The Satisfaction of Finding The Right Tool

I’ve talked a few times about how little changes can have a disproportionate impact; relocating our CO detector made play with the kids easier and moving deodorant to a different drawer streamlined my morning routine.

Implementing both of these (tiny, seemingly insignificant) tweaks was also deeply satisfying.

And the other day I realized another common source of satisfaction: identifying the right tool for the job. Or, in this case, the right tote for the toys.

Levi loves action figures. As toys go he has low expectations; some LEGO, some mini-sticks, some IKEA balls, some action figures and he is content.

The action figures are the cream of his toy crop, and he plays with them daily.

(Yes, he “needs” all the ones pictured below and has specific roles for every single character. Regarding all that plastic: two were gifted and the rest – you guessed it – were thrifted. So, eventually, they will return from whence they came.)

For years we stored action figures in an adorable wicker basket we had inherited from dear knows where.

This basket was the worst tool for the job.

It was small. It had very wide weaving, leaving a lot of holes for the hard plastic limbs of action figures to get stuck through in ways that might, perchance, elicit some wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap language (from me – not from Levi, who was quite content to leave said action figures strewn about his room in a festive manner and avoid the pitfalls of said wicker basket).

A few months ago, when a friend asked me to pick up an IKEA TORKIS tote, on a whim I added one to my own cart (without any evaluation – how rebellious).

This tote is $8 of pure genius. It is sturdy, yet flexible. It fits every single action figure easily (so a certain someone has no excuse for not picking up) and it fits neatly under his bedside table (IKEA, $10).

I can’t tell you how often I have walked into his room over the last few months and sighed contentedly to see how easy toy cleanup has become.

Identify the problem – and then get to work identifying the right tool for the job. It might be as simple as an $8 tote.

Your turn. Any satisfying changes lately that have made life easier? Anyone else have experience trying to fit too many toys into a too-small container?

P.S. I mention IKEA numerous times in this post, but this is #NotAnAd. IKEA has no idea who I am…though our house is basically one giant IKEA building project.

Header photo by Vanessa Bucceri on Unsplash

The Riveting Details of How I Manage Book Quotes

I lie. This isn’t a riveting post at all, but I have had a few questions about how I manage, organize and otherwise handle the material I pull out of books. So I decided to give this topic a separate blog post since it’s a subject near and dear to my heart.

Over a decade ago I started collecting quotes from books. My system was, admittedly, very haphazard. For the most part I would handwrite these quotes in notebooks. This was not a good system for me. I hated the clutter of having different notebooks and it was hard to categorize and/or locate specific information.

Then, for a few years, I would type up a new Word document for every book I read (from which I took notes). This was also cumbersome.

Eventually, I moved everything over to a single master document and slowly digitized all those handwritten notes. It was a big job (and I actually still have a small binder full of quotes – all relating to parenting – that I want to type up at some point).

Last October, after years of wanting to have something I could hold in my hands, I printed off a small book. Four copies – one for me and a handful of friends. That’s it!

The subtitle is…a bit much, though it’s also true! These quotes and reading in general have had dramatic impacts on how I view the world.

I now have a fresh working document that contains all the quotes I’ve gathered since printing off this first compilation.

what sort of information do you record?

Almost exclusively my quotes come from non-fiction, but I do occasionally write down bits of favourite dialogue (including quotes from children’s picture books because they can be surprisingly insightful).

I give a broad first pass because I know that when it is time to make another “book,” I will edit things ruthlessly.

how do you track what you want to RECORD?

CURRENT | I mostly do this by dog-earing or flagging the sections within the book. When I finish reading, I go back through and see if the quote still strikes a chord. If it does, I type it up.

Of the sections I highlight on my first read-through, I’d estimate I keep about 90% of them when I go back through to type up my notes. (Sometimes quotes that seemed deeply insightful on the first reading, were actually more eloquently summarized later in the book.)

2 YEARS AGO | I used to take pictures of quotes – as I went – with my phone and then I would upload the pictures to my computer and then split screens and type them up. This was cumbersome and it also had the unintended consequence of making me more susceptible to spending time on my phone; when I went to take a picture of a quote…it was easy to get distracted by e-mail or WhatsApp notifications in the process. But I can see this still being a great system for other readers.

5 YEARS AGO | I would handwrite the quotes as I came across them in the book. This was cumbersome and interfered with the flow of reading.

How do you organize your notes document

For now, I just list the book title and author and then below that any quotes from their book. If I have picked up on a quote they attribute to another person (e.g. a lot of people quote C. S. Lewis in their books), then I make sure to add the actual person being quoted at the end of that direct quote.

My “book” contained the following categories:

  • Words of Wisdom
  • Spiritual Growth
  • Food + Body
  • Marriage + Relationships
  • Motherhood + Parenting
  • Productivity + Time Management
  • Grief + Pain
  • Work + Creativity
  • Home + Minimalism
  • Mental Health
  • Miscellaneous
  • Insights from Literary Characters
  • Poetry

Within those sections, if I had a lot of quotes from a single book, I left the book/author heading.

In this case, I actually combined quotes from two books by Nora McInery (Purmort)

If I end up having only a single quote or two from a book, then I will add in the author’s name at the end of the quote but not include the book information.

I also will sometimes separate quotes from a book into different categories. Say, for example, I read a book about parenting, but there was something insightful about grief; if I didn’t keep many quotes from that particular book, I might have one quote recorded under the “Grief” category, while a handful might stay in “Parenting”.

This might sound unnecessarily…complicated. But, in reality, I’ve spent a lot of time (happily) optimizing my process until I settled on something that works

Your turn. Do you like to keep quotes, phrases, or memorable bits of character dialogue from books you read? If so, how do you record/track these quotes?

Header photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

Capsule Wardrobe Volume 2: What’s Hanging in My Closet

I know wearing elaborate, curated outfits can bring real joy to people – and I say go for it. I have friends that like nothing more than to spend hours poring over online shopping sites picking out new clothes. These same friends relish the opportunity to dedicate time – daily! – to make sure their hair, jewelry, and clothing set a specific tone for the day.

This isn’t me.

I appreciate clothing (for both function and basic aesthetic) but it isn’t a focal point. It is very common for me to put on the exact same leggings and shirt (different earrings, though) several days in a row. And I am very content to do so! It cuts down on laundry (I wash my clothes when they’re dirty, promise) and really limits my decision-making. I suspect this would make many people shudder, but it works for me!

Another note – it is perfectly acceptable in my working environment to show up in jeans and a sweater (most of the time I’m working remotely anyway). I realize that work clothes are a major component of many wardrobes but they don’t factor into mine.

Now let’s discuss clothes.

For a clothing item to stay in my closet:

1. It has to fit

For too many years I’ve held on to aspirational clothes. You know what I’m talking about. The dress that will “fit perfectly” when I lose 10 pounds or the pants that will look “just right” when I grow 3 more inches (spoiler alert: I’m not going to get any taller and this problem calls for a seamstress, not more lima beans. Now I either get my pants hemmed immediately or pass them on)!

