Six years of Articles Club

28 October 2021

Six years ago this month, Stephanie and I posted an invitation on our respective blogs: would anyone be interested in reading articles together and discussing them once a month? It would be like a book club, but with articles! That first night, we sat around my living room with snacks and drinks in hand, 10 or so strangers who just happened to have a little blog in common. I didn’t know anyone in the circle except for Stephanie… which is a pretty crazy situation for an introvert to find herself in.

These photos are from our six-year anniversary dinner on Stephanie’s back deck… it’s good to have a wedding planner in the group!!

Six years later, the faces around the circle are beloved friends. I wrote extensively about this realization last year, how these strangers had become true, dear friends, so I won’t go into it again. But the thing I’ve been trying to figure out recently, is why this group is so special. I mean, yes, we’re friends – lots of people have those. But everyone in Articles Club is completely besotted with Articles Club (seriously, just listen to Steph wax poetic), and I do have a few theories as to why that is.

1. It’s rare to meet dear friends later in life. Often, the new friends you do meet are the parents of your children’s friends and not necessarily those you’d pick for yourself, and so it feels positively spoiling to have gained a dozen kindred spirits in my late 20s and early 30s. Bonds grow quick and deep when you sit around a table for hours of conversation each month, discussing everything from childhood to work to parenting to relationships to politics to religion to finances.

2. We are all starved for community. The pandemic has exacerbated this, yes, but loneliness was an issue in the culture at large long before COVID. As many as 61% of young adults feel “serious loneliness” right now, and about half of Americans say they have three or fewer close friends (which represents a precipitous decline in friendship over the last few decades). I think I can speak for us all when I say I am SO GRATEFUL to have a guaranteed evening of friends, conversation, and laughter every single month in this bleak landscape.

3. We’re starved for meaningful, compassionate, nuanced discussion. It’s not all laughter :) To the table we bring different backgrounds and opinions and passions and convictions, and yet we’re able to have nuanced, generous conversation. We live out the idea that what we have in common matters so much more than what divides us. I can’t tell you what a haven this feels like in a sometimes-cruel world that loves to point fingers and keep score.

4. We appreciate what we each bring to the table. Stacy will make you split your pants with laughter (Libby, too). Bethany teaches us up-dos. Adelyn keeps us young. Kelly is our resident luddite. Ginna is our resident mom. Julia keeps us from trending too precious. Pressley and Chelsey are our forward scouts for almost every rabbit hole we could ever want to go down. And Stephanie makes us feel loved and special by seating us at the most beautiful tables. We’re all just normal people, but the things (and people) we love grow lovelier by loving them, and that’s definitely true of this group.

Yes, that is the chicken pot pie I made with a “six” carved into the top.

All this to say – I think you should start an Articles Club. I think our world would be a happier, kinder, wiser, more generous place if you did. I KNOW it might seem scary, or you might not know where to start. But YOU CAN DO IT, and I hope you do. Lots of tips here if you’d like to try :)

Now onto some of the articles we read in the past year together, if you’d like to read along!

Working From Home:
15 Ways Homes Will Change Post-COVID-19
The End of Open-Plan Everything
10 Work-From-Home Habits That Have Saved My Days

Surviving Winter:
How to Make the Most of Covid Winter
How Will You Stay Cheerful This Winter?
The Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter
The Norwegian Town Where the Sun Doesn’t Rise

Higher Education and Purpose:
Reimagining High Education in the United States
You Don’t Find Your Purpose – You Build It

The Power of Hope Is Real
How Hope Can Help You Heal
When Toxic Positivity Seeps Into Schools

The Aftermath of January 6th:
Our Shared Unsharing
Only the Church Can Truly Defeat a Christian Insurrection
The Roman Road From Insurrection

Opinions, Disagreements, and Changing People’s Minds:
How to Argue on the Internet Without Losing Your Mind
The Science of Reasoning With Unreasonable People
The Highest Form of Disagreement
Bonus: Adam Grant on the Armchair Expert podcast

The Current State of Friendship:
The Pandemic Has Erased Entire Categories of Friendship
Why Having Seasonal Best Friends Is Actually Really Healthy
Staying Close to Your Friends Without Kids
What If Friendship, Not Marriage, Was at the Center of Life?
We Want Our Friends Back! But Which Ones?

Strange Habits and Personal Hygiene:
The Hygiene Culture Wars That Started on Social Media
Coffee + Crumbs Episode 6.3: Why Am I Like This?

