Trusting Your Taste.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

One thing that has been occupying a lot of our time lately is home improvement. Well, that's kind of misleading because "home improvement" is not "one thing" but many, many (MANY) things. Neither Joe nor I have ever owned a home before, so we are really enjoying working on this home we bought together.

When looking for a home in our area, our choices really boiled down to two things: a brand new home, completely updated, with modern fixtures and paint colors (subway tile, white kitchen, etc.) that has absolutely no yard to speak of and is 8 feet from neighbors on either side or an older home in need of updates, fresh paint, and landscaping but that has a huge, fenced-in yard and space to breathe between houses. Combining our knowledge of our personalities with the fact we have a child and two dogs, and the choice was simple: older home. The way we see it, you can update and modernize your home over time; however, you cannot add a yard to your house.

That being said, Joe and I have a long list of things we'd like to do around here: all new interior paint, landscaping in the front and back yards, updated kitchen and bathrooms, hardwoods upstairs, new lighting fixtures ... the list goes on and on. (In fact I completely see now why my parents always spend so much time at Lowe's and Home Depot!) We cannot afford to do all this at one time, and honestly, I kind of enjoy it that way. Sure, it'd be great to have everything done at once, but also it's been really fun to focus on different projects, taking time to decide what we like and saving up for it. We have been updating and decorating as we can, doing things like updating ceiling fans and adding things like new rugs and decor. If you read my post the other day, you know that we have taken a lot of time to decide on paint colors, and we hope to have the interior painted in the next month.

One area I really struggle with is interior design and decor. I can see items and examples and tell you individually what things I like and what things I don't like, but when it comes to designing a room, I can't say I really have any vision. I watch design shows or see photos of other people's rooms and homes, and I think -- wow. That's amazing! But when it comes to trusting my own taste, I'm not really sure I have any.

There are so many opinions out there about what paint is in, what tile is in, what colors do and do not go together, what kind of style curtains you should have for the windows you have. It can be overwhelming, and, let's be honest, also a little defeating. Complicating matters is that on design shows the "reveal" never shows the homeowners' real lives: it doesn't show the baby's Exersaucer or play mat. It doesn't show the box of crackers or bag of chips on the kitchen counter. It doesn't show the school reminders tacked to the fridge or the dog toys on the floor. In fact, every time we watch one of these shows and the reveal happens, Joe always (without fail!) asks, "WHERE IS THE TV?!" And you know what, he's right! The finished homes almost NEVER show a television. How many people do you know that don't have a TV? (Joe also always wants to know where the ceiling fans are. The guy loves a ceiling fan. We have several.)

The thing is, with our home, we've just really had to jump in and do it. Joe and I both really like visiting our favorite stores -- both chain and local -- to see what they have and what we like. We also like to talk about other people's houses that we've visited and what we like about those homes. (In fact, Aunt Jen, when we're faced with a decor conundrum, Joe often asks, "What would your aunt Jennifer do?" So if you're reading this: he really likes your house! So do I!) What we have realized during the past few months is -- we don't just like one thing. We like that modern farmhouse bedroom set, we like that mid-century modern lamp and chairs, and we like that traditional couch. Heck -- we even love that industrial table we randomly see over there. Joe and I kind of laugh about our lack of design cohesion, but then it hit me one day: we should be filling our home with the things we love. Sure, it might make more sense to pick a style, find things that match that style, and go on with it. But I realized that the most important thing is to fill our home with the things we love because then we will really enjoy and appreciate them. I told Joe that sure, we could go to one store and see what room ideas they've got set up and take all that stuff. But when we slowly acquire things we find that we love -- whether mass-produced at Target or individualized at my favorite place in Metro Atlanta, Status Home Design -- then we will truly LOVE our things. When I sit in the chairs we recently bought for bedroom after looking and saving for months, I'm like DANG I LOVE THESE CHAIRS! Not that we need stuff to make us happy, but when we find things we do love that help make our house a home, it brings us joy. It makes us feel cozy and comfortable and gives us a haven to come home to.

Perhaps the best example I could show is the following pictures. Our mid-century modern mirror, our modern farmhouse wreaths, and our industrial table. Friends, all three of these things are in the same hallway. But we really like them!

No idea yet what we're putting on this table. Chances are it will absolutely not match the industrial style at all!

Other people might look at our decor and be like: this is terrible. This corner needs a taller object, this mirror is too big for this space, this rug doesn't match the one in the entry way. And, realistically, they are probably right. But we really like our little home, and we have fun figuring out what works and what doesn't as we get better at it. (In fact, I am stalking these chairs for our library on a daily basis for a price drop!) More importantly, we really enjoy the time we spend together updating it and finding new things for it. It's a hobby we can do as a family.

I am working harder to trust my own opinion and taste. And I'm really having fun.

Metro Atlanta stores we like:

Status Home Design -- I could seriously LIVE HERE
C.C. Liquidations

Chain stores we like:

Target (specifically the Project 62  and Hearth and Hand brands. Give me all the things!)
Home Goods

Making You Want to Smile Back.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

I've been thinking lately about what I can do to be nicer to people. I don't know about you, but I feel like every person I encounter -- whether in real life or online -- is super stressed out about something, is super worried about something. It also seems like I can't look at news online without seeing some sort of horrific and tragic story involving a child, a dog, someone with a disability, or an elderly person. It's truly enough sometimes to make you want to crawl under your covers and not come out.

I also think a lot about things I've said and done in the past to hurt people's feelings. There are things I know I've done, of course, but I'm also positive there are things I've done to hurt people that I don't even know I did. Some of those things I've been able to apologize for, and some things it is now no longer a possibility to apologize for them for one reason or another.

I also think about Bert and how he is so sweet and innocent now, but that one day, because we live in a fallen world, he will be hurt by someone's words or actions, and, more importantly, he'll hurt someone else. It makes me want to cry just thinking about it because it hurts my heart so much.

