I figured instead of giving a run-down of my reading this year, I’d just give you my favorites. Since I wasn’t doing the full book list, I also thought I’d add in some of my favorites in other categories, as well.
Our 2020 was full of good things. I know everyone is focusing on what a bad year it was, but for us, 2020 wasn’t so bad. The Lord has been faithful to us and has provided for us. Needs were met. I cannot ask for more. We added a new little lady to the crew. We added a second teenager to that group. We started our 11th year of homeschooling. We had our 12th year here at the church. We celebrated our 17th year of marriage. It has been a full year, and we’re all happy and well at the end of it.
Since I had a baby in 2020, I decided I needed something simple in terms of make-up to take with me to the hospital. I didn’t want to be carrying an entire eyeshadow palette or have too many products on hand. I also didn’t want to forgo makeup altogether. I saw an ad on social media for Wanter Beauty. At the time, they had a trio of basics on sale (I think for Mother’s Day). It has their powder foundation, on-the-glow blush and highlighter stick, and tube of black mascara. While the mascara was pretty basic (I do have sensitivities to mascara and had no issues with this one. It just wasn’t “wow”. It is a very natural looking mascara.), the powder foundation and blush stick were surprisingly awesome. It was also awesome that with three simple products, I had a full face of make-up. (I used the highlighter side of the blush stick for eyeshadow.) The foundation perfectly matched and gave me that “your skin but better” look I was going for. It just made my skin look perfect. The blush stick was convenient and gave my skin a nice glow and flush of color.
My mother turned me on to this new face oil that is pretty amazing. Pomifera Rose face oil is super moisturizing but light. It doesn’t make my skin feel heavy. It works well at night, and it layers under makeup well during the day. While I’m not going to make claims about wrinkles or dark spots— it did make my skin glowing and vibrant looking. It completely got rid of the dull, tired look and made my skin so healthy. I also started using their face wash. I really like it, but it smells like Windex to me. If it wasn’t for the smell, I’d say it is perfect.
I purchased a couple bottles of ILNP nail polish toward the end of my pregnancy. I will say, I bought two different colors that looked pretty much the same when they arrived (Sweet Pea and Sandy Baby). The color Sweet Pea was the color I chose to be my having a baby manicure color. I absolutely loved it. The holographic sparkles are mesmerizing. And the best part— it doesn’t feel like glitter on your nails! It is also very long-lasting. I can easily get a week’s wear in before I have the first chip. (And I am tough on my nails.) Because I loved it so much, I purchased 4 more colors throughout the year— Stay Hidden, Ski Lodge, Mona Lisa, and Talk It Up. Of the colors I’ve purchased, Talk It Up is my least favorite. Their color line has some very, very similar shades. So, if you’re buying more than one, make sure they’re pretty different or you may end up with two that are way too similar. Sweet Pea and Mona Lisa are probably my two favorites, though Ski Lodge is battling to belong.
After having a baby, I lived in my leggings. And I love them. Felina leggings are the best leggings I have ever worn. They are super soft and stretchy. I love them. I have both their maternity and regular versions. And I have several colors. I love them all.
But I did have an itch to get out of my leggings and back into something “real”. I went on a search for jeans and found two that I absolutely love. The first is Judy Blue. Every pair I have tried have been so flattering. I prefer the high rise styles, and I like both skinny and boyfriend fit. They’re so stretchy that even postpartum, they feel like they fit me well. Judy Blue are a boutique brand, but practically every online boutique I’ve seen carries them. (Check out Discount Divas, ZigZag Stripe, Freckled Poppy, and Peach Pistol if you don’t already have a boutique you shop. They all have apps that make it easier to shop.)
The second pair of jeans that I found and loved are Carly Jeans Los Angeles. I bought the Monroe Skinny Jean, and they are so cute. (The Mer is on my list for “next” jeans.) I did buy a size bigger than I buy in Judy Blue. I really like the quality. These are less stretchy than the Judy Blues but feel more like real jeans. There are definitely postpartum bloated days where I can’t pull these off (where the Judy Blues are always good to go), but they have a nicer look to them. So, I skip them on my bloated days. But I highly recommend them. Though, if they aren’t currently having a sale when you’re shopping— wait for the sale! I’ve seen 25-40% off pretty regularly.
