January (Book Talk and Whole House Purge Update)

Here we are - the first month of 2022! And...it's the first post of the 12 (minimum) I've committed to writing this year. If you're short on time or there is too much, here's the "let me sum up" version:

BOOKS: Last year my one goal was to clean off/read through "The Stack" on my nightstand, but, despite reading 72 books in 2021, only a sliver of them came from The Stack, while the rest were re-reads, read aloud to the kids, or Kindle ebooks. I give myself grace with that though, and it just means that I will continue to give updates from The Stack this year as I work towards my 2022 Goodreads goal of 75 books! So far I've read (or re-read) A New Song (5 Stars), Mary Poppins in the Park (4 Stars), The Four-Story Mistake (4 Stars), and A Common Life: The Wedding Story (4.5 stars)...none of which came from The Stack. 😉

PURGE: If you've been following the Facebook page, then you've seen or read about our first two weeks of donation hauls heading out. I'm definitely meeting (and exceeding) my goal of 12 items a day. So far the most surprising purge has been the day I wore some Supergas that I just loved (so cute) and had worn for four years or so, but with recent back and foot pain (hello 40!), the heels of my feet were killing me by the end of the day, and so I came in, took them off, and put them straight into the donation bag. I am past the point in my life where I will sacrifice for cute shoes - especially when they're tennis shoes that are supposed to be comfortable. 

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

And now, for the "too much" version! Hello to those of you who want the full scoop on the purge. Let's dive right in! 

First off, can I just say that I cannot believe we are already halfway through the first month of 2022?? That's incredible to me. It also means that I need to get my rear in gear to get everyone through the second half of this school year, which means more lesson planning, more book reports, and more moments of panic when I realize how much remains. That being said, while the year was off to a challenging start, literally from minute #1 (long story, don't ask), it's also been a productive two weeks when it comes to the whole house purge.

I stopped counting how many items I was donating shortly after going through a kitchen cabinet early on and coming up with 75 items in one swipe. Needless to say, our home is just (embarrassingly) overly stuffed, and I'm tired of being overwhelmed by it. The plan was to work room by room, with an occasional pass through a cabinet or drawer if I happen to be there anyway, so I've pretty much been stuck in our bedroom for most of the month. And yes, I know it might be shocking to think that I could spend so much time in one room, but with seven people (five of them under the age of 17) in a 2,000 sq. ft. house, our bedroom (along with the laundry room) tends to become the catch-all for all the things that have no home, like medication for a hamster and broken doorstops. 

Some of the tips, tricks, and questions I've been using this time through include:
  • Touch it once. If I'm walking out of the room and I see something that has been sitting there for ages, do something with it - take it where it needs to go, throw it away, file it, or stick it in the donation bag. 
  • Give honest answers. I'm routinely asking myself now: 
    • Do I use/wear it?
    • When was the last time I used/wore it?
    • If I didn't have it, would I miss it?
    • Do I need it or just like it?
    • If I like it, would I miss it if it were gone?
  • Go with your gut. If I look at something and think, "that should go," don't second guess myself. I'm probably being more honest than if I took a lot of time to decide.
  • Using black bags. This is something I heard the Minimal Mom say, and it makes sense. If you use black trashbags, you can't see what's inside...once it's entered the portal, it's gone. This worked really well for the kids.
  • Donate quickly. I used to keep piles of donations in the basement or by the backdoor, like purgatory, just waiting to be donated. Instead, they just languished there for months (or sometimes years), collecting dust. This time, as soon as a bag or box is full, I put it in the back of my car. When the back is full (or once a week, whichever comes first), I drive to Goodwill and drop it off, which leaves little time for second guessing a donation.
If you're wondering what kind of things I'm ridding myself of, it's everything from pajamas I haven't worn in years (and probably never will again) to socks that I was keeping because the color is hard to find now (but I never wear, because the pants they matched no longer fit!). It's cute plates for various holidays that I've held onto so we could use them with the kids, only to realize that my life is too busy for cute plates and we use paper plates for the holidays. And Easter decorations, when I realized I don't like celebrating Easter with eggs and bunnies, because it means far more to me than that. It's movies I no longer find appropriate (or find time to watch), books I'll never read again, and returns I never got around to making. In short, nothing is safe. 

I'm happy with the progress, and, in full disclosure, don't expect the cleanout to be done by January 31st, but that's okay. The 12 in 22 Project, specifically the 12 items a day during this month, was the kick in the pants I needed to be a little more honest with myself, a little harder on the kids to purge, and a little less attached to the stuff that has been slowing taking over our home. And it feels good.

