2022: A year in review

31 December 2022

This is my tenth year-in-review post. My first came in 2012, which was certainly a good year to start: it was the year we were married, the official beginning of the life of our family. Each year together since has held its share of joys and pleasures, sadness and disappointments. Looking back in intentional ways – marking the time with reflections like these – has helped me to take what I can from each year, to appreciate what it had to offer, to learn what it had to give, to acknowledge the hard and appreciate the good.

I read recently that our lives are what we give our attention to. These posts are my way of giving a little attention to the year of my life I just lived. Thank you, as always, for indulging me!

We kicked off the year by celebrating our best six year old with a day trip to the beach – it’s not often we get to celebrate a January birthday with 70-degree weather! Annie tried solid food for the first time, we got enough snow to go sledding, and we persevered through ridiculously-low temps for an outside Articles Club in the midst of another COVID wave. On the blog, I shared my 2022 goals and reading list as well as our top ten meals of 2021, thanks to my record-keeping neuroses.

In February, the COVID wave crested in our house when our littlest brought it home from daycare and we all fell one by one. Thankfully, our cases were mild, but we suffered through the awful cascade all working parents know well, of sick kids and sick parents, and days missed from school and work. We did manage to make some cute valentines in the midst of it, though :)

On the blog, I wrote one of my favorite posts of the year and the most popular post of the year, traffic-wise.

March saw our triumphant return to Duke Gardens after COVID restrictions were lifted, and that visit was emblematic of spring springing as a whole: my camera roll shows lots of time outside this month! March was also the month I surprised John with tickets to see Nate Bargatze, a date night that tickled me to no end. On the blog, I shared about our first weekend away as a family of five (to Black Mountain!) and the other names we considered for our children (I think this post might win for most comments of the year!).

April was a delight, and many of its pleasures were captured in our first filming of Annie in April: strawberry picking, a return to Jekyll Island for spring break, seeing our beloved babysitter in her senior year musical, a spring flower party, celebrating Easter with our church. John also buzzed his hair for the first time and Cultivate’s acquisition talks began, both momentous in their own way.

On EFM, I masqueraded as a fashion blogger.

In May we finally made good on two Christmas gifts: an overnight girls’ trip to the American Girl store in Charlotte, and a train trip to Durham! Annie was dedicated at our church, Shep had his first playdate ever with his very best friend, and – in less exciting news – the drive belt on our Telluride failed, kicking off a six-week period without our family car. On the blog, I shared six favorite parts of my evening routine.

Off to the mountains! We celebrated ten years of camping with the Rays in glamping style, a highlight of the year. I got to volunteer at June’s field day before wrapping up her first year (and beginning her first summer) of elementary school. Kristin and I assisted Lisa for the day at her big Maylis shoot and I spoke about “everyday magic” to a hundred local moms. We celebrated Juneteenth with a visit to Hammocks Beach State Park, a local treasure that had been on our NC bucket list since we moved here. And on the last day of the month, Cultivate officially changed hands.

On the blog, I wrote an ode to John and finally published the caboose of my blogging series.

July was bookended with trips: first to Michigan, with 33 Thomas family members and Annie’s first birthday, and then to Maine, with a Sunday service led by me. Both were as golden as always (it was nearly impossible to narrow down these photos). In between, we tucked in birthday peach cobbler for John, a camping-themed birthday party for Shep, and Cultivate’s biggest photo shoot of the year. Unsurprisingly with all that action, I eked out just two blog posts in addition to my monthly goals, including my mid-year goals review.

With the tail end of our trip to Maine and a week in Connecticut, my camera roll was almost entirely blue and green in August. Looking back on the photos, I can’t believe I didn’t name the week in Maine one of my favorite trips of the year – it was packed with such sweet memories. And Connecticut, with a visit to my family’s farm and a particularly memorable date night in Mystic, wasn’t far behind. We also bought paddle boards and took them for their inaugural spin before we celebrated the first day of school. In the midst of it all, this was by far my most challenging month at work as we weathered some of the rockiest aftermath of the acquisition. (I also transitioned to part-time, which was unrelated.)

