2021: A Year in Review

31 December 2021

I have been writing these year-in-review posts since 2012, the year John and I were married. They’re often a feat to push out, publishing as they do in the last week of the year, when family time is the priority and free time is scarce. But they’re also always worth it. These are some of our favorite posts to look back on, because even though the contours of our years might have similar curves – we’ve been picking strawberries since that first year, after all – the particulars change memorably.

I’m not sure if I’m just lucky or optimistic or delusional (maybe a bit of all three?), but my family and my faith make it easy to see the bright side of even a tough year. Thanks for taking a walk down memory lane alongside me before we turn our eyes to 2022…

We kicked off the year by celebrating our best five-year-old and with a first project from the now-famous baking book: cake pops! The kids scraped together enough snow in our one dusting to create a snow alien and I struggled to formulate and share my 2021 goals amidst the fatigue of the first trimester. I also (finally!) finished our happy upstairs bathroom refresh.

On the blog, I shared my 2021 reading list as well as this funny little post about research studies that seemed to encapsulate for many of you what you love about EFM.

There were celebrations of all kinds in February! We celebrated my birthday here on the blog with a two-part Q&A, we celebrated Valentine’s Day with the most fun mailbox, and we celebrated a normal anatomy scan and finding out we were adding a sweet baby girl to our family!!! On the blog, I shared one of my most memorable posts from the year, at least in my mind.

In March we planted our garden, assembled Easter baskets to donate and Easter baskets for our own kiddos, and took one of our favorite trips of the year, our spring break jaunt to Jekyll Island. I got a little more pep in my step as I moved into the second trimester and had the blog posts to prove it, including sharing the news of our third baby, a lengthy post on deciding to have a third child, screen-free road trip tips, my skincare routine, and how I organize kids’ clothing.

We kicked off April by worshiping outdoors for Easter, a true delight! This was our first time back at church since the pandemic began and was long awaited. We ate many meals outside, cheered June on at soccer, and took the first of many trips to the strawberry patch. I enjoyed the sweet spot of pregnancy, when it wasn’t too hot and I wasn’t too large or tired :) On the blog, I finally posted another Marvelous Money installment: Investing 101!

Life in May was very sweet, as recorded in this post! We took advantage of the beautiful weather to pick more strawberries, picnic, cheer at a Bulls game, fly kites, and visit many flower gardens and playgrounds. We took a weekend trip to Charlottesville to meet up with John’s sister and family, we took maternity family photos, and June finally cashed in her tea and pedicures Christmas present, one of my favorite memories of the year. Of course, life took a turn at the end of May when John ruptured his Achilles’ tendon while playing tennis. He attended June’s preschool graduation on crutches and went in for surgery the next day.

On the blog, I shared some of our favorite dad’s wardrobe favorites just in time for Father’s Day.

June! I think this month was a sweet spot for many of us, coming as it did with the ease of COVID in many parts of the country. I feel so grateful we were able to gather safely for our backyard garden party and celebrate the arrival of three new babies. We counted down to Annie’s arrival with pool trips, blueberry picking, our niece staying with us for a week to attend pony camp with June, and enjoying my parents’ extended stay as best we could.

On the blog, we chatted about introducing a new sibling to the family.

July was the turning point of our year, as we welcomed our youngest daughter, Susanna Liberty, into the family just eight days into the month. We are still praising God for a healthy pregnancy and healthy delivery, albeit in less-than-ideal surroundings :) Once discharged from the hospital, July was spent with both John and I on parental leave, soaking up our squishy baby and adjusting to life as a family of five. June had the biggest adventure of any of us: she traveled to Maine with my family for her first solo trip to the Island just a week after Annie was born. We missed her so much, but she had the BEST time with cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles!

On the blog, I shared a slightly-neurotic breakdown of how I get things done and the meaning of Annie’s name.

Blog posts were scarce in August, but lots of life was happening at home! John went back to work after six weeks of leave (although still mostly from home), June started kindergarten, and I adjusted again to a new daily rhythm (with smoothies). I dropped almost entirely off of Instagram as we prepared for elementary school (including with a back-to-school dinner!), but I did squeeze in a post of fall outfit inspiration. I’m pleased to report I’ve had fun adding a little variety to my daily looks in the second half of the year!

September marked the official close of summer, and we looked ahead to fall with John back on his feet (hooray!). We actually checked off everything on our seasonal fun list except a visit to the Museum, including a long-awaited trip to WaterColor with John’s extended family. It was a dream! More about our stop in Decatur on the way down, too. And June lost her first tooth! And we got to ride on Thomas for Shep’s birthday!

