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

Dear Goodreads. Please Give Me 1/2 Stars.

First, a huge thank-you to readers for all the support lately. The encouraging comments and listening ear, especially relating to yesterday’s post, mean a lot. Day #1 of online schooling went better than I expected; there were no tears (from children or their mother) which in itself felt like a major win. I did lots of “joyfinding” with highlights including: watching the kids put on an impromptu Encanto dance party (thanks, Spotify), reading some very fun picture books at bedtime while surrounded with hot magic bags, and laying in Levi’s bed listening to him talk, and talk, and talk as he was falling asleep. On a day I had been dreading, it was mostly good moments and I’m so thankful.

My post title says it all. And I presume if you’re reading this, and use Goodreads, you know exactly what I mean.

I’ve been logging my reading history on Goodreads for years now; I remember the evening I discovered the site and spent hours glued to my laptop screen finding and rating a decade or so of my favourite books.

But I am endlessly frustrated by not being able to give 1/2 stars.

To me, a 4-star book is very different from a 5-star book. But some books are neither or a 4 nor a 5 – they are exactly 4.5.

I’m not asking for the moon here; in this case, the moon being something ridiculous like 1/4 stars…

For some context, in the Goodreads vernacular, 2 = “it was okay”, 3 = “liked it”, 4 = “really liked it” and 5 = “it was amazing”; I stop reading 1’s which, for posterity = “did not like it.”

Here is the official stance on this topic, from the Goodreads website [with some of my own thoughts added in for good measure]:

After much [much = a lot; this means it has warranted significant investment of time and resources) investigation and debate [so I can’t be the only one with strong views on this], Goodreads has no plans to implement half stars. This is mainly due to the added layer of complexity that half stars would add to the rating system [what about the layers of complexity you’re adding to MY life, when I have to decide between rating a book a 2 or a 3, when clearly it is screaming to be labelled 2.5].

I am all about simplicity…but it’s really messing with my book reviews.

Please tell me I’m not the only reader out there that feels this way?

Header photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

Christmas Debrief: Why I Track What Works (and What Doesn’t)

A few years ago, after stumbling through a recipe I knew I had tweaked to perfection (but those tweaks, of course, I had neglected to record – argh), I started doing a Christmas debrief.

Here’s what I do:

At the end of December, I turn to a back page in my yearly planner and write out details about what worked at Christmas – and what didn’t. For example, in my 2021 planner I added this note: “Skip the egg nog. No one really likes it.” This year in the grocery store I didn’t even hesitate at the egg nog display. If I hadn’t made that note, I almost certainly would have grabbed a carton but, because of my debrief notes from the previous year, I knew better.

I write down how many pats of cream cheese I used for the cheesecake (really, I should record this on the actual recipe in my binder!), what meals we ate and when. Having the menu plan from 2020 was so helpful as a guide this year; Christmas 2020 was the first time I delayed our turkey dinner to Boxing Day and it was such a huge success that I didn’t think twice about following the exact same menu (recorded in my planner) in the leadup to Christmas.

I write down when we put up certain decorations (“Put the downstairs tree up before Levi’s birthday“), favourite Christmas albums (though I had forgotten how wonderful Ingrid Michaelson’s Songs for the Season album was, I don’t need a note to remind me that White Christmas by Living Strings & Living Voices will forever be my favourite Christmas album – I’ve listened to this music every year since I was born).

I keep a running list of gift ideas throughout the year, but specifics about our Christmas traditions and routines really need to be recorded when the memory is still fresh.

It’s impossible to perfectly recreate the “ideal” Christmas – life happens, to which I can well attest having spent 3 out of 4 Christmas Eves in the emergency room with one (or more) sick family members. But knowing what has worked can go a long way in helping Christmas function smoothly.

This year I knew to stuff stockings after the kids went to bed (one year we let Abby help and it just wasn’t as magical, even though she begs to be included in this event and neither kid believes in Santa). I knew to watch the old animated Grinch on Christmas Eve before church, to listen to Gretchen Rubin’s audio version of A Christmas Carol, and that I really should buy two bags of shrimp for the Seafood Casserole/Curried Rice.