2. I have to feel contented wearing the clothing

Not every item in my closet sparks joy. I appreciate what Marie Kondo tries to do with her technique, but I definitely have clothes that remain for utilitarian purposes only. That said, I have decided life is too short to wear clothes I hate. It’s shocking it has taken me the better part of three decades (the length of time I’ve had full say over my clothing choices) to come to this conclusion. Anything other than mid/high-rise jeans is a firm no. Anything that requires a camisole will not get near my closet; I no longer own a single camisole (cue gasp) and hate layering (cue bigger gasp).

3. it NEEDS to abide by the 1-in-1-out rule

When something new enters my closet, I almost always let something go (I either hand these items on to friends, consign them, or donate them to thrift stores).

I like to think of my wardrobe as undergoing steady, gradual improvement. You know the stories about people who start with a VW Beetle and trade up until they own a Ferarri. That sort of idea, but with (low-key) clothes and I’m trading up to Banana Republic, not Gucci – though I don’t give two hoots about the branding.

Because I have so few clothes (comparatively to others in my demographic; obviously I have far more clothes than I need), I know exactly what I have, the shape they’re in (e.g. is anything starting to stretch or wear thin), and I can be on the lookout for an “upgrade”.

4. IT HAS TO FIT MY formula

I know I like dark colours. I know I like flowing, thin-knit sweaters.

Since I know what I like, I generally stick within those confines when shopping. (I recently bought a hot pink coat, but can more than handle that pop of colour in my wardrobe because so much of what I own is in my comfort zone.)

Maybe I’ll enter a season of life where we’re living in a warmer climate (right now that sounds…amazing) and I can ditch the sweaters and long pants? Maybe I’ll get to a point in my life where I crave constant colour and bright patterned prints?

But, for now, I’ve identified what works and I stick with that, boring though it may be!

Where I get MY clothes + THRIFTING STRATEGY

My clothes come, almost exclusively, from consignment/thrift stores.

I don’t like shopping, but find thrifting to be low stress at the two SMALL stores I frequent. Most thrift stores are overwhelming, dusty, and cluttered. I have found two local places I love, and that is where I source almost everything in my closet.

Years ago, a friend and I started spending a few hours every week at our favourite thrift store. Our kids were in the same Friday-evening extracurricular and we would carpool and then spend a happy (and hilarious – some of the clothes we’ve seen just boggle the mind) hour or two browsing.

Visiting often is the easiest way to source clothes at thrift stores. I’m now in a rotation of going 6-8 times/year. Because I have a minimal closet, I have a good handle on exactly where there might be any gaps (I wanted a puffer coat, I knew Abby needed a new robe and some fuzzy leggings for under her snowpants). I didn’t go to the store with any of these specific items in mind, but because I have a running list of the things we need, I’m always on the hunt.

Longevity of clothes

I think I’m relatively “easy” on clothes. Lots of the items pictured below I’ve had, and worn consistently, for years. Multiple items are almost 10 years old. If it’s still in my closet it means I haven’t lost interest.

Much like I can eat the same meal over and over, I’m quite content to wear the same neutral pieces regularly.

breaking down my wardrobe

Without further ado, here is my “capsule” wardrobe.

  • This is exactly what I have hanging in my closet. I store my jogging pants (2 pairs), lined splash pants (1 pair), capri running tights (3 pairs), spandex (2 pairs), and pajama bottoms (1 pair) in my dresser.
  • I have about 15 items in a basement closet. This includes summer dresses/skirts, most of my t-shirts (which I don’t need this time of year in Canada), and capri pants. Shorts (3 pairs? I think) and bathing suits (3) are stored in a small tote in my storage room. I like to ONLY have clothing I’m wearing or is seasonally appropriate hanging in my bedroom closet.

PANTS | I have three pairs of jeans; two black, one blue. If I’m not wearing one of these “dressy” pants, I’m in some form of loungewear like joggers. Pants are tough; I have ample hips and a smaller waist and high rise fits are really the only solution for me. Even still, pants are my nemesis. These three are all high-rise and as comfortable as I’ve managed to find.

The grey and blue sweaters are workhorses for me. They are both fitted but not tight and hit at just the right place on my hips. I love the neck detail and the pop of bright orange on the cuff of the blue (Reebok) shirt.

The two turtlenecks I bought on the same day at a thrift store years ago. I still wear them regularly. The material is stretchy in all the right ways. They’re quite long, but because of the fabric I usually just tuck in the front and let the back hang down.

My “dressier” sweaters. Nothing overly exciting, but I like the beige one in particular.

There’s the grey cable-knit sweater.
The blue striped sweater.

I only have two T-shirts in my closet right now because I live in Canada and it is depressingly cold. I have a few “dressy” short-sleeved shirts and then a handful of exercise T-shirts in the guest room closet which will enter circulation as the weather warms up.

I wear both of the sweaters on the right a lot. The one with the button detail is new-to-me from a recent thrift store outing.

I wore this green shirt three days in a row. It’s comfy and…why think more about clothes? If I was going to be out and around people (other than my family who, thankfully, don’t complain) I’d change things up, but since I’m either home or going out covered in about 3,000 layers, that wasn’t relevant. Oh, and hello there, drywall hole. Remember, I don’t do everything!

In the summer I really enjoy wearing dresses because I find them so much more comfortable than pants. But in the winter, the only time I wear skirts or dresses is to church.

The green dress on the far right is likely the clothing item I’ve owned the longest – I’ve been wearing (and loving) this dress for almost a decade now! I wore it for family pictures when Abby was a toddler; I wore it to a preschool party when Levi was 2 weeks old. I wore it to church last Christmas Eve.

The green dress; Abby was about 3 years old and woke up sick in the middle of the night on the day my friend was to take our family pictures. I love the pictures from that day, but wow was I tired.

Skirts – I don’t wear these much in the winter. When I do, I wear a shirt tucked in. Everything is A-line for me because of body-type.

The items below are all placeholders. I don’t use any of them very frequently, but they serve enough of a purpose, I haven’t yet let them go to a new home. The two white sweaters + the robe were passed along by a friend, and the Ground Control To Major Tom t-shirt was a work-specific purchase (new), but all the other items pictured in this post were purchased at thrift stores (not even consignment!) for under $10/item.

And that’s it!

What about you – do you love putting together outfits and appreciate a full closet? Or, do you tend more to a minimalistic approach? (There is no right or wrong answer!)

Header photo by Andrej Lišakov on Unsplash

A ‘Not-Quite-A Budget’ Post. Or, How We Track Expenditures

This is either a post you’re going to linger over with a tall cup of hot coffee until it turns cold…or you’re going to fall asleep by the end of the second paragraph, amazed anyone is actually interested in reading this sort of thing.

So, if this isn’t your type of post, no hard feelings.

I’ve had a few questions about how our family keeps track of expenditures and if I recommend a particular accounting software, so I thought I’d tackle the subject today with a big ol’ roundup.

How do you budget?

Technically, I don’t think I’d call what we do budgeting. At this point, we don’t set aside specific amounts for different categories. We do, sometimes, make decisions with a cap in mind (this is a completely hypothetical example, but I could imagine us saying something like: “We’ll only buy a bathroom vanity that is under $350“). For the most part, I think our strategy would be better described as mindful tracking.

