Looking Back, Looking Forward: What Worked for Me in 2016

Leaf Unfurling

Photo credit: Elena Six, who has fallen in love with my camera much to my delight!

As I head into 2017 I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on 2016. I’ve always been one to set some intentions or goals for the year ahead, and I really enjoy the self-reflection that goes hand-in-hand with planning for a new year. This year I took it a step further and gave myself a little end-of-year review before coming up with new goals for 2017. It was a good reminder to think about what didn’t go so well in 2016. What didn’t work? And more importantly, do I want to put the effort and energy into making those things that floundered work for me in 2017? I thought it might be fun to share what worked for me in 2016, what didn’t work, and what I hope to carry into 2017.

What Worked For Me in 2016

List of 100 Dreams

This comes directly from Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. It’s an exercise the author learned from a career coach. The idea being that in order to do more of what you love in your life, you should know what you love and what you’d liked to do. Think of it like a detailed bucket list. Some people like to divide theirs into categories (personal, work, travel, etc). I just wrote mine out, and continue to add to it as I think of things. (If there’s any interest, I’m happy to share my list.) Having this list made goal-setting easier this year, and knowing what I’d like more of in my life gave me something to actively work towards when I started using the next thing on this list …

Block Scheduling

Block Scheduling Journal

Which is block scheduling, another handy tool I implemented from Vanderkam’s book. I’ve tried lots of different time-management tools, from lists to timers to apps. None of them have stuck, but block scheduling is here to stay. Monday through Friday I spend a few minutes the evening before planning the next day. In a little journal I list the hours of the day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in 30 increment blocks. From there, I fill in how I’d like to spend my day. I started doing this after I did a week-long time study on myself and realized I spend too much time doing some tasks (like housework, looking at my phone and email), and very little time doing things that really matter (creative work, unfinished projects, quality time with my spouse). It help keeps me on task, and requires me to be intentional about how I spend my time. If there’s something I really want to accomplish from my list of dreams, I know I need to take baby steps towards them by scheduling in time to work on those goals. It also keeps me balanced. As I schedule my time, I’m cognizant of making sure I schedule time for relationships, work and self.

Personal Training

Speaking of self, I took a step in a new direction in the fall. I’ve done a good job making exercise a habit in the last year or so. But after doing several rounds of Bikini Body Mommy challenges, I was starting to feel a little frustrated about my progress. I was also starting to get a little burnt out. My neighbor organized a weekly morning workout in our cul-de-sac with a personal trainer last September, and these workouts kicked my butt! The trainer mentioned that she was going to organize a 5-week holiday boot camp starting the week of Thanksgiving, so I gave it a try. She emailed me 5 workouts per week and gave me nutritional goals to strive for. As an obliger, knowing that someone was expecting me to work out and check in with my nutritional wins and losses really helped me stick to the program. As a result, I got through the holidays feeling really strong and healthy. I’m sticking with it through the new year and I think it’s going to make a big difference in my health and fitness.

Bullet Journaling

I love my paper planner, but when I finished my last one in July (it was a weird school-year one) I bit the bullet journal bug. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a regular planner. I love how bullet journaling is so flexible and completely customizable to exactly what your needs are. My bullet journal isn’t fancy or pretty, but it serves me well. I keep a weekly spread, a monthly task list, and a log of the books I want to read. I’m trying my own Happiness Project this year, so I just set up a spread to keep track of those goals, but otherwise? That’s it. If you’ve been thinking about making the switch my advice is to just jump in. It might not be pretty in the beginning, but you’ll figure it out.

Taking a Break From Blogging

This was so good for me. I didn’t realize how much time and energy I’d put into blogging, nor how much the task of keeping up with social media was draining me. It’s helped me clarify what I want going forward – more on that down below!

Shouldless Days

I plan on continuing this vital piece of self-care. My goal in 2017 is to schedule one Shouldless Day per quarter.

What Didn’t Work For Me in 2016

Accumulating Stuff

I’m normally great at purging, but this year my plan went awry. For the longest time I participated in a local kids’ consignment sale, and I’d get rid of most of the kids’ outgrown clothing and toys this way. It started to feel like too much work, and so I quit. I also didn’t have a garage sale last year. I have a hard time sending things to Goodwill I feel like I can get some decent money back for, so I started accumulating things thinking I could sell them on the Facebook Marketplace. The only problem? I have the worst luck with Facebook Marketplace. As I write this, I have a pair of Bogs boots I can’t get rid of – every single person that says they want them flakes out and doesn’t pick up. Of course, this plays out over several days and takes forever! This year I need a better plan. Any ideas?

