20 for 2020 + 21 for 2021

Today is the final day of 2020. I think I speak for all of us when I say WHAT. A. YEAR. Looking back on my goals for 2020, it’s almost comical to see how I had absolutely NO idea what was in store for us. Obviously, many of my goals had to be adjusted or removed altogether, but it’s also nice to look back and see what all we did get done. We made it through a year unlike any other and while it was full of many many challenges, it was also full of joy. We still experienced fun, laughter, love, and accomplishment even in the midst of lots of difficulties and unknowns. It’s definitely a year I will never forget!

You can read my initial post about my plans for this year here. Let’s dive in and see how reality matched up with my goals for this year!

1 – Plan a dreamy office/reading room. DONE! And I could not love it more. You can check out the reveal post here

2- Select pictures for family photo albums. Ugh. This one and the next one were repeats from my list from 2019 and once again they did not get completed. Honestly, it’s intimidating to tackle such a large project and I need a big amount of time to complete it, so maybe for 2021 I need to break it down into even smaller, more manageable chunks.

3  – Create family photo albums Nope 😦

4 – Update the Simplify the Chaos website Done! All the homepage’s menu tabs have been updated and I’ve been able to keep up with updating them as I add posts and projects. I feel like this makes the navigation on my blog much smoother and I’m happy with accomplishing this one.

5 – Replace basement carpet. We looked at samples, got a quote for new carpet, and were discussing a plan to save up for it, but then the pandemic hit. With no one coming over to our house and other, more pressing home projects popping up (like our A/C system dying in June), this item got intentionally removed from the list. We’ll address it someday, but it’s not a priority right now.

One thing we DID do in the basement was sell Justin’s recliner from college. That was on my 2019 list and it sure felt good to finally cross it off! πŸ˜‰

One last rock for old times sake πŸ˜‰

6 – Update book recommendations list. Done! You can check out the updated post of my top book recommendations here.

7 – Get a dip manicure. Done! I had a girls night out with a few friends and one of our stops was the nail salon. This manicure was unlike any I’ve ever had before – I loved the feel of the powder! It was like sinking into the softest sand.

It did almost have a fake quality to it – there was so much on my nails that it looked like a bubble sitting on top (as if I had a fake nail pressed on). I’m not sure if I loved that look? I think part of the reason was because my nails weren’t very long, so I’d be interested to try it again with longer nails.  It was also a little weird to type on my computer because my nails were so much thicker than normal! It lasted for weeks, which I loved, but I did not like that I had to go back into the salon to have it removed – it made the manicure feel both low and high maintenance at the same time.

8 – Invest in footwear with a purpose. This didn’t happen this year, mostly because I was leaving my house so rarely that new shoes didn’t really make sense. I’m including this on my list for next year though!

9 – Try at least 5 brand new (to me) foods. Done! I tried a new Mexican street food dish at a local food truck, the special sauce burger as recommended at a local restaurant (normally I go boring and don’t get new sauces), and my friend Amber made us a dinner from a Jerusalem cookbook where I tried three new dishes, all of which were delicious!

10 – Set up a 529 for Vi. Done!

11 – Read 60 books. Done! I was able to read 64 books this year and you can access all the reviews for each book on my ‘Bookworm‘ tab.


12 – Take a continuing education class. This one got eliminated from my list after I discovered that in Indiana, there is no penalty for letting your teaching license expire. Should I decide to go back to teaching in five years, I’ll simply need to meet the same requirements that I would’ve had to meet to keep my license current.  I may as well wait until I know that I want to go back to teaching before investing the time and money in keeping my teaching license current. So this was one I was happy to just remove from my to-do list for now.

13 – Host a big summer party. The pandemic prevented us from the big summer bash we hoped for, but we were still able to have a smaller scale outdoor gathering. My immediate family tries to get together every summer on a Saturday. It’s an all-day event we’ve started calling the Washerdrum (because the first year, my brother-in-law discovered an actual washing machine drum in a remote corner of the pond!) While it was just my parents, my two sisters, and one brother-in-law this time, we enjoyed a gorgeous day outside grilling and swimming and that felt like a huge win for 2020!

14 – Update Vi’s room. Done! I did a very simple scalloped accent wall and added a little gallery wall of artwork and now it feels fresh and fun and just right for our baby girl.


15 – Plan a family staycation. Done! We explored a new-to-us park and playground downtown and checked out a local food truck.

16 – Take LJ to swimming lessons. This one didn’t happen because again, pandemic, but I am making it a top priority for 2021!

17 – Create something. This was a really vague goal of mine at the beginning of the year, but I do feel like I have been able to stretch some creative muscles, particularly with home projects. Things like our using date night to build DIY shelves, making over an old dresser, tricking out the Secret Nook, renovating the basement kitchen (especially painting the tile floors and counter top!), and designing and building a play kitchen for our kids have been a fun way for me to channel creativity while staying home.