On the blog, I shared my first year baby gear picks after three kids (I promise part two is coming in 2023!).

September! Work finally kicked off on our kitchen refresh (in the works since January!); the first phase happened while John and I were in Mexico (not Bermuda). Our tenth-anniversary trip was a forever memory we are so grateful for. Around the edges, we moved things in and out of our kitchen cabinets and enjoyed a really awesome soccer season for the older kids. On the blog, I wrote about family movie night and how we handled summer as two working parents.

Sickness struck again in October, as June, I, and John fell in succession to the flu. Absolutely brutal. Thankfully, the two littles, who had already gotten their flu shots because of when their well-checks fell, stayed strong! (Let this be a lesson to us all to get our flu shots early and often ;)) On a positive note, our kitchen refresh crossed the finish line (praise!) and our mountain trip to Highlands was a delight. On the blog, I shared everything we read in Articles Club this year as well as part one of my working part-time series.

We celebrated a (chilly!) major milestone for our church in November; this felt like the sweetest cap to our first year in the community. We headed to Virginia for Thanksgiving with the whole Thomas crew for a turkey trot, lots of card games, and cousin time, then snagged our tree on the way home. A few days later, Annie and I spent much of the Duke Chorale Christmas concert outside, since she could not hang in an echo-y chapel :)

I ramped things up on the blog towards the end of the year, sharing parts two and three of my work series (part four was in December) and what to include in a college care package.

December, like much of this year, was full. Honestly, when I detailed month after month for this post, the pace felt somewhat relentless – I had several moments where I had to double-check dates to make sure all that I was describing actually happened in the same month. The most beautiful thing, though? The pace of our life almost never felt relentless in the moment. Usually, it felt rather slow, ordinary, and yes, full. For that, among so many other things, I am grateful.

Friends, I know I’ve said it before, but I am SO excited for what we’ll discuss here in 2023. 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 2023 goals are just about ready to share, so I’ll see you soon! :)

2021 year in review
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

Best of 2022

30 December 2022

I hope you’ve all had wonderful holidays, friends! We are laying low after a stretch of extended family visits, and it has been sweet. I’m down to the wire to squeeze in the two final blog posts of 2022 – this one and tomorrow’s year-in-review – but I wouldn’t miss them. They help me count the fruit from another precious year, and that’s an opportunity I’ll fight for even in the midst of these full, chaotic, slow post-holiday days. I hope they can serve as an opportunity for a little reflection on your own 2022, if you haven’t had a chance for it yet! In the comments, please share a few of your best memories, finds, and favorites from 2022, if you’d like. As always, I can’t wait to hear!

Best adventure, travel, or trip: Our tenth-anniversary trip Mayakoba in Mexico is an obvious frontrunner here, but our Fourth of July week in Michigan was near perfect. We were so happy to be back after a five-year hiatus and to be with so much dear family. Just looking at the photos makes me grin. We also took an unexpected day trip to the North Carolina coast for June’s January birthday since it happened to be 70 degrees, and I feel like it’s a memory we’ll be talking about for years.

Best book: I read 21 books in 2022, a bit lower than my usual, and that included a higher percentage that I was ambivalent about and one I didn’t finish (rare for me!). Still, there were gems: Hunt, Gather, Parent and The Common Rule for nonfiction, and The Evening and the Morning for fiction (with an honorable mention for my favorite read-aloud with June, The Penderwicks!).

Best TV show: The second season of OMITB was as good as the first. (Steve Martin, I will never quit you.) We also thoroughly enjoyed The Mole, a delightful, clever reboot of the early-2000s cult classic. Severance and Reacher get honorable mentions.

Best movie: After a movie-theater drought, John and I saw Top Gun: Maverick on opening night and it did not disappoint.

Best album, song, or artist:King of Kings” and “All Glory Be to Christ” struck a chord with me this year in the way the best worship songs do. The Arcade Fire is inextricably twined into the narrative of John’s and my relationship (Funeral was the exclusive soundtrack of our first months of dating); their newest album We was on repeat after its May debut. And “Dance With Me Tonight” is just a fun bop that was my pick-me-up song this year.