Tracking Steps

I set a goal of getting 10,000 steps in at least 5 days a week. I was doing really well with this goal – most weeks I’d hit 10,000 five or six days a week. The problem? I took 10,000 steps as a justification to not push myself physically and as a license to eat whatever I wanted. I mean, I was moving every day, right? I now know that I need to focus on nutrition and more challenging workouts if I want to really improve my health.

Stitch Fix

I ordered a couple of Fixes this year, as well as peeked into the offerings in my neighbor’s box (we’re about the same size). Every time I’ve been disappointed. I’m not sure if the quality has fallen off or if I’m just getting better and buying my own things. Often I end up feeling like I need to keep at least one thing so I don’t lose my styling fee, and then I end up not wearing the one thing I bought. I’m done with subscription clothing boxes in 2017.

Red wine

This one is so sad! Red wine and I are not friends anymore. Anyone else over 40 notice this? If I have more than one glass, I wake up with a raging headache the next morning. It’s only red wine. (Thank God!) I can still have enough white wine or beer to make me fun.

Looking Forward

In another first for me, I came up with my word for the year: essential. In 2017 I’m striving to organize my days around what is essential to me: relationships, contributions (work or otherwise) and self. When choosing how to spend my time, money and energy I hope to be able to sift through the excess and allow only the essential things to filter through.

I’m also going to give my own yearlong Happiness Project a try, focusing on career, health, possessions, organizing, marriage, parenting, finances, time, writing, challenge, atmosphere and friendship (one category per month).

As for the blog? After stepping a way a bit, I realized that this little space and community are important to me, but in a different way than it was before. For so long, I wanted this to blog to define me as a person and as a career. Now I see it for what it started as: a creative outlet and a way to connect. I’m cultivating some wonderful freelance clients with whom I can use my writing and social media skills to further my career. That leaves me with this lovely little corner to fill as I like, without pressure to make money or sell myself as a brand. I’m full of hope and enthusiasm for what lies ahead!

What worked for you in 2016? Is there anything that didn’t work for you that you’re ready to shed?

Share

Best Non-Fiction Books of 2016

All year long I’ve shared my reads with you, but now we get down to the good stuff: the best books of 2016. In order to make the lists manageable and catered to your interests, I’m breaking down the year’s best reads into three categories: Best Fiction, Best Non-Fiction, and Best Middle Grade/Young Adult. One thing to note: my Best Of lists consist of the best books I read in 2016, but is not limited to books published in 2016. Okay then, let’s talk non-fiction!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

I’ve been waiting not-so-patiently for Shauna Niequist’s newest book, Present Over Perfect. Her previous book of essays, Bread & Wine, made my Best Of list in 2014. It’s a book I return to often, and love to give as a gift. I found Present Over Perfect to be just as lovely, but with one caveat: it won’t appeal to women as broadly as Bread & Wine does. Niequist writes with a certain woman in mind: the overworked woman who feels spread too thin. Niequist tells of her own breaking point, when the responsibilities that came along with a successful writing and speaking career threatened to overtake her health and her family. I found every part of Bread & Wine relatable, however there were a few essays in here which I couldn’t identify with. I still love the book as a whole, though, with its message that so many of us need to hear: you are enough.

How To Celebrate Everything by Jenny Rosenstrach

I’ve been a fan of Jenny’s from the moment I first stumbled upon her blog, Dinner: A Love Story. Her love of the family dinner, combined with her realistic view on just how difficult dinner can be as a parent, makes for a comforting, practical and useful resource. I own every one of her cookbooks (the others are Dinner: A Love Story and Dinner: the Playbook), and they show the signs of love and everyday use: stained and splattered. You might wonder how a cookbook ended up in my Best Of list. Isn’t it just recipes? Not this one. Jenny goes through the rituals of life, big and small, sharing her family’s traditions and encouraging you to create your own. Buy this now, make the Shredded Pork Lettuce Wraps and Chocolate Pudding Pie, and tell me you don’t love it as much as I do!