18 – Have professional family photos taken. Done! We had a photographer come out to our house in August for Vi’s one-year-old photo shoot and we’re so thrilled to have a few wonderful family photos. LJ putting his arm around Vi was totally unprompted and the sweetest thing ever!

Photo Credit: Natalie Joy Photography

19 – Actually use my InstantPot. You would think this would have been an easy thing to do with all this time at home, but apparently that is not the case haha. I still need to use this!

20 – Host at least 4 game nights. We have had immediate family (my parents once, my sisters together once, and my sister and brother-in-law once) come to our house and played games each time. It’s not really what I envisioned with this goal, but with 2020, we’ll take what we can get! I’m also very thankful for technology and our ability to play virtual games with our larger families and our small group while staying safer at home this year. I’m hopeful that by the end of 2021 we’ll be able to have more friends and family over for more game nights!

And now, let’s look ahead at my goals for 2021!

21 for 2021

1- Get involved with our church’s foster care ministry. Foster care is something that has been on my heart for years and I really want to get involved in a meaningful way with helping to support our church’s ministry and those who foster children.

2- Sort through 2013 pictures and create 2013 family album. I’m narrowing this goal down to just one year – the first year we were married. I think that’s manageable and hopefully I can get through this task finally!

3- Register for Be The Match registry. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time!

4- Take LJ to swimming lessons.

5- Invest in footwear with a purpose.

6- Continue to “level up” small areas of our house. There are many areas of our house that I’ve worked on already but I want to go back through and add a few new elements to (a lamp and ottoman to my reading corner in the office, a new light in the playroom, a different full length mirror in the guest room, etc).

7- Exercise at least 3 times a week. I used to be so consistent with exercise, but this past year has been tough and I haven’t prioritized movement and myself as much as I should. I’m committing to moving much more in 2021!

8- Give our bedroom some TLC. All we have done to our main bedroom since moving in is install a new ceiling fan and paint the walls white. It’s boring and uninspiring, plus it’s time upgrade some things like our mattress and linens. It probably won’t be a full blown renovation, but our room definitely needs some attention and I’m already deep in the planning stages!

9- Commit to less screen time. 2020 had lots of staying at home and scrolling, and I absolutely want to cut back on that and be more present with my family.

10- Learn how to use at least two new tools. I want to be a more active part of the building processes in our DIYs!

11- Paint the main floor of our house. It’s all brown and it’s time for a new look!

12-Invest in a good night cream and eye cream. I’ve slowly been upgrading skin care as I find products that I love. This year I want to focus on finding a good quality night cream and eye cream (so my skin can rejuvenate as I sleep on our new mattress haha!)

13- Explore three new-to-us places in our surrounding area. While I hope 2021 is better than 2020, I don’t anticipate big vacations quite yet. I still want to take some day trips to local parks, trails, and local (preferably outdoor) attractions and would love to find some new places!

14- Build planter boxes for our patio.

15- Create/enjoy a new family tradition. This year we poured some hot chocolate and drove around to look at lights – I can definitely see that becoming a yearly tradition! I’d love to keep finding small things that can become “our” family’s traditions.

16- Organize our utility room. The small room in between our garage and basement living area is in desperate need of organization!

17- Replace the boob lights in our house. If you know, you know.

18- Wake up before kids to have quiet time to start the day. I’m a morning person, and now that our kids are sleeping in a little more and I’m not up at 5 am to breastfeed, I want to wake up early to do my devotions, eat my breakfast, and start the day with a little quiet time. I think this will go a long way in making my days feel less chaotic.

19-Swap out our living room throw pillow cases. Our pillow cases are in rough shape and I want to actually take time this year to replace them.

20- Support small businesses as much as possible. Whenever purchases need to be made, I really want to try to support small businesses (bonus if they’re local) as much as I can.

21-Set aside one date night each week. Even if it’s just a basement couch date watching a movie, I want to carve out intentional time regularly to connect with Justin and not focus on kids/house/work/adulting.

Happy New Year!

Top 10 Books of 2020

As this year draws to a close (tomorrow!) I thought it would be fun to do something new and write a roundup of my favorite reads/best books I read in 2020. I read a ton of great books this year, and it was surprisingly difficult to cut it down to a top ten. There’s a wide variety of genres represented (rom com, thriller, historical fiction, courtroom drama, memoirs, and more) and looking at my list, these are the books that shaped me, challenged me, and entertained me the most this year.

Initially I thought I’d combine this with my monthly book review, but then I ended up reading a LOT of books in December and the post would have just been way too long. So stay tuned for the monthly book review recap coming soon!

My Top 10 Reads of 2020

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

A highly addictive courtroom drama with so many layers to the characters and their stories: the struggles of an immigrant family, the toll of infertility on a marriage, the complex emotions involved with parenting a child with special needs. This would be an excellent choice for a book club! Read my full review here.

