Estelle: We’re Not Talking About Books Q&A

Good morning, friends!  Today I’m answering some questions that Magan sent me a few days ago. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series so far! It’s been so fun to reflect on the past year together and share it with you. (If you misses Magan’s Q&A, here it is!)

Just a small thing: MAGAN CAME UP WITH SOME TOUGH QUESTIONS!

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What are your favorite go-to places to shop? I know we both have so much love for Fossil, Modcloth, and all things Kate Spade, but what are your hidden gems?

Oh shopping! I buy a lot of my clothes at The Loft — but I guess one of my “hidden gems” is American Eagle. I feel super old even admitting this but I have gotten some great tops there this year, and I love their accessories. (I’m still a little scared of their jeans because of the junior sizes but Aerie has some comfortable yoga pants.

Tell me about one of your favorite Disney moments of all time…

Ah! That’s so tough to narrow down. I just went on a great trip in November with a bunch of friends I met from blogging about Disney and it was such a blast. But one of my favorite memories is from my honeymoon back in 2011. We wore those silly bride and groom Mickey ears and went to take pictures with some characters. Chip and Dale performed an entire wedding ceremony for us in front of the people waiting in line to meet them and it was so much fun! The cast members were lovely and took a ton of pictures of it for us.

Best Disney Moment Rather Be Reading Blog

You mentioned in one of your questions to me that I’ve become more selfless this year; when I think about you, I see that you seem like a stronger, more confident woman. What changes occurred in 2013 that led to this refined you?

Oh gosh. I really appreciate that. Maybe because we are almost to 2014, but I think I’ve been pretty self-reflective the past few weeks. I can’t help it. It’s been a fantastic year — definitely in the marriage, friendship, hobby, and work categories. But some other things haven’t been so great, and I think I’m just trying to learn from those? Surround yourself with people who are honest with you, have your back, and are truly there when you need them? It’s been quite a transition period for me… moving in the past year, taking on more side projects, and meeting new people and I’m learning that if you want something, you have to ask for it or just go for it. There’s that too. You never know what’s going to happen, and you never know how opportunities are going to impact your life. (In a good way.) I don’t know if all of that has made me “stronger, [and] more confident” because half the time I feel like this super flawed teenager but… I’m trying so I think that counts for something. Oh also… lower your expectations. This is something I need tattooed to my arm because I tend to forget it. But it does make things less stressful.

What are a few things in 2013 that you hoped to achieve/accomplish/experience that maybe you didn’t get to and hope to in 2014?

One thing that stands out is writing for myself? I bought a new journal before my trip to see you in Austin, and the pages inside are still blank. I really need to get on that. (Of course there are also a ton of practical things like saving enough money, not buying a ton of books… haha. Those GROWN UP THINGS.)

Reflecting on your year+ of James being in law school and you guys moving to an apartment in the city, how do you feel those changes impacted your life in 2013?

First of all, being closer to the city has been amazing for us.  We have explored more in the past year than we did in 3 years when we had our house in Long Island and I’m so grateful for that opportunity. With James so busy, I’ve realized just how precious free time is and we try to make the most of it. It’s also inspiring to see your partner working so hard to achieve something, and it has really pushed me to do better for myself.

View from Subway Stop Rather Be Reading Blog

Will you forgive me for not having a real Christmas tree? PLEASE?

I need to talk this over with my therapist.

What do you think is in store for Miley Cyrus in 2014?

I hope the media can stop reporting on her lack of clothes? That would be a start. I’m actually excited for her. I feel like she threw herself into this new record (which is really really great) and made such a splash so maybe something a little bit more low key from her? She is so talented and I want people to recognize her for her voice over her twerking. That is at least my wish for her.

Describe one of your best days from 2013. Tell us what happened and why it was so amazing!

One weekend when James was super busy during the summer, I decided to visit my parents and we got to do a day trip to the shore. It was the first time we all hung out together down the shore (minus James) since maybe high school? It was so much fun, and I was even more grateful for the trip after a really terrible fire ripped through the boardwalk we always visit a few months afterwards. It was extremely devastating to watch so many places we frequented for years and years destroyed. I’m happy we were able to squeeze in some recent memories. It was such a fantastic day especially because the opportunities to hang out like that are so rare now.