Best new podcast listen, newsletter subscribe, or blog follow: I subscribed to Laura Wifler’s newsletter earlier this year, and it’s been a once-a-month delight ever since. Laura is the co-host of the Risen Motherhood podcast, and her newsletter is meaty and packed with things she’s learning about life and faith, book recommendations, and parenting insights. I also rediscovered Erin Loechner’s blog, Design for Mankind, and though she only posts a few times a year, it is worth it to me to subscribe to make sure they land in my inbox. Her writing is elegant, poignant, searing. I love it.

Best kiddo milestone: Annie walking and “talking” has been a delight. She loves to move purposefully around the house, her hands clasped behind her back, making earnest burbles and gestures to each of us, and it does not fail to crack me up.

Best faith grower: This one is probably obvious, but joining our church. It has stretched and grown and deepened our faith even as it has renewed our faith in the local institution of the church.

Best beauty purchase: I mix one drop of these tanning drops into my moisturizer every other night and love how they even out my skin (which can sometimes run a tad too rosy) without makeup.

Best friend memory: I’ll always remember our backyard “spring party” as a sweet turning point in our friendship with two dear preschool-friend families. There’s just something about inviting people into your space that deepens relationship.

Best new tradition: This is a nascent tradition, but I can already tell it has legs: Saturday board game nights. Now that family movie night is well established on Friday nights, we thought it might be time to introduce a second themed family evening. And you know I’ve been waiting for this one! Ocean BINGO has been our most successful game so far when we include our non-reader – the illustrations are beautiful, and it really is fun for everyone to play.

Best habit you created: This isn’t necessarily a new habit, but perhaps a renewed one. I had fallen out of the habit of biking with June to school, but with the start of her first-grade year, we picked it back up and it has been the sweetest bookend to our days. We biked well into November, and look forward to getting back at it once the temps rise a bit!

Favorite blog post written: This post with tips for the fourth trimester is dear to me, because it contains hard-earned wisdom I’ve been grateful to pass on to many friends offline, and am now glad to have it recorded here, too – and while it was fresh. Any time I’m able to capture my love and gratitude for John is a privilege. And this four-part series on working part-time as a mom helped me process a big transition in my life. I’m sure it’s a series I’ll be returning to for years to come.

Best life or mom hack: For years, I’ve used the monthly calendar in my PowerSheets as my sole planner. Our family’s life together is pretty simple, and, combined with my trusty Word to-do list, it got the job done. This fall, however, I’ve started to transfer the contents of each week to CWM’s weekly notepad on Sunday, and it has been so helpful to have more space to see each day’s happenings at a glance and to jot reminders and to dos in one central place as they pop up. I just wish the notepad included full columns for Saturday and Sunday but (spoiler alert!) the next version we print should include them!

Best mama moment: There were so many favorite moments, remarkable in their ordinariness and preciousness, but our girls’ trip to Charlotte and the American Girl store is a very sweet memory. I love spending time with our kids, and love seeing who they are becoming.

Best home improvement: Another obvious winner here: our kitchen refresh, which was a decade in the making and has transformed our entire downstairs. I am beyond grateful and still somewhat in shock that it’s complete. But if I could pick one small detail that has sparked a surprising amount of joy, it would be the wall clock we added in the midst of the renovation. I can see it from anywhere in the main room, and it has smoothed out a pain point I almost didn’t notice: having to reach for my phone whenever I wanted to check the time. Adding the clock has made it so that I can go phone-free more often, which I love.

Best little luxury you’ve enjoyed: Fairlife chocolate milk. John turned us onto it after reading that Katie Ledecky drinks chocolate milk in the cool-down pool after swimming a race, and so naturally we’ve adopted it as our post-Peloton reward of choice. Yes, I’m saying we’re basically the same as Katie Ledecky.