To Have and to Hold: Motherhood, Marriage, & the Modern Dilemma by Molly Millwood

Written by a psychologist, this is an intimate look at the challenges many mothers face. It is validating, vulnerable, and incredibly relatable. Find my review here and a full blog post I wrote further expounding on it here.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

Incredibly powerful memoir that first started to challenge my worldview and recognize my white privilege before I even really understood what that meant. A very important read! Find my full review here.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

A fresh and fun rom com about two flatmates who agree to share an apartment on opposite schedules so they never (intend to) meet each other. Full review here.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

A deeply moving and vulnerable memoir written by Chanel Miller, the victim in an infamous campus rape case. She gives a voice to so many other women in this heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful read. Full review here.

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

One of my favorite rom coms ever, this delightful mixture of sweet + sexy rom com also showed very likeable characters dealing with real-world problems and struggles. Full review here.

How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

How to Be an Antiracist by [Ibram X. Kendi]

Challenging, convicting, inspiring, hopeful, powerful. This book felt part memoir part motivational speaker and is easily one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Read my full review here.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

This nonfiction book tells the story of Bryan Stevenson’s life working as a lawyer representing those who are often overlooked by our criminal justice system: the poor, the wrongly accused, and those condemned on death row. It can be overwhelming to realize there is so much work to still be done, but ultimately this book left me feeling passionate and hopeful. Read my full review here.

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight: A Novel by [Julie Clark]

This heart-pumping, fast-paced thriller had me hooked from the beginning. I love a good thriller that isn’t gory or creepy and this one nailed it! Read my full review here.

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

An elderly Polish grandmother with a big secret and one dying wish, a granddaughter who travels halfway around the world to fulfill it. Alternating timelines of Nazi-occupied Poland and present-day. This is historical fiction at its best! Read my full review here.

Honorable Mentions

I couldn’t end this post without including a few books that just barely missed the cut of my top 10 (and honestly, there were several books that just barely missed this honorable mention list, but I had to stop somewhere!)

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

Full review here.

Regretting You by Colleen Hoover

Regretting You by [Hoover, Colleen]

Full review here.

Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams

Her Last Flight: A Novel by [Beatriz Williams]

Full review here.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Full review here.

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

The Authenticity Project: A Novel by [Clare Pooley]

Full review here.

I keep a running list of all my previous reads over on my ‘Bookworm‘ tab, so you can always use that as a resource to access all my previous reviews.

Here’s to more great reading in 2021!

Our DIY Play Kitchen!

Tomorrow is Christmas and we finished up kids’ gift just in time: a play kitchen built from scratch!

Originally I hoped to re-purpose an old TV entertainment center, but after spending hours scouring Facebook marketplace and multiple thrift stores around town, I came up empty. With only two weeks left before Christmas, I was too crunched for time to keep searching. So instead, we decided to build one!

My brainstorming session started with a Pinterest search, where I found this play kitchen from West Elm. I fell in love with the look, but definitely not with the price. I knew Justin and I could come up with something similar for a lot less than $600.

So with that as a starting block, here’s where we ended up!

I’m so incredibly pleased with how this turned out and I can’t wait for our kids to see it tomorrow morning!

If you’re interested in how we created this play kitchen from scratch in just under two weeks, buckle up, because I’ve got all the details below. πŸ˜‰

How We Created Our DIY Play Kitchen


-5/8″ width plywood

-1/2″ width plywood

-2″ dowel rod

-3 door handles

-1×3″ board

-6 small door hinges

-5/8″ edge banding

-wood stain

-3 wooden knobs

-3/4″ drain pipe

-8×8 nonstick cake pan


-1 small knob

-wood glue

-gorilla glue

-wood stain

-white paint

-black spray paint

Tools we used included: miter saw, nail gun, circular saw, drill press, jig saw, and kreg jig. We also used a few pieces of scrap wood throughout the project.

We started out with a simple outline I drew up. The nice thing about building from scratch is that I could choose exactly the dimensions that would work for our space. I decided on 36″ high and 48″ wide (divided equally to make the fridge, stove, and sink each 16″ wide).

I highly highly recommend sketching up as much as you can beforehand; it helps you visualize what steps you need to take to make everything and also what materials you’re going to need. Below you can see how I sketched out the frame and all the shelves and marked where all the kreg jigs (KJ) would go. On the right you can see where I calculated how many pieces of each length of board I would need. This didn’t take long to sketch up, but was really helpful in calculating materials and forming a plan of attack.

We started with a sheet of plywood in a 5/8″ width. The sheets are 4’x 8′ and because of my sketches and planning, I knew that we could make the entire frame out of one sheet. Justin set up a guide using a long piece of oak to make a super straight cut and piled a few pieces of old laminate and scrap wood to add weight to make sure the plywood didn’t bow at all.

