2023: A year in review

31 December 2023

Generally, I prefer to look forward. I love to dream and imagine the future, and we’re lucky to have reason to hope for good things ahead.

Looking back can be harder. It’s a reminder of the good things that have happened, yes, but an inevitable reminder of the passing of time, too – and, depending on my mood, that can be fraught. (I know I’m not alone in this!)

Still: looking back in intentional ways 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. Our lives are what we give our attention to, and 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!

As always, our year started by celebrating our best big girl turning another year older – this time with a birthday hike on the big day and a petite pottery painting party a few days later. We said goodbye to the CWM commercial office space and I headed to the beach for a weekend with the Articles Club gals. On the blog, I shared my reading list, my goals, and – for the first time – our family goals for the year.

There were more celebrations in February! In lieu of 2022 Christmas gifts, my sisters and I (and husbands) chose to go out to dinner together – not so easy since we don’t live in the same place! – and we were able to make it happen at Kindred over Presidents Day. We also stuffed our Valentine’s mailbox, went to see the Duke basketball team play and Riverdance tour for my birthday (reflections here), finished the first Harry Potter, and started composting (a long-awaited splurge).

On the blog, I shared one of my favorite practical posts and one of my favorite introspective.

We spent lots of time outdoors in March, including on the field and sidelines for another soccer season for June and Shep. I chaperoned my first elementary school field trip (a dream come true, as silly as it sounds!), we replaced our roof after hail damage, and we kicked off our spring break trip with 20 hours in Serenbe, a nostalgic treat from my SW days.

On the blog, I shared three friendship case studies, a first round of family faith formation practices, and a “new 36” list, which to be honest I had mostly forgotten about but was delighted to see I had made significant progress on when linking this post.

In April, we reached our spring break destination – a return to Watercolor, Florida, to celebrate John’s parents’ 50th anniversary with the whole family! This is where we discovered Annie is obsessed with belly flopping into pools, ha. We celebrated Easter in Greenville, SC on our road trip back (complete with an ER visit after having to administer the epipen.) We took another little weekend trip to Asheville, where we met up with my younger sister to celebrate her paying off her student loans, and I traveled to Texas for work. Whew!! In between trips, we picked strawberries and June had her first piano recital.

On the blog, I shared a first installment of our favorite family read alouds and a peek at our kitchen refresh.

We wrapped up soccer, camped with friends from church, and visited with cousins in May. A slower month after an on-the-go April! On the blog, I wrote about the financial implications of having a third child and shared our Google Docs packing list and a tour of our main room.

With school out for the summer, June swam on our neighborhood team for the first time (and greatly enjoyed learning group dances on the pool deck), the kids played street soccer almost daily with neighbors, and June and Shep camped in the backyard solo. I hosted another book swap, biked the American Tobacco Trail with a dear friend (44 miles!), and we took one of our favorite trips of the year to Beaufort, NC before heading north to spend a week with my parents, sister, and cousins in Connecticut.

On the blog, I shared some of June’s favorite book series and a final round-up of baby gear picks.

We began the month of July in Maine at our island and concluded it with Shep blowing out the candles at home on his fifth birthday. In between, we had a stopover in DC on our road trip south, an insane rash from moths (!), many evenings at the pool, and a joint birthday party with Shep’s best friend at a local park. On the blog, I shared a few takeaways from Habits of the Household, my favorite nonfiction read of the year.

In August, we welcomed two of our nieces and nephews for a week of cousin camp, highlighted by the debut of the Best Friends Snack Shack, hikes, and our nephew learning to ride a bike! We discussed the Barbie movie with an all-pink Articles Club, stayed with John’s parents for a week at their new home in Virginia (so much closer to us!), and kicked off another season of soccer at a field we can walk to. And then school started – second grade for June and a final year of preschool for Shep!

On the blog, I shared a mini back-to-school series – jobs, artwork, bulletin boards, shoes – as well as our bedroom refresh and an Ask Em on moving away from family.

September saw the advent of Team Thomas Tuesdays, a dream many years in the making. It’s been (mostly) a delight! We also organized our garage – a sore spot in our home that had been dogging us for years – with some professional help. In honor of our 11th wedding anniversary, John and I had a special date night to see Wicked and took a quick weekend trip to Charleston (not without its relationship lessons). We led a book study at church on The Common Rule and I started volunteering weekly in June’s classroom to run a reading group.

On the blog, I kicked off this year’s big series, Christians in Public Schools, and shared another slate of family movies and a few things on my “decide once” list.