I want to be a good example for my son so that he learns how to treat others with kindness and be slow to anger and judge. I'm not always (or ever) great at that. I can easily get upset or angry with people or judge someone's words or actions. That's why one of my goals for myself this year is to be slower to judge and to take more time to understand where someone is coming from before I say something back or make up my mind about them. To be honest, I haven't been doing this perfectly. My immediate reaction is still to be incensed at someone's words or actions and immediately judge them or their behavior. Although that seems to still be my immediate response, I feel like I'm doing better at taking time to rethink those judgments and not saying something back or allowing other people's words or actions to bother me. It's a huge work in progress, but I think being mindful of it is a good step towards fixing it.

I wish I had millions of dollars to give to people I know need it. But the reality is, I don't. Joe and I try to give where and when we can, but we can't do that every single day. So I decided to think about things I can do regularly to be kinder to people and hopefully make their days a little better.

The first thing I thought of was slowing down and taking time for them, which I wrote about the other day.

The second thing I thought of is giving people compliments or telling them I appreciate them. I feel like so often I might think something nice about someone, but I rarely take the time to tell them. I mean, we all feel so great when someone says something nice about us. Often, it can change the course of our whole day when someone takes a moment to say something uplifting. I have two stories about compliments that I believe truly illustrate just how much one person's quick words can stick with us over the course of time:

First, a couple of months ago I texted my sister Erin a picture of Bert holding the Halloween card she and my other sister Emma sent. It really wasn't that great a photo, just a quick phone snap in bad lighting. Erin commented on the photo and said, "He has that kind of smile that makes you want to smile back." The moment I read that, I thought -- WOW. As long as I live I will never forget that someone said that about my son. I don't know Erin's thought process behind that one or when she thought of it, but my guess is she didn't spend hours and hours trying to come up with a compliment for Bert. I assume she saw the photo, and that thing popped into her head. Instead of keeping it to herself, she took a few moments to type it in a text. She may have never thought about it again, but here we are 4 months later, and I still think about that all the time. I will tell Bert as soon as he is able to understand it that his Aunt Erin said that about him. It brings me a lot of joy. (And, now that I think of it, I haven't told Erin until this moment how much that meant to me, so it's a good thing I'm having this talk with myself right now about complimenting and appreciating people! Get it together, Anna.)

Second, last year Joe and I lived in a townhouse that had the main living space on the second floor. We had windows that were tall and low to the ground, but there were no screens in the windows. One day, we decided to open the windows a little bit at the bottom in order to get some fresh air. I spent some time making sure they weren't open too far because I wanted to be sure that Jane Austen wouldn't jump out and break all her legs. I said that to Joe, and in reply he said, "But she would have the BEST TIME on the way down!" And I thought, my goodness but that is true. Jane Austen would truly have a blast falling out a window (until she hit the ground) because she just loves life and it takes nothing for her to have a good time! Joe said that well over a year ago, and I still think about that a lot when I see Jane.

I think that giving someone a genuine compliment (extra points if it's a stranger!) or telling someone they did or said something you appreciate is a super easy thing we all can do to be just a little bright spot in someone's day.

We Have Time.

Monday, January 27, 2020

We are undertaking a big home improvement project: we are getting the entire interior of our house painted, with the exception of one room. (Bert's, because we already painted it this summer before he was born.) We decided on Sherwin Williams paint; however, we have been going back and forth on what colors to paint and where to paint each color. Needless to say, we have taken many trips to Lowe's over the past couple of weeks.

Bert and I generally operate on the same schedule every week, doing the same things every Monday, every Tuesday, etc. Usually we stay home on Fridays, but this past Friday we made an exception and went to Lowe's. We most always do these types of trips as a family, but Bert and I decided to make a little trip there together Friday to get some samples of paint colors that Joe and I might use to paint a little alcove in our bedroom. Friday was a rainy day, not particularly cold, but very wet. After Bert's morning nap I fed him, and then we got in the car to head to Lowe's.

By nature, I am not big on small talk. For whatever reason, I find it difficult to figure out what to say and how to politely excuse myself from the conversation so that I can move on. I am a friendly person, I think, but small talk just is rough for me.

Bert, who was awake, and I stood in the paint section for a while, deciding on a few colors we wanted samples of. When we were ready, we pressed the button for assistance, and a man named Alexander showed up. His name tag stated he was a veteran, and I guessed that he was maybe in his early 60s. After I placed our order with Alexander, he looked down at Bert and began asking me about him. First, of course, he asked me what his name was, and I said, "Bert." Alexander said, "B-U-R-T?" And I said, no, B-E and that his name was Robert but he is called Bert. I mentioned Bert was growing two teeth, and Alexander asked me if he was around 9 months old. I laughed and said no, he's just big, and that he's not quite 6 months old yet. Alexander told me he had a couple of grown children, and he also said hello to Bert and talked to him a bit too. Then Alexander told us it would be about 7 minutes, so Bert and I wandered off to get paint brushes and look around.

We got back to the counter about 10 minutes later, where Alexander was finishing up. He began talking to me about our paint color choices, asking what we were painting and what color Bert's room would be. After a few minutes of conversation, I admittedly began to get antsy because Bert was starting to get a little fussy and my small talk quota was getting full. However, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that Bert and I, well, we have time. Bert and I are not in a rush to get back to work from our lunch break or do 12 more errands. We are just a mom and baby out in the mid-afternoon on a Friday picking up paint samples. We were not expected anywhere. Bert and I had time that day to talk with a fellow human and get to know someone new. We had time to smile at someone and hopefully help brighten his day while he brightened ours too.

As Alexander brought our samples over (four in total), I noticed he had laid five paint stirring sticks out. That mystery was soon solved, however, because after Alexander packed up our samples, he told me he was giving me four paint stirring sticks and then one for little Bert too. As he flipped the fifth one over, I saw that Alexander had taken a few minutes of his time to design a sweet little paint stick with Bert's name and age. I realized that was why Alexander had checked the spelling of his name. It was because he knew from the outset that he was going to do something kind for my son. I thanked Alexander profusely for being so thoughtful, and I showed Bert his gift and told him we'd have to put it in his room. As we said goodbye and walked away, Alexander said, "God bless you!"

