With 2023 drawing to a close, I can think of no better way to end my blogging year than with a look back. I began my retrospection a couple of weeks ago with an end-of-year reading recap, and I continued the personal review last Saturday with an internal look at what I learned this year. Today, we are zooming back out for a broader view of this year’s biggest moments—the highlights, the milestones, and some personal favorites from the year. Settle in, friends, this is a doozy!
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS
It’s hard to narrow down a year’s worth of memories to a few standout moments. Even with my incessant record-keeping, I have inevitably forgotten many of the year’s biggest highlights. These are the ones that I want most to remember in future years when I reflect back on the year 2023.
We celebrated Charleston’s 8th birthday with a party at one of the kids’ very favorite places, Indigo Play. No surprises that the party was Mario-themed, for the second year in a row. Last January, I could hardly believe my firstborn was turning eight . . . and now he is only a couple weeks from his ninth birthday!
In the spring I had the opportunity to lead a small group of women through a study on Biblical literacy. This was the first group I’ve led entirely on my own and I loved every minute of it. The women in my group were sincere, open-hearted, and thirsty for the Truth, and my Wednesdays with them were priceless. The experience awakened a passion for women’s ministry, and I hope to have similar opportunities in the future. (Next time I will remember to take a group picture!)
Our friends Cara and Dan visited from South Dakota and we had a delightful day with them. Our time together is never long enough, but when Cara and I are reunited it’s like no time has passed.
In May we roadtripped out to California for family camp in the mountains, where we enjoyed a weekend of fellowship and fun and totally awesome lodgings (this year we stayed in a stand-alone house with the whole family!). Camp was followed by a week at my parents’ house at Huntington Beach: we visited various family members (the twins got to meet my Uncle Bob and Aunt Sharon for the first time!), hung out at playgrounds and museums, and savored the time with my parents.
In June we said goodbye to Northpoint, the church we had been an active part of since 2016, and began attending The Grove. This was a momentous change for us, one that was years in the making, and we are so grateful that the Lord led us to our new church home. We went through the membership process over the summer and began serving on Sundays—Luke on the production team, and me in the nursery. Saying goodbye to Northpoint was difficult, but we have zero doubts that this was the right move for our family.
In July I attended my first-ever homeschool conference at the Kalahari Resort in Round Rock. It was an amazing experience, something every homeschooler should do, and offered much-needed inspiration and solidarity as we headed into a new school year. I enjoyed the “mom time” away at the conference, but the best portion was when the kids and Luke joined me for an evening concert featuring Slugs and Bugs.
In September, Luke and Charleston joined Trail Life and it has become a huge part of our family life! The boys enjoy the community of their weekly meetings and monthly campouts, and the twins and I have gotten to participate in a couple of events (the car races were SO fun and we loved seeing Charleston’s car do so well!).
At the beginning of fall, Luke ended a years-long search for the perfect truck. This has been a dream of his for quite a while (since he sold his last truck when we were pregnant with Charleston in 2014) and I am so happy to see him back in a vehicle he truly loves. Plus this opens up possibilities for traveling with a trailer, something our family has wanted to do for a long time.
At the end of September we celebrated the twins’ fourth birthday with a big Disney Princess and Paw Patrol party at our home. We packed out the house with friends and the kids loved dressing up, playing with their besties, and basking in all the Princess and Pup glory that descended upon our home.
We took a family beach trip with Luke’s parents and sister in October. It was our first time camping in a trailer and we had such a great time. Port A was beautiful, the kids had a blast at the beach, and the whole trip was incredibly relaxing.
My parents came out to visit the week before Thanksgiving, and the visit was such a great one. We played games, made good use of our backyard playground, and visited a few local spots including Sweet Eats farm. We were sad that their trip got cut short but are thankful for the time we had with them. What a gift.
