Show Us Your Books: 2019 Favorites

TBH, this post was difficult for me. Originally I just looked at my 2019 Reading Challenge to see if anything jumped out. The only one that really did was Daisy Jones & The Six...because, I friggin' love that book. It's by far my favorite read of the year.

The next two that I thought about were After I Do and Church of Marvels. These are probably two books that I have thought about on and off a lot since reading.  After I Do had a line about marriage that I think more people need to take to heart. Church of Marvels featured a LBTQ+ love story in the late 1800s-early 1900s and mental health issues and family drama and has stuck in my brain.

From Here to Eternity was an enlightening, weird journey across different cultures and just...peak positive 2019.

But, 4 out of 60 seemed like not much. So I looked closer and was surprised to see that I had actually rated a few books as 5 stars this year.

Becoming and Where the Crawdads Sing...there's just nothing else to say. They've been rightfully praised everywhere and by nearly everyone.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and An American Marriage were also big hits, and for good reasons. Eleanor was an adorable, quirky heroine who was quietly brave and this was heartwarming. An American Marriage was...the opposite. It was a hard read. The characters were sometimes hard to root for, the situation was scary, the relationships were twisted...but it was relevant and important and worth a read.

Bannerless and The Crossing Places were great intros into new series. Bannerless is a bit of a dystopian world, which may have peaked as a genre overall but this is still a very worth-while read. The Crossing Places introduced an anthropologist and detective that definitely gave me a little UK Bones a great way. Myth and mystery are intertwined in a great read.

Speaking of series...gotta mention Courting Darkness. I'll always love anything that deals with the His Fair Assassins world. While this book has been touted as a companion series rather than a's totally a continuation IMO. Whatever you call it, you need to read the first three, then read's a super BA series.

What did you love this year? Link-up and let us know!
Life According to Steph

Three Things: Christmas 2019

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

red plaid
White lights
burlap ribbon

Riding around to looking out for Christmas lights
Daily Christmas Countdown
Leaving a beer for Santa
(hubs said this as a joke last year, & Babycakes ran with Santa gets  Guinness at our house)

Wish List
non-flannel PJs
bedroom shoes
solid color V-neck sweaters

Away in a Manger
Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
Baby It's Cold Outside

Christmas Movies
The Star
Eloise at Christmastime
How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Survival Techniques
Do as much shopping as possible before December
Schedule quiet time in front of your own tree
Lots of wine

Merry Christmas, y'all

Bullet Journal 2020 Walk-Through

Writing my BuJo & Anxiety post was an interesting walk down memory lane. I've definitely tried and kept and lost a lot in the past 2.5 years.

The thing I love most about bullet journaling is that it is completely customizable and can be used for all purposes, all the time. Mine consists of lots of little lists and projects that aren't really worth sharing (like, Christmas gift spreads or shopping lists for Babycake's birthday party, etc). These are super helpful at the time, but I don't move them from one bullet journal to the next.

Each year, I like to start a new journal. The past two years I have been using the Leuchtturm1917 notebook. This is a popular choice, and I really like it. But, I haven't been filling it up in a single year. So when I found these notebooks on sale for 2$ at Hobby Lobby, I bought several and decided to give them a try (mine were on clearance, but looks like HL sells them regularly now just with newer designs).

Pros: I actually like the lined graph more than the dotted graph, simply personal preference. The paper quality is very good- the LT1917's most popular complaint is "ghosting" where you can see through from one side to another. It didn't bother me personally, but I can definitely tell a difference.

Cons: the pages aren't pre-numbered, only one ribbon bookmark, no envelope pocket on the back cover for storage, less pages.

I only numbered the even pages, which wasn't too bad. I can easily make do without the bookmarks, I'll just use some washi tape or a paperclip instead (I pretty much only bookmark my currently monthly & weekly spread, so will most likely paper clip my current monthly). And I may tape an envelope to the back cover to make my own storage pocket. So, all in all, completely serviceable at a much lower price.

The first pages in my bullet journal are always my key and my index pages. Pretty simple.