I smiled the rest of the afternoon thinking about a stranger's kindness to me and to Bert. I was so glad we had decided to take the extra time to slow things down that day and talk to someone. Moreover, I am so grateful that Bert has had several opportunities in his few months of life to experience kindness from strangers who do things for him for no other reason than just to be nice. What a wonderful example for Bert! It also brings me joy to see how Bert can bring other people joy. He is just a baby so he can't compliment people or do good deeds, but from what I can tell, most people really love looking at babies, and I am happy Bert has the opportunity right now to bring others joy simply by showing up.

Top 9 Baby Items: Birth to 6 Months

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Recently my mom asked me what my top 3 most-used baby items were. I had been thinking about this for a while, honestly. When you're a first-time mom, you can easily become overwhelmed (at least I was) with all of the items out there, as well as all of the suggestions from all sorts of different people. I was fortunate enough to receive solid advice from three close friends/family members (shout out to Maggie, Catherine, and Becca!).

I decided to put together a list of my top 9 most-loved baby items and share them here. Maybe you're expecting a child or maybe you're going to be invited to an upcoming shower. Either way, I hope this advice will help.

Before I begin, I just want to say a couple of things: first, this is not a comprehensive list of things we use and like. We have plenty of things that help us out a lot, but I came up with this list as a group of items we truly LOVE and could not live without. Second, if you got us something that's not on this list, please don't for a moment think we don't like/love/need your thing. We absolutely do! We registered for several things not on this list that we really like. Third, this list doesn't include things like diapers, wipes, and books -- you know, things your baby needs to simply exist in the world! Fourth, this list is best used if you're looking to buy a gift for someone who has a newborn-6 month old. Bert is not quite 6 months old yet, and he's not yet sitting up on his own or eating solid foods, so I'm sure as his needs change so will this list. Finally, it's worth noting that Bert is breastfed so we don't use very many bottles. If you're planning to bottle feed, high five! You're doing what's best for your family! I'm just not the person to ask about formula/bottles because I do not have any insights.

Without further ado, here's the list in no particular order (beginning with the top left item)! I've also included links to where you can find these items:

1. The Boppy Lounger -- I didn't know what this was, so I didn't even know to ask for it. Catherine sent to us because she said she loved it with her first child, and I am very grateful she did. When we first got it and I was explaining what it was to Joe, he said, "So it's a dog bed?" Basically! Although this item specifically states it should be used on the floor only, I'll go ahead and tell you right now that where I use it most is on the couch beside me when I breastfeed Bert. It gives me a place to lay him down in order to switch feeding sides. We also sometimes lay him there as we eat dinner so he's part of the family. Truth be told, he's almost totally outgrown this (truth truth be told, he probably is already a little past comfortable length!), and we will be sad to see it go! Bonus tip: if you have a dog, make sure you put this lounger out of reach when you leave the house or your dog might do what Jane Austen does, which is use it as a bed. Just like Joe said!

Bert in his Boppy Lounger wearing his sleeping gown (discussed below).
2. The Boppy Nursing Pillow -- After using this once, my only question was: how do moms feed their babies without it? In the hospital I stacked up a few pillows to nurse Bert, but when I got home I had two of these bad boys waiting for me. It just makes nursing so comfortable, and you're not worried about pillows slipping. Even now, when I have to breastfeed Bert away from home I'm like DANG! my arms are so tired. Bonus tip: if you have a two-floor home, get yourself two of these! We leave one in our family room where I feed Bert downstairs, and we also have one upstairs for feedings I do there. 

3. Diaper Genie -- Look, I'm the first person to look at something and be like, "Do we really NEEEEEED that?" I'm here to tell you with the Diaper Genie, you really NEEEEEED that. I really do not want to be running diapers outside to the trash all day long, nor do I want my house smelling like baby poo and pee. Are the refills a little pricey? Sure, but you can get off-brand ones, and you can also get the refills at Sam's Club, which is what we do. Bonus tip: if you have a two-floor home, think about getting yourself two. We were gifted a new one at our shower and also given a used one from some friends, so we keep one upstairs in Bert's room and we keep another downstairs beside our house trash can. So convenient. (If you're a new mom and you receive two for your shower, KEEP BOTH!)

4. Chicco Key Fit 30 Infant Car Seat -- This car seat is great. It was recommended to me by multiple moms. Basically, it comes with a base that you install in your car. Once the base is installed, this car seat just quickly clicks in and out. No need to strap your baby in sideways while you're standing in the rain outside Walmart. After using this thing one time, I couldn't help but wonder to myself how my mom was able to strap and unstrap a baby's car seat in her van whilst corralling four other children all while standing in the rain outside Walmart. Seriously, Kathy, how did you do it?! Bonus tip: get yourself an extra base or two. We have one for my car and one for Joe's. If you live near family and maybe grandma will be driving baby around from time to time, get her one too. 

5. Chicco Key Fit 30 Caddy -- It's a stroller that holds your car seat. Seriously. Just like you click the car seat into the base in your car, you can just click your car seat into this caddy and go. It's amazing. No need to strap and unstrap your baby while you're standing in the rain outside Walmart! After using this thing one time, I couldn't help but wonder to myself how my mom was able to strap and unstrap a baby into a stroller whilst corralling four other children all while standing in the rain outside Walmart. Seriously, Kathy, how did you do it?! (Are you sensing a theme here?) Bonus tip: if you travel and take this caddy with you, don't leave it 8 hours away at your parents' house when you go back to your house after Thanksgiving. Like certain people I know did. Luckily, said people were able to get a used one for $30 on Facebook Marketplace. 