My grandmother (Oma) passed away on November 21 (hence my parents returning to California early). She was 98 years old and though she lived a long and exciting life, we are saddened by her passing. She will be deeply missed. The picture below is from our visit in May, our last time seeing her in person; I look forward to our future Heavenly reunion.
As great as the big highlight moments are, they are highlights for a reason—they are by definition the exception to daily life. Really, it’s the ordinary moments that create a life worth living; here are some of our favorite quieter moments of 2023.
Summer Sundays at the pool! It was the first summer since the twins were born that we spent time at our neighborhood pool, and we made tons of great memories there this year.
Many play dates and meals in our home with friends.
A busy summer of camps for Charleston (Earth Native, Snapology, and Camp HCF [VBS]), as well as Camp 75 (not hosted by us this year) for the whole family.
“Kendra Saturdays” (my time for blogging and rest while Luke watched the kids) and workouts at the gym following long chats with the gym babysitters.
Lots of dating: solo dates with the kids (Saturday morning donuts with Kali and Sully, Tuesday afternoon frozen yogurt with Charleston) and semi-regular date nights with Luke, including couple dates with Jessica and Chris at the start of the year (we MISS THEM!).
Participating in the Hill Country Women’s Bible study, studying Esther and Ruth in the spring and Genesis in the fall, and forming friendships with the other women in my group.
Weekly gymnastics classes for the twins and homeschool programs (Rock Enrichment Academy and Sports Day) for Charleston.
My personal study of the Divided Kingdom through the BSF curriculum, and reading through the Bible (on audio this time) along with the Bible Recap.
Playgrounds, board games, read-alouds, family quiet reading time, homeschooling around the dining table, family dinners, silly jokes, endless games of 20 Questions and I Spy, and evening blessing and prayer time with the kids—basically, how I spent the vast majority of my time in 2023!
Serving at church(es): participating in the midweek volunteer team and teaching Sunday School to Kindergarteners at Northpoint, and holding babies in the nursery on Sundays at The Grove.
Marking all of the holidays in our own way: egg hunts and the Easter Bunny and church on Easter; fireworks on the Fourth of July; family gathering on Thanksgiving; trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving and Mario costumes for Halloween; candles and frozen yogurt and homemade cards for birthdays; and various Advent traditions, festivals, and decorations at Christmas. These traditions are the same every year, the fabric of our family culture.
KID MILESTONES AND MOMENTS
Charleston had quite a few “firsts” this year: he shot his own gun for the first time after his birthday in January. In February he learned to tie his own shoes (he’d never had lace-up shoes before!), and in April he began riding a bike without training wheels. He graduated from speech therapy in April, wrapped up second grade in May and is now halfway through third grade and doing fantastic.
Kali and Sully crossed off quite a few milestones this year, too. In January we converted their crib to a bed (which they are still sharing) and by March they were fully potty trained, including at night. They weaned from breastfeeding the week they turned four, and went to their first movie in the theater in July. They got big-kid bikes for their birthday and took to them (with training wheels) immediately! They began participating in more of our homeschooling, have mastered imaginary play, and are able to choose their own clothes and dress themselves.
Luke and I celebrated 15 years of marriage on Thursday. There were no big getaways or elaborate gifts, but it’s a milestone that feels significant. Our marriage is far from perfect, but we have been through quite a bit and continue to grow in our love and admiration for each other. I am more grateful than ever that God blessed me with a husband who loves and leads our family so well.
BEST OF THE KID-ISMS
The kids continued to tickle me with their quotes, questions, and comments this year. Here is a sampling of favorites from each kiddo from throughout the year.
+ When we lost power during an ice storm: “Oh no, we lost our ‘lectricity. Guess we better go to the store to get some.”
+ “How did God paint all of those houses? That was a lot of work!”
+ “You and Daddy and Charlie made our house, but it was too hard, so God and Jesus helped you. And then they needed helpers so they called all the workers, and everyone helped us. Right, Mom?”
+ “Oh no! That man is crossing the street all by his self, that’s not good. We can’t cross the street by ourself because then we will die on the cross just like Jesus.”