And, more generally, we just aim to be as frugal as possible. Boring perhaps, but true. The pandemic has impacted travel and adventuring but we typically aim to spend money on experiences and memories over “stuff”.

do you use accounting software to manage your finances?


Years and years ago I had to use Quickbooks as part of a job; it was fine, but certainly not my idea of fun. (Remember: my idea of fun is reorganizing sock drawers, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that an evening spent on Quickbooks wouldn’t strike a similar chord. Alas, it doesn’t.)

Then, about a decade ago, when working in a local business incubator, we were introduced to a free program called Wave which is what we/our accountant still use to manage corporate finances. (Note: there are some paid features that could apply to certain users but, for personal finances, the functionality of the free version should more than suffice and I find it easier to use than Quickbooks.)

Despite being very familiar with Wave, it felt like more detail than I needed for tracking personal finances.

*Note: I know lots of people swear by You Need a Budget (YNAB). I’ve never tried it – and don’t plan to – but it might be something to check out if you’re on the hunt for a budgeting software?

…so what do you do?

Great question, hypothetical reader – I’m so glad you asked.

I use a spreadsheet.

Shortly after month-end, I export all the transactions from our credit cards and chequing account as a .csv file. I then manually copy and paste the different expenditures into the relevant categories in a spreadsheet.

It’s very simple…

There are totals for each category at the bottom. There is a different tab for each month, along with a summary tab that collates data from all the months. This final tab is where I do basic calculations, including monthly averages for each category.

how do you break down “lumped” receipts?

I don’t, sigh. By this, I’m referring to a trip to the grocery store where I might buy croutons AND green onion AND bananas AND Gorilla Glue AND toilet paper (because that is life as an adult.)

There are two categories where this is most applicable: “Groceries” and “Misc”.

For example, I do a lot of shopping at a local pharmacy. They have most kitchen staples, usually at the lowest prices (and they have a fantastic rewards program to boot). So I go there to get butter, frozen fruit, milk, tea, eggs – anything aside from fresh produce, I can likely source from this store. BUT…I also end up buying sunscreen and sanitary/cleaning products and stuffed animals for birthday parties.

I do not separate this out. Ever.

So our spreadsheet definitely an art (albeit messy), not a science. And if we did have specific numeric values associated for a budget within each category, I’d really need to up my game in being more careful with allocation.

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU don’t you track?

We don’t track cash. If someone gave me $100 for looking cheerful as I walked down the street (wouldn’t that be nice), it would go straight in my wallet, never to show up in the spreadsheet.

If we bought a pair of used skis off Kijiji (like Craigslist) for $100, that would not show up in the spreadsheet.

Investments also don’t show up on the main pages, either. On that final summary spreadsheet, I have a running tally of what’s in various investment accounts – including retirement savings, the remaining balance on our mortgage, and the college/university savings program for the kids. So while we have a snapshot of this information, it doesn’t factor into the tracked expenditures. So, for example, if we had $200 getting deposited into a savings account each month, this wouldn’t show up in the monthly spreadsheets…but would be accounted for in the overall equity tracking on the final spreadsheet.

what categories do you track?

The screenshot above, from 2022, is slightly different from previous years. I’ve teased out a few new categories (for example, I added in “Gifts” since this was falling under the “Misc” heading which was feeling too broad). And I’m going to add in a Renovation tab as well – the reasoning behind that will be better explained below.

But from 2018-2021 here are the categories we used:

  1. Household – includes: house insurance, mortgage payments, property taxes, renovations, hot water tank/propane tank rental, heating oil, electric/sewer bills. If we buy a plunger or a house plant, it goes here. Mattress, new sheets, lightbulbs, someone to mow the lawn or paint the living room? All under household.
  2. Charitable – includes: any donations that are tax deductible/we have a receipt for (see note on cash above; if I give $5 to someone bagging groceries to fund a band trip, this won’t show up in the spreadsheet).
  3. Auto – includes: fuel, insurance, repairs.
  4. Kids – includes: camp/school fees, kids clothing if it was very specifically just for them (if I spend $50 on second hand clothing but 1/2 of it’s mine, this will go under “Clothes;” if I spend $100 to buy the kids new sneakers for school, this will go under “Kids.” Again – these sheets are an art, not a science and I’m fine with that. Until 2020 we had preschool fees, so there was a big drop in 2020 when COVID + starting primary meant Levi was no longer in preschool. While I’m now hiring a babysitter every week or so, I pay her in cash so…you guessed it…that doesn’t show up in the spreadsheet.
  5. Groceries – includes: food from a grocery store (NO restaurants) + can also include miscellaneous household products that can be purchased at a grocery store (toilet paper, cleaning products will almost all show up here).
  6. Recurring – I’ve changed this for 2022, but it used to include: life insurance, telephone/internet (the latter is now covered by work, so not included in 2020 or 2021) and some monthly household expenses – like our hot-water tank rental (how boring is that? I love my hot showers but somehow I never envisioned adult life to be so practically uninspiring that a monthly line item is renting a hot-water tank) – which I’ve now moved over to “Household”.
  7. Travel – includes: any airfare, meals/entertainment etc. while travelling.
  8. Clothes – includes: clothes. This is a small category for us, and about 90% of all items are sourced second-hand.
  9. Meals/Entertainment – includes: trips to the movies/zoo etc., any restaurant or take-out meal, Spotify/Netflix/Disney+ subscriptions
  10. Health – includes: any medications, chiropractor/massage/dental work. Chances are, though, if I buy something like Advil at the pharmacy along with a grocery order, that will get lumped under “Groceries”.
  11. Misc – includes: gifts, trips to the DollarStore (could be craft supplies, prizes, decorations etc). Orders from online (Amazon, Aliexpress). Sometimes I’ll put a bigger order into the appropriate category (e.g. a pair of shoes off Amazon might go under clothes; hypothetical as I’m quite certain we’ve never ordered a pair of shoes off Amazon!). For 2022 I’ve teased out Gifts and VV (Value Village, one of our favourite places to thrift, but for very miscellaneous things, so I gave it a category of its own).

This is a lot of words. Do you have pictures?

Thank you, once again, hypothetical questioner extraordinaire. I do, in fact, have some pictures.

But first, a huge caveat. These numbers are quite distorted because I really should have had subcategories under the House designation. Things like mortgage payments and renovations (investments) versus utilities and property taxes (sunk costs) should ideally be kept separate. So the house category is a HUGE chunk of the expenditure pie, but this includes a lot of different inputs surrounding homeownership that don’t necessarily all belong together.

Wow. Household was big (55.8%) – this was the year we had to excavate all around the perimeter of our property to improve drainage. Ugh. Yet another very un-fun reality of being an adult. Health was very, very low (0.5%).

Kids would be almost exclusively preschool fees (7.7%); Meals and Entertainment is consistently between (2-3%). Household dropped to 41.3% (no major renovations or repairs in 2019, thank goodness).

It took me a while to sort out the Charitable tab for 2020. Why so high? Then I realized, charitable giving is always related to income, where other expenses aren’t (for example, if we make extra money, we don’t pay more for our telephone bill). So this reflects a bump in income, while expenses stayed the same. “Kids” expenses halved (down to 3.3%) because we only had preschool for a few months and, beyond that, there was NOTHING OUR CHILDREN COULD DO because we had just started living in a pandemic world.