6. Nuby Teething Bib -- We received a lot of bibs that are cute and nice. My mom sent us two of these and after using one once I WAS HOOKED. They are absorbent, they stay in place and don't slide around Bert's neck, and they have a little teething bit he can use to chew on. They are amazing. When I told my mom how much I liked them she got us a bunch more. (Thanks, Mom!) Bonus tip: these are reversible, and one side has a cool pattern while the other side is more of a solid color in case you're one of those people who likes your baby's outfit to match. 

7. Hatch Rest Sound Machine -- For a little while I was using a white noise app on my phone to help Bert sleep. Then we received a  Target gift card from Joe's coworkers, and we decided to spring for this sound machine. It has several sounds to choose from, and it also acts as a nightlight too, so it can grow with the baby. You can program your favorite sound and color combinations so you're ready with one tap of your finger! Apparently you can also control it from your smartphone, which I have not done, but maybe I will do! Bonus tip: when your baby is sleeping in your room for the first several months, this white noise machine might also help you. It helped us to not hear every little movement Bert was making throughout the night. 

8. Baby Sleeping Gowns -- We're not devoted to one particular brand of these, but baby sleeping gowns are great. I didn't know to register for them, but how I found out about them was my mom asked me if we had any. When I said we didn't, she sent us some. (Thanks again, Mom!) We solely used these for the first three months of Bert's life. When your baby is waking up throughout the night and needs to be changed, these make it SO EASY because you quickly pull them up, change the baby, and pull them down again. No fussing with zippers in the dark at 3:17 a.m. They also allow the baby's chest and arms to stay warm. Bonus tip: these are also super cute! Many times I thought Bert looked like he was auditioning to play an apostle in Jesus Christ, Superstar when he was wearing one! 

9. A Waterproof Mat -- We're not devoted to a particular brand of these either, and, in fact, we never had to order one because our hospital gave us one. But I did find these on Amazon. We kept ours under Bert's bassinet so we could quickly pull it out and change him on it for nighttime changes. If he got poo or pee on it, no problem, we just wiped it off. Bonus tip: this is also great for when you travel. 
Bert on his waterproof mat. As you can see, he was basically always too long for it! 
So there you have it! These are nine things that we are so grateful we have had for Bert's first six months of life. If you have any questions about these items or about other things we have and use (crib, bassinet, swing, Pack 'n Play, etc.) -- or things that we haven't found useful or tips on anything else -- I am always happy to help if I can! Of course, it's important to find what works best for you and your family, but if you were like me and really had no idea where to start, I hope this list will help! Next I'm thinking of doing a list for things that are necessary for a new mom and maybe also one for how I organize Bert's things. 

No More Boring Books!

Monday, January 20, 2020

So something really crazy has happened: in the past 10 days I have read three books for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge. I don't say this to brag, I say it because three books is more books than I've read in the past couple of months combined. Pretty embarrassing.

One of my reading characteristics is that I am able to read pretty quickly. I don't in any way think that speed is an indicator of being a good reader or even enjoying to read, it's just a characteristic that I have.

So, combining my knowledge of these two facts:

1. I haven't read many books the past couple of months, up until I selected a few for this challenge
2. I am a quick reader

and sprinkling in the reality that

1. I have an infant

I have come to a conclusion: I don't have time to read books I'm not interested in.

That might sound pretty obvious, but allow me to explain: on most occasions, with a few exceptions, I push myself to finish reading any book, regardless of how captivating I find it. I'm not sure what has historically driven me to do this -- Maybe the book will get better! Maybe I should give it one more chapter! -- but overall, I make myself finish a book. Maybe it's the teacher in me, knowing that some students may have abandoned a book they later ending up loving if we hadn't read it together as a class. I also know that different books speak to us at different times of our lives (I was always wary of suggesting Austen to a middle school student because I was afraid she or he would be turned off Austen forever simply because they read her too soon!), and maybe something you find boring today you'll end up loving tomorrow.

But here's what I know for me at this time in my life RIGHT NOW: I do not have time to read books I don't find interesting or "good." My reading time is so limited that if I force myself to continue reading a book I don't love, I will be reading that book for a month or more. However, if I read only books that I find super captivating, then I can get through more good books! So, moving forward, I'll give a book a chapter or two, but if I don't have that feeling -- you know the one, the PLEASE QUIT TALKING TO ME I'M TRYING TO READ THIS BOOK! -- it's going back to the library in order to make way for better books!

Also, please note that I use the term "good" so subjectively. I have always believed that you should not allow people to shame you for what you choose to read, nor should you shame others. No one's handing out awards to people for reading books that are "classics," that have won the Pulitzer, or are considered "good" in the opinion of some book editor. Read what you like! Of course, give yourself the opportunity to broaden your reading horizons by challenging yourself or stepping out of your comfort zone from time to time, but read what makes you happy!

Along with my "Re-read" book that I wrote about recently, the other two categories I've finished lately are "A Book Recommended by a Source You Trust" and "A Debut Novel." For recommended by a source, I chose The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand. I really liked it, and I know I've read other books of hers in the past. For debut novel, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. A lot of people were writing and talking about this book over the past few months, and I'm glad I read it. I really liked it a lot! It was sad and funny and embarrassing and inspiring. All the things! And I must share two quotes from it that I just LOVE:

Emily Dickinson's beautiful poem is called "Wild Nights -- Wild Nights!" and combines two elements of which I am inordinately fond: punctuation, and the theme of finding, at long last, a soul mate. (Editorial comment: pretty much sums me up!)

I know she's only a cat. But it's still love; animals, people. It's unconditional, and it's both the easiest and the hardest thing in the world. (Right?!)

I've just put two books on hold at the library: one for my "A Book by a Local Author" category as well as the "A Classic That You Didn't Read in School" category. For local author, I chose Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson and for my classic I'm going to read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (on the advice of my sister, Erin. So, Erin, we'll be chatting about this at some point!)

Tell me, what are you reading now that's good? Do you push yourself to finish a book no matter how interesting you find it? I'd love to hear!


This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a book through this page, I may receive a small commission. All the thoughts shared here are my own.