Next I do 12 traditional monthly calendar layouts, instead of the "future log." Since my journals usually last a year, this is just more logical. This is by far the most time-consuming, since every month starts on a different day of the week/has different number of days/etc. Which is why it's set up starting in November, so I can work on it in my spare time and not feel rushed. If I have time, I may add a banner with the month name or some seasonal doodles once the month hits.

Probably my favorite spread is this bill tracker. I don't know how I ever kept up with any bills before this.'s crazy. I did not expect it to work...but it just does. I like being able to clearly see what has and hasn't been done. I also sometimes note my account numbers and stuff like that.

This is another very helpful, but random page. The left page, Random Dates, has become a place to track car maintenance and when I changed my contacts, haha. I'm not sure when I will stop migrating this full list...I'll think about that more once I actually fill up a full page of it.
The right page is supposed to be Random Notes...not another Random Dates. This has stuff like usernames for accounts I rarely use, password hints (never the actual password), after hours info for our pediatrician office, and the shades of my favorite lip color.

I posted a while back about my Personal Commandments. I have a little post-it with these on my desk, and I still think about them. Not saying I follow them perfectly every day, but when I am struggling this is a good way to reign my thoughts back in and ground myself.
I made this little "Eat the Rainbow" spread for myself because I am a huge snacker, and I really want to start making healthier choices and eat a bigger variety of foods. We'll see how much it's used...

Another one of my favorite pages is a list of our favorite meals. This makes meal planning soooo much easier. Part of the reason I've been so annoyed at hubby's diet changes is because it no longer WORKS WITH MY SAVED MEALS. So, we're slowly working to update that, haha.

Living near the coast of North Carolina means we get a yearly hurricane. Rather than Google the best hurricane prep tips, I've written my own list. Yes, I should remember; but writing things down does help me remember. So even if I never look at that list again, the act of writing it has imprinted it on my mind.
There are lots of little projects I want to do around the house...this helps me keep it all straight, focus on one area at a time, and stay on budget. 

I often order from an online store that is super cheap, and run by a local person from my hometown...but does not have the best updates. So I made this Online Order Tracker for myself so I can keep up with what has arrived and what hasn't.
The right side is an Alastair calendar- basically it's a yearly calendar for 2021 so the few days I need to keep track of for the next year are there but don't take a lot of room. Looks weird if you aren't used to it so check out the post about this type of calendar.

I'm very excited for these pages. It's not meant to be a checklist, so much as a reminder of the variety of ways we need to take care of ourselves.

Some pages I will be giving up in this new BuJo, at least initially (unless I find I miss it, in which I'll add it back):
  • Date night ideas
    • Just didn't go to, & we've figured out our fav spots
  • Cleaning spreads
    • We are doing better about doing this without needing a list, but I am glad I always have it in my back pocket if I start feeling overwhelmed
  • Blog planning
    • Going digital- I am ALL ABOUT ANALOG but since I have to blog on the makes sense to keep my blog schedule digitally
  • Outfit of the Day Tracker
    • This was helpful when I was newly postpartum and felt like I was wearing the same thing all the time, to make me switch it up, but I've fallen way off lately and don't miss it, so won't be doing it anymore

Bullet Journaling & Anxiety

Fun fact: since I use my Bullet Journal every day, I thought I had blogged about it a ton. But I haven't mentioned it in about a year, according to my archives. At least not enough to deserve it's own label.

My first mention of Bullet Journaling was in August of 2017. It's so funny to go back and read that post. So much has changed, and the way I use my BuJo has changed...but that's the point. It's something that can grow and be adapted as needed.

For instance, many of the pages I talked about in this walk-through from February 2018 are ones I don't use anymore. But there is a line from the Boho Berry Challenge I completed in October 2018 about why I plan that is still 100% applicable to my current BuJo habit:

It was nice to be using my hands, nice to be being productive, nice to feel useful and back in charge of my life. It helped. Life was being kept on track.

I read a quote somewhere recently that said "What you are not changing, you are choosing."

That really sums up a big part of my BuJo journey. I started it because I was suffering from Mommy Brain & (undiagnosed) post-partum anxiety and I knew I couldn't continue; things had to change or my life would, quite literally, fall apart.

I needed to identify what wasn't working and try something, anything, different.

So I grabbed a notebook and started making some lists and plans and goals.