+ During prayer time: “God, make sure I get to be Charlie’s personal helper, and make sure I don’t get fired.”
+ Overheard talking in bed with Sully: “I’m not scared of the dark because dark is my favorite. It makes me not awake.”
+ “We don’t need to clean our house, because God will do that for us, right?”
+ “I know what a teenager is! It’s someone who’s a mom.”
+ Responding to Kali who had asked, “Is Santa going to bring Daddy presents? Is Santa in the clouds right now?” Sully: “No, Santa is sitting in his chair at the fish place [Bass Pro Shop]. That’s his job.”
+ Watching Luke from our front window as Luke got into his car, heading to the airport for a work trip: “Where’s the plane? I thought Daddy was going in a plane!”
+ Pointing out a convertible: “Ooh, I want that car! It’s cool because the glass is all broken.”
+ “When you and daddy were married, me and Kali and Charlie were not born yet? We were still in God’s cave?”
+ When we saw an officer pulling a car over and I explained that getting a traffic ticket usually involves paying a fee: “Oh, so the police officer wants to get money for his piggie bank?”
+ Discussing our purpose after watching a Biblical worldview video: “My purpose is to hold people’s ears.”
+ During a mealtime prayer: “Please help God not fall out of our hearts, and please make Jesus help Him.”
+ “I just noticed that these jammies don’t have any buttons on them. Was God just too busy making people so He forgot the buttons?”
+ Me (frustrated): “You’re not always the best listener.” Charleston: “Well, I am a good listener. I’m just not always a good obeyer.”
+ When I asked what made him sad: “In the future, when I ask girls to marry me and they say no. I wonder who I should ask first.”
+ When asked what celebrity or superhero he had chosen to draw for a game played at church (I guessed Mario). “Good guess but no, I drew the most important celebrity, Jesus. I mean, we wouldn’t even be playing that game, we wouldn’t be in church, there wouldn’t even BE a Mario without Jesus.”
+ Reading an ad for magazines that said: Ages 4-7, 10 issues: “Does that mean you have issues if you are those ages?”
+ “I think it’s, like, a scientific fact that when you’re a kid the healthy foods taste terrible.”
+ “I wish I had gone to Heaven when I was a baby so I wouldn’t have any friends yet to say goodbye to when I do go. But I guess I would have missed seeing the Mario movie, so maybe not…”
+ Explaining to the twins, who asked if adults were ever naughty: “When mommies and daddies were kids, they were naughty. But adults are more mature so they know different ways to not be naughty.”
+ “Mom, in your journals, is your life boring or fun? I’m guessing fun because if it was boring you wouldn’t journal about it.”
FAITHFUL IN 2023
Each January, when I select One Word to frame my year, I never quite know how it will go. My Words have played different roles in my spiritual life over the years, but God has used each Word in unique ways, and Faithful was no exception. I saw a theme of God’s faithfulness everywhere this year; many of those moments were shared in monthly blog posts, but there were countless more as God made it undeniable that He always has been—and always will be—faithful to His promises. I’ve witnessed the Lord’s faithfulness in Scripture, in fiction, in my own life and the stories of others, and in some of the smallest, most mundane details and moments where I would not have thought God could show up. In recognizing God’s faithfulness to me, I myself have grown more faithful, drawing near to Him and devoting myself to His will and plans.
BLOGGING IN 2023
I celebrated ten years of blogging in August, and have published 1,642 posts in the last decade! That is a lot of words and I’m thankful to the readers who have stuck with me from the beginning, and those who have joined in along the way. On paper, this blog may not be a success, but it has continued to be formative for me and an important part of my life. This space is where I work out my thoughts and express my creativity, and it is both my ministry and my biggest hobby.