And just for fun, here are the top ten most popular posts from Em for Marvelous in 2022:
1. The best way I’ve found to regularly see my friends (February 2022 – this got a major boost when it was linked in Emily P. Freeman’s newsletter!)
2. Working part-time as a mom, part one (October 2022)
3. 2022 goals (January 2022)
4. Kale, sausage, and chickpea pasta (November 2019)
5. Working part-time as a mom, part two (November 2022)
6. Our tenth-anniversary glamping trip at Gold River (June 2022)
7. Children and the passing of time (February 2021)
8. My 2022 reading list (January 2022)
9. How to host a book swap party (August 2019)
10. The other names (March 2022)

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 tomorrow, but in the meantime, please do share: what are some of your “bests” from 2022? Can’t wait to hear!

Affiliate links are used in this post!

Our 2022 Minted Christmas cards

23 December 2022

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, friends! I wanted to pop in and share our Christmas card before the big day passes us by. As always, we chose a design from Minted, though this is the first year in 9 years (!) that they were not a gift! The PR gal I’ve always worked with has moved on, and I didn’t have it in me to complete the rigamarole (posting, custom codes, stories, reels!) they ask influencers to do these days :) Regardless, I never considered a card from another option – the quality is beautiful and the designs are perfect. Here’s what we chose this year!

I’ll confess that I felt a bit scattered when sending our card to print, and didn’t include the names and ages of our children, the year, a piece of scripture, or a few additional photos on the back as I usually do – yeesh. Of course, names and ages are on our accompanying newsletter, but I like to have them on the card, too, in case they get separated in posterity.

This year, we opted to use the photo we snapped on Easter in our backyard in lieu of a photo session. It was an expensive year (ahem, kitchen, I’m looking at you), and it just seemed to make sense to go with a beautiful photo we already had!

And then, of course, we tucked a copy of our 2022 newsletter into each envelope:

I am seriously considering moving to an old-school narrative newsletter on folded, white 8.5×11 printer paper next year. Thoughts?! Would you find it weird if you got one in the mail? These types of missives used to be ubiquitous in the cards my family received growing up, and I loved reading them. And I’d be following in a proud family tradition :)

Wishing everyone celebrating a wonderful, restful, joyful weekend! I’ll see you back here next week for my Best of 2022 and 2022 Year in Review posts.

My Purl Soho Advent Calendar

21 December 2022

To say this post – this project – is a long time coming is… a bit of an understatement.

On November 3, 2019, I ordered the Purl Soho Advent Calendar Kit. A month later, I set a 2020 goal to complete it before December. “Two goals have dovetailed beautifully with this initiative:” I wrote, “wanting to spend less time on screens, and wanting to complete our new Advent calendar! After years of admiring this DIY calendar kit, I finally bit the bullet and purchased it. With many pieces, intricate details, and the need to learn new skills, I anticipate it will be a year-long project that will keep my hands busy in the evenings and on weekends, as well as produce a beautiful heirloom for our family!”

Keep my hands busy? Check. Beautiful heirloom for our family? Check. Year-long project? Hahahahahaha.

In June 2020, I reported in on the progress I’d made: almost none. All I had done at that point was open the box early in the year and quickly close it back up, wildly intimidated. From my brief peek at the instructions, I was under the impression that the whole project involved machine sewing, when in reality (and with thanks to kind encouragement from reader Carly, who completed the same kit and clued me in!), only the pockets required a machine.

With this realization, in August 2020, things took a major upward swing! While we were visiting John’s parents in Connecticut, I completed five whole ornaments under the tutelage of my wonderful mother-in-law. Once I got the hang of it, I was quickly sewing up a storm at nap times and in the evenings, but I honestly don’t know if I would ever have gotten started if she hadn’t been at my side. Thank you, Jean!!

Purl Soho Advent calendar with bell, wreath, and dove ornaments

I completed four more ornaments in September, and three more in October, then progress fell off a cliff when first-trimester nausea and tiredness hit in November and December (looking at you, Annie).

In 2021, I set a yearly goal of “prioritizing memory keeping,” an umbrella which included finishing the Advent calendar. And then, with a newborn and an Achilles injury and houseguests for six continuous weeks and kindergarten, I did not complete a single stitch until October, when I pulled the kit back out and embroidered the pocket numbers in cheery red floss. When we returned to Connecticut for Christmas, my angel mother-in-law gathered the pocket strips and sewed them together on her machine.