I’ve already set aside a page in the back of my 2022 planner for Christmas – it includes new observations from this holiday season:

  • my favourite wrapping paper (from Coles) always sells out before Boxing Day sales, so I need to go in the week before Christmas and get a few rolls at the 40% off discount.
  • dipping my homemade peanut butter balls is too much work – better to just spoon a bit of melted chocolate over the top (pictured above; they look fine and it is a fraction of the mess and work).
  • I love Stash Holiday Chai (with Jamican Rum flavouring) and should buy some when I see it in stores.
  • It’s A Wonderful Life is a great movie and we should start watching it annually as a family.
  • the kids actually love my Mom’s brown sugar fudge (I told her not to bring much because I thought I would be the only one eating it – boy was I wrong), and she doesn’t need to bring many cookies (cookies just aren’t what people want to reach for when all the other unique festive goodies are on offer).
  • everyone loves saltine toffee; I haven’t made any in several years but our neighbour gifted us a tin of it and it was a hot commodity, so I really should make a batch next year since it was such a hit.
  • the street address of the new light display we discovered this Christmas (set to music; you tune in to a local radio frequency and the lights keep time with whatever Christmas song is playing – the kids LOVED this).
  • we need a 6.5-7 ft Christmas tree + get them to trim the base and top ON SITE! After a year of trimming down the tree at home three times to get it to fit (and leaving green marks all over our white ceiling, I have learned my lesson – measure the ceiling height before picking out a tree).
  • it’s okay to let Levi watch something Christmas morning so the adults can linger over gifts a bit longer (this year it was soccer highlights and he was happy as a clam).

Nothing profound, just little hacks, reminders, and other prompts to make Christmas less stressful, more memorable and – when music-timed light displays are involved – more festive.

What about you? Do you ever do a holiday debrief, listing what does/doesn’t work? Are you a “yes” or “no” to egg nog?

Header photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

Giving Some Thought to Contingencies

I like to think I have a relatively good handle on life responsibilities. Sure it’s a juggling act: appointments, work meetings, supper prep, laundry, and getting Aunt Mabel’s birthday card in the mail on time (I don’t actually have an Aunt Mabel, and I don’t even send birthday cards to any of my aunts – or uncles for that matter – but somehow Aunt Mabel sounded like a good representative name).

But ask anyone close to me and they can tell you I’m a worrier by nature. Not just a worrier, but I like to think through 100 (equally unlikely) worst-case scenarios. One day, when John and I were newly engaged, I worked myself up into a frenzy over sushi and someone not having soya sauce at their house. It’s a long story, but suffice to say we still joke about this mental spiral over soya sauce regularly.

So while I’m trying to dial down some of my irrational neuroses (recently, it involved new hardware for our front door, where I spiraled to epic heights over something that had about 0.01% chance of happening)…I have been thinking about the wisdom of thinking through reasonable contingencies. Not out of worry or anxiety, but pragmatic planning for things that have more than a 0.001% chance of happening.

The door and the hardware were just fine…
  • What would I do if the kids were suddenly home for 2 weeks due to a teacher strike (or COVID outbreak, which, it turns out IS currently happening in our area)?
  • What would I do if our dishwasher broke?
  • What would we do if our power went on during a cold snap?
  • What would we do if our basement flooded?

I’m not going to have my kids do dry-runs of at-home learning over the weekends or source a new dishwasher, but maybe when I see a set of Bluetooth headphones that would make it easier for Levi to concentrate on schoolwork if he had to do at-home learning again (perish the thought), I might buy them. Maybe I’d take the time to write down the name of the small appliance repairman my friend mentions in passing. I can check the propane levels for our backup heating source and make sure I have lots of candles and flashlights stockpiled.

Maybe I can pick the stack of books up off the basement floor and store them in a plastic tote. I know that’s where I’m going to be storing wrapped Christmas gifts moving forward.

It can be a delicate balance – not overthinking what might happen, while understanding the importance of being prepared. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m heading off to put in an order for a propane delivery…just to be on the safe side.

What about you? Any contingencies you’ve planned for that you’ve ended up having to fall back on?

2021 Goal Recap + 2022 Forecasting

A few months ago I wrote about my 2021 Goals (it was really fun to go back and revisit this post!) and how I select and track annual goals. This year feels the same, but different – this time I’m brainstorming with my list of values physically printed out in front of me.

As we wind down 2021 (am I the only one ready to wave goodbye?)…I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my 2021 goals and see how I fared.

