January 2021 Monthly Wrap-Up

The Diamonds Conference took over my life this month and I loved every minute of it. I’m on staff for Diamonds as social media manager and sponsorship coordinator, so this month was packed with staff Zoom calls and virtual speaker coffee hours and a million different tasks to make the conference happen. I’m also a speaker at the conference, and this year I presented a live session (with a Q&A) titled “A Deeper Walk With God,” facilitated the prayer session with Bethany, and co-led a small group breakout discussion on singleness and chronic illness with Kenna. The weekend of the conference (a Friday through Sunday), Kenna ending up coming over to my place every day and we hung out and watched the conference together.

Besides Diamonds, I really didn’t do much this month; at one point I was at home for almost two weeks straight. I canceled some plans because COVID cases have just been so bad here, and because I was feeling pretty badly too. I started out the month with a two-day medical test (which required me to isolate prior to the test). Other than that I had a nice break from medical appointments this month. I had a couple of voice lessons, ran some errands I’d been needing to run, and I did get in a few fun things, too: I met my pastor’s wife for lunch, Dad came over for dinner, Kenna and I got takeout and had a baking night, and Andrea and I met for coffee.

This month I’m…

Reading: Dust, Kara Swanson. Where Is God When It Hurts?, Phillip Yancey. The Line Tender, Kate Allen. Fly Like A Girl, Mary Jennings Hegar. Walk The World’s Rim, Betty Baker (reread). Mosquitoland, David Arnold. The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones, Daven McQueen. Love and Luck, Jenna Evans Welch. The Other Side of the Sky, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. A Place to Belong, Cynthia Kadohata. A Time For Drums, Ann Rinaldi. And Arrow Is the Sun, Baylea A. Osborn. The South’s Okayest Writer, Sean Dietrich. Woven in Moonlight and Written in Starlight, Isabel Ibanez. 15 total.

Listening to: Mean Girls. Drive, Oh Wonder (incessantly, 24/7). Rise Up (Lazarus), CAIN. Across the Sea, The Sweeplings. The Elements, TobyMac. Feel Like This Forever, Leucadia. Wild Life, OneRepublic. the end, MisterWives. King of My Heart, Bethel Music.

Watching: The Frey Life, Cambria Joy, and Daniela Fernandez on YouTube. Boy Meets World season four. Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.

Eating and/or cooking: Pistachios. Mandarin orange chicken. IQ Bars and pears. JOJO’s Chocolate. BBQ chicken zucchini nachos. Pork chops and roasted sweet potatoes. Heavenly Hunks. Chicken sausage. Sweet and salty shortbread cups.

Writing: Outside of work, I spent the majority of my time this month working on Diamonds tasks–my session, schedule spreadsheets, endless emails, and more. I got really behind on letters and missed not being able to write as many as usual, but I wrote 35 and received 44 (and had fun starting to make Valentines).

Buying: Fun stationery goodies at Michael’s. Reusable mesh produce bags. A wildflower mug. Valentine’s washi tape. New release YA books (which was so fun because that’s something I never do).

Grateful for: The days when I had enough energy to be productive. Waking up from a nap to my bedroom flooded with pink light from the sunset. Friends who are not chronically ill, but seek to learn more about chronic illness. Book mail. Long text conversations with friends about books (ones we’re reading and ones we;re writing). Getting the second stimulus check. My kitty being snuggly. Being able to watch TV. Texting with my grandpa. Making fun plans for next month and later this year. Rainy days and my favorite tea. All the good books in the world. And everything about the Diamonds Conference.

What did you do in January? What’s something you are looking forward to in February? Let me know in the comments!

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This or That Book Tag

I saw this tag on Soph’s Book World blog and thought it looked fun, so I wanted to give it a go!

Read in bed or on the couch?

In bed, always. Fun fact: I never read on my couch. Like, ever. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever opened a book on my couch. I normally only read at night right before bed, so I just get in bed for the evening, read for an hour or two, and then immediately turn out the light and go to sleep.

Read at night or in the morning?

As we just established, lol, definitely at night. Sometimes I read in the car on vacation or in bed on a lazy weekend morning (the latter of which feels like an unspeakable luxury). Or I’ll skim a few chapters of a nonfiction book while I’m eating. But usually, I only read at night. I struggle to focus on a book during the day because there are always other things I need to be getting done.

Male main character or female main character?

It really depends on the book! Usually, female; I love a strong female lead. But I’ve read a lot of great books with male main characters. And I’m not opposed to dual POV’s, either (especially if one of those POV’s is Rev Fletcher or Kaz Brekker).

First person POV or third person POV?

This one depends, too–but in general, I’d say first person (and when I’m writing, first person for sure). The only problem is that then I can never remember the main character’s name, lol.

Trilogies or quartets?

Trilogies. Three is just a nice solid number. A lot of the time with quartets, I feel like the author dragged out the story longer than it was meant to go.

Libraries or bookstores?

Both?! I realized recently, after going to a used bookstore last fall and a Barnes & Noble around Christmas, that it had been years since I’d been in a bookstore (which is terrible and sad). I have a library literally one mile from my apartment and I typically swing by multiple times a week to pick up books on hold. So in real life, I go to the library far more often. But for browsing, there’s nothing like a good used bookstore (or a corporate chain, I don’t discriminate).