We had another favorite trip in October – to Boone, NC – as well as a memorable gathering for the 8th anniversary of Articles Club, a visit to the state fair, our annual camping trip with the Rays, and a chocolate chip cookie tasting party. Sadly, John’s back pain flared up again and he continued to battle it for the rest of the year.

In November, we met up with cousins for a coooold day at the zoo, I biked the ATT one more time, we had friends over for what we hope will be many more Sunday pizza hangs in 2024 (more about that soon!), and we celebrated Thanksgiving in the Florida Keys with my family in honor of my parents’ 40th anniversary. (Annie’s first flight!)

Significantly, I also soft-launched The Connected Family and was truly touched (and surprised!) by your enthusiastic response.

December felt full, slow, and all about community. We fit in lots of beloved Christmas traditions – many with friends or family in tow – but worked hard to keep plenty of white space for playing, baking, and reading books at home, too. Shep started the very lowest-key basketball, a new delight of his life, and at the end of the month, we hosted my family for a few days of Christmas fun and then flew to California to be hosted alongside all of John’s family at his sister’s home for even more.

For us, each year in the life of our young family is a delicate balance – between travel and staying home, between “new” and “the same,” between pushing and choosing rest, between work and play, between freedom and control. We do not get it right all the time, not by a long shot – but we try. We think deeply about it, and pray for wisdom, and act carefully, and adjust as we go. It’s both rewarding and overwhelming to see a year in our life summed up like this, but as always, I’m choosing gratitude. It’s not hard, and for that I am, well, grateful.

Friends, I know I’ve said it before, but I am SO excited for what we’ll discuss here (and elsewhere) in 2024. 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 2024 goals are just about ready to share, so I’ll see you soon! :)

2022 year in review
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 2023

26 December 2023

I hope you’ve all had wonderful holidays, friends! Our days have been full – hosting family, traveling to see family, and squeezing in some favorite traditions. Still, I’ll always make time for the two posts I have planned for this week: today’s best of and my traditional final post, our year-in-review. 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 2023, 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 2023, if you’d like. As always, I can’t wait to hear!

Best adventure, travel, or trip: Though there was a lot of superlative travel in 2023, two weekend trips rise to the top in my memories: our Father’s Day trip to Beaufort, NC and our fall break trip to Boone. I’d repeat both of those any day. Though I love to travel with extended family, John and I still find it a bit thrilling to structure a trip around our immediate family’s culture. They feel like a chance to live out what matters to us in a concentrated way. (Yes, cinnamon sugar donut moments included.)

Best trend you tried: Though I maintain a dark skinny jean is still the best and most versatile bottom, I have branched out – particularly with these cropped wide leg pants. The green (“olive oil”) goes with a surprising amount and they’re fun to wear. I take a S.

Best new podcast listen, newsletter subscribe, or blog follow: Even though I’ve admired his work since 2018 (when I first read The Coddling of the American Mind), Jon Haidt’s Substack was a new follow for me this year. If you’re interested in what we’re going to talk about at The Connected Family, you’ll likely want to hit subscribe on Jon, too.

Best book: This was a banner year of reading for me! I read 44 books, significantly more than in the recent past, including 22/24 from my reading list. (Last year, I read 21 books total.) The Maid, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and The Lincoln Highway took top billing for fiction and Habits of the Household won out for nonfiction. (I shared a few of my takeaways here.) A special honorable mention to the first four books in the Vanderbeekers series, which June and I passed back and forth over several months. Adore!

Best TV show: Slow Horses on Apple TV. We watched three seasons this year! (They’re only six episodes each.) It’s a bit of an acquired taste, what with a central character who gives the word “slovenly” new meaning, but the plots are fantastic. “What makes the series better than virtually anything else on television right now [is] its ability to be both a riveting espionage drama and an absurd workplace comedy, without ever flubbing the mix.”

Best movie: Mission Impossible 6, continuing our tradition of going to the movie theater (almost) only on opening nights for Tom Cruise films.

Best album, song, or artist: If our Spotify Wrapped is any indication, it’s Seven by Brooke Ligertwood all the way.

Best kiddo milestone: After seven years, we finally removed the baby gate at the bottom of our stairs. It’s the end of an era!

Best friend memory: Rewinding to the first month of the year, the first annual Articles Club weekend retreat was, well, a treat. We ate delicious meals, laughed until we cried, and built another layer on our 7+ year friendship. Biking the American Tobacco Trail (twice!) while discussing one of my favorite books of the year with a favorite friend is a sweet memory, too!

Best beauty purchase: My cheeks got a glow-up this year! After being taught the proper order to apply bronzer, blush, and highlighter, I put my newfound knowledge into practice with this, this, and my discontinued BeautyCounter blush. Love them all!