I’m not really into jewelry, but I’m not NOT a jewelry person. I like simple jewelry. Nothing too big. Nothing too flashy. Nothing too crazy expensive that I have anxiety about losing or breaking it. I got a couple pairs of J & Co. earrings right at the beginning of the year, and I have absolutely loved them. I have the open circle studs and the little ball huggies— both in gold. They’re great earrings. The huggies take a little getting used to, but they are so cute on. Both are super simple but not ordinary.
I also got a couple of dainty layering necklaces from Gorjana at the beginning of the year. I also got some cheaper knock-offs to review and can tell you the Gorjana are worth the price. My go-to look for layered necklaces is a basic chain that is a little shorter and then a coin/medallion that is slightly longer. I think that is the perfect minimalist necklace look.
I’ve also been loving my Bob’s Burgers socks. They’re fun. They’re functional. I’ve been wearing them non-stop all year. They’re nothing special in terms of socks— just basic novelty socks. But I love them.
I didn’t set a big book goal this year since I was finishing up school. I was really focused on just finishing my degree. I ended up reading more than 30 books even without the goal. That doesn’t include books I started but did not finish (of which there were quite a few). And that doesn’t include everything I read to the kids and everything I read for my last semester of school. (And if you are on Goodreads, add me as a friend! And if you aren’t on Goodreads, consider getting on Goodreads and adding me as a friend!)
Mama Bear Apologetics stands out as the book worth reading this year. It goes through the most common destructive worldviews your children will encounter, helps you understand them, and gives concise and understandable arguments against them. As Christian parents, we need to have a deeper understanding of the world around us and what God’s Word says. Not answering big, deep questions your kids have will not do. Because there is a world out there with a much different view of things that is more than happy to enculturate your children to their ideals. So, do not be hesitant or timid to assert the Truth in your home and help your children think through the ideas they encounter. This book is an excellent starting point. There is also a Mama Bear Apologetics podcast that is worth listening to. They have a Facebook group. I’ve not been too impressed by the interactions there, so I don’t necessarily recommend that group. (Not saying don’t join; just not saying joining will be of any help or use to you.)
Death by Living is another book that was excellent. If you struggle with anxiety or depression, it is well worth the read. (It is worth the read even if you don’t struggle with those things, but the book itself is almost a concise, self-standing cognitive behavioral therapy endeavor.) It is wildly rambling and poetic, but that makes it hit just the right place. N.D. Wilson just nails so many truths, and it was such an anchor book for the year. If you’re living fearfully, read this book. If you feel burned out, read this book. If you feel isolated, read this book. Connect with N.D. Wilson in these pages, and let it transform your thinking just a little bit.
Love Without Borders was an excellent book. I didn’t intend to read it right when it came out, as I had papers due and a baby due. I only intended to read the introduction when my preorder came. I read the introduction and then couldn’t put the book down. Angela’s view on family, children, and the American dream is just so refreshing. I’ve read so many “influencers” who are just peddling some New Age junk with a “Christian” label slapped over it. This wasn’t that at all. You can tell the Braniffs have thoughtfully and intentionally gone about family, and it was such an interesting a refreshing read into their lives. I really loved the book— so much so that as soon as I finished mine, I sent my mom a copy. (Not my copy— I’m keeping that!) I highly recommend this read, even if you aren’t a parent. It is the story of a family. It is the story of how they selflessly sought to share the love of Jesus and how that has shaped them. Angela also has a YouTube channel, which I also enjoy watching and was the reason I preordered the book in the first place.
Sidequest: In Realms Ungoogled was the most surprising fiction book of the year. The Pastor grabbed it for me for Christmas last year because he heard to Frank J. Fleming on the Audio Mullet podcast (Maybe it was on The Babylon Bee podcast?). I was a little skeptical, but reading books is what I do. So, after putting it off for a couple months, I finally dove in. I was blown away. While it might make you think less of me, Cabin in the Woods is one of my favorite movies. I wrote a paper on it in school I love it so much. (I feel like I should tell you that it is not kid appropriate, so don’t go watching with your 6-year-old and blame me.) Sidequest has major Cabin in the the Woods vibes. It isn’t a rip off or even a nod. But it had that “something-is-going-on-under-the-surface-of-what-is-going-on” vibe to it. You’re just thrown into this weird story where everyone is acting like a demon in the office is normal. It is like Office Space and Cabin in the Woods had a baby and then someone gave that baby some magical fairies. If you are a science fiction fan, grab this book. I even convinced the Pastor to read it (though he does not read fiction), and he was not disappointed.