In 2023, I’ve enjoyed continuing many of my ongoing series (Quick Lit, What I Learned, Lately, 28 Lists, Quotables, Monthly Verses) and adding some new series this year, including my bimonthly Backlist Book roundups and Bookish Considerations, as well as my year-long Faithful series. Perhaps my greatest achievement is that blogging has become increasingly a source of enjoyment rather than one of stress or obligation, as was often the case in my early days of writing. I look forward to what is to come for this space in the coming year!
A FEW FAVORITES
As difficult as it is for me to choose standout memories from the year, superlatives are just as hard, if not harder! Though this is far from a definitive list of my favorite entertainment, purchases, and various resources/items from the year, it does represent the best of the best of all the little extras of 2023.
I shared my top 20+ books of the year earlier this month. If forced to choose just one favorite novel, I would go with No Two Persons for its clever concept, unique structure, and beautiful commentary on the power of the written word. Selecting one favorite nonfiction title was more difficult, but ultimately Every Woman a Theologian stands out as the book that was informative, applicable, and inspiring in my pursuit of better understanding God and His Word. Rounding out my Top Six (three fiction, three nonfiction) of all books for the year are Remarkably Bright Creatures, Happiness Falls, The Toxic War on Masculinity, and Life in Five Senses.
Favorite Read-Alouds (Charleston’s Picks)
I asked Charleston to name a few favorites from the books we read together this year; he had a harder time choosing favorites than I would have expected but settled on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Pippi Longstocking, and The BFG as his top choices. I loved nearly ever read-aloud from this year (not surprising, as I chose them myself and tended to pick books I love), but I especially enjoyed reading The 21 Balloons, Little House in the Big Woods, and the third and fourth books of the Harry Potter series with the kids.
Luke and I watched a total of two new shows this year, so this decision wasn’t difficult, but I imagine that Acapulco would have stood out in a sea of TV shows to choose from. The comedy is creative, genuinely funny, and refreshingly free of most profanity and other adult content. I especially loved the chance to brush up on my Spanish with the blend of English and Spanish dialogue, and the visuals are bright and fun—just what I wanted from my limited TV time this year.
Favorite TV Show (Kids)
We’ve gotten rid of Netflix, Disney+, and nearly every other streaming service, so these days the kids’ media time is primarily movies we have purchased or borrowed from the library. An exception is the shows on Bentkey, the new kids entertainment platform from folks at the Daily Wire. Of the Bentkey shows we’ve sampled, the kids and I all love A Wonderful Day with Mabel Maclay, which is sort of a modern take on Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. The show is sweet and thoughtfully produced, with positive messages that are blessedly agenda-free, and I think our whole family is a little in love with the charming Mabel.
My choices for favorites were slim here as well: with the exception of some beloved Christmas movies and old DVDs that I rewatched with the kids, I only watched five movies from start to finish this year. Of these, Elemental was my favorite. It’s not Pixar’s best, but I found it heartwarming and ridiculously creative, and I liked the messages on overcoming prejudice and the power of love.
I made up for my dearth of media choices with podcasts: I subscribe to dozens of shows, every one of them a winner (I’ve gotten much more discerning with my podcast choices, so shows that I am no longer enjoying are an immediate Unsubscribe). I’ve narrowed down favorites of the year by choosing the best from the categories of shows that I enjoy listening to.
Bookish: Sarah’s Bookshelves Lives — Sarah and I have a similar taste in books and are likeminded in our attitudes toward reading, so I always appreciate her (unfiltered) book commentary and her systematic approach to reviewing books. Her author interviews are pure gold, and I’ve loved being a part of Sarah’s Patreon community (with its abundant bonus content) this year.
Daily News: Morning Wire — After my morning routine and quiet time (which involves listening to the Bible followed by the The Bible Recap, also a favorite!), this is the podcast that starts my day. I love the short, straightforward approach to the news as well as Morning Wire’s focus on stories that are not regularly featured by left-leaning media sources.