2022 started with a bang, and it feels like life has continued to throw one thing after another at us in the first 14 days of this year. From teenage drama to late night visits to not one, but two urgent care centers with two different family members - I told you it was crazy - having this steadiness of cleaning out has been therapeutic in many ways. I can't control much in this life (really nothing at all), but I can put things in a bag and make them go away, and some days that's just enough. 

What are you learning in 2022?


The Twelve in 2022

It started when I saw a post from Jules at Pancakes & French Fries, about her goal of writing 12 blog posts this year. As soon as I read it I thought, "That's just one post a month. That's totally doable. I'm in." But what started as the number of posts I was willing to commit to writing in 2022, soon morphed into a monthly self-challenge plan, with various ideas coming in rapid succession. I don't know about you, but I need deadlines and bite-sized goals to motivate myself. 

Photo by Thor Alvis on Unsplash


January: Removing 12 items a day from our house in the Great Whole-House Purge of 2022. The twelve would not include trash, because I think that's cheating...I could throw away twelve items of junk mail in a day and call it good, but that wouldn't actually get me where I want to be! So we're talking actual removal of gently used/unused items (to a box, bag, or sack) for donation, with trips to our local Goodwill on the calendar once a week (look for updates throughout the month on the Facebook page). 

February: I will move $12 from our checking to our savings every day for a month. Two drinks at Starbucks is almost $12, depending on the size you get, so if I cut out Starbucks and various treats and unplanned stops in a month, that should be completely doable. 

March: I will dedicate 12 minutes each day to cleaning out and organizing our pantry and additional food storage area. Timer in hand, trash bags at the ready, I would love to think that I'll be done with this in a week, but I've seen my pantry. Photos and updates will be posted to the Facebook page, for accountability. 


April: The number of books I'll aim to read in one month. It seems like a lot, considering the hecticness of my life, between working freelance and homeschooling, plus running kids to their various activities, but since I set a higher reading goal for myself in 2021, and exceeded it, why not aim higher still? Follow me on Goodreads for regular updates on this.

May: 12 minutes a day, five days a week, spent on lesson planning for the 22/23 school year. I have struggled with staying on top of lesson planning this year, having tried something new (which didn't work), so I'd like to get a jump start on the next school year, even as this one winds up.

June/July/August: The number of pounds I'd like to shed, healthily, this summer. I'll give myself three months for this one. That means cutting back on my snacks and finding a way to get active again. The last two years have not been good to me, or my waistline, and the time has come (the time being me turning 40 and my pants no longer fitting). 

FALL 2022 - TBD

I've yet to decide what 12-themed things I might focus on for the remaining months of the year, but I'm okay with that because if the last two years have taught us anything, it's that we have no idea what the future holds. By this time in the year, we could all be rolling around in giant plastic bubbles, or building bunkers to survive WWIII, or fighting off the next superbug that's taking over the world. After all, as James 4:13-15 reminds us...
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
If it's the Lord's will, I'll be back with my first post of the year next month. I hope to see you here, and in the meantime, I'd love to hear what your goal is for the first month of 2022 and/or for the entire year. 

Would you consider doing something like the 12-themed goals? If you're interested, I'd love the company and accountability on the journey. Join the conversation over on the Busy Nothings Facebook page, or chime in here in the comments. Are you ready?

Let's make 2022 the year that we "spur one another on" - to love, good deeds, and personal growth, 12 things at a time! 


Summer Stack Update (A What's On My Nightstand #WOMNS Post)

Hello all! As I mentioned in my last post (back in early May), I made the conscious choice earlier this year to spend less time online, specifically on social media, and have no regrets so far with that decision. Not only is there less drama in my life, but I have more time to do other things, like hang out with my kids and read books while they play in the pool. So far it has been a win-win. And even though I still work online, blogging got thrown into the "social media" pot so I haven't been on here as much either, but today I wanted to jump on to highlight one of the books I just finished up from The Stack. I got sidetracked by several ebooks on my Kindle (currently reading Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter - which has been really interesting), so my progress on the Nightstand Stack has slowed a bit. However, I'm still plugging away, and hoping to make the most of the next 6 months. I'll keep you posted. 😊

Today's review is of The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, by Meghan Cox Gurdon. Now, as I said in my review on Goodreads, I did not need a book to tell me that it's important to read aloud to your kids. That's something I've known since my mother read to me as a child (thus turning me into a bookworm), and was solidified by my own experience of reading to our kids (I'll get into that a little bit more in a second). However, Gurdon does a fantastic job of laying out the research and presenting her reasons for why this is not only important for turning children into readers, but also in their physical development, mental well-being, and even bridging the divide between parents and children as kids move into and through the minefield of teenage angst. 