We celebrated 13 years of blogging on EFM with a rather epic three-part series: on nuts and bolts, on content, and a grab bag. Those were some of my favorite posts to write, and I think some of your favorites to read, but man, they wiped me out!

I returned to work in October just in time for the PowerSheets launch and with reduced hours (down to 30 per week). The adjustment has gone smoothly on the home front – drop offs and pick ups and our daily schedule are falling into place as I’d hoped, though we continue to fine-tune! – but it’s been a steeper curve at work, where I’m still trying to figure out what can stay and what must go in a shorter amount of time each day. I’m grateful to have the challenge, though, and God has truly given our entire team so much grace and mercy as we closed out the year.

We celebrated six years of Articles Club in October – one of the joys of my life! – squeezed in a backyard camping trip with the Rays, ate our way around the State Fair, and carried off my favorite family Halloween costume yet. (I think we’ve peaked.) We also took one of my favorite trips of the year, to Black Mountain, which I haven’t recapped yet but will soon. It was a little slice of magic!

We wrapped up Shep’s first soccer season in November and June began ballet and tap again after a pandemic-hiatus. We made our first gratitude tree and were VERY grateful to bring home our new family car after a five-month wait (!). We finally hosted June’s first sidewalk bakery and closed out the month celebrating Thanksgiving at our brother- and sister-in-law’s new home in Virginia with grandparents, too.

December saw the return of several of our favorite holiday traditions, including our town’s Christmas parade and pancake breakfast, the Nutcracker with cousins, and our favorite Duke Chapel Christmas concert with the Rays. We ended the year with a double-dose of Christmas: Christmas Eve and morning with my parents and sister here in North Carolina, then hopping in the car on Christmas afternoon for a week in Connecticut with John’s family. Annie even got to meet my grandmother (her great-grandmother) for the first time, which was the sweetest capstone to 2021.

Friends, thank you for indulging me. No matter the year, these posts are such a treat for me to write, and always some of my favorites to look back on years later. They help me to notice the good things, do my best to facilitate more of them, and remember to thank God for every delight (and for being with us in the struggles) along the way.

I know I’ve said it before, but I am SO excited for what we’ll discuss here in 2022. Thank you for being here, and for sharing so generously with me! It’s one of the delights of my life. Wishing you a healthy, happy, and abundant new year. My 2022 goals are just about ready to share, so I’ll see you soon! :)

2020 year in review
2019 year in review
2018 year in review
2017 year in review
2016 year in review
2015 year in review
2014 year in review
2013 year in review
2012 year in review

Extended family photos in WaterColor, Florida

30 December 2021

Hello, friends! I hope you had wonderful Christmases, if you celebrated! We did, and in fact still are – we’re enjoying the company of all the wonderful people you’ll see in this post, plus more, this week! I thought I’d pop in to share a few photos from the extended family photo session we coordinated while we were on vacation in WaterColor, Florida this past September. The session was a gift for my parents-in-law, and after much research, we hired Amy Riley for the photos. Here are a few of them, if you’d like to see!

My sisters-in-law put me in charge of choosing the photographer, and given my background, I was glad to accept the assignment. If you, too, are looking for a family photographer, especially one for a large group or in a vacation area, here are a few of the questions you might consider asking:

— Do they include the full gallery download or have an option to add it on for a reasonable fee? (Some photographers will deliver just 5-10 photos, but since we knew we’d have multiple family groupings, the full gallery was important to us.)
— Is there an upcharge for a larger group? (Some photographers have a base price for a certain number of people and then charge a fee (say, $50) for each additional person after that.)
— Will they travel to you? What are their options for location and timing? (Many shoot only at sunrise or sunset to avoid crowds on the beach and get the best light.)

One extensive spreadsheet later, I ended up contacting five gals for specific quotes and to check availability. And Amy was the winner! We loved the look of her photos, and her pricing was comparable to the others we considered, even with an additional fee for the full gallery. It’s a feat to capture such a large and varied group, but she did a great job and was lovely and easy to work with.

A word to the wise: I had major sticker shock when doing my 30A photographer research. The prices were MUCH (as in three to four times) more expensive than a family session in the Raleigh area, where we live. (I legitimately considered flying a photographer down from the Triangle – it might actually have been less even including flight and accommodations!) Like many things in a vacation destination, photographers can clearly charge a premium here! Thankfully, we were splitting the cost between the three siblings’ families, so it ended up being about what we would pay for a normal family session locally.