News & Political Commentary: The Megyn Kelly Show — Megyn is truly the best in her field. I admire her strong stance on issues that are important to her (even in the rare instances when those stances diverge from my own), her straightforward interview style, her warmth and humor, and her unwillingness to compromise on the truth. She is a rare journalist that I respect and trust.
Pop Culture: Plugged In — I turn to the folks at Plugged In for all I need to know about media choices for my kids (and myself), and their podcast is informative and fun, introducing me to new entertainment and offering unconventional (but Christ-centered) perspectives on media and culture.
Parenting: Foundation Worldview Podcast — This podcast was an answer to prayer as I have been seeking to equip my kids with a Biblical worldview. Elizabeth’s thoughtful teaching and encouragement has helped me sort through a number of questions I’ve had related to parenting from a Christian perspective.
Faith & Culture: Unshaken Faith Podcast with Alisa Childers and Natasha Crain — I’m a huge fan of both Alisa’s and Natasha’s podcasts, and I love that they teamed up to make a joint podcast this year. While Foundation Worldview helps me apply a Biblical framework in my parenting, Unshaken Faith helps me do the same in my interactions with the world.
Interview Show: ReFOCUS with Jim Daley — I’m a years-long fan of Jim Daley thanks to the Focus on the Family Daily broadcast; here, he goes deeper with guests for long-form interviews that address important cultural issues. Their conversations are varied and insightful and rooted in Biblical truth.
Theology: Verity with Phylicia Masonheimer — Phylicia’s book on theology was one of my favorite reads of the year, and her podcast is just as wonderful. I resonate with Phylicia’s wholistic approach to teaching scripture and benefit from her commentary on the topics she chooses to cover. I have especially enjoyed her recent series on Church History.
Sunday Morning Bible Teaching: John Mark Comer Teachings Podcast — John Mark Comer is my favorite contemporary teaching pastor and I’ve learned so much from his thoughtful sermons, with their emphasis on spiritual formation and an approach that balances cultural relevance with a passionate adherence to Scripture. Comer’s Rule of Life podcast was also a gift this year.
Favorite Music Album
Like everyone, I listened to tons of Taylor Swift this year—not one particular album of hers, just all of my favorite Taylor songs on a playlist that I had on repeat. Outside of Taylor, my most-played album of the year was Faithful, a collection of songs recounting the stories of women in the Bible. The lyrics are powerful and the vocal talent is exceptional. This album was particularly special to me this year thanks to its title and theme (which match my Word for the year) and the connection to the fantastic book that was also part of The Faithful Project (a group of Christian musicians, storytellers, and artists who came together in 2019 to form a collective creative response to God’s faithfulness). All of the songs on the album are great, but my favorite by far is Rahab’s Lullaby.
Favorite Home & Personal Items
Brooklinen Flannel Sheets — I received these luxurious sheets as a Christmas gift last year, and it has been such a treat to bring them out this month as our weather has cooled. These are soft, warm, and cozy without being stifling, and I love the windowpane pattern.
Heating Pad — This microwavable heating pad is a must-have year-round for relief from menstrual cramps, and in colder months I carry it around the house with me at all times to stay warm. It’s light-weight, heats up quickly, holds heat well, and doesn’t have a strange smell that I’ve noticed in other heating pads.
Hair Dryer — I went years without blowdrying my hair, but since my haircut in October my hair is no longer “wash and wear” and is too short to wear up. My old hair dryer was out of commission, so I replaced it with this one that is efficient, has just the right number of settings, and doesn’t cause my hair to frizz up. Plus it’s a pretty color!
Organizing Cubes — I was all about home organization this year. I updated my pantry, transferring all of our dry goods to glass jars, and sorted through our closets and the kids’ toys. These cubes from Wal-Mart have been put to use in closets, in the kids’ rooms (where the surfaces double as Lego building centers), and in our front entryway where I’ve filled the cubes with baskets for easy, attractive storage.