He used a circular saw to the sheet of plywood into three equal strips – because the width of the saw blade takes away a fraction with each pass, these strips ended up being just under 16″ wide. Then he used his miter saw to cut each strip into the lengths we needed.

Justin started out by building the frame of each section, using kreg jigs to connect each of the pieces together. He also used wood glue and clamps in a few places to make the frame extra secure. (Also, I always feel like I need to preface pictures in our garage by saying we’re not really Nascar fans haha. That sign is leftover from the previous owners and we just never took it down).

After the frame was finished, Justin cut down an old piece of 1/4″ thick plywood to create the backing.

He attached this plywood to the back of the frame with a nail gun. (Can we take a moment to appreciate the outfit? πŸ˜‰ It was COLD in that barn!)

Justin also cut down a scrap 1×3 and attached it underneath the “countertop” in the sink and oven sections using another kreg jig. I needed this piece so I had a space to attach oven knobs, and it just visually made sense to also have one in the sink section as well.

Next up was the shelves! Originally we thought we’d atttach these with more kreg jigs, but instead Justin just cut each shelf down to size and attached them with a nail gun.

Notice that he specifically cut the shelves so that they stopped short of the front edge – this is to accommodate the width of the door so the doors could be inset (flush with the sides).

After all the shelves were in place, we moved on to the legs. Justin bought a 2″ diameter dowel rod and cut it down into four 4″ long pieces. He measured out the center of each dowel rod and used a drill press to predrill a hole in the center of each one.

We marked out where each leg was going to go and Justin predrilled a hole in where each one was going to go.

It’s possibly overkill, but we used 3″ screws to attach the legs. We wanted them to be very secure and this definitely did the trick!

For the doors, Justin used a 1/2″ sheet of plywood to cut each size we needed. Because that width is hard to attach hinges to, he cut down a piece of scrap wood and screwed a small block to the door so he had a place to attach the hinge. If you want to avoid this extra step, you can just use a wider board to make the door.

With the frame, shelves, legs, and doors in place, it was my turn! I used my favorite Kilz primer on the doors and then painted two coats of Sherwin Williams Dot to Dot in Satin. I had this paint leftover from a previous project and it worked perfectly!

Next up was to put edge banding on all the front-facing plywood boards. I appreciate the lightweight nature and inexpensive cost of plywood, but not the look haha! I bought this 5/8″ edge banding to create the look of a solid piece of wood. It comes with a dried adhesive on the back that is heat activated. I heated up an iron to the “cotton” setting (a fairly high heat), held my edge banding in place against the side of the plywood, and ran the iron over it to activate the glue. I worked in roughly 4-6 inch sections and ran the iron back and forth over each section for about 20 seconds or so. It was a slower process, but look at the difference it made on the left vs. right!

The best part of this edge banding is it is paintable and stainable, so I could give it the same look as the rest of the plywood. I tested out some stains that we already had and quickly settled on this one.

On a trip to my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, I hit the jackpot with some inexpensive finds to complete the kitchen. I found some simple rounded silver handles for 50 cents each that were perfect for the doors, some wooden knobs that I thought would make cute oven knobs (pack of 5 knobs for $2!), and a drain hose ($6) and knob (50 cents) for the faucet. For less than $10, it was such a great score!

I spray painted the wooden knobs and settled on three for the front of the oven. I measured out and drilled three holes in the front and LOVE how they turned out.

To create the look of an oven, I made a 10″ x 7.5″ rounded template on piece of paper and traced it on the back of the oven door. Justin then used a jigsaw to cut out a hole and sanded down the edges.

I then took the plastic inserts from from a large Ikea frame I had (I don’t like the shine it creates on my pictures!) and cut down two pieces to 12″ x 9.5″ to have some overlap. These cut easily with scissors, but I would recommend trying out a small test piece first because there’s a learning curve to how you need to hold the plastic and cut in order to not have a chipped edge.

I spray painted one piece black and left the other clear. I used gorilla glue to glue the black one down first (keeping the spray painted side facing away from the hole of the oven door). Then I glued the clear piece on top of the spray painted side to keep the paint from getting scratched during playtime.

Next up was the burners! I took a long piece of scrap shiplap that we trimmed off when working on our office project and cut it down into 16 pieces just short of 3 inches each. I spray painted each strip black and after they dried, I squeezed a very thin line of wood glue onto the back of each one.

I created a little asterisk pattern with these strips to create two little burners. I think they turned out so cute!

Last up was the sink area! Originally, I bought a small plastic tub that I was going to create a sink but I didn’t realize it had a small lip that would prevent it from laying flush. So we quick did a curbside pickup for a little 8×8 cake pan from Target to use instead. We traced an outline right on the countertop (the smaller one is from the first plastic tub we didn’t use, the larger one is from the cake pan we did use).

Justin used his jigsaw to cut out this hole and the cake pan fit in perfectly!