Embroidered pockets on a Purl Soho Advent Calendar

Friends, this was the first time this project felt like A Thing instead of a random collection of felt items. And it felt sooooooooo good!

Thus we arrive at the present year. In 2022, I learned from the pitfalls of my 2021 goals and got a little more strategic with my creative projects. Determined to finish the various projects I had underway and not have my efforts be scattered across all of them at once, I assigned each to a quarter. Finishing the Advent calendar got assigned to Q4, so I didn’t worry about picking it back up until October.

When fall rolled around, I opened my pretty pink box back up and got to work sewing sequins around the edge of the tree. Painstaking, but satisfying! In November, I sewed the tree to the backer and sewed on the hanging pole. And that (drumroll, please), meant that on the 1st of December in the year of our Lord 2022, I hung an actual Advent calendar on our actual wall that I had made with my own two actual hands. Praise and hallelujah and bless it to the heavens!

Purl Soho colorful felt Advent calendar hanging in a kitchen

Was I finished with this project, though? No, dear reader, I was not finished: I still had six final ornaments to sew. I was bound and determined to complete them before Christmas, though, and so all month have been chipping away at them little by little. As of this writing, I have one more to sew, and I’m confident I can complete it before December 24th :)

Here we are: $98*, two and a half years, a little sweat equity from my mother-in-law, much encouragement from John and my children, and countless hours of detailed sewing later, we have a bonafide family heirloom. It is glorious. I love it. June and Shep have delighted in pinning the ornaments on one-by-one each day this month. It has secured a spot on the top-five list of things I’d save in a fire, assuming my family and pets have made it out safely.

Colorful felt Advent calendar hanging on the wall from Purl Soho

The other day, as she watched me add beads to a tiny snowman, June asked which child I would lend the calendar to when they were older.** And wow, what a way to bring things full circle: the reason I was inspired to undertake this project in the first place is because my family had a very similar felt Christmas tree Advent calendar growing up. It was a mainstay in our front hallway throughout every December of my childhood; nothing was better than the days when it was my turn to pin the ornament on the tree. I hoped my children might feel the same way about this one, and early signs indicate that they just might. All those hours of sewing? Worth it, worth it, worth it.

Colorful felt Advent calendar from Purl Soho hanging on the wall

I’m not sure if my two-and-half-year saga will encourage a single reader to pick up this kit, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Once I got over my initial fear, the directions really were quite easy to follow – it all just takes a bit of time. In fact, I got so comfortable that I ended up free-styling about half the ornaments. The directions call for you to make two of each type of ornament (two stars, two candy canes, etc.), but I liked the idea of each ornament being distinct. Plus, I wanted to translate some of the ornaments from my family’s calendar growing up, and include a few more Christian symbols in the mix, too. Once I had the basic know-how for making the ornaments, it was easy enough to make new patterns and sew my own designs. For those curious, our one-of-a-kind calendar includes a heart, letter, present, cross, ice skate, holly, angel, drum, crown, shepherd’s crook, and snowman along with Purl’s standard shapes.

Friends, thank you for coming along on this journey! If you have any questions about this kit, I’d be happy to answer! I hope this post might encourage you to take on your own creative project, knowing that no matter how long it takes, it will likely be worth it in the end. It most definitely has been for me. xo!

*I purchased the kit for $98 (minus a 10% off coupon for signing up for the email list) in 2019. Somehow, the price has swollen to $175 in 3 years?!? It is currently 25% off on the website (if the promotion isn’t active when you’re reading this, be sure to sign up to get the email discount). They also offer the option of buying the pattern and gathering your own supplies (which they kindly list for you). I think this could be a great option, but if you go this route do NOT skimp on the felt – I’d order it from Purl, because it is extremely high-quality, vibrantly-colored, and makes or breaks the project!

**Of course, I told her that I would be so happy to make her a calendar of her own when she was older. To which she responded that I should make sure to give myself plenty of time, because this one took me a few years (LOL). We agreed I’d start on each child’s when they left for college.