The little kids and I have been enjoying Mary Pope Osborne’s retelling of The Odyssey in Tales from the Odyssey. She tells the stories with accuracy but succinctly. Even the 5-year-old is hanging on every word and following the story. It is a great retelling that is appropriate to read aloud to younger kids or for a 3rd-5th grader to read on their own. I should tell you it is still pretty dark and twisted— it is still The Odyssey. It didn’t turn into a Mickey Mouse story in the retelling. The cyclops still gets his eye gouged out, and he still eats a lot of men. So, if you’re looking for a happified version of the story— this isn’t it. This is still very much The Odyssey.
I’m also still loving my ESV Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible. It has become my go-to everyday Bible. I use it for personal reading and for our homeschool days. It just has such a nice feel to it and is such a beautiful Bible. I was a little nervous using such a nice Bible at first. But it is meant to be used and read. Bibles aren’t meant to sit on a shelf collecting dust. So, while I do still use my Interleaved Journaling Bible for Bible journaling and my She Reads Truth Bible for church, the Heirloom Legacy Bible is the one most often in my hands.
I had a baby this year! So I do have a whole heap of baby favorites to share with you. (This is baby 8, if you have lost count or are new here.)
We opted to downsize the baby sleeping a little, especially for those first 6 months. We gave away our mini-crib and replaced it with a Design Dua Moses basket. We researched several Moses baskets and decided to go with Design Dua. We ordered the Signature Bilia Basket in Midnight Cross. We also ordered the liner, the sheet, and the bassinet stand. Now, when she was tiny, we could have done without the liner and any bassinet sheet will fit the mattress. But as she got a little older, she started fiddling with the sides and bumping into them with her feet. She seemed to prefer the liner. We were able to use the basket exclusively until she was 6 months old. If she wasn’t such a massive thing, we could have used it longer. But alas, at 6 months, Sue Ellen was already in 12-month clothing for length and weighed 18 lbs. The Moses basket allowed us to move her sleeping spot anywhere we ended it to be. It was small and looked nice in our room. I also put a couple organizing baskets under the basket stand with her socks, hairbows, and things in them. These Moses baskets are handmade in Ghana. They are a little more expensive than a plastic bassinet, but they are so much prettier, so much better sourced, and such a superior experience. I highly recommend the basket. I’m definitely very happy with my purchase.
Muslin Flat diapers quickly became my new favorite. I know I have raved about flat diapers before. And I know I’ve raved about Green Mountain Diapers before. But you don’t know what you’re missing if you haven’t used their Muslin flats. They are so much thicker than the typical Birdseye flat (which were my previous favorite diapers!). That does make the regular-size too big for a bitty baby. We used the half-size until she was about 12-15 pounds and then moved to the full-size. Now, we use the half-size for doublers to put into the full-size at night for extra absorbency (though I have never had a muslin full flat leak). If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have purchased any of the prefolds, even though I love them. The muslin flats are just SO much better. I’d be completely happy with a full stash of nothing but muslin flats. (We are not using pocket diapers at all with Sue Ellen. We have moved completely to prefolds or flats with covers.) I only grab for prefolds now because I feel like I need to use them since I have them. But the muslin flats are seriously where it is at!
I’ve also really loved my silk and cotton Oscha wraps this time around. With Daisy, hemp and cotton were my favorite. But this time, I’m just loving wild silk and cotton wraps. (Also, I did finally find a stretchy wrap I like. I still 100% prefer a woven wrap, but I do like the Moby Wrap Element for a stretchy wrap. I usually find stretchy wraps hot and saggy. The Moby Wrap Element is thin and while stretchy, it isn’t super duper stretchy where it starts sagging. If you pull the wrap over your shoulders, it makes it even more comfortable and doesn’t dig.) I have 2 silk and cotton Oscha wraps that I’ve been using and loving.
Similarly, I’m enjoying my Oscha Bairn. I’ve always steered away from wrap fabric soft-structured carriers— mostly because of the price. But the Bairn is affordable, comfortable, and simple. I really have liked it. I don’t feel like I need to be careful with it because of the cost. I also don’t have a lot of extra parts or anything complicated. Sue Ellen especially liked it on the hottest summer days because I could cover her with the attached hood and she still had breeze in through the sides of the carrier.
Also, I’m just going to tell you… I make superior baby wipes. My wipes hold up better and clean better than any other cloth wipe I have tried. They fit well in a wipe warmer. They are thick. They wash well. And they are so cute!
My kids really got into making flip books this year. A flip book kit that comes with an LED light pad is all they needed to get started. They can animate their own stories, and you flip the pages to see the animation come to life. It is a very low tech lesson in animation and super fun. My kids ages 5 to 14 all loved making books. I felt like I was constantly buying refill books for them!