Favorite Big Purchase
This year our oven/stove and fridge both called it quits, following in the footsteps of our dishwasher and microwave (which both died in 2022). We weren’t eager to spend money on replacements, but I have to say that I LOVE our new fridge which has a much better layout and more storage. I’m also a big fan of our new Samsung oven, especially its air fryer setting—perfect for roasted vegetables!
Favorite Clothing Purchases
This was another category for which favorites were easy to choose, as I only purchased (or received as gifts) a handful of clothing items this year. This oh-so-soft circle cardigan I received last Christmas is heavy-but-not-bulky and goes with everything. I bought this dress during the Nordstrom Anniversary sale and am in love: it is comfortable and doesn’t wrinkle, and the color is perfection (I liked it so much I wore it for our annual family pictures). These boots were well-priced and can be dressed up or down, and they’re incredibly comfortable. Also comfortable—but earning zero points on the cuteness scale—are these sweats: I don’t wear them out of the house, but they are insanely cozy and warm, perfect for days when I just want to be comfy at home. And for sunny days outdoors, I’ve loved these unglasses that, unlike other glasses I’ve tried, actually stay on my face and are the right level of darkness for my sensitive eyes.
Favorite Kid Items
These days, my kids spend most of their free time engaging in imaginative play, riding their bikes, or in the backyard on their playground. All three kids love Legos, and the twins have graduated to big-kid Legos so it’s a fun activity the three of them can do together. They are all very into coloring and crafts, and Charleston has loved this art kit that offers all the supplies he needs. All three kids are really into games: the twins’ go-to games are their various matching games (with the personalized matching game from my parents as our favorite). Charleston has been really loving CATAN Jr. and 7 Wonders, which are both pretty involved but lots of fun once we got past the steep learning curve. Of course, the Adventures in Odyssey Club continues to be some of the best $10 we spend every month: we LOVE listening through the hundreds of Odyssey episodes on the app, and we enjoy the various other features too including trivia and challenges, contests, weekly comic strips, and a monthly magazine that comes in the mail.
Favorite Homeschool Resources
The Good and the Beautiful continues to be our primary source of curriculum (we use it for Math, Language Arts, Science, and Handwriting). The curriculum is challenging but not too hard, does an excellent job of blending Biblical principals into the teaching, is grab-and-go (meaning no prep time needed from me), and holds up to its name of being both good and beautiful. Charleston and I are also in love with our history curriculum from Biblio Plan that combines history and the Bible in a way that is captivating and relevant. Another addition we’ve been grateful for this year is the Foundation Worldview Curriculum that is offering my kids a fantastic understanding of a Biblical worldview in a format that is developmentally appropriate but not dumbed down. We finished up the beginning worldview curriculum that was a really good fit for the twins especially, and now Charleston is working through this curriculum on Biblical literacy. I had no idea such a robust Biblical curriculum existed for kids, and we both are learning SO much about our study and approach to the Bible.
Favorite New Routine
In 2022 I began the habit of getting up at 5:00 for time with God; this year I solidified my routine that starts with exercises while I listen to my daily Bible reading on audio, followed by a walk, then returning home for some personal Bible study until it’s time to wake the kids for school. I’ve grown to love every part of this routine, ESPECIALLY the morning walk with Arlo that doubles as my prayer time. Despite not being a natural morning person, this is truly one of my favorite parts of the day and a good reason to rise with my alarm each morning.
Choosing a favorite quote might have been my most difficult decision of this post. I settled on two that stood out when I first read them and that I have reflected on often in the months since.
“Many’s the man lost much just because he missed a perfect opportunity to say nothing.” ~ Claire Keegan, Foster
“God is more interested in having our hearts than in having our dreams come true.” ~ Ruth Chou Simons, Faithful
If you’re still here . . . thanks for sticking around through this VERY LONG year in review! I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse at some of my own highlights and favorites and that it has inspired you to reflect on your own 2023 highlight reel!
And thank you, my dear readers, for being an important part of my year. Let’s do it again in 2024!