Books that make you laugh or make you cry?

BOTH! Make me do both!

Black book covers or white book covers?

I like colorful book colors, but if it’s going to have a neutral base, I think I’d say white (although this really depends on the specific genre/book).

Character-driven or plot-driven?

Character-driven. You can write thirty pages about the characters going to the grocery store, and if they’re strong enough characters, I’ll want more.

This tag was so much fun! If you want to do it on your blog, feel free–and answer your favorite question here in the comments!

35 2021 Releases I Can’t Wait to Read (fiction and nonfiction!)

Nothing in life is certain, but if there’s one thing I can tell you about 2021, it’s this: I’m going to read a whole lot of good books.

You guys, there are SO MANY GOOD BOOKS scheduled to come out this year (and this quarter, and this month, and this week, and even TODAY?! My mind is blown in the best way possible). I’ve been adding titles to this list for the last few weeks and honestly at this point it’s a miracle I have any Christmas money left. Anyway… here are (approximately) 35 books coming out in 2021 (mostly Q1 releases) that I’m super excited to read!

Fiction

You Have A Match, Emma Lord (release date: January 5th)

I absolutely loved Tweet Cute, so I’m SO excited to read this one! It also sounds like a classic summer story, which you know I’m all about–and I saw some reviews explaining the plot as a Parent Trap-type situation? Basically, I’m counting down the days until my hold request comes in at my library!

Roman and Jewel, Dana L. Davis (release date: January 5th)

This is basically like a YA book about Hamilton and I AM SO HERE FOR IT. Give me all the theatre books forever and ever amen. (Also why did I not think to write this myself. It’s fine.)

Written in Starlight, Isabel Ibanez (release date: January 26th)

I read most of Woven in Moonlight last night (it’s SO good) and was looking at it on Goodreads today. I discovered this book, which is a standalone in the same universe–then discovered my library didn’t have it–then discovered it’s not out yet–then discovered it actually comes out TODAY (the 26th). What a wild ride! Hoping my library gets it in soon!

A Vow So Bold and Deadly, Brigid Kemmerer (release date: January 26th)

Brigid Kemmerer is one of my auto-buy authors (although I mostly just get her books at the library LOL) and the Cursebreakers series is a really strong set of books so far. I can’t wait to see how it ends.

Payback, Kristen Simmons (release date: February 2nd)

Conveniently, for the last few years Kristen Simmons has put a new book out right around the time of my birthday each year. This year is the last one, though–I can’t believe the Vale Hall trilogy is already drawing to an end! I very much can’t stand the new covers, but I’m excited to see how the story finishes.

Everything That Burns, Gita Trelease (release date: February 2nd)

I absolutely love Enchantee and I am so excited for the sequel! It looks SO GOOD. If you like magic, Versailles, strong characters, and beautiful writing styles, you would like these books. (Although I am super confused about the title change? Enchantee is no longer called Enchantee? I don’t know lol.)

Sing Me Forgotten, Jessica S. Olson (release date: March 9th)

A genderbent Phantom retelling? What the heck?! Um, yes please! (And how beautiful is the cover?!)

Kisses and Croissants, Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau (release date: April 6th)

Paris, ballet, TATBILB meets American Royals meets Love and Gelato… ummm, was this book written SPECIFICALLY for me or what?! I’ve never read anything by this author, but I’m SO excited to!

What’s Not to Love, Emily-Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka (release date: April 20th)

I was so excited to see that Emily and Austin have another book coming out! I love a good YA contemporary romance in the spring.

Realm Breakers, Victoria Aveyard (release date: May 4th)

One word: Pirates! I’m very excited to read something from Victoria Aveyard that’s outside the Red Queen universe. I think it’s going to be really good.

Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard CR: Orion

Six Crimson Cranes, Elizabeth Lim (release date: July 6th)

I discovered Elizabeth Lim via Spin the Dawn in late 2019 and fell in love with her writing. I’m looking forward to reading something new from her.

Hearing Lies, Olivia Smit (release date: July 15th)

Olivia recently announced the sequel to her book Seeing Voices and I am SO EXCITED about it! Seeing Voices was so good, I can’t wait to read Olivia’s next book (also, Olivia is just the sweetest person ever and I love her so much).

Honorable mentions:

Nonfiction

Fighting Forward: Your Nitty-Gritty Guide to Beating the Lies That Hold You Back, Hannah Brencher (release date: January 5th)

Somehow I didn’t know this book was a thing until the day it came out (I live under a rock apparently?), but I’m so excited to read it!

Sensing God: Experiencing the Divine in Nature, Music, Food, and Beauty, Joel Clarkson (release date: January 12th)

I pre-ordered this book because I knew it was going to be amazing, just like everything the Clarkson family does! The subtitle sums up the content of the book pretty well. I started it last week and it’s great so far.

That Sounds Fun: The Joys of Being an Amateur, The Power of Falling in Love, and Why You Need A Hobby, Annie F. Downs (release date: February 2nd)

I read some books (a book?) by Annie Downs when I was younger, but over the past several years I’ve only interacted with her via Instagram. I definitely want to check this one out!

