases. I'm in love with my AirPods and like the case I already have for them, but this one is so much cuter. 

Have I been counting down the days until this was released? You better believe it! This was my favorite movie of 2019, and I have been dying to watch it on repeat. I thought it was brilliant, loved the cast, and turn the soundtrack on whenever I'm blogging. During quarantine life, I want to surround myself with all the things that bring me joy.

Although I don't use a Happy Planner for my daily planning anymore, I still use one for my reading journal. I used the mini size previously, which you can see in this post. For 2020, I switched to the Classic size and love it! When they released this bookish edition, I knew I had to have it. It's 18 months, but I'll just use it for 2021.

In addition to the planner, they released this bookish notebook, too. I use their Happy Notes to create my own version of a bullet journal, including printables that I've designed for myself. Here's a look at my 2018 version, though I'm working on an updated post since it's changed some since then. I can't wait to use this as my new cover!

Nick got me an iPad for Christmas, and I've been trying to find just the right case for it. I think I've settled on this one, though I'm open to recommendations if you have one for this size iPad! I'm nervous carrying it around without a case, plus I want to protect it since my preschooler sometimes uses it, too. I've been using a book sleeve for now.

11. Miss Austen by Gill Hornby UK Edition ($18)
I'm honestly so proud of myself for completing a three-month book buying ban. As you might imagine, I've now got a long list of books I want to buy. However, one of my goals for April is to continue that ban – with one exception allowed – in the hopes of continuing to focus on books I already own. This gorgeous book is my April pick!

12. Various Audiobooks via Whispersync for Voice
I paid for a year of Audible back in December, so I continued to use credits without "cheating" on my no-spend. I also love buying audiobooks at a discounted price because I own the Kindle edition, but I've waited until the challenge was over to buy any more. At the top of my list? Courting Darkness by Robin LaFevers for a re-read.

I spotted these in Target (before March and prior to all the stay-at-home orders) and immediately wanted them. I'm almost six feet tall and rarely wear heels, but I had a pair of platform sandals that I loved until one of the straps broke. They aren't exactly alike but close enough. Now I'm just hesitating because I don't need them at home...

Have you added anything to your wishlist lately?

Quick Lit: March 2020

Apr 15, 2020

With everything going on in the world and my home, I'm shocked that I finished 14 books in March. Thank you, Kindle and Audible! Twelve of the books that I read were in one of those two formats. I already shared my review of House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas, if you missed it. In today's post, I'm chatting about six of the books I read in March + briefly mentioned my four re-reads. And in the next week or so, I will have reviews posted for the other three books that I read. If you enjoy this feature, check out other readers' reviews at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

FREE OF ME BY SHARON HODDE MILLER – I can't remember where I heard about this book, but the subtitle intrigued me: Why Life is Better When It's Not About You. In this Christian non-fiction book, Miller explores how self focus negatively affects every area of our lives. I thought the theme of the book was great, and I highlighted numerous thought-provoking passages. However, I did think the message got repetitive. There's only so many ways to make the same point. But the way Miller explores seven "When You Make _____ About You" things (such as God, family, friendships, etc.) was insightful and is the reason I So Liked It. And I both appreciated the way she honestly discussed her flaws and laughed that all of her examples were about herself, considering the theme of the book.

THE TWO LIVES OF LYDIA BIRD BY JOSIE SILVER – I didn't love Silver's popular debut, One Day in December, but was convinced it was largely due to the fact that I didn't love the romance itself or the hero. Now, I'm wondering if I just don't love Silver's writing. The concept of Lydia Bird was so interesting, but I just felt no connection to the heroine. Her grief and dilemma seemed so unemotional to me. The time jumps in the story made it hard to get invested in the story and gave it a wonky pacing. I'd still say I So Liked It because I thought the premise was enjoyable and wanted to see how it would all work out in the end. But it was just missing that certain spark! And though I predicted the ending, I was still surprised by how little development one element of it received.

AN ENCHANTMENT OF RAVENS BY MARGARET ROGERSON – I read Rogerson's sophomore novel, Sorcery of Thorns, last year and really enjoyed it. That prompted me to buy her debut, even though I'd seen more mixed reviews for it. It got off to an enjoyable start, and I was immediately entranced by the fairy tale vibe. However, it slowed so much in the middle that I was totally bored. I wasn't invested in the characters themselves, so their fight against the fairy courts wasn't compelling to me. The romance was lackluster, too. I still enjoyed Rogerson's writing style and will probably check out future books from her, but I was just So Okay With It. As a note, I listened to the audiobook and loved Julia Whelan's narration, so I would recommend that format if this book appeals to you.