Top 2013 Memory Rather Be Reading Blog in Seaside Heights

As someone who has never been to Disney World, where do I even begin planning a trip and what are the absolute must-sees? Oh, and when’s the best time of year to go?

Basically, just take me! I will be your tour guide! But seriously, best time of year depends on who you are going with. Couple trip vs. family trip? I wouldn’t suggest spring break or during Christmas break (super crowded) but for a couple, I love going in the fall because of the Food & Wine festival (lots of foods to try from around the world, and the weather is awesome). I always try to tell people to go down there with the “we will do what we can” mindset because it can get overwhelming and it’s just not possible to do everything and enjoy yourself at the same time.

Best spots to check out when planning are: AllEars.Net, Disney Food Blog, Eating WDW, and Touring Plans.

What is a lifetime goal that you hope to accomplish? (I know, I know. I’m being super nosey!)

I still would love to write books. But books don’t get written just by thinking of them… so. Should probably do something about that.

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Hope you enjoyed that! How would you answer any of these questions?

Magan: We’re Not Talking About Books Q&A

Estelle and I are swapping questions and getting into the nitty gritty details… Welcome to our “We’re Not Talking About Books Q&A.” Today I’m answering Estelle’s questions and soon she’ll be answering mine. I haven’t even read her questions yet. I’m just copying and pasting them and writing whatever first comes to mind. Are you scared? I kind of am. But let’s get started, shall we?

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I feel like you had a good traveling year. What was your favorite trip? Where do you want to try to go next year (a trip with the little one or maybe a romantical trip for two)?

I did! This year feels like such a blur because so, so many things happened, but we got to go on a few trips! First was our trip to DC in February, where we reunited for a little more than 24 hours. That was such a whirlwind trip; it went so fast and we tried to squeeze so many things in, but I loved that there were little moments like you and I taking the time to meet up with Sasha of Sash and Em for dinner. In May we went to Colorado with my family. It was our first trip as parents so that was a wee bit stressful for me and I’m positive we overpacked. I think I took enough diapers for an army. That trip and our August trip to Florida with Dustyn’s family were both very meaningful (and necessary) because this whole foster care process has been so stressful. If I didn’t highlight my hair, I’m certain you’d find a bunch of gray hairs on my head. Those trips really gave us time to escape reality, be a little family, and not focus on all the normal craziness we face on a daily basis.

non-bookish end of year reflections with magan

(Left) Magan (l) and Estelle (r) outside the Newseum in D.C.;
(Right) Magan + Her Husband, Dustyn, on the beach in Cape San Blas, FL

As for next year, we have zero trips planned right now. That seems kind of sad to admit, but there are still so many what-ifs in our lives with our foster daughter and we have Baby Blasig making an appearance in February of next year. I would love to plan a getaway trip with Dustyn at some point, but it would probably be mid-to-late 2014 to who knows where. It won’t even matter, I’m sure. Our 10-year anniversary is in July so hopefully we’ll do something memorable to celebrate!

It might just be because I’m your friend but when I think of you this past year, I feel like (if it’s possible) you’ve become more selfless and have really come into your own as a mom. You’re my first close friend who is a mom so maybe I’m just noticing it more? I don’t know! But I feel like it’s the coolest thing and I’m in total awe of all you do. Is there a change you feel in yourself after the past few months?

Oh, man. Were you intending to make me cry, Estelle? Geez, Louise. *grabs tissues* I definitely feel like I’ve changed a lot this year, but I can’t really pinpoint how I have or even begin to put that into words. I think my priorities have shifted so much. There’s definitely been so much less “me me me” (especially when it comes to spending money and shopping). I feel like almost every time we’ve had a court hearing, we’ve anticipated losing our foster daughter and that’s really taught me the value of time and how precious it can be. I’ve also had to be more gracious and accepting of a lot of situations I never thought I would be faced with. I don’t think I’ve particularly done anything TO change, but my heart and focus have been changed because of her. She’s just taught me so, so much. Especially how to be more patient. I’ve never, ever been a patient person and that’s one thing I’ve been told I am over and over again this year. (I’ve always secretly giggled at that because usually my insides are so anxious.) All of the changes I feel and am experiencing right now, I hope they last and are more than just temporary. You and I have talked a lot about, and I’m holding onto a card forever that you wrote me, about how because of our foster daughter, a lot of good has occurred. My pregnancy might never have happened. I might have stayed so selfishly me-focused, and my eyes certainly wouldn’t have been opened to the entire foster care world.