Current Events in Schools:
What Happens When a Slogan Becomes the Curriculum (and a follow-up by the same writer: ‘The Narrative Is, “You Can’t Get Ahead”’)
Private Schools Have Become Truly Obscene
You Have to Read This Letter

When Grown-Ups Have Imaginary Friends
Momfluencer Content Enrages Me. Why Can’t I Look Away?
Quitting Social Media Made Me a Better Parent
Bonus: Under the Influence podcast
Bonus: This Instagram Stories highlight from Cotton Stem

The Bloggernacle: Or, the Intersection of LDS Culture and Blogging:
The Most American Religion
Why So Many of Your Favorite Beauty Personalities are Mormon
Why I Can’t Stop Reading Mormon Housewife Blogs

The Surprising Role of Nostalgia During the Coronavirus Pandemic
What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows
11 Reader Comments on Childhood Memories

I’d love to hear: what’s an article or essay you’ve read recently that made you want to discuss it with someone? Or, what do you think would be an interesting theme to discuss with a group like this? Leave a link – we’re always looking for new ideas! :)

Articles Club through the years:
Year One
Year Two
Year Three
Year Four
Year Five

Blogging Q&A, Part Three: Grab Bag

25 October 2021

At long last, I’m back with the third and final entry in this blogging series! We’ve chatted about the nuts and bolts of blogging and all about content, and today we’re wrapping things up with deep thoughts, the future, and other assorted grab bag items. (There will be one more series-adjacent post with writing tips – coming soon!) Thank you again for your questions, your interest, and your engagement, with this series and always. It means so much!

Without further ado…

Mostly unrelated, but the cutest package from my friend Katie’s shop!

I’ve noticed you have quite a lot of readers who also comment, so I am wondering how they get here. Once they’re here, how do you get them to stay and become involved enough to comment?

Great question. I do not know the exact answer, but I have a few theories.

1) Many of my earlier readers found me through Southern Weddings. SW was a beloved and personal brand (I wrote about my wedding planning on it!), and so many readers felt they knew me and cared about me before they ever found Em for Marvelous. Working with Southern Weddings was a shortcut to people caring about me.

2) I genuinely care about my readers, and I think (I hope!) that comes through in my writing, my choice of content, and our interactions. I do my best to answer questions, reply to comments, and respond to emails, and if someone leaves a comment here and has a blog of their own, I try to return the favor. (I know how much it means!)

3) I like to think I write about interesting topics that engender conversation. I love discussing interesting things with interesting people (it’s why I started an Articles Club!), and from what I can tell, this blog attracts people who feel the same way. Eventually, a flywheel effect takes hold – once you know smart and kind people are commenting, you’re more likely to check the comments, which results in more engaging comments.

4) This feels like a community because there’s no agenda. I don’t need to sell you something. You are here because you appreciate what I have to offer; because you know I do it for the enjoyment and privilege of sharing, perhaps you express your gratitude through joining the conversation.

Those are my best guesses, anyway. You tell me :)

What are your favorite blogs right now, and why?

When I open up Feedly and there’s new content, these are the subscriptions I’m happiest to see updates from:

Cup of Jo | In my opinion, no one does it better than Joanna. Many blogs tout themselves as feeling like a conversation with your stylish and in-the-know best friend, but all of them pale in comparison to CoJ. She showcases diverse voices, excellent writing, and interesting topics – content that feels relatable, genuine, and infinitely discussable. I appreciate that I’ve discovered beloved recipes, genius parenting ideas, hidden travel destinations, and unique gift ideas from its archives, and also that it serves as a bulwark against my own confirmation bias. Reading CoJ helps me understand the motivations and perspectives of people who are different than me, and to empathize with them. On that note, I very much admire how Joanna handles her highly-engaged community – they’re fiercely passionate about everything, including her site, and she handles moderation and feedback with grace, empathy, and good humor.

Everyday Reading | If I had to choose one blogger who is most aligned with my core values and predilections as a person and parent, it would be Janssen. We have our differences, to be sure, but she is by far the blogger who most often leaves me saying “yes!!!” after reading one of her posts. I love her focus on raising vibrant, confident, resourceful humans, and in a world of content that can often feel like the same ideas repackaged over and over, she consistently shares posts that are clever, unique, and thoughtful.

Many of you say reading EFM is like hearing from a big sister. With Janssen’s youngest of four daughters being about the same age as June, I feel the same way about her.

Something Pretty | Lisa is a dear friend and beautiful writer. Our taste and style is similar, so I know if she’s recommending something, I’ll likely love it, too! Even though I get to chat with her in real life whenever I want, I still love reading her thoughts on faith, family, and celebration.