The Whole Life: 52 Weeks of Biblical Self-Care, Esther Smith and Eliza Huie (release date: July 26th)

Last summer, one of Esther Smith’s books changed my life, and I’m ready for this summer to do it again! This is a book about Biblical self-care and I’m SO excited for it; I know I personally really need it.

Honorable mentions:

I wanted to include some middle grade books in this post as well, but I was having trouble finding any (I’m always a little fuzzy on what technically counts as MG). The only one I could find was The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm, which came out on January 5th. If you know of any middle grade books coming out this year, please let me know in the comments!

I could keep talking about new books forever, so I’m going to cap this here (although I may do another post like this in a few months to highlight releases coming later this year). 2021 is going to be an amazing reading year and I’m so excited about all of these new books!

What 2021 releases are you most excited for? Did any of the titles on this list catch your eye? Let me know in the comments!

Diamonds 2021 Conference (You’re Invited!)

Diamonds 2021 starts TOMORROW, and we want you to come!

This is the third annual Diamonds conference, an online event created and hosted by my good friend Sara Willoughby, and I’m so blessed to have been involved with every one. Diamonds is a free, virtual conference for Christians who are chronically ill (and anybody else who wants to come). This year, our theme is Purpose in Affliction, and we have almost 20 speakers who will each be sharing sessions on a variety of topics relating back to this main theme. Topics that will be covered include:

  • Grief
  • Waiting
  • Hope
  • Suffering
  • Worthiness

And many more–all through the lens of how these topics relate to chronic illness, and all presented from a solid Biblical and theological foundation. I’m so grateful to call many of these speakers my good friends, and they are all mature Christians whom I look up to and who have been personally encouraging to me in modeling what it looks like to live well with chronic illness.

We’re also so excited to have added several new features this year! In addition to 18 of our traditional speaker sessions and Q&A’s, which are live-streamed on YouTube, we’re introducing two worship sessions with Caleb Stanton; four small group breakout sessions, which will be held on Zoom and allow attendees to discuss specific topics face-to-face; and two panels–one panel on caregiving and one on marriage and chronic illness, where you’ll be able to ask specific questions to a lineup of people with personal experience in these areas.

I’m on staff at Diamonds in a couple of different capacities, including social media manager and sponsorship coordinator. As sponsorship coordinator, I work with companies who are interested in sponsoring the Diamonds conference either financially or by donating products to give away. This year, I’m excited to announce that our official 2021 sponsors are:

We’ll be giving away products from these companies at every session (in addition to several books and products donated by speakers).

In addition to being on staff, I’m also a speaker at Diamonds! This year, I’ll be doing a session (and a Q&A) titled “A Deeper Walk With God.” In this thirty-minute session, I’ll share some of the things that God has taught me through my chronic illness and the ways my medical journey has brought me closer to Him. If you’d like to tune in to my session, it’s at 3:00 PM EST on Sunday, January 24th. I’m also going to be facilitating the prayer session with Bethany Rose at 2:00 PM EST on Saturday–and tomorrow (Friday) at 3:00 PM EST, Kenna and I will be co-leading a small group breakout session on the topic of singleness and chronic illness.

There’s going to be so much good information packed into this weekend, I absolutely can’t wait to get started! We’ve been working so hard for so long to prepare for this conference, and I’m so excited it’s finally here. You can register for the conference for free at this link–you’ll receive further instructions and the links to the sessions via email. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of the official Diamonds 2021 study guide! Available on Amazon to purchase as a paperback or download for free on your Kindle, this beautiful study guide includes a page for every session to help you remember what you’ve learned and apply it to your life.

You can also view the full conference schedule at the website linked above; feel free to pop in and out throughout the weekend as your schedule allows. If there’s a session you’re interested in watching, don’t miss it! In prior years we’ve made the entire conference available on YouTube after it’s over. But to make this conference sustainable in the long run, we need to be able to pay for expenses–which means that this year, we’re offering an All-Access Pass for lifetime access to the conference. By purchasing this pass, you’ll gain lifetime access to all of the conference sessions in addition to other special perks.

Again, however, the conference is completely free this weekend while it’s live. So please come join us and be encouraged as you hear from other chronically ill Christians about how to find purpose in affliction. We can’t wait to see you there!

Follow us on Instagram for live updates and fun social media challenges during the conference–and check out our merch shop to purchase apparel, accessories, and all your Diamonds 2021 gear! Have you attended the Diamonds conference before? Will you be attending this weekend? I can’t wait to get started!

My 2020 Anticipated Releases: What I Thought

I finally put up my 2020 Book Releases I’m Excited For a month or two ago for the sole purpose of being able to write this post in January. It’s January now, so… here we are! Let’s take a look at the 2020 releases I was excited to read and what I ended up thinking of each one.

Seeing Voices, Olivia Smit (release date: April 15th)

Olivia is such a wonderful person and I was super excited to read her first book (which I was so fortunate to be on the launch team for–you can check out an interview I did with Olivia here). It did not disappoint! I’m a sucker for summer stories and for sibling stories, and Seeing Voices was both. It was a quick and easy read, but not shallow at all: It addresses some deep topics in a good way. I’m thinking I’m due for a reread. Best of all, Olivia recently announced that she has a sequel to Seeing Voices coming out!