At the balancing rock. Not a goal, but represents the hikes I did NOT do!

2021 Goals

Run 10KPartialMaxed at 5K for running, but did run every day in September + lots of walking + recorded my highest monthly mileage in June.
Get new running shoesYesIt did involve bringing home (and agonizing over) 4 pairs – I actually made a rating grid to test them out on different features and ran with all of them multiple times on the treadmill – but finally checked this off my list in June. Re-reading the above I sound neurotic, but an uncomfortable pair of shoes is just the worst.
Get two massagesPartialOne in January.
Get away for at least 1 night with JohnYes, yes, yesWent to White Point for 2 nights thanks to his award-winning photograph. And, bonus, the food was included.
Publish 52 blog postsYes, yes, yesWill get to almost 150 by the end of the year. So excited I finally took the plunge on this creative outlet!
Hike the entire Duncan’s Cove Trail NoOverall did a lot less major hiking this year. That’s fine.
Read Great ExpectationsYesFinished January 24.
Re-read the whole Harry Potter series (maybe with Abby)Yes, yes, yesAbby and I both read these books (I read Book #1 aloud to both kiddos) + we’ve listened to the audiobooks + watched all the movies in 2021.
Get to X lbsNoBut I ate healthfully, exercised regularly, and am (mostly) happy where I’m at. I won’t add a specific weight goal for 2022.
Use more stickersYesI put stickers on letters I sent in the mail and placed them in my daytimer on days I had low moods. It was a note of whimsy, and also an easy way to see cyclical patterns, often related to hormone fluctuations.
Print off a book of quotesYesOrdered on October 6. This was a decades-long project and I was so happy to bring it to completion.
Print off 2020 photobookYesFebruary
Get a new house facadeIn progressMajor external renovations happening. New windows + a front door have been installed, additional insulation (our house was built in the 1970’s so the walls are thin and insulation was sparse) has been added, and metal siding and new gutters are currently going up!
Hang something over the couchCan I sneak in a partial?We bought a shelf to go to the left of the couch so that one big wall looks a little less lonely. I think I want to hang a giant mirror over here? It’s been four years of a very blank wall and it’s time to spruce things up!
Go to Amethyst CoveNoSee note above about hiking.
Go downhill skiing at least onceYes, yes, yesWent as a family over March Break and ended up with season passes for 2022 + John bought second-hand gear for the family.
Water fast 24 hours (x5)PartialNever completely a full 24 hours, but lots of intermittent fasting. I think intermittent fasting really does help with my energy levels, but I’m not feeling the need to extend to a full day.
Get rid of spider vein on foreheadIn progressTacked this on to an appointment at the dermatologist. Think it will take another laser treatment. It’s been bothering me for years.
Re-read: Grapes of Wrath, Off the Clock, Bread and Wine, and Gretchen RubinYesI did intend to reread all the Gretchen Rubin books I own and only got around to reading one, but I’m still checking this off as completed. All the rest of the books listed I did re-read.
Go for coffee with someone newYesMet two casual acquaintances at my favourite local coffee shop and have subsequently become a lot closer with both of them!
Get and use an Instant PotNoNot really interested anymore. Another big gadget to store and use and meals are working pretty well lately.


I also keep a running list of things that didn’t necessarily make the “goal” list, but I’m glad to have accomplished in the year. Some highlights from 2021:

Installed a new toilet in the en suite and fixed miscellaneous plumbing issues.
Submitted photos to Saltscapes photo competition (and John won!)
Planned and hosted a birthday party for Abby in March.
My audio question was played (and answered) on Best of Both Worlds. Between this podcast episode + Laura’s surveys for her upcoming Tranquility by Tuesday book, I gathered the momentum to start this blog!
Set up and started posting regularly (and SHU linked to some of my posts).
Had a call with Laura Vanderkam. As in the author whose book I have on my living room hutch!!! A phone call. With Laura!
Enjoyed another coffee with friend (and local author) Jan Coates.
Survived solo-parenting for the first time since March 2020.
Worked toward an exciting business acquisition opportunity.
Accepted an unexpected job offer pushing me back into the research sphere I left over a decade ago.
Read books with accompanying movies. Highlights included: Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Went to NB x3 when the border bubble was open. Had a great time at the lake.
Hosted my father-in-law – whom we hadn’t seen in 2 years – twice!
Participated in a ladies’ Bible Study at our new church.
Almost finished reading the whole Bible again…but then stopped at day 311.
Survived a month-long lockdown + return to at-home learning. The kids spread their proverbial wings with neighbourhood friends.
Hosted A LOT of playdates for the kids + even 2 sleepovers.
Did in-home date nights almost weekly the whole year.

looking ahead to 2022

I’m not sure how long this will make sense (somehow 50 goals in 2050 feels a bit excessive), but I have forged ahead and come up with 22 goals for 2022.