Field Notes released new Dungeons and Dragons notebooks this year. They aren’t a standard size, which annoyed me because I couldn’t get them a traveler’s notebook for them. But they love them. You can get character books or game master books. My kids have really gotten into D&D, so the older ones really thought the Field Notes were super cool. They also really like these big playing mats for their campaigns. And they think these Titan Dice are the coolest. (And I like the Titan Dice because they are big enough to find!)
My little girls have loved Sarah’s Play Silks. Daisy (3-years-old) said Sue Ellen (the baby) needed a “magical sea that is green” for Christmas. We laughed, but then I realized that I could make Daisy’s wish for Sue Ellen come true. I got the “sea” colored play silk. It is so soft. The girls absolutely love it. Daisy likes to toss it into the air and watch it gracefully fall while Sue Ellen laughs. Sue Ellen likes to just rub it on her fat baby cheeks. They’re both completely enamored with the play silk. I will definitely be buying them more of these because they are such a good play thing.
My older kids are very into board games. They love when I play with them. We’ve been playing a board game every Friday during Morning Basket. We started with Bible trivia games but moved to other games when they memorized all the trivia questions. Grounded for Life, Poetry for Neanderthals, and Unicorns vs. Llamas Monopoly have been the biggest hits of the games we play. Grounded for Life is incredibly funny and just hits all the right notes for a preteen boy. Lots of bathroom humor and lots of laughs. My boys were literally rolling in the floor laughing while playing. If you’re sensitive to bathroom humor and bodily function, this would not be the game for you. (There is nothing explicit in the game. It is just has bathroom humor and jokes about body hair.) Poetry for Neanderthals took a couple plays to get the hang of, but we had so much fun with it. You quickly learn to describe things using one syllable words only. The little kids couldn’t play this with us. They just couldn’t keep up. Unicorn vs. Llama Monopoly is a faster-paced version of Monopoly using teams. No longer does one person rule everything. It is a team game. And it is much quicker than regular Monopoly. But the feel of the game is still like Monopoly. It made it easy for little kids to play with big ones.
BIC released crayons this year! They are so much better than Crayolas. They are similar to the Japanese-style crayons. Harder, less wax on the paper, and more easily sharpenable. They also have no paper on the outside of the crayon! Definitely check them out before BIC catches on and increases the price. (They also released markers, which my kids liked, but I thought lacked pigment and felt cheap.)
I bought some Chic Sparrow Traveler’s Notebooks for my birthday this year. I’ve had cheap Traveler’s Notebooks, and I’ve had Webster’s Pages Traveler’s Notebooks. There was nothing wrong with those, but the Chic Sparrow are just on another level. They are so nice. Real leather. Hand-made. They are nice, y’all. If you’ve been on the fence, don’t be on the fence anymore. I got both the pocket-size and the passport-size. I prefer the pocket-size because of the availability of inserts. You can find inserts of the passport-size, but there are just fewer options. Both are a nice size for lists and notes. (I’m using one of them for this list right now.) They’d make a great gift. Both came in a little muslin bag to protect the leather. I have the Huckleberry, which is beautiful and thick leather. I also have the Col. Brandon, which is a slicker, thinner leather. (The spot on the front is from baking soda wash from making pretzels.) Both are lovely and luxurious, and they make you want to write.
I’ve also really been loving my Decadent Pie Prima Color watercolors and my Princeton Neptune brushes. I’ve been working on my watercolor skills, limited as they are, and have really enjoyed using these. The Decadent Pies palette has deep autumnal colors that I really enjoy working with. I usually use Silver watercolor brushes but decided to try the Princeton Neptune brushes. I have been really happy with them. They are just as thirsty as the Silver brushes but at a better price point, and the wood handles are just more classic looking.
I am an incense person. I’ve tried to be something else, and I always come back to incense. With all the boys running around (and entering the teen years), incense is the only thing I have found that really deals with the smell. Plus, I find it pleasant. I’ve been using cheap incense for years but decided to try an American company instead of the imported stuff. P.F. Candle Company makes some lovely incense. Each stick burns for an hour! And it smells SO good. I think the Pinon has been my favorite scent, Golden Coast coming in a close second, but they have all been nice. I even gave away incense in Christmas gifts this year to spread some of the incense love. (You can also check out my idea list on Amazon if you’re looking for incense or incense holders.)
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