Our Reading Story

In 2016, the Hubs and I sat in a small, dark office of a children's home (a.k.a. orphanage/care facility) in Latin America, just minutes away from meeting five kids who would eventually take on our last name and become an intricate part of our lives as we all slowly learned what it meant to be a family. In these last few minutes before life, as we knew it, changed forever, I found myself asking the in-house psychologist what each of these kids enjoyed doing. I was trying to discover hobbies, interests, anything that might become common ground in a situation where nothing was common - from language to life experience. When I asked if anyone ever read to the kids, the psychologist began laughing and said, "Read? To these children? Ha! None of them have the attention span to handle that! I tried once or twice, but it doesn't work. You'll never get these kids to sit and listen. All they want to do is watch TV." 

Challenge accepted. 

To put it mildly, the adoption was difficult from start to finish. The oldest was 12, spoke no English, hated the world, and us most of all. I can't say that I blame her - everything in her life had been taken away, changed, or forced upon her, including learning a new language. The first night we were home, I went into the bedroom and found her madly studying Dr. Seuss's ABCs, trying to read the English, and making marks in pencil above words she thought she knew, writing the Spanish equivalent above or below "elephant" or "horse" - words that she could tell from the pictures. I still remember, a few weeks later, when she finally approached me and asked, in her thick Spanish accent, "What does zizzer mean?" I asked her to repeat the question, and then again, and finally said, "That's not a word, where did you hear it?" At which point, in complete frustration, she stomped over to one of the bookshelves in our home library and pulled out the ABC book, flipped to the Z page, and then I got it. Dr. Seuss's nonsense words were lost in translation, but a memory was made. 

I read that ABC book so often, to so many kids, that I unintentionally memorized it. Over and over we would read it together, as they learned new sounds, words, and—for some—even the alphabet. These days we've advanced quite a bit from Dr. Seuss (even though the youngest four, now ranging in age from almost 9 to a newly minted teenager, still request them from time to time during our nightly reading sessions). From Seuss to Tolkien (The Hobbit was a hit), their worlds continue to expand. There are times when the Hubs and I glance at one another during our nightly reading rituals (often lasting an hour or two, depending on the number of books we have going at the moment, and my level of wakefulness), and share a knowing look, as we hear the kids sucking in their breath at a particularly intense part of the book, or chuckling when Grandma Georgina complains again about Mr. Wonka and his antics. My favorite moments are when one of them suddenly gets the subtle meaning or understands a play on words, because it shows a deeper grasp of the English language. If only the psychologist could see them now...  

I think the most surprising part of The Enchanted Hour, for me, was when Gurdon touched on the power of reading to older children, and the way it creates a bridge during adolescence (see quote above, starting with "we blow it sometimes"). I honestly hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about it, but when I read this section, I instantaneously knew she had hit the mark. The oldest's transition to a small private school was made as easy as possible for her, including allowing her to read the Spanish translations of the classroom literature assignments while listening to the English audio on YouTube. But after her first six months the instructors moved her to the same books as her classmates, and she floundered a bit as she struggled to read along. And that's when I stepped in. 

Despite ongoing angst in our personal relationship, during those months, when we spent hours together each night while I read through The Giver, I Am Malala, The Secret Garden, and Sherlock Holmes' The Hound of the Baskervilles, it was more than just getting through a reading assignment. I found myself not only in the role of reader, but also that of history instructor (trying to explain 9/11 and the ensuing war to a child that came to us knowing nothing about anything outside of her birth country), culture and religious expert, and all around encyclopedia (try reading Sherlock Holmes sometime when you don't have a concept of what a carriage is!). Although she has not become a book lover like the other four, I still look back on that year of reading aloud for school, and realize that sometimes, it was the one thing that gave us common ground, even if just for an hour at night. 