RISEN MOTHERHOOD BY EMILY JENSEN & LAURA WIFLER – Although I don't listen to it consistently, I'm a fan of the Jensen and Wifler's Risen Motherhood podcast. So, I was excited when I found out they were publishing a book! The subtitle is Gospel Hope for Everyday Moments, and I loved the way they examined how the Gospel applies to every aspect of motherhood. I thought it might over-spiritualize things, but then I was convicted by how thoughtfully they illustrated that everything can be viewed through the lens of our faith. I particularly loved the chapters on heart attitudes, transitions, mundane moments, and self-care. There are lots of Scripture references, so it felt very biblically grounded. It's one of the best parenting books I've read, and I So Enjoyed It.

THE LIGHT OVER LONDON BY JULIA KELLY – I loved the idea of reading about a woman serving in the British Army's anti-aircraft gun unit as a Gunner Girl during WWII. Unfortunately, this book didn't deliver on that premise. It wasn't bad – it was just so bland! It felt very generic, interchangeable with so many other books set during this time period. The dual point of views, one modern and one historical, didn't work for me. I didn't understand the modern heroine's motivation and found the inserted journal entries pretty pointless. As for the historical heroine, I wanted to learn more about her role in the Army. It was so disappointing! The romances in both timelines took priority over historical research or a compelling plot, so I was just So Okay With It and will probably forget I ever read it.

TO HAVE AND TO HOAX BY MARTHA WATERS* – When I received an email pitching this as a historical rom com, I had to try it! The hero and heroine fell in love, got married, and now have barely spoken in the past four years. What follows is a series of mostly hilarious hijinks and pranks between two people who clearly still love each other. I had a feeling their estrangement stemmed from miscommunication, but I didn't mind too much because it felt realistic for the characters and the age at which they married. But the story dragged on just a bit too long and got repetitive, especially when one honest conversation could have cleared up all their issues. It was still a promising start to what could be a series (based on the delightful secondary characters), and I So Liked It.

In March, I re-read four books. I listened to The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary first, which was just as wonderful as I remembered. I love Tiffy and Leon so much! I'm happy they each got their own narrator on the audio, too. Once again, I was moved by the combination of humor + emotional subject matter. I'm still So Obsessed With It. My next audio re-read, Don't You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane, had that same combination. Even though I I'd read it before, I still laughed, cried, and swooned. And yes, I'm So Obsessed With It. Both books are great on audio!

Then, I re-read The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez. I wanted to refresh my memory before The Happy Ever After Playlist, and I'm so glad I did! I adore Kristen and Josh's love story, but Kristen's friendship with Sloan is one of my favorite aspects. I So Loved It and, after I finished, I bought it on audio for future re-reads. Finally, I flew through No Limits by Ellie Marney. And y'all, I can't believe I didn't re-read it sooner. The conflict, the romance, the character growth – I'm HERE FOR IT and So Obsessed With It. It was an excellent month for re-reads.

*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.

What have you been reading lately?

Shopping During My No-Spend Challenge

Apr 9, 2020

Last week, I talked about what I learned during The Contentment Challenge. Hosted by Nancy Ray, it's a three-month commitment to give up shopping for "stuff." It officially took place from January - March 2020, but you could do it anytime! Since one of my goals for the year relates to growing my financial knowledge, I thought this challenge would be a great opportunity to both save and evaluate my spending. Nancy has shared her own guidelines for the challenge, but I specifically focused on the money I spent on myself.

Throughout the challenge, I kept track of any money that I spent. Some purchases didn't "count" since they were birthday gifts for friends, for example. Additionally, Kelly and I had previously decided that we wanted to buy at least one book per month from somewhere other than Amazon (ideally from an indie bookstore) so that was one exception I planned to allow myself. Now, that being said, I did buy a few things over the three months and thought I'd share those items here today! Next week, I'm going to talk about my post-challenge wishlist.

1. One Book Per Month (~$20/month)
As I mentioned, Kelly and I made a goal of buying one book per month from anywhere other than Amazon before I decided to participate in the challenge. So, that was an "approved" exception! I bought Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin, Open Book by Jessica Simpson, and House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas.

I make my own printables for a Happy Planner that I use as a variation on a bookish bullet journal. I need a heavier weight paper to make the pages more durable, and I ran out of it early in January. I let myself order another pack since I'd actually run out and use it regularly. I figured it wasn't cheating since it was a "need."