A Heart So Fierce and Broken, Brigid Kemmerer (release date: January 7th)

This was good! I don’t recall it being my favorite book of all time, but Brigid Kemmerer is an amazing author who is equally as competent in contemporary or fantasy. Her Cursebreakers series is definitely a solid choice for anyone looking for a strong YA fantasy read. Although I have to say, I’m getting really tired of Beauty and the Beast retellings. Anyone else or is it just me?

Unravel the Dusk, Elizabeth Lim (release date: July 7th)

I was so excited to read the sequel to Spin the Dawn. It was really good! (Lol, I wish I had more for you than that but I read a LOT of books and I’m the worst at remembering what happens in them–and I didn’t write a Goodreads review for this one beyond giving it five stars. So… I guess it was really good, haha.)

Set Fire to the Gods, Sara Raasch and Kristen Simmons (release date: August 4th)

I haven’t read this book yet; my library doesn’t have it, and it’s been on my Amazon wishlist for a while but I haven’t gotten around to actually buying it yet. I’ll probably end up getting it in the next couple of months with Christmas or birthday money. Stay tuned!

Scammed, Kristen Simmons (release date: February 4th)

The new covers on this series make me want to gag, but the book itself was awesome; I received it as a birthday gift and thoroughly enjoyed it. I can’t wait to see how the trilogy wraps up with book #3 coming out in just a few weeks (again, conveniently, around the time of my birthday…).

This Too Shall Last: Finding Grace when Suffering Lingers, K.J. Ramsey (release date: May 12th)

Predictably, this book was absolutely amazing. It was definitely a lot–it’s very deep and theology-heavy, and I could only read small portions at a time on days when I was really able to focus. But it was a beautiful and thought-provoking book about what it looks like to live as a Christian with long-term suffering. (Also, I somehow ended up with a few extra copies of this because I was on the launch team–so if anyone wants one, let me know.)

At the end of my “2020 Book Releases I’m Excited For” blog post, I added a list of books that I thought I would probably read, but I wasn’t quite as excited about for one reason or another:

  • Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo: The release date on this book got pushed back to March 2021.
  • Imagine Me by Tahereh Mafi: I haven’t read this and probably won’t. I think I’d have to reread the entire Shatter Me series to understand what was going on, and I have no plans to do that.
  • Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibanez: I haven’t read this yet, but I want to! Putting it on hold at my library as we speak…
  • The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne: I haven’t read this yet, and after skimming some reviews tonight I think I won’t just for personal reasons.
  • Time of Our Lives by Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberly: I really enjoyed other books by this author combo, but unfortunately I wasn’t really into this one (and I don’t remember why, lol–my New Year’s Resolution is to write more detailed book reviews to help myself out later).
  • The Other Side of the Sky by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner: I haven’t read this yet. After reading some reviews, I’m not totally sold. But, I LOVED their other books after not expecting much, so I’ll probably give it a try!
  • The Queen’s Assassin by Melissa de la Cruz: I wasn’t into this book at all. I personally just found the plot and writing style boring.
  • The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu: I just snuck this one in at the beginning of December. It started out really strong–whimsical and beautiful and intriguing–but by the end I was kind of over it.
  • The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna: The release date on this book got pushed back to February 2021.

And that’s what I thought of my most anticipated 2020 releases. Keep an eye out for a post with my 2021 anticipated releases coming soon!

Have you read any of these books, and if so, did you enjoy them? What new titles were you excited to read in 2020, and what did you end up thinking of them? Any other 2020 releases I should check out? Let me know in the comments!

2020: Yearly Wrap-Up

It seems impossible to sum up twelve months–especially the past twelve months–in a single blog post (insert Rent singalong here). But there are a lot of things I want to remember from 2020. So I’m going to do my best to try.

When I think of January, I think of waiting. I did a lot of waiting–waiting to see new doctors, mostly–and I also recognized that the entire year would likely be a season of waiting for me. The Diamonds conference happened and we saw Bandstand in Tennessee, both two things that hugely impacted me.

February I was very sick the entire month. On my 21st birthday I was alone all day, very sick with a fever of 103. I was so weak I could barely lift my head. I spoke with my hospital dietitian on the phone and she put me on a liquid diet (I remember defiantly eating Tostitos out of the bag at night, telling myself it was my 21st birthday and I could start the liquid diet tomorrow). My birthday was also the first time my dietitian brought up the idea of tube feeds. I was living in survival mode and taking one day at a time, constantly saying the phrase “I just don’t know what to do.”

During the month of March, I practically lived at the hospital for appointments and outpatient procedures. I pulled several eight-hour days at the infusion center and various doctor’s offices within the hospital, hanging out at the cafeteria in between. I was sitting in the hospital cafeteria eating lunch one day when I got a text from Kenna: First case of Coronavirus confirmed in our county. (My grandkids will get tired of me telling that story one day.)