To create the faucet, we used this 3/4″ drain pipe tube that I found at the ReStore. Can you see how one end is already perfectly formed like a faucet?

I used painters tape to mark where to cut the hose at and used a utility knife to create a clean cut.

We marked where we wanted the faucet and Justin used a 1″ drill bit to create a hole.

This next part felt very MacGyver-y. We cut the tube to length so about 2 inches would stick out in the bottom sink cabinet. We then spliced the part that would be under the counter into four pieces.

Justin screwed each spliced section up into the bottom part of the cabinet so that the faucet couldn’t be pulled out the top. We also stuck a small piece of scrap wood in the tube to help keep its upright shape.

Then he screwed a scrap piece of wood under all the spliced sections – the purpose of this was to keep the faucet from being pushed down into the hole.

It might not look pretty, but will keep the faucet in place securely now. It can’t be pushed down or pulled up!

Lastly, I spray painted the little gold knob that I bought for 50 cents black and we drilled through the tube (and wood inside) to screw it in place and create a little faucet handle.

All in all, I’m VERY pleased with how this project turned out! And because we thrifted a ton of materials and already had lots of things like the stain, paint, screws, scrap wood, etc, the project ended up costing us around $80.

The kitchen has already been tested out and if Justin is any indication, the kids will have fun with this tomorrow morning. πŸ˜‰


(Note: Most of what I used was thrifted or scrap material, but here’s what I used that I have sources for!)

-Paint: Sherwin Williams Dot to Dot in Satin

Black Spray Paint

Cake Pan (for sink)

edge banding (affiliate link)

wood stain

-the plastic inserts came from these Ikea frames

A Roundup of All Our 2020 Projects!

If you follow with me on Instagram, you may have seen that Justin and I are currently in the middle of our last project of 2020: building a play kitchen for our kids’ Christmas present! With only three days left until Christmas we’re definitely in crunch time; you can follow along @simplifythechaos to see if we pull it off in time. Fingers crossed!

2020 has been a year full of projects both big and small and I thought it’d be fun to spend some time today re-capping everything we did this year, One positive to all this time spent at home means we were able to tackle a few projects that we weren’t expecting to accomplish and it’s fun to look back and see all the changes our house went through!


It’s hard to count how many total things we did, because many rooms included multiple projects, but overall we addressed 11 different spaces in our house and also a DIY present for my baby niece. Let’s take a trip down memory lane!

Guest Bedroom + Bathroom

The very first project we completed was a huge renovation to our guest suite (little did we know just how few guests we would end up having in 2020!) We completely gutted the guest bathroom . . .


. . . and the guest bedroom got upgraded with a new window, fresh paint, updated trim, and a more functional linen cabinet!


Dresser Makeover

I love quick, inexpensive, and high impact projects so I loved this $50 dresser makeover I completed for my new baby niece’s bedroom!

Basement Refresh

Our basement has a very large living space and while I have more planned for the future, it was nice to spend some time on a few quick updates like removing old trim, painting, and adding some accent pieces.

Simple DIY Book Shelves

In the early days of social distancing, Justin and I had so much fun making these little bookshelves for our DIY Date Night!


Secret Nook

After finishing up those little shelves, I was inspired to give a little makeover to the little secret nook under the stairs. It may only be 7 square feet of space, but this little room now packs a big punch!

Secret Nook 2

Scalloped Wall in Vi’s Room

When I was pregnant, we didn’t find out the sex of the baby so the nursery was just plain white walls that felt pretty lackluster. I enjoyed using leftover paint from the dresser project to create a simple scalloped accent wall for the nursery and it made a huge difference!


Basement Kitchen

I joined the One Room Challenge and spent 8 weeks renovating our basement kitchen. This was FULL of DIY projects: painting floor tiles, painting cabinets, installing a butcherblock countertop, painting laminate counters, and new window trim. It was a huge and incredibly rewarding project!

$1500 Kitchen Renovation!

Patio Entryway

Directly to the left of the basement kitchen, the floor tile wraps around to the door out to our patio. Since I had painted the tile already, it made sense to give this entryway a much needed organizational and aesthetic refresh as well. My favorite part? That yellow door!

Modern, Bright Entryway Makeover

$0 Bathroom Makeover

We have an extra bathroom off our laundry room that doesn’t get regular use, but is visible from the door leading from the garage so it is seen every time we come in and out of the house. It was an eyesore! I didn’t want to put money into it since eventually I’d love to gut the space and extend the laundry room, so I did a makeover using only materials we already had. I LOVE how it turned out!

$0 Bathroom Makeover

Basement Dining Room

For the space in the basement between the TV/lounge space and the kitchen, we created a little dining area. Justin built a table (I’m so impressed!) from scrap wood that was left from the previous homeowner and I spray painted some chairs I found for $2 each on Facebook marketplace.

