Books for a Better Year

Books for a Better Year

"But Ashley," you might say, "we're a month into 2020 already!" Well, sure, but let's be honest... January is cold/flu season, everyone has a holiday hangover (emotionally, financially, etc.), and the weather is generally gross. It's basically a bonus month and I think we can all agree that surviving this month (which has been seemingly 27 weeks long) means that we get a do-over for all things "new year" related. Hence, I'm bringing you these recommendations on the *last* day of the month. We have 11 more whole months to make 2020 awesome! (Personally, my "new year" is gonna start around April due to the fact that I'll be giving birth here shortly. =) Also, I've read about a gazillion books in the last 5 years and I feel like I need to start putting all that to some sort of use and sharing them more regularly here!

So, here we go. Some of these are newer releases and some have been out for a while, but all of them have been read and loved by yours truly. Some are habit-related, others lend themselves to more a mindset shift/way of thinking, and others just have some good information that will benefit you and/or your family. All of them will help you see the world in a better way!

Anyway. My plan to blog more has gotten away from me (shocker) and this is a bit of a cop-out post since it doesn't require as much from me, but rest assured that a) I have several blog post ideas that I am truly excited about that I am going to try to get written soon and b) I do love these books and think they're worth your time!

"Having fun isn't hard with a library card!" Why yes, I was super popular as a kid. Can't you tell?

Atomic Habits by James Clear. I just finished this last night and I loved it. I've seen this book all over the place since it came out (with rave reviews from people I trust) and I totally get it. It's SO good, so practical, so easy to read and simple but not dumbed down... just a great book on habits that gives great ways of thinking about how and why we do the things we do. I'll be recommending this to anyone and everyone for the foreseeable future.

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin. I love this book so much, and it may seem excessive to have two books about habits on the same list, but it is the beginning of the year (bonus month notwithstanding) and this is a great one. Gretchen Rubin is one of my all-time favorite authors and this book has SO much good and practical information in it. I love how she can make even something as seemingly dull as habits warm and personal and strangely appealing. She takes all kinds of personalities into account and gives ideas that can work for literally anyone. (Honestly, any of Gretchen's books would help start your year off right!)

Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke. I was actually on the launch team for this book and got an advance copy but I don't even know that I posted about it anywhere except Instagram (oops!). However, I'll make up for it now! This is such a great book. The subtitle is "Treasuring Christ in the Media Age" and I think we can all stand to be reminded just how important it is to have the right perspective on the endless stream of information (and misinformation), entertainment, and distraction at our fingertips. Reading this is a great way to help you reset yourself if one of your goals for the year is to limit/restructure your media consumption (just in time for the election, right?).

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Okay, let me get on my enneagram soapbox for just a second. I know that it's been talked about to death and you're probably sick of hearing about it (especially if you have no idea what it's all about- I was the same way!) but this book is an excellent starting point if you're interested in learning more. I truly believe that the enneagram is an extremely valuable and useful tool to help us understand ourselves and those around us, be more compassionate and empathetic, and grow into the people God created us to be. Like anything, it can be abused or distorted, but this book provides a faith-based understanding of how it all works and is worth your time. (Steps off soapbox, shaking and red-faced.)

168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. I love a good book on time management, and most of Laura Vanderkam's are along those lines, but this one is probably the most widely applicable (in my opinion). We all have 168 hours in our week, and what we do with those hours largely depends on identifying what we truly value and where we want our time, energy, money, etc. to go. There are some great strategies for reevaluating your schedule and making changes based on what's actually important to you as well as questioning/challenging the "way it's always been" with a fresh perspective.

Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney. I had to read this for a class last summer and it was a huge game-changer for me. I'm not proud of this, but prayer has always been my biggest struggle. It can feel awkward, forced, obligatory, empty... I'm just being honest here, guys. Prayer is hard, and I know I'm not alone in that. This book gives such amazing insights into using God's own words to talk to Him and I am continually grateful to have come across such a wonderful technique/process. If you're interested in strengthening this particular discipline in your life (and aren't we all?) I'd start here.

The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. I just can't recommend this highly enough. I think I've raved about it to anyone who would listen since it came out last spring. Emily P. Freeman is so wise and wonderful. Her writing is beautiful and calming and yet cuts straight to the heart of so many struggles we face regarding decisions, our souls, and life in general. I truly believe anyone in any life stage can benefit from the principles in this book, which is a tall order considering that so many books focus only on moms, or couples, or twenty-somethings, or whatever. It's just great, period. Please do your soul a favor and get this as soon as possible (and if you do audiobooks, Emily's voice is incredibly soothing). Also, the topics in this book are often covered in her excellent podcast of the same name, so definitely check that out.

There you go! Happy reading and happy New Year! Thanks for the practice run, January. We can take it from here.

Word of the Year

Word of the Year

If you're like me, you have probably 1) chosen a word of the year in the past and 2) promptly forgotten about it by March at the latest. (Oops!) It's super easy to get caught up in the newness of January and make resolutions, set goals, and choose words that we think will define our experience for the next 12 months, only to return to business/life as usual fairly quickly. We are easily distracted creatures ("Squirrel!") and rather than beat myself up about it for (at least) the tenth year in a row, I'm just going to try again but with what I hope is a more productive mindset.