2020 Reading Challenge: A Re-Read

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read my post the other day. Thank you also to those of you who saw my post about it on Facebook and took the time to pray, share, and donate. I am just in awe of people's generosity. It has truly uplifted me the past couple of days. A family I know from Huntington contacted me yesterday evening and said they'd like to match up to $500 in donations. I put it out on my Facebook, and so did this family, and in a matter of one evening over $1,000 was donated to the fund! I was in tears. As an aside, I do want to mention that at least $1,185 of the $2,500 currently donated was donated by people from West Virginia. (Some donations were given anonymously, and I have my suspicions about who those people might be!) Not all of them still live there, but they are West Virginians. These people have never met and will never meet Mildred's family. Some of them don't have a lot extra to give, and some of them are facing their own overwhelming medical challenges. Nevertheless, they just donated to a total stranger out of the goodness of their hearts. Guys, if you know me you know this is a mountain I'm willing to die on: West Virginians are just the world's greatest people living in the world's greatest state. Almost Heaven.

UPDATE: I just learned that Mildred's claim for some necessary at-home post-surgery supplies for Mona was denied by their insurance company. Therefore, they have had to increase their goal again, this time to $3,500. Donations are still accepted at this link.

Thank you also to everyone who wished Joe a happy birthday Monday. He doesn't have social media, and he doesn't go to an office with coworkers every day, so basically Joe just has us to wish him a happy birthday, and Bert, Asha, and Jane Austen can't talk. So he's low on people!

Today I want to check in about the 2020 Reading Challenge that I wrote about last week. As I stated in that post, since I was starting the challenge midway through January, I decided to read a short book for this month. What I chose was Kristy's Great Idea by Ann M. Martin for the category "A Re-Read." I had been wanting to re-read this book since my parents brought me a box of my old books when I moved into my new house in May.

Short verdict: Kristy's Great Idea did NOT disappoint. It is, in fact, just as good as you remember!

Long verdict: I have been a fan of the Baby-Sitters Club since I honestly don't remember when. I truly have no recollection of picking up Kristy's Great Idea for the first time. What I do know is that I spent a great portion of my childhood reading and collecting BSC books and loving every minute of them. I have read them all, most of them more than once. For a decade or so now I have toyed with the idea of donating my giant collection to a library or to a young girl, but I JUST CAN'T. I don't like clutter, but I just cannot part with these books. In fact, they are now all housed on a bookshelf in our home library. Re-reading Kristy's Great Idea was my great idea for this month, for sure. There's nothing in the book that makes you think, "Wow, I can't believe I thought this was good when I was a kid!" It's just a good book, period.

One of my favorite parts to re-read was the very beginning, when Kristy gets in trouble in Social Studies, and her teacher makes her write an essay on the word "decorum." Kristy didn't know what that word meant, and I remember that I didn't know what that word meant at the time either. Ann M. Martin taught it to me. Truly, I cannot use, read, or hear the word "decorum" without thinking of Kristy. (Additionally, it's worth noting that the first time I learned about a person with autism and a person with Down Syndrome was in Baby-Sitters Club books. These aren't just silly books about teenage baby-sitters. They are so much more. Thank you Ann M. Martin.)

Re-reading Kristy's Great Idea has inspired me to re-read all of the BSC books! Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, here I come!

My next pick for this challenge is The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand. I am reading this for the category "Book Recommended by a Source You Trust." I picked it up at the library yesterday, and, even though it's not February yet, I've already started it. Maybe I'll get to read more than one book per category this year. We'll see! I'd love to spend all day today reading, but I have this annoying baby who, like, wants to be fed and stuff. Sigh.


This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a book through this page, I may receive a small commission. All the thoughts shared here are my own.

Our Neighbors

Monday, January 13, 2020

I was going to write an update today on the 2020 Reading Challenge (read my January book!), but something has come up, and I feel called to write about it on this blog.

Last year (my first in Georgia), Joe and I lived in a townhouse in Sandy Springs. There were several other townhouses in our community, but we never really go to know anyone except for one family that lived next door.

This family is a three-generation, all-female household that includes Mildred, the grandmother, who is 70; Mona, the daughter, who is a middle school teacher; and Chayce, who is 11, is in the 5th grade, and is a ballerina. Early on in our time living in Sandy Springs, Joe and I were taking Jane and Asha for a walk when Mildred introduced herself to us. In the course of our chat, we found out that Mona is (and has been for several years) suffering from breast cancer. We found out that Mildred, a retired schoolteacher, had come out of retirement, sold her home, and moved all of her things into storage to move in with her daughter and granddaughter to help take care of them since Mona could no longer work.

Over the course of the year we lived next to them, I believe we only saw Mona one time because she can so rarely go outside and is constantly ill. We saw Mildred fairly often, on our way in and out during the day, and also because Joe would occasionally work on Mildred's car. Joe actually saw and talked to her more often, due to working on her car and also my pregnancy which kept me in bed for several weeks last winter. When Joe had to tell Mildred we were moving, it was awful. She cried. Honestly, we cried too because, although we are SO HAPPY to be living where we are now, it's about 45 minutes from Mildred's family (without traffic), and they were awesome neighbors.

We keep in touch with Mildred and her family through texts, and we took Bert to visit them in early December so that they could meet him and Joe could work on Mildred's car. It was wonderful for me because I got to sit and visit with all three women, share Bert with them, and really get to talk to and get to know Mona for the first time. That day, I discovered that Mona had been a middle school teacher before she got ill. I also learned the BIGGEST NEWS EVER which is that Chayce was getting pointe shoes for the first time! (If you are a ballerina, or know a ballerina, you know what a big deal this is!) I was so touched when I saw that they were displaying Bert's birth announcement in their living room along with their family photos.

I'm not clear on all the details, but I know that Mona is about to have a surgery which will require an 8-10 day long hospital stay.