For some people, this sounds terrible. But I am the kind of person who needs to think of things from all angles, to have a clear and direct plan, to write out my problems. Yes, it takes time and energy. But it's time and energy that I'm not spending having anxiety attacks, time and energy that benefits my mental health and family life rather than taking from it.

This is a trend I've seen repeat itself over and over in the bullet journal community. Many of us are struggling with something- anxiety, depression, OCD, cancer. And this is a way to cope.

Some people dislike the idea of having to create their own spreads, but as mentioned's good to give my hands something to do. It's good to focus on something. It actually quiets my mind. I guess this is comparable to puzzles or running or any other hobby. No, you don't have too...but there are benefits of doing it.

Bullet journaling has also helped me let go of some perfectionist tendencies. This is something I struggle with, have always struggled with. But again, seeing it on paper...seeing what I can do versus everyone else, feeling the difference in what feels good to do versus what feels like I have to do...this has helped me so much. And it's bled over into other areas of my life.

Apparently seeing it and feeling it on a small scale lets my brain make connections and go "Hmm, maybe this is the case in other situations too."

Also, part of the system is migrating tasks. Basically, if you don't do something then you move it to the next day/week/etc. The system is all about getting stuff done. At first I didn't really like this, I thought it was dumb. Obviously if you don't cross something off your day's to-do list...then you just failed.

But that's a really negative way and it's not good for my mental health. Like, that might sound silly and dramatic, but it's not. It's a small thing but it's indicative of an overall negative state that is really bad for me.

Anyway. I would migrate something, and once I migrated something for about a week. And I finally just had to admit- I was never going to do this thing. Again, this has bled over into other areas of my life. I've literally seen, on paper, my personality. And I've had to just either change or accept it.

All this stuff could also be attributed to age, and medication, and those play a role; but this is essentially a part of cognitive behavior therapy for me. Self-prescribed, figuring out on my own, but...the results speak for themselves.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people's difficulties, and so change the way they feel.

I'm not sure this is really coming across as clearly as I wanted it to, but I wanted to talk about it because I hear so many people talk about feeling stressed and having so much to do and this being the reason they can't plan or keep up with things. 

And...anxiety and depression lie. It takes the same amount of time and energy for me to try and remember all the crap I need to do than it does for me to write it down and just do it. But one has a negative affect on my mental viewpoint and one has a positive effect on my mental health.

This may not be your thing, the way it is mine. But I hope and encourage you to try something. You don't have to drown in stress and frustration. And if you grab one life raft and it starts deflating, grab a door a la Titanic style. But give yourself a chance. Try something.

Christmas Wish List

This year for Christmas, I made an Amazon wish list for myself. And also a Google doc for the things not available on Amazon. This is basically for my husband, since the rest of my family finds gift registries offensive (let it go Brittany, just let it go...).

Last year people at least asked what Babycakes wanted...but apparently everyone is full-blown psychic this year.

I can definitely tell I am getting old based on my wish lists...bless. Here's what I actually need/really want this year:

  • New hair straightener Y'all, I'm using the same one from college...and it was cheap then.
  • New mixing bowls Not storage bowls, mixing bowls with no lids, because we end up using our storage Pyrex bowls to mix stuff for dinner then have nothing to store leftovers in unless we want to wash the dishes directly after dinner (which, obviously, I do not).
  • Casserole dish carrying case
  • Caffeine mints & gum trying to cut out sodas and Starbucks, but I can't quit caffeine.
  • Silk pillow case heard it's better for your skin and hair.
  • Immersion blender I make this baked potato soup and it's good now, but would be better if I could blend it.
  • Essential Oils starter kit Mainly because I like to use vinegar as cleaner, and my hubs hates this smell. Lots of cleaning recipes say essential oils cover this up.
  • Sally Hansen Miracle Gel nail polis, Step 1
  • CoverGirl Outlast Lipcolor shades Wine to Five (538) or Blushed Mauve (550)

What's on your wish list this year?

Show Us Your Books: December 2019

Hello, fellow readers! Hope you are having a great month and able to squeeze in some relaxing reading time during this holiday season. Merry Christmas, or Happy Everything, whatever you are celebrating! And if you aren't...I hope you still eat lots of good food and feel some love.