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm addicted to jeans and am willing to spend more to get the fit and length I want/need. Madewell denim is my favorite, especially because many come in longer lengths. When I found this pair in my size AND in Taller for only $30, I hit Place Order faster than you can even imagine. And I have no regrets!

After seeing this pattern on Instagram and thinking about it for weeks, I messaged the shop owner on Etsy to ask if she'd ever have more. She told me it'd be available in her next re-stock, and that happened on March 18, before the challenge ended. I didn't need it but bought it anyway, and I feel good about supporting a small business. 

5. Starbucks Latte (~$5 per visit)
I abstained from buying "stuff" during the challenge but didn't set any limits on eating out. After looking at my spending over the three months, I definitely should have included Starbucks in the ban! Occasional visits added up quickly, which I saw more clearly when I wasn't spending money on much else. It was a lesson I needed to learn!

Although I unsubscribed from almost all marketing emails, I decided to keep Audible Daily Deals. I used several credits during the challenge but didn't count them because I paid for the entire year of credits last December. I did, however, purchase this when it was a daily deal. I loved this book and want to re-read via audio!

I have a Scotch laminator that I bought several years ago, and I use it for a variety of things. From chore charts to cleaning routines, it has come in handy. I had a handful of things to laminate in January but had run out of pouches at the end of 2019 and just forgotten to re-order before the challenge actually started. Whoops!

Technically, I used a Target gift card on these sticky notes, so I don't know if they really count. But in the spirit of sharing everything I bought during my no-spend challenge, I figured I'd include them. I used up the last of my Post-it stash, so this was another case where I just replaced something that I frequently use.

My faaaaaaavorite pens EVER! When my last two Flairs started to dry up, I immediately added this pack to my cart in the Target app. I didn't need them since I have plenty of other pens that I could pick from, but this is the only pen I use in my planner so.... I cheated on the challenge with zero guilt. Haha!

Ten Books I Bought Because...

Apr 7, 2020

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, appealed to me because I buy books for a wide variety of reasons. Rather than list ten books that I bought for the same reason, I decided to feature a variety of reasons I'll buy a book. I tried to only choose books that I actually remembered buying, not ones that I read for review and then purchased. Additionally, I only picked books that I love! I've purchased plenty of books for the reasons below and ended up wishing I hadn't. So, here are ten that I definitely recommend!


1. OF THE COVER: A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
I have to be honest: I bought several Beatriz Williams books before I'd ever read my first. The covers were just so lovely and they sounded like something I'd love. Thankfully, I wasn't wrong and found a new favorite author!

2. OF A RECOMMENDATION: Happiness for Beginners
by Katherine Center
Estelle recommended this book to me, and I remember seeing it at Target not long after. On a whim, I decided to go for it. That was one of the best decisions I've ever made because this one of my favorite books of all time.

3. OF THE HOOK: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice? Of course I had to try it, even though I'd decided not to finish another book I'd tried from Sittenfeld in the past. While it won't work for everyone, I thought this was so clever.

4. OF A SALE: Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills
While wandering my local used bookstore, I spied a copy of this book in the wrong section. I'd planned to re-shelve it but couldn't resist the $4 price tag. I'm so glad I trusted my gut because this was an absolute delight!

5. OF A SERIES: Courting Darkness by Robin LaFevers
LaFever's His Fair Assassin series was such a delight, and I was thrilled when I found out she was continuing the series with a new duology. I bought myself a copy on my birthday bookstore visit last year.

6. OF THE MOVIE: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Yes, I broke the cardinal rule of many readers and saw the movie before picking up the book. But in this instance, I was so glad I did because it helped me keep track of all the characters. The next two books were even better!

7. OF THE AUTHOR: Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil
 by Melina Marchetta
I will read anything that Marchetta writes, whether or not the summary appeals to me. I was nervous about her trying a new genre, adult mystery, but shouldn't have been. It was just as flawless as her young adult.

8. OF A SAMPLE: The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum
I still vividly remember seeing this on the shelf at Borders (RIP), sitting down to sample it, and realizing that I had to buy it immediately. The rest of the book lived up to the beginning and became a favorite (and frequent re-read).

9. OF THE HYPE: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
While on vacation two years ago, I decided to treat myself to this book at my favorite independent bookstore. Beloved on bookstagram, I was convinced it wouldn't live up to the hype. I was wrong – it's amazing!