Best faith grower: This doesn’t feel like the “holiest” answer, but I’m going with it: watching the first two seasons of The Chosen, the historical drama TV show based on the life of Jesus. By telling the story through the eyes of those who knew him, layering in prophecy and present, it truly brought the Gospels to life in a way I’d never seen before.

Best new tradition: I’m not sure if this is a tradition or a habit or a little luxury, but I’ll drop it here. Our Sundays really settled into a restful rhythm: for most of the year, we’d attend church, go out to eat, head home so everyone could take a nap (except June, who would read), then tennis lessons for me and June, the easiest and most crowd-pleasing dinner (frozen meatballs, Rao’s, pasta), and finally a little light prepping for the week ahead.

Best habit you created: Driving 20 mph in the neighborhood. After a tragedy struck too close to home earlier in the year, I committed to driving under the speed limit in our neighborhood whenever possible. This feels like the kind of vow I might have made in the moment and then forget in the bustle of life, so I’m grateful to have stuck with it.

Favorite blog post written: This is always so fun to look back on (and hard to narrow down!). Two of my favorites: our keys to marriage happiness and this whole series. Two of yours, judging by the comments: a few things on my “decide once” list and moving away from family.

Most surprising goal progress: I set a goal to reach 5,000 minutes on Peloton this year and am shocking even myself by rounding the corner to 8,000 this week – a big jump from last year, when I logged just shy of 4,000! I was helped by Peloton adding tracking for outdoor walks and cycling, but I significantly upped my stretching and strength classes, too.

Best mama moment: There were so many favorite moments, remarkable in their ordinariness and preciousness, but reading the first Harry Potter with June is a particularly sweet memory. And, of course, our weekend together at camp!

Best home improvement: Our green bathroom cabinets make me happy every single time I round the corner!

Best little luxury you’ve enjoyed: Hear me out: getting places on time (or even with time to spare). John has many incredible attributes, but getting places on time is generally not one of them. Add in three children, and our default is often a late arrival. When I transitioned from working four days to three days at the beginning of this year, I suddenly found myself arriving places five or ten minutes early on my two weekdays off, and it truly felt luxurious.

Also, these.

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 soon, but in the meantime, please do share: what are some of your “bests” from 2023? Can’t wait to hear!

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Christmas scenes around the house + our cards

13 December 2023

Just a quick post today to share a few scenes from around our Christmas home!

With the way our house is laid out – one main open room on the first floor, so only a few walls and corners – we just don’t have that many surfaces to decorate. While our nativity may be clustered around our TV instead of luxuriating on a foyer table or piano top, I think this year more than ever we made the most of what we do have.

Come on in!

Before we step inside, let’s pause on the porch. I envisioned Christmas wreaths on our front gates before they were even built and they live up to all my dreams! Wreaths are from Trader Joe’s and the bows are from Etsy.

Our cheery red front door never shines more than at Christmas. Wreath is from Jordan Lake Christmas Tree Farm and the bow is from Etsy.

My beloved Advent calendar!

These cardboard gingerbread houses were a very fun after-school project last week! I cut shapes from a delivery box and we all used white paint and white paint pens to add detail. The paint pens made it easy to achieve an elegant look even for our five year old. We didn’t trust Annie with them, but she had fun going to town with the white paint – the kids decided her houses were in the midst of a snowstorm, ha.

Popping a few bows in unexpected places was a new addition this year.

We had a German Christmas pyramid growing up and it was one of my very favorite decorations. I asked for the exact same one as a gift the first year we were in our house – this is it! The tablecloth is from HomeGoods.

All dressed up for Articles Club last night!

The pine garland is a new addition this year and is excellent quality. Sadly, it’s sold out (I went back to buy another for our stairs!), but I’d put in your email to be notified if you’re interested! That’s how I snagged these two earlier this year. Here are the candles (battery operated but with real wax!) and candleholders.

This canvas, one of Lindsay Letters’ very first, was a wedding gift more than a decade ago.

This may be of niche interest, but I wanted to share just in case. I bought two of these little caroling books ($4!) at the start of the season, and they have been fun for guitar singalongs. June, especially, loves them and has squirreled one away to her room in an attempt to memorize the lyrics to every Christmas song :)

Finally, here is a peek at our Christmas card! June and I chose the design together and I love that it’s festive while still working with our outfit color palette.

Thanks for stopping in, friends! If you have any questions about anything I haven’t mentioned, just drop a note in the comments.

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Marvelous Money: 3 Ways We’re Living Generously This Christmas

7 December 2023

Writing about your own generosity is a tricky thing, isn’t it?