What do you want more of in 2014 that you didn’t get this year?

It’s funny you mention this because I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. I’m never one to make big resolutions at the beginning of a new year, but I am hoping to change my perspective on a few things. Growing up, we never really had a ton of people over to our house besides grandparents. Now isn’t the time or place to discuss why that is, but recently a friend said to me, “I think it’s been a year since I’ve been to your house.” That really, really hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m finding that I love to have people over, but constantly feel self-conscious about the state our house is in (especially now that we have a little person who leaves toys stranded every three feet). One of my biggest hopes is to let those fears reside and to really be more inviting and allow more people into our lives. We do a lot of dinners out or hang out at friends’ houses, but I want to bring that sense of community into our home and not keep people at arm’s length. This answer is probably so much deeper than you were hoping for, but it’s just what’s been on my mind lately.

WHEN ARE WE HANGING OUT AGAIN? (Yes I screamed that.)

As soon as possible. Sadly I’m now in the not-safe-to-fly part of my pregnancy, but soon you’ll have a little Blasig to meet! And I really do want to visit NYC again soon. I feel like no matter how many times I go there, I’ll always find something new to see and experience.

Do you think we will get more Zac Efron next year? Because… I’m seriously disappointed in his life choices and lack of movies in my theater. What are we going to do with him?

I sincerely hope so. And hopefully our clean-cut Zac will return and there will be no more press releases about his rehab stays. (Has anyone else been as deeply disappointed with him as we have?) We haven’t seen nearly as many movies this year as we have in the past, and I’m sure Dustyn is oh-so-thankful for less of Zac’s smoldering physique, but come on! WE NEED MORE ZAC!

Can you share one of your favorite pics from the year?

Of course I can! This photo is from our Florida vacation where I seriously wished I had carried my camera everywhere we went. This is an iPhone photo of a boat floating by right by where we stopped to eat that evening. I don’t remember the food or what I ordered. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but I do remember the peacefulness of this moment and how absolutely beautiful the sky was.

magan's favorite travel photo from 2013

The most fun moment you had this year?

Goodness gracious. I know this may sound like a cop-out answer, but honestly, every moment you and I had together was so awesome. I wish that could happen way more often than it does. Talking/texting/chatting just isn’t enough. Aside from our gushy friendship, I loved finding out that we were expecting our first baby and telling our grandparents all about it at a surprise lunch. We had them all arrive at the same restaurant together. I made little boxes with scratch off tickets that told them we were expecting (which shocked them because everyone suspected maybe we had big foster daughter news to share). I also included one of our ultrasound photographs in frames for them and personal notes to each one of them about how excited we are for them to meet Baby Irmagerd. I also gained a new appreciation for my job this year that gave me a different perspective on why I love being a photographer; the bride from my last wedding of the year sent me an email on behalf of one of their groomsmen who wanted to know if my assistant that day was single. That’s pretty priceless!

And the best buy of 2013? (I’m sure there were many of them.)

You’re catching me on a day when I’ve just splurged on something super fun for myself. I bought the new Urban Decay Naked 3 palette, and ohemgee is it beautiful. (For those who aren’t aware, Estelle and I are make-up junkies, too.) When I was excitedly doing my make-up this morning, I couldn’t even begin to pick out which colors to use first. They’re all so beautiful! If you are a make-up-aholic, you need this in your life.

With just a few days left until Christmas, what’s a stand out memory from the holiday that you have?