2021 was all about the house and a lot of this was renovations. When we bought out 1970’s house we knew there was work to be done. A rotting exterior structure had to be removed (2021), windows needed to be replaced (2021), we wanted to add insulation since our walls are very thin and it gets very cold in the winter (2021), adding insulation meant we really should re-do the exterior (2021). You get the idea. So it was a very big year for the house. Again, though, it would be helpful if I had broken this down into fixed costs (utilities, home insurance etc.) vs investments (mortgage + renovations).

Common themes?

“Household” represents the majority of our expenditures. This makes sense; paying down our mortgage + a lot of home repairs. From extensive excavating work to fix drainage issues, to replacing windows and doors – there have been major expenses associated with owning a home.

We spend very little on: “Health,” “Meals and Entertainment,” and “Clothes” (for the latter our max spend rate was in 2020 when this was 1.0% of our expenditures for the year; the minimum was 0.6%).

Now that we have no regular childcare, the “Kids” category is also very low. This will likely pick up as both kids will do some sports this summer and, as pandemic restrictions ease, there will be more opportunities for camps and the like.

let’s talk groceries

Yes, please. Let’s talk groceries.

We love to eat. Like really, really love to eat. I’ve written about this before but we tend to eat simple meals. We don’t buy organic but do eat a lot of whole foods…which aren’t cheap. We have found a lot of great ways to save money at the grocery store (shopping sales and reduced produce being the biggest money-savers for us).

But groceries are more variable than expected.

Our monthly cost of groceries only went up by $3 from 2018 to 2019. Then it took a HUGE leap in 2020, going up by $229 extra PER MONTH! I puzzled and puzzled over this (until my puzzler was sore; thanks, Dr. Seuss) and then realized: John stopped traveling! He was away 50% of the time before COVID, and Levi’s preschool also shut down so we were suddenly doing a lot more eating at home. And while we didn’t eat out much before COVID, this completely dried up for months (and that food would have been shunted over to Meals and Entertainment).

This all makes complete sense now, but at first glance I was incredulous! Why the sudden spike? COVID, of course…

Last year, in 2021, we actually spent almost $50 less per month on groceries from 2020. That one I’ve not quite figured out? Maybe we spent less on household miscellany, as I don’t think we’re eating less!?

I am confident, though, that our grocery expenditures will go up significantly as food prices are starting to jump at alarming rates. I rang up a jug of milk last week and actually went back to the fridge compartment to check that the price was correct. It went up by $1.20 IN ONE WEEK. Milk. A subsidized, staple food (that I don’t drink, but my kids sure do)!

And there you have it. An overview of how we/I track expenditures. Nothing too exciting but, as Gretchen Rubin says, you monitor what you measure. And as we want to be wise stewards with our money, it feels prudent to monitor spending habits.

What about you? Do you love budgeting? Do you track things monthly and use software? Anyone else go old-school with Excel spreadsheets?

Header photo by Katie Harp on Unsplash

Capsule Wardrobe Volume 1: A Day Is Always Better When It Involves Sparkly Earrings

It’s no secret that I like to keep things as streamlined and minimal as possible. A few weeks ago I showed the sum total of what hangs in my closet and it was…not many items. Several readers asked about my process for eliminating clothes clutter and I thought I’d start with accessories because, quite honestly, I didn’t feel like drafting a post about clothing.

And, more broadly, I think my minimalistic approach to jewelry shares many parallels to how I approach clothing, too.

Growing up the daughter of a Baptist pastor I learned at an early age that the truest of beauty lies within, not without. It was what we believed and how we lived. My mother, for example, has never had her ears pierced, dyed her hair, or worn makeup and seems extremely contented with these decisions. (She does, however, have two enormous closets overflowing with clothes and several large jewelry boxes, which serve as a sort of counterbalance to any perceived asceticism.)

I spend lots of days (okay, most days) with an au natural face and I’ve only dyed my hair a handful of times (all horrible experiences that eventually left me with ombre hair long before ombre hair was an acceptable and sought-after hairstyle).

But I almost always put on earrings and it makes me feel happy every single time.

I have a small collection of earrings that I wear regularly.

And then I have a slightly bigger secondary collection that includes earrings I only wear occasionally and/or to which I have a deep sentimental attachment.

While I wear earrings 95 days out of 100, I do not leave them in. Ever. I can count on one hand the number of times I have slept with earrings over the last decade. I usually take them out when I nap, too. And always, always, always when I shower.

Aside from the discomfort of sleeping in earrings, I also really enjoy the experience of selecting my daily pair. It’s a comforting ritual that helps jump-start my day, much like a first cup of coffee.

I store my earrings in two small containers; the hand-carved wooden box I received as a teenager from someone who had visited Russia, the blue heart came from John via my mother-in-law (I think?!).

The heart contains my everyday earrings. These are almost all studs, my favourite type of earrings to wear.

Chances are if you were to bump into me on the street, I’d be wearing one of the pairs pictured below (most of which came from John; he does a great job picking out earrings to suit my style).

As for my “secondary” earrings, almost every pair has a story.

For example, in the top row of the picture below, the sets of dangling pearls were from Etsy for $.99/pair. I bought them years and years ago, and it felt like a huge deal to buy earrings online! Just to the left are the dangling silver baubles Abby picked out; she is elated whenever she sees me wearing them. They look like a collection of little disco balls and are very fun and whimsical.

The pair on the bottom left of the middle row? John got me those for my birthday and I promptly dropped one down the bathroom sink when I was getting ready one morning; the handyman at our apartment complex kindly came to rescue it for me.

The pearl studs in the middle were gifted to me by John on the day I graduated from university to replace a pair I lost…down the drain of a shower. (Hence why I don’t wear earrings in the shower – or when I’m swimming.)

The black shimmery pair on the far right of that row came from Dot (for anyone new to this blog, Dot was a very feisty 80-year-old lady I boarded with in university) from one of her annual winter trips to Jamaica.

But my favourite pair is a tiny set of Eiffel Towers, pictured in the bottom left corner. Abby discovered them at a seaside store here in Nova Scotia (#random) and bought them – in secret – days before John and I left for a trip to Paris. I was absolutely gobsmacked when she handed these over to me. So if you’ve ever wondered about my sidebar photo, the whole point of that shot was to showcase my Eiffel Tower earrings in front of the real Eiffel Tower so I could send the picture home to my 8-year-old who spent her hard-earned money to buy me this set of earrings – she’s a keeper!).

And that…is all the earrings I own/wear.

When I have a pair of earrings I no longer want to keep (e.g. I’m not going to wear them or they’re not deeply sentimental) then they don’t stay in my house. I either pass them on to someone or take them to a local consignment store that collects, sterilizes and sells earrings (4 of the sets pictured above come from this consignment store).

And if you’re wondering about other accessories, there aren’t any. I own one necklace and, aside from my wedding and engagements bands, don’t own a single ring (and got rid of all my scarves because I just wasn’t wearing them).

