The Year of Kelsey in review

Year of Kelsey in review | RISING*SHINING

Every year is significant but this past year felt especially so for personal growth. Heading into 2016 I hoped that over the year I would begin to emerge from the intensely demanding period of having two boys under three, waking many times during the night and breastfeeding. I was looking forward to reclaiming my body and energy, and focusing some of that new-found energy on myself.

So I declared 2016 The Year of Kelsey. I made goals of building a capsule wardrobe, a capsule skin care and makeup routine, going on creative field trips and traveling by myself. I worked on these goals all year and as The Year of Kelsey wraps up I feel really good about the progress I made.  

+ Create a capsule wardrobe of timeless, quality pieces.

I started 2016 with a limited wardrobe. I had worked to get rid of clothing I didn't love to wear or that I was just never going to fit back into - despite losing just about all of my pregnancy weight there are just changes in my body that are here to stay!

I've been "figuring out" my style for a while and am finally starting to feel confidence in what kind of clothes I want to wear: classic, pulled-together, understated and with a hint of my modern aesthetic. I've also realized that I prefer simplicity and eliminating choice. I don't love shopping and while I do have a style preference I don't want to spend time and effort on my style. I want to buy clothes that fit well and look great and then wear those until they wear out.

Over the year I invested close to $1,000 to update my wardrobe. There are still items I would love to add to my capsule wardrobe, like tall boots, but I've eliminated stress about clothing from my life. I don't feel an urgency to purchase new clothes because I feel like "I don't have anything to wear." And the clothes that I do have feel like good expressions of the style I want to have. It feels really good.

Here are some of my favorite items of clothing purchased this year:

+ High-rise skinny ankle jeans. Were these jeans designed specifically for me? Unlikely. But they are my favorite jeans ever so I like to think that maybe they were. I only have two pairs of jeans - in dark denim wash and dark grey - and they are this cut. 

+ Black blazer. I've wanted to wear a blazer for years and I still get a tiny thrill every time I wear mine. Wearing a blazer makes me feel so pulled together. I wear it to work now that it's cooler or with jeans and a blouse for a date.

+ Flowly blouses. Pictured above, and similar to this and this.

+ 24/7 classic t-shirt bra. Favorite bra I've ever owned. I have two and plan to get another this year.

+ Pea coat. In my signature plum color. :) 

 + Create a capsule skin care and beauty routine.

Similar to my feelings about clothes, I don't want to spend a lot of time or mental energy on skin care and makeup. I want to take care of my skin and have a makeup routine that leaves me looking pulled together but natural (and diminished tired eyes, ahem). But I don't see myself ever being someone who has multiple mascaras or eye shadows. I want to find the one thing that works for me and then not think about it.

To figure out what to buy I read my favorite Beauty Uniform posts and talked to girl friends for makeup recommendations. (Last year, Erica and I chatted about beauty uniforms if you'd like to listen in.) And over the year built a skincare routine that I love and that leaves my skin feeling healthy and smooth. This includes wearing sunscreen daily which is a habit I set out to acquire in 2016. 

I also started consistently painting my nails this year! Thanks to tips and encouragement from my neighbor and nail guru Erica. I've mentioned that I have a bad habit of picking at my cuticles and painting my nails helps with this so much.

Here are my favorite finds:

+ Orly Bonder base coat, Seche Vite top coat and Essie nail colors. Using these I can paint my nails on the weekend and the color will last through the week with minimal chips. My favorite color right now is Carry On, and I love to do one nail with Penny Talk.

 + Paula's Choice toner and exfoliator. I also loved this article and this one explaining what these products do (granted, they are written by the company but I still found them helpful). I've noticed that my skin feels smoother and looks healthier when I use these consistently. Plus I love the simple twice-daily routine of wash-tone-exfoliate.

+ Paula's Choice Resist Youth Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF 50 - my daily sunscreen. Light, non-greasy and no lingering scent of sunscreen.

 + Go on at least three creative field trips.