I put my butt in a chair and typed for 15 minutes and this is what I came up with – in no particular order. I’m glad to be starting now so I can ruminate a bit and tweak, remove, or edit. Obviously, I’m not tattooing these to my forehead, so it’s fine to modify the list as I go, but there is something satisfying about listing these intentions at the front of my annual planner and not touching them until year-end. It does feel very reno-heavy still, but 2022 should be the last big “push” in terms of upgrading our home!

Without further ado:

  1. Travel somewhere that requires an airplane. We had to cancel our much-anticipated trip to visit my sister in South Carolina in May 2020. I would love to be able to make it down to see her family, and it would mark Levi’s first trip on an airplane! Obviously, this goal is heavily dependent on COVID (as is much of life, it seems), and with the new variant, I’m also 100% at peace with the fact travel may not happen for a while yet. But it is nice to dream…
  2. Get away alone with John at least twice. Upping the ante for 2022. I would settle for one trip back to Paris, however unlikely (see #1).
  3. Take each child on a special date (not just popping into a coffee shop for a muffin – like an all-day sort of thing).
  4. Go to Grand Lake at least twice over the summer.
  5. Print off a photobook for 2021 (this feels a bit like cheating because I always do this and this particular photobook is already ~75% complete), but it’s my list…so I’m doing it.
  6. Run in an organized race. Doesn’t have to be timed, but something official with other people participating. A 5K Blue Nose event in Halifax, perhaps?
  7. Go out for coffee at least once a month with a friend.
  8. Finish reading (probably just to myself) all the Anne of Green Gables books. It has been almost two decades since I read the complete series.
  9. Get a blog comment from Laura Vanderkam and/or Gretchen Rubin.
  10. Research the steps to starting a podcast (I have a particular friend in mind I’d want to do this with; we joke about this possibility regularly and I’d love to make it a reality someday). This would be for fun, no pressure – just a bit of casual background research. AND/OR be a guest on someone else’s podcast!
  11. Get blinds/curtains for the windows and patio door in the living/dining room.
  12. Have all the bedrooms on the main floor painted. We haven’t painted or done any upgrades to the bedrooms since we moved in so I have no idea how old the existing paint is…but it’s definitely showing it’s age. (Plus get the trim painted and all the touch-ups from renovation work in the living room; bonus points if we get the pink tile in our en suite painted; bonus, bonus points if we introduce a note of whimsy – e.g. a pop of colour – in some of the bedroom closets).
  13. Upgrade electrical outlets on the main floor.
  14. Re-build the carport/expand the entry way. This is a big one, but after only a few months without it I am missing it!
  15. Get one week of meal-delivery kits.
  16. Enjoy at least three soup-and-sandwich oasis visits.
  17. Go out for a nice supper, just adults, when my brother and sister-in-law come from Denmark to visit Canada (COVID restrictions permitting) in the summer. It will be 3.5 years…I think, I’ve lost count?…since we last saw them.
  18. Go to the movies at least once with John and at least once with the kids.
  19. Get better at downhill skiing. Go at least once during the day without kids and go at least once at night to ski under the lights.
  20. Get a pair of (small) hoop earrings. I have never owned a pair of hoops.
  21. Get a dressier, down-filled puffer coat.
  22. Try to make a habit of Sunday-afternoon naps. I’ve had a hard time with Mondays this year, and I think going into the new week with a boost in my energy via a quick, restorative nap would be a great goal for 2022.

Life can take a lot of unexpected twists and turns in the run of a year (or even a day for that matter). I’ll likely have to abandon some of these aspirations, or at least be content for modified versions. But, for now, I say: bring on 2022! We’ll see how long my enthusiasm lasts…

What about you? Any specific goals/plans for the year ahead?

Header photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Saturday Bonus <> Christmas Decorations!!!