While daily use of earrings is pretty much a “must” for me, makeup is far more hit-and-miss. I’d categorize my makeup stash as being of the “blink and you’ll miss it” variety.

I do not own a single face cream – that little container with the black lid was an individual serving of honey from an airport lounge that is now filled with coconut oil. This is the only thing I use to remove makeup, along with special microfibre cloths, and it is my only moisturizer.

Another fun fact – I haven’t owned blush in years. Before my wedding, I set out to buy lipstick (which I never, ever wear); the woman at the Clinique counter told me that the best way to match my lipstick and blush tones for the big day was to use lipstick on my cheeks in place of blush. I did and haven’t looked back.

Here is the totality of my makeup collection:

  • Mascara (I wear this 2-3x/week).
  • Eyebrow pencil (4-5x/week)
  • Foundation/concealer stick (4-5x/week)
  • Lipstick-blush (4-5x/week)
  • Nivea lip balm (3-4x/week)

I think this qualifies as minimal? No eyeshadow. No bronzer. No under-eye brighteners or creams. No palates. No toners or BB/CC creams or liquid foundations. No brushes or Beautyblenders.

I do own one tube of eyeliner which I keep to use on the kids’ cheeks at Halloween (typically for freckles including, in recent years, for a “lion,” “Prairie girl” and “chef”).

And that’s a wrap on my accessories and makeup.

I’ll be back with a roundup of what’s hanging in my closet another day, but now it’s your turn to spill the beans – do you love your sleeper hoops and put on a full face of makeup every morning?

Header photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Me? Doing a Planner Review? Here Goes…

I’ve been a “planner” for a long time now. From keeping lists of lists (really – sad, but true) to homemade binders, wall calendars and, eventually, daytimers, I feel a compulsion to lay things out in black-and-white (or blue-and-white; I can respect a good blue pen when it comes around). I have used an admittedly hodge-podge system over the years; what – and how – I plan ebbs and flows by life season and I don’t actively pursue new organizational methods.

In short, I won’t be starting a planning podcast anytime soon.

I’ve also jumped around with my planners; the first one to which I formed any real attachment was a free daytimer handed out to all incoming students by my university student union when I was a freshman. I dutifully poured over syllabi, writing down deadlines and textbook lists and planning out my (very pitiful) social life.

Some years, especially when the kids were young and I was essentially just focused on keeping them alive, I didn’t use a daytimer at all and a shared family calendar was enough. But as the kids have gotten older and my work and home managerial responsibilities have increased, I use a planner. Daily.

Sadly, my planner doesn’t “do” life for me. If I have an over-full planner, chances are I’m going to have an over-full life. This topic is highly relevant right now as I’m looking for ways to overhaul some responsibilities and grasp ahold of those weeks I have left (out of my very fragile 4,000) and enjoy life and the people in it that make it joyful (and maybe even choose to fail at some things along the way)?

So, while planners are a great tool, they are no replacement for balancing life. To paraphrase the words of Gretchen Rubin (talking about technology): I want my planner to be a great servant, not my master.

With this in mind, let’s explore how I plan!

The last few years I have…are you ready for this?…used planners from the DollarStore.

My planner for 2021 cost $1.25…and I loved it. In fact I was elated to see it show up on the shelves for 2022 and I gladly forked over $1.25 and walked out with plans to keep moving forward with my DollarStore system.

It’s a month-view daytimer. I loved the notes section on the side and the extra pages at the back for long-range planning; I augmented each day with a separate to-do list that I would keep next to the book (something I still do with my current system using the Sprouted planner).

And then I saw Sarah Hart-Unger had discussed the Sprouted daytimer in Episode 68 of her podcast Best Laid Plans. I rarely comment on planner posts because…well, I was contented with my $1.25 planner. (And if you’re contented with a $1.25 planner, you probably aren’t the type to comment on planning posts.)

But I mentioned how it looked like a great planner for my needs. Within 24 hours I had an e-mail in my inbox asking if I’d like her copy of the Sprouted Planner. [In the comment thread, I referenced my $4 planner, but when I went to buy it this year, it was $1.25, so I’m sure it was $1.25 the year before, too.]

Um, yes, please.

Getting this parcel from Sarah before Christmas was so fun (and Abby’s first comment when she dug it out of the mail was: “WOW, she is very neat!”

I had a rough time around Christmas and just couldn’t get my head into planning for…anything. 2021 was a hard year and I was tired and knew we were facing more restrictions and likely another bout of online learning (turns out I was right).

But a few days before we rang in the New Year, I found enough enthusiasm to get started, and haven’t looked back. I absolutely LOVE my Sprouted planner and fully intend to purchase one next year.

I have no experience doing reviews of any sort; this was gifted to me by Sarah (who isn’t affiliated with Sprouted…but I believe this planner was gifted to her). So don’t expect any crazy picture-perfect influencer spreads. It is not neat and colour-coded; that’s not how I roll. I also don’t have a specific system I’m trying to recommend because I just do what works for me and it’s a bit scattered.

With that caveat out of the way, let’s dive in:

Front cover + storage

I love the aesthetic of the book. It’s hardcover and is exceptionally well made. The paper is thick enough to prevent bleedthrough (though I just use basic ballpoints, so I’m not sure about anyone using Sharpie pens or other more elaborate writing utensils).

The ring binding works like a charm and never catches (major pet peeve of mine). It’s big, but not bulky. I have no problem slipping this into my laptop bag when I escape to a cafe to work. But, most of the time, it simply moves between my bedside dresser, the dining room table, and my desk.

It’s classy looking and very “me” in terms of the design. I think Sprouted offers other cover options, but suspect this is the one I would have chosen anyway!

On the inside cover there is a pocket. This is SO handy. Last year, in that $1.25 planner, I taped an envelope inside the front cover to store assorted papers, receipts, and stickers. These items fell out constantly and this much sturdier alternative is a significant improvement.

In fact, if anyone from Sprouted happens to be reading this – I love the pocket so much I really wish there was a back pocket, too! Hint, hint…

I’ve stopped recording “tough” days via stickers [I did this last year in my daytimer, mostly to track hormonal issues – a sticker was a nice way to say…”This day sucked, but at least I have a pretty sticker to show for it!“] but have been putting stickers on special days – family birthdays, anniversaries, major holidays. I also keep a running list of blog post ideas. I spy one that says “Planner overview.”

Prompts + Long-Range PLanning pages

Okay, I’ll admit when I saw all these high-level planning pages I did a bit of an eye-roll. But they are genius.

Heather (the creator of Sprouted) has put a lot of thought in to these layouts, offering some great perspective about the various areas of our life we likely all want to prioritize. Here is the “People” layout where I’ve listed my overarching goal to “Be Kind” and then ideas like:

  • More solo walks; even just around the neighbourhood.
  • More coffee dates with friends.
  • More low-key dessert/coffee invites; less pressure to do meals.
  • Spend more time at bedtime with kids – even 5 minutes would be a great place to start.

There are also pages devoted to “Things” – which offers high-level planning by month, a page devoted to hopes for the year ahead, and a set of blank pages where I’ve set up my “Ta-Da” list for 2022.