With one year left until she leaves for college, we still don't have much in common. She's doing her life, and I'm raising her four siblings. It sometimes feels like I have two different families living in the same house. But the other night she happened to be home for dinner (a rare occurrence these days). And as we all sat around the dinner table, she looked at me and said, "Remember when we read Sherlock Holmes? I'd kind of like to hear more of that. Maybe you should read it to me." I tried not to fall off my chair or look too excited. After all, I knew it was just a fleeting moment, a passing idea, but it thrilled my bookworm heart that it even crossed her mind. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll find myself in her living room, reading Dr. Seuss's ABCs to her little boy or girl, my grandchild. And maybe, just maybe, she'll finally allow herself to sit and enjoy the comfort and connective power of reading aloud. Walls torn down, one book at a time.


The Stack is Still Clearing (A What's On My Nightstand #WOMNS Post)

Hello friends and fellow bookworms! My last post on here went live on February 16th, and then it seems, just as in years past, despite starting out strong with my blogging goals, life took over. And while I continued to read through my list and follow my No Spend plans for February, I failed to blog about either topic (or anything else, for that matter). But since I had a moment this morning, I thought I'd at least give a quick update about what I've read since the last time I posted. 

As a reminder, here are the list of books that I started out with from the FRONT stack on my nightstand.

  1. Boundaries with Teens - Read the Review
  2. The Enchanted Hour
  3. Agatha: The real life of Agatha Christie - Read the Review
  4. Poirot and Me - Read Review Below 👇
  5. Sugar Changed the World - Read the Review
  6. To the Land of Long Lost Friends - Read the Review
  7. Is God anti-gay?
  8. The Girls of Atomic City - Read Review Below 👇
  9. How to Raise an Elephant
  10. Dear Mrs. Bird - Read Review Below 👇
  11. The Feather Thief
  12. SoulCare
  13. Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs
  14. What She Ate
  15. Hank & Jim
  16. Don't Overthink It
  17. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (the only one I've read before, but not this version)
  18. The Quotable Tozer
  19. 7 Men
Over the last couple of months, in addition to reading the official books from my stack (which I'll get to in a minute), and completing Souvenir on my Kindle (you can read my review of it on Goodreads), I also read the following books to the kids: 
So as you can see, I haven't been lagging on my reading for 2021, they just haven't all been part of my official stack that I'm still working through for the year. But if you're curious about the ones that I have marked off of the list, here's a brief rundown.

👍Poirot and Me by David Suchet has definitely been one of the more enjoyable books from my stack in 2021. As an avid fan of Agatha Christie since I was in junior high, with Poirot as my favorite sleuth, it should come as no surprise that I was also a fan of the British television show. 

Who better to write a book about the show and this lovable Belgian detective than the man who played him for more than two decades? David Suchet threw himself into this role, 110%, and his love for the fictional character comes through in his writing. I'm not even sure Christie herself liked Poirot as much Suchet did and does.

If you are a fan of the books or the show, this is a must read. Two thumbs up from me, and a big thanks to my sweet Hubs for his placement of this under our Christmas tree.

👎Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce. I had high expectations for this book, based on the reviews that I had read on Goodreads. However, once I dug in, I found that I had a hard time getting into the story. I wanted to like the characters, I wanted to like the plot line, but I found that it dragged a bit, and I ended up just wanting the book to be done. 

That being said, I now see that it is planned out to be a series of books, and since the story took a bit of an unexpected upturn at the end, I might be willing to give book #2 a try, if I ever run out of books from my stack to read. The likelihood of that is slim to none, but there's always a chance (especially if I stumble across a used copy of it at some point in time). 

If you have read this book and liked it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan. Last year I had read her book about the Biltmore House (see my review), and felt that the idea was strong, but the writing could have used some work (and a good editor). Even so, when I saw that she had written a book about the women of Oak Ridge during WWII, it piqued my interest and I went about getting a copy for my stack.

The good news is that it gets a thumbs up 👍 from me. As with The Last Castle (her book on the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC), Oak Ridge is just down the road from me (the opposite direction of Asheville) and contains a fascinating, and often overlooked, part of history. 

Although I was aware that Oak Ridge played a role in the creation of the atomic bomb that eventually brought an end to WWII, I was unaware of the extent of the secrecy surrounding the work and workers during the dark days of the war. This book makes me want to road trip down there one of these days and see what remains of that history before it's completely gone.

*   *   *   *   *

That's what's been going on with my stack of 2021 books. I'll do my best to report in a little more regularly going forward, but...with five kids and homeschooling and working freelance jobs and summer coming...I'm making no promises. 😄

👉 If you haven't already connected with me on Goodreads, I recommend following along there, as I do write reviews as soon as I complete whatever book I'm reading at the moment.