I love the idea of creative field trips - any kind of outing with the simple goal of being creatively inspired. This year Chris and I attended a talk by Johnny Depp, I went to a lunch-time poetry lecture and recorded my birth stories as part of the Creative Push project.

Certainly I found inspiration at many other times this year but having a creative field trip goal did help me to glimpse all the creativity and art that surrounds me. I'd love to keep seeking it out and have plans to see Push Comes to Shove: Women in Power with this awesome lady in early January.

+ Take a solo trip.

This is one I didn't get to do. But I did have an awesome writers' retreat with Erica and Sarah and an amazing adventure to the Pacific Northwest with Chris. While a solo trip didn't happen this past year I'd love to make from time to time. Although I love to meet new people and be social I'm an introvert and relish quiet and time alone.


Becoming a mother a little over three and a half years ago was the most significant and best change of my life. It's a role and identity that is the most demanding and the most rewarding. As the boys get older I have more time and energy to invest in myself, and over the past year I felt that shift. My Year of Kelsey goals highlighted the importance of investing in myself even as I give so much to others.

This year I invested in a foundation for taking care of myself - a quality wardrobe and reflecting on my style, taking care of my skin and finding a simple makeup routine, nurturing my creativity, and traveling without my children. By establishing this foundation I don't have to spend as much energy on these things in the future (especially the wardrobe and skin care/makeup) which lets me extend myself to things that really matter, like my family and my creative pursuits. A perfect place to start a new year.

P.S. New Matrimoney episode today is us chatting about our 2016 finances - what we made and where ti all went.

Our 2016 Christmas cards

Our 2016 Christmas cards! | RISING*SHINING Our 2016 Christmas cards! | RISING*SHINING

Every year I enjoy creating our family Christmas card and sending them all across the country, from San Francisco to Brooklyn, and even to Canada! I designed our cards myself again this year and I'm so happy with how they turned out.

Here are our cards in previous years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 & 2015 (so many!).

Originally I thought I would do a collection of photos from the year like I did in our card last year. But then I remembered the awesome family picture we took together during Chris's birthday trip to Prescott. Plus the fact that our boys were really into dinosaurs this year. And so the idea of using the photo + RAWWR! was born. On the back of the card I love to include a few notes about the year and what we've been up to.

I used Adobe Photoshop Elements (and my basic design skills) to make the card. Before diving in I browse Pinterest or some of the popular Christmas card sites to get ideas for font pairings and layout. I grabbed the Grand Hotel font for free online. And then I just start tinkering and am able to pull something together over one or two evenings. A key for me is to block out time to make the card. I don't want to feel stressed and rushed. So I start to think about designing the card in early November to leave time to make it and have it delivered by early December.

As usual, I designed our card to fit on a two-sided 5 x 7 postcard and ordered a set of 100 (the postcard order is 100 minimum but I like to send lots of cards so that's okay!). In previous years I've used OvernightPrints and GotPrint. This year I used VistaPrint because they were having a great sale when I was looking to order (a bit before Thanksgiving). My order was discounted from $50 to $32.97! I get so much satisfaction from not only creating our cards but paying so much less than the typical $1 - 2/card.

For envelopes I purchased brown kraft paper envelopes at Hobby Lobby. On the back I added two strips of festive washi tape and am still using our trusty address stamp from Three Designing Women (have replaced the ink pad once in 8 years!).

If you didn't get a snail mail card from me, please consider this a virtual card from my family to yours!

Today we're off to see Rogue One with friends at Alamo Drafthouse (!!) before my family arrives and then it's holiday festivity through the next week. The best!

Wishing you a cozy weekend and a very merry Christmas if you are celebrating. 

What fills you up?


Last Saturday, in those long hours between nap and dinner, the boys were getting restless and so was I. Chris was happy to be at home with Cedric and so Dashiell and I made plans for an outing. First, we headed to the library where we walked hand in hand through the doors and Dashiell returned our books through the slot, one by one. We stopped by the giant doll house behind glass and searched for the hidden pumpkins, as is the theme this season, before combing the shelves in the children's section. 