Of course, I was thrilled to see this “Year List” page and wasted no time in creating a hard copy of my Goals for 2022 list.

weekly spreads

A quick word about my system. While I rely HEAVILY on my planner, I also almost always have a running list that contains overlap if I have an especially hectic day. On those days, I will typically list everything on one of my beloved scratch-paper pads that I mentioned yesterday. I keep these handy (i.e. with my planner) as I move throughout the day. For example, off to the right-hand side I can see “L2,” “larvae counts” “3 mo.” and “environmental impact” which were prompts for questions I ended up needing to ask over the course of the “SBW” [Spruce Budworm; how’s that for a fun topic] call from 1:00-2:00 pm. So I may scribble on the pad during meetings and add/subtract to-dos as the day goes by based on new scheduling developments.

I also have some work responsibilities I never list; checking e-mails and even some regularly scheduled big action items are so ingrained at this point, I don’t take the time to write them down and monitor their execution. My planner is predominantly to help me stay on top of tasks that are time-sensitive or I’m likely to forget.

I had some specific names/information recorded in the weekly spread (and on the scratch-pad), hence all the chicken scratches. (I was going to use a whiteout pen, but got lazy).

Here is a completed week. I LOVE the amount of flexibility in these layouts.

  • I use the top “free” space to record my joyfinding exercises.
  • I write down a meal plan as I go through the week in the space just below the date
  • Anything with specific timing I highlight in yellow (this is mostly calls/video meetings as I still rarely have in-person meetings)
  • The other side of the spread I use to list general to-dos for the week. These can migrate over and end up getting listed under a specific day but, more often than not, I simply tackle these when I’m able since they are not time-sensitive (things like: draft my monthly family update email, send a reminder email about progress reports, schedule some meetings for early February, sign and return forms related to corporate taxes, mail our confetti notes, and take the kids sledding – I guess the sledding one would be time-sensitive if it rained). I review this list throughout the week and if anything hasn’t been taken care of by Sunday evening, I move it forward to the following week.
  • I have been tracking my daily outside walks, phone pick-ups, total screen time, and the Psalm we’ve read for the day. For pick-ups, I’m actually subtracting the number of times I use my phone as a camera. To me taking pictures is hugely important and I don’t want to come down hard on myself for excessive pick-ups if it’s done for photography. But still…I sure do handle my phone a lot (and last week was worse. A lot worse.). Sigh.

Above is a picture of last week’s spread first thing Monday morning. This week was significantly less busy (John was out of town, so I was very purposeful to book as light a week as possible), but even still it filled up quickly once things got started!

You can see I only have one meal listed (Monday). I sketch out meal ideas over the weekend, but don’t have a strict meal plan and just fill things in based on what ingredients I have/the time I have available for prep.

monthly spreads

My monthly spread for January just had too much specific information, so I’m showing you June so you can get a sense of the layout.

I have to get my engagement and wedding band inspected every 6 months for insurance, so that is already listed but other than that (and a heart sticker on Father’s Day), June looks deliciously open (sounds like something Anne of Green Gables would say)! I’m not using the month-view that often, but it’s very handy for long-range planning.

Each month ends with a full spread of prompts. I’m really, really excited about these.

And there is a yearly review at the end of the book.

I think this is a great feature. The questions are insightful and relevant (they do vary slightly month-to-month) and I don’t think I’m going to feel pressured to answer everything (or give long, detailed answers), but I appreciate not having to think through big questions to ask of myself. Having the prompts in place seems like one responsibility off my shoulders. Now when the planner can start doing laundry and taking the kids to the dentist, then we’ll really be getting somewhere…

extra pages

At the back of the book there are about 30 extra, lined pages. At first I wasn’t sure how to fill them, but I’m starting to come up with ideas…

I’ve decided to track things related to mood and overall health (i.e. if I was tired, details of my downright terrible period – sigh). I don’t enjoy doing this; it feels tedious and another thing to remember but since I’ve gone back on hormonal treatments + iron, I really want to be as specific and thorough as I can be to monitor symptoms/results. I also used a little code of up and down arrows to signify how I felt overall (mood/energy/headaches).

I’m reading a Psalm with the kids at the breakfast table most days and have written down some favourite verses as we go along.

favourite features:

Honestly, I like just about everything in this planner (not paid or perked in any way!). I thought I would feel obligated to fill in every high-level planning page, but I don’t.

I really, really, really love the month tabs. It makes for easy navigation. I do use a small paperclip to hold together weeks of the month that are completed so it’s even faster to locate the current weekly spread.

I appreciate all the extra pages and the overall sense of flexibility with how to use the layouts.

If I had to come up with any critique, I feel like I’d prefer to have a bit more space for daily to-do’s (lines) and less “free” space in the weekly spreads. That said, I can see many people wanting it exactly as shown here. I like the structure but feel like I have more space than I need on the right-hand side of the layout. If I was designing the planner, I think (?) I’d do M-F on the left, S+S on the top right and cut down on the size of free-form space on the second page (but not remove them entirely as I sure do love those boxes and currently use the header/footer ones for the “Joyfinding” and “Grateful” lists that I maintain each week).

There you have it my first – and probably only – planner review!

Are you a planner person – or do you prefer wall/digital calendars?

Favourite Things: January 2022 Edition

Does anyone else feel confused why My Favorite Things – and The Sound of Music movie in general – is often regarded as a Christmas song? Is it the brown paper packages bit that convinces us it belongs on holiday albums?

Regardless, here is another list of my favourite things, with some Honourable Mentions for good measure.

1. My One LINE A DAY journal

I put this on my Christmas wishlist along with a few links, but John picked this out independently and I am thrilled with his choice. It’s small (I think some reviews online were negative because of the size but, to me, it’s perfect). It’s minimal. It’s classic. It’s well-made. I have really enjoyed filling this in with little details about our days (lots of “Exhausted” and – don’t ask – but from Saturday at 7:15 am “kids burned mug cake; disaster; house reeks of smoke“, but also notes about playdates and sledding and satisfying work negotiations).

2. My hoop earrings

This might sound strange, but a new set of earrings has been a runaway favourite this month. I always ask for earrings each Christmas, and this year John read my blog post about goals for 2022 which included “Buy a set of hoop earrings.”

He went out and bought me two sets and this pair, in particular, I can’t stop wearing. They’re light. They’re unique. They go with everything. I can’t link to them because they came from my favourite Wolfville consignment store, but if I could, I would! I wish everyone had a pair.

Top right pair, because it’s hard to tell exactly what they look like from the picture above.
I realized I had 3 video calls with the same work colleague in the span of a week; twice I had on the same shirt and all 3 times I had the same earrings.

3. Method cleaning spray (esp. Pink Grapefruit)

I’m pretty minimal with cleaning supplies. I try to avoid harsh chemicals and most of the time just use soap and hot water. But when I want a boost (mental and for cleaning power), I spritz on this product. The spray bottle works like a charm (and I repurpose it for other things later) and the smell is very refreshing. Also, per unit, it’s economical. I get this on sale for $3.99 and a bottle lasts me months.

4. Pink grapefruit sparkling water

Okay, I clearly have a thing for pink grapefruit. Ironically I cannot stand the actual fruit, but the flavour of this sparkling water is my fav. I drink about one can a day (relatively quickly, because I know that it can be hard on teeth enamel over time).