Growing up, my maternal grandparents would always come over to our house to help us put up the Christmas tree. It was never planned and happened spur-of-the-moment, but I remember them always being there. This year, with baby girl in our house, Dustyn and I put the tree up pretty early so she’d have a long while to experience the lights and ornaments. We were initially having the problem of her going to the tree and taking (i.e.: yanking) all the bottom ornaments off. One day my grandma and mom came to Austin to hang out with us. We made a trip to Michael’s and my grandma mentioned wanting to get baby girl her own Christmas ornament. Baby girl chose a sparkly snowman with silly arms and legs. When we got back to our house, grandma unwrapped the ornament and let baby girl put it on the tree. Every single morning, one of the first things she does is run to our tree, find her snowman, and bend down to give him a kiss. I swear it’s the cutest thing in the entire world; she sporadically checks on him throughout the day, too. These two memories are so special because it’s essentially the meshing of my childhood with hers and having my grandma be so integral to both.

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Stay tuned for Estelle’s answers to my questions!
Tell us your answers to any of the above questions…
We always want to get to know you guys better, too!

All Magan Wants for Christmas Is…

christmas music playlist

This happened last week. And you know… when Magan tells me to jump, I say how high! Well, kind of. But I can’t allow one of my closest friends to be BORED by her Christmas music. I can’t. I won’t allow it. And since I had so much fun putting together this collection of songs last year on Rather Be Reading (it’s also becoming a tradition to feature Magan’s face on these posts), here I am yet again.

Once Thanksgiving hits, I listen to Christmas songs on my way to work, at work, while I’m shopping/baking/wrapping/crafting, and I know you are probably shocked, while I’m writing this post. (We have some Tran-Siberian Orchestra playing at the in the background at the moment.)

So here are a few albums, I think of as staples in my collection (a.k.a. buy them!):

Holiday Album Must Haves - Rather Be Reading

Johnny Mathis: Merry Christmas | NSYNC: Home for Christmas | Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas

Johnny is definitely a classic crooner. I used to listen to this on cassette with my mom when we would drive to the mall to go Christmas shopping when I was young. NSYNC? I wore through two of these CDs. Reminds me of high school and college so much. And Mariah? Her voice is beautiful, every song is catchy, and I can’t believe it’s almost been 20 years since it came out. (Oh my god.)

What I think is worth buying this year:

Holiday Albums Worth Buying in 2013 - Rather Be Reading

Kelly Clarkson: Wrapped in Red | Matthew Morrison: A Classic Christmas | Mary J. Blige: A Mary Christmas

I am so obsessed with Kelly’s album. Touching and fun original songs, great versions of classics: I feel like it’s the first modern album since Mariah’s to make me feel so giddy and merry. You might know Matthew Morrison from Glee? He’s fantastic and he chose some great songs for this EP. And I never imagined I would be buying a Mary J. Blige album but I have so enjoyed her performances on Christmas specials this year + her version of “This Christmas” and “Do You Hear What I Hear” are just so great.

EEE! All of these make me so excited. (And also sad I can’t list every single album I own… Boo!)

Okay, okay. Am I trying Magan’s patience? 🙂 It’s time for the 2013 Rather Be Reading Holiday Mix. I hope you enjoy this one!

What you’ll be hearing: Muppets, Leona Lewis, Jordin Sparks, Martina McBride, Lady Antebellum, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, and more…

Be sure to leave any of of your favorites in the comments! I love hearing what everyone’s listening to this holiday season.

Happy listening!

Not That Kind of Girl Themed Gift-Pack

Not That Kind of Girl is my third book to read of Siobhan Vivian’s. And guess what? I think it’s my favorite so far. It’s exactly what I was needing — something extremely well written with a storyline easy to get into, a main character who I could understand (even if she sometimes made me want to punch her for her opinionatedness), and a nice steamy romance. I loved what Siobhan did with the story and the subtle discussion she was having about feminism and how what you’re presenting to the world sends out a message about who you are.

I couldn’t not create a book-themed gift-pack for Not That Kind of Girl. I had a little fun with it, and hope you’ll enjoy my choices!