I talk about minimalism quite a bit here on the blog but have to admit I’m not sure where I fall on the scale in terms of Christmas decorations?

I feel like we decorate less than many other people?? But then I know others that do nothing at all by way of holiday decor.

Growing up, every surface in our house was transformed. Towels and potholders and candles and…everything…got switched out for something festive. I have very fond memories of the cheery atmosphere, but can’t imagine recreating the same level of holiday decor in my own house.


It sounds a bit ridiculous to describe my “decorating strategy”, but I do think I might be unique in this regard? I decorate from mid-November (we put up the little tree in the basement just before Levi’s birthday) right up until Christmas, putting out a few things at a time.

It feels less overwhelming to break the process into smaller chunks of time and I have the chance to slowly tweak things as I go (I’ll sometimes remove decorations that I’m finding to be a nuisance; for instance, earlier this week I switched out the Christmas cookie jar I had repurposed to hold our kitchen utensils as I was finding it to be impractical).

In terms of storage, my biggest tip would be to store decorations by zone/category. I have the downstairs (artificial) tree with all the ornaments and lights in a single spot in our storage room. I have another tote that is JUST things for the upstairs (real) Christmas tree – ornaments, lights, tree skirt, star. I wrap our mantle swag in garbage bags and stuff it into the rafters of our storage room and then put all the swag decorations in a single small box, which sits on top of the swag. All our artificial wreaths (3) go in a giant bag along with the metal wreath hangers. I have one more giant tote that is a catch-all for the remaining Christmas decorations – Abby’s mini-tree, Christmas books, festive stuffed animals and all the other accumulated miscellany. I would say about 30% of this stuff doesn’t get used and it’s definitely time to eliminate some of the items that are perpetually going unused; I have 2-3 Christmas platters I never use but always feel obligated to have on hand. I see dozens of them at thrift stores this time of year, so know I could replace them easily for very little expense if the need ever arose…

Now, without further ado, here is a little holiday tour of our home. Festive minimalism, I hope!


There isn’t much in terms of decoration downstairs.

I’ve been downstairs less this year and haven’t been able to enjoy this tree as much as usual. I do love coming down the stairs and seeing it turned on, but hopefully in the next week or so – as holiday movie-watching ramps up – I’ll really get the chance to bask in this fun little pop of Christmas cheer.
Festive pillow covers in the family room (which I really should iron). These were a few dollars and are so easy to store since they slip right off our existing cushions. I think I might try to find a string of holly berries for the floating shelf next year to bump up the festive factor of this corner a bit?
Levi’s LEGO contributions. We didn’t have the right pieces for the book-described Santa, but I still like this modified version we created together. Not pictured: two Christmas trees we created together pre-bedtime earlier this week!


The tree and the swag are our main decorations.

Abby decorated the swag by herself this year, and I love how it turned out. I leave the lights wound in from year-to-year, but package all the trimmings up in one small box. The star in the center has battery-operated lights, but I almost never go to the trouble of turning them on.

The little houses are just cut from blocks of scrap wood (my Dad did this), painted white, and then I used a gold Sharpie paint pen to put on doors and windows (which are mostly obscured by the swag).

I love our little hutch nook, and I give it the tiniest of facelights with some star ornaments ($Store) on the pussy willow branches, some bottle brush trees, more of those homemade white houses, and one little silver present ($Store) by our $3 thrift-store lamp.

Years ago I made several minimalist nativities (my Dad cut them out and Mom helped me stain and silhouette them); I gave all the rest of the sets away as gifts. I love putting this out at Christmas.

I usually string up our Christmas cards over the patio door, but since it has been recently refinished (but still needs paint touchups and a curtain) I didn’t have a logical place for cards. I ended up sticking them into a giant bowl, but this felt…decidely unfestive.

I decided to use some preexisting holes and string them over the kitchen sink. It’s not really enough space, so I can’t separate the cards out as much as I’d like…but it will do.

I’ve been gifted/thrifted most of our holiday decor, but I couldn’t resist these spatula’s at Winners last year.

Not pictured:

  • Abby has a little Christmas tree on her dresser
  • Levi seemed uninterested in the decorating, but did accept a tiny nativity set for his desk.
  • I have a wreath up in the bathroom and a festive tin to corral the toothbrushes/toothpaste.
  • The kids both put stockings on their doors
  • I have a wreath and stocking on our French door between the dining room/kitchen
  • A very cute Christmas nightlight.
  • Christmas magnets and some Christmas artwork we’ve done together on the fridge.