My in-laws will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary next year – amazing! They are a truly special couple, and we are so lucky to have them at the head of this crew.

Though we were so sad to be missing 1/3 of the sibling crew, I’m grateful we were able to capture these photos! I feel incredibly lucky to have married into such a kind, smart, talented, and FUN family, and loved commemorating our time together in Florida in this way.

P.S. Thanks for indulging all of these family photos this year – I promise there will not be three professional shoots to peruse in 2022! :)

2021 Christmas Cards from Minted

20 December 2021

Christmas week is here, friends! I hope you’re feeling calm, joyful, and expectant.

(And hey – I know the socially-appropriate response to a sentence like that is probably to laugh nervously, as if the idea of being calm and joyful this week is preposterous and what do I even mean with an expectation like that? But I also know that if you’re here, you just might be feeling calm this week! You probably work hard at setting boundaries and choosing what matters most and saying no to the rest. And if you’re not feeling particularly calm nor joyful going into this week, it’s not too late to adjust your plans or expectations. After all, this is a season of exceeding great joy (and peace, and hope, and love). I’m praying all of those things for you right now!)

I am feeling good about Christmas prep. My only minor stress right now is coming from blog posts I want to write and a video for one special boy I want to edit before the end of the year, but I am reminding myself those are self-imposed deadlines. Christmas cards have been sent, gifts have been purchased, teacher gifts have been given, wrapping has begun, gingerbread houses have been constructed, lights have been seen. This week, we’re doing more wrapping (with friends, tonight!), we’re making peanut butter balls, we’re giving gifts to our garbage and recycling guys, and we’re packing for our Connecticut trip, among a few other things. And we’re just trying to enjoy each other, always.

As they have for the last nine years (!), Minted has graciously gifted us our Christmas cards (even though I am probably the worst influencer they have on the books, seeing as I’m sharing this on December 20th instead of November 15th or whenever they were hoping I might post). But they really are an amazing, innovative, passionate company and I am so proud to partner with them. I love our cards this year (they always have just exactly the right designs!), and I think you’d be very happy if you choose them, too :)

Since we didn’t send birth announcements for Annie (we haven’t sent them for any of our kids!), it was fun to give a little wink to her arrival with the wording of our card. The photo on the front is from Annie’s newborn session with Graham, and the photos on the back are from a photo shoot we did at the beach with our extended family – I’ll show you a few more shots from it soon!

As always, we used our beloved newsletter to share a few details about each of the kids and a few of the big moments from the year – it was a wild one!

Always happy to have a helper :)

Friends, I wish that I could send a Christmas card to each one of you – I really, really do. I’d thank you for being here for another year and send the warmest wishes for a beautiful year ahead. Card in the mail or no, know that I’m sending you love!

Best of 2021

15 December 2021

Blessing upon blessing upon blessing. I hope I don’t sound like a broken record, but that’s all I could think about as I wrote this post. It was not hard to find good in this year, but I do believe when we pause and intentionally look for the good, we find more and more of it.

As you read along and reflect on your own year, I hope my musings might help you to pick out your own memorable moments. In the comments, please share a few of your best memories, finds, and favorites from 2021, if you’d like. As always, I can’t wait to hear!

Best adventure/travel/trip: We were lucky to go on several memorable trips this year, but I think Jekyll Island tops the list! It was our first official “spring break” trip as a family, and staying at a resort was an enchanting novelty to our children (who are used to family cottages or Airbnbs). And returning to Cumberland Island after more than a decade was such a fun bonus!

Best book: For non-fiction, it’s a tie between Being Mortal and The Self-Driven Child – both books that will stay with me for a long time, and ones I know I’ll revisit in the years to come. My favorite fiction reads were The Dutch House and The Dearly Beloved.

Best TV show or movie: Ted Lasso, OBVIOUSLY. It is funny, sweet, so sincere, and full of life lessons I am still unpacking. The second season had its dodgy moments, but I still believe.

Best album or song: Can I choose a playlist, instead? The kids’ worship playlist I put together for the littles has been the best way to start our day in the second half of the year – we all love it! More about this soon.

Best follow on Instagram: I added a few gals I’m loving! Kristen Morris is my soul sister – she is a beautiful writer, a lover of stories, and has a knack for seeing and sharing the goodness, magic, and tenderness in everyday family life. Kate of Naptime Kitchen is the only person I can think of who actually nails the balance of approachability on Instagram – she brings peace, grace, and fun to that platform like no other. And it’s always a delight when This is Like Magic (“endless ways to make someone’s day”) pops up in my feed.