Other favourites happen to be the girl in the background + Codenames, a new family favourite!

5. My purple crocs

Okay, John did an amazing job this Christmas. I have been stealing his Crocs for years and these bright purple ones have both kept my feet warmer and comfy, but also are just…fun.

6. Magic bags

I couldn’t talk about favourite things without highlighting something that gets used every single day in the winter.

One day I went to make our bed and I had FOUR Magic Bags on my side – I might have a problem?!

I heat these up any time of day and night and they are little squares of warm gloriousness. It’s not unusual for me to be on a video meeting and have one warm Magic Bag under my feet and another in my lap. In fact I’m sitting crosslegged in an armchair with two in my lap at this very moment…

Note: I refer to them as Magic Bags – which is a specific brand – but I actually own two sets of a pharmacy brand (Life from Shoppers for any Canadian readers). Each set comes with one long and one square; happily, I prefer the squares and the kids prefer the long ones.

7. Dollarstore paper pads

For $1 I can buy 4 pads (80 pages each) of scratch paper.

We use these for everything. The kids write letters to their friends, I make grocery and to-do lists on them, John uses them to take reams and reams of meeting notes.

I almost went into hysterics when our stash was getting low before Christmas and the sweet worker at Dollarama told me they hadn’t been carrying them for a while.

The next time I went back, guess what I found – my beloved scratch pads were in stock! I’m surprised clouds didn’t part to allow angels to descend. I walked out with 8 sets (so 2,560 pieces of paper, I did the math…with a calculator). I do not want to risk a scare like that anytime soon.

I keep them in (and on) my bedside table, in my dresser, on top of the fridge, with my daytimer, in my purse, in the car, on the dining room table, on my desk. Basically everywhere.

8. A treadmill desk attachment

Admittedly, I haven’t had this very long, but I think it is going to become a new favourite. I don’t intend to use it every day (I still prefer walking more quickly + outside), but have really enjoyed the flexibility of working on projects, sending e-mails, or browsing blogs and recipe sites while I walk. It feels productive to be able to pair work or leisure with low-impact exercise.

I’m always amazed when I look at the clock and see I’ve been walking for over an hour. How come when I’m running on the treadmill, minutes just inch by…but walking slowly and keeping my hands and mind busy seems to have the opposite effect?

9. The Anne of Green Gables books

I had no idea how much I was going to enjoy re-reading this series (author background aside). The characters are all familiar, but many of the best details had been long forgotten (I last read the series in 2004, my first year of university).

I’ve found them so comforting. I know there are no abductions or bombs or gratuitous swearing (or any swearing for that matter – which I understand in non-fiction, but really dislike in most fiction contexts) but these books also aren’t afraid to confront the hard – Matthew and Ruby dying, for example; the trials and tribulations with Davy Keith – while celebrating lots of joy.

Just the perfect books at just the time I needed them back in my life.

10. This space…and you!

At the beginning of 2021, starting a website was just a dream that had been bumping around inside my head for years. I had no reason to believe 2021 would be any different from the years before – still dreaming of carving out a space to write and think and create, without actually taking concrete steps toward actualizing that goal.

I did it, and then all of you started showing up and encouraging and supporting, both here in the comments and within the content of your own blogs and web spaces.

honourable mentions

  • Our little office space heater. We don’t use it often or for long, but the basement can get chilly this time of year and a few minutes with the heater on makes such a difference. We have whole-house ducted heating (unfortunately) which means we can’t control zones. This solves the problem of needing to jack up the heat to warm up one small space.
  • My Sprouted daytimer. This was sent to me by planner extraordinaire Sarah Hart-Unger. I wanted to try it but was…noncommittal. I’ve been using DollarStore planners for several years and really enjoyed my previous system using a planner that cost $1.25. Literally. But I haven’t touched my $1.25 planner a single time since I’ve gotten into a rhythm of using the Sprouted planner. It really checks all the boxes for me. Stay tuned for a more thorough overview of how I use it very soon (tomorrow, actually)!
See one of those beloved scratch pads from Dollarama. Never far away. And neither are my AirPods, definitely another favourite. I did not plan on having them show up in so many pictures…they are not “staged” I just have them with me in a little pile of work paraphernalia that migrates around the house.
  • My YETI. This is just the item that keeps giving and giving. It looks brand new but I have essentially used it for 750 days in a row. I use it exclusively for water and I’m like a baby with her security blanket (or, maybe more appropriately, a favourite sippy cup).
  • A Vileda spin mop. First: I hate mopping. Before we recently started getting someone to help (2 hours every 2 weeks, but it’s more like 2 hours/month+ because of COVID), I would mop twice a year. In a good year. But after 6 weeks of damp socks and salt-covered shoes on our floors, I could not avoid the dreaded task of mopping. This was my first time really testing out a Vileda spin mop (I know they have a cult-like following, but I hate mopping…so why bother investing in one? My father convinced me and I caved). I wouldn’t call the experience fun, but it was almost bordering on that (kinda). No streaks on the floor and very, very easy to wring it out with the foot pedal.
  • My ski pants. For almost a decade I used a pair of hand-me-down, oversized snow pants. I hated them. They never fit, I knew I looked ridiculous, but I never managed to find a used set and couldn’t stomach the prices of new ones (which also never seemed to fit when I tried them on). Every pair always seemed too tight/fighted or too baggy. Last year I found a pair of Columbia ski pants at a thrift shop. I think they were about $19.99 which I realize is nothing for sporting goods…but the price almost made me put them back on the rack. It just seemed like a lot of money for pants I would only use a handful of times each year. Thank goodness my better judgement won out. These pants are practically perfect in every way (and I have worn them every single day this month). They are fitted, but not tight. I can bend and move comfortably, and they look…fine (snow pants are never going to be a fashion statement). They are also very, very warm. I wear these on morning walks to school, daily walks around the neighbourhood (still going strong with those 1km+ walks outside each day), and on outdoor adventures with the kids like sleding and skiing (remember; -21 degrees Celcius + windchill) and skating. When I come back inside, I sometimes keep them on to putter around the house – they’re that comfortable. It seems silly to list a pair of snow pants as a favourite, but finding the right gear for physical activity is so, so satisfying.

Your turn – any favourites so far in 2022 – new or old?

Header photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Books in 2021: Some Favourites + Random Thoughts on Reading

*Life update: I knew the ease of Day#1 in Grade 1 online learning had to be an aberration. Let’s just say Day#2 involved (a few) tears, a LOT of frozen screens, and 9 minutes of a music class that involved no music until I finally agreed we could give up (the teacher kept freezing). We hosted a classmate for lunch (recess), tromped through the snow to collect materials for ice wreaths (gym/art), read books (literacy) and counted the shapes on a sweater pattern in increments of 5 (math) and called it a day. The Grade 5 child did fine on her own, bless her. While I was home supervising online learning, our car got rear-ended (while stopped at a crosswalk; not our fault so a lot less of a headache with insurance but we still have the hassle of sorting through body work, rental cars). It could have been so much worse, and we’re mostly just counting our blessings.