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Do you believe that the secret to great achievement is talent, and that some people are just destined for greatness while the rest of us slog along? Or is it possible that talent is only one part of the equation, and that effort, skill, passion and perseverance are far greater predictors of what one can achieve? These are a few of the questions that Angela Duckworth explores in Grit. I was initially curious to read Duckworth’s book out of a desire to nurture grit in my own kids. And while I learned a great deal about what grit is and how to foster passion and perseverance in my children, I was even more inspired to rethink my own attitude towards work and living a grittier life. We all have the potential to do meaningful, interesting and powerful things, according to Duckworth’s research. What we do with that potential is something entirely different. I love non-fiction that reads like fiction, and through Duckworth’s highly readable research and anecdotes, I felt like I was reading a personal journey through self-discovery as opposed to a dry book about how to be more successful. I found myself sharing snippets of the book often, both with Mike and the kids, which is a sign that a book is a game-changer for me. This book will stay with me for a long time, and I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from reading it.

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

168 hours: that’s how many hours we get in one week. How, exactly, do we spend those 168 hours? Most of us would say working, and many of us often wish for more time so that we could pursue interests outside of work and the other drudgeries of daily life. Vanderkam insists that we don’t need more time – that big pockets of time are available to use every day and we just don’t recognize them as opportunities. Vanderkam suggests keeping a weekly time log for at least one week, and then walks the reader through work, home and family life to discover what you want more of and how to make it happen.

This isn’t a typical time management book, and while the focus is clearly on readers who work full or part-time, I found it to be illuminating and helpful. I kept a time log for a week and it gave me incredible insight into how I spend my 168 hours (more on that in a future post for sure). Two things stuck with me, and can be transformative for those ready to make changes in how they spend their time. One: we spend more time than we think doing things that take up precious time and don’t bring us much joy or relaxation (such as mindless Internet surfing, scrolling through our phones, or watching TV). Two: if you don’t know what you want more of in life – whether it’s career, personal, or in your relationships – you can’t focus your valuable time toward making it happen. Vanderkam encourages readers to log and review their time, reflect on your dreams and goals (both very big and very small), and shows you how you can find time you already have to make them a reality. I initially only gave it 3 stars on Goodreads, which normally wouldn’t make the cut-off for the Best Of list. However as I wrap up my year and plan for 2017, I realize just how often the information I gleaned from this book keeps reappearing in my life in the most useful of ways – definitely a sign of a good book!

Untangled by Lisa Damour

If I could put this in the hands of every parent of a tween and teen girl I would. I can’t even begin to express what a gift this book is to parents wondering how to make it through the teen years. Damour, a clinical psychologist who specializes in child development and research on girls, writes a handbook for parents that guides them through the seven transitions girls need to go through on their way to adulthood. These transitions (Parting with Childhood, Joining a New Tribe, Harnessing Emotions, Contending with Adult Authority, Planning for the Future, Entering the Romantic World, and Caring for Herself) are necessary but tricky, leaving even the most confident parents and girls wondering what on earth is going on! What I love about Damour’s book is that it talks about these issues in a calm, informative way – never condescending, never preachy, and most importantly – never panic-inducing. Each chapter explains these developmental processes with the reasons why they need to happen and why they’re normal, and ends with specific examples of when a parent should worry. The teen years (unfairly) get a bad rap, especially teen girls. This book will help parents leave that notion behind and parent in a way that will ease the tension and drama, leaving them to enjoy this fantastic phase before their girls leave them for adulthood.

Rising Strong by Brené Brown

In Daring Greatly (one of my favorite non-fiction reads of 2015), Brené Brown invites us “to embrace vulnerability and imperfection, to live wholeheartedly, and to courageously engage in our lives.” In this follow-up book, Brown looks deeper at vulnerability: what happens when we’re brave and vulnerable – and we inevitably fall down? I find Brown’s writing both delightful to read and supremely insightful. I took so many notes, and there are ideas and passages that will resonate with me for a lifetime. At the same time, what Brown has to say isn’t always easy to take in. She looks deeply into what triggers shame, anger, fear, embarrassment, doubt and vulnerability, and shows us how easy it can be (in the short term), to stuff those feelings back down and cloak them in an entirely different story we tell ourselves. Best of all, Brown gives us to the tools we can use to break out of that cycle by recognizing our story, rumbling with our feelings and changing the way we live, love, work and parent. Buy your own copy and break out your highlighters!