One thing about choosing a word, phrase, or motto for the year is that, just like with our other resolutions, we want to "go big." I find myself being aspirational instead of practical when I'm thinking about the future, but I'm changing that. Should I have ambitions and dreams and "shoot for the stars"? Meh, I guess so. But the fact is that I have a four-year-old, am pregnant with my second child, and in a stage of life that is about to become extremely demanding of my time and energy in a way that is going to require some very practical, useful, reasonable (aka achievable) goals from me. I need a word that is going to reflect where I am in life and help me frame in the right way, not a word that is something I hope to or could someday be. Aspirational/ideal versions of myself are off the table for now. (Clearly, at 31 weeks pregnant, I'm not the best version of me in any way. ha!)

My best self. Ha! It's incredibly freeing to start the new year without the pressure of dieting, though. Thanks, Amy Jane. =)

Kendra from The Lazy Genius (for sure one of my life gurus in so many areas) just did a podcast episode about planners that spoke to me in this area. She said we buy all the planners, organizational tools, cute bullet journal kits, etc. and expect them to fundamentally change us into people we may or may not actually be. I've struggled with this for YEARS: it seems like a grownup thing to use a planner, so I buy cute ones and hope for the best, but the truth is I'm just not that person. I'm organized, but as a stay-at-home mom with one child and relatively few appointments (I mean, I know what time Chick-fil-A breakfast ends, so what else do I need to remember??), I can keep track on my phone and avoid the guilt that another wasted planner brings. My friend Michelle just shared on Instagram that she finally acknowledged this about herself, didn't buy a paper planner this year, and felt so FREE. I get it! (Side note: I did, in fact, purchase a 2020 planner because it was on clearance and it was Rifle Paper Company, which I cannot resist. So PRETTY! But one of my favorite purchases ever from this past year is my undated planner from Rad and Happy because you can just fill it out whenever without wasting days/weeks/months and feeling like a bad person. Hooray!)

So, with all that in mind, my word of the year is VALUE. Gretchen Rubin, one of my favorite authors and podcasters, recommends choosing a word that has several forms or meanings to give it even more use/weight in your life. For me, value is about the noun (as in what I believe, hold dear, or treasure AND principles I live by), the verb (taking care of/appreciating what's mine) and the adjective (valuable- what something is worth).

This applies to pretty much all of the goals I've set for myself this year. Goals related to our health and wellness obviously reflect value for our bodies, minds, and souls. If I value my health and my family's health, I'll choose to plan ahead, choose healthy foods more often than not, and prioritize my exercise routine. Learning and sharing about books and reading is valuable to me, so I'll continue to make time to read (although, in the spirit of value, I'm aiming to read fewer but better books this year. I'll have to write a whole post about that sometime, because I have many thoughts. =) This will also affect how I look at my home and possessions. Is something valuable to me because I'm a sentimental packrat or am I just being lazy and not wanting to clear clutter? (Both?) The value of items I buy will also be considered: at the age of 30, I'm getting past the point where my feet can handle super cheaply made shoes or my face can handle the cheapest makeup. I'm not going crazy with designer brands, but upgrading some things in those areas will give me more value for my money.

Another application of the word is taking the time to understand and articulate my own values. Of course they align with Scripture, but what are they? What values does our family live by, and how will I teach them to my kids? Obviously Amy Jane's off the hook in this area for a few years, but Alice is definitely old enough for us to be teaching her clearly what we believe and what our family culture is (besides Bible stories, etc. which we already do). Korie Robertson's parenting book recommends choosing just one or two words or values that you really want to instill in your children and letting your discipline and instruction stem from those (hers are strong and kind, which I love). It's easy with a baby or toddler to kind of gloss over this big-picture stuff since the truth is you're just trying to, I don't know, get the kid to put on a pull-up or eat their orange slices without a battle (how oddly specific, Ashley!), but we're getting to the age where I want to have these things cemented in my mind so I can share them confidently with her.

There are so many things I do value- relationships, deep conversations, reading, writing, my home, etc. - and so many things that I spend time or money or attention on that either don't add value to that list or that have little to no value at all (Twitter scrolling, I'm looking at you). So going forward, I want to ask myself:

"Do I value what I'm about to spend time on, or at the very least, is it valuable to the things I do value?" (What a great and gripping sentence. ha! For example, though, I don't really "value" cooking in that I don't enjoy it much, but I value taking care of my family and feeding them. Or letting Chick-fil-A feed them.)

"What are my core values (beliefs) and how does this book/podcast/article align with them and Scripture?"

"How am I using my time wisely on valuable things?"

"Am I conscious of my values and intentionally sharing them with Alice in the context of our family culture?"

"Is it valuable (or worthy of) my time to get caught up in some internet controversy?" (99% of the time, NO it is not.)

"Do I need another shirt/pair of shoes/set of scrunchies? What is the value of this purchase?" (Don't hate on the scrunchies. Best comeback of the 90s BY FAR.)

"Am I finding my value/worth in Christ and showing His love to others?"

You get it. It's all about priorities, worth, principles, and asking simple questions that apply to so many areas of my life. As I head into a season of LOTS of transition in our family, I feel like this is a really concise way to look at the decisions we make over the next few months. Having a newborn kind of reduces your existence down to feeding and sleeping, so having a baseline of this "value" question will help alleviate some of the stress that is bound to accompany anything extra in our lives. And, since my actual #1 resolution is to nap all I can in the coming months, putting a high value on sleep is going to be the easiest "yes" of all time. =) Scratch everything I just said. Is it too late for my word to be sleep? (And those of you with babies laughed and laughed and then twitched a little. I know. I'll just nap while I can. To quote Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka, "Let him sleep. Let him have one more dream.")

Do you have a word of the year? How are you going to keep it in mind? DO TELL.