On the one hand, there’s the very real fear that you’ll come across as prideful, a show-off. Or that you’ll needlessly make others feel bad about their efforts – which might represent a real sacrifice – or feel shame about the gap between your generosity and theirs.

So why risk it?

Of course, there’s also this, just one chapter later – also from the mouth of Jesus:

Giving in public = bad? Giving in secret = good? If only it were so easy :) The Christian faith is not interested in being simple; it’s interested in being true. In the end, the motivation of the heart is what categorizes the same act as either a treasure or a disgrace in the eyes of God, which can make it confusing to know when to share. However – as long as I can feel reasonably confident that I’m sharing to reflect the light and love of God and not to be praised by men blog readers, I want to do so.

Also, we hear a lot about Christians behaving badly. But there are many, many, many more stories of light that go untold – stories of quiet, unsung acts of selflessness, compassion, and generosity. We need those stories, too, to remind us about the beauty, grace, and truth of a life spent imitating Jesus (imperfectly, always, but earnestly, too).

Finally, on a practical note, I like hearing about the positive things others are doing! It inspires me to be better, to do more, to stretch my conception of what I think I’m capable of and comfortable with – and it gives me ideas for how to do so! It reminds me that people everywhere are doing their best to make people feel loved and the world a better place. It buoys my hope and optimism about my fellow man and the world we inhabit together.

So — with that lengthy introduction, I submit to you three ways we’re trying to live generously this Christmas season – written with humility and love!

We’re giving generously to our kids’ teachers.

Currently, Annie and Shep each have two preschool teachers, while June has her second-grade teacher, her math teacher, and a student teacher. In past years, we have given physical gifts to preschool teachers, like fresh wreaths, snap totes, and Cultivate goodies. I love all of these ideas and may return to them!

This year and last, however, we’ve moved to giving gift cards (accompanied by handwritten notes). Last year we gave each preschool teacher a $15 gift card to a local ice cream shop. This year, we’re giving them $50 gift cards to a local gift shop I love, and the director (who is also a teacher in Shep’s classroom) a $100 gift card to our favorite local restaurant. It’s been a challenging year in their school, and we want her and her husband to enjoy a fun dinner out.

For June’s main teacher, we’ll do a $75* gift card to either a local garden store or the same local restaurant – I haven’t decided yet! (I always try to choose based on their hobbies – last year, we gave her first-grade teacher, an avid runner, a gift card to Fleet Feet.)

*I had planned to do $100, the same as our preschool director, but our district put a $75 cap on gifts this year.

For her math teacher, we chose a 3-month subscription to the Book of the Month Club, and her student teacher will get a Cultivate tumbler stuffed with crinkle paper and a $50 coffee shop gift card.

Again: I include the dollar amounts not to show off (blerg), but to gently encourage. Last year, $15 for five preschool teachers felt like a stretch. My understanding is that even the smallest gift card is appreciated, and if $5 per teacher is what’s possible, it will be gratefully received.

This year, we can do more, so we are. When I think about what it would cost to send our three children to private school (I did the math right here), $100 per teacher feels like a drop in the bucket. Excellent teachers are the lifeblood of our schools and I’ll do almost anything to help them feel appreciated.

We’re giving generously to our pastor.

Moving on to our next category of challenging jobs :) Full-time ministry – whew! It is not for the faint of heart, for the pastor or for his or her family. They (joyfully!) sacrifice so much for the people in their care, and last year, John and I felt compelled to share one of our very favorite traditions with our pastor and his wife.

We wrote them a note explaining our end-of-year celebration dinner – what it is and what it has meant to our relationship over the last many years – and included a $100 gift card to a local restaurant in the envelope. We wanted to make it easy for them to start their own tradition, if they wanted to. We’ll do the same thing this year. Sowing into their marriage feels like sowing directly into God’s Kingdom, and we’re grateful to do it.

We’re giving generously to our garbage and recycling guys.

This is one I come by honestly – it’s straight from the brain of my mom :) Growing up, she’d always leave a Subway gift card and bag of peanut butter balls on top of our trash and recycling cans in December, and honestly, I thought it was weird – ha!

But I also just thought it was normal, and sure enough, when we moved into our own home a decade ago, I taped a colorful (eye-catching!) thank you note, a Jersey Mike’s gift card (we usually do $20 – enough for two guys in each truck), and a bag of peanut butter balls to the top of each can one Wednesday in December. I can only hope my children will think this is weird and then grow up to do the same thing, too.

Of course, I’d love to hear: big or small, how are you being generous this season? This group always has the best ideas.