In April we sheltered in place and it was a beautiful time. I spent lots of time with my family, lots of time at physical therapy, and lots of time outdoors. I felt relaxed and so happy. We ate cinnamon sugar donuts for breakfast, played silly card games, and I had FaceTime craft sessions with Kenna. I fell in love with washi tape and pen paling, worked on a YA contemporary novel, and listened to Lennon Stella 24/7.

Beyond some family news that took a while to process and a long-awaited medical procedure at the end of the month, I don’t have many major memories from May. Quarantine continued for much of the month, meaning more letters and more cinnamon sugar donuts. 

When I think of June, I think of growth–the kind of deep growth that stretches you so much, you recognize it as it’s happening and can practically feel yourself growing day by day. There were some difficult situations and lots of changes happening very quickly. People were coming in and out of my life and I was learning and growing a lot spiritually. The song Hallelujah by Oh Wonder immediately transports me back to that month.

In July I was barely functioning. I’d started having an entirely new set of symptoms in June, and those new issues on top of all my usual symptoms completely knocked me out. The brain fog, weakness, and other symptoms were so intense I literally could not function most days. July was conducting Zoom interviews for my book, wearing my new Frey Life sweatshirt, lying in bed listening to podcasts (something I never do) with my eyes squeezed shut because I physically could not do anything else.

August brought lots of time alone, but some of the normal rhythms of life beginning again, too. I went through a major baking phase. I spent most of September anticipating and preparing for the final week of the month, which held a big medical appointment, a trip to Trader Joe’s, and a family vacation to the beach. I also became more and more obsessed with food during these months.

October was a full season of life. I felt like I was waking up. Brooke got married; I did a lot of things with a lot of people and thought big thoughts about the world (courtesy of Wonder by Shawn Mendes).

November found me excited and impatient for Christmas. I felt so grateful for the little day-to-day things. December was a mix of work, fun, and medical stuff, as it usually is. My Christmas gifts all revolved around either food or pen paling (charcuterie boards, kitchen supplies, stationery items, etc) which kind of sums up my obsessions from this year.

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And now we’re here and the year is over. On to something new. We’ve all made jokes about 2020, but for the most part I don’t really like it when I hear people demonizing the year. There’s good and bad in every year and that was certainly true for 2020. I drove through Chattanooga at night with old and new friends, Stay Gold playing on the car stereo. I cried on my couch in disbelief at the news of a family friend passing from Covid. I found a piano painted with sunflowers in a park and sat down to play the theme from La La Land on a perfect September evening. I thanked God when I saw the photos of my grandfather’s house torn apart by a tornado and knew he had survived. I learned to do wings at tap and left the studio exhilarated. I sobbed at my kitchen counter for three hours when, because of my chronic illness, I was asked to not be part of something that I desperately wanted to do. I trailed my fingers through the water from the hull of my uncle’s catamaran, Hallelujah by Oh Wonder running through my head. I laid in bed with my eyes squeezed shut against the sheer pain and exhaustion. I giggled as our pets FaceTimed each other. I drove home from physical therapy doubled over in so much pain I could hardly see straight. I walked on a sandy, shell-covered beach under a purple sky. I cut ties with a group of people from a church whose theology I did not agree with. I slipped the surly bonds of earth and floated eye level with the blue horizon. I laughed and cried and danced and rested and wondered and raged and created. Good and bad, hard and easy, light and dark.

There’s both good and bad in every year, and the bad or hard things that happened in my life this year weren’t necessarily due to Covid. There was definitely a lot of hard in this year. But there was so much good, too. Recently my new life motto has become the phrase “Still good.” (I had a beautiful necklace made from Handstamped Stories by Stephanie with this phrase on it.) The idea behind this phrase is that no matter what happens, God is still good. That even with the bad and hard parts, life is still good. _____ is still good, even if it’s not the way you thought it would be. There’s good to be found in everything.

The biggest thing I learned this year was how to celebrate the little things. Ever since quarantine began in April and I realized how fortunate I was to be playing outside and eating cinnamon sugar donuts and generally having a great time during our shelter in place, I’ve become so genuinely grateful for every little thing. And as my health has deteriorated, I’ve truly learned how to celebrate the little things, finding sincere joy and excitement in small everyday things. When you have to live day to day, it’s easier when you recognize how beautiful the day to day can be. I’ve been greatly influenced in this area by the Freys and by my friend Kenna, and I really like this quality in myself; it’s definitely something I am actively trying to continue cultivating.

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What else did I do in 2020? This year I read 174 books (more details here). As near as I can figure (I didn’t start recording each one until May), I sent 482 letters in 2020 (equaling out to $265 worth of stamps–not to mention the envelopes and washi tape and stationery, lol. Singlehandedly keeping the USPS alive). I received 282 letters from May to December. I watched 20 movies and a couple of TV shows; sadly, watching movies is something that became more and more difficult this year due to my symptoms, and I miss watching movies so much.

I had 70 total medical appointments this year, including procedures and physical therapy. I don’t have space to get into everything that happened medically this year, but my health was the worst it’s ever been in my life and it’s like a full-time job managing my chronic illnesses. And in 2020 I went to five states, taking a trip to see a musical, a couple of trips to see my respective grandparents, a family vacation to the beach, and a bachelorette trip.