How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims

Written by a former Stanford freshman admissions dean, Lythcott-Haims examines the generation of kids she helped usher through Stanford and investigates why this generation in particular has had such a difficult time adjusting to adulthood. She tells stories of young adults whose parents intervene in college courses and post-graduate job interviews, and of kids who don’t know how to manage themselves on their own. Using these anecdotes as a guide, she formulates a plan for parents raising this next generation, helping us raise grounded, confident and independent kids who will be ready to tackle adulthood equipped with the tools they’ll need. I found it inspiring, eye-opening and extremely helpful. I’d especially recommend it for parents of tweens and teens who are on the cusp of the college admissions process.

What non-fiction books inspired you in 2016?

These 7 non-fiction books changed my life for the better in 2016.

Share

Best YA and Middle Grade Books of 2016

All year long I’ve shared my reads with you, but now we get to get down to the good stuff: the best books of 2016. In order to make the lists manageable and catered to your interests, I’m breaking down the year’s best reads into three categories: Best Fiction, Best Non-Fiction, and Best Middle Grade/Young Adult. One thing to note: my Best Of lists consist of the best books I read in 2016, but is not limited to books published in 2016. Okay then, let’s talk kid lit!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Young Adult

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

When I read the last sentence and closed this book, I took a deep breath. I knew it would take me some time to come to terms with it (in the best way possible). If you had asked me at different points in the book what I thought, I would have given you three different answers. In the first third of the book I was slightly confused and more than a little worried. Both the format and the writing style took some getting used to. Told from the perspective of twins Noah and Jude, the story alternates both in narrators and timing. Noah tells the before, when the twins are 13 and everything they know about life and each other seems to be changing. Jude narrates the period 3 years later, after their world is torn apart. Nelson has the uncanny ability to write straight from a teen’s brain. It was confusing at first, but once I dialed into it, I loved it. This was my pick for book club and I was feeling anxious that I’d made a terrible choice! In the middle of the book, after getting used to the writing style and getting deeper into the story, I was hooked. And the last third of the book? I couldn’t stop. It’s been a long time since I was so absorbed in a story that I knew I couldn’t sleep until I’d finished the book, but that’s exactly what happened with I’ll Give You the Sun. I literally gasped out loud at one point, and was sorely disappointed that, at 1 in the morning I didn’t have anyone to talk about the book with! I sobbed at the end, as Noah and Jude make each half of their story whole in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to remake their world.

Salt to the Sea by Ruth Sepetys

Salt to the Sea taught me about an epic historical event I knew absolutely nothing about (and I bet you don’t, either). In this historical fiction novel for young adults, we learn about the terrible tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Arranged by the Germans, the ship was to be salvation for over 9000 German refugees fleeing the Soviet army. Instead it was sunk by Russian torpedo, resulting in the largest loss of life in a single ship history. And I’d never even heard of it. Told in alternating viewpoints as several characters make their way to the ship, it’s a riveting and heartbreaking story. It came highly recommended and I now know why. It’s marketed for teens (and content makes it best for 14 and up), but it’s so solidly written and researched that any fan of historical fiction, regardless of age, will enjoy it.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Teen crushes, Dolly Parton, small town Texas, and an over-the-top beauty pageant … what more could you ask for in a delicious YA book? I stole this one from Elena’s book shelf and devoured it faster than one of the red candy suckers hunky Bo leaves for Willowdean in her locker. Willowdean is used to not fitting in and she’s fine with it. Being the overweight daughter of the town’s former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet winner is Willowdean’s claim to fame, and she’s happy to not draw any more attention to herself than that fun fact already does. The pageant is her mom’s thing, who’s gone from crown-winner to crown-giver as the head of the pageant. Willowdean is comfortable in her own skin and in being the sidekick to her cute best friend, until the attention of Bo and a rift with her BFF leave her unsure about everything. She can think of only one way to get her confidence (and maybe her best friend) back: entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant. Willowdean and the charming characters of Clover City, Texas won me over in the first few chapters. This book deserves a tiara of its own!

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Jessie is floundering. In less than two years her life has been turned upside down. Her mother died. Her father eloped to a widow he met online. And now, in an effort towards new beginnings, her father moves them from Chicago to LA to live with their new family. It’s all going wrong and Jessie can’t fit in to save her life. Then she gets an email from someone calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN). SN seems kind and helpful, offering to be Jessie’s guide to her new school and everyone in it. But should she trust SN? Does SN really have her best interests at heart, or is this just another cruel trick played by classmates? Things get complicated as Jessie begins to have feelings for SN, just as she’s getting a small foothold on her new life.