I'm extra thankful that my reading slump from last month is officially over! I've been on a roll with good books and enjoyed all my recent reads. With that, let's get on to the books.

Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan
I super enjoyed 95% of this book. It is an honest, snarky, only slightly exaggerated, realistic view that was me the first year after having a baby (minus, I wasn't staying at home). The last 5% of the book was a little cheesy for me, and unnecessary, which makes it 4/5 rather than 5/5. But I'd still overall recommend. 4.5/5

I will always read/watch/listen/intake Caitlin Doughty's work. She is a mortician who advocates for the good death (literally, that's her organization). She is all about being realistic about death and knowing the different ways to handle it. This book is full of questions that she's gotten from children regarding death. They are super interesting and she answers straightforwardly with slight snark. Also, surprisingly adorable death cartoons. 5/5
Small gripe not specific to this book: WHY DO ALL NON-FICTION BOOKS NEEDS SUPER LONG SUBTITLES?!?! Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? is a great title. It needs nothing else.

Laura & Emma by Kate Greathead
This is one of those books that didn't super have a point. That's fine, I can enjoy those, but I don't think it was done quite as well as it could have been. Laura is a WASPy New Yorker who gets pregnant off a one-night stand. The book weaves in and out of Laura & her daughter's view year by year. It's an interesting look at a super privileged person who does still have some semblance of concern and awareness, but not a complete awareness. This was also one that I liked until the last was just random and ambiguous, and there is one way it could go that I would be fine with and another that I would be very against...anyway. 3.5/5

The Crossing Places and The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths 
(Ruth Galloway #1-2)
I read The Crossing Places without realizing that it was part of a series. Pretty sure this was on my TBR from this link-up, so thank you to whoever shared it! But it was really enjoyable, so when I logged it via Goodreads and saw that it was a series I decided to read the next one. They follow an archeologist and police detective in the UK who end up working a case together. Seeing as how I love Bones, this isn't a surprise that this made it to my TBR. This was like the Goldilocks of books for me, in lots of ways. There was just enough mystery, just enough history, just enough myth, just enough everything without being too much anything. The relationships got a little weird, and the first book was slightly preferable. But I'll likely continue the series. There's something like 10 books, so not sure I will read them all straight through, but at some point. 4/5 for both

What have you been reading lately? Link-up and let us know!
Life According to Steph

What's New

Like every other parent of a small child I know, we watched Frozen II recently! TBH, I kind of loved it. It's definitely a more complex plot than the first one, which was super simplistic. But my kiddo still liked it, even if she didn't "get" everything. There are lots of good things to say about it, but my favorite is this- along with wonderful, independent "strong female characters" in Anna & Elsa (who have very different strengths but both valuable and worthy in their own right), there is also a great emotionally mature male character. I'm all for strong women, although I am super annoyed that "strong female character" is so unusual it has to be specified. But I dislike that those women are so often portrayed against men. Kristoff is a wonderful character because he respects these awesome women and truly views them as equals while knowing his own's just a great relationship and character and I'm so glad all of them shine. Also, sorry not sorry, that soundtrack is kind of amazing. It's been consistently playing in our house and no one is mad about it.

I was going to buy some locally made stocking holders that someone posted on Facebook, but backed out. I apologized, but didn't feel too bad because they were offered as customizable and I was only getting plain. So I figured NBD, she could just personalize them for the next order. She came back a little tartly and said she hoped I wouldn't waste other artisan's time in the future. Which like, I get but really? Had they actually been custom I would have went through with it, but there is literally no reason these can't be used on the very next customer...I didn't waste your time, you're just ready for the next order even faster. So...idk. Felt very weird, and it's crap like this why people order from Amazon because it's just damn easier.

I was invited to a mom's group on FB by a friend. I usually don't belong to these, because...drama and annoyance. However, I liked this mom so I decided to join. I answered literally one question, against the grain because I'm the only mom who believes in LISTENING TO DOCTORS AND EXPERTS and got some backlash (apparently yearly check-ups are a scam, and unnecessary, and some other crap). Immediately left the group...I am not interested in being a stranger's "yes mom."