10. OF THE TOPIC: The Real Jane Austen by Paula Byrne
It's a truth universally acknowledged that I cannot resist anything related to Jane Austen, and that includes non-fiction about her life. I bought this on vacation a few years ago and finally read it this January and adored it.

Have you ever bought a book for one of these reasons?

April 2020 Goals

Apr 6, 2020

March was a month for the history books – literally. I knew we'd be spending a lot of this season in our lives at home, but I couldn't have imagined this reality. In some ways, not much has changed for us. In other ways, nothing is "normal." I'm hoping to blog some thoughts on it, just as a way to record and preserve my memories of it. I was writing in my son's baby book a few days ago, and it felt so surreal to describe what life looks like right now. I'm just trying to focus on each present moment, as much as possible, instead of the uncertainty of the future.

I completed most of my March goals, probably because they were all relatively small tasks. I made them with newborn life in mind, which was fitting for this stay-at-home season, too. My list looks a little long for April, but the goals are still in that same vein. And if I accomplish none of them? That's okay, too. Productivity during a pandemic isn't entirely possible – or even my main priority right now. But for me, projects can be a good distraction!

On My Calendar:
– The baby's two-month well check
– Easter, even though it will look very different this year
– Starting to plan for my big boy's fourth birthday
– As much time outdoors at possible

Currently Obsessing Over:
– The launch of the 2020-2021 Simplified Planners! I went rogue this year and chose this Gold Dot Dapperdesk, though I'm still eyeing the Happy Floral Weekly, too. I don't need it, but it's hard to resist its beauty...
– Happy Planner recently released new bookish-themed items, and I bought this planner for my 2021 reading journal and this notebook for my next bookish bullet journal. I can't wait to use them both!
Scribd was offering a free thirty-day trial with no credit card required to activate it, so I decided to give it a try. I probably won't continue when the trial ends, but I've loved having access to even more audiobooks right now.
– After one too many sleepless nights, I bought Taking Cara Babies' Newborn Sleep Course. It's not cheap, but I wish I'd done it sooner. I'll share a review in a few weeks if I continue to have success. I love her Instagram, too!

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.

March progress: 
– Pretty good! I missed a handful of days but caught back up in the end.
– This was about the same as my Bible reading. Missed a few days, but still on track.
– It's pretty easy to do this when you don't go anywhere. Nick and I will review the past quarter soon.
– I posted nine times, so I only "missed" one post. I'm very pleased with this progress!

Revisiting My March Goals:
Schedule a monthly planning session. / Yep! I completed all my review & prep work in two afternoons at home.
Start to find a new daily rhythm.  / We did start to find a flexible daily rhythm by the end of the month. It's mostly starting the day at a consistent time, watching wake windows & sleepy cues for naps, and a bedtime routine.
Find (or make) a nature scavenger hunt for my big boy to complete. / After some searching, I found this cute printable that was exactly what I had in mind. Our big boy just completed it this past weekend!
– Send baby announcements. / I should've broken this down into smaller steps. Collecting addresses and picking a design took longer than anticipated. But I ordered them at the end of the month and will mail them in April.
Complete One Month in the baby's journal. / I finished this a few days after he turned one month and remembered to take a monthly photo, too. I can't believe he's grown so much already!
– Cull, download, rename, and backup February 2020 photos. / I did some of this throughout the month of February and then finished it off in the first few days of March. Here's my routine for digital photos.
Cull the 7,000 photos currently stored on my phone. / I used the Flic app, mentioned in the post linked in the bullet point above, to get this done. I may go through one more time, but I still feel so accomplished.
Make a Spring TBR, and post it on the blog! / Here it is, and I've read (or DNF'd) 10 books already!
Write a discussion post for the blog. / I wrote two: my 12 favorite things to do at home and 8 things I learned from my no-spend challenge. This goal motivated me since I typically procrastinate writing this type of post.
Finish the Contentment Challenge, which is three months of no shopping. / Completed! See the post above for what I learned from the project. I'll probably write at least one more related post, too.

My April Goals:
– Schedule a monthly planning session.
– Research some possible activities for my preschooler.
– Ease back into the habit of meal planning and cooking.
– Organize my closet + both boys' closets and dressers.
– Complete three 20 in 2020 items, such as a backyard picnic and making a bird house.
– Complete Two Months in the baby's journal + take monthly photo.
– Cull, download, rename, and backup March 2020 photos.
– Cull the 700ish videos currently stored on my phone.
– Extend my new-to-me book buying ban another month, with one exception.
– Write a blog post about life lately.
– Cull my bookshelves + Goodreads.
– Have a Q1 financial review with Nick to look at our budget, savings, etc.