When I was growing up I read…constantly; hours and hours each day. I would walk over to our neighbours – who owned the complete Nancy Drew series – and get an entire grocery bag full of books. I would finish the stack in a few days and would trudge back across the driveway for another helping of my favourite titian-haired sleuth.

I did Sweet Valley High when I was in middle school (and The Baby-sitter’s Club, of course); when I was in high school I set my sights on Clive Cussler and devoured every Dirk Pitt adventure I could get my hands on, with a few John Grishams thrown in for good measure.

In university, outside of textbooks, it was mostly classic literature like Shakespeare or Faulkner (I tolerated the first and loathed the latter). I basically didn’t read for pleasure for about a decade, aside from devouring the Harry Potter series when each new book was released and one read-through of the Anne of Green Gables series in my first year of university.

I just couldn’t get “in” to books anymore. And then I read, of all things, a book called: The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King. How random. And just like that, I was hooked on non-fiction.

I would say about 60% of the books I read are non-fiction (my favourite being memoirs); of the remaining 40%, about 25% is classic fiction and 15% is modern fiction.

2021 reading highlights

I finished 88 books in 2021. I didn’t set out to reach a specific target (I plugged in 50 books as a goal in Goodreads, but didn’t pay much attention to the tally). It was a good year; there were only a handful of books I didn’t finish, which don’t end up in the completed tally.

I definitely tended toward non-fiction; lots of sports memoirs/biographies, which I always find interesting. I don’t think this was my favourite year of reading – there weren’t any “couldn’t-put-it-down moments” like I’ve had before with Where the Crawdads Sing (mixed feelings about the book but couldn’t put it down), A Gentleman in Moscow, The Glass Castle, Educated or The Sound of Gravel (which left me crying in the middle of the night) – the last three having some very clear parallels.

But there were lots of books that I enjoyed reading over the last 12 months. Some were good but didn’t stick with me (like Hooked by Michael Moss); then there were some books that have stuck with me, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy the writing style or structure (like Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman and Ladyparts by Deborah Copaken, for example).

Cosy was readable and like a warm hug; Station Eleven was gripping, though maybe reading about a pandemic in the MIDDLE of a pandemic isn’t the best idea? Off the Clock is a long-time favourite. Charles Dickens was great, and Outer Order, Inner Calm is…calming. Harry Potter is just a whole other category of classic and comforting because I associate it with my formative years of reading, and I enjoyed the first book in The Mysterious Benedict Society series. The Great Alone and Dear Edward were both okay but slightly disturbing/depressing; not sure how the Michael J. Fox book snuck in there because I don’t think I actually finished it…
This set was okay. Just Mercy was well written, The Road Back to You – all about Enneagram’s -was interesting (I’m a 6 with a 5-wing) but not life-changing in any way. I loved Grit and A Promised Land; a bit disappointed by My Side of the Mountain and Wintering. The Grapes of Wrath is a classic (I had forgotten all the language and content issues – won’t be reading this to the kiddos anytime soon!). I liked The View from Saturday (but not nearly as much as From the MixedUp Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, read several years ago). Oops, a picture book ended up on this shelf – I read lots of those too…a lot more than 88. The Trolley Car Family will forever be my favourite children’s book, and I hope to read this every year for the rest of my life.
The Writing Life, Thanks a Thousand, How To Break Up With Your Phone, and re-reading Atomic Habits were all highlights. Four Thousand Weeks has stuck in my head, but I didn’t love it. Roald Dahl had some great classics I read for the first time to the kiddos. Remember was interesting, as was The Biggest Bluff. The Golden Compass started off strong and then completely lost me by the end. The Boxcar Children is just pure nostalgia to me and this was a re-read with the kids for the umpteenth time.

Here are a few notes from my tracking spreadsheet (I’ll discuss this more tomorrow) that detail some reading highlights from the year. The books I’ve pulled out are listed in reading order – not by ranking of favourites. Interestingly, even though I read quite a few new books in 2021, I’m amazed how many of my final tally were re-reads. This is a habit I learned from my father and am passing on my children (who will re-read and re-watch anything approximately 1 million times); but I think this year, in particular, I found it comforting to return to familiar stories and well-loved characters.


  1. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perserverance – Angela Duckworth | Excellent book.
  2. A Promised Land – Barack Obama | This was really well written; wish I knew more about US politics to appreciate it even further. Loved the behind-the-scenes details AND just generally really liked his writing style.
  3. Tribe of Mentors – Tim Ferris | A re-read. A slew of advice from various entrepreneurs and other gurus. Just interesting to see all the different takes on issues.
  4. Off The Clock – Laura Vanderkam | Re-read. Love this.
  5. The Gospel of Ruth – Carolyn Curtis James | Excellent writing and very interesting + motivating lessons from the OT story. Ruth was a radical woman!
  6. It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way – Lysa Terkeurst | This was really good. I’ll want to re-read it at some point for sure. [Interesting, because recently I told someone I had just felt meh about this book…but apparently I really enjoyed it!]
  7. Bread and Wine – Shauna Niequist | Re-read; good – just an easy, comforting read.
  8. Walden – Henry David Thoreau | Classic. A bit dry at times…but very quotable and reflective!
  9. Recipe for Life – Mary Berry | I cannot get enough Great British Bake Off. Fun; interesting to read behind-the-scenes information.
  10. Daily Rituals – Mason Currey | A re-read. I really enjoyed this more the second time. Common themes: walks, coffee, drugs. Lots of insomnia. Lots of depression. Most people don’t work that long. Some people take years and years to write things. Lots of being solitary.
  11. The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin | Re-read. Just like reading a conversation with an old friend. Love the book so much, mostly because of the impact it had on my life. It has made me happier.
  12. The Happiness Trap – Russ Harris | This was really good. There is a lot to digest and this was kinda my third read-through, but there are many sound principles. It was the right book at the right time…
  13. How To Break Up With Your Phone – Catherine Price | SO good. Practical and full of great tips and quoteable quotes.


  1. Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel | Really enjoyed this. Gripping, thought provoking and very well written. Would make a good movie [I see this is now an HBO miniseries].
  2. Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Hyasi | A few parts I didn’t love, but a probing look at faith, addiction, death, family ties…; definitely very well written.
  3. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Roald Dahl | Really enjoyed this!
  4. The Mysterious Benedict Society – Trenton Lee Stewart | This was really good; a fun read and very enjoyable to be able to read something that Abby recommended!!!
  5. George’s Marvelous Medicine – Roald Dahl | This was good; short (reminded me of The Fantastic Mr. Fox) and funny.
  6. Heidi – Johanna Spyri | This was great! Enjoyed reading this with the kids very much.
  7. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens | Good. Very long and wish it wasn’t so weighty to get through, but an amazing story with rich characters. Didn’t enjoy as much as a Tale of Two Cities [read in 2020], though.
  8. Harry Potters (Books 1, 3 and 6) – JK Rowling | Re-reads (for the umpteenth time; these three are my favourites).
  9. Anne of Green Gables – L.M Montgomery | Re-read with the kids. Classic.

What was your favourite book of 2021. I’ve seen Caste and The Midnight Library show up so many times they’ve both been added to my 2022 list.

Header photo by Madalyn Cox on Unsplash