I've mentioned my husband basically made this huge life change regarding his health/diet/exercise. He hit his one-year goal in less than 6 months; it's ridiculous. Anyway, it's making me feel like I need to do more because I do not want to be the one who let myself go while he's super buff over there. I think I offended him by saying he was going to be the prettiest one in the relationship and to please not leave me. I don't think I'm the prettiest, guys, I just thought we were fairly on the same level...apparently this was rude! Bahaha. Anyway...we'll see how it goes. Today was day one and it actually worked out really well, time wise. I've had awful headaches on and off the past few weeks, so I didn't even really miss any sleep time because I've been sleeping like crap anyway.  
To be clear, because...this is the internet, my husband is not insulting me or telling me to do this or in any way making me feel bad. It's more of a begrudging inspiration that I'm moderately annoyed at but also know I probably need. And it's 100% my decision.

My workout group, FiA, needed a new website. Previously we went through the national site, which used Wordpress. But they canceled that and encouraged each region to make their own. I did ours almost entirely myself, and through Blogger. I was going to stick with WP but we couldn't get a custom domain name without paying 40$+ dollars a year which seemed excessive. I talked them into Blogger instead and everyone is LOVING it. They say it's so much easier and they are much more likely to use it. So, wooo hoo, happy dance, go me!

I'm not making any specific donations for Giving Tuesday...but I'm not letting myself feel guilty. I do payroll deductions at work for a variety of charities, I donate to my church (specifically a program that directly feeds children in need via relationships with public schools, so doesn't only benefit church members), and I have my Amazon Smiles charity set to a local organization with employees I know work very hard and do a lot for the community. So, I'm telling myself that these consistent donations are better than one bigger one.

I recently purchased a new devotional. I have been having...not a crisis of faith, not a lack of faith...but a lack of connection, I guess? I may come back and talk about this more in-depth...but for now, I am just going to say that I really like that this devotional comes with a journal (rather than me writing in a different notebook like usual)- plus it has really good quality paper. I think the holiday season is a perfect time to remember the importance of resting, and being still, and listening for Him.
100 Days of Less Hustle More Jesus - Devotional Journal by Shanna Noel

What's new with you?

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!

 We decorated for Christmas this weekend! It was a fun family time...even if Hubs did have the Panther game on and was half distracted. He did mute it to play carols, haha. 

A few weeks ago I painted my living room- I used to have a blue wall. Which meant I had to have blue Christmas decor, because red and green wouldn't have looked right with the traditional red and green. Thankfully, now I can go old-school.

And I do mean, old-school. I remember as a kid arguing with my mom about lights. She wanted white lights, which I thought were sooooo boring. Obviously colored lights were so much cooler. Now though, I am all about what my husband refers to as "boring white people" style. Aka, white lights and green wreaths and red bows and candles in the windows of white clapboard houses. 

I'm going more simplistic this year. We have an artificial tree (between the baby years and the dogs, a real tree created too much stress for me to enjoy), so I don't have tree trimmings to decorate my mantle anymore. But I found this ribbon garland at Michael's on a black Friday sale, and loved it's slightly rustic touch with plaid and burlap. The nativity scene sign is from Walmart, and the two smaller signs are from Target's dollar section (that is not really a dollar section anymore, but I digress). Obviously, Babycake's stocking is the big one in the middle, haha! I didn't realize it was so much bigger when I bought it, but oh well. The pine cones I have had for years...probably from Michael's or Dollar General. They used to smell like cinnamon but that's worn off. I've also sprayed painted some of them with gold or white paint to glint or look like snow. 


The small manger in the middle is our Giving Manger. Each day, you are encouraged to do something kind for others. For every kind thing you do for someone, you put a piece of "hay" in the manger. The goal is to have the manger full of hay and ready to place Baby Jesus in on Christmas day. It's part of my goal to have a more Christian Christmas. It's fun, and kind, and Babycakes and I really enjoy it.

When we had a real tree, I used a stainless steel bucket rather than a tree skirt...which I loved. But, the artificial tree holder won't fit so again, going old school with a Santa-ish tree skirt. Thankfully, Babycakes loves it, she pronounced it "So cute."

Now I just have to pack up all the boxes and put the storage containers back into the garage until after the holidays, haha. How are you preparing for the holiday?