I say all this to say, Mildred's family could really benefit from some financial help. I know that the holidays are recently over, and many of us are recovering financially from buying gifts, travelling to see family, and donating to charities. I also know that there are so very many worthy causes that need our financial help and that so many of you reading this are constantly giving to charities, your church, and your neighbors in need. And may God bless you for it. I am going to post a link to a Go Fund Me page for Mildred and her family. I think what has touched me the most about their request is that they are only asking for exactly the amount they need so that Mildred can be with Mona in the hospital and take care of her at home for one week after: $1,520. Exactly. They are not asking for help with medical bills, groceries, rent, or anything of that nature. (Which I would totally understand if they were asking for those things. I lived where they live, and I know how the landlord is, which is terrible, so I know how much their rent must be.) I know this family, and I know how difficult it must be for Mildred to ask people for their money. She is such a hardworking person, and she continues to work hard to be the sole support for her family. It must be very difficult for her to admit she needs help, and I know she is doing all she can. One thing I try to tell other people -- and remind myself when I can -- is that we have the opportunity to bless other people when we ask for their help. If you allow someone to help you with something, it totally blesses their life because it makes them feel good that they can help you. Amazing. So if you need help, please ask!

If you are reading this, could you pray for this family? Guys, I'm going to just say it: we are scared about Mona. It doesn't look good. But we have faith and trust in God to do what He knows is best.

Go Fund Me link:

*I just want to be clear that I'm not sharing personal details here that were not already publicly shared on the Go Fund Me page. The only non-public information I have shared is about our personal interactions with our neighbors. 

Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge

Thursday, January 9, 2020

My reading life has definitely taken a nosedive since Bert was born. It's no secret I love to read and I love the library. But since Bert has been born, it's taken me about three times as long to finish a book as it used to. I'll admit it: sometimes it's just easier to turn on Netflix when I'm breastfeeding him as opposed to picking up a book. I'm still reading, it's just verrrrrrry slooooooooowly.

I've never been into journaling about the books I read, but I absolutely LOVE the app Litsy because it allows me to track what I read as well as (my favorite part) keep a list of all the books I want to read, all organized in one place. Can't beat that! Because I do love super organized things, and I'm always looking for new things to read, I am excited to once again this year be taking part in the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge. I've participated to some extent in these challenges in the past, and I've always enjoyed them. I haven't been able to participate the past couple of years due to a lot of life upheaval, but I think I'm ready to jump back in this year and do my best to take on some new reading challenges!

This year's challenge list can be found here. I just remembered to find the challenge yesterday, so I spent some time making a list of some ideas I have for books for each category. I thought I'd share some ideas of mine here, and I'd love to hear any feedback on other suggestions as well! I should go ahead and mention now that the point is try and read books you've never read before (with one category exception -- you'll see which one), so I'm going to be bold here in sharing books I've never read. Some of them might be surprising! (These categories don't have to be tackled in any particular order. There are 12 books in the challenge, one for each month of 2020.) *Each book is hyperlinked so you can check it out if you want!

Category 1: A Book Published the Decade You Were Born

I was born in the '80s, but I decided to concentrate specifically on the year I was born, 1984, which was apparently not a bad year for books!

My Ideas:
1. The Unbearable Lightness of Being 
2. The House on Mango Street
3. The Witches of Eastwick

Category 2: A Debut Novel 

It doesn't have to debut this year, just be someone's first book.

My Ideas:
1. Conversations With Friends
2. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
3. The Woman in the Window

Category 3: Recommended by a Source You Trust

Well, seeing as I'm doing this challenge, I trust Modern Mrs. Darcy! Here are a few from a summer list she did a couple years back.

My Ideas:
1. The Queen of Hearts
2. The Perfect Couple
3. Not That I Could Tell

Category 4: A Book By a Local Author

I live in the Atlanta metro area, and so do a lot of authors apparently! No shortage for me here.

My Ideas:
1. Never Have I Ever
2. Sunset Beach
3. The Favorite Daughter

Category 5: A Book Outside My Comfort Zone

Generally, Sci Fi is outside of my comfort zone, so I'm going to give it a try!

My Ideas:
1. Station Eleven
2. The Long Walk
3. The Circle

Category 6: A Book in Translation

There is a great selection of these out there!

My Ideas:
1. Beartown
2. Things We Lost in the Fire
3. Go Went Gone

Category 7: A Book Nominated for an Award in 2020

This list is to be determined! I did note that the Newbery Award and Honor books are named on January 27 this year, so it is likely that I will read one of those for this category!

Category 8: A Re-Read

There is one book I've been dying to re-read since my parents brought me a box that contained a lot of my old books when I moved. And that book is

My Idea:
1. Kristy's Great Idea

Category 9: A Classic You Didn't Read in School

If there's any list you could make fun of me for, it's this one. Please be gentle!

My Ideas:
1. A Separate Peace
2. In Cold Blood
3. Atlas Shrugged

Category 10: Three Books by the Same Author

So this category counts for books 10, 11, and 12. After some thinking, I've decided to read three books by Roald Dahl! The three I hope to read are

My Ideas:
1. The BFG
2. The Witches
3. Tales of the Unexpected 

So there you have it! Chances are I'll be adding all these books to my "want to read" list so I'll read them all at some point in my life. Because I'm starting this challenge mid-way through January, I plan to read my re-read, Kristy's Great Idea, for this month. 

I'll be documenting this reading challenge (I hope!) on this blog, Instagram (follow me @happilykrafter), and Litsy (follow me @HappilyEverKrafter). And, even though I said I'm not really a book journaler, I am going to try and use this very simple journal Joe got me last year. If nothing else, it's pretty to look at! Let me know if you'd like to join me or if you have some other great book ideas! Happy reading!


This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a book through this page, I may receive a small commission. All the thoughts shared here are my own.