Budget Dining Room Transformation-3

Kids’ Bathroom

We gave a quick and easy cosmetic update to the bathroom that our kids share – a fun, bold paint color, a new light fixture and mirror, and functional updates like DIY shelves and towel hooks.

Kids Bathroom-16

Home Office

And lastly, perhaps my favorite renovation so far, was our home office! This room was also full of DIY projects: the vertical shiplap, the trim and crown molding, and of course, those glorious built ins! I love, love, love this room!

WHEW! That’s a wrap on our 2020 projects. While I’m already dreaming of what we might do next in 2021, it’s nice to just take a minute to sit back, enjoy our home, and be grateful for all we were able to do this year.

Holiday Home Tour 2020

We’re officially ONE WEEK away from Christmas! I’ve been feeling extra festive all week, so today I’m going to give a little tour of my home decorated for the holidays.

But first, a disclaimer: we have a three-year-old and a one-year-old running around, so all decorations within their reach (and I’m constantly surprised by what all they can reach haha!) need to be toddler friendly. On top of that, we’re not hosting any Christmas parties or having any people over right now, so no one outside our family is even seeing our house. All that to say, my decorating this year was more minimal than normal. I kept things simple by focusing on a few areas throughout the house that we use the most frequently.

It’s easy to feel discouraged by my efforts when I see all the gorgeously decorated homes circulating social media these days. It seems like every holiday tour features a showstopper house! But the reality is, our family life is not conducive to a picture-perfect home at this point in time. And someday when I’m able to go all out and decorate my house the way I want to, I know I’ll miss the simple little Christmases when my kids were little. The sticky fingers baking Christmas cookies, the sweet little holiday crafts, the wonder in their eyes as they look at the lights on the tree or delight in an ornament with their picture on it, their little bodies curled up next to mine as we watch a Christmas movie together. These little people years are magical too, so I am going to proudly document our home as it looks for this stage in our family’s life.

I snapped this photo the other day when I was working in the office and they were drawing. I love how it looks like they’re both writing letters to Santa ha! I love my sweet little Christmas-pajama wearing elves.

Ok – on to the tour! Our living room is the main area we hang out in as a family, and with the large bay window, it makes for an obvious choice for our Christmas tree. My favorite is at night when the lights from the tree reflect on all the windows – it feels truly magical!

I’ve said it before, but every year my favorite ornaments are the ones that show our “first” years. First year married, and then first year for both our kids. Since LJ was born around Thanksgiving, his got to be extra festive πŸ˜‰

Since our house does not have a fireplace, we use our stair railing instead. I string garland down the railing and then hang all six of our stockings (two adults, two kids, two dogs!) on the living room side of the railing. I love using monogram ornaments to mark everyone’s stocking.

We learned pretty quickly with toddlers that we can’t keep anything on our end tables without getting knocked off, so this kid-friendly wooden nativity set is a perfect option! The barn was made from an older man at my church who became a kind of surrogate grandfather for me over the years and it is very special to me. His granddaughter made all the people out of dowel rods, scrap cloth, and pipe cleaner – this could easily be a family craft project if you want an inexpensive nativity for kids to play with! My kids love it!

Christmas pillows are another easy, kid-friendly way to add a festive feel.

Macie approves of my Christmas blanket. πŸ˜‰

I used the large cased opening from the living room to the playroom to hang our mistletoe. I love that this view also shows the reindeer sign and nativity on the shelf – just a few little sprinkles of Christmas in a room that needs to stay functional for playtime.

I also keep a little basket on the shelf for all our holiday books!

Once the office was completed, I moved all my things out of the little desk area in our kitchen and that space became a little craft zone for LJ. It’s where we store all his stickers, crayons, coloring books, etc and right now it holds a few toddler-friendly Christmas items too.

LJ also made a little Christmas tree decoration that he chose to hang on the door to his secret nook which I think is just about the most precious thing ever!

Our dining room was kept very minimal this year with just a simple runner and centerpiece. We let the winter wonderland outside be the star!

My office is the one area that I decorated just for me. The rest of the house is minimal and toddler-friendly, but this is the one room I decorated the way I wish I could decorate the entire house. Needless to say, I love it!

Even if toddler-reach wasn’t a concern, right now we don’t really have a lot of surfaces throughout the house where I can put Christmas decor. The new built-in shelves basically quadrupled (or more!) the amount of surface space I had to put decorations. Truthfully, I still don’t have a ton to fill the shelves but it’s more in here than in any other room and I love how the little decor swaps make it seem so festive!

I wish I could include this scent over the blog – it’s just the perfect subtle Christmas-y blend!

It might sound silly, but my absolute favorite part of my holiday house is this little ornament. It makes me so happy! I love my little Charlie Brown olive tree.

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Not Christmas-y, but I am loving the contrasts between holiday red and vintage gold, and I feel like this gorgeous book cover just brings them together beautifully.