What have YOU been reading?


My Simplified Why: Follow the Money

FROM THE ARCHIVES ➤➤➤ I originally wrote this post in January 2020 - before the whole world came to a screeching halt, and life as we knew it, stopped. However, as I've been attempting to blog a little more consistently this year, I decided to pull up some of the posts I had started and saved as drafts, and this is one of them. While similar to the post I shared last week, as I read through it, I was reminded of where we were a year ago, and I realized that I had, in fact, made some good financial changes over the past 12 months. For example, this year our savings accounts are much healthier than they were a year ago, and that's a good thing! But I also realized that some of my points made in this post were still valid, and good reminders of other ways I could cut corners and save, so I decided to post it anyway. Maybe you, like me, will find a little nugget to take away and dwell on and then do something with this year. May we all continue to grow and improve in 2021! 

In 2012, we paid off our house. In actual fact, we paid off the remaining 54% of our mortgage in just 7 months of 2012. It came down to focusing in on a big goal, saying "no" to a lot of other things, and a whole bunch of self discipline. And it felt great when we were all done.

Which is why when, earlier this month, I found myself stressing over looming bills and shrinking bank accounts, I was pulled up short when I realized I was right back to where I was in 2011. How did that happen? Well, I'll tell you: old habits and new kids.

Old habits like, "I don't really feel like cooking tonight," (which, even as I was typing that, reminded me that I needed to start the Crock-Pot for dinner) crept back in. Only this time there were seven of us, so Japanese takeout now costs $70, rather than $20. 🙅 The occasional stop for ice cream after a school event takes $30 when you're dishing up six bowls instead of two, and now that some of them are getting older, a stop at Starbucks is often a $15 splurge, rather than a $5 treat. It all adds up.

Although most of the time I'm pretty good about telling myself I don't need the new pair of pants or that cute sweater, it's harder when I'm out and see clothes on sale that would fit my kids. I mean, I'm saving money, right? They're so hard on clothes, and it's nice not to have to pay full-price for something when I have a stash downstairs that I got on clearance. But you know what's NOT a bargain? Hitting up so many sales that I forget what I have and when I finally dig it out...they've outgrown it. True story, I'm embarrassed to admit.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

In 2018, I was becoming totally overwhelmed by the amount of stuff in our house. When it was just the two of us, I kept it fairly tidy, though we still had way too much, but once the kids came, I felt like I was swimming against the tide. Despite keeping Christmas to a minimum and refusing to throw extravagant birthday parties where all of their friends were invited and we were flooded with gifts, it was like a never ending stuff parade coming through the doors of our house. Even though I instigated regular purge sessions, piles continued to creep up on my desks, kitchen counters, and even on top of bedroom dressers.

Feeling thus overwhelmed, I signed up to take part in the Uncluttered course (nope, that's not an affiliate link) that minimalist Joshua Becker hosts several times a year. All participants receive a lifetime membership to participate in the course, and also maintain access to the private Facebook group. I can't say that the course itself was particularly life changing for me...but the private group has been a great source of ongoing encouragement. Seeing what others are doing, purging, changing, has been a reminder that I shouldn't give up

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that people were beginning to share their "why" for continuing the clean out. One woman said that her why was becoming debt free, and as soon as I read it, I knew that I needed to get back on the bandwagon. While we're not in debt - outside of a mortgage (yes, we paid it off but, long story short, we once again have a small mortgage on our home) - we're also not exactly rolling in savings. Another woman shared that whenever she thought about buying something, she transferred that same amount into her savings account, which triggered a memory of a time when I was doing the same thing (see: paid off house in 2012). It's just one of many good habits that need to be pulled from the mothballs.

This year, my WHY for minimalizing and simplifying really comes down to the money. It's not just about making multiple trips to donate excess goods, but about stemming the tide coming in as well - not just because it's stuff, but because it represents resources that could be much better spent elsewhere. As I look ahead at current and upcoming expenses, I realize that the not-so-little $40 and $70 expenditures, even if it's "saving" me money, have really added up. It's time to remember that every time I'm saying "yes" to something with my money, I'm saying "no" to something else...something that's probably way more important.

My why for #minimalismsimplified in 2020 is about financial freedom. Or, as Becker put in on a post he shared last week, "Just because it's on sale, doesn't mean I need it." 😏  


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