Unsolicited Advice You Don't Care About.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a pretty tidy person. I don't think my house is sterile or anything, but I will admit it's pretty clean. There is always some dust somewhere, but I'd say overall the house is clean, and, more importantly to me I think, tidy. I really don't like having a ton of clutter around, and it's hard for me to sit still if there's something out of place. Sometimes Joe makes fun of me (although he's really tidy, too), but one of my favorite things to say is, "It is a slippery slope! One day you have a used paper towel left on the counter, and the next day you can't walk through your own living room!" I mean, I guess that might be a bit drastic (but is it though? IS IT?), but it's a principle that has worked well for me. In fact, students at Fatima used to know that the number one way to irritate me was to move something in the classroom and not move it back. I can't count the number of times I said to a student, "I don't go to your room and move your stuff! Quit moving my stuff!" (In case you're new, I had a really good relationship with these kids, and they knew it was funny. They felt at home in my room, but like a really tidy home where we all MOVED STUFF BACK.) Like I also said to them multiple times, "One minute you're turning the hand sanitizer pump around, and the next minute this whole room is in chaos!"

Now, you're probably sitting there reading this like -- does Anna know she has a problem? Like, she knows this is weird, right?

I mean, I guess a little? A little weird?

But I guess I didn't really realize how intense this all was until the other day when I pulled out the dustbuster, and Joe was like, "I'm going to make you a holster for that so you can pull it out like *imagine cowboy in the wild west motion.* Actually, better yet I'm going to make you a backpack so you can be like *imagine Ghostbusters pulling out their particle accelerators to trap ghosts motion*."

Apparently I use the dustbuster a lot. (And to think when Joe first suggested buying one last year, I was a little wary to spend the $35. HA! The dustbuster is my favorite weapon against dirt, dust, and dog hair! The 3Ds.)

I know we all have different thresholds for tidy-ness, just like we all have different gifts and different things that irritate us. I also know we all have various size homes, various amounts of time to clean our homes, and various amounts of children and pets who dirty up our homes. I certainly know that adding an infant to your home drastically increases the amount of stuff you have while drastically decreasing the amount of time you have to tidy. And because absolutely no one asked me or cares about this at all, I thought if I could give only four little suggestions as to how to take your house from zero to SOMEONE IS STOPPING BY IN THIRTY MINUTES -- or better yet, from zero to "I tidied up for twenty minutes and now I feel really peaceful and can enjoy this" -- it'd be this:

1. Get your dishes out of your sink and off your counter. An empty sink just looks super clean, and all you have to do is rinse a few dishes and put them in your dishwasher. You don't even have to run your dishwasher. Just get that stuff out of your sink and off your counter.

2. Empty your trashcans. Seriously, I promise you if you take out your trash and put a new trash bag in your trash can you will feel like a million bucks. And I don't just mean your kitchen trash can. In fact, I'd argue it's even more important to take the trash out of those little trash cans we all keep in our bathrooms. Emptying those bags takes minutes only, and your bathroom will look so clean!

3. Run the vacuum. Your coffee table may be covered in dust and your kids' toys might be all over the floor, but if you just vacuum (even around the toys! Don't even pick them up if you don't want to!), your house will look super clean. Even if you just halfway do it! Don't even bother to use any of the attachments to get behind the furniture or under the couch. Just do what you can see.

4. Tidy up your counters. Throw away the junk mail and old newspapers. Put those plastic Target bags wherever you keep them. Toss that pencil, that coupon, and that set of keys you're still trying to figure out opens what into that junk drawer we ALL have.

Like I said before, my house is always covered in some state in dirt, dust, and dog hair, but I have found that if I do the above four things it is life changing to me in terms of my mental health and peace of mind. Perhaps a future blog post will be coming on: how to declutter in one simple step! (Spoiler alert: get rid of stuff. Or ask me! I'll help you!)

And if you're ever in the market to get me a gift, I will always happily accept bleach wipes, Febreze, and Swiffer Wet Jet pads! :)

Our son and our dogs. Or as I like to call them, the ninjas. They are very skilled in the stealth art of depositing dirt, dog hair, dust, and clutter while being equally skilled in having no hand in cleaning it all up! Great at naps, though.

A Reminder.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Joe recently won an award at his company's national meeting. He wasn't expecting it at all, and several hundred people from across the nation heard his name called. He won an award for being the best at his job out of all of the people who do the same job he does in different parts of the country. Needless to say, Bert and I are very proud of him. He works really hard, and I am so glad that he was recognized for what he does. (The only way I found out about this is Joe texted me from the meeting and said, "I have something funny to tell you later." Then he called that night and said, "Do you want to hear something funny?" and told me he won an award. I was like, "How is this funny?!" Knowing Joe was going to tell absolutely no one else about this, I took the liberty of texting his parents and my parents because I thought they should know too!)

This made me think about the last time I was recognized at my job or for anything, really. Not that I have ever been some grand achiever, but I've won a couple of awards in my lifetime, for which I am proud and that meant a great deal to me for various reasons.

The more I kept thinking about it though, the more I realized, it's been a while. And I thought about people I know who have been recognized for things over the past couple of years: friends with job promotions, friends who are well known in the Huntington community for sitting on various boards and being involved in so many organizations. People whose names seem to be known by everyone, everywhere they go. And, because I am human, I began to get a little jealous. In the past year and a half, I have gone from being known in the community to being no one. No one knows me here in this giant metro area we now live in. (Except the children's librarians at our local library.) I have gone from being lifted up at my job by encouragement from my principal, colleagues, parents, and students to hearing nothing about my job performance ever. I stay at home with Bert all day and take care of him, try and help him develop correctly, read to him, play with him. I take care of our housework, errands, and bills. It's probably the hardest work I've ever done in many ways, but no one is handing out awards for that kind of stuff.* I know how selfish, self-centered, and whiny this all sounds, and I appreciate the compassion you show in reading my honest feelings without judgment.

However, in the midst of all of this, I was reminded of something that shifted my perspective back to where it should be. And that is

God will see.

I have written about this before, but I wrote about it before I moved, stopped teaching, and became a full-time mom. This sentence means a lot more to me now that I read it in the context of being home all day, caring for a child.