That wraps up this year’s decorations! I like to layer in new things over the years, so it really is fun to document what our house Christmas looks like right now since it’s probably the only year it will exactly like this.

Thanks for joining the tour!

Shopping Small for Simple Toddler Christmas Gifts

I looked at my calendar today and was startled to realize that Christmas is next week. Next. Week! This has been such a strange year that has felt so surreal and slow at times, yet here we are so close to Christmas!

Our tree is set up with my favorite ornaments taking front and center!

Our Christmas celebrations look a little different this year for many reasons, and one unexpected thing that is changing this year for us is gifts. As in, I’m actually going to give our kids some. Ha!

I’m a pretty minimal-ish person and while I do love gifts, I don’t like getting stuff just for the sake of having presents. Last year, we left the gift giving mostly to grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. and kept our family Christmas very small and simple (I even wrapped up some library books for LJ to unwrap and enjoy for three weeks until they were returned – it worked like a charm!)

This year, I decided to ramp up our celebration a bit for two reasons. One, LJ is getting older and understands more of what’s going on – it’s so fun to see his pure joy and excitement opening presents, even small ones. And two, this year has been a hard year for small businesses. This pandemic has caused many small businesses to take a big hit and it became extra important to me to support them with my purchases.

Each year, I try to be intentional with the gifts I personally give my kids and the items that we put on our wish list. Last year, I wrote a post about non-toy gift ideas and also one about intentionally gifting toys with a greater purpose (fair trade, sustainable, eco-friendly, small business, philanthropic mission, etc. The post also includes my favorite brands/shops!) and my philosophy hasn’t changed, so those are good posts to check out to see where I get ideas for gifts. Disclaimer: I understand that items that fit these categories often cost more or are less accessible, and I recognize both the convenience and affordability of big box stores or online companies like Amazon. My children of course get gifts outside of these preferences and that is 100% OKAY. I’m certainly not perfect (you’ll see a couple things I got them are even from the dollar bins at Target) and I don’t expect anyone else to be! While these are goals/preferences, they’re by no means requirements and we’re grateful for and appreciative of each and every gift regardless.

While all the other things listed above are important to me, this year I focused on small businesses first. I tried my best to include products on my kids’ wish lists that are made by smaller brands, but I also encouraged our families to consider purchasing more mainstream toys at local small businesses if possible. A few things on my kids’ wish lists this year were:

PlanToys play food – I love this company’s sustainable mission: sustainable material, sustainable manufacturing, sustainable mind. Bonus that my mom was able to purchase the food and beverage set, breakfast set, veggie set, and fruit set from a locally-owned small business!

A screengrab of Vi opening a PlanToys phone at Justin’s family’s Christmas – she loves it!

Cuddle + Kind dolls – these dolls are high-quality, adorable, and fair trade PLUS with each purchase, the company donates money to humanitarian organizations that provide meals to those in need. Vi has two dolls already (Penelope and Stella) that she carries around everywhere and this year we asked for either Mia or Charlotte.

Bows from Etsy shops – I love having cute bows for Vi and supporting a small business at the same time. I particularly love this one and this one.

Books – We requested books from local small businesses for both kids!

Chalkfull of Design – LJ received a personalized name chalkboard from this small business this year and he’s so excited to practice writing his name!

As for the gifts we’re personally giving this year, I still didn’t get a ton of things, but I did get more than originally anticipated since I wanted to support local small businesses. I thought I’d just show you what I got!

Since Vi is only one and still doesn’t really understand what is going on (and we all know how I feel about clutter haha), she isn’t getting as much as LJ. Even so, I know she’ll love these items! Both she and LJ currently love bathtime so I snagged a few bathtub finger paints for her stocking. The Poke-a-Dot book was found at a small business in my parent’s hometown and I’m so excited for her to unwrap it! She loves books and this one makes fun popping noises that I know she’ll have fun with.

LJ has a few more items since he’s older and understands what is going on. He’s going through a phase where he requests a band-aid for every “injury” (a small bump on the head, tiny scratch on the finger, etc) so he’ll love the PJ Masks bandages! I purchased a cute little tractor + wagon and some farm animals at a locally-owned toy store in Justin’s hometown and I know these will be huge hits for him! I’m putting the tractor and bandages in his stocking and wrapping up the coloring book and animals.

If you follow me on Instagram, you might know that we’re currently in the process of building our main present for the kids: a play kitchen! They’ll be getting play food from other relatives, but since our Christmas is first, I wanted them to at least have something to unwrap and play with when they receive the kitchen. I found this adorable Melissa and Doug cookware set at a local small business and it’s perfect!

I’m also going to wrap up this cute African basket so they have something to carry their fruits and veggies in. I found this at another small business in Justin’s hometown and will wrap it up and let Vi open it since she didn’t get as many gifts as LJ.