After filling our canvas bag and checking out our books I told Dash I wanted to go to the plant store next. It was late afternoon at the nursery and few other people were browsing. The sun was low and the temperature perfect. Dash pointed out all the flowers to me and asked me to smell many of them. I snapped pictures of plants with my phone and Dashiell enjoyed exploring on his own and let me know proudly, "I'll just go this way and meet you over there." We met the nursery cat in the back near the trees and pet her belly when she showed it to us. I didn't buy anything but left feeling so relaxed and fulfilled. I kept thinking about the outing, the library and the nursery, for the rest of the weekend and into my full week. Just thinking of it now makes me smile.

Later that weekend Chris went out for a couple hours on his own and when we came back had a report from a local music store where he looked at banjos, pianos and acoustic guitars. He was content and energized. I laughed a bit to myself, thinking of how we'd found the same thing but at different places and how Chris's outing was so perfectly Chris and how mine was so perfectly Kelsey.

My go-to thought when I have a bit of time is to be productive - to work on my blog, or podcasts or to get a task done. And being productive and working on projects I'm passionate about is fulfilling, but it's not the same contented energy I got from my library  and nursery outing with Dashiell. And so I've been thinking about the things that fill me up, especially of the the easily accessible, free and screen-free variety. Here's what I've come up with:

+ Wandering through a plant nursery 

+ Browsing at the library

+ Drinking coffee outside, with content and independent children playing nearby :)

+ Watering plants

+ Looking through cookbooks and cooking magazines

+ Cooking from a recipe while listening to a podcast

+ Reading

+ My evening skincare routine of tonerexfoliator, and moisturizer

+ Painting my nails while listening to a podcast

+ Going on a walk, especially at the nearby Riparian Preserve

+ Outings with just one of my boys. Being out with the whole family, or both boys on my own, can be fun but it can also be a lot of management. Being out with just one feels so easy and relaxing, it feels like I'm winning at parenting.

+ Playing dice or cards during an afternoon date with Chris over beer or coffee (not free, especially if a babysitter is needed, but a favorite activity for sure)

Certainly many other things in my life are fulfilling and fun but these are the things that feel purely enjoyable and don't feel like "work" in any way. As I brainstormed what would be on a my list I found a common theme of not being rushed. I enjoy most things, even a trip to Trader Joe's, if I can go at my own pace. And this made me realize how often I need to multi-task during my days - both at home and at work - and how much I dislike multi-tasking. In some parts of my life it's a necessity but I could look for ways to cut down on the need to multi-task. For example, prepping all lunches the night before means less multi-tasking the next morning. And closing my email application at work means I don't see new email notifications pop up.

Putting together this list reminds me that there are simple things I can do to recharge, and it's so interesting to see the common theme of taking my time. I am a creature of habit, as will be a surprise to no one, and among all the other things on my to-do lists I want to remember to do the things that are purely Kelsey

I'd love to know what fills you up and make you feel like you!

Making my work days more productive


I work full time as a science writer and at any one time I have several projects or tasks on my plate with varying levels of priority. Some, like writing a new article from scratch, take hours and I need to be fully immersed in the task to do my best work. Some tasks come in suddenly and must be done right away, putting everything else on hold. Some tasks aren't difficult but they require coordinating between several people - writing emails, waiting for a response, figuring out a time everyone can meet and then finding an available conference room.

I've always sought efficiency and productivity at work but as a working mom I think about making the most of my work day even more. I don't want to bring home any (or at least very little) stress from work and definitely want to avoid doing actual work at home. I guard the hours when I'm home with my family fiercely and it's important to recharge. I also want to leave work early enough to pick up the boys and be home before six so I want to accomplish as much as I can quickly while maintaining a high level of quality.