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not that kind of girl by siobhan vivian

  1. Rule the School Ruler — For uptight, type-A, Student Council President Natalie Sterling, the name of this ruler couldn’t be more perfect. Natalie is a rule follower. A feminist who believes in empowering women and making smart choices (a little Pitch Perfect reference for those of you who have seen the movie a million and a half times like I have). I’m sure straight-edge Natalie would find the perfect location for displaying this ruler decoratively and placing it in the perfect spot so it’s functional, too.
  2. Plaid Throw Blanket — Things get a little bit (okay, more than a little) steamy between Natalie and a certain boy who shall remain nameless (until you read the book) in a shed. Yes, a shed. It sounds kinda creepy, but his parents own a Christmas tree farm and everything sounds so adorable I want to visit there for real. A particular scene involves our nameless boy and Natalie secretly meeting up in the shed. And that is all I will say.
  3. Free Verse Duvet — I know, I know. This is a little nerdy and over the top, but when you’re a nerd… you’re a nerd. 😉 And when am I ever going to get to choose this as an option again?
  4. Mason Jar Hanging Tea Light Holder — Refer to item number two. Spice things up a little bit more. And lower the temperature by several degrees. Our nameless boy makes an attempt to spruce up the shed a bit and brought a lantern so they could actually see. Maybe this isn’t the exact lantern he would have brought, but how adorable are they? I’ll take five.
  5. White Picture Frame — Natalie is super concerned with her photograph making the Student Council wall-of-fame. She’s only the ninth female to be President in her school’s history. It’s kind of a big deal. Surely she’d be framing a copy of the photograph to keep forever and ever, right?
  6. A Movie Bundle — Natalie and her BFF are dedicated to watching the best movies of all time together. They’re making their way through the top 100. Though this isn’t the exact list they were following, I chose four from the list. I’m not going to say whether or not I have watched all of these. I plead the 5th.
  7. Burt’s Bees — This chapstick is Natalie’s staple. It’s the only thing she wears, so when it comes time to take her Student Council photograph and she needs to cover something up, she has to enlist Freshman Spencer for a little help. She has no clue how to use other cosmetics and she definitely needs an intervention.

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So whaddya think? If you’re like me and (a few years) late to the Not That Kind of Girl party,
why don’t you add it to your TBR or gift it to yourself this Christmas?

Add to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy from Barnes & Noble

Your Holiday Guide to Gifting Children’s Books

Let’s jump back in time and discuss children’s books. This isn’t something we typically discuss here at Rather Be Reading, but I’m sure there are several of you who will be buying gifts for the children in your lives this holiday season, whether that be nieces and nephews, siblings, or your own babies. We read aloud to our foster daughter all. the. time. It’s one of her favorite things to do. She singsongs “a book, a book, a book” and snuggles up in our laps when she wants to sit down and read. Some days it seems like I’ll lose my voice long before she’s ready to stop reading.

One thing I’ve learned, though, is that not all children’s books are created equal. Some of them just seem so… silly. Or there really doesn’t seem to be a message or anything to learn from it. And I’m sure there is a reason for those types of books but as you’ll see below, I really like things that have some substance or purpose and keep me intrigued, too.

So… without further ado, here’s our first Holiday Guide to Gifting Children’s Books.

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books to buy children for the holidays

Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss (Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble)

This book is excellent for making silly sounds and fun rhymes. It goes through a lot of simple sounds like “moo” and “knock knock” that are fun for kids to try to repeat and imitate.

Ten in the Bed by Penny Dale (Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble)

Ten in the Bed is silly and sure to make any kid laugh. I sent Estelle a video of me reading this to our foster daughter the other night and she just giggled away. It’s repetitive because it works through numbers 1-10, but it’s really sweet and makes for a great bed-time book!

Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman (Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble)

Let’s just talk about a tear-jerker of a book. This book makes me tear up every single time I read it, but it’s so beautiful and wonderfully written. It just sends the most beautiful message and is full of so much love.

touch and feel books, rhyming books, naptime books for children

The Napping House by Audrey Wood (Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble)

I absolutely love this book. A friend lent it to us when we first were got the placement call for our foster daughter. It quickly became our nap time book because it was very soothing and relaxing to read to her, but still entertaining and well-written. I love the illustrations, too!