Honorable mentions go to Coffee + Crumbs and The Fashion Magpie! Both share beautiful essays that make me think, feel relatable, or encourage me to grow in some way.

Do you plan to write a book one day? (I think you should!)

If just one of you had sent this question in, I would have blushed and grinned and ignored it. Since four of you did, I felt like I had to include it, ha!

But really, a book?! Who do you people think I am? Ha! I know we live in an era when seemingly every content creator has an ambition to publish something, but the idea of writing a book has never occurred to me in any serious way. What would you even want me to write about?

On a more serious note, my proximity to the publishing industry in various ways (through work, and through my brother-in-law, a literary agent) has made me aware of many of its stark realities. Mainly, that to get a debut book deal (especially in the non-fiction realm), having a huge social following is almost a requirement. With stripped-down budgets and a saturated market, the publishers want you to be able to do much of the heavy lifting of publicity and driving sales.

(Note: Many of you are probably familiar with my 2021 goal to create a book for my family from the first ten years of EFM. I’m still excited about this goal, but it will be rolling to 2022, since exactly zero progress has been made, ha.)

Would you want this to be your full-time job?

Heck no. Heeeeeeeeeeeeck no. I’m not sure there’s ever been a time when I seriously considered this, but it has gotten even less appealing over time.

I love writing – crafting a beautiful sentence and shaping an idea until it comes out just right. I love teaching and sharing. I love meeting friends in the comments and learning together. I love writing about topics I find important, but that don’t, in my opinion, get enough air time. I love leading a community united around getting better every day and enjoying the beautiful world along the way.

I don’t like scouring the interwebs for shopping round-ups.

I don’t want the pressure to be on my phone and on social media at all times, posting and engaging and fighting the algorithm. I don’t want the landmine-dotted landscape that shadows every professional influencer: of never saying the “wrong” thing or not saying the “right” thing.

I don’t want to monetize a brand that’s built around my family or myself, further complicating the issue of privacy and boundaries.

I don’t want the entrepreneur life of wearing all the hats. I’d rather not have an unpredictable income.

I don’t want someone else to tell me what to write about and I don’t ever want to feel I have to compromise my opinions or convictions for the sake of making a sale.

So no, turning this blog into a job is not for me. I would love to be able to devote more time to it in the future, but only if that was possible without needing it to produce income!

How do you deal with negative people or criticism?

I’m almost scared to write this, but I have very, very rarely received negativity or criticism online (at least not that I’m aware of, ha!). In fact, I can only think of one instance, and it’s so mild it almost doesn’t bear retelling, but here it is: in one of my annual surveys, a reader rather brusquely commented that she didn’t care for me posting the yearly videos of our kids, because she thought it was oversharing.

Pretty innocuous, yes, but I think it stung because protecting our children is one of my most important jobs, and sharing about them is something I think about more than almost anything else. It’s also a lot higher stakes than something else they could have criticized, and so I’m more sensitive to the idea that I might actually be doing it wrong.

We do deal with disgruntled people at work, and I often get called in to advise since I’m known as the diplomat on our team. In those cases, I try to remember that “hurt people hurt people” and that a rude or angry comment is very rarely about you. Usually, it is both possible and satisfying to transform an ugly interaction by treating the other person as if they had good intentions – the old “killing them with kindness” idea :)

What do you think is the future of EFM? Of blogging in general? Growth versus decline?

Seven years ago (!) I wrote a post commemorating my sixth blogging anniversary. Here is part of what I wrote, including a lengthy quote from Erin Loechner (in italics):

“I know lots of people think Instagram and Pinterest have combined to sink blogs. I agree that social media has changed the way a lot of people blog, including myself. But those two platforms on their own would never make me stop blogging, because to me, blogging is an incredibly lovely – and powerful – form of storytelling. Erin Loechner worded it much more eloquently than I:

Storytelling doesn’t die… And blogging is storytelling, but with a megaphone. We’re just here, on our soapboxes, sharing what we know – the good and the bad and the mundane and the pointless and, sometimes, a few words string together in the right way and spark a life change in someone we’ve never met.

It’s good. It’s necessary. We’re cavemen, carving our stories on the walls of this Internet mountain – words and pictures and documentation that we were here. We existed.

I think about this all the time, about the kind of picture I’m carving. Is it worth it? Is it profound enough to exist in my mountain for future generations to view and question and fill in the blanks about the kind of people we were? The answer, of course, is yes. Absolutely, yes, one thousand times over… we’re telling a story that history will use to piece together the puzzles of this age. And that’s a story I want to be a part of.