While I’m so glad we were able to shop small for many gifts, I want to reiterate that we’re not perfect or expecting anyone else to be. If anything, I’m hoping that by being transparent about all the things I’m giving our kids, both the things from the Target dollar bin and the things from local small businesses, you’ll be encouraged to find a balance that works for you. Maybe that’s trying to find just one gift from a small business. Maybe that’s just focusing on stocking stuffer gifts from small businesses. Maybe it’s asking family members to try to shop small for gifts for you or your kids. For me, the goal isn’t perfection, it’s to try to be more intentional when and if I can. πŸ™‚

Of course, Christmas is certainly about more than just gifts, and we incorporate a lot more than presents into our celebrations, but knowing a few of these gifts helped support small businesses this year does make the celebration seem sweeter. I can’t wait for Christmas morning!

November 2020 Book Reviews

After this past month’s reading, all I can say is “wow.” While they are all very different from one another, each of the three books I read was powerful in its own way, and each one was just so incredibly well written. I’m so excited to talk about them today!

Transcendant Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

The collaboration that the mice and I have going in this lab is, if not holy, then at least sacrosanct. . . I’m aware that the Christians in my life would find it blasphemous and the scientists would find it embarrassing, but the more I do this work the more I believe in a kind of holiness in our connection to everything on Earth. Holy is the mouse. Holy is the grain the mouse eats. Holy is the seed. Holy are we.

Gifty has seen struggle and suffering around her for most of her life. Her parents struggled to find good jobs in Alabama and provide for their children after immigrating from Ghana. Her brother struggled to cope with a sports injury in high school and became addicted to drugs. Her suicidal mother has battled depression while tightly clinging to her faith for much of her adult life. And Gifty is trying to use her talents in science to understand it all by studying reward-seeking behaviors in mice. This book is a slow burn, character-driven novel. There’s actually not much at all that happens in the overall plot, but the book poignantly journeys through Gifty’s thoughts and experiences, both past and present, and explores her times of deep spiritual belief and wavering faith. It’s definitely not the book to choose if you want to just zone out, as it jumps around in time too frequently and sometimes without warning so it’s easy to get confused. It’s also not the book to choose if you’re looking for a fast-paced plot. It’s one to choose if you’re desiring a rich, thought-provoking, beautifully written look at grief, faith, suffering, and the desire to find hope and meaning in it all.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world’s expectations that they are full of nothing by themselves. What we need are women who are full of themselves. A woman who is full of herself knows and trusts herself enough to say and do what must be done. She lets the rest burn.

This book has been circulating a ton on social media this year and I finally decided to check it out. I hadn’t read Glennon’s previous books or followed her on social media or known much beyond the basics of her life (namely, her somewhat recent marriage to soccer star Abby Wombach after divorcing her longtime husband). This book serves as part-memoir, part-motivational speaker and while much of it centers around the end of her first marriage and then relationship with Abby, it covers a wide range of topics. Glennon writes powerfully about her motherhood journey, addictions, feminism, depression and anxiety, discovering herself, racism, and so much more. There are over 50 chapters touching on so many things that it feels more like a collection of short stories that are connected, yet separate. As it is with most short story collections, I definitely resonated more deeply with some than others. There were some chapters that didn’t land for me, but then others that spoke to me so deeply I teared up. (In that sense, it reminded me of Girl, Wash Your Face, although Untamed is so much better written). Glennon is a gifted storyteller and I especially appreciated reading her takes on raising both boys and girls, navigating an anti-racist journey as a white women, learning to value herself as a woman and mother, and her journey as an activist for social and racial justice. It’s deep, it’s charming, it’s vulnerable, it’s funny, it’s well done.

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

By now it’s no secret that historical fiction is my favorite, so this dual-perspective novel seemed like it would be right up my alley and I was not disappointed! Alternating between Alina, a Roman Catholic teenager living in Nazi-occupied Poland, and Alice, a present-day wife and mother hoping to fulfil one last request for her dying grandmother, this gorgeously-written novel spins a tale of hope, resilience, and undying love in the face of an unimaginable war. The interesting thing about this book is that there aren’t shock factors so much as twists that are expected to happen, you’re just not sure exactly how they will unfold. Even when I thought I figured out how all the stories connected, I was so intrigued with the why they connected. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I can’t say more without giving things away. You’ll just have to read it and find out what I mean. πŸ˜‰ My one criticism would be that while I was absolutely captivated by Alina’s story, I didn’t feel like the first half of Alice’s was that interesting. There was a lot written about her life, marriage, and family that felt like it didn’t necessarily have to be included. That being said, I still could not put this book down! I was in full-fledged tears through several chapters and it will stay with me for quite a while. This is easily going to make it to my top recommendations – I loved it!

Honestly, I’m a little nervous for December reading now – this is quite the lineup to have to follow! As always, if you have any great recommendations, please send them my way!