My parents received this Avon Under the Mistletoe Christmas Potpourri wax figurine for their first Christmas as a married couple (50 years ago this August!). It has broken in a few places but what’s important to me is the scent.

It smells like Christmas. Every single year I would sit and smell all the Christmas decorations as they came out of the giant tattered box and everything – right down to the box itself – smelled of this “Christmas Potpourri.” I almost cried the year my Dad got rid of that tattered cardboard box, but I shouldn’t have worried. A year in the new box and all the decorations, and the new box, smelled exactly like Christmas.

They say scent is the most potent trigger for memories and this is definitely the most distinctive scent from my childhood Christmases – maybe the most distinctive scent of my entire childhood? When John and I got married my Mom asked if I wanted to have the figurine. Yes, please!

It is my most treasured Christmas decoration and every item – from ornaments to stockings – are permeated with this scent!

Last year I found a duplicate at a local thrift store and bought it as a back-up…just in case. It smells the same as my inherited original, and I was glad to invest $3.99. This way, if one of my kids forms the same sentimental attachment, I can part ways with one figurine and still have one for myself!


Nothing. Does staging and sawdust count? We don’t even have working lights on the front of the house this year. I’ll ride the renovation excuse until I can’t…This just happened!

Halloween 2021
Christmas 2021 (the step got leveled a few hours ago…but I was too lazy to re-take the picture!)

Our neighbourhood isn’t known for going over-the-top with Christmas decorations (I feel like pressure to go all-out with exterior decorations spreads; if one person has an elaborate display everyone else feels the need to follow suit – or not).

Reposting this because…it just makes me laugh every time!

Next year I would love to have a bigger (real) wreath, some jugs filled with greenery and berries and a white spotlight on the whole thing? Maybe some lights wrapped around our front tree? We’ll see. For this year, having a completed exterior feels like more than enough (and our Christmas tree is very visible from the street as well; I love peering through windows and spotting interior trees, so we’ve careful to place our tree in a position for passersby to see it).

That’s a wrap. Fairly minimal but a friend (maybe she was just being kind?) told me she thought our house was very festive. I can’t/am not trying to compete with people who have elaborately themed trees or cover every surface with garlands and switch sheets, shower curtains – though how very fun and festive, and tea towels.

But when the lights are off and the tree comes on, it really does feel magical…

What about you? Any sentimental ornaments or decorations? Do you tend toward the minimal side or do you go all-in on the Christmas decor?

Here’s A Thought: Have a Running (Christmas) Gift List

Years ago, when my sisters were attending university in the US, they would get stopped going through the border on their way back to school in January. In addition to extra passengers and a year’s worth of clothing and supplies, they always had a trunk full of gifts for extended family. The border agent would chuckle and make some joke about people getting their gifts a bit late this year. And then my sisters would calmly explain these were actually gifts for next year.

I started Christmas shopping “late” this year. I usually start buying (and wrapping) items over the summer. But this time I’m committed to keeping things as minimal as possible. I want to buy things that are going to be appreciated and used – practical items, fun consumables, experiences, or something to honour special requests.

So far it’s going well. One of the biggest advantages – my digital list of gift ideas.

Hanging his Christmas Eve ornament – more on this fun tradition coming soon.

Last Christmas was one of my favourites. We weren’t sure if my parents were going to be able to join us because of provincial border closures. At the last minute (December 23rd to be exact) we learned they could come! It was an extra special celebration because I thought we would be spending Christmas alone (which would have been fine, but it’s always more fun to share the holidays with loved ones).

One major coup was streamlining meals. Instead of trying to cram all our favourite edible delights into a 3-4 day period around Christmas, we spread out the culinary experiences.

Christmas Day we had a nice breakfast, a simple (but delicious) charcuterie board + potato salad for lunch, and we put meatballs (a family favourite) in the slow cooker for supper. Then we headed off to Peggy’s Cove. It was 18 degrees Celcius – practically bathing suit weather – and it was so much fun to go on a Christmas Day adventure.