I don't mean to complain, just to share: there are days when Bert is fussy and there's dog hair everywhere and the hill of laundry has become a mountain and bills are due soon that I just want to collapse in frustration. It is at times like these that I pray for the courage and wisdom to whisper to myself, "God will see." Truly, I will spend day in and day out here alone with Bert, who can't sit up or talk, for an undetermined amount of time doing so many little things all day long that only I know about. But that's not completely true, is it? Because Someone else sees too. When I think of this, I get tears in my eyes because those three little words are powerful enough to shift my perspective and change my heart.

If I had to guess, I'd say there are a lot of people out there who work so hard at so many things day in and day out and rarely (if ever) hear any recognition or congratulations or appreciation. Man, it's hard, isn't it? But to my friends who work outside the home: God sees when you refill the pot of coffee in your office kitchen. God sees when you offer to help a coworker with a task. God sees when you pick up the paper towels that someone else threw on the floor of the office bathroom. God sees when a boss, customer, or colleague is rude or hurtful to you and you respond in kindness anyway. He sees. And to my stay at home parent friends: God sees when you lovingly change your baby's diaper even though you just changed it less than 10 minutes ago. God sees when you spend all day wiping spit off your baby's mouth and chin. God sees when you read your child book after book even though you're starving and haven't gone to the bathroom in hours. He sees.

Keeping this in mind won't make every day perfect, but what I pray it will do for all of us is to help lighten our load a little bit and help keep us humble as we all do the work we're called to do.

*I just want to be clear that Joe is vocally appreciative, daily, of what I do for our family. This in no way relates to him or his words and actions. 

2020 Vision

Sunday, January 5, 2020

I hope you all have had a great holiday season and are having a wonderful start to the new year. If I could categorize our holiday season, one word I would have to use is busy. Of course, many people have busy holiday seasons, but ours seemed particularly tough this year as we navigated two 8-hour car rides to West Virginia (Thanksgiving and Christmas) with both our infant and our two dogs. Complicating matters was that Joe was out of town at his company's annual national meeting the week before Christmas, so I was home alone with Bert for an extended period of time, trying to get us all ready to travel.

First Christmas as a family of three!
Truly, we have been completely out of routine since before Thanksgiving. As much as we've enjoyed seeing our families and friends and celebrating a beautiful holiday season, we are also so happy to be home in our house, getting back in to regular life and cozy-ing up for the winter.

2019 was an extremely challenging year for our family. Of course, it was the best year ever in regards to the birth of our son, but moving to a new state and starting a new job was really, really hard on me and took a toll on my physical, mental, and spiritual health. We also bought our first house, had our first baby, and dealt with our son's post-birth health complications. This time last year I spent every non-school hour in bed, dealing with the sickness that often comes with the first trimester of pregnancy. So, in a lot of ways last year, we were just trying our best to survive. For a while we lived in what Jennifer Fulwiler calls "bare minimum mode" where you basically do the bare minimum it takes to survive. While there are seasons of life where this is exactly the place you should be in, I also know that it's important to not live in bare minimum mode.

Our 9 of 2019.

Joe and I got home from traveling December 30, so we spent New Year's Eve and Day in our new home. I'm glad we did so because by the time New Year's Eve rolled around, we had unpacked from our trip and started some laundry and were beginning to get the pieces of our lives back together. We decided we were not making any New Year's Resolutions. We have never really done this, and we're okay with it because it's easy for a person like me to miss a day of journaling/exercising/not eating cookies or whatever and then feel like a COMPLETELY HORRIBLE PERSON for failing that day. So, no good. Instead, after we went to Mass and put Bert to bed, we ate some appetizers and had a couple of drinks and made some goals for our family. Some things we'd like to work to accomplish in 2020. What really helped was we used this printout that allowed us to organize our goals by category. We feel really good about the manageable and measurable goals we came up with. We tried to be as realistic as possible. For example, while we'd like to take a neighborhood walk with Bert every night, we know that there are nights Joe will get home late, or it will be raining, or we just won't feel like it. So instead, our goal is to take two family walks per week. If we do more, GREAT! But we feel confident we can accomplish two. One important thing we decided was to check in with each other once a month to evaluate how our goals are going. I think that this will really help us stay on track and feel good about where our family is.

Our simple and cozy New Year's Eve.
One exciting goal for ourselves this year is we have decided to try and take on the 52 Hike Challenge. Joe LOVES the outdoors, and I like the outdoors, and we want our son to love being outside, too. So we've decided to take a family hike once per week in a new location each week. We use the term "hike" loosely because we have a 5-month-old son who cannot sit up, let alone walk, so he has to be pushed in a stroller. When he's able to sit up on his own, Joe will carry him in this really cool backpack his sister gave us when Bert was born. We are adapting this goal to fit our family, and we are excited to do it! We took our first family hike today, and we are so happy we spent a couple hours outdoors exploring somewhere new. 

Our first family hike of the year at the Gwinnett Environmental Heritage Center. Bert clearly had a blast.

I also used Jennifer Fulwiler's "Word of the Year" generator to get our family word for the year: Dream. I am really excited about this word because I've been telling Joe a bunch over the last year that we need to have more dreams for our family: places we'd like to go and things we'd like to do and accomplish over the course of our lives. (Basically, right now all we have is retire and follow College GameDay around to every location for the entire season. Which is an awesome goal, but it's the only one we've got!) I feel like this word was perfectly assigned to us this year. 

Our family's word for the year.

Along with our family goals, an individual goal I have this year is to be less judgmental of people and work harder to understand where they are coming from and what their motivations are. 

We were in bare minimum mode for a lot of 2019, but we are not there anymore. We are working as a family and as individuals to grow and learn and take care of our physical, mental, and spiritual health  so we can be better spouses, parents, children, and friends.

There is always excitement in the new year, but, for me at least, there is always a little fear too. Fear of the unknown and of what "might" happen. But I pray to understand that things will always happen, and that God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and self-control.

I pray that you and your family will have a blessed, joyful, healthy, and magic 2020.
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