Do you have any goals for April?

March 2020: Recap + On My Shelves

Apr 3, 2020

March was a month unlike anything I ever expected, as I'm sure the rest of the world will agree. I still can't believe how quickly life turned upside down. I'm trying to focus on one day at time since the future feels so uncertain.

1. Celebrating One Month Old – Our sweet baby turned one month old on March 7, which also happened to be the last time I left the house for anything other than a doctor's appointment. I'm reminding myself daily to live in the present, to soak up this short season of his life, and not let fear of the unknown steal my joy. 

2. Decorating Our Screened-In Porch – When we bought our house in September 2018, one of my favorite things about it was the screened-in porch. I'd always wanted one! Projects inside took priority, so it has remained mostly empty and unused. For my birthday this year, my mom has been helping my decorate it. I'm in love!

3. All the Afternoons Outside – Speaking of our porch, getting it fixed up has perfectly coincided with the arrival of some gorgeous weather in Georgia! Since we've been following all the guidelines about staying at home, I've been so thankful for our backyard and this beautiful porch that allows us to soak up some sun and get outside. 

Read 14 Books | Favorites:
House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas
A Murderous Relation by Deanna Raybourn

“The people you love weren’t algebra: to be calculated, subtracted,
or held at arm’s length across a decimal point.”
A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

“Through love, all is possible.”
House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

“That’s the point of it, Bryce. Of life. To live, to love, knowing that it might all vanish tomorrow.
It makes everything that much more precious.”
House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

“When I feel overlooked or ignored, I ask God what he wants me to learn from it.
Sometimes he is humbling me. Sometimes he is giving me a heart for the rejected.
Sometimes he is helping me die to myself. And sometimes he is pruning something toxic in my soul. But if I simply wish away the heartache, I wish away redemption too.”
Free of Me by Sharon Hodde Miller

“When a goldsmith wants to purify gold, he heats it until the impurities are revealed
so he can skim them off. Without the heat, the impurities stay embedded in the gold.
Similarly, our circumstances turn up the heat until we see what's in our hearts.
It's not that we used to be nice, energetic people, and now (due to this transition
and things outside of our control) we're suddenly irritable and unkind.
Those changes simply expose the hidden sin that existed all along
in the ease and familiarity of our old circumstances.”
Risen Motherhood by Emily Jensen & Laura Wifler

“Our everyday moments might be ordinary,
but when we accomplish them while displaying the fruit of the Spirit,
they reflect our extraordinary Savior.”
Risen Motherhood by Emily Jensen & Laura Wifler

Although I didn't blog quite as often in March as I did in February, I'm still pleased that I was able to keep posting consistently. It definitely took planning and patience, however! I met my goal of blogging two times per week – with only one exception. I started the month with my February 2020 Recap, my March 2020 Goals, and then shared my February 2020 Quick Lit with mini reviews of nine books. I wrote a full-length review for Maas' House of Earth and Blood because I went through almost every stage of my rating process while reading it.

I chatted about how I organize my digital photos, which is one of my big goals for the year. I'm working on years past while implementing a routine to help me stay on top of them moving forward. I participated in two Top Ten Tuesday topics: My Spring 2020 TBR and Ten Signs You're a Book Lover. Both were fun, though the latter was definitely my favorite. I wrote about my 12 favorite things to do at home since that's where we are spending all of our time lately. And finally, I chatted about what I learned from the no-spend Contentment Challenge.

I only posted on Instagram once, which seems like this might be my new normal! In March, I celebrated the release of House of Earth and Blood and reminisced on my past trips to England with Kelly. • @soobsessedblog

Favorite Album #1: Heartbreak Weather by Niall Horan
I never really listened to One Direction, but I've become a fan of much of their solo work.
I had this on repeat in March and found it so enjoyable! I need to go listen to his previous album now.

Favorite Album #2: Lady Like by Ingrid Andress
Someone I follow on Instagram has posted about Ingrid's singles over the past few months,
so I had this new release on my radar. It didn't disappoint! It's a great debut album.

Bought: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

For Review: If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

Gifted: Anna K by Jenny Lee

Audible: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, On Second Thought by Kristin Higgins, The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez, A Murderous Relation by Deanna Raybourn, and Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Kindle: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

NetGalley: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez, and The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan 

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