Baby Einstein Touch and Feel Baby Animals by Julie Aigner-Clark (Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble)

Not all children’s books have in depth story lines. The touch and feel books are great for getting children to associate feels with specific things, this one being animals. It has really helped our foster daughter to identify animals as well, and it’s incredible to see things click for her.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin (Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble)

I’m pretty sure there’s not a book that made ME giggle more when I first began reading this one. It’s clever and adults will appreciate the humor, too. There are a few books by the same author/illustrator, but this is the original and still my favorite. It’s a definite win!

madeline, room on the broom, and fox in socks

Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss (Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble)

We bought this book for our niece and nephew last year and oooooh does it make them laugh. That may be because this is a tongue twister book so it’s really difficult for the reader to not stumble over their words, especially if you get into the rhythm of things and a little too confident. Our nephew is now 4 years old and I think it’s a great option for a wide age-range.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble)

Sweet Hannah at So Obsessed With recently gifted us with this book, and it’s quickly become a favorite. The illustrations are so timeless and I love the writing because, again, it’s intellectual and so sweet.

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson (Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble)

This book was advertised a lot at B&N for Halloween so of course I bought it. Of course. And I love it. My husband is actually the person to recommend I include it on this list because we both love reading it so much. It’s a fun story and it’s not Halloween centered, per se, so it wouldn’t seem odd to gift it at this time of year.

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What children’s books do you recommend?
I’m always on the hunt for more, especially when B&N sends out their coupons…

Your Non-Bookish Holiday To-Do List

Happy December, friends! (Wait. What? How in the world is it already December?!) We’re taking a break from our traditional reviewing this month to bring you a few original posts to break outside our mold, be creative, and celebrate the holidays. Join us, won’t you?

First up is our Non-Bookish Holiday To-Do List. Since we’re taking a break from our typical reading schedules, we think you should too. Step outside. Explore. Watch some cheesy Hallmark and/or ABC movies. Check out what we’ll be doing…

Your Non-Bookish Holiday Guide

  1. See Disney’s newest animated film, FROZEN. We actually both went with our hubby’s (they’re awesome, aren’t they?) during our Thanksgiving breaks from work. We both agree that you MUST see it. We were texting each other our favorite parts after we had both seen it. Definitely, definitely recommend it. Oh, and maybe bring some tissues. And don’t forget the popcorn!
  2. Go out and see CHRISTMAS LIGHTS. Seriously, go! Bundle up. Invite friends. Magan went with her foster daughter and husband this past weekend to Santa’s Wonderland in College Station, TX; there were over a million lights and a hay ride and live music and a petting zoo. Look up local places for your area. Another TX option is the Trail of Lights in Zilker Park. (Be warned. When Magan went last year, it was packed. Be prepared to wait in line to walk through the trail. Wear comfortable shoes!)
  3. Invite a best friend out for a delicious cup of HOT CHOCOLATE. Estelle highly, highly recommends going to The City Bakery if you live in NYC. Take some time to catch up with a friend. Maybe do some shopping together or just sit in a comfortable environment with your hot beverage and spend some time together.
  4. Watch some cheesy HOLIDAY MOVIES. Raise your hand if you’re addicted to Christmas movies? Who is DVRing all of them on ABC Family and the Hallmark channel? ABC Family has the 25 Days of Christmas marathon and the Hallmark channel has the Countdown to Christmas lineup. Don’t be ashamed. We all need a little heart-warming at the end of the year. Indulge! Estelle is really looking forward to Holidaze, premiering on December 8th.
  5. And last but not least, GET CRAFTY. Who would we be if we weren’t encouraging you to pull out your crafting scissors to get your DIY on? We love these two Pinterest projects — Gift Tags and Holiday Paper Tree. (Please excuse the random numbers 6 and 8 on the tree image.) We’ve both really enjoyed sharing our craftiness with our friends and family at this time of year because we hear back from those people throughout the year about how much they love the gift or thoughtfulness we put into it. While crafting does take some time and thought, it does help us to stick to our budgets!

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Tell us what non-bookish things you like to do this time of year?
What are you most looking forward to this December?