We have always done a turkey with all the fixings on Christmas Day, but meatballs were delicious and a lot less work (my Mom prepped them in advance and brought them over frozen)! Instead we cooked a turkey on Boxing Day and invited a widowed friend for an afternoon of food and card games, which was relaxing and delicious and fun.

Anyway…back to the aforementioned gift list. While we were en route to Peggy’s Cove I started writing down a dozen or so gift ideas for Christmas 2021. As in an event exactly 365 days away. Little hints people had dropped (a friend liked my long sundae spoons, Abby was interested in receiving a daytimer) or lingering ideas for items that hadn’t made it under the tree in 2020.

Throughout the year I’ve added to the list. I try to enter items as soon as I think of them and the triggers can come from anywhere at anytime – on the beach, in the middle of the night, during a rain storm (I kid you not, heavy rains just triggered me to go add – “Umbrella” to Levi’s wishlist; he’s been asking for one for months and I never wrote it down). *Update: I finally bought him an umbrella over the weekend, after I drafted this post*

I haven’t purchased all the items on my list* – some are no longer relevant and a few I sourced for birthdays instead – but it was so nice to sit down in November and place a big Amazon order for the Codenames game I realized my daughter wanted back on New Year’s Day, the silicone baking sheets my Mom had admired over Christmas 2020 and those long sundae spoons I’d been eyeing for a friend.

*I have been using the AnyList app for years and absolutely love it – I actually wrote another post about why I have so many running lists. This is the main screen of my account. It’s easy to add items to a list, and you just swipe to delete. At this point I have 17 items remaining on my Christmas list; at one point it was at 35. I think (?) there is a Pro account, but I’ve always just used the free portion and it has been more than sufficient.

I’m excited for people to open their gifts this Christmas. I think I’ve had some good ideas (can’t share yet because a few people getting gifts read this blog so any reveals will have to wait until the New Year).

But even with bits of wrapping paper still scattered on the floor, Christmas tunes pumping through the speakers, and a turkey roasting in the oven – I suspect this December 25th you’ll find me starting my list for Christmas 2022.

Bonus: Check out this podcast episode from Best of Both Worlds that talks about having an active gift list + the benefits of stockpiling a few extras (e.g. for impromptu birthday parties).

Header photo by Superkitina on Unsplash

I Moved My Deodorant…And It Kinda (Slightly) Changed My World

A pebble in my shoe; an eyelash in my eye. I’ve learned that little things, over time, can become big problems.

*[I constantly have rocks in my shoe – it’s a running joke in my family/circle of friends – but if I thought a little grit now and again was bad, I just finished reading 26 Marathons, a memoir by Meb Keflezighi which includes a horrifying story of running the 2011 NYC Marathon with a Breathe Right strip in his shoe – this was an accident, he intended to wear it on his nose – which ripped his foot to shreds and cost him valuable training time over the long term].

But sometimes little changes on little things can have a big (positive) impact.

We have a small en-suite bathroom in our home and ever since we moved in (over four years ago) I have been storing my deodorant in the top drawer of the bathroom vanity.

From Day 1 this has been a nuisance. I prefer to get dressed in our bedroom, so I either have to go get the deodorant before I’m ready to get dressed (annoying)…or apply it after getting dressed (a recipe for a white-streaked wardrobe disaster).

Then, very recently, I realized I could just store my deodorant in the top drawer of my dresser.

Such a small change, but it’s had a big impact. I’ve been doing this for several months now and I still get a thrill every time I open up my drawer and see my deodorant so conveniently nestled in with my socks (which I have never gotten around to folding a la Marie Kondo).

It reminds me of a story a friend told me years and years ago. My husband and I were moving between apartments and this friend was helping us unbox and organize the kitchen. As I oriented myself in the space – assigning all our plates and mixing bowls new homes – my friend started telling me a story I’ve never forgotten. An acquaintance of hers had moved into a house and one of the volunteer helpers had offered to unpack the kitchen supplies. It was a thoughtful gesture, with all the right motives, and one that was very much appreciated at the time. But apparently, for years, she was always frustrated by how her cups were located in the wrong spot in relation to the fridge, her plates and bowls were in the wrong cupboard for maximal efficiency when unloading the dishwasher. When she finally thought through how she would have arranged her kitchen, she made the necessary adjustments and flourished in her new environment. But it took years of inefficiency to prompt change.

Identify the problem. Then remember, sometimes a little adjustment can have a disproportionately big impact.