Recently my work days have felt especially full and I found that I would be busy with tasks and projects all day but wasn't getting the bigger chunks of time for writing and developing projects. I was starting to think about work projects at home a little too much. My work ebbs and flows and so this is not out of the ordinary but I wondered if I could implement any tactics to help. 

Inspired by Laura Vanderkam's time tracking I decided that it might help me if I track what I work on throughout the day. For the past several months I've been trying to maintain a nearly paperless desk situation and had moved my written to-do lists into Office Outlook Tasks. This has been working fairly well, and I do love deleting an email after creating a task from the subject matter, but I thought that writing some things down during the day would help me.

I spent a lovely post-bedtime hour at Target browsing the office supplies and found a perfect little mint notebook (which I can't seem to find online but it's Cambridge brand) and the next day implemented my time tracking system. Three weeks later and I'm still really happy with it!

Here's what I'm doing:

Each day I start a new two-page spread. This notebook has all the months and days at the top of each page and you can circle the date - I love this. I keep the notebook open and on my desk throughout the day.

On the right-hand side I write the tasks I want to accomplish during the day and track my time. When I arrive at work I look over my main tasks for the day (I try to write them the day before), jot down the time and start on a task. I jot the task I'm working on next to the time. I update the time/task about every 30 minutes but sometimes it will be longer. My objective with time tracking is not to rigorously track each minute of my day but to check in throughout the day and make sure I'm making progress on the things I want to finish. 

I jot notes and non-work related ideas and tasks on left-hand side of the page. During the day I inevitably think of something not related to work that I want to look up, remember to buy, remember to do etc.,  Writing these things down, instead of trying to ignore them, lets me stay focused on my work task but also relax about whatever it is I need to remember.

Before I leave work at the end of the day I write my main tasks or objectives at the top of a new two-page spread. I really like this because I can come into the office and start working on something right away, which sets the tone for my work day. It's easy to open up email first thing and feel productive but not actually make progress on projects. I loved the perspective that someone shared recently at a staff meeting, "Email is always the easiest and worst choice of how to spend your time."

One thing I've noticed is that this system is helping me finish those pesky not-very-difficult tasks that just aren't fun to do like writing a longer email or calling someone to follow up. Seeing the task at the top of the page, just waiting to be highlighted (signifying "complete") motivates me to just do it. 

This system also helps me balance workload. When a request to take care of something, "really quick" comes in I can glance over my tasks and assess the priority level of the new task against what I'm working on. Sometimes it's more effective to finish what I'm working on a put off a new task for a few hours. At other times I do need to break off from my current task, but it's easier to pick up where I left off seeing it written on the page.

This is certainly not a very sophisticated system but often the best solutions are not. I'd love to know what tactics you use to stay productive at work!

What we're reading with the boys

Our favorite children's books | RISING*SHINING

We try to keep toys simple and few at our house but I'm happy to have children's books in every room. As a result, reading is an activity option at any time of the day. We're also building a collection of children's books via Audible and we listen to stories when we're in the car with the boys.

You can purchase Audible audio books through Amazon without an Audible membership. The jack to plug in my phone to the car speakers is broken so I play the books on my Audible app and put my phone in a cup holder that folds out from the front seat console to amplify the sound - works great in our small Prius.

Books and reading and two of my favorite, favorite things and I so hope that my boys will grow up to be avid readers. So far I think we're off to a good start! If one day I look up from my own novel to see Dashiell and Cedric across the room with noses in their own books my heart will surely burst.

Although we L-O-V-E books we don't own a ton although despite my minimalist tendencies books are something I don't mind accumulating. We usually ask for books for birthdays and Christmas and now that Dashiell is truly enjoying story books, and Cedric close behind, I'll probably start buying more here and there. What I often do is browse Amazon and their recommendations and then make a long request-list for the library. 

We've been reading lots of great books lately and l'd love to share. For books that we listen to I'll also link to the audio version. I have found that Dash seems to be more into the audio versions of books he is already familiar with (this was a tip from The Mom Hour) so if I get a new audio book I'll try to also request it from the library so we can look at it.