This is exactly the kind of YA I love: smartly written, but not too serious; funny, but not silly. I’m also finding I have a new appreciation for books set in LA now that I’ve been there. I took this book to the beach with me and it was perfect for reading in short bursts in between sunning and swimming.

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

More like This is What Fluffy YA Fun Looks Like. Smith’s book read like a modern-day version of my tween/teen daydreams: Quiet girl-next-door strikes up flirty (yet completely anonymous) relationship with boy via email, thanks to one mistyped character in an email address. Boy, who happens to be world-famous teen-heartthrob, figures our where girl lives and convinces the producers of his next big movie to film on location in girl’s small town. Will they fall in love in real life? Can they survive jealous friends, meddling agents, and keep their relationship under wraps? OH, THE DRAMA. But it totally works and I loved it. Elena loved it, too.

Middle Grade

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

You guys, I did it! I finally read Harry Potter! I don’t know why I waited so long, but you can bet it won’t take me as many years to read the rest of the series. I read the first book as my pick for “A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF” in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. Both Mike and the kids have been begging me to read the books for years. Since finishing the first book, I also got through The Chamber of Secrets by listening to the audio version on our way to the beach. The audio versions, narrated by Jim Dale are fantastic. My goal for 2017 is to finish the series (I’m on Book 4). I’m hoping if I finish them next year and I’m very, very good, I’ll earn myself a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2018!

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Mysterious, nuanced, sad and relatable … those are just a few of the words that come to mind after finishing When You Reach Me. I read this aloud to Eli, and we both found ourselves wanting to read just one more chapter to get us closer to figuring out the many mysteries in Miranda’s life. Will her mom win the $20,000 Pyramid? What’s up with the Laughing Man? Why does her best friend, Sal, suddenly want nothing to do with her? And most troubling, who is leaving letters for Miranda and what will happen if she ignores them? I remember Elena trying to read this one on her own in 4th or 5th grade and declaring it “too creepy” to finish. It does have a dark side, but when read aloud and given the opportunity for discussion I think it’s perfectly appropriate for 3rd grade and up (although Eli did groan at the mention of kissing).

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

I want to give Vanderpool all the gold stars for writing a book that manages to grapple with tough subjects (autism, PTSD, grief, and adolescence) beautifully through relatable and endearing characters. Jack Baker is adrift in his new boarding school in Maine. A grieving Midwest boy struggling to fit in, he finds a friend in the most unlikely of boys, Early Auden. They set out together on the Appalachian Trail together for very different reasons, learning valuable lessons about friendship, trust and the deepest kind of love. I read this aloud to Eli and we were both hooked. He loved the plot line of two boys on a quest, while I swooned over some of the best writing and dialogue I’ve found in a middle grade book.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

I’ve never read anything like this Newbery Medal Winner by Kwame Alexander. Written in verse,  a genre that I would typically pass over. But it came highly recommended, and I thought the topic (basketball) would appeal to Eli. We both loved it. It made us laugh, think and talk about some tricky issues regarding relationships, and cry. Alexander tells the story of twins Josh and Jordan. They both love basketball and they’re fantastically good at it, thanks to passion, genetics and the coaching of their father (a former professional player). Junior high brings big changes to the boys and their relationship: girls, competition, rivalry and worries about their father’s health. Their struggles and their story would be compelling on its own, but the writing style takes it to another level. I’d recommend this book to just about anybody (I bet the audio version would be fantastic!), but I’d enthusiastically put it in the hands of reluctant young male readers.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo is a master at writing books for children that adults will love. She’s also extremely gifted at writing books that make wonderful read-alouds. Despereaux the mouse may be small (even if his ears are extremely large), but he is mighty and brave when it comes to his love for the Princess Pea. Nothing can stop him from rescuing her – not the deep, dark dungeon, the rats, the butcher knife, or his own family’s betrayal. But it’s in the journey in which he learns what’s really important: love, loyalty and soup. Eli wasn’t captivated by the first couple of chapters, but I urged him to give it a few more nights of reading … and he was hooked. We especially love the character of Miggery Sow. Not only is she fun to read as a narrator, but she speaks to the heart of what all children want: to be heard and seen.

What did you and your kids read and love in 2016?

Best YA & Middle Grade Books of 2016

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Share