I also paid my 2020 dues–that living-through-multiple-historical-events-simultaneously life. In the spring I was given a letter that told I was going to physical therapy, an essential service, so I could show it to police if I was stopped during our shelter in place. In the summer I laid in bed and read about the protests raging through my city and the army tanks just a few miles away. In the fall during the presidential election I watched my state flip blue. And in the winter I cried when a family friend passed away from Covid. So much of this year has felt surreal. This is the stuff of history textbooks, and here we are living it.

My journal from this entire year is like a broken record: I miss being able to be active and work out. I miss being able to be creative. I miss watching movies, I miss writing fiction, and I miss creating with people/dance/theatre. Not being able to really do these things has left a big void in my life. I hope that my health will allow me to create the way I want to in the future. But whatever happens, it will still be good and I will still be excited and grateful for the things I am able to do.

Moving into 2021 I feel peace and readiness. I’m so grateful for the hobbies I enjoyed, the friendships I deepened, and everything I learned over this past year. 2020 was still good, and I know every subsequent year will be, too.

This ended up being a massive post, so if you made it all the way through, thanks for reading! If you want a dose of emotions at the end of the year, check out this video and this video. What did you do in 2020? What were the highlights of the year for you? How are you feeling about 2021? Let’s chat in the comments! (Also, shout out to Kenna for being my personal photographer this year and taking all of the photos in this post!)

December 2020 Monthly Wrap-up

Most of December was documented in my annual Blogmas, which started here and ran through Christmas with one bonus post this week. But here’s a quick recap regardless! I had five medical appointments in December, including one procedure, and two voice lessons. I enjoyed a baking night with Kenna; going to a Christmas brunch at my mom’s church; meeting Carly for dinner; looking at Christmas lights with Kenna; seeing a filmed performance of my dance studio’s The Nutcracker; making gingerbread houses with Kenna and Lindsey; having a picnic with Shannon; Kenna coming over to exchange Christmas gifts; going to Ball Ground with Brooke, Colby, and Carly; having a shopping day with Kenna; and going flying with Kenna and her grandpa.

For Christmas I spent a few days at my parents’ house; my grandpa was in town as well, and we had such a wonderful holiday. I also came back to my parents’ house at New Year’s to spend a couple more nights and have our annual chocolate fondue.

This month I’m…

Reading: The Kingdom of Back, Marie Lu. Gentle and Lowly, Dane C. Ortlund. Chasing Lucky, Jenn Bennett. Lola and the Boy Next Door, Stephanie Perkins. Cast Two Shadows, Ann Rinaldi (reread). Swimming For Freedom, Tera Bradham. 28 Days: A Novel of Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto, David Safier. On the Wings of Heroes, Richard Peck. The Enigma Game, Elizabeth Wein. They Went Left, Monica Hesse. Love and Olives, Jenna Evans Welch. In the Event This Doesn’t Fall Apart, Shannon Lee Barry. The Light in Hidden Places, Sharon Cameron. Christmas with Anne, L.M. Montgomery. 14 total.

Listening to: My Christmas playlist. Lindsey Stirling’s Christmas CD. The Nutcracker. Shawn Mendes’ new Wonder album.

Watching: The Frey Life, Cheyenne Hayden, and Katie Mack / Kiara Madisen on YouTube. Then, the week of Christmas: Christmas episodes of Girl Meets World and Boy Meets World, plus A Christmas Story, Elf, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (all rewatches).

Writing: Sadly, I didn’t have the energy to do much writing for fun in December; only a little bit over Christmas break. I did a lot of work and preparation for the Diamonds conference. I also wrote 48 letters and received 38 (with 18 of those letters received being Christmas cards, mostly from people who aren’t my usual pen pals).

Eating and/or cooking: Ham and zucchini omelets. Baked chocolate donuts and cake batter protein truffles. Sugar-free French toast. Peppermint Enjoy Life cookies. IQ bars. Lemonzest Luna bars. Homemade no-yeast French bread. Gingerbread brownies. Kite Hill tortellini. Cherry tomatoes. Fudge pecan pie. Lemon pepper tuna on crackers.

Buying: A new meat thermometer (I know, really exciting stuff). A monthly planner for 2021. A “Gratitude” mug from The Frey Life. Small containers for the freezer. A festive Christmas sticker from ExpressionMedTape. A canister to hold tea bags on my kitchen counter. New pill cases. And some fun things with Christmas money, including books and wax seal supplies.

Grateful for: Snow (twice!). Compassionate doctors who care and try to help. My mom (and my dad) driving me places and bringing me things when I don’t feel well enough. Christmas emails from clients. The way my grandpa laughs when we watch movies. And I’m so grateful for the friendships in my life–I am so overwhelmingly blessed and fortunate in that area.

What did you do in December?

Books I Read in 2020!

Looking through the books I read each year and figuring out my reading statistics is my favorite thing ever! I love remembering all the stories I’ve enjoyed throughout the year and I love that each of these books has changed me and shaped me.

This year I read 174 books total, equaling out to about 14.5 books per month and 3.3 books per week (which sounds pretty accurate). For context, I read 135 books in 2017; 153 books in 2018; and 154 books in 2019. I don’t set Goodreads goals; I just read at my natural pace and this is how it works out. Reading is like breathing for me. It just happens naturally. And I don’t want to create any stress or pressure around something that I enjoy so much.