Blogging won’t die, because it was never truly alive. The stories, the voices – that’s where the heart beats. And storytelling, friends, is forever.

I love being a part of the story, and so from where I sit now, I’m in it for the long haul. Long-form content, where I can provide context and offer value, has always been where I’ve felt most comfortable. I hope I can continue writing and sharing long into my children’s childhoods and beyond. What a gift to record these years for posterity! What a gift to feel like I’m making a difference, however small, in the lives of people along the way.

As for the future of blogging in general, I’m bullish. I’ve always been bullish (obviously – it’s why I’ve kept it up all these years!), but I’m also hearing whispers in all corners about a return to and renewed focus on blogging. (Newsletters, too.) People are realizing social channels are not effective internet homes. Between frustration with the algorithm, the often illiberal landscape, the harmful effects many feel when engaging, and the realization that it could all be gone in a snap due to a hacker anyway, the love/hate relationship seems to be souring every day.

Blogging does take a lot of work. And it can feel futile and lonely if no one seems to be around to appreciate it and engage with it, without the built-in community of social media. But when it works – when writers make the effort and readers make the effort – it can be magic.

What’s your blogging “why”?

I have lived a wildly fortunate life. I know the Gospel. I come from a whole and healthy family (I also married into one). I met the love of my life in high school and we have three marvelous children. I have an education. I was raised in a rich lineage of wise, kind people. These are gifts from God, and I believe He has expectations for how I should use them (to whom much has been given, much is expected).

And so, in my own small way, I am trying to freely give away whatever I have been given. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have confidence in the decisions I make for myself and my family, and a willingness to share them. Part of my life’s work is to equip and empower women to see that they are capable, and this blog is a large part of that. (The fact that I have the ability and passion to write here is a sign to me that this is where He wants me!) Hopefully, through sharing my story, I can show you that it’s okay to live your own path kindly, purposefully, and simply, without fanfare or fluster.

In more recent years, as our world has grown increasingly polarized, it’s also my deep prayer that this place can be a reminder that what we have in common matters a lot more than how we differ.

I’d like to start a blog, but I feel like the list of what I might want to write about feels impulsive and disparate. How have you managed to stay so cohesive over time?

Though I like to joke that I never change, the fact is, I have, and so has this blog. I went from writing about weddings, fashion, and inspiration boards, with only the lightest touches of personal storytelling, to sharing about personal finance, raising kids, making a home, and a million other random topics, with lots of personal storytelling. I went from writing five times a week to four to three to my current one to two.

What has stayed consistent, I think, is my perspective and my care. And so, if you’re willing to be vulnerable and authentic as a writer, to share things that truly matter to you, those things just might matter to other people. And when your readers care about you and your perspective, they accept you and your topics changing over time. Thank you, friends, for allowing me that grace.

What advice would you give someone starting a blog now versus when you started?

My advice would be the same: do it. If it gives you half the joy it’s given me, it will be more than worth the effort.

Whew. These posts have felt a little raw and like a LOT of talking about myself. I’m glad we did this but I’m also looking forward to moving on, ha! Here’s to many more years of interesting discussions!! Up soon: our Atlanta/Florida vacation, those writing tips, Annie’s birth story, and my top tips for the fourth trimester as I close out that season in my life!

Part One: Nuts and Bolts
Part Two: Content
Part Four: How to Be a More Relational Writer

June in June: Volume 6

15 October 2021

As I work away on the third post in the blogging series, I thought I’d pop in with a quicker share: the 2021 volume of June in June! This yearly video fell at a doozy of a time for our family: I was eight months pregnant, and John had just ruptured his Achilles’ tendon and was on crutches. Needless to say, we were not doing many of the activities that usually populate these videos: hikes, trips, swimming in creeks, neighborhood walks, camping, tennis, and more. In fact, my face doesn’t make a single appearance in this video, and that does make me a little bit sad.

But you know what does appear? June’s smile, because she is sunshine. My parents, because they stayed with us for six weeks to help out. My hands, twice, and my voice and my laugh, because I was committed to getting behind the camera and keeping this tradition alive, even in the midst of upheaval. And our home, a soft and warm place to land, even if we did get a little stir crazy at times.

Each of these videos, no matter the year, is a snapshot of our life and our little one in that season. This one just happens to be particularly unusual :) I hope you enjoy a peek, friends!

The password is JUNE.

Ready for a walk down memory lane? See Volume 1Volume 2Volume 3Volume 4, and Volume 5. (And just try not to cry a little bit.)