Where the Wild Things Are (audio)

A classic! I absolutely love reading this book and every time think what a great writer Maurice Sendak is. I especially love the ending, "and it was still hot." And an aside to share: one day when Dash was super mad about something he yelled at us, "Be still!" which was adorable and kind of heartbreaking too, just to see him so mad and expressing that. But I did have to love his use of literature to articulate his feelings.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears (audio)

Dash LOVES the story of Goldilocks and sometimes I draw out the story for him on a whiteboard (despite the fact that my drawing game is zero). I have one tiny issue with this book, however, because it includes this line: "Goldilocks was one of those naughty little girls who did exactly as she pleased." I bristle because would a boy be described this way? Is this similar to a boy being described as independent whereas a girl would be described as bossy? Goldilocks does go on to break into a house so perhaps she is naughty but that line somehow felt anti-feminist to me, thoughts?

Dr. de Soto (audio)

A mouse dentist has to decide whether or not to risk having a fox as a patient. 

Owl Moon (audio)

A beautiful story and gorgeous illustrations about a little girl accompanying her dad one night to go looking for owls for the first time.

Caps for Sale (audio)

Another classic from my childhood. A peddler's caps are taken by monkeys in a tree and he has to get them back. Dash gets really into this one and loves to mimic the monkeys and stamp his foot along with the peddler.

The Gruffalo (audio)

A mouse goes walking in the deep dark woods and must be clever to outsmart all the creatures that want to eat him, including the Gruffalo!

Blueberries for Sal (audio)

Love this classic book about a little girl who goes blueberry picking with her mother.

A Chair for my Mother

A lovely book about families supporting each other and also about saving money. Does anyone else have vivid memories of the Reading Rainbow episode featuring this book?


This was a gift from my mom and I absolutely love reading this Thai lullaby and the illustrations are lovely. Several of my friends' children may be getting this for Christmas this year...Cedric loves it as well and mimics the sounds of the animals, which are especially neat because the animals don't make the typical sounds: a duck says, "ghap, ghap!" a mouse says, "jeed, jeed," etc.

Last Stop on Market Street

A boy and his grandmother take a bus ride to volunteer at a soup kitchen and the boy observes ways that different people live, like his friend having a car while he doesn't and the surroundings of the soup kitchen not being very pretty. His grandmother offers sage perspective. Won the Newberry award for children's literature. If you've come across other books like this, that talk honestly about money and people being in circumstances that are challenging, I would love to know about them.

Families, Families, Families

Animal families of every variety are shown ("some kids live with an aunt.....some have two dads....some children's parents are married...and some are not") and ends with "but if you love each other you are a family." A great conversation starter.

Good People Everywhere

This was a gift from a  sweet friend and my throat catches when I read this book, it's such a lovely reminder amidst so many horrible things happening in the world. The book shares different simple scenes of good things people are doing throughout the world: a farmer is growing food for us to eat, a girl is trying her best on a math test, a boy is helping a friend who fell down at the park, a midwife is delivering a baby (cue the tears).

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

A tiger living in uptight animal society isn't happy. He takes action and "goes wild!"


Five toys sit on a window sill waiting for different things, a very calming read. We checked this out from the library but Dash requested it so frequently I'm thinking of buying it. 


A book without words in which each turn of the page zooms you out a little bit farther from the scene.

The Red Book

Another book without words in which a little girl finds a red book with fascinating contents.

Are You My Mother?

This book has been inspiring Dash's story-telling lately and I love the way he says, "And then this big ol' fing lift me up!"

Goodnight Moon

I read a little board book version of this to Cedric every night and he finds the mouse on every page of the room. Confession: did not know there was a mouse in every room scene despite reading this to Dash many, many times! But I kind of love that each boy interacted with the book in a different way. Cedric and I pretend to scoop out a bite of the mush and feed it to each other.


I would love to know what you are reading with your little ones lately or what books you remember loving in your childhood!


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