I read the least books in February, coming in at 11 books (because I was very sick that entire month) and the most books in July, at 22 total (ironically, that was also because I was very sick that entire month, lol). The first book I read in 2020 was Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis, and I wrapped up the year with Christmas with Anne by L.M. Montgomery (which Brooke mailed to me because she thought I would like it–I did!).

I read 125 new books this year and reread 49 books. (It makes me laugh to think about how my mom used to think we’d one day run out of books for me to read. I’ll never have enough time to read all of the books in the world that I want to read!)

Funnily enough, I came out with the same numbers for fiction and nonfiction: I read 125 fiction books, and 49 nonfiction this year.

Out of the 125 fiction books I read, there were 33 children’s books, 11 middle grade, 78 young adult, and three adult novels (at least, as near as I can figure–sometimes I’m fuzzy on what counts as a children’s book and what counts as MG).

When it comes to genres, I apparently read the most fantasy and children’s literature this year (30 and 29, respectively), with a healthy dose of historical fiction (25), contemporary (25), and Christian nonfiction books (22) and/or memoirs (18) as well. Here’s the detailed breakdown:

In 2020 I read books at the beach and books on my balcony. I read books in the car and books at the infusion center. I read books on my parents’ couch and books on my own. And I read books in five different states–Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina.

I did the large majority of my reading in bed at night before going to sleep, meaning my kitty was present for many of the books read this year–including the moments where I shrieked aloud or violently sat up in bed at a crazy plot twist, scaring her half to death.

When I think back over this year, a few specific reading experiences stand out in my mind. I read Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Marissa Meyer, Maggie Stiefvater, Sabaa Tahir, and Katharine McGee for the first time; in August I was basically tied to my desk for a week with a very stressful work project, and I absolutely loved bingeing McGee’s The Thousandth Floor series (which is admittedly kind of trashy, but it was exactly what I needed that week as a mental break from work). Another book that sticks out is Esther Smith’s 31-day devotional Chronic Illness: Walking by Faith; I worked through that book in June with Kenna, reading and discussing it every day, and it absolutely changed my life.

I had been waiting for a couple of years for the right time to reread Nadine Brandes’ Out of Time series. That perfect time came around during quarantine in April. I also reread the Main Street series by Ann M. Martin and I can’t put into words what that did for my heart and soul. Finally, getting into a WWII mood around Christmas and reading about my all-time favorite historical event (the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising) for the first time in probably years was amazing and reminded me who I was and who I want to be.

I also want to touch on something I realized firsthand this year: how important access is when it comes to reading. It was March 13th when I learned my library was going to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was picking up a few books that I had on hold, and when I overheard a librarian telling somebody the news, I went to the YA section and grabbed as many random books as I could carry.

It was almost two months before the library opened up again. During that time, I gained a new perspective. I’d always heard how important access to books was to get kids to want to read. But lack of access was something I’d never experienced personally. In quarantine I realized how privileged I’d been to grow up with such amazing access to books and stories. I wasn’t very motivated to read when I didn’t have easy access to new books (well, didn’t have access unless I bought them on Amazon–I joked that I either needed the library to reopen, or I needed my stimulus check ASAP). The library being closed really opened my eyes to the importance of access and to my privilege, and I was SO grateful when the library (which is literally across the highway from my house, two minutes away) opened again.

This is a photo from May 11th, when my library finally opened up again for curbside pickup–and it’s a photo of pure joy! Happiness in a brown paper bag (or, more accurately, two bags because I seriously needed some new books lol). It felt like Christmas morning and the last day of school and my birthday all in one to finally get to go to the library again.

I also missed going to author signings and book festivals and writing conferences and bookstores this year (the Chattanooga used bookstore pictured below was a balm for the soul). I hope that both COVID and my own health will allow these things to happen again soon.

What am I excited to read in 2021? I’m in a big historical fiction phase right now, and I’m excited to reread more children’s and middle grade books, too. I also like to always have a Christian nonfiction book going so I can read a chapter or two in the morning, but sometimes I accidentally go for a long stretch of time without one–so I want to be more intentional about always having a devotional-type book going. I am so thankful for all the books I read this year; I love books and reading so much and I can’t wait to get started on all the books I’m going to read in 2021!

To see the specific books I read this year, check out my monthly wrap-ups, beginning with January 2020. And my 2019 reading recap is here if you’re interested in how my reading changed or stayed the same year over year. How many books did you read in 2020? Which ones were your favorites? What genres did you read the most? Let’s chat about books in the comments!

BONUS Blogmas: Ball Ground, shopping day, and flying!

My annual Blogmas typically ends on Christmas Day each year. But this year, I had so many fun plans after Christmas that I wanted to document them, too. So here’s a bonus post recapping the remainder of my Christmas break!

On Sunday afternoon Brooke and Colby picked me up and we drove to a cute downtown area about 30 minutes away from us to meet up with Carly. We sat outside at a coffee shop for several hours and visited and opened Christmas gifts (Brooke got me a beautiful journal). It was so good to spend time together and catch up with them!