P.S. If you want to make your own video

October 2021 goals

5 October 2021

As of yesterday, my maternity leave is officially over and I’m back to work, thus welcoming in another new season for our family. I’d imagine the end of parental leave comes with mixed feelings for most people, and I’m no exception: wistful to miss some time with my girl during the day, full from all the time we spent together, achy to be closing a chapter for the last time, happy to be back with my team… but mostly, very, very grateful. I have work to do that helps people, uses my gifts, and that I enjoy. I have a schedule that works for my family. And for the next month, while my parents are here watching Annie, I still have my tiniest sidekick in the next room over.

Knowing that this will be another transitional month for our family, I’m keeping things simple in October! Simple goals + all the simple pleasures fall is known for = a great month ahead.

P.S. The 2022 PowerSheets launch tomorrow! (!!) If you’ve ever wanted to get to the heart of what matters to you and take small (and sometimes big!) steps toward living more intentional days, I would love to have you join me in using this product. (And if not, there are so many other fun things launching this month, too! Conversation cards! Action decks!)

Our fall mantel! The bats we’ve had for a few years, and the pumpkin garland I made from my felt ball collection and this vase filler pack. The wicker pumpkin I snagged last year (they stocked them again because they sold out so fast!). The gorgeous fluff I surreptitiously snipped from the fringes of our neighborhood and John was very embarrassed, ha.

On my calendar this month:
All the fall things, including our trip to Black Mountain, the State Fair (it’s back!), and some version of pumpkins and soup.
Camping with the Rays! As many of you know, we have an annual camping tradition eight years strong. The spring trip we had planned before the 10th and 11th members of our combined crew arrived was canceled due to John’s Achilles injury. At first we thought we’d have to miss a year, but instead decided to do a backyard camping night! I can’t wait, even though the mamas and babies may or may not sleep inside :)
— The Raleigh tour stop for Taylor Leonhardt’s new album. It’s outside at the end of the month, and I’m hoping it will be one of those crisp, chilly fall nights.
— The premier of the new James Bond movie! We are still avoiding most elective activities that include being inside in a public place for an extended time, but we both love these movies and would love to see it in theaters. We shall see!

What I’m loving right now:
— The easiest up-do ever! I am generally hopeless when it comes to doing anything with my hair, but EVEN I can do this one! Props to my friend Bethany for teaching me her ways.
— I found the intro to the new season of the Raising Boys & Girls podcast to be such a good listen. It’s short (20 minutes) but packs a punch as Sissy, David, and Melissa talk about the differences in kids and parents today versus when they started counseling, as well as what kids and parents most need to thrive today.
— I am a chicken pot pie connoisseur, and this recipe is my absolute favorite. I use store-bought refrigerated pie dough and a rotisserie chicken, and it comes together so easily! Perfect for fall dinners.

You can see all the things I’ve loved in my goal posts over the years right here!

What I read in September:
September was a slow month for reading. I began Awaking Wonder, but a few pages in it wasn’t catching my attention, so I put it aside. I’m sure I’ll return to it, but in the meantime, I’m reading The Dearly Beloved and it is FANTASTIC so far. Making an early call that it may be my favorite fiction book of 2021.

My reading list for 2021, if you’d like to follow along! I’m a little out of order but have read 13 out of 24 so far.

Revisiting my September goals:
Edit June in June, Volume 6 (Done!)
Film Sheptember, Volume 3 (Done! What a relief to have two able-bodied parents to film, ha!)
Lay out 2012 in family album
Write 6-10 blog posts (Done! Yeehaw! Thank you for all of your feedback along the way – makes writing that much more fun.)
Finish our master bedroom refresh (In my mind, to complete this goal I needed to purchase a lumbar pillow and hang something above our dresser, and I didn’t do either of those things, sooooo… not done.)
Do a Peloton exercise every day (Nope, definitely did worse with this goal this month than last month.)
Write a thank you note every day until I’m finished with my backlog (Made good progress! Only four notes left to go.)

October goals:
— Complete the backing for our Advent calendar (it’s baaaaaack!)
— Create our Halloween costumes (very excited a family theme is back after taking a break last year!)
— Listen to an upcoming sermon series for a church we’re exploring
— Plan and enjoy our Black Mountain trip
— Re-introduce our evening Peloton stretch sessions
— Find that lumbar pillow

As a reminder, many of these are drawn from my 2021 goals!

Friends, I’d love to hear what YOUR favorite fiction book of 2021 has been so far! Please share in the comments, if you’d like.

Affiliate links are used in this post!