Best new podcast listen, newsletter subscribe, or blog follow: I added Jill Atogwe’s blog to my Feedly after meeting her as the new co-host of the Coffee & Crumbs podcast, a longtime favorite of mine. My newest podcast subscription is Risen Motherhood! I’ve tried following them on Instagram and subscribing to their blog, but so far the podcast is my favorite vehicle to enjoy them.

Best kiddo milestone: June going to kindergarten. Entering into formal schooling has made for such a big year for her and for our whole family, and I am just so grateful to God that she’s had an amazing experience so far. Loved celebrating this milestone with our first back-to-school dinner, too! And June learning to read!! That has just been mind-blowing, truly.

Best faith grower: Annie’s birth was the sweetest reminder of God’s kindness, faithfulness, and His mystery.

Best trend you tried: This was a big year for me and trends! I went full-on Nap Dress in well-documented fashion (easy to do, considering it was what I wore 50% of days for awhile there) and jumped into the world of fauxm Birks for all of our pool trips. After a little style consult with my girl Lisa, though, the biggest 2021 change might be tucking in my shirts — I was known to do a half-hearted front tuck here and there, but now I’m doing full tucks on the daily. I think I like it.

Best beauty purchase: After loving Beauty Counter’s Skin Twin foundation (it was my 2020 favorite beauty purchase!), I added their Skin Twin concealer to my repertoire earlier this year. Loved it just as much! Then the tip of the wand snapped off a few weeks ago, and now I’m eagerly awaiting a redesigned restock in spring 2022. Fingers crossed!

Best family memory: I still need to write up the recap, but our Black Mountain trip this fall felt so, so sweet. It was our first family trip with just the five of us, and the whole thing went remarkably smoothly. Multiple times throughout the weekend, I felt myself looking around and being so grateful and awestruck that this is the crew I get to hang with.

Best friend memory: There were some good ones this year I’ll remember for a long time! It wasn’t without difficulty (ahem, John’s injury) or expense, but I am SO GLAD three very pregnant gals made the garden party happen. And wow, we celebrated six years of Articles Club in style! On both occasions I sat around a beautiful, candlelit table long into the dark with great friends, delicious food, and excellent conversation, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

Best new tradition: Our Valentine’s Day mailbox was such a hit, and something the kids are still talking about months later.

Best habit you created: Baking with June and morning smoothies. Also, assigning our children the “after school jobs” of putting away their backpacks, putting their lunchboxes on the counter, putting away their jackets, and for June, charging her computer and refilling her snack container for the next day. It sounds small, but has been a big help as I unload my own things and get Annie situated.

Favorite blog post written: This post still kills me. Hard to read sometimes. Otherwise, I think one place I shine is sharing a personal take on topics many of us deal with but rarely see discussed, and this year, that was this post about deciding to have a third child. What a post to look back on now that sweet Annie is here in our family!

Best new recipe: Pizza Soup!

Best life or mom hack: Did you know that you can get a glass top for the Instant Pot? I’ve loved our IP but never felt it performed particularly well as a slow cooker (plus, you couldn’t smell whatever delicious thing was inside because of the seal!), but the glass top has been a game changer.

Best mama moment: Tea and pedicures with June is what immediately came to mind, but honestly, there were so many tiny moments – reading to all three kids on the bed, taking our first car ride as a family of five – of feeling completion, wholeness, and happiness in the weeks after Annie was born that were just the sweetest hugs from God confirming five is our number.

Best home improvement: Painting our master bedroom Hiring someone to paint our master bedroom has made the biggest difference! I’m often underwhelmed by the paint colors I choose even after much consideration, but this one (Benjamin Moore Pale Smoke) has been a winner. And it is all thanks to one of you – reader Emma came in hot with the recommendation and we ran with it!

Best little luxury you’ve enjoyed: This might sound funny, but walking June to school. We don’t get to do it every day, but when we do, I just love it so much. It takes more time than driving (kind of the luxury part!), but I get to be outside, moving my body and being with my girl, and there are few things better than that.

As always, I’m ending the year so grateful for the delights, big and small, that filled our year. I’ll be sharing more in my year in review post coming up soon, but in the meantime, please do share: what are some of your “bests” from 2021? Can’t wait to hear!

P.S. A few of my dear friends shared their 2021 favorites this week, too — Lisa, Stephanie, Kerstin, and Sam!

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