On Monday Kenna and I had a shopping day. I don’t get to go out and shop in stores very much because it’s difficult for me physically, so it was SO much fun! We went to Target, the bank, Aldi, Home Goods, and Trader Joe’s and were out all afternoon (I definitely overdid it, but it was so worth it). I stocked up on some fun groceries at Aldi and Trader Joe’s (yes, it’s way more than I will eat, but it all looked so good!). I also found the most adorable ceramic canister at Home Goods to sit on my kitchen counter and hold my tea bags (which were previously just tossed into the baking section of my pantry). We had the best shopping day!

Then on Tuesday, Kenna and I went flying with her grandpa, who is a licensed pilot! We flew over my apartment and my parents’ house (so crazy to see it from above); Amicalola Falls; and Kenna’s house. It was so much fun to learn a little bit about flying, and we ended up with the most gorgeous clear day and amazing views. I really appreciated Kenna’s grandfather taking us out and had such a great time.

(The good quality photos are from Kenna’s phone–the poor quality ones are from mine. Also, yes I own more than one mask and yes I wash my mask, lol.)

This week has been so much fun; I wish Christmas break would never end! It will definitely take me several days to recover from all of the fun–I’m so tired and in pain today that I can barely move, sit up, or walk. But the last few days were awesome. Today I hope to have the energy to do things like writing for fun, blogging, working on letters, organizing, doing Diamonds stuff, figuring out my income for this year, etc. Then tomorrow I hope to go back to my family’s house for our typical New Year’s Eve fondue and board games. I would like to spend two more nights with them before I have to get a COVID test this weekend and isolate in preparation for a medical test next week. What better way to ring in 2021, right?

Okay–now Blogmas 2020 is officially over 😉 I plan to have a couple of other posts go up this week recapping my year!

What have you been doing over Christmas break? Let me know in the comments!

Blogmas 2020 Day 25 (MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!)

I woke up at FIVE THIRTY this morning and couldn’t go back to sleep (partially because of sleeping in an unfamiliar place/on an air mattress/people making noise, but probably partially also because it was Christmas, lol), so I just got up at seven even though I was obviously exhausted and feeling pretty miserable. I drank a mug of tea and talked to Grandpa while Mom and Joshua cooked. We let Sophie open her stocking. Then we waited around for my grandma to get up so we could start opening gifts at 10:00.

Giving gifts is my outward love language and buying gifts for people is my favorite thing in the world, so Christmas morning is always the BEST when everyone can finally open the gifts I got them! I got my mom a wooden “Home” sign; a zucchini spiralizer; a box of her favorite maple leaf cookies from Trader Joe’s; and a glass jar filled with seashells from our September beach vacation (normally my mom is hard to shop for, but this year I was full of ideas for her).

I got my dad these cool slate coasters from Etsy (each one has a famous Braves play on it–I also got my grandpa on my dad’s side of the family a set of these coasters) and wrote him a poem about all of the monthly outings we went on this year (which is scary lol, I don’t write poems).

I got Joshua a copy of Renegades by Marissa Meyer and a Harry Potter pencil case, in addition to an Oreo hot chocolate bomb in his stocking.

I got my grandma a piano blanket.

I got my grandpa a copy of The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson, the fill-in journal What I Love About Grandpa, and a glass jar filled with seashells from our beach trip. (I also want full credit for thinking of the air plant and the mug with a watercolor bird, both from the Freys, that my mom got him. And credit for keeping the air plant alive for the past two months before Christmas.)

In my stocking I received Lily’s peanut butter cups, Ocho coconut mini candy bars, two Enjoy Life chocolate bars, small cutting boards that I’d been wanting, some tea from an Amish store, and Post-It notes.

For gifts I received two acacia wood trays; a 2021 daily planner; washi tape; a charcuterie board; two sets of notecards (one with hummingbirds and one with cats); a set of small acacia wood bowls; and a wax seal set to use for envelopes, which is definitely the thing I wanted most/was most excited about and will remember most from this year.

I also received quite a bit of money from my very generous grandparents. Today I used part of it to order the DVD of Boy Meets World season 4 as well as three books: Dust by Kara Swanson, Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren, and Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. I also ordered a Hogwarts wax seal stamp and a set of sealing wax sticks in all different colors. And I’ve been wanting a new comforter for my bed (I’ve had the same one since I was six and it’s time for an upgrade, lol) so I’m planning to use part of the money for that.

We were done opening gifts at noon and had lunch at one (the usual Christmas dinner suspects–ham, sweet potato souffle, baked pineapple, fudge pecan pie, etc.).

After lunch I learned how to make wax seals from a YouTube video. It’s way easier than I expected, so much fun, and my new obsession–a whole new world!

I’d pushed myself as far and hard as I could, so I took a nap midafternoon. Then I did a couple more wax seals, we had a small late dinner, watched Elf, and Christmas 2020 was over.

Today I’m grateful for: My family who knows me so well and gets me thoughtful and generous gifts to enjoy.

Check out Blogmas Day 25 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Normally Christmas is the last day of Blogmas, but I have some fun plans with friends over the next several days, so I’m thinking this year there may be a bonus Blogmas post or two coming your way. Stay tuned and Merry Christmas!